Return to the green place

June 27, 2008

I’m home. Everything changed while I was gone, and the differences are breathtaking. Being gone only 8 days and having the landscape so different really gives me an appreciation of how fast the seasons pass.

Of course, we didn’t really get a spring this year, just several months of really crappy weather. So it’s like the last few weeks of spring and the first few weeks of summer compressed in on each other. We’re eating lettuce, radishes, spinach, and chard from the garden. But most of the hot weather plants look like they’ve gone south, so we’re planting some backup tomatoes and corn. The fruit trees look great, most of them loaded. But the brassicas (cabbage and the like generally planted very early) are depressing. Some of the cabbage and all of the broccoli just got to about 8 inches high and bolted. Total loss. The berries are at least a month late.

But the Japanese irises and foxglove are blooming like crazy, the grass is that soft spring green and smells fresh, and the trees are fully leafed out so that the light filters through them in that wonderful summer way.

The convention was fun. I got 5 top-ten finishes in the 39 categories of poem that I entered, so I’m happy. If that doesn’t sound too impressive, you should know that most categories had from 200 to 300 poems entered.

Now I truly must go move some sprinklers. No deep thoughts today, just gratitude for a return to the NW. Much as I enjoyed the convention and the different landscape, there’s no place like home.

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Off on an adventure

June 17, 2008

This is just a heads-up to you all. I’m off tomorrow with a friend on Amtrak to go to a poetry convention in Utah. I’ve made the decision not to cart my laptop along (Gasp! She’d chance being off line for 8 whole days?), so it will be next week sometime when you can expect to hear from me.

I’m going to ride the rails, look at country not easily visible from any other place, and contemplate. Amtrak got the section of track from Eugene to Klamath Falls (one of the prettiest sections of the trip) re-opened just a few days ago. It’s been closed for months by some big landslides, and I’ve been petitioning the travel gods to get it back open for our trip. It seems to have worked.

So, more next week. Be healthy, have fun.

The World’s Fastest Indian

June 16, 2008

It’s not often that I recommend films and the like, but I feel obligated to push this one out there. A couple of weeks ago, a friend recommended “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a movie about Burt Munro, a slightly eccentric codger from New Zealand who set the land speed record for streamlined vehicles with engines under 1000 ccs. His last record at Bonneville has stood for more than 40 years. Anthony Hopkins plays Munro. I think this is my favorite of all his performances.

I’ve spent a very large share of my life around amateur car racers, and the first word that somes to mind to describe this film is “authentic.” It’s incredibly well done, very real, and I’ll probably watch it again. Soon.

It’s been a lovely Father’s Day. The Sunday morning free-write at Carla’s went well, and I think I got two potentially strong poems from it. The sun is shining and the garden is finally growing. Tonight we ate fresh (from local waters) halibut with a shrimp (ditto) salad with a spicy homemade louis dressing, and sourdough bread. The lettuce was from the garden and the dill on the halibut was dried from last year’s garden. The wine was Barefoot’s Pinot Grigio, highly rated by the Wall Street Journal a week or two ago but a little sweet for my taste. Very drinkable, though, and at $5 or so a bottle at Freddy’s, a pretty good buy.

Inger called to give her dad a long-distance hug.

All in all, a very satisfying day.

Powerless on the Big Elk

June 7, 2008

Today has been one of those days. Monsoon-style rain has been falling most of the week. We’ve had two inches or more in the last three days. In mid-winter that’s normal. But when you’re trying to get the garden in, it’s very frustrating.

It’s supposed to clear for half a day tomorrow.

At least the potatoes don’t need watering. . .But I guess it’s going to be one of those green-tomato summers.

So I decided to do some things inside today. I got some mailings together to go out with the post tomorrow. Then I decided to take a few pictures of the hummingbirds. Batteries on both the Nikon and the Sony Mavica were dead, ready to be buried. Then I remembered that my laptop was nearly defunct on not one but both batteries and that the flashlight I changed the battery on last night ended up at something less than full power.

So I started the generator and plugged in four different chargers. Then I got Ben to set up the 12-volt charger for the main house system. That hasn’t been charged in awhile either. Tonight is our independent power plant night, I guess.

It’s a good thing that we built a big kitchen. Originally it wasn’t just the kitchen, it was the whole living area. That was before we added on 1300 square feet. But is has two stoves–one gas, one wood–acres of counters, two tables, and nine wooden chairs.

Normally it has only one refrigerator, but tonight it has two. Our fridge has been acting up. It’s nearly 10 years old, so this is not unexpected. But summer is coming, and with gas going up at ten cents a gallon a day, I’m sure as heck not going to drive to town every two days to get ice. So we bought a replacement.

I ordered it on Monday, estimated delivery time a week to ten days. On Tuesday they called to say it was here. Ralph and Brenda drove to Mollala on Wednesday to pick it up.

Like many projects around here, however, this is one of those that’s not getting rushed into. So the refrigerator has made it to the end of the big kitchen table, where it stands like a monolith and reigns over our meals. But the old one hasn’t totally quit, so the new one is just sitting there until the guys feel like wrestling it into place and hooking it up.

Over the years I have developed a sense of humor (and inevitablility) about these things, so I’m staying remarkably calm. After all, we have cold milk and ice cubes for our drinks, so what’s the urgency?

Ben says: “Whoever heard of a refrigerator taking the week off?”

Good question. It was totally unreliable for a week, except that the freezer worked better than ever. Now it seems to have recovered (probably because we bought a new one), but it’s still flaky occasionally. We’re going to keep the old one, turn it upside down for a week to see if we can shake loose whatever is crazy in the cooling system, then stash it away to run on a spare propane tank when we have lots of company and need a mega-supply of ice cubes or potato salad.

Now it’s time to go check the assorted chargers (everything upstairs is done, so what’s on the porch is all that remains), put away the rest of the black bean soup (cooling on the porch), and head off to dreamland. May tomorrow be sunnier.

 

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

Surge: The war continues

June 5, 2008

If you’re expecting to read a rant about the tragedy of Iraq or George W. or Rummy or one of those things, you probably should just go read another blog tonight.

This is about a much closer to home, much more personal war.

That’s not to minimize the pain and agony we as a nation have inflicted on another country, however well intentioned our efforts. But I can’t influence that one, let alone have any kind of meaningful impact on the outcome, so I’m writing about something else.

We live on approximately 100 acres. A few of them are taken up by a river bed (not navigable year-round, so we own it), a lot more of them by some very steep hills plated in a variety of tree species, and 8-10 acres of relatively flat land.

We share this land with an assortment of wildlife–bears, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, bobcats, dozens of species of birds, several species of salmon and steelhead and trout, and a WHOLE bunch of rodents.

The rodents range from our chipmunks (cute but sometimes problematic) and gray-digger squirrels (highly destructive) to boomers (mountain beavers–incredibly destructive to new forest growth) and moles, voles, and gophers.

After reading the introduction to Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words, I have actually come to peace with several of these. I have persuaded the chipmunk not to eat my violets. I know this sounds nutso (that’s what I thought when I read Jensen’s coyote/chicken story), but I just ask the chipmunk not to eat them. And he quit. They are thriving.

And I asked the birds not to eat my blueberries (a problem every year), and guess what? They’re not eating them. I’m awestruck.

But the moles and voles and gophers in the garden are another story. I think maybe I just don’t know how to communicate with this particular group of rodents. Of course, it doesn’t help that I rarely see them. The talking approach seems to work best face-to-face.

I don’t want to destroy all the rodents. With this much land, there is plenty of room for all of us. I just want them to stay out of my garden.

We’ve tried a variety of approaches, but I think I’ve found one that actually works. I have my fingers crossed.

I found a couple of little devices (brand name “P3”–there seem to be several types on the market) called “Molechasers.” They’re little tubes that you bury in the ground. They emit a rather obnoxious sound, but it can hardly be heard above ground unless you’re standing right next to it. A second, more sophisticated device (the “surge” in the title of this post) emits a harsh buzz and vibrates the grounds around it.

According to the manufacturer, all the stupid underground rodents hate the noise and the vibration. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that they seem to work.

The sound-only ones work best on the moles. The sound/vibration ones seem to do a better job on the gophers and voles. So I’m probably going to add a couple of vibrating windmills to the mix.

But whichever type, they are non-poisonous, non-lethal, and don’t pollute the environment. So I’m very pleased.

I hope this year to have unnibbled potatoes, beans, and carrots, armfuls of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Cross your fingers for me.

The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

A shining. . .

June 2, 2008

There are some evenings that simply glow, and this is one of them.

I have been absent from this space for awhile, and I apologize. I had many things that I thought of writing about, but when I sat down in front of the screen, they didn’t happen.

I don’t know if it was a delayed response to my brother’s death or some other form of malfeasance of the spirit, but I just didn’t want to write.

But tonight I am full of joy. It’s Ben’s birthday, and our daughter Inger has come to visit. She brought with her an electric bass guitar and a 12-string acoustic that she rescued from oblivion. For the last hour or so I’ve ducked out and listened from the sidelines to Ben (one of the finer guitar players I’ve ever known) showing her little tips and tricks.

Ben and I play the guitar. Ben is proficient, I am competent. Inger does not play, has never played, but something caused this leap of faith that she could play. And I suspect she will. I hope she finds the same magic in it that I have.

I worried when she was young because she did not sing. I grew up singing, and I thought everyone did. Now she is seemingly discovering her music, and that makes me very happy.

My daughter has given me so much joy in life. It pleases me immensely to watch her finding her own joy.

I think there’s an allegory happening on my back deck

April 22, 2008

We seem to have only four summer-resident hummingbirds this year. A much larger flock flew in early, but they moved on after feeding. However, these four little birds are providing a real sideshow.

If you think all hummingbirds look and act alike, you’re not paying attention. Each has distinct personality and characteristics. And perhaps it’s just overload with all the election-year hype, but it’s hard not to see in them a reflection of a greater drama playing out.

So I have given them nicknames, referred to here with acronyms. I’ll tell you about them.

They are all of the rufus species, although two are male and two are female. I didn’t think the different sexes hung out together, but that seems to be the case this year.

The first to arrive was GWB. I remember him from last year, because he makes such weird noises I thought he was ill and was very surprised to see him back. His chitter has an odd sound, and when he flies he makes a distinct metallic noise that is very different from the others.

He flies around most of the time with his bright orange gorget exposed, daring the others.

In the manner of rufus birds, because he arrived first at the feeder he claimed he owned it.

However, the second to arrive was the largest of the birds, a female I call HRC. She is testy and irritable, and she quickly disabused GWB of his ownership status. She chases all the other birds away when she can, although sometimes they gang up on her. She scolds them constantly, feeds without alighting, generally buzzing and making a lot of racket. She thinks she owns the race. (I can’t believe I wrote “race.” I meant “feeder.”)

The other female is BHO, although personally I refer to her as the philosopher. On a number of occasions I’ve seen BHO sitting quietly on a branch trying to reason with HRC, explaining, I’m sure, that the feeder has six flowers, plenty for everyone, and that the complacent voter sitting there on the deck will keep filling it up.

She talks in a gentle assertive voice. HRC pays no attention whatsoever, squawking and scolding and attacking. Then she tries to chase BHO off.

The fourth I call JMC. He is in some ways the most furtive and interesting. He does his best to avoid the other birds, although when he’s surprised, out pops the gorget and he does battle. But he prefers to wait until things are quiet, then sneak in and feed furtively until he’s full, and fly off. His preference is for lack of confrontation, but he definitely has a temper.

It’s fun to watch these four jockeying for position of “top bird” and finding ways to feed that suit their individual styles. Of course, the season is less than half over, so things may calm down.

But probably not. Rufus birds are just plain territorial and contentious. And it would be awfully boring if they all just got along.

Hillary, give it up

March 31, 2008

Now, I’m neither the youngest nor the brightest lightbulb in the fixture, but I do want to make it clear that I know my subject line isn’t the same as “Give it up for Hillary.” Nor do I mean it to be.

There’s a terrific Jimmy Margulies cartoon in today’s “Week In Review,” the op-ed section of the Sunday NY Times. The interviewer/commentator says: “The math is against you in delegates needed for the nomination. . .” and Hillary responds: “I didn’t give up at Valley Forge. . .I didn’t give up at Gettysburg. . .I didn’t give up at D-Day. . .and I’m not giving up now.”

Hillary, you have proven yourself a prevaricator without even the sense to understand when your untruths have been detected. I know you haven’t claimed to have invented the Internet or saved the free world single-handedly. But you have demonstrated the one characteristic that sends me running to the bathroom in case of projectile vomiting. You are the ultimate politician.

Sweetie, I’m your target demographic, an over-50 woman with a couple of college degrees, a lifetime in business, and a strong belief that a woman in the Presidency would bring something that’s badly needed.

But not you. Not now, not ever.

I’m old enough to have voted for both John Anderson and Ross Perot, knowing in each case that I was probably wasting my vote but hoping for something other than business-as-usual. I can honestly say I never even contemplated voting for Ralph Nader, however.

I’m of that rare breed called the “truly independent.” I was a registered Democrat for an extended period of time until I decided that the Democratic Party had lost its marbles. So then I became a registered Republican. Ditto with that party. For some time now, I’ve been registered without party affiliation.

I pay a price for that. I can’t vote (in Oregon, anyway) in any of the party primaries. I contemplated registering again as a Democrat just so I could vote against you in May, but then I realized how many fund-raising and ideological mailings I’d get and decided against it. I think my fellow Oregonians will take care of you here. Many of them actually have some sense.

But if you are banking on calling in chits with the “superdelegates” (and what a crock that is–a group of party “elite” in place to override the will of the voters in case they aren’t smart enough to choose the right candidate–this is democracy?), I hope you will think again. A candidate who gets there by such means will have no more credibility than a President elected by the Supreme Court, to quote someone else’s recent example.

So give it up. Now. Let’s get on with a race between two people who arguably are outsiders from the political establishment, let them present their views, and let the people choose. At this point you are merely a spoiler.

And while I’m busy ranting on this topic I almost never comment on, I have a few words for the other major candidates in this race:

Barack: The Jeremiah Wright thing told me a great deal more about your character than almost anything else you’ve done. I congratulate you for being forthright. I have lots of “sparring partners” with whom I don’t agree (otherwise, we wouldn’t be sparring now, would we?). In fact, if people evaluated my character by the folks that I tolerate and even like to argue with, they’d be way off the mark. Your response to these attacks told me you are really a grownup with a well-developed sense of a diverse world.

I don’t have the background to know the things that you “know” about racism. But I congratulate you on your ability to articulate your position without blowing in the wind.

John: I’m a long-time admirer of yours, but I frankly liked you a great deal better before the GOP apparently started coaching you on what was required to get elected. You’re sounding like a politician, and that isn’t one of your strengths.

I have a certain amount of faith in your common sense and straight talk. Don’t waffle now. Stay who you are, and I might even vote for you. Unlike many of my acquaintance, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be made in the campaign speeches. I just want to elect someone I feel comfortable can make it. No matter who is President, we don’t be out of Iraq tomorrow. But you buy yourself nothing by being so belligerent about it.

Now a few words for “my fellow Americans”: Hey, guys, if you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. It’s not just global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the devalued dollar, and the globalized economy. It’s a comeuppance to the sort of economic colonialization that the U.S.A., as an economically powerful superpower, has been able to indulge in for decades.

If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and hoping for different results, then go toe your favorite party line and vote accordingly.

But if you are concerned about a viable (not necessarily wealthy or over-consuming, just viable) future for yourself and your childen, then take some time to look beyond the heirs apparent for a leader who can actually think. And vote accordingly.

Whoever is elected this fall steps into a mess. He/she will need all of our good wishes and help, so vote for someone you want to help advance “in the direction of your dreams” (to paraphrase Thoreau), not someone you think can fix all your problems.

That person doesn’t exist.