Friday, April 21, 2017

Earth Day 2017: And So It Goes



This blog will celebrate its tenth anniversary on June 22, and from year two on, the one consistent activity has been an annual Earth Day message. This year's opening illustration is of one of our resident green anoles, posing nattily within a wisteria wreath.

I'm of two minds about this year's post, because on the one hand the State of the Earth (or at least of the Nation, which is inordinately responsible for the planet's health) is about as dismal as it's been in some time; on the other hand, however, my garden is (because of the changing climate and its consequent early spring) presently lusher and much more promising than usual.

Oddly enough, according to an article yesterday in the Daily Poop, "Earth day Texas drew a record attendance of more than 130,000 last year and boasts of being the world's largest Earth Day Celebration." Texas. Really. The Texas part will be dropped next year, however, to become EARTHx and more global. Pardon me while I put on my skeptic's hat and spend the day in my verdant back yard.

At the moment, the wild gladiolus volunteers, which have proliferated far beyond expectations, are already past full bloom, the air is redolent of honeysuckle, catalpa, and the last of the Chinaberry blossoms--along with the musty scent of privet flowers. I have my first poppy ever (I purchased two plants this year and tucked them into the pepper/parsley raised bed. Bergamot and salvia are blooming in the potager, and the garlic chives I tried to hack off a few weeks ago are resurrecting themselves. The veg in "Woody"s Garden" (aka Stump Henge) are coming along; tomatoes are blooming--though whether or not they set fruit before the heat hits is yet to be seen. We're holding a convivium for a philosophy conference here in a week, and my job between now and then will be to tidy it all up and make it look at least slightly civilized. Not that I really want to. Although I do enjoy how orderly everything looks after I mow, I appreciate even more the shaggy growth of a few days later, when the clover is back in bloom after having been lopped off by a low setting on our environmentally correct electric mower. I do let things go in the North Meadow, the small strip of self-sown "weeds" (mallows mostly) and the perennial ajuga that came with the house, along with another variety I planted a few years ago. Ajuga likes the shade, and sends up pretty purpley spikes that make glancing out the dining room window a pleasure.


Of late I've been recording life both tame and wild in the garden. The cat frequently poses for amusing shots, but I've also been filming lizards (geckos and green anoles) and squirrels and butterflies and fireflies. I have some notion of putting together a "Slow Backyard Video" page on YouTube to house them. It will undoubtedly be private, though, and available to a select few who will promise not to say nasty things about why I would even bother to "film" ten minutes of a lizard climbing along a tomato frame. Or fifteen minutes of my cat at dusk, watching fireflies. A couple of days ago I was so intent on recording a squirrel's antics that without noticing, I stepped in an ant pile and was subsequently bitten so aggressively that my profane comments are clearly heard on the video. But when I'm not busy swearing, I often manage to catch a butterfly enjoying one of the gladioli, or bees buzzing around the blossoms that have been planted on their behalf. The idea is that they will all find the blooms and pesticide-free ambience attractive enough that they'll hang around and help pollinate the tomatoes and peppers and squash.

It occurs to me that in times of strife and stress such as ours, finding sanctuary in one's home and garden is for some of us about the only way to practice a life worth living. I'm just too old and too tired to march in the streets, and too busy home-keeping to join the festivities at Fair Park--as glad as I am that Dallas is at least paying lip service to sustainability--especially when they can attract loads of visitors and cash in on potential revenue.

So, to those who've visited this blog over the years, I hope you'll enjoy the day/week that's become much more widely celebrated than I'd ever have imagined back in 1970 when I did join the crowds in Philadelphia for my very first Earth Day. Tiny houses, electric cars, greener energy sources, backyard chickens, and myriad other signs that the apocalypse may not actually be upon us (at least not yet) give me some small hope that next year's post will be a little more sanguine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring's Dubious Promise

For some odd reason I was under the impression that I faithfully posted every year on the first day of spring. But, looking back at the roll, I noticed that although I have been a devoted noticer of Earth Day, I seldom post on the vernal Equinox.

That will probably change as of now, because my blogging efforts may slow down even more than they already have as I shift into household management mode.  What writing I will be doing in the future may be of the fiction variety (despite my recent First Official Reject Notice). But I think it would be useful for my own memory to post at least seasonally--although I probably will keep up the Earth Day tradition as well.

So, in honor of the day, the image at left is of the House Clock--the appearance of sunrise in my dining room window on the first day of spring. [For the curious, a search for "house clock" on the blog will locate posts and photos about equinoxes both Vernal and Autumnal, with occasional photos.]

My questioning  spring's promise this year has to do with a couple of issues. For one thing, I don't find much of anything "promising" these days, as I wait for the other shoe to drop in D. C. It really does seem only a matter of time before something really scary or really stupid (or both) happens in the White House. Then there's the weather. It's hard to welcome spring when we've had no winter to speak of--although I realize that those in the northeast have had their share. But in Texas, no appreciable winter is usually followed by bloody hot summer, and what we saved on heating bills will be made up (and then some) by A/C bills beginning, probably, sometime in April. It's actually been warm enough lately (87F expected today) that our neighbors' heat pumps are already switching into cooling mode.

For the past couple of days I've been running around taking advantage of sun and breeze to dig up some garlic chives for transplanting, and getting some veg into the new Stump Henge garden (which is situated in the sunniest part of the yard). It was once a fire pit, but last fall we filled it up with soil and compost and started calling it Woody's Garden. Here's our sweet, now departed pup relaxing next to the Henge on the first day of spring last year:


The wisteria was in bloom then, as it is this year, although not as leafed-out as it is now (the blossoms will be gone within a week or so). A few days ago it had taken over the trees on the west side of the yard and looked quite lovely on a misty morning:


Another reason I'm somewhat doubtful about spring's promise this year stems from not remembering quite how much sun the Henge garden will get--and whether what does fall on it will be enough to provide at least a few tomatoes.  I haven't quite filled it in yet, but here's the preliminary view, taken last evening (Mrs. Peel appears in the center of the photo, lounging on a bit of stump):


The umbrella frame will support Anasazi beans (if they come up), and the two wire cages are for tomatoes. But there are sage  plants, thyme, rosemary, stevia, an eggplant and some butternut squash.  Not terribly ambitious, yet, but I'll go out to see what's available this week and let serendipity prevail. What I really need are nasturtiums, which always brighten up the garden and the landscape in general.

As I come to realize that our exile is probably permanent, I've been trying to "settle" here and acknowledge the enormous good fortune we actually enjoy. But if the summer turns out to be as brutal as the early spring weather portends, I may start spending more time watching "Escape To The Country" on Netflix, and pining for England's green and pleasant land--or at least for Owens Valley's granite-scented, clear, dry heat.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The View From Serendip


The importance of coincidence has always played a role in how I approach this blog. One newspaper item connects with a book or a film—or some other conjunction of media and/or events—and leads to musings that make their way into an essay that falls under the overall concerns of The Farm.

Serendipity is a kind of coincidence, but one with generally favorable connotations. The term comes from the old name for Ceylon (the colonial name for today’s Sri Lanka), and was (according to the OED) coined by Horace Walpole based on a fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip.” According to Walpole, the heroes “were always making discoveries by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” Hence, its definition as “the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” The title of the post is stolen brazenly from Arthur C. Clarke, who lived in Sri Lanka for most of his life (from 1956 until he died in 2008). He published The View From Serendip in 1977, in which he collected assorted essays, memoirs, and speculations.

As recently as 2014, an essay from the book was quoted by Michael Belfiore in his opinion piece for The Guardian, “When robots take our jobs, humans will be the new 1%. Here’s how to fight back.” But even though I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the jobs our current president wants to “bring back” (like coal mining) and why it doesn’t make any sense to do so (in light of what the future probably holds, and the fact that a lot of these jobs kill people—especially when that same president wants to get rid of as much regulation as possible)—this doesn’t even count as one of the occasions that prompted this post. Nevertheless, I should note that Clarke’s predictions often turned out to come true, and the book is well worth reading.

The real impetus for writing came from two directions.  The first arrived in one of my feeds (Medium), and I sent it to my Pocket list for future reference: How to Turn Wikipedia Into a Bottomless Pit of Story Ideas. What intrigued me about the article is that it advocates using Wikipedia the way I used to use library reference indices, by looking “around” various topics, noticing adjacent topics that frequently led to unexpected enrichment of potential source material. As research became more and more focused on digital sources (especially search engines), I often reflected on the loss of that kind of serendipitous encounter, until I realized that Google often afforded similar opportunities. The author of the article (“Moonlighting Writer” for Student Voices) provides a number of tips for using Wikipedia's features for more than just a quick look-up.

This might be a good place to point out that Wikipedia's description of "The Three Princes of Serendip" (linked above) focuses on the princes' education in the arts and sciences, and how they use that education in their adventures.

The next event arrived completely out of left field when my phone lit up with the name of a former student, one of whom I’d been thinking recently but hadn’t heard from for some time. I’d forgotten that she’s on my phone's contact list, else I’d probably have texted her before now. But she was driving through the neighborhood and decided to call me. Since we’d last spoken, she’d gone to grad school to earn a master’s in art education after discovering that working in the gaming industry wasn’t really what she wanted to do. And now she’s teaching high school, thinking about getting a PhD and also about starting a family—at just about the same age I was when I started out on similar path(s).

At the very moment I received her call, I had been wondering what to do with several years’ worth of Archaeology magazines, and realizing that if I wanted to donate them to a school, I’d have to sort through and arrange them by year, and bundle them accordingly—at least a day’s worth of slog.  But as my student and I were talking I connected “art teacher” and “archaeology magazines” and popped the question: Do you have any use for these? And indeed she did. So we got to enjoy a nice catch-up conversation, and I got to unload a slew of old periodicals and art-related stuff I’d been saving for who knows what. And I didn't have to sort through them because they'll be used for mixed media art projects.

In the end, it was particularly rewarding to realize that I don’t really need to abandon hope just because we’ve got an anti-intellectual in the White House, who has no regard for the arts or the sciences. There are young folk out there who have learned to love learning, and have decided to act on their curiosity and creativity and share it with yet another generation or two. One can only imagine what one of her students might do when he or she connects one event with another in the history of archaeology, or juxtaposes one culture’s artistic input with that of another. The possibilities are limited only by their imaginations, which I hope haven't been too stunted by the current cultural climate.

Image note: Mrs. Peel during one of her evening sojourns in the back yard, with serendipitous sunset back-lighting.