Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Nature Center has a "spooky nature trail" winding through the woods on the nights before Halloween.  The path is poorly lit with a hundred jack-o-lanterns flickering.   Because most people find a nighttime walk through the dark, windy woods scary enough, they were going with a fairytale theme this year.  Monica had volunteered us all to play our roles.  Porter, in my old gray Swiss army cape, was off in the Peter Pan area as one of the Lost Boys.  Monica was roaming the trail as Tiger Lily, relighting candles that had guttered out.  Nico, undaunted by any gender-bent nonsense, was Little Red Riding Hood.  And I found myself encased in a wolf costume.

Nico would skip up the trail in his red hood and cape.  Then as people passed me, I'd shamble out of the darkness and ask in my gravelly wolf-voice, "Have you seen a small child . . . in a . . . red riding hood?"  Often, I would add, "She smells delicious," and sometimes, "and you smell delicious."  And people would laugh.  In the darkness it was hard to see out of the mask, but as far as I could tell, some kids would hide behind their parents, some would lecture me about not eating small children; a few would merrily betray Riding Hoods whereabouts, though there were more who would misdirect me.  One growled me back into the shadows, another threatened me with her glowstick whip and two sisters demanded hugs that I couldn't refuse.

Toward the end the barred owls were hooting excitedly and Nico skipped away to explore the trail himself - eventually returning with reinforcements.  So he and his fearless friends piled onto to me and ground the big bad wolf down onto the leaves of the forest.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Ash Ketchum,

Pokemon trainer.

Nico is ready

for Halloween.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


 I quit work early yesterday to go for a hike over the stone wall – to trade the madding crowd’s ignoble strife for the smell of leaf-mould and the jab of the greenbriar.

I was distracted, though.  We’ve been doing work lately on environmental issues and I’d been reading the doomer blogs again.  So I took the ignoble strife in with me.  One prominent doomer, Guy McPherson, blogs that the speedy collapse of the industrial era is the only thing that can save the world from utter catastrophe.  The sooner the better if we want to preserve a viable biosphere.   A few days ago, he was writing about the myths that sustain our complacency in the face of global warming and the end of cheap oil, and there was one myth that I would have added:  the myth that we’ve progressed beyond the possibility of famine.  I spent half of September as an ethnographer among CAFOs, traveling through New Mexico, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and could see the way our food system is growing more and more monolithic and fragile.  It’s not just that we are shifting our food production to a CAFO system utterly dependent on a small class of operators, requiring huge inputs of grain, water, and fossil fuel – it’s that we are dismantling our back up systems precisely at the time when climate instability and fossil fuel shocks may completely change the rules of the game.  To say the family farms are disappearing is cliché, but what once seemed unfortunate, now seems potentially suicidal.  It's disheartening to see that broad base of expertise, commitment and attention to the food system, being systematically dismantled and tossed into the ashbin of history – all so that we can concentrate our food production into an ever more unstable edifice.

So it was that the normal grounding therapy of a walk in the woods, wasn’t having its effect.  I looked at the bounty of acorns under the scarlet oaks and found myself wondering how much nutritional value was there and how exactly did the Native Americans get the tannins out.  Staring up at the empty cones of the pitch pine, I tried to reckon what time of year you'd need to steal pine nuts away from the red squirrels.  Though there seemed to be no squirrels around.  Maybe they could sense my mood. 

There is a spit of high ground that juts out toward the Pawcatuck river with swampland on either side.  At some point in the past someone had homesteaded it, and in a clearing there is an old stone foundation built into the side of a hillock, a few dead apple trees and one lilac being slowly smothered by old-man’s-beard.  I found a place where beaver had been girdling some cherry trees and I pushed through stands of arrow wood and out onto the swamp.  The oaks have all gone red, the pines green and yellow and the lily pads were dying back into the black water.  I stood on the hummocks made by the small cedars and noticed that the sphagnum moss under my boots was taking on its own fall colors.  A flock of ducks circled, their wings whistling.   The jays, who had been offering noisy commentary ever since I left the path, grew quiet.  A light mist was falling on the back of my neck, a cool arpeggio from the darkening storm-sky.

And as I looked up the swamp toward open water and the colorful line of trees beyond, I found that my anxiety and depression had lifted.   I didn’t care what happened to humans.  We were the species that were supposed to have vision but if we were going envision ourselves to extinction, I just didn’t care.  The rain continued to fall onto my bare neck.  Cedar Waxwings flitted overhead, linking themselves together with their calls, their thin, barely audible thwees.   I found that I stopped worrying about what the damned species was doing.  At least we couldn’t destroy the swamp.  Oh, we could destroy this swamp, and we might take the red cedar and the tawny cotton grass with us into oblivion, but we couldn’t destroy the swamp – the wet confluence of rot and growth and slimy adaptation that meant swamp.  The sphagnum moss had outlived the dinosaurs and it would outlive us.

A flock of Canada geese splash-landed noisily on the water and I withdrew back into the woods to leave them in possession of the place.  I began my hike back on the path of pine needles and oak leaves, and gradually back into caring – about humans and what we are doing.  The fog of depression had cleared a bit.  I was ready to get back to work in the salt mines of public communications.  On the way home I stopped at an apple tree in the woods and knocked down a half-dozen small apples to take home to the boys.  And I would still look up how you eat acorns, just in case.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the woods behind my house a thousand hickory nuts are going to fall. No one but the squirrels will pick them up. The nutmeat of the hickory is actually delicious, especially for baking, but it is locked in hard convolutions in the shell. I think you need the slow time of winter in order to eat hickory nuts. To sit with a vise and a bucket for the shells and a bowl for the nutmeats and chat and think and pick the bits of nut from the convolutions. I think sometimes that I won't really have tried out slow time until I've gathered a barrel of hickory nuts and then emptied in over the course of a winter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anatomy of a pretty good day (and Monica's 45 birthday).
Everyone was up early for a Saturday morning. So there was mango smoothie and expresso of freshly-ground Costa Rican coffee.

A little after 8:30 Nico and I drove toward Mystic to his friend Trey's house, where a half dozen kids were gathering around their chess teacher.  The forest of Eastern Connecticut is right now endlessly yellow, spattered with orange and broken by hayfields that are shorn and spring-like green.  The gaudy scarlet of the maples has been mostly stolen by the wind, but the oaks are bleeding out new red to the hills and roadsides.  We found Trey's house down a gravelly cul de sac above Cove Road and I left Nico there to test his skills against the teacher.

I drove down onto Route One, and in the inlets there were cormorants drying their wings out upon each white-stained rock.  I wound my way out onto Stonington borough for the farmers market.  It was cold enough to see your breath if you were in shade.  I bought a cabbage and some big white radishes to make kimchi; some Sweet Tolman apples for applesauce; cauliflower and broccoli; leeks for a soup;  late, strong-flavored arugula; a small bag of Copra onions; some stone ground flint corn - and got an old man's phone number for buying seed this winter if I decide to plant.

After more coffee at the Mystic Market, I rejoined the chess players.  Nico was playing black and fighting a determined defense, but couldn't salvage a draw in the end.  "Chess is tiring!" he said to me as he collapsed onto my shoulder for a moment.  A couple of the other parents had arrived as well.  Penny, Trey's mother, was cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer and told us a story of how she'd been traumatized by finishing 7th in the state tournament when she was nine years old . . .

We got back to the house where Monica was eating vanilla ice cream from a teacup and taking birthday wishes from her family on the phone.  We had a lunch of bread and butter and honey, and tested out the quince jam I made the other day . . .

And drove to Charles and Patti's to gather them and their girls for a hike.  Waiting for Patti to return with Anya from a violin lesson, Charles and Monica had a beer and we sat on the floor catching up and complaining about the toll that busy-ness takes on everything we try to do.  Patti and the girls showed up, and Patti was looking drawn from her two-weeks business trek in China and Japan.  We loaded up on water-bottles, got the kids shoed and jacketed, and piled all eight of us into the school's suburban.  Then, with the Talking Heads playing on the speakers, we drove again through the beautiful, autumn landscape.

We strolled the trails of Teftweald.  The kids ran on ahead.  The laurel and the youngest of the beech trees are still green leaved - and of course, the hemlock, as always seemed darkly indifferent to the season.  There's a cleft in the woods where the stream gathers into a pool that is black, but also golden with floating leaves of beech and hickory.  On the shelf of rock that Monica calls the poet's bench we played predator-and-prey.  The predator counts to 30 while the others go into hiding.  The predator scans from the rock and the prey have to keep their eyes on the predator from cover without being sighted themselves.

When we dragged the kids from the woods, it wasn't even 5 yet, but everyone was hungry.  So we splurged for dinner at the Pita Spot, a Lebanese restaurant in Mystic. While they got the kids settled in, I went across the street to buy a couple of bottles of wine -- a St. Francis cab to start with and a Gnarley Head old vine zin to coast on through.  The waitress tied bangled sashes around the girls waists and brought us appetizers.

There was hummus and tabouli, baba ghannouj, moudardara and loubieh.  And Monica and I split a lamb kabob that was just too good to drizzle the garlicky sauces on . . .

Saturday, October 23, 2010

‘I’ve also studied deeply
 in the philosophies and religions, 
but cheerfulness kept breaking through . . . 
There ain’t no cure for love.’ 
                                                 -- Leonard Cohen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The quince have fallen.  

Time to make some jelly.

And after homework's done,

carve some jack-o-lanterns.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Some days, I wonder how John Cole has such a heavily trafficked blog.  (Though I read it devotedly, skipping past most of the pet-posts.)  Then he says something like this:
The problem, as far as I see it, is that too many privileged people can’t get it through their damned heads that most poor people aren’t lazy, drunk, or just living large on the welfare, but were born into far shittier situations than most of the wealthy people in America. I’m willing to agree that most rich and poor people work really hard for what they have. Just the rich have it a helluva lot better and their concept of “hard” is a little different.
It's possibly the clearest and most succinct explanation I've ever heard of the matters of "structural inequality" and "privilege" that social scientists have been trying (and mostly failing) to articulate to the lay public for the past 40 years.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I like this story from the blog Slacktivist:

In the 1950s, an old hillbilly preacher invited Clarence Jordan (the late founder of Koinonia Farmthe community that gave us Habitat for Humanity), to come and speak at his church in rural South Carolina. Jordan arrived to find, to his surprise, a large, thriving and racially integrated congregation -- a remarkable thing in that time and place. (Sadly, it's actually a remarkable thing in any time or place.) So Clarence asked the man how this came about.
When he first got there as a substitute preacher, the old man said, it was a small, all-white congregation of a few dozen families. So he gave a sermon on the bit from Galatians where Paul writes: "You are all children of God ... There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
"When the service was over, the deacons took me in the back room and they told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more."
Clarence asked, "What did you do then?"
The old preacher answered, "I fired them deacons!"
"How come they didn't fire you?" asked Clarence.
"Well, they never hired me," the old preacher responded. ... "Once I found out what bothered them people, I preached the same message every Sunday. It didn't take much time before I had that church preached down to four."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is there a term for that particular racket where you offer a "solution" that helps to intensify and perpetuate the problem you are (dishonestly) claiming to solve?  Medical quackery has a long history, but isn't usually sophisticated enough to actively support and prolong a malady.  (Update: though maybe medicine is growing more sophisticated after all.) Glenn Greenwald complains that the war on drugs and the war on terror are mirror images of one another in that they are not so much incompetent so much as dexterously designed to NOT solve their respective "problems".  On the contrary, it suits the architects of both drug and national security policies to have those wars ever worsening and never ending.  For them peace (or even amelioration) would be an unwelcome turn.  As Greenwald puts it:

These two intrinsically unwinnable wars -- unwinnable by design -- seem destined to endure forever, or at least until some sort of major financial collapse simply permits them no longer.

It's the perfect deceit.  These wars, in an endless loop, sustain and strengthen the very menaces which, in turn, justify their continuous escalation.  These wars manufacture the very dangers they are ostensibly designed to combat.  Meanwhile, the industries which fight them become richer and richer.  The political officials those industries own become more and more powerful.  Brutal drug cartels monopolize an unimaginably profitable, no-competition industry, while Terrorists are continuously supplied the perfect rationale for persauding huge numbers of otherwise unsympathetic people to join them or support them.  Everyone wins -- except for ordinary citizens, who become poorer and poorer, more and more imprisoned, meeker and meeker, and less and less free.

Some observers are hoping that once power is regained by the motley coalition of crazies and opportunists that inhabit the corpse of the Republican party, the exposure of their internal inconsistencies will tear it apart.  But I think the Republican Party, like the wars on drugs and terror, is not a real instrument for accomplishing anything constructive.  It has morphed into a whirling dervish of political nonsense that serves only to perpetuate itself, serve as covering fire for plutocratic looting, and to ensure that political democracy cannot function.

Is there actually a "problem" purportedly dear to the hearts of the party that Republican policies would actually solve rather than worsen?  On the contrary, except for oppressing gays and keeping Joe Public armed, I can't think of any policy in the platform that isn't exactly the kind of malignly counter-productive smokescreen quackery that Greenwald is talking about.  Immigration?  check.  Deficit spending?  check.  Abortion?  check.  Energy independence?  check.  Corruption?  checkity-check-check.

Though the Democratic Party is too conservative, too wealthy, too corrupt, too gerontocratic, and too pleased with its own timidity, it is at least still a potential instrument of administration and even sometimes, can be a reluctant servant of the public good.  The Republican Party is nothing more than a zombie institution animated by billionaire mischief-makers and their mercenary symbiotes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

There are times when life skates upon ice that is thick and textured and three feet thick like a deep-winter Pocono lake.  You can look down into it and chart its depth and seriousness in the bubbles and fractures and scars of its own self-creation.  Lately I'm a dabbler-duck in life that is more like frozen apple sauce, which is delicious and truly one of my favorite things, but the thready little ice crystals are not exactly serious or skateable.  No, life's been a bit crunchy and fragmentary and not lending itself to long or consistent campaigns at any one thing.

At work it's been four projects about public communications (privatization, deficit spending, nitrogen pollution, farm policy) all handed around and assembled by committee.  But too many deadlines all falling together and all the back-burner matters going undone and hardening on my computer desktop like so much neglected oatmeal.  Porter is busy at school and with his burden of homework and other educational rigamarole; Nico has a lighter load, but the teachers are tempted to push him for his brightness.  Monica has been sucked deeper into the Pine Point school, her responsibilities coagulating into two half-time jobs -- one as teacher the other as driver.  At least for her second shift she can seat-belt them all in and cruise I-95 in a sound-cloud of David Byrne or Julieta Venegas.

Monica's mother Esperanza is visiting along with her aunt, Hilma.  Then quickly, the three of them headed off to Vermont on to see the fall colors - leaving me in single-parentage, neck deep in writing up our dairy ethnography research while also running some experiments on (the uphill battle of) how to educate the public on the virtues deficit spending.  Then they were back and Porter was off to the White mountains on a class camping trip all week.  And so it continues.

Meanwhile, as part of the sputtering re-boot of my personal philosophy into some hybridized blogostani bourgeoise-pagan-doomerism, I had signed up for a "food preservation" course with Sharon Astyk, but have pretty much been failing at it.  Heading off to Minnesota in the middle didn't help.  I did manage to jar 5 pints of applesauce and I've set sauerkraut into motion. (Kimchi will be next, but I thought I'd start simple.)  I'm eyeing the quince for jelly.  Tiling the bathroom, painting the bulkhead, washing the windows, framing out a root cellar, stacking the two cords of firewood in the driveway, and so on have been gently and futiley fluttering mothlike against the window of my inattention.

Mom and Dad made a sudden road trip and campered in the driveway for a couple of days.  We planted some native plants Dad'd brought for me, and went hiking at Ninigret Pond, talked about the sorry state of politics, and Mom helped me hang pictures around the house that had been languishing in corners and atop the armoire since the summer wall-painting project.  We were all glad to have them for their short visit, though the date of my eventually getting back upon thick ice was knocked further down the paths.