Saturday, July 5, 2014

December, Part 2

December, Part 2



Populations of any species explode when the limiting resource becomes, in effect, unlimited. More phosphorus in a lake, more algae. There's an exponential increase, then when the limit of the phosphorus is reached, the algae suffers a catastrophic crash.

It's the same for civilizations. Ours craves energy and has discovered that the most economical (under rather carefully engineered circumstances) form of energy is petroleum.

Petroleum is due to run out soon.

On that, find the June 2004 National Geographic, "The End of Cheap Oil,'" pp. 80-109. If you read nothing else in the next while, read that, and especially study the chart on pp. 90-91. After that you'll understand pretty much everything that's being said, and carefully not said, on cable news channels: about politics, prices, stocks, warfare, terrorism, all of it. There's little chance of our escaping the future foretold in the article without global change in our habits and intentions.

How do you think that's going to go?

This year, Christmas fell into what around here is called a "blue hole," that is, it was a sunny day, producing shirt-sleeve weather which I felt I might as well enjoy as not. For awhile, sitting on a bench in the sun with the row of Douglas firs to my back was pretty enchanting, at least as long as the tea lasted. But, as often happens, the beauty of the view consisted in part in knowing what things ought to be done. The guests hadn't arrived yet, and I had done my indoors part in preparing for them, so I set down my cup and wandered up to the barn. Lots of straw here, full of the stuff that straw fills up with when it is called "bedding." Time to get that down to the garden. I went for the wheelbarrow, found its tire flat, rooted around in the garage for a tire pump, found one, pumped up the tire, collected a hay fork, and mucked out the barn. This made nine wheelbarrow loads.

I do enjoy putting the gardens to bed for the winter. There are hoses to be drained and rolled up, tomato cages to stack and file away, tools to organize, pots to sort, disposing of those too badly cracked to save another year, and passing Canada geese to be listened to as they go over their itinerary for the trip south.

This year the warmth has stayed very late indeed. The grass is growing, and smells of spring when cut. The daisies have sent up several December blooms, and Beloved's nasturtiums, calendulas, and miniature hollyhocks have done the same. We still have cosmos, though these are finally on their way out. I have gone round to check the lilacs and the trees, and the filberts are perilously close to bud-break. The green spikes of elephant garlic, which I usually see in February, are already a foot high. There are flies, and bees, and the air is full of songbird noises such as one might hear on a June morning. So much warmth is lovely but it is also disturbing.

El Nino? Global warming? A few years ago the creek went almost a hundred feet wide, hauling tons of our soil away to the Pacific, and shifting our well-house on its foundation. Several people in our area died that night in mudslides. This, too, I'm told, was a sign of global warming, a type of immense storm front known as the "Pineapple Express," rolling up from the waters off Hawaii, dumping six, seven, eight inches of rain at a time in various canyons of the Cascade Range, overwhelming the might and pride of the region's vast network of flood-control dams and levees.

Global warming, I've read somewhere, doesn't especially produce hot, sunny summers. It produces cloud cover, an increase in precipitation, an increase in wind, and records: record tornadoes, record hurricanes, record blizzards: spikes of hot and cold, fast and slow, all over the record books and the insurance company ledgers.

News anchors will rehearse the "the most" this, and "the biggest" that. And the most and the biggest of anything to do with weather will get our attention when we're out in it, or even when it comes knocking at our door.

I once tenanted a house built of oak, half-timbered in the Tudor style. A storm came in the night and threw a two-hundred-year-old oak tree against that house, oak bone against bones of oak. The house stood the blow, and the tree rolled down the steep pitch of the roof's edge, shredding slates and pitching them over a quarter of an acre.

I awoke in time to see an enormous branch punch through the bedroom window, pass within inches of my face, and withdraw again as suddenly as it had come, leaving the empty window to fill with night and a moaning wind. If we are causing an increase in events of this kind, it's time to seriously consider our actions.

It's my understanding that while climate swings are unavoidable, there is evidence that the current one, if not caused by human activity, is influenced by it. The principal ingredient of that influence is the increase in what are called greenhouse gases, and the major component of these is carbon in the form of carbon dioxide: one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms per molecule, to the tune of millions of tons of these molecules in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is in fact a principal ingredient of life; plants have to have it, in order get hold of their primary building block, which is carbon. They throw away the oxygen, which is how we animals get our free oxygen molecules to breathe. When plants die and rot, or when they burn, which is a normal and frequent event in nature, they release nearly all their carbon back into the atmosphere. So one might ask: how is it carbon dioxide is a problem? Can there be too much of it if all the plants return it to the atmosphere all the time anyway, in a natural cycle?

A way to understand the problem is to use a banking metaphor. We make a certain amount of money a year, and we spend most of it to maintain our lifestyle.

We have a checking account.

All the money in the checking account will be spent eventually; but there must be a minimum balance today or we'll start bouncing checks.

Perhaps we also have a savings account, and we use its funds to cover our checks, to prevent our overdrafts from ruining our credit.

If we've been abusing the checking account's minimum balance, and if we use up the money in the savings account, we won't be able to support our current lifestyle.

Where the carbon went is into limestone and fossil fuels.

At the bottoms of the seas and peat bogs of the world, for perhaps billions of years, carbon has been taken out of circulation that would ordinarily have been exhaled into the atmosphere in the normal rot cycle. Most of this went into the limestone, but a lot of it is crude oil and natural gas, a buried and compressed soup of molecules with long names, nearly all of which contain carbon atoms. There are billions of tons of carbon in this savings account.

Our checking account of energy is sunshine and the flows of energy that are directly the product of sunshine: wind, water, wood, animals, farms, gardens, alcohol, natural rubber, hydrogen. Direct deposit.

Our savings account is the stuff from beneath the earth: coal, diesel, fuel oil, gasoline, synthetic lubricants, synthetic rubbers, and plastics: vinyl, polyethylene, nylon, polyurethane. Capital.

We spend this account at a furious rate, because we cannot live as we wish to live on our income from the sun. There are too many of us, with our real needs, and of us there are too many with artificially inflated needs.

We are perhaps at a point where bankruptcy is inevitable; where our tenure on earth has become untenable and we may soon be forced to give up the lease. Other tenants will come: perhaps the cockroaches, and perhaps this will be a good thing.

But I do love my children, and I feel I should have something to offer them. This is not about their holiday wish list, it's about seeking to stabilize my finances, my planetary-bank-account finances, on their behalf. I wish to offer them a tenable hold on our lease.

I well understand this is a project fraught with hypocrisy.

I'm a middle-class American, and Americans, about five percent of the world's people, are producing over forty per cent of the drain on the savings account. I'm going to drive in to work tomorrow, and there will be only one of me in the car. Circumstances have dictated this.

But, there are things that can be done, small gestures which, multiplied by millions of slightly changed lives, will slow the pace at which we're running toward bankruptcy, and give our children a bit more time for making more satisfactory changes. None of this need involve chaining yourself to a tree and screaming at some poor logger; just a few things here and there to keep the kids alive, on the off chance that there's more to this universe with people in it than without. Now, you've heard all this before, but let's just go down the checklist one more time:

First, consider the automobile. What's the mileage? Carry more gas (petrol to some of us) at a time, to prevent evaporation loss, get regular tune-ups, check the tire inflation. Trade down in size to better mileage: there are vehicles that do fifty miles per gallon, and this is more significant to your kids' future than the prestige that big one gets you. Get more passengers, and carpool. Be a passenger. Leave the car home and ride the bus, the train, the subway, the ferry, the monorail, the light rail, the taxi, or the bicycle. No light rail? No bike lanes? Write and call the local planners and city fathers; lobby relentlessly. Push hybrid; push electric. Sell the $*#!!! thing. While you're at it, sell the motor home, the motorboat, the plane, the skimobile, the jet ski, the go cart, and the dirt bike. You don't need 'em; if you do find you need one once in a while, don't buy, rent. Telecommute. Lobby for a shorter work week, then spend the long weekends, the holidays, and the vacations at home (working in the garden!).

Second, consider the home. Why have a big one when a well-planned small one will do? Insulate, turn the heat down a bit, put on a sweater and a lap blanket, get rid of the air conditioner and plant shade trees on the south side and a windbreak on the north side. Make things out of rocks or used bricks instead of concrete. Use hand tools. No time? Turn off the television, you'll have more time. Look for low-wattage entertainment. Try romance. Romance can be cheap; instead of diamonds and sky-line restaurant dinners, try being a good listener. For music, play an acoustic instrument. Read. Read E. F. Schumacher. Reread E. F Schumacher. For lighting, go with sunlight through a skylight, or low-wattage fluorescent or LED. Paint the walls and roof white; you won't need as many watts. Replace the hot water heater, refrigerator and the freezer if they predate the energy-saving models. Oe even do without; most people in the world do so. Install a ground cloth in the crawl space. Sort, reuse, sew, mend, repair, recycle, compost. For the furnishings, when possible make your own or buy locally made. Tear up the lawn and put in ground cover, fruit and nut trees, and fruiting perennials, on a schedule that will prevent your having to buy a new gasoline lawnmower when the present one gives out.

Third, consider the food. Cigarettes? I won't even tell you, you know better. Drink less alcohol and more water. Eat less meat and more fiber. Eat less prepared food and more fresh produce. Cook less, check out raw. Use double boilers and steamers and avoid frying. Don't send out for pizza; pizza sends for you, and what it wants from your arteries you should want to keep. Audrey Hepburn said the most effective diet is to share your food with the poor. Clean out the cabinets and put the stuff in the food drive bin. Find out who's offering organic produce in your area. Find out if what they're offering is really organic. Find out what "organic" is first, if you don't know, and don't depend on the television to tell you. Patronize local organic cooperatives, merchants and farmers. Raise your own food. Avoid those patented hybrid seeds from large corporations; patronize farmers, merchants and cooperatives providing heirloom varieties. Use hand tools. Garden organically. Plant fruit and nut trees. Preserve your own produce. No time? We already talked about that.

Fourth, look at your clothes. Buy less frequently, go for longer lasting, and think cotton and wool and natural dyes. Most clothing now comes directly from the planetary savings account, and "polyester" should become an embarrassing word in your wardrobe. When possible, make your own or buy locally made.

Fifth, think about your work. Are you working to get your kids out of planetary debt or deeper into it? What are your living expenses? If you're a couple, consider cutting those expenses until only one of you has to work or both of you can work half time. Give the earned time to increased quality of life for the children, or, if you've wisely refrained from contributing to the disastrous population curve, to your friends and neighbors. If you're in the mining, manufacture, distribution, transportation, sales, advertising, or application of planetary-savings-account items, from autos to herbicides, re-career as soon as you feasibly can. Think small. We're not talking communism here, just common accountability, with the following: the outlawing of for-profit corporations, with retention of nonprofits, cooperatives, partnerships and sole ownerships as the only legal entities for commerce, would all by itself go a long way to fixing the drain on your kids' planetary savings. Think about that when you're looking for work. Or looking to buy, for that matter. Or about to vote.

Sixth, and I'll stop here, what about that vote? If you don't have the vote, be careful who might be reading this over your shoulder, and start working on what it will take to get the vote. For this, your life will not be too cheap a sacrifice for your childrens' future. If you have the vote, think about what you're allowed to vote on. Is it just big political party versus big political party? Or nuclear versus solar? Roads versus light rail? Agribusiness versus sustainable farming? Clear cuts versus forest maintenance? Or to put it more simply, corporate greed versus life? If your vote can't access reality, if it isn't patching the holes in the planetary savings account, change that. Campaign finance reform would be a place to begin. Get the vote, keep the vote, use the vote; get the real issues up for a vote; inform the electorate. Perhaps you won't see results on this in your lifetime. But consider the alternative.

Whew! OK, I know, I haven't done maybe a hundredth of that stuff. But I chip away at it here and there. I'm aware, particularly and painfully, of the cost of the infrastructure that maintains the glorified suburb that in our neighborhood passes for country. It takes six times as much of the planetary savings account to establish a rural home as it does for a comparable urban row house. I've elected to be a creature of privilege, and I don't care to look too deeply into what the mirror says about that. But in some things I can give back something of what I have taken. One way is to learn from the past, to gain pre-fossil-fuels skills, and to apply them, redesigning this acre of the landscape to produce food, shade, and windbreak in ways that do more good and less harm than was done here previously, and to share the knowledge gained, as best I can, with others who also care to learn.

It was a good year in the house, and a reasonably good year in the garden. But I'm also grateful for the times I was able to spend at the high mountain lakes. The high point of my year, I think, was, as is so often true for me, at the height of summer. So I'll return to that memory for a moment, to round out this memoir.

While I was in the boat, the sun set, and as I knew a full moon was coming, I stood out from shore to the middle, and watched the last brilliant solar rays deepen in color, turning the tops of the Douglas firs and mountain hemlocks first golden, then red, and then almost purple.

Planets and stars winked into view, and I found myself surrounded by bats, more than a dozen jittery shadows that flicked across the star field in tight circles. They seemed interested in my fly rod, which stood up in the bow, supported by the gunwale of the cockpit, and would zoom toward it and away, missing my face by a few feet each time. I could feel the breath of their wings.

A small something briefly touched the shaft of my kayak paddle and fell into the water, but struggled back into the air unseen. I thought at first it might be a bat, which seemed odd, as they don't, in my experience, land on or thump into such things.

Then a small night bird, dressed in cream and gray like a swallow, landed on the front deck of the kayak before me, smoothed its feathers a bit, then sputtered off into the darkness. Mystery solved: the paddle had been mistaken for a branch, but its inorganic smoothness had defeated two tiny sets of claws.

It was then that the yellow moon rose, so hugely majestic that it seemed to me to invade the companionable darkness we creatures had peopled. I retired to my campsite, landing with the aid of a flashlight, and, lighting a candle in my tent, read Kingsolver while, outside, the unobserved bats and birds carried on their moonlit escapades.

In the morning, I took to the boat again to chase the first available sunlight and warm my bones; then, when day had reached camp, set about emptying the fire pit, which was filled with unappealing trash, especially broken glass. I've never really been one to pick up after others, even in the woods, but this time I took a personal interest and wound up 'policing' the entire site. My pack was already heavy and I had four hundred feet of elevation gain ahead of me, but I had been getting stronger of late and knew it would not be any trouble.

I once spent some time with a teacher of Zen and asked him about beer cans in the wilderness. "If I see it and it offends me, I pick it up, but I've been disturbed by the offense I've taken. But in Zen, it seems I should simply observe it and not be offended, but that seems to reduce my motivation for picking it up. And it does seem that Zen takes some of the activism out of those whom I've seen practicing Zen."

The teacher said, "Well, we should just either pick it up or not. It depends on the flow."

I must have seemed puzzled by this.

He added, "Observation is its own reward, but that neither adds to nor takes away from right action. We can think of some good reasons to pick up the can; trash is harmful to wildlife, and so on. And a natural setting, once cleaned up, is more conducive to contemplation for others. But there is no need to think about all that; you may have a tendency to speculate about whoever 'threw away' the can, and such thoughts lead to unnecessary problems. Right action begins in seeing the can without looking into its past. The can itself has had no motivation or intent and we cannot know exactly how it got there."

I tossed the contents of the wilderness firepit into our kitchen trash can and dropped the lid. Looking out the window, I could see that Jasper Mountain was wearing its winter coat, dusty green patches of second-growth fir trees alternating with the brown of frost-burned mountain meadows. This time, I thought, I might be able to see the mountain without too much fear of becoming bogged down in thoughts of who has done what to it.

It will outlast us.

That's the key to peace, I told myself. Clarity of mind comes when you deal in the things before you.

If it seems there are not enough trees, plant one. If there are a lot of cans around and you'd like them picked up, pick up one.

This can be extrapolated, if you have the energy, to planting schools and clearing minefields, or writing a check for those who do. But remember, while planting and picking, to look up.

The mountain will be there.


http://www.amazon.com/Risa-Bear/e/B00IICOH8I

Saturday, June 28, 2014

December, Part 1

December, Part 1


WHEN THE snows came, transforming the landscape, Jasper Mountain took on that hoary aspect which I associate with those Japanese woodblock prints set in winter - such as Hokusai's print of hunters warming themselves by a damp bonfire.

My poor little boat has been used only twice in almost a hundred days, and I found myself numbingly cold on both occasions. Floods have destroyed one of the creek bridges and shifted the other off its foundation. I found one end of it bobbing in the current, the other snagged in a tangle of blackberries. The weather so penetrated my bones on this short outing that I left the bridge in the creek for the next three weeks.

With personal energy and initiative out-of-doors so circumscribed, I turned my attention indoors.

Shelving for books, some forty-eight lineal feet, was needed. The usual approach, nowadays, is to acquire pressboard cabinets, knocked down, from a giant discount store. These are tolerable painted, but are often left nakedly wood-chip-ish in appearance, due to the difficulty of finding a moment in which to upgrade them, all the available labor time having gone into tapping the tiny nails into the shelves through the sides and back, and cursing as the nails curved in the unpredictable "grain" of the glued and pressed sawdust. The "finished" product then spends its tenure in the household squatting in the darkest available corner, where no one can look at it directly or acknowledge its existence due to its irredeemable ugliness, and the whole time it gives off unhealthful vapors.

The alternatives are: "steel" shelving, ugly, cheap, sharp-edged, and bendy; or expensive cabinetry, which, if sufficiently sturdy must be built-in, at tremendous cost if hired done, otherwise consuming time one doesn't have, and requiring tools one cannot afford, if undertaken by one's self.

Early in our tenure here, there was a surplus of used planking and even beams, and these were put to use for what we cheerfully called "vernacular" architecture. We built walls, ceilings, shelving, tables, and cabinets utilizing found materials which could stand either to take a deep brown stain or a coat of daubed spackle, followed by a coat of flat white paint.

The effect is cheering and calming, and visitors often use the word "cozy," and if this sometimes said in a tone which we might take as patronizing, we don't mind, as we have done what we could with what we had, a satisfying activity.

This year I ran out of the old materials and of time to cadge old materials from others. For the new shelving, then, I would need new material, which, to match the interior style of the house, should be wood, painted white. I found that pine boards cost much more than I expected, but I could live with that; an abused resource should cost enough to reduce the demand.

In the old days, I would have put all the bits together with fourpenny box nails, but we now have the self-tapping "wallboard" which are a blessing. In a way, I hated to paint over the attractive built-in pine bookcase I'd created, but it ran the length of a long, dark hallway, and the white would help prevent further loss of light there.

As soon as the drop cloths and tools were put away, I stood in the hallway and admired my (admittedly a bit crude) handiwork for some time. I hadn't chosen the least expensive or least difficult solution for my project, but I had chosen one I found satisfactory; so much so that I couldn't tear my eyes away. It looked as if it belonged, and would last perhaps as long as the house.

Beyond my time. A statement.

As a civilization, we of the West have begun to lose this capacity for the average person to make statements. I'm reminded of that moment in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano when the protagonist's car breaks down, and a crowd of the great mass of unemployed gathers, which he views with suspicion until one of them wistfully says, as nearly as I can remember it from a distant read: "Maybe I could look at it for you. I used to be pretty good with my hands."

The generation just arriving has mostly not read E. F. Schumacher, which is a sad fact. Our copy of Small is Beautiful (Perennial Library, 1973) is thirty years old; it's a crumbling paperback, yellow and a bit musty, that has traveled with us, long un-reread but treasured.

If we thought Schumacher's views were important then, we should read him now. Everything he found urgent has become more so.

Samples:
....one of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that the problem of production has been solved. This illusion ... is mainly due to our inability to recognize that the modern industrial system, with all its intellectual sophistication, consumes the very basis on which it has been erected .... it lives on irreplaceable capital which it cheerfully treats as income. (20)
and:
An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth -- in short, materialism -- does not fit into [the] world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment within which it is placed is strictly limited. (29-30)
By "limits" he means three things; fossil fuels, natural systems with their feedback loops, and human limitations (that they can tolerate only so much of a life that is functionally no more than slavery, or consumerism, or both). He believes if he can prove his point with any one of the three, he has made his case.

Economics, as practiced by industrial society, is in Schumacher's view fatally fragmentary: the society's judgments
…are based on a definition of costs which excludes all "free goods," that is to say, the entire God-given environment, except for those parts of it that have been privately appropriated. This means that an activity can be economic although it plays hell with the environment, and that a competing activity, if at some cost it protects and conserves the environment, will be uneconomic. (43)
Thus you have the strange condition in which extraction of oil from the ground is an activity that can be rationally charted, while leaving it there so that we can breathe, avoid being roasted by climate change, and survive as a species cannot.

One effect of the fragmentary view of the world encouraged by industrial economics is that agricultural work is regarded as of little value; since agriculture is seen in this view to be simply another kind of factory, and no "profit" can be extracted from it unless it is practiced on an industrial scale, more farming must be done by fewer and fewer people and the rural population is displaced into the cities to look for work there, adding to the enormous problems of social disintegration and grinding poverty that appear in urban settings.

The subtitle of the book is "Economics as if People Mattered." Schumacher was Catholic, and regarded St. Thomas Aquinas as the underpinning of his understanding of science. He knew that much of his audience would be unwilling to hear him if he made much of this at the time, so he devised a clever and famous chapter, "Buddhist Economics." A discussion framed in Buddhist terms served his immediate aims just as well as one framed in Christian terms, for his point was that economics ought to serve humanity and not the other way round; and economics cannot serve humanity on its terms, for that which makes us human is unquantifiable in dollar amounts.

What is desirable to the materialist economist is undesirable to the Buddhist economist and vice versa, so that their aims in the short term are diametrically opposed. This is because the Buddhist economist has an interest in the long term, which is an interest that is unquantifiable in the industrial economist's system.

Buddhism is concerned with the alleviation of suffering so that one can focus on understanding one's self and the universe better, with the aim of right living, of choosing a path that promotes one's own well-being and that of all others: what are called "sentient beings" in Buddhist lingo. So the way of Buddhism trends toward peace and the way of a materialist system trends toward the opposite:
As the world's resources of non-renewable fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- are exceedingly unevenly distributed over the globe and undoubtedly limited in quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever-increasing rate is an act of violence against nature which must inevitably lead to violence between men .... Before [materialists in Buddhist countries] dismiss Buddhist economics as nothing better than a nostalgic dream, they might wish to consider whether the path of economic development outlined by modern economics is likely to lead them to places where they really want to be. (61)
All well and good; but as with almost all liberals, one might expect that at this point Schumacher will rest on his laurels, having simply noted that what we are all doing is a Bad Show. But, unlike others, he has a specific set of proposals toward what might be a Better Show.

Schumacher notes that when local people produce local goods for other local people, the relationship, the bond, between them, that sense of well-being for which industrial economy can find no place in its equations, is strengthened.

Hence what are called "economies of scale" -- nation-states, multinational corporations, mass production, and export -- are false economies because they encourage bankruptcy in those three things, the state of the planet, of its non-renewables, and of the well-being of its beings.

Whereas local economies, inefficient as they are in those equations, tend to conserve the Three Things.

It's true, notes Schumacher, that in what are called Third World countries, there are what might be called one-pound (or, say, one-dollar) workplaces, and life is marginal and sometimes prey to drought, disease, etc. But the cure proposed by the industrial economy is to bring in one-thousand-dollar workplaces, which cannot be justified economically except though extractive export strategies that ultimately only benefit the industrial chieftains in the developed countries.

Local people, on seeing the implementation of these impressive workplaces, often give up (and forget how to return to) their own one-dollar strategies, expecting full employment, except that the one-thousand-dollar solution, due to its capital cost, cannot be emplaced quickly enough to provide this. So from marginal existence a great many of them go straight to a starvation existence.
Schumacher proposes an intermediate solution.

Devise the one-hundred-dollar workplace, using technologies that can be built and managed locally, to produce a higher standard of living by marketing the product locally.

To the objection that local people from a one-dollar background have no buying power, he answers that with the ten-times-cheaper-than-industrial-scale one-hundred-dollar workplace, you can do ten startups simultaneously, with the goods from one workplace affordable to the workers in one of the other nine.

There is thus no need to export, eliminating the need to carry on in the extractive and eventually bankrupting manner to which the West is addicted. Also, rural populations, by recovering a measure of independence and self-worth locally, are then not so easily driven to the urban ghettos, which reduces the strain on the megalopolitan cities which our industrial economy has created.

This sounds Utopian, but in fact Schumacher's approach has been extensively tested. To show what would be examples of intermediate technology, applied to local economies by the local people themselves and not by well-intentioned but locally ignorant strangers, he formed, with other scientists and interested parties, a barely capitalized organization called the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG).

They still exist, thirty and some years later!

ITDG, now under its new name Practical Action, with little real cooperation and much disdain from the developed nation-states and megacorporations, has for three decades doggedly kept up its mission of demonstrating the economic and scientific principles of E. F. Schumacher, and carried out numerous local initiatives, always sharing the lessons learned with anyone who seeks them out.

In the field of local energy development, they began with the obvious: people in developing countries depend on biomass for energy, and open fires waste energy. Practical Action designed low cost cooking stoves to reduce impact on the forests and other vegetative cover, as well as the tremendous labor expended, usually by women and children, in going farther and farther to strip the landscape of available fuel.

When a locality is ready for more, Practical Action is ready with more: micro-hydro plants, small scale wind generators, solar lanterns, biogas.

A serious bottleneck for local production, which cannot easily reach even local markets in rural areas of undeveloped countries, is transportation. Practical Action offers expertise in locally controlled construction of cycle trailers, improved ox and donkey carts, and efficient low-technology road building.

I refer those interested to Practical Action 's website to grasp the scope of their activities. None of the ideas described are vaporware; they have applied them all in the real world and have the testimony of local communities where the projects are being carried out.

One might think that Practical Action would have an extensive Peace-Corps-style volunteer program. That's not the case. They seem to be a low-overhead operation, focused on getting information into the hands of the rural populations that will apply it, critique it, and adapt it, rather than bringing in mysterious expertise as if from some "higher" realm, deus ex machina, to carry out projects little understood by those they "help."

This is not your patronizing World Bank here.

What Practical Action brings is accessible knowledge, created not for but in cooperation with rural populations in Third World, countries, the kind of knowledge that takes root in the heart of the woman or man who says, "yes, I can do this."

When I hear of current events in the Near East and elsewhere, and the continued world-bankrupting goings-on that he so articulately warned us against, I think of Schumacher.

We all owe him another read.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

November

November



JASPER MOUNTAIN has been on view a lot this fall; we had week after week of warm, sunny weather, so that I had tomatoes still ripening on the first of November. This was one of our most neglected gardens ever, and the number and variety of weeds that sprang up were astonishing and overwhelming.

To look for beans or cucumbers was an adventure akin to exploring an equatorial rain forest. And yet the veggies were there, in profusion, holding their own. I brought out the juicer my eldest son had sent me last Christmas, and ran it for two or three hours every Saturday, putting fruit juices and soup stocks into the freezer in every available container of whatever variety. Outside, the sunsets on the mountain became redder and darker each week; I turned on the kitchen light and juiced into the evenings.

The soup stocks I use in several ways.

Once thawed, they can be poured into a crock pot, and diced vegetables and grain thickeners can be added to taste, to create soups with those overnight flavor blends.

Or, they can be directly served hot or chilled as a vegetable drink.

Or, they can be used in bread. If I were doing pot roasts, which I’m not lately, the soup stock would be just the thing to add to the pan and used in basting.

When we get tired of the soups, we can whirl them in the blender and use the resulting paste in bread as well.

The bread lately has been of two sorts: round loaves raised and baked in stoneware plates, or rolls cut from the dough, rolled into a ball and plopped onto an oiled baking tin nested in another baking tin. Choice of wheat or whole wheat or spelt, honey, molasses, sorghum or sugar, and throw in anything that takes your fancy: oats or quinoa, for example.

My last two batches included a paste made from pie pumpkins.

The pumpkins were volunteers and roamed about the garden at will, investigating the tomato vines and trying to smother the lettuce. I gathered about fifteen (they’re quite small, under three pounds each) and hoarded them away from carvers until safely after October 31, then scattered them round the house under the guise of setting the tone for Thanksgiving.

Each week I take one, halve it, scoop out the seed pulp into a colander, and simmer the halves until they’ve softened but not fallen apart. I drain the simmer water and use for bread or let it cool to water plants or farm animals. The halves peel easily. They’re now ready to smash up and use either in bread, as a winter squash dish, or, if you insist, pie.

I run well water through the seed pulp and rummage all the seeds out into a bowl, salt them lightly, and toast them on top of the wood stove.

The seeds are habit -forming and, to my mind, better than popcorn. The seed pulp goes into bread, where no one objects to it.

Everyone here professes to hate pumpkin so I simply serve the mashings with cinnamon and nutmeg as winter squash, under which name it is quite popular.

As the weather cools, I’ve taken to gathering acorns. There are massive English oaks in front of my place of work, and these usually produce bushels of long, dark, mahogany-toned nuts which are very popular with the local squirrels. I understand from the literature that plain fresh acorns are inedible for humans due to the high level of tannins in them, and that one wants to shell them, grind them, leach the flour by running water through it for hours, then bake with it.

Being an impatient sort, I’ve tried them raw, keeping company with the squirrels, and aside from a puckery aftertaste found them palatable. The two basic varieties of oak in our town have either toothed or rounded leaves. Supposedly the toothed kind is more acid than the rounded kind and is to be avoided.

The English oaks are decidedly superior, but we have some large, handsome black oaks here (from the Eastern U.S., I think) which produce another large and handsome acorn that seems almost as good. They have sharply toothed leaves. Our native oaks, which produced the acorn meal famous as the staple diet of the peace-loving California Indians, have round-lobed leaves.

I have tried roasting these and also the English ones and I think they all roast well. The flavor changes to something between a parched peanut and a black olive. I haven’t noticed any adverse effects at all, except to my waistline; these things pack a calorie count comparable to peanut butter.

Why anyone with two legs and a pair of good hands would starve in a country of oaks, I don’t know.


We have dug up and divided the perennials, given the grass a last mow, picked and eaten the last tomato (in November!), and tasted a first frost in the steamed greens. We regret, however, that we did not manage to save seed this year. My target seeds were scarlet runners and sweet peas. Last year's scarlet runners were a big success. We had two kinds, the true runners and a bush variety, which you're supposed to mass, like salvia, for the red blooms. I built a pole tripod for the runners and planted the bush variety around its feet, resulting in a display in the vegetable garden that rapidly became the centerpiece that drew the eye of the visitor, whether human or hummingbird.

Somehow I managed to save the big purple beans, in spite of a week of rain at the end of that season, and in separate lots too, though there was no difference between them to see. I put them in clay bowls for safekeeping, one kind in each pot, and gloated over them through the winter. Occasionally I would stop by, plunge a hand into each bowl, and run my fingers though the beans like a miser bathing in gold.

On a day in May, with a week to go before planting, I went to look over the beans, only to find that one of the bowls was empty, while the other was twice as full as it had been.

"So, um, what's happened to my beans?" I asked Beloved.

"Looks like one of the kids has been having a tactile experience," she calmly replied.

I was so unnerved that I went out and planted the lot indiscriminately in a cold flower bed, a week ahead of schedule; only about ten came up, which were all vining runners. These ultimately produced beans, but my heart wasn't in it, and they are languishing now among the year's dying calendulas and zinnias.

The sweet peas are more of a success story. We have a spectacular variety that grows here along fence rows and right-of-ways, which with patience can be captured. Three years ago, with this in mind, I rambled into a field which I remembered seeing a brilliant display of pink blooms. I looked over the available plants and their pods (there were about fifty to choose from) and selected three healthy specimens which I discreetly marked with flagging tape. Each week thereafter, on my lunch hour, I dropped by and checked the pods. These will turn brown and become dry and rattly, then begin to twist into a corkscrew shape. You want to get them just after they dry and just before they twist. I was able to do so, and brought home about 100 pods.

"What are those?" asked Beloved.

"Sweet peas!" I began shelling them into a bowl.

"May I suggest you transfer them from that bowl into an envelope at your earliest possible convenience? And label it clearly?"

"Sure...uh, how come?"

"Well, it's good practice generally, but I notice you tend to leave your experiments round the kitchen -- and these happen to be poisonous."

"Yes'm." So I've been told, and now you have too.

Not knowing the viability or germination rates for the peas, and having a shortage of two-inch pots, I elected to put all of the peas in the ground by the corner of the front fence, in spring.

Nothing happened.

Mr. T. dropped by later that summer, presumably on his annual inspection of all the painting and glazing we haven't done (he built the house, after all), and during the course of a tour I showed him our dismal fence corner.

"Oh, those; you plant them in the fall. Takes 'em a long time to get going, too."

Oh.

So, more as a matter of maintaining a faint hope than anything else, I kept the little spot cleared and gave it a drink or two over the course of the summer, then eventually gave up.

The following spring, I discovered three wimpy six-inch-tall pea vines amid the dandelions.

Aha!

I cleared around them, gave them sips (not much; these are supposed to do fine in our summer droughts), buried them in leaves for the winter, and crossed my fingers.

This year, I have sweet peas.

They've taken over the fence corner, and bloomed all summer long, right behind the mailbox with its wagon wheel, for all the world like a calendar photograph. There were well over a hundred seed pods, too, ready for harvesting; but life has been cruelly busy. When I went out to collect the pods for shelling, they had done their thing. Each pod had dried, twisted into a corkscrew shape, and exploded, dumping peas near and far. If some of these come up, two years from now, perhaps I'll be able to write about transplanting them. Otherwise, I'll have to wait for next fall to write "sweet peas -- poisonous" on a manila envelope.


I frequent abandoned farmsteads, where I hope to find enough apples and pears not yet worm-eaten to stay ahead of our pantry requirements till the new orchard gets into production. It sometimes happens one comes across irresistible items, lost and forgotten in the shifting tides of homesteading. I remember coming home four years ago with a small duffel bag absolutely stuffed with roots.

"What's all this?" asked Beloved.

"Well, I was out at this old place picking apples, and there was all this comfrey and I couldn't resist...."

"Comfrey!" Eyebrows.

"Why? Doesn't everybody have comfrey?" I could remember clearly that in a valley where we had long lived, all the communes and homesteads had comfrey all over the place.

"Comfrey was big in the seventies, but they found out it has poisonous alkaloids! And it spreads like the dickens and never goes away. You grew up in Georgia, don't you remember the kudzu?"

Yes, I remember kudzu.

But our kudzu here is the Himalaya blackberry, and we've learned to coexist with that -- just check our freezer.

But I had a plan. "Look, I'm only going to put it in the orchard, on the other side of the creek. I'll watch to make sure none of it ever comes up over here."

"But what do you want it for?"

"Pigs. Gonna feed it to pigs. Heard it's high protein and doesn't bother them."

Well, I got away with that one. The comfrey, that is. Our pig barn, in case you're wondering, is the shed up on the hill that's full of all the trash we've pulled out of the blackberries. So that's a project for another millennium... meanwhile the comfrey is a raving success, but to keep it from spreading across the bridge, I harvest the stuff three times a year, before it goes to seed.

Makes splendid compost.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

October

October


IN ARID regions, the wise seek out plants that require very little water, the use of which is called "xeriscaping" -- whereas those who own a bit of marsh look for attractive water plants: lotuses, sedges, perhaps a bit of cress. Most gardeners in temperate zones, however, have a wide range of choices and possibilities. Accordingly, some will try everything -- from cacti to Louisiana irises -- and insist that the local setting bend to their will. Plants that have no business in northern climes are fussed over ad infinitum, wrapped against chill winds, covered, uncovered, covered again, and finally cursed for disloyally losing their green fingers to frostbite.

On any homestead, the wise seek out plants that augment the site, not merely visually, but using what we know of sun, shade, soil, wind, and water, to enhance the lives of those living there and of lives yet to come. When they consider a tree or shrub, they look around them and think. They see not only the height of the plant and its breadth, but also the effect of its presence through time, of its youth, middle age, declining years and inevitable death. How will each affect its surroundings? Many times, the answers will be considerably less complicated to sort out if you will stick with the native species.

Every landscape, and every homestead, has a history, and from this history, if it is known or can be discovered, we can learn something about the site's present and future requirements. Our acre began in the distant past as alluvial deposits at the upper end of a vast glacial-era lake, which once lay, hundreds of feet deep, from here to where our river ends, over a hundred miles north.

When the lake drained away, leaving the river and its tributaries to collect the annual runoff in its place, billions of small round stones from the surrounding mountains, mostly of slow-weathering basalt, lay packed together in a matrix of clay particles for miles in all directions. Seeds borne in by wind, water, and animals quickly took root, and a forest sprang up, but one adapted to extremes of wet and dry, of shallow, nitrogen-starved soil, of major disturbances by fire and flood.

The dominant forest types were a mixed conifer forest of hemlock and western red cedar on the damp northern slopes, and Douglas fir along the ridges. On southern slopes, hot and dry in summer, an oak-madrone forest thrived, with an understory of poison oak at lower elevations, and of manzanita higher up. In the bottoms, a mix of cottonwood, ash, black cherry, and willow showed where the water ran along the bedrock, deep in the ground in summer, or became a surface torrent in winter.

The valley was popular with humans from their first appearance here, as a place to live and hunt. From the very first, though, they could never resist altering it to suit their needs. Fire was the agent chiefly used; the resulting clearings increased the supply of grasses and fruiting shrubs, which led to an increase in game both small and large.


Our acre, however, remained forested -- part of a vast tract of Douglas firs that survived in the upper valley until the first Europeans arrived with their steel teeth.

A family of settlers, late arrivals, staked out three hundred twenty acres, and dreamed of putting in, as so many others who had staked out the ancient clearings, wheat -- but didn't have the manpower to clear great swaths of the fir forest at once. So they went into the woodlot business, always whipsawing enough cordwood to meet the bills -- they contracted to provide all the fuel for the one-room schoolhouses for miles around -- but never quite enough to put in wheat.

It took almost three generations for the land to be anything but a stump ranch, and by then farming had become something of a luxury occupation. Filberts could make money, or grass seed could, but it took money to get started, and these were a people too proud, or too honest, to gamble with other people's money. Bit by bit the old home place was broken up, first into four farms, then eight, then twenty. Fences were built along boundary lines, and along the fences spread, first blackberries, then trees. Not firs; though they love sun, those do not usually travel far into open pastureland. These trees were the Oregon ash, black cherry, willow, and cottonwood of the river's edge, working their way uphill along the margins of the annual floods. Also there were, and had always been, patches of great California black oaks, bearded with moss and lichens like live oaks in the hammocks of old Florida.

The ashes, however, predominated. There were second growth ash trees until recently over much of the property, all about two feet in diameter, with the broad growth rings of open-grown timber. The last owner before us, however, fell upon hard times, and felt obliged to convert them into firewood, following the precedent of the pioneers.

Upon our arrival we found all the good shade -- oak, maple, and ash -- on the north side of the house, where it would do least good. To the south and west, where shade would be needed when the summer sun reached the nineties, were mostly stumps.

All was not lost. Oaks, when cut, will not regenerate, but ashes will, and the stumps to the west were all ash. I cleared away the blackberries and the burned cans and tire-wire loops left over from bonfires that the stumps had been subjected to, and watered the stumps. My neighbor Mr. T., ever alert, was not long in stopping by.

"Morning, ma'am." He watched the water pouring over the stump. I tried to distract him.

"Good morning, sir; lovely day, yes?"

"Mm."

"Have our geese been too noisy for you yet?"

"Mm? Naahh."

"I have noticed your roses, sir. They're coming along nicely."

"Aaahh, I dunno." He gazed steadily at the stream of water coursing over the blackened stump. I could already envision him going back into the house, shaking his head the whole way, and telling his wife what her neighbor was up to this time, but I was forgetting that he had been raised in the family that planted the old lilacs. He looked at me sharply.

"Ash, huh?"

"Yessir, ash."

"Might work." And then he went back in.

The stumps eventually put out shoots, though one of them waited three years. I chose the strongest shoot from each stump, and flagged it, cutting back the others with pruners. One of these shoots is now over twenty feet tall. Ash is a quick wood, quick to rise but also quick to fall, as trees go. But I won't live to see the end of this.

On the south side I would have to be more creative. But I had something going for me.

The northwest corner of the property has been allowed, over time, to go native, and is the haunt of wild things: ferns, quail. Someone had planted a bigleaf maple, a generation ago, by the northwest corner of the house, and some of its seeds had helicoptered into the protected zone and flourished. The bigleaf (acer macrophylum) is a native and can be found all along the river and on the mountainsides, too, mostly at lower altitudes. It's also fast growing, and though short-lived compared to, say, an oak, like the ash it's an ideal tree for a short-timer like me who needs shade in her own lifetime.

I flagged a few of the likelier saplings and waited for winter.

On a stormy day after leaf drop, when the maples had gone to sleep, I stole into their sanctuary with a shovel and dug about beneath their feet. One by one, I lifted them, with what little soil would cling to their surprisingly skimpy roots, into a wheelbarrow, and carted them around to the south side of the house.

You can't do this with all trees. I have awful luck moving oaks of any size; the acorn puts a taproot down to bedrock as soon as it awakes, and woe unto her that disturbs it at its dinner. Oak seedlings will die if you so much as look at them while carrying a shovel.

The bigleaf maple is much more generous.

Make a hole, stick it in.

Well, it's a good idea to keep the sod back, to add some peat, to stake it for a year or two, and to water generously the first couple of summers, but once it's established the bigleaf will make itself at home --

-- so much so that if you plant wisely, you will want to put it twenty feet from the house.

Pretty things, though.

And while they aren't shading the wall yet, on a hot day we can go out and lie contentedly in their shade -- sort of.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

September

September

THERE IS in an obscure Emblem Book by one Henry Hawkins, dated 1633, a tribute to one of the garden's great flowers:
The honour of our Gardens, and the miracle of flowers at this day, is the Heliotropion or Flower of the Sun; be it for the height of its stem, approaching to the heavens some cubits high: or beautie of the flower, being as big as a man's head, with a faire ruff on the neck; or, for the number of the leaves, or yellow, vying with the marigold, or, which is more, for al the qualities, nature, and properties of the Flower, which is to wheel about with the Sun; there being no Needle, that more punctually regards the Poles, then doth this Flower the glorious Sun.
In the spring, Beloved set aside the packets of sunflower seeds that had accumulated, and announced that she would build Sunflower Houses.

"What are those?" asked I.

"They are sunflowers planted in a circle, so that children can play in the middle of them in high summer, and make believe that they are houses. It's an old tradition."

I went to my books to look this up. I didn't find any sunflower houses, but a favorite writer, the gentle Sharon Lovejoy, tells of Hollyhock Houses, which seems to be the same idea. She plants hollyhocks in a circle, and then when they are tall, ties them together to form the rafters of a kind of tipi.

Beloved took her packets to the greenhouse, filled three flats of two-inch pots with potting soil, and poked one seed down a bit over a quarter of an inch into each one, humming a song about Mistress Mary.

The long rains went on, and the circle of elephant garlic came up, a green and pungent Fairy Ring. I explained how this would work.

"This is a circular garden; the rainbird in the middle will reach exactly to the garlic, all the way round, and this gap here is the entrance. Plant your tall things near the perimeter, and your short things, like squash vines, near the middle, so that nothing is in any thing else's rain shadow."

"Okay. And where do the sunflower houses go?"

"What sunflower houses?"

Patiently she explained again.

I furrowed my brows. "Won't some of them keep the water off the rest? I was kind of envisioning a row, sort of all the way or half way round, then corn further in, then tomatoes, like a sort of staircase."

"I want sunflower houses."

"Umm, okay, how about evenly spaced, though, around the perimeter?"

"Sure, I'll put one here, and here, and here, and here..."

It was to be the Year of the Sunflower.
For in the morning it beholdes his rising; in his journey, attends upon him; and eyeth him stil, wheresoever he goes; nor ever leaves following him, til he sink downe over head and eares in Tethis's bed, when not being able to behold him anie longer she droops and languishes, til he arise: and then followes him againe to his old lodging, as constantly as ever; with him it riseth, with him it falles, and with him riseth againe.
The sunflowers did not appear only in the circle garden. Another sunflower house came up in the hilltop garden, menacing the lettuce and onion beds.

Many of these were along the east side of the house, and followed the sun until midday, then continued staring straight up, as though wondering what had become of their lord and master. Eventually they became too heavy with seed for this myopia, and drooped daylong, no longer befriended of bees but increasingly frequented by birds.
Nature hath done wel in not affording it anie odour at al; for with so much beautie and admirable singularities, had there been odour infused therinto, and the sweetnesse of odoriferous flowers withal, even men, who are now half mad in adoring the same for its excellent guifts, would then have been stark mad indeed, with doting upon it.
On a hot day in August, I went to the circular garden to look (vain hope) for a reddening blush on the hundreds of green tomatoes, and as I sloped along, parting branches, ran headlong into a massive flower head, dangling on a stem bent double with the weight, and a good eighteen inches across. Such a plant demands attention, and will bludgeon you if it doesn't get it.

I growled and pushed it away, and it came swinging insistently back across my path. Involuntarily my eye followed the stem into the thicket from whence it had sprung. Oh, yes! Sunflower houses. Well, there's such a thing here, I suppose, except it's awfully weedy in there; no child has had a go this year. I went looking for Daughter.
But Nature, it seems, when first she framed a pattern for the rest, not being throughly resolved, what to make it, tree or flower, having brought her workmanship almost unto the top, after a litle pause perhaps, at al adventure put a flower upon it, and so for haste, forgot to put the Musks into it. Wherupon, to countervaile her neglect heerin, the benigne Sol, of meer regard and true compassion, graced her by his frequent and assiduous lookes with those golden rayes it hath. And as the Sun shewes himself to be enamoured with her, she, as reason would, is no lesse taken with his beautie, and by her wil (if by looks we may guesse of the wil) would faine be with him. But like an Estritch, with its leaves as wings, it makes unprofitable offers, to mount up unto him, and to dwel with him; but being tyed by the root, it doth but offer, and no more.
Daughter at first was dubious. She had after all, recently seen Little Shop of Horrors. But mothers are still to be humored, until one reaches a certain age. I rummaged about in the garage and came up with a couple of large scraps of carpet. By throwing one onto the grassy floor of a Sunflower House, I was able to make it instantly homey -- and she took over from there.

"I'll be right back," she said, and before I knew it, my weeding was over for the day. Daughter returned with a wagonload of dolls.

"You move into that one over there...and you'll be new in the neighborhood...and we'll come over and see you -- oops, not enough room -- so you come and see us, and we'll invite you in to tea."

In this fashion are afternoons of Important Grownup Work lost forever.

It is surprisingly cool in the Sunflower House, while the sun's rays are broiling the homeyard only inches away, and shimmering the landscape near and far. One can play for a long time in such a space, and forget the approach of evening. When we gathered our tea things to retreat to our "regular" home, we found the shadows long, and the air golden, and a massive flock of Canada geese skimmed over us, low enough for Daughter to hear the wind their wings made, and for even me to hear the talk among them, heading for the river and the gleaning of the wheat fields there.

Beloved met us at the door, and she, being the artist that she is, knew not to break our wondering silence. She only smiled to see that the web of Sunflower Houses she had woven months before had made its catch.

It's thus an old tradition becomes a new one.
It is like the Scepter which the Paynims attribute to their Deitie, that beares an Eye on the top; while this flower is nothing els but an Eye, set on the point of its stem; not to regard the affayres of Mortals so much, as to eye the immortal Sunne with its whole propension; the middle of which flower, where the seed is, as the white of the eye, is like a Turkie-carpet, or some finer cloth wrought with curious needle-work, which is al she hath to entertaine her Paramour.
Friends came, from far away, to visit. Adults sat round in the shade of the east front, stirring their cups. The screen door banged. Daughter and Daughter's friend and the dolls headed for the garden.

We will remember the Meteor Night in winter, when the leaden clouds, heavy with Pacific rain, shut out Orion and his gleaming belt. We will remember the tomatoes, Better Boy, Cherry, Brandywine, and Golden Jubilee, when their poor cousin, the frozen tomato soup, is brought from the freezer to thaw. But most of all, as the huge seed heads are plunked, face up, on the well-house roof to gladden the hearts of the shivering juncos and chickadees, we will remember the Sunflower Houses.


I have been kayaking on the reservoir again. It has been a good bird year; I’ve watched eagles steal fish from ospreys, and vice versa. The cormorants are back, along with grebes and herons. Plenty of geese and ducks around , and thousands of coots wintered over on the reservoir. There’s a bald eagle sitting, day after day, on a nest about two miles from the house.

We're eating trout fairly regularly, something that can’t be done everywhere these days, either due to depleted stocks or too much mercury in the water. This fish goes well with a salad and a glass of water with a sprig of mint. Since I've walked two or four miles with a boat on my back to get to the fish, the calorie count seems to come out about right.

I’ve become rather obsessed, lately, with the notion that obesity is not a disease, as everyone seems to be calling it, but, in most cases, a symptom of a disease --- one that has no name that I can discover. Call it proto-diabetes, perhaps, since diabetes can be one of the full-blown consequences of our poor eating habits.

"Poor eating habits" may down to simply this: insulin shock. It's not whether we eat carbs and fats, it's how and when as much as how much. If we eat more slowly, more raw and uncooked, less processed, avoiding not only sugar but sugar substitutes (which often produce extra hunger as does sugar itself) we can slow and/or lessen the impact of our food choices on the pancreas, which is really what "improved digestion" means.

Take spaghetti, for example. Diet fads have often targeted spaghetti or any pasta. But you might consider making only enough that there can be no "second helping." And cooking it less, which results in what Europeans call al dente. This is a little harder to chew and digests more slowly.

Now add your own home-made sauce, made in a small enough quantity that there will be no leftovers. Make fresh, eat fresh.

Dice very small some zucchini, green onions, pok choi, and, if you like it, tofu. Blenderize a tomato with a chili pepper. Mix all these. No need to cook the sauce. You could put it all in the blender, but I like texture.

Drain the al dente noodles, put them on a heated plate, pour the sauce over them, and add two more ingredients: a sprinkling of basil flakes and chopped allium blossoms (in season).

Serve with a simple three-lettuce salad (Romaine, Simpson, iceberg). Skip the Ranch and use a vinegar-olive oil dressing made with your own hands. Doesn't need to be too fancy; just add your favorite spices, along with a garlic clove, to a bottle of your choice of vinegar, and when you're ready for the dressing (don't try to make ahead) combine one oz. of the vinegar to one oz. oil in a four-ounce bottle and shake.

If you're dining alone, the above should work, or multiply quantities as needed for two or for guests.

For drink, try serving water or a very small glass of red wine, or both. You can do all this in a half hour. Spend another half hour lingering over dinner and chatting. For dessert, go take in a nice sunset.

This can all be part of a daylong plan: cup of oatmeal with diced apple, or one egg on one piece of toast for breakfast, snack on carrots, salad for lunch, celery for snack, and now the one-helping pasta dinner. I know that sounds like starvation to some people, but, really, that lunch salad can be sustaining if you build it yourself in the morning.

Example:

Take a pair of scissors and go to the garden for a handful of leaf lettuce, some pok choi, spinach, leaf of red cabbage, snow peas, red bell pepper, and those ubiquitous elephant garlic blossoms. Dice up a firm small ripe tomato or halve some cherry tomatoes. Toss. Heat up some diced pok choi and red chard stems in a small nonstick frying pan, lightly oiled (virgin olive, which is good for you). Add cubed tofu and mushrooms. Now add sesame seeds or sunflower seeds, and some basil. When it looks ready (pok choi beginning to soften, but mushrooms not yet shriveled) take off the heat to cool, then add to the salad. Toss again. Seal in a container and take to work in one of those nylon cooler bags.

If you like eggs, try dicing up a hard-boiled egg instead of the tofu and mushrooms. Or fry a fresh egg and toss it over the meal.

This works! And it takes only about as long as standing in line at the canteen while the three people in front of you get their espresso mocha thingies made.

Trust me, you'll make it through the day. Drink lots of water between times, though. Not "diet" pop, that will set off the insulin rush, same as sugar, and then you'll be hungry. Same for most anything else they will sell you at the canteen. It's all either salt or sugar (usually corn syrup), or it's a sugar wannabe. Don't go there. Leave your spare change at home if you have to.

Or, drink unsweetened mint tea. Consider growing the mint. If you can grow nothing else, you can grow mint. It takes over, like bamboo, kudzu, vinca, or ivy. You can wash a bouquet of mint and simmer it in a pan till the water darkens, or put it in a gallon jar of water and leave it in the sunshine. I'm kind of hard core, I like to take a multi vitamin and grind it up in a mortar and pestle and add that to the tea. I pretend it's that stuff the marathon runners drink.

To convince yourself it's exactly that, join a walking group. Take your tea with you. If you like to chat with your friends and sip tea, there's no reason not to get in some of your 10,000 steps a day at the same time ...

Saturday, May 31, 2014

August

August



AS I rose this morning and carried a cup of English Breakfast to the east porch, I found Beloved already there, with her big mug of coffee, admiring her surroundings wistfully.

"Fall has started," she said.

This was a shock. The really hot weather has only just begun, and we've become full-time waterers.

But I knew immediately what she meant.

The air smelled differently, somehow, than the previous morning, and a golden glow on the wall behind us, the telltale September glow, which I associate with Canada geese going up the river, suffused the whole porch area with sadness.

Where did the summer go, so soon, that we had waited so long to begin? And we have so little to show for our work, so far this year...


The brassicas went in too late to avoid the flea beetles, which are the current plague. We only did one small bed of peas, rather than the usual four in succession. The tomatoes have barely set fruit. We've just picked the first zucchini, and there's no crookneck squash yet.

Granted, we did get a crop off the early sweet corn, but the late variety should have tasseled by now and hasn't even reached waist high yet.

The second-year red onions were our only real show crop, making juicy bulbs six inches across. We took most of these to the Friends Meeting House, where there is a tradition of leaving surpluses for all comers on the back porch, but that looks like it will be our only contribution for the year.

There were no plums, and few apples; the Asian pears are too young to count, so there's just the one crop on the lone Bartlett to represent the orchard.

One thing we have a lot of, this year -- from our point of view, anyway -- is geese.

There are in the core flock two White Chinas, Abner and Amanda, and two beautiful gray Africans, Auntie One and Auntie Two.

Last year there were about 140 goose eggs, with Amanda producing about as many as the other two together, albeit smaller ones. Of these we left two to be hatched, which produced a couple of fine looking White China goslings, both of whom, however, died not long after fledging, from causes unknown.

This year, there were about 100 eggs, of which we left enough in the nest that seven hatched. These came in waves, so to speak.

Auntie One took over the brooding early on, hissing if Amanda got anywhere near the nesting box, and hatched three goslings which she took to be her very own. She was willing for Auntie Two to babysit them, or proud papa Abner, but Amanda was not to come near. If she even tried to share in bathing and drinking at the common pools, Auntie One drove her off with hisses, snake-like threatening movements of her long neck, and beating of wings.

It got so that poor Amanda was getting dehydrated, and we had to spread the various pools and "white buckets" over a large enough area that Auntie One couldn't cover the entire territory, making it possible for poor Amanda to jump off the nest, run for a drink, and run back. For Amanda had chosen to take on the remaining eggs, and stayed with them day and night.

Eventually four new goslings appeared, which seemed to us smaller at birth than those Auntie One was rearing. Three of these were larger than the last, whom we called Junior. It was now Amanda's turn to go on the offensive. Keeping the new babies close to her, she interposed herself between them and Auntie One at every possible moment, occasionally rushing over to give Auntie One a smashing peck in the back, between the shoulder blades, whenever she seemed to threaten to come too close.

We were impressed with Amanda's motherly courage, Auntie One having considerably more reach and strength, and about double Amanda's weight.

The children grew apace, but came a morning last week when I counted six at feeding time. Had Junior fallen down a missed post-hole somewhere, or had there been perhaps a fox raid? I searched, and before long came across his stiffening corpse -- neck broken -- he'd been severely pecked between the shoulder blades.

Amanda?? Oh, surely, not.

I elected to weed the upper garden, which is close to the fowl pens, and keep an eye on goose society for a bit. Amanda and her remaining three were cropping weeds and sipping water in one pool cluster, Auntie One and everyone else, including Abner, were doing the same in the other area.

Then Amanda, going for some stray bits of cob, was momentarily distracted. Instantly Auntie One, who had apparently been single-mindedly on the lookout, dashed across the invisible line of motherly enmity, and gave a slamming peck to the smallest remaining gosling, right at the base of his neck!

I must intervene.

Leaping over the fence of the duck pen (to the mild astonishment of the ducks), then over the goose fence, I chased Auntie One through the pool areas, overturning buckets, slipping in mud, rounding Auntie One in ever-tightening circles. We bowled over non-Auntie-One geese and goslings in all directions in our epic chase, which seemed to go on for a long, long time, though it was undoubtedly over in a couple of minutes. I held Auntie One's sleek, almost expressionless face close to mine, my fingers wrapped round her downy neck, and pronounced sentence: "Okay, you – in with the ducks." And dropped her over the fence.

The ducks scattered, goggle-eyed and squawking, then went about their business, which was mostly chasing flies.

At that moment I got the feeling one gets when one is being watched from behind. I turned. Abner, Auntie Two, Amanda, and the six goslings stood together in an amicable group, regarding me with mild curiosity. And just beyond them, our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. T. leaned on the fence. They had thoroughly enjoyed the chase.

Auntie One began treading up and down along the fence across from her three darlings and the rest of the flock, calling to them, and trying the wire at every possible point. The others, after getting over the discovery that the madwoman was not planning to kill them all, simply went back to grazing.

Auntie Two was the perfect aunt, spelling Amanda as needed in raising the six goslings, who from that moment looked to Amanda for all orders.

Beloved was away at a family reunion during all this. On her return from the Midwest, she got my report on goose events of the preceding week, then went out to survey the crime scene. I made tea, and brought it out to the shady side of the "veranda." Beloved returned, took two quiet sips, and said, "You know what? Every one of those babies is a White China!"

The three that Auntie One had fought so hard for, and been willing to kill for, were all Amanda's.



You may be interested knowing in what to do with a hundred goose eggs.

Last year, Beloved kept them in the refrigerator for, oh, all the way to this year. I asked about that.

"Well, we are going to blow them out and make holiday decorations out of them and things like that...and sell them."

We?

"Sure, it's easy; you'll just punch a little bitty hole in each end with a little bitty nail and blow it out into a little bitty cup or something."

Me.

I tried the technique as described, and after about five minutes of blowing, had one egg in the cup and a severe headache.

A hundred and thirty-nine more eggs waited quietly on the table. I sat and thought for a bit, then went to get the high-speed mini-drill, and stopped by the sixteen-year-old's room.

"Got a pump and a basketball needle?"

"Uh, yeah, but what do you want 'em for?"

"Trust me, you don't want to know."

I selected an egg, and, using a cone-shaped grinder bit, opened one end and soften the other (the skinny end). I punched the needle in ever so gently, then pushed down the plunger, slowly, so as to avert an explosion, while holding the needle-inserted egg in the other hand above the cup.

The egg emptied itself in about three seconds.

Visions of a cottage industry danced in my head. I made quick work of the pile of eggs, emptying the cup after each one into a mixing bowl (this is in case you find a bad egg), in which the eggs would be later blended and moved into freezer bags -- when thawed, the batches are good in baking recipes that call for eggs.

But as far as cottage industry goes, well, we've never sold one yet. But after two years of this our Christmas tree looks splendid, and so do those of just about all of our friends....

Saturday, May 24, 2014

July


July

AS THE winter rains subside slowly across the coastal and inland valley landscape, and days are sunny but nights still cool, my neighbors pile up accumulated garden and yard debris, leaving it for a few weeks, perhaps under a plastic tarp. As soon as it's dry enough out, but not dry enough to get them in trouble with the fire warden, they torch off the lot. From a mountain top nearby, one can see this activity as a kind of Civil War reenactment, with the smoke of the guns drifting from various parts of the field. Filbert farmers are prone to set off a lot of piles at once, so that their places look like some corner of Shiloh.

When we first began to accumulate such material here, we started to build such a pile, but then remembered reading a book by a maverick Japanese organic farmer. He said that he had no way to fertilize a hillside orchard until he hit upon the idea of gathering wood and spreading it around on the slopes to rot. His trees thrived. We've begun to emulate that basic idea.


Since we still use wood heat, we do try to saw up larger branches for the woodpile. The natives are ash and oak, so their smaller branches are useful for the small barbecue pit we inherited with the place. Finger-sized trimmings of oak, ash, bigleaf maple, blackcherry, and cottonwood go into low places on the land, to help build soil. When there is a lamb, much of this goes to stock feed -- cottonwood is a favorite -- as does the abundant Japanese knotweed.

Himalaya blackberry, our region's equivalent of kudzu, we leave where it drops when cut. The lawnmower will eventually chip up the drying stems. Some of them we may use for bushing peas.

We have let too much mint grow in too many of the beds, and what we can't use we pull -- and pile around the feet of the fruit trees for mulch. Old squash vines, sunflower stems, hollyhocks, zinnias, cornstalks, "mother" strawberries, and old-growth chard or broccoli plants we chop up with a machete and leave in place to be mowed and perhaps eventually forked in. Of course all the kitchen waste goes straight to the garden.

We save our dishwater, add it to some other choice "household wastewater," and feed this to fruit trees, grape vines, and flower beds. After we've done the woodcutting for the year, the driveway accumulates a layer of sawdust and chips too small for gathering up for the woodstove. This material is gathered up with a square point shovel and wheelbarrow, and added to the blueberry row.

With all this activity, we find there's nothing left over that belongs in a bonfire, so we've never had to have one. In fact, we import whatever we can find. We buy tremendous bales of straw at a few dollars apiece, each weighing about the same as the Titanic, and huff them up to the barn to spread around under the bottoms of the ducks and rabbits. The resulting fertilizer is highly prized for projects all over the farm.

In November of every year, I scout around for bags of leaves left curbside. Last year I brought home some twenty-five of these.

Some of the bags were big-leaf maple, which is said to be a no-no in the vegetable garden, but they're fine for the "low spots" and around rhododendrons and the like. Some were oak, which can be sweetened with rock lime and used wherever you like. Some were more of a beechy-sweetgum kind of thing, and these were sheet-composted on the garden.

This seems to work so well that we question the usefulness of a compost heap. By the time the pile, of whatever humongous size at first, cooks down, there's so little of it that it has to be rationed to the neediest (usually tomatoes), and the rest go hungry.

At a Hutterite commune where I was a baker, I set up a bin behind the bakery, made of three sheets of metal roofing, and while waiting for the seventy-five pound lump of bread to rise indoors, shoveled whatever I could find into a big chipper. Sawdust, mule (yes, mule) manure, kitchen wastes, grass clippings, and whole piles of cleared vegetation, including a half-acre of high-nitrogen kudzu, went into the machine, in alternating batches, so that there'd be an even mix in the bin. As soon as the bin was full, I added another one, and when that one was full, I added another. The half-acre garden, which had been in ryegrass over the winter, we tilled in, and after the crops got high enough to mulch, we sheeted the whole area with the contents of the bins. The chippings served as compost, mulch, and pathway alike.

We would show visitors the garden, and on learning that it was organic, they would invariably ask where the compost heap was. "You're looking at it." We've never bought fertilizer, except for some organic amendments for the nursery, where a more controlled acidity was called for.

I remember the nurseryman, now a famous organic truck farmer who lives in this area, did sometimes have to fight white flies, the bane of greenhouse operations whether organic or not. He set off pungent smoke bombs that were very effective. I asked what was in them. He grinned. "Nicotine. The stuff's an organic insecticide, invented by tobacco plants to kill any bugs that try to eat the leaves."

This gave me an idea. I bought a pouch of chewing tobacco (which raised a few eyebrows in the store), and make a pomade of chewing tobacco, chips left over from old soap bars, and rabbit manure, all tied up in a cheesecloth, and left the "teabag" in the watering can overnight. The resulting tea could be used in the greenhouse, on flower beds, and throughout the young garden, and fed plants yet insulted bugs effectively.

You can put a similar mix into a hose-end sprayer, but it doesn't seem to me that the resulting dilution, even at the highest ratio, has enough kick. Just keep the solution making daily in the watering can, and use it wherever it's needed most. I leave the can in the greenhouse, where the heat from the sun during the day and radiating back from the brick floor at night can "solarize" the tea. The warmth seems to be preferred by the plants over cold water, and I would do this routine of leaving the water in the can overnight even if didn't have the teabag in it.

Once you've made yourself responsible to a lot of plants, every good habit helps.


We have always been admirers of Ruth Stout, a rural Connecticut gardener who one day decided to plant without plowing. Her method was to put down hay of such thickness that weeds could not come through (this is 8 to 12 inches, my dears) and pull back the hay to work, in hills or rows, in what amounts to sheltered trenches with walls of hay. She triumphed over the dubious agricultural scientists by showing off her crops, often no more spectacular than those of her more conventional neighbors, but no less, and achieved with minimal watering and no fertilizing at all. The hay rots and/or feeds worms at the bottom, creating, she felt, a balanced diet for her plants).

We used to mention Ms. Stout to our friends, and they would respond: "Yes, but that was back East. Here the soil stays too cold when you do that, too many slugs live in the straw, it sprouts a lot of grass, and the plants tend to go yellow on you from lack of nitrogen, etc."

As time went on, we found that there was something to these objections.

Rows of beans or whatever cannot be planted as early in deep mulch as in bare earth, as there will be poor germination due to the clammy conditions. Slugs move in, in huge numbers, as they dislike crawling over bare earth but love hay. Our "hay" is straw, but weed seeds do live in it, and they do sprout, especially if you run low on straw for a year. And, sure enough, give the plants only a straw diet and they do seem starvish, especially if it's the first year.

We found, though, that we could modify the system and get some benefit.

We do turn over the garden with a fork, and then cover it with black plastic for six to eight weeks. This gives sod (which can form here even in winter) a chance to die, even in the rainy season, and kills a lot of weed seeds. It also raises the temperature of the soil. Then we strip off the plastic and immediately throw on the fresh straw. If it's over six inches deep there seems to be little to fear from compaction, so we've abandoned trying to maintain raised beds and paths -- with the straw, it's all one raised bed.

Meanwhile, the whole garden, except for peas, which can be direct sown, and white radishes ditto, is sprouting in two-inch pots in the greenhouse.

Along about Memorial Day, if we've managed to wait that long, we move the whole garden out to the garden, so to speak -- annuals to the beds, veggies to the round garden -- even the corn is grown in pots or flats to about five inches high, then moved out. Pick a spot, trowel down through the straw, pop in the plug, tamp, grab another pot and move on. The relatively cool earth is good for the roots, the straw protects the root collar and supports the stem, so there's little need for hardening off or even of flooding the transplants. There's very little shock, and the high reflectivity of the fresh straw provides plenty of strong light to the leaves from above and below, for good growth. The plants will still need nitrogen, though, so our next move is to top dress around them with rabbit or duck bedding, and provide a drink of one of our watering-can teas. After a week or two of this, the garden will be virtually maintenance-free right through harvest, just as Ruth Stout said it would be.

Oh, slugs. Yes, lots and lots. We have big brown leopard slugs, five to six inches long, medium-sized orange thingeys, and little tiny gray ones. There are also snails in stunning numbers, a mottled variety of very pretty appearance and quite large when full grown, as much as two-and-a-half inches in diameter. Of all these only the tiny grays do any harm, but they do enough for all -- more than the spotted cucumber beetles, which are numerous yet only a nuisance.

Beloved says the grays are babies of the orange ones, but I don't know how she knows that. Both turn up by fork or spade, from as deep as eight inches in the ground, in distressingly large numbers. And both are very, very fond of the straw.

I have tried the beer trick, and, yes, they like beer, but it's a tiring sort of work.

And the slugs don't care to travel far for their night of carousing, maybe because the ones on the far side of the garden haven't arrived yet when the dawn patrol kicks in. I have had success with slug bait, but it only seems to be potent for a day or so, so it's addictive, and not especially cheap.

And I suspect the stuff. What's in it? Aluminum sulphate? If I wouldn't eat it from a spoon, should I be spooning it over the garden?

I hate to admit it, but it took us a long time to notice that we have the ultimate answer to slugs right here. I was rooting around the foundation of the house a while back, and came up with one of those giant brown mottled snails, which I suspected of munching the flowers, and in a fit of pique threw the little beast over the duck fence.

The commotion that ensued was alarming.

The ducks were chasing one another in circles, with one duck in front trying to gobble the snail down while five other nipped and bashed at her in an effort to get her to drop the morsel. Aha! I ran into the house and did a bit of research. Yep. The preferred duck food above all foods, snails – and slugs. Another good reason to keep ducks. I immediately herded them to the garden, where they, hardly believing their good fortune, stayed busy for the next half hour. I would have kept them there longer, but they began eying the plants. There I drew the line.


For years, we were bamboozled by the term "fall planting." It conjured up an image of late September afternoons, dew on orb-weaver spiders' webs, and pumpkins taking on that golden sheen. The problem with putting in seeds for winter harvests in the fall is, of course, that the days are already too short for proper growth.

Eventually, perhaps in our reading, or just stumbling around in the garden, we caught on. Fall planting is done in high summer. Everything should put on height and weight before the short days. The trick is not to let the heat "bolt" things -- cause them to run to flower and try to set seed.

We've hung a shade over a bed, made from re-purposed burlap bags, and we'll hope that helps some.


I cut through the newspaper/straw mulch in one of the beds with a right-angled trowel. I'll make an opening in the mulch about seven inches in diameter. She spreads a handful of compost/potting soil mix on the spot, shake out a mix of seeds from my shaker -- beets, spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, bok choi -- and spread a bit more potting soil over them, lightly, before moving on to the next spot. Later, I'll bring the watering can and soak each hill gently, with the rose of the can at ground level. With luck, in a month or so I'll get to thin the hills.

This isn't a perfect procedure. Lettuce, for example, really likes a bit more sunlight than this for sprouting. But we find that splitting the difference works okay, and gives us fewer things to have to think about. One size almost fits all, so to speak.

The resulting bed, as a rule, after thinning, has enough variety of plant life to confuse plant predators and to share space with different root systems going after different nutrients. The word for this is polyculture and we are trying it more and more.

92 in the shade ... head for the house.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

June, Part 2

June, Part 2

Every gardener is an artist in this most ancient sense.

The seeds and starts, balled trees, piles of rocks, and bags of soil amendment are pieces of a vision already seen, to be brought together with a willing toil and persistence.

Even when the planting and placing of the elements of this vision is done, the vision is not yet attained: what was once seen is still a future glory, which the reality must yet grow into. My hollyhocks just now are two to three feet high, and my vision of them towers over me; in my mind's eye they are seven to eight feet, dropping blooms like small ladies-in-waiting among the clumps of spearmint at their feet. These hollyhocks-to-be, hovering in the air above the current scene, are in a sense the real garden, the garden of the mind toward which the outward garden is progressing.

The two gardens will not come together without labor. We intervene by fighting slugs and removing grass and dandelions, and by watering.


Watering is a different ritual with every gardener-artist.

Some set up their summer sprinklers right away and leave it all to a timer and the available water pressure; those who can afford the initial outlay may invest in a drip system, with the tiny tubes running along every bed, stopping to weep only at a hill of zucchini or at the feet of each of the rhodies.

We're a low-budget outfit, so our tools, especially early in the garden year, tend to be labor-intensive. At each end of the house is a spigot, low to the ground to prevent freezing in winter, and to these we have attached enough lengths of cheap garden hose to reach the ducks, the geese, the upper garden, the lower garden, the orchard garden, and the various fruit trees and flower beds.

Beloved does the animals, the upper garden with her lettuces and brassicas and strawberries, and the Front Beds, which are mostly poppies and marigolds this year -- wherever she can tear out enough mint and oregano.

I do the rest.

This involves a constant war over nozzles.



She really only likes one, a greenish fan-shaped thing that hits exactly the right width at four feet to sweep a garden row in one slow pass. She bought it over twenty years, ago and it has spent enough of that time sunning itself on its coils of hose to have faded in color, and it even seems to have lost weight, as though the years of water rushing through have eroded the plastic from within till we handle it like a blown egg. I dread the day that it falls from some unheeding hand and cracks.

I like the sweep nozzle, too, for the first two minutes, but then I get restive. It hasn't enough reach, and I'm one of those who stands in one spot dispensing favors near and far. So I generally wind up removing the sweep and hanging it in the crook of the nearest lilac, and put in its place an old-fashioned brass nozzle. Antique ones are well made; get one of these. With the brass nozzle you can produce a fine mist eight feet across, or a brave fire-fighter's blast that fans out, forty feet away, just enough to water a distant tree without accidentally digging it up. There's really no better tool for demonstrating the phrase "all-purpose." The only disadvantage to the old brass nozzle that I can discover, but it is a very real one, is that if one removes it to switch to another attachment, and lays just about any old place, with luck one may find it – years later.

Our current compromise is the "pistol-grip." You can get a quite good visible one, bright yellow, American-made, too, for only three dollars. Be absolutely sure to get the one that is garden-hose threaded for attachments. The thing is highly functional as is, but once you learn what the threading is there for you'll be pleased.

There is another gadget in this category, and that is a water wand, the kind that is about three feet long with a valve at one end and a nice aluminum rose at the other, on a slender crooked neck. I like the wand very much, at least when working with young plants, because of the so-tiny droplets it produces without choking back the volume of water the way the brass nozzles do.

The secret to the wand is to hold it "upside down"; the rose should tip up like a flower (a rose), facing the sun, and its drops should rise into the air and fall by force of gravity alone, gently washing the mulch at the feet of your seedlings. The idea is to imitate, not rain, but a long-necked watering can of the English type, with its brass rose. I drape the hose over my shoulder and wander along, visiting plants and offering them the wash of life at their feet, where it's wanted. It's very meditative, using the wand, because there is no backpressure in the hose.

There are times when you want the rain effect of the sweep or the mist of the wand, without losing the flow control offered by the pistol grip mechanism. Because you've bought the one with the threaded barrel, you can simply attach the other nozzles as needed, creating the right tool for the job at hand. I've become fond of attaching just the rose from the wand to the pistol grip nozzle; this results in a gadget that seems exactly what's wanted for perennial herbs and berries.

When I walk about, watering with these various implements, it is generally evening. Direct sun will evaporate much of any water offered at mid-day, and in the mornings I'm off to work. Evenings are good for water economy and good for me. I fall into the routine, still noticing weeds that will need attention, or transplants that have stayed overlong in shock, but mostly I'm able to relax and look around.


Beloved tucks a bit more straw around her newly transplanted lettuce. Canada geese pass overhead here any time of year, though they are at their most spectacular in autumn; we have also mallards who travel in pairs, one green and one brown, and put down in our goose pen to steal cob and talk to our Khaki Campbells across the fence. A swallow sits on the clothesline in his green dinner jacket and scolds me for getting too close to the birdhouse on the potting shed wall. The moon rises, sullen and red-faced at first, then brightens as night comes on, and the last of the sun sweeps up the face of Jasper Mountain and disappears where there will soon be stars. It is altogether restful to water a garden by hand if you have the time.

Take your garden's advice: forget the evening news and the sitcoms. Make the time.