Saturday, March 5, 2011

Run For Your Lives

In a great cosmic twist, God decided She was in the mood for a divine comedy. Thus it came to pass that the fictional premise of the Left Behind series of novels was, in fact, carried out on Earth.

Jed Faidley had been zoning out at the monthly Town of Weston Corners Rotary Club luncheon, thinking about a recent bounce in his 401K, when he was taken. Left behind in a crumple was the navy, polished cotton suit that his dear wife had only the day before helped him pick out. His professionally pressed, white shirt lay flat inside the jacket, the red tie flopped over like a mangled corpse at an accident scene. Diamond cufflinks rolled from the sleeves to the carpet like fallen teeth.

Jed did not find himself naked in The Rapture, however. He was plucked from his earthly life and deposited into darkest Africa, clad in the last Boy Scout uniform he had worn in his youth. His ankles were thick bones covered in mottled skin, pale and white below the too-short pants. His buttery gut spilled over the moss green belt, the woven fabric unforgiving against his fat. The collar pressed his soft jowls outward, but a habit from youth remained, and he did not unbutton it.

At first, believing this was a dream, he swaggered around in the firelight with a hand in one strained, gaping pocket, whistling. He wiggled his sausage-encased butt at the fire, surveyed the scene to see whether a treasure of jewels might be in this dream, waited for some exotic beauties to stride purposefully out of the darkness.

Slowly, he became aware of eyes staring at him from beyond the light. Bared teeth, salivation, in every direction. Reality  --  foreign smells, sights, sounds  --  dawned into the core of his being. He knew he wasn't dreaming when urine seeped down the length of his short pants and cooled so uncomfortably that he would hardly be able to run. He began to jump and yelp, scamper like a terrified little girl from a snake. But everywhere, he met a wall of black-skinned nakedness.

Yet it came to pass, the assault was only on his dignity. For those had not been teeth bared in hunger at him. What he thought was drool, were tears  --  great watery streams of gut-wracking amusement.

The Natives, and God, were laughing.

* * *

Inspiration: Mike Huckabee

"I have said many times, publicly, that I do think [Obama] has a different worldview, and I think it's in part molded out of a very different experience ... Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings, and you know, our communities were filled with rotary clubs, not madrassas." 

* For anyone who may not know, Barack Obama was not born in Kenya.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Our Religion

A few years back, I was perplexed by the broiling anger a lot of women had at even the mention of the name "Martha Stewart." Her phenomenon hadn't touched me much. I've always been fairly disconnected from popular culture and didn't even have a television that worked then, but that is not to say I was unaffected. Human behaviors can be positively contagious. The Martha Stewart Way was all very refined, for a rabid frenzy. When I bumped into my best girlfriend in line at Wal-Mart  --  at 4 a.m. on a work / school night, both of us with craft objects in our hands  --  a veil was yanked from my eyes and that was the end of that for me. My excursion with over-homemaking was short-lived enough that I didn't develop a grudge, but I've grown to understand others' anger better now. With no small amount of corporate backing and marketing savvy, Martha Stewart took advantage of women's desires to want the very best for the ones they love. She lied; her way wasn't easy, women would fail and exhaust themselves in the process, to the point of pitchfork-wielding fury. We are growing tired of failing expectations, publicly, and paying for the privilege.


If I think of how to explain the description "Half Homesteader" from my Blogger profile, you'll be the first to know. So far, all efforts have yielded no complete theory. What does it mean to be a "homesteader" in this day and age, with blended families, the near absolute requirement of motorized vehicles to get to full-time jobs and lots of other essential places, so much information from everywhere that a person could suffer a breakdown from overload? Most of all, what does it mean when we have so much wealth  --  in the form of both dollars relative to most of the rest of the world, and a disproportionate share of the world's finite oil supply? (I don't mean we personally are rich. I mean in this country  --  yes, with notable exceptions  --  money problems usually mean stress, even grave stress, but not starvation.)

A partial explanation for the "half" in Half Homesteader is that there are no dire consequences for half-finished projects around here; we need not remember that some Native American cultures know the February full moon as the "Hunger Moon." Regarding my too numerous homemaking "works in progress," I blame Martha Stewart for a degree of burnout, and myself for a childish tendency to become distracted by just about any beautiful, pleasure-inducing thing. My eccentric, wildly painted dining room will be gorgeous  --  just you wait  --  sometime around Spring, 2021. See, because, my very existence does not depend on the dining room’s completion.

But there's another, less carefree side to what we are doing, too. An exception that proves the rule of half-finished projects would be canning the harvest. The job always gets finished because the vegetables won’t wait until 2021. The visceral satisfaction of knowing the fruits of our labor could save us during the time of the Hunger Moon is probably evolutionary, and immediate enough to carry me through the work.

Another exception would be our compost pile, an altar to all that we believe. Visiting is a form of prayer. I mean it. We pour sacrificial gifts onto it  --  you may say kitchen trash but I say carefully sorted nutrients, virginally perfect if "free of chemicals and metals" is the test. That altar holds life and the essence of life. We imbue it with all the hope and faith we’ve got in next year's garden, thanks for the lifetime supply of sustenance that we are about to receive. Years ago, taking the compost to the pile was a punishment I gave naughty children, a replacement for barbaric practices of past generations like hitting. We didn't have many material things to take away from our daughters, and they weren't quite old enough for social lives so "grounding" was useless. They hated the compost pile, though, or learned to. In hindsight I realize that was a mistake. Religion, if it's to stand its best chance of sticking with your children beyond the years you can strong-arm them to an altar, should not be used as punishment.

Despite the “Get Out of Jail Free” card that we use too often with our homesteading efforts, we are deadly serious. We are learning. I'll not go into the details of the seething, stinking mess we humans as a species have made of our planet and our climate, and the fact we're in deep shit. (I'll not mince words, either.) Plenty of others have done a bang-up job of trying to get the message out, and I commend them for their tenacity when so many people hold their fingers in their ears singing la la la la la and refusing to accept the veracity of the science. Multiple disciplines in science, I might add  --  biology, chemistry, meteorology, archaeology, geography, paleo-botany, etc. etc. etc.  --  all of whose results are in accord and dovetailing into one whoppingly terrifying conclusion. Those who believe it’s all a hoax are working awfully hard to ignore the evidence.

All I feel I can contribute is to tromp around the confines of my life, peeping quietly on occasion: "Please. Learn how to grow your own food. Learn how to preserve it. It takes more than you may think." I hope our family's efforts amount to at least that  --  a bank of stored knowledge for the future. Somehow or another we dodged a bullet with "the compost punishment" mistake. My grown daughters looked around on their own, said OM-EFFing-Gawd and commenced to devoting their lives to sustainability and, unspoken but equally important, adaptability. Making plans in sync with the mess they've inherited. They are the amazing examples to me. I'm still trying to work out what it is to be sustainable, after a lifetime of making choices from so much societal wealth, and the contagion of my human group's behaviors.

Suggested reading: 

First, Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, for the solid science of it, and a beautifully written, thoughtful consideration for what to do next. (Or check out his website at

Second, Dimitri Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects. In this case I would caution that the man, who incidentally is an engineer, is extremist for my taste. I don’t particularly like his politics. But for those who can look past that, he has a sparkling intellect very worth reading, and a truly fascinating hypothesis comparing the current U.S. corporate-government monolith to pre- and post-collapse Russia. I don’t recommend his website, however, mostly because it’s too disjointed.

Monday, February 28, 2011

To Be Without Words

A guarded chamber of my heart is a temple that holds my earliest memories, so fine and diaphanous that the breeze of time could easily carry them away:  a feather, a wisp of smoke, the curl of a tiny lock of hair.

There are four memories there. Two are from inside my crib, one of these purely visual  --  white walls, wooden slats, a 1950s pastel painting of a bunny and other forest friends on my side of the headboard. The other of these first two is a single glorious singing moment in which language rushed into my mind like a waterfall. A Mexican woman my parents hired to care for me walked into the room, chattering sweetly at the end of my nap, and in that very split second the final synapse that gave me the capacity for verbal understanding made contact. I sat up in the thrill of new waking, steeped in the sweet perfume of a clean and happy baby’s sheets  --  wide-eyed I’m sure, adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was like being born. Spanish, not the English that would ultimately become my “first” language, opened the floodgates. The next and longer work of my childhood development had to have been the unyoking of my infant tongue so that I, too, could participate in expressing a conscious universe.

The next two earliest memories amalgamate into one convulsing-red blur of violent temper, another's temper, my first experiences of agony and terror. I only break this into two memories because I remember the infractions that precipitated the whippings so well. I was about three; I can give an approximate age because of where we were at the time. Once I had rocked a rocking chair so forcefully that it broke the window behind it, and the other time I had slipped away from my caretakers with powerful intent to feed pigeons  --  slipped a half-mile away, alone, toddling myself to the edge of an interstate.

Language factors into this second set of first memories, too, though differently. Because the most stunning part of them to me now is not the flurry of fists or pain  --  these have been carefully sifted out of my first-memories chamber. They are just facts, without feeling or lingering hurt. What I remember most acutely is that I could not find the language for a new concept that entered my three-year-old mind in that flash of time, with all the shock and force of a snuffing mudslide bearing down on everything I ever knew. I was thunderstruck in the moment by an absence, a void  --  no word! no word!  --  for the sudden understanding of what it was to cease to exist. That my little capsule of consciousness could vanish. That I could die. I had no word for die.

Obviously it wasn't the end of me. Forty-three years later, I can tell the story, washed clean of anguish many, many years ago. But I wonder.

How, exactly, would it have helped, to have the word?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Hey Fellas"

A thin, blue light is smudged against a black sky over the mountain behind the house right now, and our rooster has begun crowing his frustration at the dawn, that his owners will not let him out for a few hours yet, to grace the entire property with those fine proud breast feathers of his. I should be deeply engaged in the sacrament of sleep, but instead I'm obsessing on the world's most inconsequential graphic design issue. Or, the floorflusher in this photograph from the 1920s is haunting me this early morning.

Isn't she just the berries?

I posted her yesterday in a different incarnation, having played around in Photo Studio and placed a kind of skipping-rope chant within the photograph. It was pretty in Photo Studio, but I hardly gave the effort enough time, and something about the embedded text further muddied the clarity of the old photo after the Blogger upload. It also seemed to have made it impossible to click on the photograph within Blogger, to get a bigger, clearer image.

She's here because of her attitude, her perfect symmetry and lines  --  I felt compelled to contribute whatever I could, to extending this one moment in her life into eternity. I think she loves the idea, but also that she's insisting on a "do-over." What you see now, I do sincerely hope.

Whatever your name is, beautiful girl, your star is still shining in Brumley Gap. But if you don't mind, I'd like to get some sleep.