Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Clouds Rolling In

Clouds rolling in from the White Mountains, 6:30 AM
It seems as if the season's monsoon rains are being dumped in this area of Apache County, AZ, all at once. We've had downpours for several days, not just the daily sun-clouds-rain-sun that we experienced last summer, our first summer here. I've been trying to spray-paint a metal glider, and yesterday I spritzed some paint on the glider before 7 AM and hoed weeds by 8 AM. Then the rain and the hail came....water pouring all day until the clouds cleared about 4 PM, just in time for Tom to do his evening 4-mile run. (He's preparing for a marathon in October).
Yesterday's rain and hail....a project on hold
Then this morning, as I went for my first cup of coffee, Tom said, "It's 67 degrees (F) in the den." I just checked the thermometer there that also measures outdoor temperature: almost 52°F, and rain is already falling.

I went outside with the cats a little before 6:30 AM in order to check my paint job on the glider and to spritz a little paint before the rains came. Then I sprinted back inside for my camera because the sky was ominously dark as clouds poured over the mountains, while the sun was lighting up the east. A big but somewhat amorphous shelf cloud was lifting over the mountains and spreading out over the valley. I didn't get the camera in time to get its forward edge on film, but the sky looked apocalyptic as the clouds spread out over our neighborhood.
like a scene from an apocalyptic movie

The cool air brought out the friskiness in our 14-year-old cat, Persephone (Persey). She scurried up a peach tree, her tail waving like a flag.
Persey up a peach tree while ominous clouds roll in--Cats, what do they care?
14-years old and frisky (according to Wikipedia, 72 years in human years)
Meanwhile, Cassie checked out the chickens. The wheat straw I had put down Sunday in the chicken yard and along pathways to the chicken yard was soaked from the rain and turned up by the chickens, for Tom had let them out of their pen yesterday evening to scratch around the grass and wildflowers nearby.
Cassie, after checking out the chickens
This is how I distract myself from the roiling clouds of our political landscape this election cycle--keeping company with cats, taking photos, gardening and writing about it, reading science fiction novels with their problems light-years away at the edge of Known Space. I take a break to read the headlines and, most discouraging, the responses to the headlines, the incivility and aggressiveness of the public comments (women who dare to write comments are called "bitches," "cunts," "Hillary bots," words that trolls--I hope--would never use face-to-face). People whose racism was recently limited to jokes among white friends--or denied--are suddenly empowered to post images and videos that promote the most egregious stereotypes of minorities. Empathy seems to have been swallowed up by the false grievances of white victimhood.

White supremacists have been encouraged by the Trump campaign--and one can see why. During the primary, Donald Trump dog-whistled white racism by sharing Twitter posts of racists, and he has been blatantly racist in his comments about Muslims and Mexicans (and Judge Curiel). White nationalist Andrew Anglin, of The Daily Stormer, wrote in January of this year: 
Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR has gone full wink-wink-wink to his most aggressive supporters. After having been attacked for retweeting a White Genocide account a few days ago, Trump went on to retweet two more White Genocide accounts back to back......Today in America the air is cold and it tastes like victory. 
Jonathan Rothwell, Gallup senior economist, published the findings of a poll of Trump supporters and found that while economic issues seemed to influence their support, a majority of his supporters make high enough salaries not to be in personal economic distress. Instead, there was "stronger evidence that racial isolation and less strictly economic measures of social status, namely health and intergenerational mobility, are robustly predictive of favorable views toward Trump, and these factors predict support for him but not other Republican presidential candidates." In other words,
[w]hat Rothwell discovered is that those who view Trump favorably are racially isolated as well as isolated from immigrants. Their grievances aren't so much economic or even sociological as psychological. These older whites are a group in despair--shrouded by a cloud of pessimism, loss and disempowerment, as Rothwell describes the nationalist tide in other countries similar to the one that is now bearing Trump....These folks are angry about their position in the society, about a lack of hopefulness in the future. They want scapegoats. And they want the liberty to scald those scapegoats with impunity. (Neal Gabler, Bill Moyers & Company website.)
The Pew Research Center recently conducted a poll that reinforces Rothwell's research: "Clinton supporters (72%) are far more likely than Trump supporters (40%) to view the nation's increasing diversity positively."

Donald Trump, writes Josh Marshall of TPM, has "normalized a litany of statements and actions that were political[ly] verboten, at least from the [GOP's] leadership. He has activated the voice of GOP white nationalism, spoken its language out loud and in doing so made it conscious of itself and expanded its ambitions."  Those ambitions are encouraged, also, by Trump's choosing Stephen K. Bannon, as his campaign CEO-- Bannon, of Breitbart Media that promotes an alt-right view, a view that Ian Tuttle, writing for The National Review, has called "the racist, moral rot at the heart of the Alt-Right." 

Referring to that "alt-right" movement, Don Advo, co-host of white nationalist Stormfront Radio, said in a recent discussion with David Duke, "...we appear to have taken over the Republican party." To which David Duke responded,
Well, the rank and file, but a lot of those boll weevils, they're still in those cotton balls and, uh, the Republican Party may be a European-American populated party, but like a ball of cotton, you have [unclear stutter] boll weevils in there that are gonna rot it out from the inside, and there are still a lot of them around here.
Duke doesn't identify the "boll weevils" who are preventing the Republican Party from flowering into a full-blown white nationalist party, but he seems convinced that the "rank and file" are white nationalists. And that's what Donald Trump has emboldened in his angry march to the White House. 

Stormfront, The Daily Stormer, the storm clouds of racism and white nationalism....

I can only hope that, like the storm that blew in this morning and was then followed by sunshine and partly cloudy skies, the anger and racism that I see encouraged by Donald Trump's campaign will be disavowed by a majority of Americans come Tuesday, November 8th. Or will the darker prognostication of Tim Wise, anti-racism activist and writer, prove true? 
These are people [Trump supporters] who I think, to be perfectly honest, lose in November and then they look around and look at their wall and they say, "well, goddamn, we've got a lot of guns. We don't have the vote, but we've got the guns".... I honestly believe there's a point where these folks are more committed to their version of America than they are to what the words of America--the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, all of that--say we're supposed to be about. So I think those of us who care about pluralism, progressivism, justice, equality, all of those things had better be really clear: These people who are voting for Donald Trump are not convertible. They are not our allies. They are not our potential friends. It is about literally either steamrolling and defeating them and imposing a just and decent society or it is about letting them win. And I don't believe there is any middle ground between that. I'd love to think there was, but I just do not see it.
Discouraging words--not prescient, I hope, in their despair, but the anger, the ranting, the racism, the increase in conspiracies and paranoia I observe on social media certainly lend credence to those words. 

Sources referred to in this post:

1. Ben Kharakh and Dan Primack. "Donald Trump's Social Media Ties to White Supremacists" Fortune.
2. Andrew Anglin.  "Happening: Trump Retweets Two More White Genocide Accounts Back to Back. January 25, 2016. The Daily Stormer.
3. Jonathan T. Rothwell. "Explaining Nationalist Political Views: The Case of Donald Trump." poll published on Social Science Research Network, August 1, 2016.
4. Neal Gabler. "It's Not the Economy, Stupid! How Donald Trump Succeeds by Saying Out Loud What Many Voters Think." August 17, 2016. Bill Moyers & Company.
5. "Clinton, Trump Supporters have Starkly Different Views of a Changing Nation." Poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, released August 18, 2016 and published at people-press.org. 
6. Josh Marshall. "The Gathering Storm." August 11, 2016. TPM.
7. Ian Tuttle. "The Racist Moral Rot at the Heart of the Alt-Right." April 5, 2016. The National Review.
8. Tommy Christopher. "David Duke Show Celebrates Trump's Breitbart Hire: 'We've Taken Over the Republican Party!'" Mediaite.com (includes an excerpt from Duke's and Don Aldo's discussion on Stormfront Radio
9. Chauncey DeVega. "Wise on Trump, David Duke and the bigotry that's risen from the shadows" (Interview with Tim Wise). August 22, 2016. Salon.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Family Heirlooms

garlic drying in our garden shed in Louisiana
Years ago when we lived on 23+ acres of land in Georgia, I grew several heirloom tomatoes for the first time--Cherokee purple, green zebra, among others. The tomatoes were very colorful, and I managed to encourage my two kids into eating them as healthy snacks by slicing the tomatoes and arranging them in a colorful pattern on a white platter. I called the dish "tomato snacks," and the kids often asked for this dish as a midday, summer treat--another example of presentation being everything. 

The beautiful diversity of heirloom tomatoes is one reason to grow them, and I have been growing different heirlooms ever since. They are tastier than most hybrid tomatoes, and they are open-pollinated, so that you can save seed to plant the next year and have true-to-the original descendants of the parent plants. 

There are some possible drawbacks: some heirlooms seem to be more susceptible to various fungal or bacterial wilts or root rot. A couple of our plants this year have succumbed to such a disease. But even hybrids bred to be disease-resistant can have problems. The Better Boy tomatoes that we planted in our greenhouse here have tended to have blossom end rot, a dark, leathery spreading "sore" on the bottom of the tomatoes. The soil in the greenhouse includes chicken manure that accumulated in what was once a chicken house. Perhaps we didn't water the plants sufficiently at just the right time, or perhaps there was a calcium deficiency in the soil, or perhaps we planted those tomatoes too early. Not all the tomatoes from the Better Boy plants have developed blossom end rot, and other tomatoes in the greenhouse seem to be doing very well. But we are noting these problems for next year, as we rotate the tomatoes to other areas of the garden to reduce the chances of those diseases spreading further.

Heirloom vegetables are also interesting because the seeds have been passed down for generations and often have interesting origin stories attached to them. For example, the Mortgage Lifter tomato is said to have been bred by a guy who cross-pollinated five tomato varieties and saved the seed. He planted that seed and saved its progeny seed for several years until he had a stable descendant plant with the fruit qualities he desired in a tomato. He then sold the seed and made enough money at the time to pay off the mortage to his house. You can now buy Mortgage Lifter tomato seeds from seed catalogs. As this writer says, "Growing heirlooms is a direct link to our heritage, making a connection to generations of gardeners that came before us and extending the link to our children, grandchildren, and beyond." 
Tom standing among the heirloom tomatoes we grew in 2013, Louisiana
Over the years we have saved seed from season to season as well as planted the descendants of plants that our grandparents grew. I have lost count of such plants that we have left behind in our moves, still flourishing, I hope, in our absence. However, we have managed to bring along with us one vegetable that is the descendant of ones my grandmother Margaret Cole Dugat and her mother before her grew: bunching onions. My dad has grown these onions for years, and we got our onion plants from him. 

Year after year, we grew these onions, eating what we wanted to eat and saving others for planting the following year. If we moved and were unable to salvage onion plants in the move, my dad always had plenty to give us for planting in our new garden. But then my dad and mom moved, and Dad thinks he may have lost his onions to too much rain and then drought in the garden he left behind. Fortunately, we managed to bring some of those family heirloom onions with us to Arizona, where they have flourished in our garden. So, this year, we may be giving back to my dad the heirlooms we first got from him and that he got from his mother and grandmother. 
Cassie watches as Tom transplants onions in our AZ garden, onions that are descendants of ones my dad, my grandmother and her mother planted in their gardens.
Our bunching onions were primed to grow in the winter in the South, and we didn't know how they would do at a much higher elevation and a much cooler climate. We kept some in pots in our sunroom over last winter, and only a few plants survived. However, the ones we planted in the garden last summer, right after we moved into this house, managed to survive winter temperatures in the single digits. Their growing clock reset, and they flourished this summer, as evidenced in the photos above and below, where only two or three bunches, pulled apart and transplanted singly, filled out two full rows.
Tom pulls apart bunching onions to transplant them.
When we pull the tomato plants out of the greenhouse, Tom plans to plant some onions there, as well, so that we can observe which ones do better, the ones exposed to the winter weather or the ones in a more sheltered space. (The greenhouse is not heated.)

Growing these heirloom onions that my grandmother grew connects me to a history of family gardening, not just vegetable gardening but flower gardening, as well. For years, I also grew purple globe amaranth flowers because they were among my grandmother's favorites. I always got seed from her...until her plants finally died out as she got too fragile to care for them, I moved once too often, and those seeds were lost forever. Now I have to order seeds from gardening catalogs, and they are not always easy to find.

Just like any family heirloom, heirloom vegetables connect us to the past and enrich the present.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Re-purposing What's Been Left Behind

"Upcycling" is a trendy word and a trendy activity these days. Wikipedia defines the term as: "the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless and/or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value." Many websites and magazines are devoted to upcycling: turn mason jars into candle holders or drinking glasses (my least favorite--I hate mason-jar drinking glasses); turn pallets into sofas or side tables, wine bottles into lamps, a decorative wall, or a chandelier. Recycling is a great idea, but I prefer the term "repurposing" to "upcycling." Upcycling is a bit of a snob; repurposing is practical and down-to-earth.

The previous owners of our house left behind a lot of stuff that we either had to discard or find a way to use or repurpose: cans of paint in the attic, old bicycle parts in an enclosed side yard that now serves as our wood lot, some plastic planter pots, a rabbit cage (and underneath it, buried in rabbit crap, a rug), various other animal cages, a 10X10X6-foot dog pen, a cross fence in the backyard meant to contain dogs when not in the pen.

The cross fence was one of the first things to go; I dismantled it, kept the wooden fence posts and the gate, and rolled up the 2X4 fence wire for future use.
cross fence in our back yard that I took down
Tom replaced the rickety garden gate with this gate from the cross fence I removed. I guess you would call this re-using rather than repurposing.
When I cleaned up the garden area next, I had to decide what to do with the animal cages that had been abandoned there: I turned them into compost bins.
animal cages turned into compost bins
We don't have dogs, so we thought we would sell the dog pen. First, we moved it out of the back yard into a side yard where it could be easily loaded onto a trailer. 
dog pen
Then I had second thoughts. What if I turned it into an outdoor room, instead, and let grape vines cover it? So when my friend Chris was visiting in February, we had her help us move the dog pen again and lower it over a small peach tree near the greenhouse that Tom had just built. The tree serves as shade inside what I now call my "Secret Garden" room, after Frances Hodgson Burnett's book The Secret Garden, which I read as a kid. I painted a 6X8-foot section of cedar fencing to serve as a floor, re-painted a second-hand garden bench and side table for a seating area, and attached reed fencing to one-and-a half sides of the dog pen for a privacy screen. With metal ties, I also attached the limbs of a large grape vine to the back side of the Secret Garden room, and Tom transplanted a smaller grape vine into a flower bed I dug along another side of the room.
"Secret Garden" room, late May
Then I began decorating the room and planting flowers in pots and along the inside of one wall. Tom took the bike rims off of two broken bicycles the previous owners had left behind, and I spray-painted them and attached them to one wall of my outdoor room. I crocheted a hemp rug for the floor and created some decorative hangings.
"Secret Garden" room, early June
crocheted hemp hanging with cut-outs from Peace Tea tins and beer bottle caps
Peace sign at the door, crocheted hemp rug inside
By mid-July, the seasonal "monsoon" rains were coming every day, and I had to remove the hemp rug from the Secret Garden because it stayed wet. By late August, the Secret Garden room was covered in greenery that the monsoon season provides for a short period of time in this dry land.
"Secret Garden" room with greenhouse beyond
"Secret Garden" room with apple tree and greenhouse
"Secret Garden" room--borage, poppies, and daisy fleabane blooming outside

Storm clouds above the "Secret Garden" room
The Secret Garden room is the biggest "repurposing" project we've done here, so far. But I'm always looking for creative ways to reuse or repurpose materials that might otherwise be discarded in a landfill. --Just not mason jars as drinking glasses--Adult "sippy cups"? ugh!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Morning after A Rain

Side yard with Secret Garden room--so green after the rain
According to the U.S. climate data website, the area where we live now gets an annual average of 11.82 inches of precipitation, with the highest monthly averages in July (2.44 inches) and August (3.03 inches), the "monsoon" months. What a difference between here and where we were two years ago, where the annual average of precipitation is 63.58 inches, with the highest monthly averages in January (5.75 inches) and July (6.65 inches). This past week, Louisiana received much more rain at once than usual: thirteen rivers broke flood records and thousands of homes were flooded in areas that had never flooded in human memory. One town received at least 31 inches of rain in 48 hours. That amount of precipitation here would probably cause mudslides on mountains.

Here in northern Arizona yesterday, rain began falling before noon and fell off and on most of the afternoon. I had just enough time to mow the side yard (leaving patches of wildflowers) and then to gather corn between rain showers. Then I spent a couple of hours shucking corn, cutting corn off the cob, and cooking the corn for dinner. 
Cutting corn off the cob--Tom planted an heirloom corn, Golden Bantam. I think we'll try a different one next year.
fresh corn cooking on the stove--I added milk, butter, a couple of serrano peppers from the garden, salt and pepper
Every morning the cats, especially Cassie, pester me to go outside, and this morning after the rain was no exception. The grass was still wet when we ventured out, and everything was clean and bright.
Side yard, with apple trees, Secret Garden room, greenhouse, and patches of wildflowers
apple ripening
morning glories and scarlet runner beans along the garden fence
cowpen daisies along the fence that separates our garden from our neighbors' garden
In her book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (which I read 20 years ago), Kathleen Norris quotes a saying of desert monks: "If a man settles in a certain place and does not bring forth the fruit of that place, the place itself casts him out."

I don't know what would be the "fruit" of the volcanic fields at the foot of the White Mountains on the Colorado Plateau, but in cultivating wild flowers and providing space for local pollinators, I guess I'm bringing forth the fruit of this place. And I'm adding fruit of my own in the gardens we grow--with what little rain a valley in a rain shadow can provide.

tomatoes fresh from our garden--more canning this weekend
Persey walks in the bright, wet grass
I took this photo of Cassie two days ago. The cats and I prowl our yard together.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why I Began this Blog and Why I'm Blogging Still (plus...pollinators)

I began this blog in 2007 for several reasons: the first reason was for my two children, one who was in college and the second one who was in high school. We had recently moved to another state, leaving the oldest kid behind as he began his sophomore year at university, and I wanted to have some public space to write about the experiences in our move for both our kids to access at will--the one far away and the other one adjusting to a new high school--and to provide them with a role model for approaching life's vicissitudes. I had also decided to give up my career of college teaching, and the blog was a way for me to keep my mind active, my writing sharp, and my end-of-career/empty nest emotions in check. Writing, for me, is a way to cultivate that old-fashioned, eighteenth-century sense of "disinterestedness"--to approach my experiences aesthetically, with attention to detail, to writing, to clarity. I once read that moving can be as traumatic as having a death in the family, and in 38 years of marriage, Tom and I have moved about 15 times, several times twice within the same town (one kid changed schools four times, the other one three times). So writing, for me, has been a way to maintain emotional balance in shifting circumstances. Oh, and I also liked experimenting with the technology.

Over time, my blog has served me in many ways. I would write in order to deal with the real trauma that was occurring in our lives, to make clear to myself my own political thinking, to let off steam over stupidities, to help me deal with turning my back on my career, to keep a record of my gardening, to help me become more observant of the natural world-- for any number of reasons. I know that what I write here will not change the world, but it works for me.

And so, yesterday and today I took my camera outside to observe once again what is in my own yard, in this place in which we've lived for just over a year. I love seeing what is there just beyond our everyday, casual observations.
for instance, this strange-looking bee fly
I was so excited to see this green sweat bee. I stalked these bees in my wild aster patch in Louisiana, and I'm glad to see them here; they are not easy to photograph.
another view of the green sweat bee
There are so many kinds of flies besides the common house fly...
and so many kinds of wasps that also serve as pollinators...
...and I have discovered that there is more pollinator diversity to be found hanging around native plants than among the flowers we cultivate in our well-kept flower beds.
I have also discovered that observing one thing....
...leads to discovering another.

There are so many strange and wonderful things in the world....such as this beetle that looks as if it has a clown-like smiley face on its back....

...or these crane flies mating in a rose bush in our front yard.

...or this butterfly sipping nectar with its long proboscis...
...or this skipper resting on a daisy.
How can one be lonely in such a pollinator-populated yard?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tom in the Kitchen

When I met Tom, we were fifteen years old. I had grown up in the country eating garden-fresh vegetables in-season and meat from grass-fed cattle that my father raised. Tom had most recently lived in Houston, and he had grown up eating tinned meat and store-canned vegetables. But he took to country cooking, and after we married, I quickly ceded to him a great deal of that cooking, cooking which has become more and more health-conscious as we've aged. Lately I've been having some fun cooking meals with fresh vegetables from our Arizona garden, my first tomato pie, a Mexican Pepper casserole with bell peppers from our garden, a squash casserole with squash and peppers from the garden. However, Tom does most of the canning, something he really enjoys. It's really ironic that I'm the one who grew up watching my mother and grandmothers can and freeze vegetables, yet Tom, whose mother never canned anything that I know of, is the one who does the canning now. 

Here's Tom in the kitchen, canning tomatoes that we're growing in our garden. Tomatoes don't ripen here as quickly as they do in the sunny South, so he tends to can only 4-5 pints at a time as we gather enough tomatoes to do so.
Tom even canned a pint of sungold tomatoes!
fresh tomatoes cooking on the stove
The results of Tom's latest canning
We live now at 7200 ft. above sea level, and Tom had to consult the Presto Cooker Canner booklet to get instructions on canning at a higher elevation. He became frustrated with the newest booklet which came with the pressure cooker we bought to replace our old one. The booklet was printed in China, and we're sure the pressure cooker was manufactured there, too, even though National Presto Industries, Inc., still has an Eau Claire, Wisconsin address. The instructions were a little confusing. Fortunately, we had kept the old Presto Cooker-Canner booklet, printed in the 1970s in Wisconsin. The instructions in that booklet on canning at high altitudes were very clear. Here is a sample below, with the most recent publication first.
Instructions for canning at elevation, most recent booklet
Presto Cooker instructions, printed in the 1970s
Add this experience to others we've had with crappy manufacturing from overseas. Hand saws Tom bought years ago are now made in China, and they're flimsy and unusable. Compare a hoe head bought 50 years ago to ones hanging on hooks in a Home Depot or Lowes today--a laughable comparison. Fortunately, Tom is a handy man to have around. Not only did he can tomatoes last weekend; he also replaced a hoe handle I had broken. Good man.