This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Again with the older posts

Risa is in Florida and trying out the DSL she's just installed on her dad's land line. Here is a post from '09.

The eye of Sirius



Risa has been fussing over her starts in the unheated potting shed -- they all are able to stand some cold, as none of them -- yet -- are tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers. But after eight weeks of "January thaw," in which the bees came forth, blossoms cracked open, worms turned, and Risa worked in bare feet, the jet stream has wandered a bit. The skies are full of cerulean and sunburn by day, and the eye of Sirius is a startling icicle by night. Despite the assurances of the "weather personalities" the mercury has dropped to 28, 28, and 25(F). Beloved took a pickax to the poultry's drinking water in the mornings.

Everything is under cover, and happy, but, still, she worries.

She knows she's only pretending that her life depends on her produce, and that the deeper she goes into the hundred-foot-diet exercise, the odder her food habits must seem to her associates. She said as much, while eating homegrown kale, peas and potatoes, to Beloved.

"Don't worry, dear;" Beloved replied over her Kashi. "If it ever comes down to it -- and I can see that happening -- we may all be grateful. Hungry is a great motivator."

Frost, flood, drought, disease, hordes of birds or insects, foxes, raccoons, hawks, deer, gophers, voles, squirrels and cannibal chickens: fear of all these may seem anti-Nature. Certainly many, many farmers have fallen under the spell of snake-oil pitches for monoculture, insecticides, herbicides, seeds with terminator genes and the like. When she sees her plants under stress, Risa can see why this occurs. When some of her cherished crops wither and die, she wistfully wonders what technological miracle -- currently available -- might have saved them. And she shot at a marauding hawk this year.

In the eastern part of the U.S., in the summer of 2009, gardeners and small farmers were hammered. Intensified and extended precipitation brought a fifty-year high of blight to a thousand-mile swath of tomatoes, potatoes and such. To those who were just starting their kitchen-garden efforts, it must have seemed a crushing blow.

Risa hopes they won't give up.

Monoculture and other practices of the industrial agricultural system have some resistance to disaster, but that resistance comes with the costs attendant upon aquifer depletion, soil depletion, depletion of genetic diversity, oil and coal dependence for farm implements and for commodity storage-transportation-processing-and-retailing, and increased reliance upon debt. Any one link in that chain breaks, they all break.

Historically, all such chains have eventually broken.

So it's maybe a good thing for us that Kashi is currently available. But it would be even better if we could all manage without it if need be.

Victory gardens supplied something like half the produce in the United States during World War II. Each year of the war, the ranks of the gardeners grew. Since then, the various back-to-the-land movements that have sprung up have borrowed some of the spirit of the war gardeners, but, as there was not so obvious an emergency, each time the energy has faded away.

Risa sees some of that fading occurring now, as the paid lobbyists of the industrial/financial order successfully ridicule and disparage every movement toward diversification and decentralization as it arises. Their power to see that no one can think clearly about getting along without them has been amplified by the rise of radio and television, and the demise of independent newspapers. The potential of free information dispersal on the Internet remains great, but is under increasing assault.

There is now almost no public domain. We're being -- 24/7 on thousands of channels -- talked down to by a self-anointed overclass, and the contempt in the messaging is palpable.

There are many strategies, more or less useful, one might do to resist this tide, and Risa has tried some of them. She was several times arrested in 1971 as an anti-war protester. She's been a civil-rights activist, a philanthropist, an LGBT activist, a religious nut, and a public-domain activist. She feels her efforts in these directions have not been an entirewaste of her time. But in one area alone, she feels as able to act with integrity toward the present and future as ever, and that is in her homesteading.

Here, she can, to the extent possible, make, or if not make, find, or if not find, borrow (or lend), or if not share, buy used, or if not buy used, buy local, or if not buy local, buy quality, or if not buy quality, do without, to her heart's content. All of which provides a small but real resistance to that economic dependency so dear to the megacorporate heart.

And the center of this relative (but nevertheless important, if multiplied by millions of practitioners) resistance is the kitchen garden, with seed saving.

With access to any bit of land, or even a terrace or balcony (be it yours, your rented space, or that of a kind neighbor) you can produce food for yourself or others that is free of pesticides, did not exploit near-slave labor, was not hauled across a continent on the blood of dinosaurs and so did not (much) thicken the heat-absorbing brown haze in the thin envelope of air upon which almost every living thing absolutely depends.

And at the same time, most years, you'll be having fun.

To Risa, these considerations outweigh the heartbreak of offering her tender starts to the inconsiderate icicle eye of Sirius.

Most of the time, anyway, she thought, as she put away the last bite of steamed potato and peas and reached for the mint tea.

Our inability to see things that are right before our eyes ... would be amusing if it were not at times so serious. We are coming, I think, to depend too much on being told and shown and taught instead of using our own eyes and brains and inventive faculties, which are likely to be just as good as any other person's. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Missouri Ruralist

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Risa has been doing family hospice in Florida and has lost her mom. We were alone together at the end, and I held her hand as she took her last breath. I'm busy with a doddery 94 -year-old dad at the moment, so here is a two-year-old repost for you all. Thanks for everything; people are so kind.


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2009

Eight feet of water

You would not believe it from the rain and darkness, darkness and rain all this afternoon, but I spent much of the morning kayaking on the reservoir.

We in Oregon call such windows of winter opportunity "Blue Holes," and this one, after the big freeze, was a treat -- 58 degrees F, sunshine, very little wind. The lake level was high, with no water going over the dam except through the single power turbine, and in order to put in at my usual spot I had to set the boat down in the path, gear up, assemble my paddle, climb into the cockpit under the low-hanging cottonwood branches, and shove off, sliding down the muddy trail right into the water, bow on. How I was going to get back I had no idea -- if necessary, I could use the boat launch area over at the marina, and hike back for the truck.

The thousands of coots that were here last month were not in evidence -- perhaps the freeze had encouraged them to depart for climes even warmer. There were a few seagulls, some cormorants, grebes, Canada geese, and a solitary harlequin drake. I paddled into open water, about a quarter of a mile from shore, and looked about. Apparently I was the only human on the water. It being a Wednesday. It being mid-December. It being the poor-grinding-heart-of-a-recession.

I know that the pundits go on and on about how there is now this great recovery going on -- just look at the stock market. Yah, yah. But I don't actually know anyone that has recovered. The cities, counties, states, water districts, fire districts, soil districts, school districts, parks districts, library districts, and most of the small businesses are hurting more, not less, than a few months ago, and all my friends still working for the state have the four-day-week furlough days to show for evidence. Beloved listens to one frightful tale of woe after another from families -- mother, and kids, and also father, aunt, grandmother and grandfather -- huddled together in the children's section of the library. The jobs that ended. The flu they all got. The benefits that ran out. The extension of benefits that ran out. The life without a phone, without heat. The overloaded caseworkers that yell at them. The empty shelves at the community food pantry.

She can offer a few hour's warmth, computer access, story time, and some lame suggestions: "Have you read this one?" They look at her gratefully.

I measure the economy by looking over the marina, on the theory that the boaters, having deeper pockets than the rest of us, may serve as indicators. How it's going for them.

In good times, there are about fifty or sixty sailboats. Shining. Multiple coats of varnish, clean brasswork, new shrouds, neatly furled sails. People show up in gleaming Acuras, let themselves in by the marina gate, saunter down the docks to their slip in spotless Dockers, cast off, and glitter across the glittering water, racing down to the east before the afternoon winds and tacking back; then they anchor in the lee of the town and dine on shrimp fresh from the galley below, with a local wine.

In a down economy there are usually about forty boats.

A third of them will have slunk away to be parked high on their trailers in spacious back yards, "for maintenance" say the owners, but really to save on the slip fee. The other craft manage to stay put, but over time they get a bit raggedy. Algae fouls the sails and shrouds and waterline, and drips from hawsers and outboards. "Ripstop" nylon escapes at one corner and flaps itself to shreds. Sometimes two or three vessels, after a serious blow, take on a bit of a list. Nobody home much; got things on their minds.

Meanwhile the wide waters may host a few waterboarders, with their stunningly loud stereos thumping away and twin Yamahas growling, and a few fishermen, their shoulders hunched away from the stereos, but the sailboats mostly stay in port.

I paddled over and looked in on the marina. In this recovery they keep telling us about, we're down to:

Nine sailboats and dropping.

This was a shock, but I looked for one boat in particular.

For years I have had an oddball acquaintance among the sailors. His sloop, which I'll call the Matilda, was notable among the fleet for clean lines, despite a very large cabin: a double-ender, black-hulled with one gold band all around just above the scuppers. You could tell she was not owned by money, but he tried to keep her clean and trim.

A somewhat elderly blues musician, he worked weekends. He weathered good times and bad about equally well, by maintaining an extremely simple life. He lived for his boat, and much of the time on it, though there is a rule against this in the marina. His method was to stay in town for a few days, sleeping, I think, on friends' couches, and then drive his beater pickup out to the park, clamber aboard the Matilda, head out for the lee of the town, and ride at anchor there for four days at a time. He seldom appeared on deck. I suspected alcohol to be part of this routine. When I paddled by, I could smell beer and cigarettes.

Once, when I found him sitting in the cockpit repairing something or other, I gave him a book of poems. He thanked me gravely, and we talked awhile.

"You stay out here a lot."

"Well, I love the water, so I want to be on it every chance I get." He had a coughing fit, shoulders practically knocking together.

"Troubles, y'see. No [hack, hack, wheeze] insurance. So I come out here, watch another sunset, y'see?" A snaggled, conspiratorial smile.

I sought him out to talk sometimes after that, he in the cockpit with his busy hands and cigarette, I below in the Matilda's lee, paddling softly fore-and-aft to stay in place. We liked each other.

Once, when I hailed the Matilda, two heads appeared at the hatch. My friend's companion was a remarkably skinny woman about my age (in other words, not young), as craggy and world-beaten in appearance as he. I couldn't understand a word she said -- seemed to live in a sped-up and mumbly sort of universe. I gave them a trout and paddled off, happy to see he had company. They waved until I was a speck on their horizon.

The last two years, though, Matilda has stayed in the slip. She's looked a little less winsome each time I paddled by, which is no more than I can say for myself, and while I worried about my friend, I'd never learned how to reach him other than to find him on the water.

Today, as I reached the marina, I could not find the Matilda. "So," I thought, "they must have hauled her out."

I paddled a little closer. There did seem to be something at the slip.

It was a mast, heeled about thirty degrees. Algae had already made a green streak in the water, where the boom had come to rest just beneath the ripples.

Matilda has sunk at her moorings, and is resting on the bottom in eight feet of water.
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