Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My (Latest) Favorite Thing

Bicycles are not very welcome on the narrow country roads surrounding my little town. Motorists will indulge you as you peddle through our charming downtown, where the speed limit is 20 mph, but beyond downtown, you are an impediment to their motoring progress. There are a few brave souls who will hold their own against an onslaught of SUVs and one-ton pickups, but I am not one of them. Nor is my 12-year-old.

But just down the road, in the next town over, they are in the process of putting in a bikepath along a greenway where no motorists are allowed. The path runs along the Ohio riverfront, then turns to follow Pigeon Creek through town. The section to the north has been in place for several years. The section to the southwest is in the planning and clearing stage. All the sections should all meet up in a couple years, not nearly as soon as we'd like, but never mind our impatience. We're happy to have it, even in its current piecemeal state.

Yesterday we loaded the bikes, drove to that next town over, and rode the greenway. The completed section by the river is a bit too short to make a satisfying ride, so we looped a certain part of it where it crosses the train tracks, rounds a bit of grassiness, and dips under the cross-town expressway. (We did that part four times, whooping each time as we went under the expressway. Can you say fun?)

We're a long way from seeing bikes as transportation in this area. It's not (yet) practical and it's not (yet) safe. But not everything is about getting from Point A to Point B. Not everything has to have a point. Sometimes it's enough to load up the bikes and just go for a ride.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Five Minutes with Mirabelle on a Saturday Afternoon (a poem in prose)

Mirabelle, I say, come look at this.

She is at my side in an instant, standing tip-toe to squint through the screen. What? What?

I point, and she sees them: two birds hopping across the narrow strip of grass (low weeds) separating one overgrown bed of flowers (tall weeds) from the next.

The first bird, the one in front, pecks at the ground with its sunflower beak, while the one behind waits, impatient for an offering, rushing the first with a flap of wings and an outstretched neck.

Starlings, Mirabelle informs me. Parent and fledgling.

We watch for long slow minutes, the smaller black parent and the fat mud-brown juvenile, one pecking, one open-mawed and in constant twitter: hurry hurry more now more.

Do you think it can fly? I ask, and right then the two are up and gone, disappearing into the neighbor’s tall trees, as if the factory whistle had just sounded to call them back from lunch.

It can fly, says Mirabelle, and she lingers for a moment, then returns to her play, leaving me to stand at the screen, watching the yard, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Not Too Big Garden

We're a few days shy of solstice but I know it's summer because we picked our first ripe tomato yesterday. Dragonstar brought it inside and ceremoniously sliced it in half to share. This took some finesse, since it was a cherry tomato, and a small one at that.

She handed me a tiny wedge. We ate. It was delicious.

Pictured on the right: small plum tomatoes, also just coming into ripe red perfection.

We don't grow a large vegetable garden. It's really just a "pick and eat" kind of garden. A snack garden. Four tomato plants, fifteen snap pea vines, and a small section of lettuces I nurse through warm weather by letting the larger varieties bolt and shade the rest of the plants. That's it. Oh, and all our herbs: culinary ones and magical ones. We grow those, too. And blackberries, but we can hardly take credit for those, since they appeared out of nowhere last year and have graciously returned this year bearing loads of fruit.

Ours is not a very efficient way to garden, and hardly puts us on the path of sustainability. But it gives us pleasure for many months, and it's small enough to not become a chore. Which is Very Important. There is no joy in being overwhelmed by bushels of tomatoes or zucchini, or weeding for an hour in the August heat. Where joy is concerned, scale is everything.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Little Good, A Little Bad

At the restaurant where we had dinner last night, the man at the table behind me was holding forth on Christians and Muslims and the infallibility of the Bible and the need to bring all the peoples of the world into the Christian family.

At one point he lectured his tablemates on the importance of Christians taking the “orphan Muslim” into their homes, treating said orphan “as one of your own.” It wasn’t enough for Christians to love only their own children. “Even Pagans do that,” he said. Christians had to love the children of their enemies.

No word on loving the enemies themselves.

My Pagan-ish daughter and I exchanged looks. I didn’t know whether to laugh or request a change of table. I almost wish I had turned to ask him who or what he thought was creating these “orphan Muslims” in the first place.

I don’t know how to deal with people like this, people who are so certain they have the answers to all the important questions. They know what is sacred, what is holy, what is good, what is evil. Their moral code is binary: Christian/Muslim, right/wrong, us/them. And their thinking rattles my skull. I prefer the wisdom of people who are not at all certain of anything.

Chris Hedges, in his new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, is certain of at least a few things, but I like him – and his book – anyway. He finds the binary code of good and evil to be a childish conceit, simplistic and essentially unhelpful, and I agree: people are far too complex, and much in life requires us to wade into morally ambiguous waters where nothing is certain.

Ambiguity is a concept I can appreciate, being somewhat steeped in it these days.

Here’s an example, one that has been troubling my mind lately: I live in an area that relies on coal for energy. In choosing to live here, I am complicit in – among other things – the ecologically devastating practice of mountaintop mining. I can assuage my conscience to some degree with contributions to the proper organizations and calls to my representatives in Congress to pass laws that would stop the coal companies from blowing up Appalachia, but every time I flip on a switch, I renew my complicity.

Another example: I love animals, and I eat them. Even when I maintained a vegetarian diet, wild animals died and habitat was lost so that fields could be plowed to grow my vegetables. As this blogger writes, farmers are in constant battle with other living things. Which is good, which is evil?

Unlike certainty, ambiguity offers no balm for the ego. You can’t really be righteously ambiguous, and therein lies its value: it’s not the last word, it’s an unfinished conversation. Ambiguity means a little this, a little that. Depending. It leaves things open for continued questions and fresh perspective. Instead of ossified belief, it provides opportunities to ask and ask again, What matters now? And why? And it offers the chance to ask and ask again, Are you really my enemy? And why?

I don’t think that man in the restaurant would get it. But I think you do.

credit: folk art sculpture by southern artist Chris Hubbard

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Unmowed, Untidy and Overgrown (and a Link)

The heat has come early to our Ohio River valley town, humid days in the 90s and nights hovering above 70 degrees. We've turned on the air conditioner, much to my dismay; we can usually postpone that event until we're closing in on the 4th of July, spending the months of May and June in the warm but endurable breezes created by lots of fans and open windows.

Not this year.

This year it's already too hot to mow the yard, unless I choose to mow by moonlight. So things are a little shaggy around here. A little overgrown. The old roses are spilling onto my backyard bench, the mulberry branches are all low and heavy with berries. The honeysuckle has gone rampant. It's getting very woodsy out there. I love it.

I've been house- and pet-sitting for a friend these past two hot and humid weeks, making liberal use of her family's lovely backyard pool while keeping company with an enormous golden retriever and a sweet speckled cat. The house is perhaps 15 years old, handsome and stately, situated in a quiet, manicured subdivision a couple miles from my own (much less manicured) neighborhood. It's a nice house. It has nice features. It's very clean. After a few days there I went on an active search for dust bunnies. Crumbs. Grime. Water spots on bathroom mirrors. Dirt.

Did I find any of these? I did not. As I said, it's a very clean house.

My own little house is not so clean. It's also not 15 but rather 150 years old (yes.) It holds our lives, plus a century and a half of life prior to us (swept out on occasion, of course.) I imagine I could scrub for days and not eradicate all the visible dirt.

I like the contrast.

Which is a long way to lead up to the link I'm leaving you with, a post that stands in stark contrast to my mundane musings on flora and dirt: a book excerpt and commentary on American slavery that will wrench your heart and perhaps move you to action. I fear we could scrub for years and not eradicate this stain. But sunshine is the great disinfectant, is it not? A tip of the hat to Maryscott O'Connor at My Left Wing for shining the light. Please go read.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Elephant Poo Journal

I found this today at Carmichael's Bookstore in Louisville. They come in several sizes -- this one is about 7"x8" -- and they're all very reasonably priced. Paper made from elephant poo... how could I resist?

Here's a quick link: