Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hiking the woods by Ell Pond

a song of stone and salt sweat.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Garden Blogging:

The clavate tortoise beetle, (plagiometriona clavata) cleaves to the potato leaves like a round limpet.  On its back is the silhouette of a brown teddy bear, with tiny, tiny antennae.  It prefers to lays its eggs on the nightshades -- potato, tomato, eggplant.  Maybe they are in the yard thanks to the deadly nightshades that grow up the back of the hedge. I plucked 35 of them from the potato patch, and, since I'm not an angry gardener yet, I put them gently into the freezer to die.

In the natural course of things I will see the invading army of green spiny larvae - making a lace out of the crucial leaves, each tiny monster wielding a black rumpled shield that it builds of exoskeleton and feces.  Much less charming decoration than the teddy bear silhouette.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My garden this spring is a first step in a longer process - part scientific experiment, part evolutionary system, part skill-set expansion.  I planted eight different varieties of potato.  6 in regular rows, one into broken sod and one under a leaf pile.  I'm planting a mix of squashes as well as a watermelon called moon and stars.  4 heirloom tomato plants went in today, Pruden's Purple, Peacevine Cherry, Black Krim and Jaune Flamme.  Also a quartet of Cassius Cauliflowers and a habanero pepper all bought as starters from the organic nursery.  A patch of parsnips went in just for the heck of it, and basil in a couple of places.  Beans and turnips are still to go in and should fill in the remaining patches.

As much as possible I'm going with heirloom varieties, that is, non-hybrids that breed true and allow you to collect seeds from your more successful plants for the following year.  Not only does it let you fine tune your plants to your local conditions, but it gives you more control over your seed supply (if you can master all the skills involved, of course).  We'll see.

The key to vigor in any evolutionary system is selection from diversity, and that is the logic that guides me here.  It's even more important because I don't trust that our industrial food system (which favors standardization and monoculture over diversity at every step of the process from farm to table) not to get tripped up - either by climate change or fuel shocks or something less foreseeable.  A vigorous gardening culture, with a diversity of varieties could be the key to surviving that with a minimum of malnutrition.
I want to read this night-leaf tarot:

 . . . Sometimes, deep in the night
it rains; and in the morning I find it hasn’t been
a dream. Tarot waiting to be read on a wet
driveway— random lilac, red maple; sharp
green spades that cradled gardenias: what
do they know of warnings and misfortune?
Leaf of the cherry, red heart, organ of fire:
I name you as if I could thread your bones;
I name you not knowing your mystery.
Luisa A. Igloria 
05 27 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Backyard blogging:

On the broken, dry-bones parasol
of last year's Queen Anne's Lace
A twiggish damselfly

In my lazy-man's potato patch
(where I simply broke the sod with a shovel, 
tossed down seed potatoes, 
and covered them all with leaves)
a few plants are pushing up through.

Our Jonathan apple blossomed this year, but doesn't look like it set much fruit.  So when I saw a Macoun tree for sale I bought it to keep the other company.  If they bloom at the same time next spring (and cross-pollinate) they should be happier and appleier.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Perfect weather for doing laundry and planting garden, so I played hooky.  (Actually, one of my co-workers is in Europe and the other on the West Coast, so there was no one to actually play hooky from.)  I got the Harris parsnips in, some Jacob's Cattle beans, 3 hills of Moon and Stars watermelon, 2 hills of butternut squash, 4 hills of Pinetree Seeds summer squash mix, and some random patches of sweet basil.  Only the turnips haven't been planted.  Now let the schooling by the gardening gods begin.  Later this week, I'll pick up some starter plants (tomatoes and maybe hot peppers), some carrot seed, and some pole beans to fill in the rest of the space.

Now where is that colony of bees I've been promised?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kimchi recipe

Rain and rain and rain.  Now my inability to get the garden planted last week doesn't look too bad.  The potatoes are doing fine - erupting up from their subterranean spud reserves - but the cold wet ground can't be a thrill for the other seeds.  Even the violets look a little chastened.  

But meanwhile, here is next month's kimchi about to be packed into the crock . . . .

The recipe for this simplest kimchi:  Chop up a couple of cabbages (in this case red and green for color).  Chop up some carrots as well.  At every layer, knead in some generous shakes of salt and red pepper.  (If, like me, the only hot pepper you have is the stuff for shaking onto pizza, well that seems to work.)  Try to crush and manhandle the cabbage a bit as you knead in the salt.  Then pack it all tightly into a crock, cover it with a plate and weigh the plate down with something heavy.  Set it in the basement for a month or so.  After a few days a brine should form.  Check on it once in a while and skim off any scum that might form.  

I'll let you know how it turns out.

UPDATE: The recipe above left out a crucial ingredient - which is plenty of GARLIC!  Otherwise the kimchi has been a great success.  In later batches I didn't bother with the red cabbage, because I like the crunch of the traditional green cabbage better.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Even here in the boondocks the sound of lawnmowers echoed.  After weeks of damping gloom, a blue-sky weekend released people into their yards and gardens.  Ourselves included.  I brought a new lawnmower for Monica since she refuses to use or tolerate the Luddite reel mower, and I'd broken the pull cord on the old, dysfunctional power mower the summer before last.  So, with the new one up and gasping its way desperately through our verdant crop of hay, I told Porter he could have the old one.  It was sitting alongside the shed, slimed and blanketed not just by last years leaves but by the rotten remnants of the shed's collapsed side roof.  He and Jake proceeded to clear it off, pull the thing apart, clean it, and put it back together.  Shockingly they got it running, even if it did put out a tremendous amount of smoke in a way that made you expect it to explode any second.  But the smoke lessened before anything crucial caught fire and they mowed through the dead grass and litter along the road.  So now they have a noisy, dirty and dangerous toy that pretty much works, except for the fact that the priming button is busted - so in order to start it they need to take off the filter housing, pour a capful of gasoline directly into the carburetor, put the housing back on and yank on the piece of wood that serves as pull-cord handle until smoke and almost-flame pour out with a great belch of noise. 

And still, no one but me has any affection at all for the Luddite reel mower.

Friday, May 20, 2011


The Oil Drum picks up an essay by Jeremy Grantham, which has an amusing section where he's trying to explain why humans don't seem able to make any of the needed adjustments to inevitable crises of climate change, resource depletion, and population overshoot:

The Problem with Humans
As a product of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years of trial and error, it is perhaps not surprising that our species is excellent at many things. Bred to survive on the open savannah, we can run quite fast, throw quite accurately, and climb well enough. Above all, we have excellent spatial awareness and hand/eye coordination. We are often flexible and occasionally inventive.
For dealing with the modern world, we are not, however, particularly well-equipped. We don’t seem to deal well with long horizon issues and deferring gratification. Because we could not store food for over 99% of our species’ career and were totally concerned with staying alive this year and this week, this is not surprising. We are also innumerate. Our typical math skills seem quite undeveloped relative to our nuanced language skills . . . Have you not admired, as I have, the incredible average skill and, perhaps more importantly, the high minimum skill shown by our species in driving through heavy traffic? At what other activity does almost everyone perform so well? Just imagine what driving would be like if those driving skills, which reflect the requirements of our distant past, were replaced by our average math skills!
Yeah, there's a certain logic to that.  (Also too.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

There were a few moments of sun, but only between the showers.  The day was in the 60's mostly and we left the doors open, which makes the cat very happy.  The cabbage that I packed into a crock two weeks before Easter is now deliciously pickled and I put a couple of quarts into the fridge.  

Porter ran the light board for the 7th grade play tonight, dressed all in techie black, with his summer souvenir Indian necklace glittering around his neck -  hematite, coral, turquoise.  The play was based on an old Twilight Zone episode, and he explained to me how television could move perspectives by shifting cameras, but they would do it on stage with the lighting.  He only got his hands on the board the day before the show, so I'm not sure how he managed to master it all.  As it was, he was disappointed that in the last show he blew one of the cues and so the show skipped a scene.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monday I spent in the office in Providence, catching up on neglected tasks.  Today I spent at home assembling notes from the Ohio trip.  I ranged outside only to cut some hay from the overgrown yard for the guinea pig - and bring in a load of not-too-damp firewood to burn away the chill of the house.  At a glance, I saw that at least one row of the potatoes had come up and Monica had let the asparagus bed get completely away from her.  The rhubarb, as usual, bolted immediately, despite Jane's pruning. 

It is now nighttime, and pouring down rain, and the rain is pouring into the spouting and then back out in a long loud sheet, probably because the pine tree has clogged everything with fallen cones and needles.  The basement entryway is a waterfall, but I'll trust to the sump pump to deal with the inflow, because to not trust it means climbing a ladder in this cold drenching night rain.  If the lightning doesn't knock the power out -- we should be OK until morning.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For ten days I traveled, practicing anthropology on the Ohioans -- conversing with working people about their experiences in the workplace and the other places they come together with others to get something done; coaxing them to remember what they have seen when people try to make things change for the better in whatever way.

Though it is draining, I enjoy doing these interviews, probably because it is a pleasure to exercise a skill that you're proficient at.  A good interview is complicated.  I've got the analytical agenda - in this case to discover what cognitive and cultural models still exist among regular Americans for the kind of collective activism that unions and other community institutions once both embodied and enabled.  But for this we have to range not just across their stories of themselves and others, but their more intimate thoughts about the nature of human relationships; how they value and are valued by others -- betrayals, alliances, endeavors.  With every gesture, utterance and expression I have to guide the conversation along the necessary lines - without breaking the reciprocity and deference that has to exist to elicit uncalculating, uninhibited conversation.  I can feel my face and voice express the depth of my listening, and my interest and engagement with the things they say; feigning, when necessary, enough agreement that their normal triggers of conversational caution don't trip.  I ask the questions I have, and in order not to interfere with the flow of their thoughts,  I usually accumulate in my head a catalog of follow-up questions, prompts or possible tangents that I want to return to as opportunities in the conversation occur.  

Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Akron.  By the end, I had 70 interviews on videotape, ranging in length from a few minutes to an hour long.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I finished painting the beehive with linseed oil.  I planted the rest of the potatoes in the dug-up lower yard and Dad packed up the leftovers to take down to Pennsylvania.  Mom had bought the boys kites, and they flew them in the hay field across the way.  Jane came over to cut some rhubarb and we showed her the morels that are coming up in the asparagus bed.  Because he was getting restless, I set Dad to work killing off the burning bush beside the shed.  Monica went to the new fishmonger, Captain Dave, and brought home a haddock for lunch.  Nicki Newbury came by with her little girl to take some of our lilies of the valley because they remind her of home and England, and I sent her off with all the myrtle and daffodils that we dug up from the new garden patch next to the peach tree.  To keep her entertained, I picked the little girl a bouquet of flowers one blossom at a time.