Saturday, February 27, 2010

Poetic Justice

My dad loved everything living. He’d go around the house glass and piece of cardboard in hand to trap a wayward fly, so that he could release it outside. I did the unthinkable once and tossed a potted twig after it sat on the kitchen table for months and months without sprouting. Dad rescued it and admonished my impatience.

Well, he was right. It started budding, and come spring he planted it in the backyard. Somewhere he found an open spot among the fruit trees, mulberry bushes, and bamboo stalks he had already put in that crazy space.

OK, Dad was a bit eccentric. He was a dreamy minded artist. We moved to a conventional suburban neighborhood, into a twin home with regular working class neighbors. The adjustment was rough, for us at least. Mom stayed inside most of the time, and Dad was oblivious. But once the pecking order reshuffled to accommodate the new kids on the block, (my sisters and I), we made friends and developed regular routines. Besides the other girls actually on our short dead end street, there were a couple of really nice families nearby. Donahues and Tierneys. The Donahues were a large Catholic family. They occupied a huge Victorian. Their backyard consisted of a multi-bayed garage, some worn spots, and an ancient Elm. That tree was about 3 ½ stories high and so thick two kids had to join hands to encircle it. One stormy night early on in our time there, a large branch broke off, partially landing on the garage. Sadly, the break revealed all was not well with the tree. So Mr. Donahue did the sensible thing, and cut it down. The process took over a day of constant chain saws and cracking limbs. Even now the felling of an old tree gives me deep sadness.

Sometime after that, new neighbors moved into the small row home on the end of our block. Mrs. McKinley, her ailing husband, and their youngest son, Jon. Mr. McKinley passed soon after the move, and Mrs. McKinley poured her energies into her postage stamp sized front and back yards. She grew everything. It was a jungle of green and flowers. Viney plants on trellises, large leaved ground plants, shade and cool, and as an accommodation to convention, a small privet hedge neatly trimmed along the front yard’s narrow sidewalk, in some sort of vain attempt to keep everything contained.

Our family lived in our house for about 30 years. Neighbors came and went. Jon grew up and moved away. My sisters and I grew up and moved too. Mrs. McKinley stayed. My dad became ill, and after many years, died. Mrs. McKinley visited my mom, to share books and talk. One day she pointed out something sprouting in her and Mom’s hedges. Of all things, Elm saplings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sort of a Book Review Possum Living

You have to admit the name is intriguing. I first heard the title mentioned in a Philip Brewer article for Wisebread over a year ago. Philip looks at his dog-eared copy when he wants perspective. After a bit of searching I found the book in it’s entirety on line. Read only. Then our intrepid library ladies tracked down a copy through inter-library loan. It’s easier to peruse in hand but had to be returned. I wanted my own and checked our favorite used book sites, only to find it was outrageously expensive to purchase. Happily, it was reprinted just this year and is available for $12.95. My sister Lisa gave it to me as a Christmas gift. (Thanks Lisa!)

PL addresses basic questions, “What is enough?”, and “Is there a way to live outside the money economy?” I’ve puzzled over ways to integrate Dolly Freed’s experiences into our current situation, eliminating any ethically shady bits. (There are plenty.) Several major strategies remain. Maintain a large garden, cook from scratch, preserve, learn how to fix things by reading library books, forage, and be content. I suppose in a pinch I could learn to kill rabbits for meat. That certainly would be a learning curve for the kid who freaked when her fish swallowed a hook. But our cellar isn’t good for rabbit breeding or chicken nesting either, as it tends to flood in heavy rains. So gratefully, that’s not an option. And there are always beans.

Dolly and her dad were content to live in a fixed up house, basically off the land, and never go anywhere. If it were a treehouse in the woods as home base, maybe I’d agree. Washington state, or Britain or France even. But a treehouse, or a small bungalow among trees. Not suburbia. Not all the time.

Would I recommend it? Try interlibrary loan first. It may not be your cup of tea. For me it adds ideas to the stockpile. I have big dreams and limited means. The romance of cross country travel, silent stepping in pine forests, musty marsh smells, hawk calls, salty sea breezes, churning brooks, cool water rocks. All these sing their siren songs. How to get from here to there though, that is the question. And Possum Living may just offer some answers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It All Fits

I’ve been revisiting a high school passion, Fibonacci numbers. “Huh?”

OK here’s an explanation from Wikipedia, “In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers are the numbers in the following sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144...By definition, the first two Fibonacci numbers are 0 and 1, and each remaining number is the sum of the previous two”. Fibonacci numbers show up in the proportions of a snail shell spiral and the curved patterns in a sunflower head’s seeds even though they were invented by man. “Strange”, you say. Bear with me a bit. Thinking about these numbers lead to some mental wanderings. Sort of brain ping pong. Keep your eye on the bouncing ball.

There is an exquisite order in the universe. We know it exists intuitively. It’s here before we arrive. We seek to make sense of the world from our earliest interactions, to understand patterns and categories because we know they’re already in place. To decipher language, interpret facial expressions, decide whether we prefer strained peas to mashed banana, we develop filing systems for the bits and pieces. Even language reflects our heart of hearts knowledge of pre-existing order. We say “circulatory system”, “logic”, “cause and effect”, “singing off-key”, “proportion”, “laws of nature”.

The double helix is both beautiful and simple. Envision the cell division dance enabling reproduction. Amazing. Chromosomes. Microscopic codes, blueprints for life. Why someone has one blue eye and one brown. Why your kid gestures like your dad. Why identical twins look alike. Why some tomatoes are nematode resistant. Or certain flowers come in certain colors.

And yet for all our gathering and filing we can’t get to the One Thing Holding It All Together. It is outside our experience and capacity. Too big and way before our time. So we go into default mode. If I can’t see, hear, taste, touch, or smell it, it doesn’t exist. Very unsatisfying. It’s the little kid playing peek a boo, “I can’t see you”, when he knows you’re there.

Then we ask, where does creativity come from? Or love? Or hope? “From within ourselves”, we answer. That’s quite a stretch. Sort of like the geocentric theory of the solar system. You have to explain away a lot of irregular orbits. Unless of course planets revolve around the Sun. Then it all makes sense.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dreams of Treehouse Living

Early morning eggs sizzle white with happy yellow middles in an iron skillet. Birds outside the window circle a makeshift feeder before lighting. Falling acorns gently drum on the tin roof. Outside, wind blown leaves dance under a porch swing. Under the porch trap door, a circular staircase touches the loamy forest floor. I'm living in the trees, and loving it.

It’s an image that keeps coming back, though it smacks of unreality. My dear sweetie, Art, (always a pragmatist), reminds me he’d be hard pressed to keep all his books in such a home. Like the ill-conceived Medici family’s marble-encrusted-arboreal-folly, it would come crashing down. So we’re left with an alternate dream. This one is totally doable. A cross country trip in a converted van, darting here and there to smaller and larger sites, until we arrive at Michael Garnier’s Out ‘n’ About Treesort, in Takilma, Oregon. Ah....His tree-house dream came true, and we can enter into it.

Check it out at-