Common Sense? New Revision Series.

Sayings from long long ago:

“If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?”

and

“Common sense is not so common.”

An article in yesterday’s NY Times caught my attention:

How ‘Fairy Tale’ Farms Are Ruining Hudson Valley Agriculture”

Farmers are losing properties to wealthy buyers from the city, while leasing land from the new owners can feel like a “modern-day feudal system.” By Elizabeth G. Dunn Photographs by Gabby Jones. June 9, 2022 Updated 1:59 p.m. ET”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/09/nyregion/hudson-valley-farms.html?referringSource=articleShare

—————————————————————————————

I lived in the Hudson Valley for 27 years and watched the agricultural movement grow. By the time I retired I was buying almost all of the food I ate from the farm stands and the Sunday Farmer’s’ Market. The orchard fruits were spectacular and the growers truly wonderful, very hard working, people. From May until late into the Fall my produce bags were brimming and there was fresh fish, eggs, meats, and dairy products direct from local sources to add to the bounty. It wasn’t always the cheapest way to eat but freshness and taste (and nutrition) surpassed all else. Winters of grocery store produce became dreadful.

I left the area before Covid hit but I’d been there through the fear years after 9/11 when real estate was being gobbled up by urban dwellers from further south, scared they were not finished with panic situations. They were right. But their unequal buying power did real damage. According to this new article the well minted are now buying farmland which they want to remain picturesque. They want dual purpose barns where animals can be housed, then moved to accommodate wedding receptions. Having moved a fair amount of pig and chicken manure from a small barn on a Vermont homestead for a few years I can assure you manure and bridal attire are not compatible. We can chuckle together at the folly in this story but therein lies a deep truth we are all avoiding: having money does not make you smart. The food on your plate did not get there easily or with pristine hands. And the true price of things often has little to do with money at all.

Who will feed the growing world populations? We are just getting glimpses of the tragedies to come as nations dependent on harvests from Ukraine will not be there as backup. This is the tip of a very large iceberg. If local, state, and national governments do nothing to tip the balance of who can buy what land and use it for whatever purpose, we will see starvation spread.

There are all kinds of damage to the land which sustains us. Trendy ornamental plants replaced native species, the home and food for pollinators whose numbers have declined in alarming leaps. There is no end to our ignorance. We think of land which we buy as ours! to do with as we see fit, only our vision rarely contains what is, has been, and will be, required. Guns and wars are only two ways to hasten human die-off. What don’t you or I know about why the increasing numbers of deer are now taking over suburbia or showing up regularly in the middle of town and why their presence and the increasing presence of other “destructive” critters are so damaging to those who want to grow some of their own food? What are we thinking about when not wanting to mask or to travel like we used to? There are so many questions in so many areas we are not bothering to ask much less answer as long as things stay pretty. So some want fluffy white sheep grazing in green meadows without the unpleasantness of poop or the brutalness of birthing, or to be reminded of the harshness of life and death which is all around us? Plants, animals, people, air, water…..

Rich, poor, or in between we will live these fairy tales until reality bites. Then we will howl like banshees complaining of how unfair it all is.

#195 Convergence

Convergence

Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are all being observed in a small period of time. From an article I read today this convergence has not happened since 1991. Without such knowledge any one of us would still understand there are masses of energy in motion altering the world we thought we once knew. Human behaviors in so many places have gone beyond reasonable or understandable. We are struggling, as individuals, as families, as citizens. After years of political divisiveness the concentric rings of strife moved into a global pandemic and now a land war has been perpetrated by yet another old man caught in the throes of yesteryear, caught inside his old man visions of power and glory while innocents on both sides carry impossible burdens because of his actions. The most naive amongst us can easily see how such a possibility must cease to exist.

The round moon rises over the ocean and the path of its light reaches me through the windows. In the midst of April the night is still in the 30’s. Snow is in the forecast headed eastward. The virus alters yet again and case numbers rise daily. The gloom of these last few years seems more than sufficient yet I doubt it is yet nearly enough for we humans to truly change our ways.

I began writing this blog before the world flipped to an alternate universe. My initial thought was to share the experience of living close to ocean wildness, to observe and comment on the natural beauty and power of the water, the movement of weather, of sunrises, of the creatures who made this landscape home long before we humans altered the land and upended the balance of things. The life I intended, of course, was upended as was everyone’s. I found in this place both solace but also unexpected and incredible loneliness as the virus drove us into lockdown and separation. After more than two years I find myself with less and less to say. My thoughts deepen but my observations now feel shallow; repetitive. I wanted to learn and share what this remarkable place brought forth. This natural world is as beautiful as ever but I find our human world is not. I find my understanding is failing me as my aging body struggles. I am not one bit closer to mind/body oneness. Using words and pictures has been my way to share what made sense, what was (and is) beautiful.

Now, at this moment in time, I’m am bowed. Engulfed. My adherence to this once a week sharing is flailing. When—if—my vision clears and I can make better sense of what I see, I will write and send photos in this space. Now it’s time to breathe, to enter the calm, to repair that which is possible, to enter the convergence of healing we all so dearly need.

#192 Information

Information.

There seems to be a widening discrepancy in how much information is personally acceptable when horrible events are happening daily. Many feel the need to turn away because of how awful information affects them, physically and/or psychologically. I find myself turning to the opposite view by seeking material presented or written by very knowledgeable people. (The part about the quality of source becomes a critical distinction.) Folks blathering and parroting partially informed or blatantly political propaganda wears everyone out, raises blood pressure, and anxiety levels. “Scholarly” sources change that. I don’t subscribe to the current “everyone’s opinion counts” viewpoint. I don’t think many of us would purposefully seek medical help from someone not steeped in years of training. I honor that same principle when it comes to history or geopolitical complexities. Seeking knowledgeable sources allows me to think then rethink what is going on thus digging beyond, or beneath, the horror. The challenge, of course, is finding such sources.

Here comes my hypocrisy. Within this past two weeks I found myself in a situation that slammed home the point. I had been watching huge flocks of birds gathering daily out in the waters in front of this house. For five years now I’ve been focusing on what I could learn by simply watching the bird (ducks, mostly) behaviors on a daily basis. Other than using ID-ing guides or websites, I avoided delving into wildlife biology or ornithology tomes for deeper information. In other words, I was “using my intuition” rather than knowledgeable sources.

One morning the numbers of birds was extraordinary, larger than I had seen in the five years I have been here. I wanted to post documentation on a fabulous birding site called MAINEBirds on Facebook. I tried for a panoramic photo and failed. Then I tried shooting a video which I couldn’t seem to upload. In the end I sent one of four photos I’d taken of one of the four rafts (the new term I’d learned for such grouping of birds.) I had referred to these large flocks as being Common Eiders, the species I’d watched out there for five years. Immediately I was corrected by someone who had been out here the day before telling me the birds out there were Scoters not Eiders. I reacted badly. 

It took me a few days to understand how I had erred. I’d not used the binoculars to ID those rafts. I made an ill-informed assumption. I wasn’t one hundred percent wrong as at least one of the rafts were Eiders, mostly males. At issue was a piece of information I did not know: apparently Common Eiders have been disappearing along the Maine coast causing much distress and concern among birders, so while I was thinking that the thriving Common Eider flock I’d been watching all this time had actually been taken over by other species, particularly Scoters. I’d committed a classic error: I’d not consulted knowledgeable sources. Now I understand that while I was not completely wrong, I was mostly wrong. 

What does this do to my information gathering theory? It proves to me that each of us cannot be experts, even in some of the things we dearly love. It proves to me that searching for accurate information is critical for understanding be it politics or nature. What we don’t know CAN hurt us as well as others. 

It’s time to get out the crank that enables me to open my mind. It reminds me that sharing good source material by knowledgeable experts is always necessary.

Note:  Here’s the link to a particularly good source for information on the Ukrainian situation. It’s long and worth the reading time.

#183 Still

Still.

Not much moves outside
between three and four
in the morning 
when it’s 4 degrees.

I’m up wandering the house
in the darkness,
the cold air in the room
is finding its way
under the covers
keeping me from sleep.

I tuck my bare feet
under the kitchen cabinet
next to the heating duct
blowing hot air
from the furnace,
after checking the unheated porch,
with the frigid tile floor,
just wanting to see if it is
below freezing out there.
Almost. Not quite.

There’s cloud cover tonight
no stars
but instead
a bright moon
How can it be so cold
with overcast skies?

In the early gray morning 
the little birds will come
to the feeders needing fuel
to stay warm.
I hope the hawk stays clear
so there will be
no more fluffy pale feathers 
in clumps to sweep up
along with
the empty shells
of sunflower seeds and peanuts.

The birds, 
hawk included,
need protein 
We humans need
the sweet juice
of oranges 
or grapefruit 
or lemons 
shipped from warmer places, 
miracles of modern life.
Our bodies need
vitamin vibrant citrus
in these long days of winter 
especially this year.

Still.
This new form
of virus seemingly 
passes through walls
so once again
we huddle alone  
day after day
without knowing
what comes next.,
ReplyForward

#182 Self-care

Self Care.

I missed posting last Friday. I doubt you noticed. Even I barely noticed which I’m using as a measurement of just how difficult this January is becoming. Covid is now reported by everyone with whom I am in contact—friends, family, neighbors, loved ones. It seems to be everywhere, swirling through closed doors, through walls.

Our human proclivity to get stuck in previous modes of thinking is up against a highly nimble virus. As the pandemic began we struggled to change what we knew and what we did so when the developing Omicron Variant was described as “highly contagious” we thought we understood what that meant. Did we foresee this?

The last nearly two years has been a steady buildup of challenges with politics turning dire in tandem with the expansion of the Covid-19 virus. At the same time climate / weather / environmental pile-ons are turning impressive. This morning it’s 4 degrees with a wind on Maine’s southern coast which is not that common. This does not appear to be one of those Januarys when we can think we got away with something.

The intensity is bringing a lot of us to our knees wondering what we can do to counter the onslaught, to find ways to ease up and have a moment or two here and there to recharge or reconnect if only for a little bit. I am longing for connection to nature’s warmer, softer, easier moments.

I have some thoughts on the subject so here are my ideas of some ways to allow yourself a tiny reconnect.

The first suggestion is to go to your local grocery (or online for curbside or delivery) and choose a glorious piece of fruit, not the kind that comes in bags, but an individual piece, particularly an organic one, an “are you kidding me?” price tag piece of fruit you usually pretend isn’t even there. As this is definitely not local fresh fruit season suspend your restrictions concerning “rules”. It is citrus season and clementines, satsumas, cara cara oranges, and all the rest are available. Even better are the organic large dark red grapefruits (no I don’t mean the Ruby Reds but the really dark red ones, so red you can see the interior color even through their thick skins). Soon to come will be Sumo oranges. Haven’t tried these? Usually buy a bag of whatever is on sale? Just for this moment find something just for you that is enough to trigger a reminder of nature’s warmer, bountiful side. Allow yourself the pleasure of reconnect in the form of a small vitamin surge moment. Toss aside guilt or need of sacrifice. Forgo the bag of chips that would cost more anyway and wouldn’t taste nearly as wonderful.

The second or alternative suggestion is to buy yourself a flower, or a plant, or a bunch of flowers. It can require creativity to transport a live item safely home in frigid conditions but that’s part of the fun. Allowing yourself fresh flowers indoors in the winter is another way to reconnect. Flowers make me smile every time I looked at them. Put them in a spot on a table, close enough so you can whisper your thanks for their beauty every time you pass by. Think this is hooey? You might be surprised.

There are other less direct ways to reconnect with nature’s bounty of course. You can allow yourself an exploration of the “bath, beauty, and wellness” section of the store (or online) in the form of face creams, body lotions, soaps or shampoos that you would not usually consider. Remember these are not ordinary times and you are after a just a few moments of respite and a trigger for a memory of nature’s natural bounty. Walk past the cheap-normal-commercial-utilitarian stuff and head to the “boutique” section. If you are shopping in a health food type store you will have little trouble identifying where the treat stuff is shelved.

It is possible, even in these hard times, to bite into a crisp apple or a soft pear (you’ll have to carefully watch for the perfect moment of ripening) or a fabulous burst of citrus. It is possible a moment of contact with a bloom can inspire awe. The goal is to have a moment out of the daily presence of winter, to remind yourself that you have the ability to look out for yourself and provide an opportunity of forgetting all but one single out of time, out of pandemic, non-January, non-frigid weather moment.

What can you find to transport yourself if only for a pinprick of time, a tastebud of other, a eye view of beauty? Consider sharing.

Bask in what’s doable.

#176  Feeding Birds

These are the birds it’s never okay to feed.

Feeding Birds.

I took the feeders down last spring after it had warmed a bit. I worried that summer feeding, above all, might interfere with the parents teaching their fledglings to find food as in “Why go elsewhere when there’s plenty of good protein in good flying range?”

I, with nothing but whim or intuition, decided I’d wait until the first snow fell before putting the feeders back up. Fall, according to a few sources, is when natural food is most plentiful. Recently I ran across a good article describing the pros and cons of feeling birds. One of the chief reasons to not feed is that it requires careful attention to cleaning and disinfection schedules of the feeders something at which I failed in the past and have ever since worried about what damage my ignorance might have caused. Because birds congregate unnaturally at feeders infection and disease spreads easily from one species or another. I feel the commitment to cleaning is worthy of some serious thought and follow through.

The price of bird seed and it’s availability has now become an issue as well. This is not a time anyone wants to be seriously feeding squirrels yet they need to make it through winter as well. But their preprogramed instinct to hoard causes a nasty supply chain issue of its own and investing in the equipment and efforts needed to thwart these super smart critters is a steep uphill climb. 

Last year, tired of the cleaning battle with the various tube feeders, I went to a simple hanging platform and a suet block. Platforms are easier to empty and clean  and most species seem to do okay with them. Squirrels love them of course. 

Out here by the ocean I do not get the beautiful species people love to watch such as the Bluebirds or Purple Finches and most days the much more common species like the House Sparrows, an occasional Cardinal or Tufted Titmouse, Nuthatch or Chickadee show up.  The Goldfinches thinned out and didn’t seem to be around in the winter as much as they once were despite my maintaining a specifically designed Finch Feeder. That is going to be replaced this winter with a second, smaller hanging platform with “alternative” seeds such as millet and safflower which are not usually liked by squirrels.

All bird experts suggest planting native plant species as a far more natural way of providing food rather than supplemental bird feeders. However this good idea is not possible if you are a renter or live in a populated area without backyards. They also suggest not mowing which seems ridiculous in terms of encouraging threatening tick populations, dangerous to dogs and humans both. 

To feed or not to feed seems to come down to the pleasure of watching wildlife up close and the learning such observations bring. Once, when winter sports activities were great fun, there didn’t seem to be thoughts of staying entertained during the cold months but now such opportunities provide a way to make it to Spring.

Do you feed the birds? What compromises do you make?

# 169 Control

Control.

Do you feel that you are in control of your life? Long ago I came to the conclusion that “control” means the choice of how I react to other people’s actions which has been about the only real control there has been in my life. From medical procedures to the roof over your head there is often very little you can do if you don’t like the way things are going other than to suck it up, figure it out, and keep going.

Gardeners often learn quite early in their efforts that no matter how much we do or how much we know, we will only be able to affect what comes of our efforts in accordance with what Nature brings each growing season. Precipitation, temperature, insects and wildlife appetites all determine what will thrive and what will not. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn that control only goes just so far.

While Control has always been an issue in human lives, current issues of Control underlie daily media stories from pandemic masking issues to political actions and viewpoints. The public actions of some get louder and increasingly dangerous which seems to me to illustrate continued beliefs by many that Control is possible. Is it really possible to live an entire lifetime not ever learning that Control is at best something with very confined limitations but mostly it is a fantasy residing inside of your head?

Childhood is a time of no control despite tantrums and other small protests and so too, is aging. No matter how strongly you built your body through a lifetime of nutrition and physical activity it is likely if you live long enough you will experience some type of breakdown. Rather than seeing this through fear, think of it as an opportunity for grace for grace is the counterpoint of Control; it is bending in the force of the gale; it is learning that you are part of a whole which you may never see nor understand. Inside grace there is an entire world of trust, something often lacking in the desperate longing for Control.

I watched the ocean for a long time one recently unexpectedly blessed October day when the warmth of summer returned as a gift. Blue green waves rolled toward the rocks in intervals, breaking before they hit the shoreline. It was the iconic vision of ocean in its rhythmic beauty, the vast power of water seemingly tame but winter ocean is just ahead and that is the ocean which rarely lets you forget that you are not in charge nor will you ever be. This is nature’s hand, the disguise of the iron fist inside of the velvet glove, the reminder for all of the other part of our lives.

# 168 Reprieve

Reprieve.

Summer’s gone but October has given those of us in the Northeast a few days of blessed summer-like weather. It has been wonderful. I’m wondering about all the things that people have squeezed into this reprieve. I used it to wash the ocean side windows, always a foolish task as the first high tide with accompanying rough water will send the salt spray back on to the glass but still, it is satisfying to clean windows on a bright and sunny day when there is instant gratification from the now clearer sparkle on the water. I also washed the screens, a chore I usually leave until spring, but there were many seeds and plant matter lodged firmly in the grids, particularly from the thistles that produced a bumper crop this year. I know the thistle plant (outside of Scotland) is often considered a noxious weed but there’s a flock of resident goldfinches who live out here year round who particularly love thistle seed. Without doubt my guess is that they prefer to dine on them au natural as opposed to eating them from the hanging porch thistle feeder in the freezing winter months.

After washing,a few screens went back up in case the reprieve lingers or (hopehopehope) returns before the first snowfall. Removing the screens improves the amount of light by 50% which really counts in darkest December.

Early this afternoon I looked up to see this lobster boat checking traps in front of the house. Not that much lobstering happened out there this past summer although the tourist traffic was heavy. My guess is there were many vacationers’ bellies containing lobster after heading to “shacks” either here or elsewhere on the coast. Despite the going rate of $69 per pound for picked lobster meat—-that’s even above the usual winter’s elevated cost—-those classic rolls were still selling to those who wanted this “Maine experience”. Ordering four lobster rolls, one each for Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis, set a family back over $100 without extras including drinks.

Despite all the blather of lost jobs and pandemic-related economic hardship, these calamities seemed not to include those flocks of folks in out of state cars streaming into Maine from earliest April through September. There are signs the season is finally slowing and it will be more evident after the leaf-peeping on Indigenous People’s weekend. Businesses have had a tough season with pandemic numbers soaring and being incredibly short-staffed. Many have been directly affected by losing workers and operation time because of spreading infections. I suspect this may also be the case for lobster men and women who choose to sit this season out or figured out how to make money in an less strenuous job.

But that boat and that lobsterman came close enough for me to see a smile on the face of a hardworking man out on the water on this unexpectedly gorgeous day. It certainly looked like summer out there.

# 167 Limits of Our Knowing

Limits of Our Knowing.

Early in the day there were periodic rumblings of which I could make little sense. It was as much of a vibration as it was a sound. It went on for quite a long time. Finally, it dawned on me that the rhythms most felt like thunder although there weren’t any signs of an approaching storm.

One of the weather apps (WeatherBug:  the one with the lightning reporting system) showed storms offshore,–out over the ocean–where the intensity of the vibrations and sound was being magnified by traveling over the water. Because the storm had not passed overhead, and because in the gray of the morning there we no visible flashes of light, the thought of thunderstorms did not occur to me.

This continuing experience of not paying attention to things “outside of my realm” was explained in another way a bit later as I listened to a podcast interview with Sy Montgomery,  author of The Soul of an Octopus. We self- centered humans have been excruciatingly slow in recognizing not only the intelligence of animals but of their rich, emotional lives and, especially, of their relationship to the planet that is theirs. Ever so slowly we are beginning to learn and incorporate that we have vastly underestimated that other planetary creatures have as much as an intrinsic right to be here. We have also vastly overestimated our right to the same thing.

This is not going to slide into a PETA Animal Rights diatribe nor a superiority laced case for vegetarian/vegan eating. I cannot ignore that many of the animals on the planet view most other species (sometimes including their own) as food. To me to declare that humans have the ability to not eat animals places us in a similar position of being superior to other species that do and I am not willing to goo there. You have or will make your own choices out of what makes sense to you.

My present awareness is that it is humans who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain is what entitles us to do with the planet’s resources as we damn well please. Our profound self-centeredness is what is putting the planet in environmental jeopardy and we are directly responsible for the continuing loss of other species. What we did not know, and refused to consider, means the last laugh will not be ours.

“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-sy-montgomery.html?referringSource=articleShare

#166 Change

#166  Change

Change.

Although the days may still have warmth the sunset brings a sharp cool presence that wasn’t with us just a few short weeks ago. So many name Fall as their favorite season and I can understand that in light of the particular madness that seems to overtake the last few weeks of August. The plants in pots which looked so pristine in mid-July have turned into overgrown tangles. Dying yellow starts to be the color of choice for the leaves on the plants left growing in the garden. After the tomato harvest explosion the stragglers look exactly like stragglers, more suitable for sauce than for slicing to make a luscious tomato sandwich which no longer seems quite as appealing as the go-to breakfast of choice.  Summer’s crazy excesses start to feel like—well, excesses—and a longing for order and calm seeps in.

There’s a price to be paid for these changes. Darkness comes abruptly and too early even though it’s been creeping in steadily since June’s solstice. Windows stay closed more often now, quick thunderstorms come through while you’re out and water on the floor greets you on your return. Leaving windows open at night requires an extra blanket close at hand if the wind turns in the wee hours of the morning. It’s hard enough rising in the dim morning light without sleep disturbance caused by being chilled.

The current commercialization on the pumpkin spice bandwagon has totally gotten out of hand and is especially noticed by the few of us not fond of cinnamon. Let’s face it: pumpkin spice mainly means that cinnamon is a major ingredient in nearly everything marked “pumpkin spice” but really, just how much cinnamon can even that spice lover tolerate?

It’s again time to face the changeover in clothing for those in the northern parts of the world—or in the Southern Hemisphere as well. There may be those who have sufficient closet space so as flipping nearly everything you wear isn’t necessary but many of us lug clothing to and from storage spaces grumbling “Didn’t we just do this a couple of weeks ago?”

You may be thinking of adding to your stash of tea or you may be ruffling through your favorite soup recipes. That’s because you are now getting cold.

Here’s my attitude concerning moving from Summer into Fall–I see this time of change in a very simple way. I’d much rather be eating fresh peaches than apples.

 

 

#163 The Turn

#163 The Turn

The Turn.

There’s a reason older people are stereotyped as folks who repeat themselves. My fear is that my awareness of this trait is not anywhere near the actuality of its frequency but I am less sure that, as I return to topics already discussed, I may not (quite) be returning to the exact place of its first recognition. Thus, I will plow ahead.

From the past perspective of living on the 45th degree parallel (44.9684° N, 72.0027° W) in Northern Vermont there came a day where the feel of summer quickly turned and Fall seemed far closer than expected. I wrote here once of a camping experience that sharply illustrated this “flip”. One other time it appeared in the second week of August when frost killed the tops of the squash ripening in my NEK garden which was  always such a challenging place to grow a family’s year round food supply.

This year and further south, The Turn came later when thoughts of it were far from my mind. July had been such a miserably cold month so in August I’d subconsciously thought nature would cut us a break by adding extended warmth to make up for it. We’d had a stretch of humid, hot days where the air was thick and wet. Here the proof of such heat is leaving all the windows open at bedtime because air flow depends on tides but with the house so warm, so sticky, even the usual incoming tidal coolness could only help the situation.

I woke in the middle of the night because I was cold. I got out of bed and closed every window I could reach. By morning yesterday’s 90 degree heat had plummeted to a chill 63 degrees. The Turn had snuck beneath the forecasting presence of Hurricane Henri which stayed south of the Maine coast. Now, with chillier air, I find myself making soup and thinking of hot tea in the morning. Oh yes, it will warm again but it won’t return to those languid, stifling strings of days. Instead, there will be flashes of warm mornings or afternoons but the sun is setting earlier every day taking with it the chances of opened night windows. Dread of the coming winter has already begun to gather in corners along with the spiders.

Postscript: Not one but two (so far): the Hurricane named Ida is still making its way out to sea via the Northeast Coast. I’ve not found a way to incorporate late summer-early fall hurricanes into my concept of “The Turn” when it comes to seasons. As hurricanes originate in the tropics their warmth usually affects the temperatures that were in place before their arrival. These hurricanes are disruptors wherever they appear although their presence is regularly sufficient to be a part of the weather patterns even in the North this time of year. So, buckets of rain (gauged at 3 1/4″ in a friend’s garden) and now rather strong winds have turned this post into somewhat an anomaly. You are, without doubt, familiar with the phrase most often attributed to Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain : “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Note: How embarrassing. The following blog posts followed similar themes:  #56  The August Flip  8/16/2019.; #61  Seasonal Adjustments. 9/20/2019.; and #110  The Change. 9/4/2020.

#159 Hands In the Dirt

Hands In the Dirt

Long ago in another place and time I began digging in the dirt. “Gardening” is such an imprecise term for something that has so many variations. Landing in a poor and very rural place meant there was lots of land, one car, and fifteen miles from where I might find employment. I could learn to grow food so I started reading.

About that same time, my Dad who lived one state away at a lower altitude and a two hours car ride over the big mountain had also begun gardening. He’d grown up doing so but in all my years living with my parents we had never lived anywhere that had land enough for a garden patch but they had moved and the new spot had a huge garden needing the right person to come along. I didn’t learn gardening from my Dad. It was more like I learned with him from a distance. We both grew flowers but we were each far more interested in vegetables: Big Boy tomatoes (which didn’t have a growing season long enough to turn them red in far Northern Vermont), cucumbers, corn, beans, tomatoes and just about everything else that could handle a northern latitude’s short summer weather. Boy, did we garden! May through October was the time when work never ended. I learned that both being both the gardener and the food processor (the wife) was nearly impossible but after I planted, tilled, weeded and hoed I headed inside to where I filled canning jars headed for the shelves in the dirt-floor, rock-ledge basement of the house. The potato bin and the two 23 cu ft. freezers filled as did the unused floor of a bedroom upstairs, the drier space needed to store the squashes, pumpkins, and onions.

Mainly, the climb down the rickety basement stairs was where you could find most of  that we ate. The colors of the jam jars and the quarts of fruit sparkled in the hanging bulb light down there and so too, in their much quieter way, twinkled the green of beans and all the dozens of bright red tomato jars.

All that remains as evidence of those years is memory and two bad snapshots of the largest of the gardens. I was way too busy to ever dig out a camera and besides, I thought I would live that way forever.

When I made my way out into the larger world I tried in many locations to get my hands back into the dirt. It had become an instinct but eventually even flowers in pots seem almost too much. This summer I’ve given the dirt a last hurrah of sorts resulting in a screaming back and plants that first had to fight drought and later the deluge. No longer are there safe growing spots for vegetables as critters everywhere multiplied with a sense that vegetables were put there just for them. The balance of nature’s world shifted and only fierce and expensive fencing makes vegetable growing possible most everywhere.

My memory turns to gardeners I’ve known beginning with those Vermont years. Carolyn and Kay growing beautiful flowers. Jeannie’s huge market garden, with help coming from the crew and family that lived communally. She told a story of a heart-to-heart with a woodchuck that carried her promise of safety from the guys with rifles if the critter’s family left the vegetables alone. It seemed to have worked.

Most of us moved and the gardens and gardeners kept changing. Brianna, a young woman I knew from the college where I worked, started an early and very successful CSA, with monumental determination packed into her small frame. I still have photos of her garden and that love of plants became her life’s occupation as she and her husband founded a nursery that is still going strong.

Now there are gardening friends, older women who have made lifetimes of gardening elsewhere who garden where they themselves are now planted. The gardens are all vastly different in scope and character. Isn’t that the way of things?

I have come to rely on the growing talents and hard work of others as I’ve sought out roadside stands or farmer’s markets because once you’ve had your hands in the dirt and extracted jewels like cucumbers, eggplant, or tomatoes you never forget the extraordinary taste of fresh from the dirt and respect for all the hard worked it took to grow them..

 

 

Note: Photo was taken in 2004 and is of Brianna Davis’s CSA garden in the Hudson Valley of New York State.

 

#155 What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. (Rev. Ed.)

What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. 

Darkness was falling before I remembered a storm is coming. It is not unusual for the tail end of a hurricane to hit the Northeast. Often it is a welcome relief to what had been a building summer drought. Out in front of the house there are flowers in pots with less than ideal drainage. There are flowers in pots that could easily be damaged by even moderate winds. There are multiple wind chimes hanging from the trees and the remaining bird feeder, the one for the finches whose fledglings are still feasting on the last of the seed, is still hanging from the porch. It is not unusual to need to move summer outdoor-living items to shelter for safety during an oncoming storm but as I began to move the pots I was struck by the realization it is July. July. And there is a former hurricane moving out to sea over New England. This usually happens in late August or September when the bedraggled plants are showing signs of the end of the growing season. The flowers in these current pots are just beginning their growth spurts after June’s transplanting. A drought was declared for most of the state in June. The temperatures in June moved like a yo-yo from 50’s to 90’s and back again and again even into the beginning of July. 

Flower pots, wind chimes, bird feeders all were headed to the porch where they were joining two overly large houseplants which are still trying to adapt to being outside. Hopefully the wind will be moderate. The rainfall amounts are still not forecast as the track of  where the storm will move out to sea isn’t quite clear. There could be 2” of rain or just enough to end this June-declared drought. Or we could flood. 

Just a flash ago, Lytton, British Columbia set an all time record heat of 121 degrees. Elsa is a record setting July hurricane.* The animals and the plants, the fruits and the vegetables that we’ve known all of our lives cannot adapt to such rapidly changing climate conditions. We humans who are opposed to genetic modification, we humans who plant only heirloom varieties, will either have to move or accept that, even if science can work at warp speed to provide for the rapidly changing environment, home grown food is going to be a very real problem. Local agriculture everywhere is going to be a very real problem. Pray for the survival of bees. Be prepared to alter your lifestyles. 

What was, is no longer.

What is, is unknown.

What will be, baffles us all.

There’s the tail end of a hurricane out there and it’s July. 

*https://bmcnoldy.blogspot.com/2021/07/elsas-extraordinary-place-in-history.html    

Apologies for the first two posts fro July 9, 2021 that you may have received in your inbox. Once again I fought with the WordPress software and lost. This is a reposting in, hopefully, the right format.    

#145 Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen

ghostsail

Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen.

When I was young I was out with my parents at a Christmas party. When we returned to the place where we lived there was a large, handled paper bag wedged between the outer storm door and the regular door. In the bag was a fairly large stuffed toy, a poodle that had a short chain leash and a collar. It was obviously intended for me as the only child in the house. I never learned who gave that stuffed dog toy to me but what I have carried with me for all these years from this experience was the idea that Magic existed. To me, Magic was somehow the source of this gift (even though I often thought about the various people in my life who could have left that gift for me). The point is I wanted to believe in Magic even more than I wanted to know who had given that gift. 

My adult version of Magic transformed into an attraction to what I now call “the unseen”. Over time my desire for the existence of Magic has manifested in attraction to Astrology, Channeling, Life After Life (or Life After Death),  Reincarnation and more. Over the course of an academic career my interest in such subjects did not lessen but I learned to keep it to myself. After retirement, freed from my self-imposed bounds, I re-discovered the field of Consciousness Studies. I was overjoyed to learn that while my exploration in this area had taken a very long break scientists had forged ahead and were very intensively poking and researching using the scientific method as a tool to uncover much of what had before been dismissed. Under the academic disciplines of Philosophy of Mind, Psychology, and Quantum Physics much was being uncovered and understood. While I cannot here give any succient description of this work, I (oddly) understand what I have read and watched. As I slide into becoming an old woman, I realize I have not lost the longing for Magic to be in the world. While I came to have deep respect for science and its particular processes for discovering truth, I never stopped wanting the more sophisticated forms of such beliefs in what had been my childhood longings for the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to be real. To this day I simultaneously carry beliefs that both science and Magic are present, concurrent and real.

Aging has brought me to relishing in the delights of mystery. I don’t want to know detail by detail every aspect of our world as studied and explained by one scientist or another. Recently, I stood on the stairs to the entrance of the house where I live for a long time watching the small birds gathering for their late afternoon feeding on the seeds I’d put out earlier in the day. There were varieties of sparrows, and Tuffted Titmice, Chickadees and House Finches. The different species came together all at the same time, and in the silent blue sky afternoon the sounds of fluttering wings, of air moving through feathers, was over my head as these birds moved from trees to the feeders, over and back again and again.. Time stopped as I, in utter delight, was absorbed by these small, ordinary birds. I did not clamor for a scientific explanation of how these different species came together all at once, in coordination and cooperation although I could tell that there were definite protocols being followed by who got to be at the feeders at the same time. I am certain ornithologists have the answers to explain these behaviors but what I cared about most was standing in love and awe out of time and absorbed by what was happening.  I had no desire to seek out behavioral whys. I wanted the wonder, the Magic, of simply observing and being.

 Maybe it is as easy as that. Scientists can research and write papers, and we can seek out that information or we can observe and experience without that form of knowledge, simply wanting to be present. No matter who we are we cannot know all and just maybe that within the space of our unknowing is the real definition of what Magic really is.

On a very “feet on the ground” way of seeing the world, I remember long ago reading that “someday” humans would heal with light and sound. At the time I could not imagine what that meant. When I remembered this so much later in my life I realized that the prediction had already arrived. Ultrasound and Lasers are tools for healing with sound and light. I lived long enough to see that prediction become reality. In my–your–lifetime we have witnessed all manor of amazing new things: computers and then computers in the form of phones ever present in our pockets, where we can use FaceTime and Zoom to talk with one another separated by rooms or miles. What was once Unseen now fills our world.

 

# 142 Time Out.

Marsh

Time Out.

The long process of moving from Winter to Spring, runs the reverse course from the Fall transition into Winter only the Spring transition feels so much harder. For a few weeks now I have been sliding down into myself, removing myself from most communications, growing increasingly silent, wanting the depths of whatever was happening to replace being in the shallows where I’ve been for far too long. This began spontaneously, unfolding with no plan, just a slow movement into this different space/time experience. I’ve sought silence, wanting to sink into feeling my way through whatever has been happening.

What is the experience of matted salt marsh grass, the thick layers of brown thatch looking like a dense, impenetrable barrier for the tender green shoots lying underneath seeking light? It takes so long for the green to overtake the brown, months where living stalks push upward through the deadened mass above them.

What determined force sends out exploratory shoots of not-yet-green from inside the heart of a bulb buried deeply enough under dark soil to have kept the frozen layers above from killing the life lying at the center of that firm and rounded bit of brown?

What allows the winged creatures, large and small, to persevere though the cold, the sleet, the wind blown heaps of frozen white?  What life force encased in feathers and down gets them through months of impossibly harsh weather only to face sparse food supplies in the long stretch when those who fled to warmth return to compete for what little food remains? 

 What is our common ground, the force that gets us from impossible waiting to breaking through to life’s full warmth when nothing else matters but just being?  Science may explain some of these how’s but getting to pure joy remains within the experience itself, without whys: “Is-ness” exploding into being. 

It’s yellow season. Daffodils and forsythia blossoms are popping up in yards and patches. Star magnolias trees are just beginning to blossom, so unlike the pink magnolias I knew further south. But this year nothing seems particularly spectacular. Maybe it is still a bit early or maybe we are still weary, still tenuously facing unknowns. There are bits of grace here and there and while we wait for Spring’s full new life we remain uncertain and, perhaps, still a bit afraid.

Our longing is to burst into joy. Do we yet dare?

 

#137 Fast Air

Fast air.

I woke to intense sunlight brightly detailing the carnations I’d bought for myself now sitting on my bureau. Yesterday’s snow and rain had blown the quickly moving storm out to the far open sea leaving behind a clear bright sky with that very welcome intense morning light.

This is a thought dream. It’s not about the science of weather which I too lightly understand, It is about the emotional experience of it of weather, of storms and systems that move along the coast daily.  I find myself wondering if storms systems move more freely once over water unlike those memories I have of weather systems hanging on for days over the high hills or valleys in my geographically plunked pasts. What I experience now on an overcast day is far easier to tolerate if there is reasonable certainty the day after will bring back the cheer and warmth of the sun.

If I truly grasped meteorology no doubt I’d understand the movement of fast and slow air in more precise and scientific ways. I would not be relying on my observations and guesses but then again, there is comfort in believing the fairy tale versions of things such as the belief that light follows dark in predictable ways and that, when in the midst of oppressive clouds of gloom or a raging wind, there is certainty in next day relief.

In a far Northeast winter the presence of sunlight is a game changer. Yesterday’s ice storm which coated trees in icy jackets becomes a magical morning fairyland of shimmer as the sun rises. Yesterday’s rain, frozen by overnight temperature dips means black ice will hide in the shadows, unsafe surfaces for cars and legs alike, but such shadows disappear as sun creeps into their recesses. Overnight heavy snows covers everything leaving us to marvel at the transformed landscape. Nature as artist can swirl snowdrifts into sharp peaks and valleys, using violent winds as brushes, creating impossibly beautiful sculptures in mundane places. 

Dark times, bad weather, and overcast gloom that moves quickly can be tolerated and brings, by the way of contrast, a particular kind of joy. Lingering, incessant stagnation (of weather and everything else) is a much harder condition, one that  challenges us to dig deeply into our psyches to get ourselves through.

So bring on fast air. Let’s rejoice in the movement made possible of air moving fast over water, unrestrained, unsnagged by peaks or valleys, flowing freely, as beacons for the way our spirits want to flow.


			

# 133 Speedy Moonrise and the Relativity of Temperature


Speedy Moonrise and the Reality of Temperature..

After a long trail walk in the winter woods on a beautiful winter’s day, my tired body was restless in the dark night. With weary bones and aching muscles prohibiting sleep, I prowled the house noticing the lights out on the water, pondering the mysteries of buoy lights, some constantly red, some with intermittent bluish flashes, no doubt signaling a clear message to ships in the vicinity that I, a total landlubber, could not read.

On one side of the house there were a few dim lights in the windows of neighboring houses perhaps indicators of sleepless tiny children or night owls preferring the silence and the calm of deep night while I, undetected in the dark, walked with bare feet on cold wooden floors trying to work out the restlessness of my tired legs. Then turning back to the ocean side windows, there suddenly appeared a huge, Sumo sized segment of brilliant orange just above the horizon. Moonrise at one a.m., the vivid illumination was a startlingly unexpected body in the black sky. A sight like that, when the night has, by it self altered reality, momentarily shifts the mind but all too soon it’s rapid upward progress changes it quickly from orange to yellow making a shining path to it on the water’s surface. My restless, exhausted body saw this as a totally unexpected gift, one that could have been so easily slept through as in most other nights.

Looking out on the crisp, clear black sky and the sacred, precious moonrise in the middle of the night also carried a deep chill, my bones feeling the cold in every corner of the house. Why can 62 degrees seem so warm if experienced on an unseasonable winter’s day, a day where a light jacket substitutes for the puffy down one worn the day or two before and after, yet that same 62 degrees on a February night in the quiet dark house feels frigid, the chill nearly unbearable. Such mysteries startle an aging, exhausted human just needing sleep.

The moon climbs steadily over the water offering no warmth but it’s light draws the eye and satisfies a weary soul.

 

#131 Among Trees

Among trees.

This winter has brought walking in the woods as a balm for life cooped up inside. I doubt I would have ever ventured among trees without the presence of a friend who has an affinity for trees.

Years ago, I’d learned to sugar in northern Vermont. We’d start when the snow was deep, tapping trees and hanging buckets. Gathering sap was done the hard way, moving from tree to tree carrying heavy, sloshing pails then dumping the sap into the holding tank sitting atop the dray pulled by the tractor. When the sun’s warmth began to melt the snow on the south side of the trees it meant the lifeblood of the tree would begin flowing upward through the trunk but the freezing temperatures of the night would send the sap down back into the roots. The more miserable the weather, the longer this ebb and flow of cold to warm then cold again, the more the sap would run and then syrup could be drawn off in the sugar house. The only part of the operation I never learned was being the sugar maker, the boiler. Responsibility for staying awake throughout the night carefully monitoring the fuel supply and keeping an anticipatory eye on the large “pans” so they, and the sugar house, did not burn was a job only for experts.

Throughout the whole sugar season my joy came from being in the woods feeling the transition from winter into spring. Having started in hip deep snow, terrible to walk through, and ending up in shirt sleeves washing and stacking buckets as warmth began creeping in at the end of the season was brutal, satisfying, work. I doubt many still sugar this way as tubing, suction pumps or gravity feeds took the place of human bodies willing to swap hard labor for only the precious brown sweetness and the utter joy of collective labor that was so much a part of farming in all seasons. Now there are few hardscrabble family farms left and climate change with wild temperature swings makes maple sugaring precarious.

At that time of my life, the woods were also a playground when on skis, the cross-country propel-yourself kind. Being on wooded hillsides in February cutting our own trails there was often an unexpected warmth, the exertion of muscle under wind protected tree cover often felt like a balmy Vermont winter version of a beach day.

Now in old age as walking has become difficult, moving through the woods with the patience of a friend making it possible, I carefully place each step and I breathe. I move ever so slowly with senses open. The smell of the woods changes with the types of trees and their proximity to one another. Deeply green mosses surprise, the bright color such a contrast to the brown leaf litter underfoot. This year there has been the blessing of a snow drought causing angst for skiers and utter joy for those of us able to escape being stuck inside in this time of pandemic distancing. 

The privilege of being in winter woods brings indescribable joy. The seemingly endless configurations of downed trees, the striations of bark, the signs of beaver along a pond with left behind stumps looking like they were ground by giant pencil sharpeners and the large chipped holes in dead or dying trees made by woodpeckers looking for insect protein are sources of delight. The wonderfully fresh air filling nostrils shriveled by dry heated indoor substitutions for real air brings life to tired bones, hearts, and weary minds so anxious to be clear of the sound of incessantly droned media worries. 

“Come to me” sing the trees. Bring your troubles and deposit them at our base so we can carry them upward to light and air and freedom. 

 

# 130 Presence

Presence.

While on a Zoom class on a Blurday afternoon I found myself looking away from the screen and out the windows. The ocean was heaving, rising swells crashing on rocks, whomping like it had been doing since the night before. “It’s a presence”, I thought, “a living breathing presence”, but that is as far as I could get with metaphors.

The ocean is so close, yet it’s not a neighbor with an unpredictable temper prone to occasional bouts of drink and rage. It’s not a relative, or friend, or housemate and its moods cannot always be forecast by NOAA. The ocean is such a vast unfathomable there there. Yet it is constant motion, water as wildly unpredictable as its cohorts earth, fire, and air. Oceans, like other components of planet earth, like mountains, like vast forests, like endless prairie, remind those in proximity of our own puniness. We are not a drop in the bucket of such energy and this alone is a compelling reason to live on such edges. Vastness keeps one humble, keeps us within the lines of our own coloring book as we fill in each day’s spaces. 

Recently I have been thinking of how both great and small water is, endlessly responsive and never resistant, the slightest energy shift  of anything can cause variations of movement ranging from nearly placid to as close to unhinged fury as I’m ever going to experience unless I put myself in a boat on its surface. (Not likely. That I leave to braver souls.)

I started writing this blog in an attempt to use words and corresponding images to try to give a glimpse into what daily, year round proximity to the ocean felt like, to expand awareness of “ocean”. I was gifted the opportunity to live out my wildest dream with a front row seat yet four years into this experience and I have barely nudged my own comprehension. It is beyond addiction. It is like tethering oneself to an out of control force field. It is exhilarating but often exhausting, in winter especially. Sometimes after days of pounding my psyche feels bruised, my head wants quiet, my sketchy sleep wants oblivion but that’s not part of this. The ocean teaches absolutely that it is not, and never will be, about me. 

# 129 Moral? Ethical ?

Moral? Ethical?

I watched a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk concealed within the bare tree branches very near the feeders. A patient, watchful, no doubt hungry hawk sat waiting for the little birds to come for breakfast as they do nearly every morning. She/he sat for a long time without any other birds in sight until a FedEx truck turned around in the parking lot and flushed the hawk from its hiding-in-plain-sight spot. A bird feeding station becomes a hawk feeding station. All bird lovers learn that there are far more little birds than raptors and that everyone needs to eat. It’s nature’s way. Accepting this in real time in front of you is a wholly different matter.

The beautiful white-with-spots Snowy Owls come down from their far northern summer grounds of Canada [irruptions] to the northern latitudes of the U.S. in the winter. They, too, are looking for food. As they are birds of the tundra they like wide open areas, marshes, long stretches of beach, or airports; vast flat areas with long sight lines. They sit still for extended periods of time perched in higher places (chimneys, tall poles, or sometimes merely rises on the ground) waiting for rodents to resume their normal scurrying. This gives avid photographers a lot of time to stalk a perfect Snowy capture, that odd term photo buffs use for a good photograph. When Snowy’s are disturbed by too avid shutterbugs they fly off without a successful hunt. Emaciated, starving owls sometimes end in wildlife rehab centers, or at least the “lucky” ones do and they make it. Others die in this habitat as a result of trophy hunting by those wanting to get their “shot”, each feeling entitled to do this despite the obvious reality that getting sufficient food is why the Snowy is there in the first place. The the code of conduct guidelines for birders is that if you’ve flushed a bird or if whatever the bird is doing in it’s habitat is disturbed, you are too close. For birders, that’s the purpose of very expensive binoculars or scopes. “Serious” photographers also have equally long lenses but now they want to get close enough for tight head shots, focused eye details,  or close ups of talons thus eliciting social media and Facebook group members to swoon and praise.

Trophy hunting is always putting the wants, the desires, of the human before basic needs of wildlife survival. There is only the thinnest of lines separating camera and gun when the lives of the wildlife are at stake. Photographers protest such a stand as extreme but if their objects of desire die as a result of their actions, is it?

The elected leaders of the nation go golfing and skiing over a Christmas holiday as the pandemic guidelines require everyone to stay home. Do what I say not what I do “ leadership”. Cases spike alarmingly upward. The government heads are on vacation while vaccine distribution is not yet detailed, stranding potentially life saving help in warehouses. Congress passes a mere sketch of financial assistance as families are evicted, unemployment benefits lapse, and children go hungry. This legislation goes unsigned for days as the petulant president clings to fantasies of retribution towards those who accept reality. I am not writing divisive political commentary; this is an observation of breakdown and chaos, of unnecessary hardship and loss. 

How do we measure our individual morality or ethics? It seems as even the most mundane parts of daily existence are now laced with ethical chaos. What is safe? How do I get food and other necessities? How to I prevent exposure and how do I make certain that I am not an unknown spreader? Every choice of staying in or going out or desperately wanting to see family, friends, and loved ones can be a life or death matter. 

We have arrived at a time of ethical and moral upheaval. Exhausted and drained by nearly a year of unknown onslaughts our greatest challenges are still ahead. How we handle every choice we make is up to us and it can and will make all the difference in the world.

Irruptions: See https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/2020/11/22/what-is-a-bird-irruption/#:~:text=Bird%20irruptions%20follow%20