Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paul Hawken: "You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring"

I have been feeling powerless facing this crazy world and its messes. I hardly read the news any more and fear I am falling into the gutters of complacency. I got stressed at work, draining me, but even in my most energetic times I have felt ill equipped to face, let alone help with the world's problems. I've stopped huffing, partly because I'm not paying as close attention as I did during the presidential campaign last year, and partly because I want to send more positive energy out. Yet I've felt conflicted for just going on, posting about beauty, and joy - as long as there is brokenness, greed, ill will, war, violence, environmental destruction, heartbreak, hunger, death, poverty, anxiety and despair anywhere on earth (including inside me).

So when I ran across environmental activist Paul Hawken's May 3rd commencement address at the University of Portland, something in me melted. He said:

Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

I invite you - I implore you - to read the whole speech. It doesn't take long. I want you to feel the same hope I feel. The problems of the world are being solved by little people like you and me, one by one and in small groups - not in big governments or corporations.

Also if you have time, watch and listen to Paul Hawken's 6 minute video addressing Bioneers 2006 about the unnamed movement on this gorgeous planet of those who are taking it upon themselves to work for social and environmental justice: at Blessed Unrest, or at YouTube below.

The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world."

"One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

We are connected. We are one. If anyone hurts, I hurt.

You can get involved by exploring your areas of concern and hooking up with a group, via Paul Hawken's site called WiserEarth. You can explore groups and organizations, and areas of focus such as organic farming, peace or poverty alleviation. Or how the arts - writing, visual art, film, music - help address our problems. There is a vast network there at WiserEarth, so it might take some time. I just became a member. You can find out who's working where, raise awareness, and connect with a network.

The Summer Day
x x by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems,
1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

maybe teal is my favorite color


Click on the collage to see the images bigger.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the bridal wreath


Our "bridal wreath" spirea bush explodes in front of the house like fireworks. Here - I darkened this photo so you could see what I mean. I think it doubled in size from last year.

I made a pretty wreath and Don took this nice photo of me wearing it that I blurred up to make me look more romantic. Maybe many brides have worn a spirea bridal wreath, which might be why it was named that, or else the bush itself just looks like a bridal wreath. Our daughter will be married here on the farm in August - too bad there won't be any spirea in bloom for a wreath for her hair. But all bridal veils "grew" from this tradition.

Down through the centuries a white floral wreath worn on a bride's head was an indication of her maidenhood - virginity. In The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg, a book that Lyndal Roper wrote to counter the belief that the Reformation was only good for women's progress in society (in fact, he argues that women’s status was actually worsened by it), is this paragraph about the bridal wreath:

The symbolic object most associated with the bride was the wreath. Denoting triumph and festivity, it was also linked with her virginity. In Augsburg, at the engagement and again at the wedding, the bride presented the groom with a wreath. During the procession to the church she wore her hair loose or uncovered save for the bridal wreath or crown. Her peer group of unmarried women distributed wreaths to all the guests. It is hard to determine whether the wreath had always symbolized the offering of the bride’s virginity to the groom, or whether this was a later development as the Church, continuing its pre-Reformation campaigns, tried to prevent the couple celebrating their sexual union until after the wedding. Certainly by the late sixteenth century, in both Protestant and Catholic regions, women who had slept with their men before the wedding were being compelled to wear a mock wreath of straw through the streets, or a wreath open at the back, in a public exhibition of their “shame.”

Yippee for Google! - as I was searching info about the bridal wreath spirea, not only did I find Roper's interesting book, I also found this treasure: a novel titled The Bridal Wreath, written in 1920 - first in a trilogy by Norwegian Sigrid Undset (born in Denmark but raised in Norway). The book's title, of course, has great importance for the story, especially in light of what the bridal wreath signified in the 14th century when the story was set a la Roper's words, above.

As an English major-come-university-English-department-adviser how did I not ever hear of 14th century Norwegian Kristin Lavransdatter, one of the great heroines of literature apparently (and title and subject of a film directed by Liv Ullman), and the book about her that has never been out of print since its first publication in 1920? (Granted, most of what we read in class was written in English, not translated into English.) How did I not hear of its author, Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1928 - "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages"?

Sigrid Undset (b. May 20, 1882 - the same year Virginia Woolfe was born; she died in 1949 ), was a pioneer exploring aspects of life in the Middle Ages that hadn't been documented. Having grown up listening to her historian/archeologist father tell of Medieval times in Scandinavia, she developed gripping psychological studies that were erotic, and yes imaginary - but based in the historic tensions of the times. How did her own conversion to Catholicism a few years before writing the book contribute to its exploration of sexuality? What was life really like for women then? There is little evidence. But Undset apparently presents fascinating possibilities.

THE PLOT: The father of The Bridal Wreath's heroine - Kristin Lavransdatter - is a wealthy landowner (yes his name was Lavran - so "Lavran's daughter" = Lavransdatter) who has betrothed her to another respectable landowner's son. But one night at a festival Kristin meets a dark knight, they dance all night - and fall in love. Will she follow her father's wishes to marry the landowner's son? Or will she follow her passionate longing to be with the knight of ill repute? I'll found out sometime, as I've added the book to my pile of unfinished reading.

The individual novels of the trilogy Undset wrote are Kransen (The Bridal Wreath - or sometimes just called The Wreath), first published in 1920, Husfrue (Wife), published in 1921, and Korset (The Cross), published in 1922. Kransen and Husfrue have also been published in English translation under the titles The Bridal Wreath and The Mistress of Husa.

While cruising for The Bridal Wreath in the university library stacks, I couldn't resist also fingering another of Undset's novels, Våren, translated into German Fruhling - just to soak in the beauty of the old German font and the book cover with birch leaves, below.

Undset's novel Fruhling translated from Norwegian (Våren) into German
- and its cover below

young Sigrid Undset

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whitman's lilacs

I already knew Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, the poem he wrote mourning our just slain President Lincoln in the spring of 1865.

I found another lilac poem by our rustic American poet, titled "Warble for Lilac-Time" written in 1870. I so appreciate his ability to sing songs of nature as well as of human joys and ills. It seems he was remembering that other lilac poem and the death he elegized, and spring is helping him overcome his memory of grief, just as the lilac blossom and its smell first helped him find solace in the death of his leader. In the first, he broke a sprig of lilac to place on the passing coffin. He warbled for the dead, for death. He wrote:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

But in this poem written five years later - Joy in the first line. Time heals. Nature heals. Beauty heals.

Whitman's birthday is close - May 31 - born in 1819. He died March 26, 1892 - twenty-two springs after the one he wrote in this poem.

Warble for Lilac-Time

WARBLE me now, for joy of Lilac-time,
Sort me, O tongue and lips, for Nature's sake, and sweet life's sake--and death's the same as life's,
Souvenirs of earliest summer--birds' eggs, and the first berries;
Gather the welcome signs, (as children, with pebbles, or stringing shells;)

Put in April and May--the hylas* croaking in the ponds--the elastic air,
Bees, butterflies, the sparrow with its simple notes,
Blue-bird, and darting swallow--nor forget the high-hole flashing his golden wings,
The tranquil sunny haze, the clinging smoke, the vapor,
Spiritual, airy insects, humming on gossamer wings,

Shimmer of waters, with fish in them--the cerulean above;
All that is jocund and sparkling--the brooks running,
The maple woods, the crisp February days, and the sugar-making;
The robin, where he hops, bright-eyed, brown-breasted,
With musical clear call at sunrise, and again at sunset,
Or flitting among the trees of the apple-orchard, building the nest of his mate;

The melted snow of March--the willow sending forth its yellow-green sprouts;
--For spring-time is here! the summer is here! and what is this in it and from it?
Thou, Soul, unloosen'd--the restlessness after I know not what;
Come! let us lag here no longer--let us be up and away!
O for another world! O if one could but fly like a bird!
O to escape--to sail forth, as in a ship!
To glide with thee, O Soul, o'er all, in all, as a ship o'er the waters!

--Gathering these hints, these preludes--the blue sky, the grass, the morning drops of dew;
(With additional songs--every spring will I now strike up additional songs,
Nor ever again forget, these tender days, the chants of Death as well as Life;)
The lilac-scent, the bushes, and the dark green, heart-shaped leaves,
Wood violets, the little delicate pale blossoms called innocence,

Samples and sorts not for themselves alone, but for their atmosphere,
To tally, drench'd with them, tested by them,
Cities and artificial life, and all their sights and scenes,
My mind henceforth, and all its meditations--my recitatives,
My land, my age, my race, for once to serve in songs,
(Sprouts, tokens ever of death indeed the same as life,)
To grace the bush I love--to sing with the birds,
A warble for joy of Lilac-time.

*hylas are tree frogs

Publication information, found at Whitman archive:

"Warble for Lilac-Time." Galaxy 9 (May 1870): 686. Whitman revised the poem for reprinting in Passage to India (1871), in the New York Daily Grahpic (12 May 1873), in the group "Passage to India" of Leaves of Grass (1872) and Two Rivulets (1876), and in its present form in Leaves of Grass (1881–82).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why are barns painted red? or sometimes white? or green?


Pullman Farm, Williamston

Driving home from the garden center on back roads the day before Mother's Day, sharing my tiny car space with a huge hanging basket of yellow and orange flowers for my mother-in-law, I must have taken a different turn than I have in the past.

Oh I love drifting along country roads. I'm happy to drive the same route to work and back every day. I get to watch farmers plant seed in black fields, then green rooster tails of corn rise in slow release, and windswept currents ripple through seas of bronze wheat. Horses bow their long noses as I pass. Honking geese fly in front of my windshield. Rainbows arc, sometimes in doubles. But the best country driving is on a Saturday with no destination, turning right or left where I haven't before. Like on the day before Mother's Day when I turned the Aveo onto Meech Road and drove past this white farm only to stop the car, turn around, go back, and take it in.

I was struck with the farm's simple cleanness. Even the sky was white. And then I wondered why they painted their barns white (or didn't paint, as the case might be).

The photo isn't crooked, the barn is.

Most Michigan barns are red, like the ones in the photo below in Six Lakes, which are "barn red" and also faded. The barns in the photos below those are painted Marilyn Monroe lipstick red. They're also newer.

true "barn red" barns in Six Lakes

Marilyn Monroe lipstick red barns. This is not an official barn color name, by the way.

Ok they're not exactly the same shade of red. Maybe her lips are somewhere between the old barns and new ones.

So I did a little surfing and found some barn color history.

  • until the early 1700s barns in Europe and North America weren't painted but were treated with linseed oil
  • American barns got bigger than European ones - all those big hopes for big crops on big land, and preservation became more important
  • some farmer discovered he could mix skimmed milk, lime, and red ferrous oxide (plentiful farm rust) for a durable coating (later on they added linseed oil)
  • wealthier farmers even used the blood of slaughtered farm animals to color their "paint"; Native Americans had been using turkey blood added to egg whites and clay for red pigments (yeah, they called it "Indian Red")
  • milk paint (otherwise known as whitewash) - milk, lime and pigment - goes back to earliest cave paintings and King Tut's tomb and didn't diminish until paint was mass produced in the 1800s
  • 1868 was the year the first metal paint can was patented, the kind with the tight-fitting lid you have to open with a screwdriver
  • so why white? some think white barns started with dairy farms in Pennsylvania and Ohio to give that clean sanitary feel: white barns = white, pure milk; like I said when I saw the Meech Road farm, it felt clean

I'm afraid I have no answer to the question Why is your barn green? I'm guessing it has something to do with the reason farmers do a lot of things they do: there was a special on green paint and it was very cheap.

our green barn and outbuildings shot in 2007;
we "bought the farm" in November 2003;
have you heard the idiom "bought the farm"? says it means
"To die, particularly in an accident or military action.
the origin might be:

. . . the idea that when a plane crashed on a farm the farmer may sue the government for compensation. That would generate a large enough amount of money to pay off the farm's mortgage. Hence, the pilot paid for the farm with his life."

I don't know what year the barns on this property were painted green. We inherited this old aerial photo of the place with an inscription on the back that in 1957 it was the property of one Joe Hutchison, and the barns and house were white. (Glad this pilot didn't "buy the farm" so we could have this old photo.)

this shot was taken the year after I was born, but I didn't live here then;
I lived about 40 minutes drive from here, toddling around my house in town)

closeup of our farm in 1957

Sadly, barns like ours - built about 100 years ago - are deteriorating, and it takes a lot of moolah and hard work to repair and maintain them. Many have fallen flat. I hate to see barns sided with metal or vinyl - I don't want to lose the open space between boards that allows light and wind through for one thing - but using more durable siding than wood is often the solution to keeping them alive. Don has done some work - with our nephew Paul - to support the once sagging corner of our barn. It will take a lot more to restore it. We'd like to find a barn preservation grant, but even if we do find a way to fund our big green barn's restoration, we'll respect its old bones.

I gathered information from GRIT, How Stuff Works, and The Barn Journal.

Friday, May 15, 2009

local organic produce - in May!


Our friends Karl and Lloyd are off to Japan for three weeks, so they are "sharing their share" in the university student organic farm co-op. We give them a dozen eggs about once a month, and somehow this doesn't seem equal. Look at all this food for one week!

Front to back: parsnips, radishes, beets, Swiss chard, carrots, potatoes, green leaf lettuce, spinach, spring mix lettuce, chives and basil. Students raise these veggies in a hoop house on campus. Oh, I saw one of my English graduates who works there. I guess that's one thing you can do with an English degree.

I will confess to you that I am just dorkily romantic enough to pretend I was the Girl with a Pearl Earring chopping these jewels meditatively while Don was mowing the lawn. Have you seen the film with Scarlett Johansson? It's not a great movie I suppose, but the visuals are captivatingly painterly and sensual - and sensuous - and worth watching it for. The opening scene where Griet (Johansson) prepares vegetables is transporting. Oh, and so is the hanging laundry later - to peer through and hide behind, and then figuratively become womanly modesty begging to be torn away.

Oh dear, was I writing about food? But food is sensuous, no?

In the Art of French Cooking I found a recipe for braised carrots. I added parsnips and would have added chives and basil at the end if I'd remembered. They were all chopped and ready in a pretty little white dish like they show on cooking shows. The basil smelled so good. Actually I don't know if basil and chives would taste good together. (Susan, what do you think?) I meant well but forgot to add them at the end. Gordon Ramsey would have yelled at me. What a dufus! (He would have used other choicer names.)

Then in The Silver Spoon I found a recipe for Swiss chard with parmesan cheese. It uses just the stems of the chard - you save the leaves for soup or something later on. This was scrumptious I must say, but what isn't yummy with parmesan cheese?

Besides these two dishes we had a tossed salad of green leaf lettuce, spring mix, spinach and radishes in balsamic vinaigrette. Nothing but veggies (though we're not vegetarians). We were strangely satisfied, even without rice or some other whole grain. Maybe because all this stuff was picked a couple hours before and just a few miles from here.

Here are the first ten minutes of "Girl With a Pearl Earring" so you can see the veggie scene, which happens in the first couple of minutes, in case you don't have time to watch more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

time out


Three days off, at home. It's warm enough to sit in l'atelier after a cold winter, though a chill remains. Bugs have come inside, and died. (I posted this photo at small.) I opened a window and could hear and watch birds finding live bugs in last year's garden. I cut lilacs and set them in front of the screen door where the breeze could sweep the room with their fragrance.

I sat nestled in my Indian crazy quilt, with another blanket on top of me, and watched prisms from the leaded window dance on the pine floor. I read Anne Michaels' new release, The Winter Vault. I had visions of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the displaced towns and villages in its progressive path. I slept and dreamt about Egyptian pharoahs, five kinds of date palms and floating down the Nile in a houseboat.

Or was I really floating?

The second day off I did my morning blog browsing and thought I'd open the New York Times online. When I was greeted with their new frenetic Twittery nytimes/timeswire box rapidly flashing numbers of times the site has been updated in the last hour with the question "HOW MANY HAVE YOU MISSED?"

I thought: What is happening to us? Are we so afraid of missing one crumb of information? What about understanding what is here, what has been here hundreds and thousands of years?

When my time out is over, and I'm back in time's sortings, I'm more determined than ever to balance days with mini time outs. Stop. Look. Listen. I think I learned that in kindergarten.

Monday, May 11, 2009

out of sorts

- says the meaning of "out of sorts" is:

Mildly unwell;
not in one's usual health or state of mind

The origin is:

"Since at least the 17th century 'sorts' has been the name of the letters used by typographers. This usage is referred to in Notes on a Century of Typography at the University Press Oxford 1693–1794 and is nicely defined in Joseph Moxon's Mechanick exercises, or the doctrine of handy-works - printing, 1683:

"The Letters... in every Box of the Case are... called Sorts in Printers and Founders Language; Thus a is a Sort, b is a Sort."

To be 'out of sorts' would clearly be unwelcome to a typesetter. That terminology could be the source of the phrase in its current meaning. The above citations are pre-dated by one from Samuel Ward, which makes no mention of the print trade. That in his The life of faith in death,1621:

"I wonder... to see one... that knowes all must worke for the best, to be at any time out of tune, or out of sorts."

~ ~ ~

Being "out of sorts" offers a chance to observe the elements of your life.

My BIL Joe talked at dinner the other night about the "thinking mind" in Buddhist terms. It's where I keep track of who's got an appointment at 9:45, then 10:30, then 11:15, etc. It's what I use to come up with options to solve a student problem, and it's the reasoning tool I use to get to logical conclusions - whether who to vote for or what dish to contribute to my mother-in-law's Mother's Day dinner.

It's also the potentially annihilating part of my brain where I overthink things. Why did so-and-so say that? What did she mean by it? It's where I get defensive, and it's what works overtime in times of stress going to bed at night. It's where I think I'm the center of the universe and interpret myself through the imagined perceptions of people around me. It's where I think laterally (and literally) and forget to close my eyes and listen.

Joe also talked about the non-thinking part of his brain, the place that is there "behind" thoughts and sorting. Maybe it's another dimension, where artists live in another kind of imagined reality, not one that denies facts but considers possibilities in non-data-like ways.

It's a place of the moment. It's organic. Where what is, is. It's where you get out of the sorted into your own space - empty, open and free.

I'm on vacation at home, and I need to give my thinking mind a rest. Maybe being out of sorts is a good thing. Seeing a tulip lying down on the job or seeing an "a" out of its Sort, lets you really see them outside the box, for their essence. Being that tulip or "a" out of the box could be good too.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Let's play tag

California Girl tagged me (and so did another friend I can't for the life of me remember who, can't find a comment, must have deleted an email - rats! tell me who you are please!), and then I think my mom called me in for bed because it got dark, and she'd heard the crickets chirping. Then the next night we played Combat instead, hiding in the shadows of the brick Methodist Church that looked like a Berlin building at night in black and white, and then the next night it was raining. And anyway, I am always the last one It - too slow to catch anyone in the neighborhood.

So, where were we? Oh yes, I'm 52, and we are playing blogger tag - not neighborhood tag. This tag game is to list six unimportant things that make me happy. Well, as one who has a blog called small the point of which is to note small things and their importance, hope you don't mind if I change that to:

6 little (but still important) things
that make me happy on a daily basis
and I don't know why anyone is interested
although I am interested when other people
post them because I can relate to at least some of them

1. the first thing because it's first in the morning is a cup of coffee with vanilla soy cream in this hand thrown mug by an art school classmate of Lesley's. actually i drink 2 cups. the thought of this gets me out of bed.

a tree named Cosmo on my drive to work. it's very very big.

3. colorful eggs from the coop. in a few months we'll have some darker brown ones from new layers.

photo of an old Chinaman smoking something on the wall by my dressing table.

5. uni-ball pens. every color. shopping for these at Office Max makes me very happy. i usually spend too much $ on them. i like using orange for underlining text that knocks me out.

and 6. Sarah McLachlan singing "Answer."
there are some days on my drive to work i listen to it several times in a row.

So did that interest you? Why? What small things make you happy?