Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Into Autumn

First Overhead Balloon of the Season
Another season turning: better weather, a bit of rain, lingering hot days (but cooler nights). It's a few days past the equinox, a few days short of the full Harvest moon, and I'm getting ready for eye surgery which will put me out of commission for a week or so, but should preserve the sight in my left eye.  In preparation, I've been taking it easy, pottering about the garden, and trying to ignore the news. Molly has taken to spending time with me on the backyard table when I go out to drink my morning tea, so I get a dose of companionship and cuteness before the mozzies figure out that I haven't bathed in repellant. 

Sunday in the Garden with Molly

Nylah is usually over behind the garage, keeping watch for errant dogs or babies who might stroll by. Although basically quite intelligent, her Great Pyrenees genes tend to keep her in "big dumb mop"* mode, more ornamental than useful. She is pretty to watch, but seldom photogenic enough to capture. The last photo I took was in June:

Nylah Lounging in Woody's Garden

In terms of holidays, the Celts celebrated the transition from summer to fall at the equinox, and through to Samhain (which marks the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, and coincides with Halloween)--when cattle were brought down from summer pastures. I'm wondering just how long it will take the current weather patterns to complete the change, given all of the climatic upheavals we seem to be "enjoying." 

One of the seasonal markers that occur fairly regularly here in the northern part of Occupied Mexico is the Plano Balloon Festival, which takes place about ten miles south of here, near where we lived while my kids were growing up. This year it coincided with the equinox (September 21-24), and the opening photo for this post (taken on September 18) probably represents someone practicing before the event. I'm not sure how much ballooning actually got done because of high winds and other kinds of threatening weather, but we haven't attended the event since The Beloved Spouse began tennis coaching, because by then the whole thing had become a circus and the team got wrangled into participating. 

Celebrations of all kinds seem to have run amok in the last few decades, in part because they've become huge cash cows for businesses. The market-capitalism greed machine has overtaken the communitarian aspect of seasonal goings on, and now they all appear to run together, and the hype begins earlier and earlier each year. 

A couple of days ago, while I was looking through old posts for a family recipe, I revisited the first year of this blog. The November 27th, 2007 entry (entitled "Enough") ruminated on greed--so it's clear that things haven't improved much. 

Nevertheless, I keep finding small indications that some shifts might be taking place. An article in the New York Times on young Luddites (from December of 2022) suggests that technology may not have quite the grip that some of us fear, at least among Gen Z. These kids actually remind me a bit of a group of rather pretentious intellectuals from the local boys' Catholic high school and the public school I attended. We all got grounded around graduation time because we stayed out all night at one guy's house reading T. S. Eliot, discussing The Little Prince, and listening to a couple of them playing Chopin etudes--and there weren't even flip phones for us to call home with.

An article in this week's New Yorker, Sam Knight's "A Young Architect's Designs for the Climate Apocalypse"  quoted from an essay by architect Anthony Dunne in the journal, Reading Design: "A Larger Reality," wherein he quotes from Ursula K. Le Guin's acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, where she enjoined science fiction and fantasy, and other "writers of the imagination" to challenge the profiteers of the written word who dictate what should be written and rewarded:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality. (Copyright © 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin)

With this in mind, I'd like to recommend two small books that provide us with a glimpse of a possible future that avoids Armageddon and turns away from climate apocalypse: Becky Chambers's A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Macmillan 2021 and 2022). For a nice essay that shows why I might be recommending these books, see Molly Templeton's "The Refreshing Hopefulness of Becky Chambers' Monk and Robot Books."

See you on the other side. Or, as Capt. Mal Reynolds would say, "Y'all gonna be here when I wake up?"**

*Not an entirely coincidental reference, because I just finished my second reading of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy last night, I found this passage describing Sibling Dex's family dogs to be a particularly appropriate description of Nylah's lineage and demeanor: "There were three of them, all shaggy herders painted in soft swirls of brown and black, smart as hell when they were at work and big dumb mops every other hour of the day" (113). It's also appropriate that the photo of Nylah I included was taken in the little garden dedicated to one of her two predecessors, Woody--of Woody and Arlo fame. Both were border collie mixes, of which breed Nylah is about half, all of these three also big dumb mops when they're not busy being herders.

**False alarm. My retina surgery has been postponed. But thanks for any concern.


Monday, September 4, 2023

How Much Is Enough?

Note: This post was actually written about a week ago, but life got in the way, the weather's since been up and down, and we're at the beginning of another heat wave. The musings, however, still hold.

Late August morning in McKinney; First clouds in weeks!

The Beloved Spouse and I were enjoying the cool, breezy morning--after weeks of blistering temperatures with only one, short, previous break. This is beginning to look like a harbinger of Fall, but we're not celebrating extended good fortune quite yet. Still, even a short-lived respite is welcome, and recognizing good fortune often results in good conversation.

As often happens among the philosophically inclined, we were discussing the conditions that have created the current socio-political situation: climate change, energy consumption, consumption in general, the kind of materialism that convinces people that they need more and more stuff (instead of the kind of materialism that focuses on what exists rather than what people imagine might be out there), greed, The Future. In other words, Life, the Universe, and Everything. As we often do.

After we had mused about what we could do to ameliorate things (acquire an electric car, increase our solar production/battery capabilities), I wondered out loud about how much of what we already do makes even a dent in the overall condition of the planet: cut unnecessary consumption of consumer goods rather drastically, eliminate food waste, conserve power, reduce reliance on natural gas, minimize water use, eliminate single-use plastics, rely as much as possible on locally sourced food (sustainably grown and humanely raised),  minimize car use--all of which we're already pretty good at.

But to what end? If as few people actually make these efforts as seems to be the case, are we really accomplishing anything? 

We also live in an area of the country that's experiencing monstrous growth with the accompanying environmental degradation, increased pollution, massive addition of concrete and other problematic infrastructure materials, and demand for (and ultimate shortage of) water resources. The influx of population is bringing with it not only more people, more jobs, increasing property values, and a larger tax base (which are all considered Good Things in Texas), but is also exacerbating all of the problems conscientious people are trying to deal with.

A few signs of hope occasionally appear, like the increasing presence of local farms practicing regenerative agriculture (even as land gets snatched up by developers), urban farmlets cropping (sorry) up in South Dallas's food desert, cooperative enterprises that involve farmers, artisans, restaurateurs, food purveyors, and other socially and environmentally responsible entrepreneurs. But can they keep up with the "progress as growth" ethos built into the kind of consumer capitalism that dominates the current economy?

Another hopeful sign is the increasing number of "slow" movements sneaking into the existing economic forecast. Backlashes against destructive consumerism, especially in food and fashion, are appearing in the news, online, and in shelter magazines. The permaculture movement, most visibly evident in Australia, but catching on in Great Britain, the US, and Canada fairly conspicuously, is becoming a "thing." I've become an avid reader of Tom Hodgkinson's The Idler, which advocates slowing down and smelling flowers, but also a slower, more engaged, less frenetic economy. I only subscribed after it became available digitally because of my problematic relationship with print publications. (Digital subscriptions are also less expensive.) It is, however, highly entertaining, and often quite instructive.

Oddly enough, given my technologically skeptical bent, social media platforms like Pinterest and YouTube are helpful in promulgating practices that lead to slowing down and less active forms of consumption. For example, TBS and I have become followers of a few travel vlogs that allow us to enjoy activities out of our financial reach (such as sailing, or wandering around Scotland, or boating on the British canal system, or living in a Japanese satoyama and restoring a rice farm) vicariously. Every day we can learn something about the latest astrophysics news, watch Italian nonnas make pasta, or clever chefs show us how to make dishes from recipes published in the New York Times food section. Pinterest allows me to collect and curate inspiring photos and articles like those I used to cut out of the shelter magazines I subscribed to and save in notebooks. Now I can do much more with the interesting ideas I come across. At least until the EMP comes and fries the Cloud.

And so, while we still have pipe dreams about buying an electric truck and pulling an electric caravan, it's more likely that we'll keep plugging away at doing what we can to lower our planetary impact. I may not be able to maintain a completely waste-free household (the kind of effort that frequently appears in the newspaper and magazine articles I consume), over the last decade we have managed to reduce our trash output to a single green bin per month (stuff headed for the tip), and our recycle bin goes out every month or so. New clothing purchases are primarily confined to tennis shoes (TBS's avocation requires properly supportive foot ware) and underwear, neither of which are suitably acquired at charity shops.  I'm also hoping to solve some of our energy-consumption challenges by creating insulated portieres to help us isolate single rooms when we need an air conditioner to escape the heat, or a heated room to withstand the cold. We're currently recycling old woven serapes, but they're not as efficient as they could be. Over the years, however, I've collected large bins of fabrics--from worn clothing, bed linens, remnants from old projects, and thrift-store finds, all of which will allow me to make use of my antique-looking sewing machine or (if I'm feeling especially frugal) my grandmother's treadle machine, on which I learned to sew in the first place.

In fact, ruminating on the conditions in which my grandmother grew up (isolated Nevada ranch with no running water, indoor plumbing, nor electricity), and remembering the little two-room cottage with a single water spigot in the kitchen and outdoor toilet where my family spent a year in Japan, provides a reality check when I feel a bit picked on by the cosmos.

All of this navel gazing has come about in part because of the 100-degree (F) exterior heat that's characterized the last two months, and that seeps into a wood-frame house with brick cladding and little insulation (and not much we can really do about it). Upgrading heating and cooling sources, and otherwise improving a century-old house built to withstand nineteenth-century temperatures, requires more money (and in some cases, physical effort) than we can expend. So we make do, as inventively as we can, because we chose this house, and love it enough to keep living in it. 

We are deeply aware that there are unimaginable numbers of people in this world, and even in this very state, who are far worse off than we are. And if our meager efforts to make a difference aren't any where near enough, at least they're not nothing.

And maybe, at least for now, that has to be enough.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Summer, Do Your Worst!

These wee wispy things pass for clouds these days

Happy Lammas Day, everyone! 

Although the first of August here in north Texas is only partly about harvesting (I'll have some peppers from the garden, and the last of the tomatoes, tonight in celebration), the need to find something to celebrate rises with the temperature. My antipathy toward Texas is always at its height in summer, and more so this one, during which it looks like we could have weeks of 100ish days before we get a break. 

Lammas Day pretty much marks the true Midsummer, occurring as it does about halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. In Medieval times in Scotland it was called the Gule of August, perhaps from the Latin gule, for throat or gullet, and hence "opening"--but perhaps also, or instead, from associations with gluttony or feasting. My Latin dictionaries don't provide any direct origins, but either might work. In Ireland, it's called Lughnasad, and established by the Celtic god Lugh in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu, who died on August 1. (See the article on Newgrange.com for a more complete account.) Robert Burns had his way with Annie on Lammas night (The Rigs O' Barley), so there's that aspect as well. I'm thinking that The Beloved Spouse and I can forgo the French murder mysteries we've become addicted to and instead opt tonight to revisit the 1998 film, Dancing At Lugnasa, which I remember enjoying, and which we have on DVD.

As I write this, I sit at my desk drenched in perspiration. It's "only" 98 outside (on its way to 105), but the humidity (40%) and the dew point (70 F) make it feel like 104 already.  The window air con is set at 78, but there's no real insulation in the walls, so even having all the shades and curtains drawn doesn't help all that much. 

In fact, however, the temperatures here haven't hit much higher than 100 most days, and if I get out in the morning, it can be quite pleasant if there's a breeze. The snug is kept cooled for the Very Large and Very Hairy Dog, and even the heat-tolerant cat has been kipping upstairs where we also keep a unit on all day. She and I spend time up there in the early afternoon, where I read or nap, and she sploots like a squirrel. Except upside down, belly bared. We have another week of this before there's a chance of cooler temperatures and even a bit of rain. I'll believe it when I see it--and may go out and dance a bit to celebrate that.

For anyone who's been wondering about my attempts to save the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies, I've had one success out of two. The first one pupated, but never hatched. The second pupated much later, and hatched after only about 10 days. I was so anxious to free it from the hatchery that I didn't get a photo. Its egg was laid in a pot of parsley, so I was able to keep it fed and sheltered until it created its chrysalis, and then transferred it to the net cage for metamorphosing. Fewer than two weeks later I was checking on the other one when I noticed a fully transformed male butterfly and promptly let him out.  

While all this was going on I was reading Becky Chambers's compelling novella about space travel (To Be Taught if Fortunate) in which she describes the metamorphosis of a moth. Here's a snippet:

It walks and eats and walks and eats and walks and eats, until one day, it stops. It finds a branch or a leaf. It wraps itself in a protective net of protein. And then, improbably: it dissolves. 

The rest is science poetry, and I urge you to read the book.

Caterpiller #2, walking and eating

Our red neon skimmer dragonflies are back, and one is very fond of a long piece of rebar in our raised bed. I got a nice closeup, and now have a five-year collection of portraits. Every year we also harbor a couple of dagger moths (American?) who blend in beautifully with our big pecan trees. It's common for us to walk by without seeing them, and then they flit off to another tree.

Red neon skimmer dragonfly

Some sort of dagger moth

Making sure that there are enough pollen sources, watering holes, and other amenities is a major preoccupation at the Farm during inclement weather of all sorts. Fortunately, there are enough perennials to provide nectar and other food for birds and bugs passing through. I do like how the trumpet vine looks on its trellis, because it provides nutrition for hummingbirds--and ants (which probably get sucked in with nectar by the birds). 

The one disappointment this time of year is ho-hum skies. For days we'll see no clouds at all, which means that sunrises and sunsets don't offer much excitement. But tonight we'll get to enjoy the Full Sturgeon Moon--with a blue supermoon at the end of the month. I probably won't try to get a shot of the Sturgeon moon because it rises rather late for us, and heat-wise it's still in the 90s when we head upstairs. But by the time I'm ready for sleep it should be up, so I should be able to spend a little time gazing at it before I call it quits for Lammas night. 

By the way, the title of this post comes from Dorothy Parker's almost metamorphic (as well as metaphoric) poem, August, with which many of us who get ourselves mixed up with plants can empathize.

Be (and stay) cool, and dance for rain.