Thursday, June 30, 2011

The next blush

It's upon us, the next series of blushes, nature ripening another round of fruits, flower, vegetable...

The tomatoes are showing the first color, the wild blackberries are ripening one at a time, but there are thousands. Look closely, there are large diagonal raindrops in this picture.
The peach lily is blooming as if aroused to a new height this year, perfect weather, rain, sun, balance.

This is one of my favorite flowers of all time, and now, I wait each year for them to bloom. This year they are welcoming July again, right on time.

The cucumbers are coming alive too, dozens of flowers, a few cukes ready for the weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stepping into the sea

Today I dipped my toes in the Atlantic, at a favorite beach on the National Seashore, Assateague, where the (formerly) wild ponies roam. They're pretty tame, lollygagging around all day, with token jobs. It s a great beach, because you can go there, park, walk to the water's edge, then turn right and walk another 10 miles. About two miles on, there are few people, though they do drive on the sand there, and party and fish too.

I was nearby, picking up a scooter I bought - a 1966 Honda CM91 - it's a fortunate find, as I've been watching Vespas, old Hondas and other brands for a while. Most are either basket-cases, titleless, or too expensive. This one came in with everything I need, except the motorcycle license, and it should get about 60mpg -we'll see. I'm considering converting it to electric... we'll see about that too.

So, I drove the extra 15 minutes to see the ocean that I haven't seen in a while, and it was still there, still beautiful, still drawing me to it. I dipped my toes in.

And as I often do, I discovered something new. Because of where I live, I don't see the little prickly cacti too often. Today, I happened on one in flower, and it's a beautiful flower, and I was happy to have been there to see it.

It was a good day, a long day, a lot of driving today, but I soaked up some of that power of the sea, and brought it home with me, to savor... as long as possible. I'm not likely to vacuum the car for a while, just to have that sand on board a little longer.

And, if you need proof that I was there...and that my beard needs a trim...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social action

I've been a vegetarian for about 20 years now, and the reasons are the unnatural conditions that meats are raised in, and because I was tired of scrubbing chicken grease off of pans.

Food, Inc. was on my 'never watched, but should' list, and so I watched it last evening.

Yes, I should have watched it by now - produced in 2007, it's old now. But the facts within, are way older. They extend back way before I became a vegetarian, and it seems the cheapening of our food sources has been progressing for decades with little challenge, but a lot of progress. I recently learned that many of the brands I handled as a food coop coordinator are now owned by the likes of Coca Cola and Kraft. I've heard theories that this is a good thing, that the behemoths want into the organic movement, but I disagree that it is good. This type of acquisition still lands control of our food in few hands and even fewer pockets. So far, many of the products don't appear to have been cheapened by their ownership, but I am skeptical that this will last. I am certain that part of the motive of the large companies is to still control the entire industry.

The film moved me. It moved me to consider how I can make my own difference. I've not supported these industries for over 20 years, and I give my opinion openly when asked, and I support legislation that maintains quality standards for all. I'm also growing some of my own food, and have made concerted efforts recently to reduce plastics, so far practically impossible.

I want to note to anyone who reads this that there are two kinds of people on this planet. The first are those like myself, who are willing and able to change. We understand that openness is the only way that problems will be recognized and reversed. The second type of person is the one who believes in a system that includes one's right to capitalize by any legal means. These are the people who trust the government, who believe in status quo, who support the system that often harms them.

Today, it was announced that between 1 of 2 and 1 of 3 children (depending on poverty level) will end up with child-onset diabetes. There is only one reason for this, and it isn't the diabetes, it's the diet. And yet, we react to the diabetes, not the food causing it. We provide medication before changing diet. Coca cola (and other sodas) were once treats. Today they are beverages of choice for unsupervised kids and poor families. Soda is cheaper than the alternatives, including water if bottled. This is an example of a failed system. Our regulatory agencies, our medical profession, our government has failed to respond to a serious nutrition crisis, because it involves many of the largest corporations in the world and their ability to make profits.

In my mind, it is factual to say that our epidemics, our health crises, our debt are all related to poor choices. We have grown the healthcare response to such a proportion as to dwarf nutrition. We treat illness caused by poor nutrition rather than improving nutrition. Period. The treatment develops at a much higher rate than the nutrition, because huge companies sell the drugs and treatments. They don't want people to be healthier, because they need to continue making profits.

Critical thinking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The other kind of 'green'

Most people, once they get to know me, know I'm a little nuts about some pretty practical daily tasks. I realized that I have only written incidentally about my 'ways', and thought that they might be both thought provoking and informative for those bent on saving energy and, of course, the planet. I am guessing, outside of 'off the grid' homesteaders and the like, that I am perhaps the greenest person you know. But that doesn't mean I own all the trappings, it just means I think about all my actions and minimize my impact in plain, and yes, old fashioned ways.

A few rules that I live by:
Rule number one - Some things exist, and rather than exorcise the house of all the plastic demons and incorrect products, I simply use them over and over and over until they are quite unsightly and unusable, and then I recycle them. I have yogurt quarts from the 90's that are still holding nails that I salvaged from a box someone was throwing out.

Rule number two - If I don't need it, I don't buy it. Even if I think I need it, I don't buy it, because I am fully aware that my thoughts are not always my own. (this is where the crazy part comes in). A long time ago, I submitted to the fact that advertising and merchandising works, and I know, that I sometimes believe I need something that I simply don't.

Rule number three - Shut it off. It's simple - if it isn't charging the phone, it's unplugged. If it has an LED light, it is unplugged. I leave a single LED night light running in my house in case I need to get out in a panic... which I never do. I know my house well, so I rarely turn lights on even to go to the kitchen - I mean, I KNOW my house well. This gets a bit philosophical, but it works the same way that hammering nails does for me. As long as I know I will hit the head of the nail, I can read the paper and hammer nails at the same time. As soon as I worry about hitting my thumb (or hitting a wall), I usually do.

Rule number four - If I don't need to use the electric 'fill in the blank', I don't. I take stairs rather than an elevator. Sadly, I can't get onto my floor at work using stairs, but I can get out on the stairs, and so I do. When I come into the building, I don't use the two power assist accessibility doors for two reasons - they use electricity, and they both open at the same time, meaning that they let a mass of air in or out depending on the season. Entering with the manual doors enables the airlock of the entry way to save some energy. When the workers leave the vacant suite next to ours (again, at work), they often leave the lights on - I mean, they're not paying for them, after all... I turn them off. There are two, sometimes three men on my floor, and so I turn the bathroom lights off when I leave. I figure I save an average of 6x32w for 7 hours of the day, five days per week for about 210 days of the year. That means I save 282,240 watt-hours. While my finger is still working, I'll flip the 20 year old switch.

Rule number five - I buy as much in glass or non-fancy packaging as I can. I use those super thin bags when I need to buy bulk (most stores don't allow your own containers still), and I buy larger quantities when I can't get something in glass - pound for pound, less plastic than your average consumer... by far.

Rule number six - I never drink anything from aluminum or plastic containers. Period. My beer is in glass, I don't drink soda, and when I treat myself to mineral water, it's Gerolsteiner... in glass. Glass can go back to the earth without poisoning it, and though it takes energy to produce, I use those bottles over and over again before recycling them.

Rule number seven: I don't use 'products' that solve simple problems. Did you ever notice that many products are regular old things with lipstick and high heels? Yeah, that's right. New and improved is rarely 'better'. We've just simply gotten used to there being new products all the time, and it's got to stop. This encourages waste. We are being lied to regularly by our product manufacturers/packagers/advertisers. If anything has eroded the moral fiber of the nation, it is labeling and packaging which is a constant source of bent truths.

Rule number eight - I don't eat meat. I don't foist my ways on people, but I know for a fact that consuming meat is like throwing the windows open and turning the heat up - it takes a lot more energy to get me fed with meat than it does with all kinds of other delectable delights. By extension, I also buy locally, and organic when I can. Think of it this way. When a company offers you a particular brand of clean air, and you decide you want to make your own clean air, and they sue you for subverting the patent on their air, branded 'clean'. Well, this is happening with food on a daily basis. Did you know that there are very few farmers using their own farm seeds? Because they get sued if they do. We need food, air, water and shelter to survive. So far, shelter, water and food have all been commodified. If you don't know about this, look it up - there is lots of information, but strangely the general public doesn't seem aware.

I'm done with the rules, but among other things I do are to use revolving doors where available, to air the house out naturally with cross breezes at night, to wash clothes when they are dirty, not because I wore them for two hours, to hang my laundry out to dry as often as possible (I've used my dryer twice since March), I am growing lettuce, cukes, arugula, tomatoes, berries and hopefully some peas to offset some of the store bought food and to assure that I am getting the freshest stuff... I also have an herb garden, garlic, wild onions and other ingredients just out my door, and my favorite is the mint bush that I infuse with water for a wonderful summer drink. Other tricks? I keep bottles full of water in any empty spaces in both fridge and freezer which help to stabilize the temperature and save energy by not having to cool the whole space back down every time I open the door. I also bought a high efficiency hybrid water heater which uses heat that is naturally in the air to heat my water, supplemented by electric. I use cloth to clean up and have bought two rolls of paper towels in the last three years. I cover exterior windows that are not used (basement for example. I'm still wearing shirts that my dad wore in the 80's, and they're back in style too. I ride the bus/metro to work, turn computer monitors off and unused computers off when not in use, have no television and have mostly compact fluorescent lightbulbs throughout the house, including exterior floods - of course, I rarely turn them on, so I suspect they'll last for 20 years rather than 10. Lastly, there is the coffee grinder from somewhere around late 1930's. It has a crank, and does a wonderful job - I have old things that work, usually better and longer than newly bought and designed to break products. I have a 50 year old toaster that even looks great! The clock on my wall is a wind up with a pleasant chime - circa 1950's.

Lest you conclude that I am a Luddite, fear not. I have an IPod (that I rarely use), I have dual monitors (LED/low power) on my big computer and have both a lightweight and a heavyweight laptop for my work. I have a dishwasher (that I never use) and I have air conditioning, that I do use until I can get the extra insulation in my attic space. Work is progressing.

So you see, I hope there are a few ideas here not just to save energy, but to impress how much energy we have gotten used to using (electric doors and elevators for example).

I feel good being conscientious in this way, and hope that others do to. There is an ethic in simplicity that allows me to live with a clean conscience. I never thought I deserved excess, and I feel happier than the average bear about that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sparkling portent of summer and balance.

It's like being in a fairy world, looking out on my back yard. The fireflies are a-bloom, just in time for the start of Summer. This actually used to be the middle of summer, but lopsided seasons irked the orderly, so we ended up with it being summer-like, but not official until the Summer Solstice, which is June 21st this year and the 20th next.

Earlier, I had a moment to think about the incredible balance that we all live with - consciously or not - on a daily basis. What brought it to mind today were the three ticks I removed from my body as they made their way to juicier pastures to graze in. None of the three made it, but I found it disconcerting that they essentially make me want to hide indoors. Between the diseases and the sheer gruesomeness of their methods, they are pretty creepy, even for a guy like me who lets spiders crawl around my hands while I talk to them.

Then, of course, I looked out just after dark and saw the aforementioned fairy world of fireflies that make me just want to get back out there and be among them. The night and in particular my big maple tree are truly sparkling with them. It's humid, not hot, but muggy and they seem to like that.

Balance, though, is not so apparent and seems to be this lark calling, but rarely heard. Every day I see people wasting - gunning their cars, throwing shit out their windows, buying plastic crap that won't last a season and generally buying into the whole destructive consumer trance. Even people who espouse their environmental ways, often wear only the green paint and have little commitment.

The fulcrum on which this all balances is far too low slung - who am I kidding? There is no balance. I think of the Material World book and corresponding NOVA show when I think of our lifestyle assumptions that for some reason, we deserve more, more, in fact than we need, more than we can often handle, more than we can keep track of, more, because we can't sustain our current state without producing at equal or greater rates. We're screwed then, because we either have to lose wealth, or keep wrecking all the stuff that keeps us alive.

The resolve with which our grandparents and great grandparents survived the depression is needed now, to kick the habit. If you have not watched Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff I urge you to watch it... with an open mind, depending on where you stand politically. It's common truth to some, and socialist propaganda for others.

The beauty I noted earlier is not so balanced for all the people experiencing the 'worst of' storm events in the last decade. We've had a lot of 'largest, worst, most powerful's', and I believe we should be paying slightly more attention to them.

Balance has become a trend, yoga, products, a whole lexicon of ways to be more green, but there is not much out there helping people to rise up together, to create the wave that will force meaningful change. Greenness has spawned more products, not fewer. They are more mindfully produced, but no less unnecessary than the plastic widgets we've been discarding for the last several decades. It's mostly trash.

The fireflies are stunning. They are the grand canyon experience in my back yard. I stare at them, watch in amazement that all this biology and time has created something so beautiful, but they also remind me that the world is fragile, delicate, prone. The beauty can be small while taking one's breath away, and that is worth fighting for.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Berries and the better life

Today was the inaugural day of berry picking season - I have a patch of cultivated and organically grown berries (though not organic in origin) that were given me by a special friend. You know it's a special friend, when she gives you a 24 berry plants.

I picked one a few days ago, and it was good. I picked one yesterday, and it was good. Today I picked eight, and they were luscious. It's their second year, and so they should bear nicely.

Afternoon crept by today. It felt like Friday all day, and when it's Thursday, but feels like Friday, it's a slow day and week and it's time for it to end. The sky was blanketed lightly by deep clouds and rain has been imminent most of the day, while it also appeared that the sun would be let through intermittently. It was, but overall remained gray.

The bus dropped me in the rain and I enjoyed the wet grass on my toes during the fifty-yard walk to the house. Rain was gurgling in the gutters and so I changed the buckets under them to be sure and capture as much as I could to water with next time it's dry.

It is 72°F right now, and after a couple weeks never dipping below 80 during the day and topping out at about 103, it feels like a reversion into spring, the season that is surprisingly still with us. I wasn't going to check the berries, but I saw a gleaming red one from afar, then looking closer and deeper, saw more, and found that carefully pulling back the large shading leaves that I had eight ripe ones on two of the five varieties in this patch. The reds were ripe, but a little translucent pink still - good enough for me. The two ripe golden ones were... well, golden, but with a slight pink blush to them, which is how I know they are ready.

It is important that I distinguish between these berries and the one's I've managed to choke down all winter. Any of you who regularly buy berries in Holy Foods or other such fine stores will know that, though they are tasty treats in contrast to the snow outside, they are no comparison to berries picked, oh, 45 seconds earlier. Or even a day earlier. Fresh, bush ripened berries are unequivocally one portion of the recipe of a better life.

My family has been enamored of wild New England blueberries ever since I was too young to pick them, but expected to nevertheless. In New England, we don't mess with them, doing the the equivalent of injecting botox to satisfy Texans, like is done with Chevy Suburbans. No, we're pretty well satisfied with a 5/16th inch berry that tastes astounding. We picked them from a friends farm where he did not cultivate per se, but simply provided pretty nice conditions and a good occasional fire to get them started again as well as protection from bears and birds. They were low bush too, and we could pick with modified cranberry scoops. We found ourselves with about 20lbs in a box in about 20 minutes, into which, perhaps were I older, I would certainly have bathed. But I was young and naive.

Berries of all kinds - 'duda' (in Romanian) or шелковицы (in Russian)- mulberries - are delightfully plentiful, so much so that they stain the roads under the trees, and yet we don't harvest them. I lived near several trees and used to pick a few on my way home from work during the season. There were red, black and white ones on my trip, so I had a colorful treat and a new experience.

I have wild strawberries growing in my yard, but they are truly wild, growing like weeds, and sadly, they have no taste. It's odd that when I have occasionally picked a tasty looking one, how revolting it is to find it has no taste. Some people don't like mulberries for the same reason, but they do have a light, sugary flavor, though anemic compared to raspberries and blueberries.

The better life that I am so fond of pursuing, includes berries, berries grown near by, berries that grow wild, berries that I can crush for color and juice as well as the treat they are on my morning oats.

I hope everyone is inspired to pull off the road and get some... carefully please.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Global warming and society

Platitudinous, yes, but global warming is a truth. It is a truth aside from politics, aside from persuasions, religion, academics. The earth has been proven to be warmer now than ever before in our discernible history, and so be it.

It's troubling that while all the discussion is going on about whether humans caused it, and while we sit back with our feet up and a pint in hand having a great debate over it, while we waste valuable time, the earth is warming further, and the issues that cause warming are getting more pronounced and regulations are going away, and business is getting the upper hand again.

I learned the other day that part of the reason that global warming is not as important a topic for US'ns is because it is not as frequently in the news. This really frightened me, because with all the effort people make to show themselves as independent thinkers -- you know, tattoos, piercings, fancy cars, symbols of success, expensive glasses, witticisms -- this would indicate that people are sheep, and the media is the sheepdog, and I needn't explain that further.

Troubling to think that we can be influenced into thinking that global warming is either more or less serious than it is. Today I noted an interview on CNN with a man who plans to row to the north pole. When asked why, instead of give the reason why, he chose to mention his mother and her inspiration that made him do everything 110%. He attempted later in the few-minute long interview to explain that part of the reason he is doing it is because he can, which he said briefly is a really big problem. He should not be able to row to the North Pole, and the interviewer moved on and did not pursue the frightening fact that he can get there in open water during the summer.

Richard Rood noted on To The Point (radio program) about global warming that one of the problems with global warming is the ability of those who profit from the industries that cause it to demonstrate the controversy over whether it is real or not. The reason that this is possible, he posited, is because scientists spend so much time controverting each other on the subject, and so the 'deniers' have an easy time of pitting those scientists against each other in campaigns designed to encourage disunity in the effort to stop global warming.

In reality, most - and by 'most', I mean at least 80% - (but more often quoted numbers in the 97% range are probably more accurate) - of scientists agree that global warming is real. Richard Rood suggested that those 97% should be concentrating on one thing, making the public aware that global warming is here and that no matter what they believe about the cause, they agree that it exists and is heading us into a perilous journey into deep water.

Another wonderfully poignant point that was made in this program was simply that the environment is one thing. There is no climate without global warming versus the climate we actually live in. There is one climate, the one in which global warming is a fact. This might help to unify scientists and to bring the issue into a clearer fact of current life. The question was put to another guest on the show, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker asking why it is so difficult to attribute increased major weather events to global warming. She answered in essence that statistics indicate that storms are getting worse, floods and droughts have gotten worse, melting is increasing, but no scientist has the ability to directly attribute one particular storm to Global Warming. This would be the equivalent to attributing the incorrect tightening of a bolt during manufacture of a car to an accident 10 years later. The bolt might have loosened on it's own (whether it should or not), or it might have loosened because of originally being tightened incorrectly. It is difficult or impossible to determine either case, yet the result of the bolt coming loose may have caused the accident. While it is clear that the accumulated severity of weather in the last decade is clearly explained by global warming, honest scientists can't attribute individual storms to global warming and can only suggest that they are likely caused by increased moisture in the warmer air. There is no direct and obvious cause and effect.

Lastly, the suggestion by the guests on Olney's show is that the evidence that the earth is warming is incontrovertible. However, they attribute the lack of action to a combination of bickering, distraction, a coordinated effort to deny global warming, and a powerful business interest in the status quo. In essence, some of the most powerful companies on the planet are not interested in either selling less oil, or in spending money to clean up emissions or to increase efficiency. It is against their purpose of making money, while sadly also against the interests of humans and the planet.

I can't urge people enough to remain involved and vocal about the fact of global warming, and to remain vigilant in doing all you can in any way to save energy, to eliminate waste and to encourage increased regulation of energy use.