"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Memory

Do you believe that robins return to the same location year after year? Last year we had a robin’s nest in an old arborvitae beside the front of the house. We dug the tree out mid-summer because it was scraggly and unsightly. We have yet to replace it with something new, so the front of the house is bare. This morning a robin is building a nest on top of a post tucked in beside a beam under the overhang on the porch roof. The activity is in direct view of my writer’s window, so I shall be able to keep track of her progress. Or is it a he? I know the male helps sit on the eggs. Does he help build the nest as well? I hope this spot offers protection and I’m sorry we took down her tree. My grandma used to shoo the sparrows off her front porch and knock down the pesky bird’s nests. But I think she would like my robin.

I wish I could spend all day exploring serious themes in handsome prose while watching the robins. But I'm in the throes of query letter angst...to lead with a hook or to avoid the hook. Or to hang oneself by the neck from a post with a rope until dead.

Just kidding.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Real and What Isn't


Greenhouse update: We added another three-tier shelf to the 6 x 8 house so I could get some of the flats off the ground and my feet inside the door. My tomatoes are 5-6inches tall, attempting to outgrow their pots. Everything is finally coming up; even the slow-germinating peppers are sticking their soggy heads through the soil. The melons are spreading, all pumped up and a lush green, and the red cabbage is a nice rosy color. The brussel sprouts look similar to white cabbage when they first start out. The eggplant is also a little slow, like the peppers, but they are starting to unfurl. On another note, it was 66 degrees when I got up this morning, warmer outside than in, so I’m off to the garden for direct sowing of cold weather crops—radishes, arugula, lettuces, broccoli and onions. The dark horizon promises an afternoon shower so we must not tarry over coffee and unfinished novels. There will be a time for that.

Seven hours later. The promised thunderstorm arrived about 4pm. The winds were so high they blew my new shelf over and dumped the contents of the flats—dirt everywhere and fledgling plants uprooted. Topsy-turvy and who is who? The eggplant and the peppers look alike at this stage of the game. Woe is me. I tried to right them as much as possible. Maybe they’ll right themselves.

So what did you do for Earth Day? I was the stooge for a tree-planting photo op. You’ve seen the staged photos; people huddled around a sapling with shovels stuck strategically in the dirt, as they pose for the camera. The main honchos are in front and put their backs to the shovel as if they'd actually risk getting dirt on their high-heeled shoes. But one must at least pretend to be an arborist on Earth Day.

Smile. Click, click. Smile.

I was bamboozled into just such a fake photo at my airport, me in my uniform providing a backdrop of authenticity for two higher-ups who would never risk breaking a nail in such a manner. Never, never, never. I was duped into being a prop.

The idea was commendable-we at TSA would all chip in money and buy a tree to plant on airport grounds for Earth Day. Who wouldn’t get on board with that? We even got two for the price of one. Who could fault that? The first whiff of trouble drifted my way when I learned they bought ornamental pear trees, in other words “fake” trees, not indigenous-to-Michigan trees. But then the airport doesn’t want messy droppings, fruit, nuts, and leaves, etc. They lean towards evergreens and/or trees with tiny leaves, not big messy maples and real Michigan fruit trees.

But back to the duping. They pulled a group of us off the floor, and anyone who works as a screener for TSA is always ready to get off the floor. We walked outside to the front mall area in short-term parking and there were our trees—90pct planted by airport groundskeepers; only lacking the top 4-5 inches of dirt to be shoveled in and tamped down. Those of us who were actually involved with the idea and the purchase were there but we had to wait for our leader to validate our efforts and grasp the shovel . . . the driving force. Click.

Finished, she dropped the shovel and rushed back inside with her hands outstretched as if up to the elbows in cow manure. As if she'd been digging through the garbage in the slums of Lahore. At the checkpoint she asked for the hand sanitizer.

“Where’s the hand sanitizer? I need hand sanitizer.”

Click, click.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What is a conservative?

This is the most succinct definition I've seen.

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beating a Dead Horse

I found out this weekend that the fifteen-year old kid who was killed by a taser-wielding cop only got what he deserved because he was drunk and running away.

“He shouldn’t have been running away,” explains a fellow police officer to us ignorant civilians. “You can’t run away from a cop. And he was drunk.”

So drunk is right up there with sloth, malfeasance, murder, and rape, and even if you’re scared out of your wits, you better not run. Running is an admission of having done something wrong. And whatever you do, don’t let yourself succumb to the evils of alcohol. We civilians are all weak in our habits, our proclivity for bellying up to the bar, our youthful indiscretions and underage drinking.

This makes two kids killed by cops in the last month in Michigan. Where is the outrage? Our stupor of indifference is deafening. Last fall, a fifteen-year old Italian boy was killed by cops and his countrymen rioted in the streets. People . . . listen up. They were IN THE STREETS!!! FOR A WEEK!

In a different matter, on the opposite side of the state, the following exchange took place in a real court of law.

“Why were you driving drunk in my city?” asks the judge.

“I wasn’t drunk Your Honor,” says the stranger. “I was lost.”

“You got yourself lost on the wrong side of the state.”

“I only had two drinks and I was driving slow because I was in an unfamiliar city and I was lost.”

“What were you doing here, all the way across the state?”

None of your business, Your Honor. Isn’t this a free country? Isn’t freedom to travel a constitutional right?

“I was visiting a friend, Your Honor.”

“How many children do you have?”

What does that have to do with this charge, your honor?

“Why, four boys, Your Honor. One is a policeman.”

“I bet he’s really proud of you . . . pathetic excuse for a father.”

“They’ve all done quite well for themselves, Your Honor.”

“How many different mothers do these four boys have?”

What kind of a fucking question is that you pig?

“One, Sir.”

The judge goes on to tell the stranger that his blood alcohol level was point whatever, whatever (just over the legal limit) and he is putting him on probation for three years and taking his license away for one. Plus he has fines to pay and court costs, etc. etc. Coming down hard because it’s the stranger’s second DUI and this court has zero tolerance for losers, meaning people without money or connections in this Grand city.

In case after case, this judge berated, belittled, and demeaned defendant after defendant. And not once did any of the defense attorneys or court officials call him on it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Seeds

I started my tomato, pepper and melon seeds last week, days before our April snowstorm, howling winds and six inches of snow. We’d erected a little 6 X 8 greenhouse with a tubular frame on the south side of the house, and I had all my flats inside. On a sunny day, even with cool temperatures, the inside of that tiny greenhouse was hot! And I thought it could hold its own at night with normal April lows. But what to do with such a forecast as this? And lows in the twenties? We were scrambling for solutions.

We hung a troublelight inside with a hundred watt bulb, which by itself will throw off an amazing amount of heat. But I feared that wasn’t enough. Then my husband dug out a little ceramic heater we weren’t using anymore, plugged it into the troublelight, and turned it on medium. We waited for the storm.

The next morning I looked out the bedroom window with trepidation to see if my greenhouse was still there. The plastic sides were dripping with condensation and the only snow on it was a wet layer across the center arch. I went outside, unzipped the door, and ducked inside to check the temperature. It was an OK fifty-five degrees. Not bad, considering the winds were hard out of the north and visibility was nil. Everything else was covered with snow, including the white pine sapling I’d planted the day before.

We have been keeping the heater and light on around the clock, waiting for the temperature outside to return to normal. Yesterday, the sun came back out and the greenhouse got up to ninety degrees. Yikes! We are new at this. We opened the little window for a cooling effect.

And then, the miracle—a tiny green spike unfolded from the dirt, a Brandywine tomato.

This morning the greenhouse is alive with a host of fragile green plants and the sun is shining.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crime and Punishment

Let me tell you a story. My mother and father married at the end of World War II, like so many of their generation, but unlike many, they left the city life for the family farm. Mother had been raised on her own family farm but moved to the city to be with her city cousins and attend college. Then war broke out. She worked for DeSoto, making B-29s, and Dad joined the Air Force as a mechanic and was stationed in China and India. When the war ended, he could have had a job with Detroit Edison but decided he wanted to farm instead, and they both thought it’d be a better place to bring up the children they hoped to have. They moved into my grandparent’s big house because they planned to have lots of babies, and Grandma and Grandpa bought a place down the road. Dad took up farming and Mother promptly became pregnant. She kept her doctor in Detroit because a young woman can’t change everything in her life at once. You’ve heard the story . . . the race to the hospital . . . water breaking . . . but bear with me. Yes, they waited too long to start on the sixty mile drive, but everyone knows that a first-time mother sometimes miscalculates the speed with which her baby can slide down the birth canal and poke its head out into the world.

My dad has always had a heavy foot; he taught me how to plow through snowdrifts and skid around potholes. He can weave in and out of traffic with one hand on the wheel and point out the St. Louis Arch to you with the other. You will never miss a single sunset or astounding view or the first smudge of the Rocky Mountain foothills on the distant horizon if you’re in his backseat. He won’t let you miss a thing, even if you only want to bury your face in a book. He once had us sitting all day at a lake he’d heard was a stopover for flocks of migrating Canadian geese. We had to be very quiet and sit still and wait . . . all . . . day. They never came, but somehow we didn’t feel like we’d wasted our time. It was okay to sit and look at nature and wait for something to happen. It was okay to daydream. That early memory has stuck with me, even though the geese never came.

But back to his heavy foot . . . mother is about to have my eldest sister and dad is determined that it won’t be in his '45 Chevy, expertly navigating city traffic when a cop pulls him over. Dad quickly explains the situation and the cop says—

“Follow me.”

One of Detroit’s finest turned on his flashers and led them the rest of the way, right to the doorstep of St. Mary's Hospital in downtown Detroit.

Thanks to that policeman, my mother arrived at the hospital in time for her own doctor to deliver my sister minutes later.

I’m thinking of this story because of all the things that have happened recently due to poor judgment on the part of law enforcement officials. Last week there was the sad story about the man who was rushing his dying mother-in-law to a hospital in Texas when a cop pulled him over in the parking lot. He wouldn’t let the man go into the hospital with his wife and mother-in-law. He insisted on writing the guy a ticket. One of the nurses even came out and told the cop that the woman was dying and wouldn’t he please let him come in and see her before she died. He wouldn’t. He had to stubbornly finish writing the son-in-law a speeding ticket.

This morning there was a news story about a man in Florida who was rushing his wife to the hospital because she was about to have a baby. A cop pulled him over and the man explained their situation, and wouldn’t it have been nice if this police officer had said—

“Follow me.”

He doggedly wrote him a ticket for nine miles over the speed limit.

If my dad had been doing his twenty miles over the speed limit in a similar culture of “crime and punishment”, distraught and talking back, they probably would’ve tased him and thrown him in jail, my sister would’ve been delivered on the curb, and our entire family history would have been rewritten. None of us would be where we are now, because this is how lives are ruined, through the overreach and bad judgment of one person in power.

Now some may say they were only protecting the public from speeders. Some would say they saved lives. Maybe so. But this much I know—there is a pervasive mindset in today’s law enforcement and judiciary to follow the rules, to not think outside the box. Independent thinking is neither encouraged nor rewarded. There is no training on how to step back from a situation and weigh the circumstances unique to the matter at hand and take action accordingly. Is it really any different from a combat zone where a good leader squats down and lights up a cigarette and says— “Let’s think this over for a minute.”?

There is enough corruption in police departments around the country to afford every college graduate ample material for their thesis. With the choking economy, there is easy money to be made writing tickets and I have no doubt that cops are under pressure to bring it in, but an even greater problem today is our drug forfeiture laws. With the way the law is written, drugs busts are big business with all property being rewarded to the arresting agency. The wealthier the county, the more corrupt. This is the main reason law enforcement rails against any change to our antiquated drug laws. This is why the Sheriff’s Department has expensive sports cars and SUVs in the county garage; it’s why the Sheriff always drives a new vehicle and has all those toys and can run a high-profile campaign with an eye on the governorship and beyond. This is why they will use all their resources to fight medicinal marijuana.

I will probably never see the day when we can grow hemp again, that wondrous, natural fabric, and I certainly don't expect to ever be able to grow marijuana for medicinal use. I mean . . . can you imagine the paperwork and the record-keeping and the cops poking around your fields and sticking their noses in your harvesting methods and in your granary and your silos? What a nightmare that would be. In spite of the fact that the voters passed a bill overwhelmingly last November (I wrote about this in an earlier post), I expect the guidelines that come out of Lansing will be so convoluted and exasperating few farmers will take it on. I expect the process will make our annual OCIA inspection (our organic certifier) seem simple.

But there are other crops to grow for organic markets if the Senate doesn’t bow to pressure from Dow and Monsanto to regulate small family farmers out of business. But that is another subject.

And my mother? Well, she had her first two babies in Detroit and then found a doctor she could trust closer to home, and there were no more mad rushes to the hospital. My dad has slowed down, but he still loves to get behind the wheel and drive the gravel roads of home where you very seldom see the red and blues.