Monday, July 27, 2009

Spiritus Mundi

Summer means music, pop music in all its variants on the radio, for me as long as I can remember. From Three Dog Night to Sugar Magnolia, my preteen and teenage summers seem in my mind set to a rock score - a highlight would have to be Meat Loaf playing on the stereo in the Chatham home of Sue Macomber. I was in love with Sue of course and the fact that Meat Loaf was no musical genius didn't matter. That and The Who. Teenage Wasteland. We were celebrating not so much the lyrics as the emotional impact of being young and capable of being in love and realizing that we were. In love. And popular music was the unvarnished truth. It was the opposite of the sugar coated falsehoods, the conformity that was so evidently being shaken off like an old skin all around us, in the media, in schools, in our own families. In that way it was the Internet of our younger days, the way people communicated in a new push to celebrate the truth as opposed to the verities pushed by power and the status quo. The search for the authentic seems to be the impetus for new cultural forms; and technology is the latest manifestation of this.
Our opinions were so rigid on which songs and groups mattered because it was all about what was real. We had the Hemingway bullshit detectors on red alert for anybody with the slightest whiff of pandering to sentiment. My sisters liked a song, Seasons in the Sun, which I hated, and I let them know my feelings to their great discomfiture, because they loved it. It was about a family and the passage of time and the sadness of mortality, all concerns which I equated with anesthesia. You couldn't talk about it in a pop song. It was all wrong.
Ironically, that song reminds me today of my own family and present moment. We had one of those days. We must have presented a spectacle bicycling in a convoy down to the beach at Elm Brook State Park, Michael on his red BMX and skateboard helmet, Eve on her pink Starfish with the Dayglo streamers coming out of the handlebars, and Grace in the bike trailer pulled behind me. We got down to the lake, swam, played, and realizing it was late left for home, but not before the sun went down behind the dam and the stand of white pine. The Mexican campers were celebrating in full bore. I learned later when I got home that their team had wiped out the US 5 nil in the Gold Cup.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Faith and Food

Farm Journal July 2009

It's that point in the summer when the heat has set in, the long slow bake that'll take us into the harvest season. This is the time for the quickening of the crops around here, the spurt of growth in the corn, the tomatoes going from yellow blossom to fruit in the next two or three weeks. We've had our garlic scrapes and need to get around to pulling up the bulbs and hang them in the wood shed to dry. In this tremendous rush for fulfillment before death in the short Northern growing season, we are in plain battle with weeds and insect pests for the raspberry, apple, blueberry and grape. I put garlic juice in the back pack sprayer to keep off the Asian and Japanese beetles that will strip a young tree of its leaves in a day or two. The healthy apple trees we planted out in the spring have already outgrown the attacks of the leaf rollers and the scab. Some of them have died back, unable to fight back, but not many. The trees we planted out as two year old transplants from Fedco in Maine have struggled in comparison to the grafts, native born as it were on this land, especially the tenderer-leafed varieties such as Honeycrisp and Starkey.
The lambs are also getting infusions of garlic to fight off the mid-summer parasites once every two weeks which seem to be working so far. They browse and play, and one of the rams has begun to behave strangely around the older women and young girls of the herd, which is always unnerving, another sign that the season of spring-like innocence has passed.
One of the attractions of having a small farm is the way the life around you corresponds to the larger cycle of seasons. It makes sense, this correspondence, in a way that much of contemporary life does not. Michael Jackson is dead, Frank McCourt has passed away also. Obama's health care initiative is stalled in the halls of Congress. How much of this matters, how much of it seems to wash away at our sensibilities like some spore-laden rain, curdling the leaves and tendrils of our nervous system until we no longer hear anything or feel anybody? Not everybody can or should have a farm, but the farmer shares more than the food he grows. He shares an insight, a sense that there is meaning, and he shares his insight, this intuition of correspondence, with all of life, struggling upward toward the shortening hours of light in the sun. To make sense implies that there is sense, that we live in an ordered universe, and without the faith imparted by this intuitive grasping at sense, it is doubtful that the generations before us would have soldiered on, farming and growing food, measuring progress by whether one plant lived, one sheep grew fatter, one pig was ready for market. That faith is just as necessary today and as in short supply as good, healthy food.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Paul and Ellen Connett came down Sunday night, arriving close to midnight after the drive from upstate New York. They are full of stories, people who have travelled the world fighting against trash burning, recently in Mauritius, but big in Italy. Breakfast with Susan and me around the kitchen table with the kids still asleep upstairs, preparing for the Title V appeal hearing. Paul was my witness. They lived in Camden Town in the eighties, met as Biafra activists, then he got a PhD in chemistry at Dartmouth and began lecturing on the dangers of incineration, the dioxins, fine particulates. He is a tall man and once in Spain was approached by an old man who told him he looked more like a priest than a scientist. He stood and blessing the old man with the sign of the Cross said "God recycles, my son. The devil burns," translated for him by the Greenpeace translator at the event. The audience loved it.
Not so much the Air Resources Council, sleepy industry representatives who didn't want to hear his lecture on dioxin formation and fetuses. I suppose it assumes a certain level of interest. I gave them a run for their money, debating with the silverhaired lawyer for Wheelabrator on the statutory basis for my appeal, which I insisted was the primary legal duty to protect public health, not monitor emissions compliance, and of course he insisisted on the process, intended to narrow the focus so that citizen participation is minimized to non-existence. After five hours the hearing was adjourned. Katy Lajoie hugged me. You broke it wide open, she said. Then we gathered outside, laughing and recalling some of the exchanges, releasing pent up nerves. After a celebratory lunch downtown in Concord, we said goodbye, vowing to meet up again soon. Then I saw the front page story in the Monitor and bought the last two copies from the machine on the corner. They sound-bited me, typical dumbing down story. I felt like I'd been through the shredder, and this somewhat false version of me, like the coffee grinds from the morning breakfast in the sink at home, was all that was left. Thank God for the blog, letting me digest it, filter it through my own words

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Probably nobody freedom born can appreciate it properly. Those who have been deprived wave the flag more knowingly, and those of us who wave it loudest, safe to say are hiding something, maybe even from themselves.
After 9-11 the orgy of flag waving made me sick, but it made others feel good, to be a part of something that was big and was going to kick some ass on their behalf. Sort of like the phenomenon of SUVs and small women drivers behind the wheel feeling safe tucked in their metal cocoons.
Now with Obama it's just another day and I'm glad the weather is good. That is a kindness I am grateful for. No need for patriotism when you are barbecuing. Bin Laden probably hates us for barbecuing, but who cares about him?