Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Election 2016: "My Mind is Made Up" without Information

I don't know how many people Jordan Klepper interviewed for Comedy Central before arriving with the selection of folks in the video above. I would like to think that they are anomalies, but then I see similar exchanges in other videos. Just go to YouTube and search "comedians interview Donald Trump supporters." My own exchanges with Donald Trump supporters have been disappointing, too. These exchanges have mainly been with men on Facebook, men whose language immediately descends into name-calling ("libtard," "sheeple"), swearing, or condescension. If I introduce facts, they don't respond with any reasonable facts of their own. Instead, they turn to a diversionary tactic--changing the subject to a Fox News talking point such as "Benghazi." 

After eight investigations, none of which showed that Hillary Clinton was personally culpable for"Benghazi," people against Clinton still vomit up "Benghazi" as if it's a trump card. (ha ha) 

Here is the opening paragraph on one report of one of the eight investigations: 
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees. 
Politifact provides a very simple rundown of seven of the investigations and concludes that Hillary Clinton's claim that all found no "wrongdoing, just room for improvement," as a rather rosy assessment, but, nonetheless, mostly true. And the eighth extended and partisan investigation by the Republican led House Select Committee on Benghazi added nothing much to the seven other investigations. Since the Benghazi attack, the State Department and other government entities have initiated several changes in response to the criticism:
The State Department has taken a maximalist approach to security that some diplomats now say makes it difficult for them to carry out their responsibilities. The Defense Department has increased the number of Marine guards at diplomatic posts and created new crisis-response teams.
In all these investigations, of "Benghazi" and then the ensuing private e-mail server controversy, Hillary Clinton has been shown to be self-serving and sometimes secretive but not treasonous or ill-suited to serve in government. She's probably been more scrutinized than any government employee.

But none of this flies with those who cling to "Benghazi" as if it's the final word in every argument. Their minds are made up, and no amount of logic or facts will convince them that Hillary Clinton is fit to serve as president of the United States.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SMH: Thinking of How to Navigate the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, its Effects, and Possible Aftereffects, with a Somewhat Shallow Dive into How I Lost Religion

Salmon navigating the fish ladder at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, Seattle, WA
Political parties, like religions, change over time, responding to cultural influences, to changes in philosophy, to world-wide political currents, to the needs and desires of the people who adhere to those parties or religions. Political parties in the U.S. have changed, morphed, and failed since the beginning of the United States. The slavery issue of 1860 was historically significant for many reasons, one being that it led the nation to its two-party division of Republicans and Democrats, with the Republican party's nominee, Abraham Lincoln, winning the presidential election. The Republican party became known as the "Party of Lincoln," as the party that led the United States in preserving the union and ending slavery. The Democratic Party was strongest in the South, where secessionists essentially won the narrative of the Civil War in their romantically idealized depiction of plantation life as genteel and rebels as freedom fighters against an oppressive government. After the Civil War, Southerners were staunch Democrats, and defied the North's Civil War victory by initiating Jim Crow laws that prevented African-Americans from participating in civic life and kept them in serfdom, essentially a continuation of slavery by another name until after World War II. 

The parties morphed again during the Great Depression, with Republican leaders refusing to fight the depression through direct government intervention, leading the way for a Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to initiate great social change in The New Deal, from providing jobs to starving citizens, to creating social security and enacting the minimum wage. As the Democratic party became more socially liberal in its aim of "equality of opportunity for all," the old Dixiecrats, those who rejected civil rights for African-Americans, began migrating to the Republican party. The change wasn't sudden, as liberal Republicans also supported civil rights and elements of the New Deal. But over time, and especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1965, when Southern senators led a filibuster in an attempt to defeat the act, many Southern Democratic leaders and ordinary citizens transferred their party allegiance to the Republican Party.

While there has been a tug-of-war over the years in the Republican party between moderates and conservatives, the conservatives seem to have won, and the Tea Party far-right conservatives have added a more intransigent element to the Republican Party: an even more limited national government, a tendency to favor (far-right Christianist) religiously-mandated social change, a repudiation of separation of church and state, states' rights, a tendency toward believing (or just promoting) conspiracy theories, an unwillingness to compromise politically, and a commitment to holding the entire country hostage to its minority demands. The presidential campaign of Donald Trump has added a new twist to the morphing Republican Party. Here is a man 
The Republican Party long ago quit being the party of Lincoln. Now people are wondering if it's still the party of Reagan and what it might be in the future after Donald Trump (whether he wins or loses). 

A lot of people supporting Donald Trump are, indeed, white nationalists, racists, or shades thereof. Others are not, but they are at least reconciled to voting for a man who has given support and courage to white nationalists in his stated views and in choosing his advisers. 

Maybe for a lot of people, being faithful to a political party is akin to being faithful to one's religion. You hang on to the religion--out of love, fear, tradition, apathy--even when it has long ceased to be meaningful to you or to reflect your understanding of the world. 

I can certainly relate to one's reluctance to leave an organization to which one has been faithful for years. I was brought up in a religious culture that celebrated the apocalyptic, that promoted the idea that all of history could be carefully charted as a march toward a Christian Armageddon, that seemed to thrill with the thought that every movement toward peace in the Middle East brought a bloody End Times that much closer and everlasting hell fire to all those not professing that particular religious view. Over time, I rejected that world view for gender parity, racial equality, LGBT rights, social justice, religious tolerance, fact-based reasoning. In many ways, though, it was a slow divorce. 

One first thinks one can justify staying: maybe the other partner (the religion or the political party) can be influenced to be more inclusive, more loving, more compromising. Then one thinks to stay because staying is comfortable, familiar, even when disturbing in other ways. Perhaps one can stay within the relationship without tacitly supporting the ideas one now disavows while retaining the ideas one still finds comforting and valid. Finally, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great, and one realizes that to stay true to one's self, one has to leave, to forge another path. Sometimes that path is just a fork in the road; sometimes it leads to something different altogether. 

Looking at the Republican party and its supporters through this prism--that of my experience with my childhood religion--I can have some sympathy, not for the racists and the "deplorables" Hillary Clinton was so impolitic--yet truthful-- to describe, but for those who think the Republican party can still be saved from its worst elements, that it can be for limited government yet still socially and morally responsible for "the least of these," that it can still retain the fragrance of classical liberalism: individualism, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, markets--and limited government.

But that time has passed, I think.  How does one reconcile one's vote with the man described in the bullet points above? How does one shake the lingering stink of white nationalism that Donald Trump, whether consciously or subconsciously, has supported during his campaign?

Maybe you look away, denying the unattractive strains in your party, and punch the card or pull the lever. Maybe you hope for the best and punch the card or pull the lever. Maybe you let the anger and violence and racism wash over you, leaving a film behind that you cannot shake because you cannot see another way of being, because you think denying this vote will deny everything you have professed to believe so far. Maybe you take the fork in the road or a different path altogether.

As for myself, I continue to vote for Democratic presidents because I still believe that government can do good, that a strong national government can rein in the excesses of and mitigate the cultural blinders of the states, that a strong, unified national government can provide--with public and legislative support--better lives for the majority of its citizens, better transportation, better public education, fairer laws, a safer and cleaner environment, more economic opportunity than that of individual states. 

The Democratic party has its failings, but at least its 2016 presidential nominee has legislative experience, firm and clear plans for administrative leadership, a long history of fighting for the rights of women and children, a fairly consistent political view (all change over time, especially in response to the needs and desires of those they might seek to lead), and a toughness of character that has weathered many storms, personal and political. You don't have to like Hillary Clinton to admire her. 

I was, however, a genial voting citizen until the George W. Bush administration and the advent of the Iraq war. That war and its aftermath radicalized me, both morally and politically.  Up until then, I didn't despair if a Republican won national office; I didn't think that a Republican president might actually damage our national security. Living in Georgia at the time, I first realized how someone who had never gone to war--who had managed through privilege or other means to avoid military conflict--could turn national service on its head, against those who had served. First it was Saxby Chambliss running against Vietnam War-decorated hero and Democratic senator Max Cleland, who lost two g-damned legs and the use of one arm in the war. Then it was the Swift-boating of John Kerry by a President whose privilege allowed him to avoid Vietnam in the National Guard and then to go AWOL from the Guard for several months without punishment. It was one thing, I thought, to be a principled draft dodger; it was another to twist the service of others for one's own ends.

But I truly lost my religion (but not my ethics) during the Iraq war, while the Bush administration was promoting torture of enemy combatants and the speechwriters of George W. Bush were including evangelical Christian dog whistles in the President's speeches. The evangelicals--among them the Southern Baptists with whom I had grown up--did not stand up and say "Shame on you," just as they hadn't stood up and cried "shame" during the Civil War (then, those supporting the Southern secessionists separated themselves from their Northern brethren and formed the Southern version of Baptists). I had left the church before that, and now I had an even more convincing reason why. The Christians pushing back against torture and religious intolerance were those lefty Christians, and while I love them, by then I had taken a different path after first trying the fork in the road.

And now I see those same evangelicals who refused to call out torture supporting Donald Trump. 

How to navigate these waters while still retaining some sympathy for those who find the currents--fear, religious intolerance, a tendency to demonize those unlike themselves--too strong....

I don't know. But I'm trying.

Sources linked to in this post:
  1. "What was Jim Crow?" 2000. Updated 2012. Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. www.ferris.edu/jimcrow
  2. Jane C. Timm. "A full list of Donald Trump's rapidly changing policy positions." 7 Sept 2016. NBCNews. Online.
  3. Kurt Eichenwald. "How the Trump Organization's foreign business ties could upend U.S. national security." 14 Sept 2016. Newsweek.
  4. Editorial Board. "Gary Johnson's Aleppo gaffe was bad. But Trump's consistent ignorance is worse." 8 Sept 2016. The Washington Post.
  5. "Donald Trump's file." Politifact. Online.
  6. Jon Swaine. "Donald Trump's most recent attacks on women point to a history of misogyny." 31 March 2016. The Guardian.
  7. Glenn Kessler. "Donald Trump's revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter." 2 Aug 2016. The Washington Post.
  8. Ainara Tiefenthaler. "Trump's history of encouraging violence." 14 March 2016. The New York Times.
  9. Kenneth P. Vogel. "Paul Mannafort's wild and lucrative Philippine adventure." 10 June 2016. Politico Magazine.
  10. Franklin Foer. "The Quiet American." 28 April 2016. Slate.
  11. Jeff Nesbit. "What is the alt-right?" 12 Sept 2016. U.S. News & World Report.
  12. Michelle Goldberg. "Why isn't it a bigger deal that Trump is being advised by sadistic pervert Roger Ailes?" 2 Sept 2016. Slate.
  13. Adam Gopnik. "Trump and the truth: conspiracy theories." 13 Sept 2016. The New Yorker.
  14. Peter Wehner. "The party of Reagan is no more." 10 March 2016. Time.
  15. "Past and Future Trumps." 16 July 2016. The Economist.
  16. German Lopez. "Polls show many--even most--Trump supporters really are deeply hostile to Muslims and nonwhites." 12 Sept 2016. Vox.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cooler Days for Gardening

tiny bee on a globe mallow in our front yard
After an out-of-state, nine-day trip, we've almost put away all the stuff we had packed for our travels though the tent that we used in an overnight camping adventure in the Cascade Mountains of Washington still sits crumpled on a chair in our study. When we returned to Arizona, early fall seemed to have arrived. The wildflowers in our yard were blooming prolifically, temperatures hovered in the fifties at night, and with the windows open at night we could hear elk bugling in the nearby mountains. 
Globe mallow, a native plant, growing in our front yard

While we were gone, one of our neighbors picked the ripening vegetables in our garden and the apples that fell from our trees and canned salsa, spaghetti sauce, and apple butter. Tom got busy the first weekend we were home and canned more tomatoes--35 pints total for the season so far. And this week, I have been cleaning up the garden and planting seeds that I hope will have time to germinate, grow, and produce before the first freeze. I should have planted the seeds --two kinds of arugula, a spicy mustard mix, Crimson Crunch radishes, a mesclun mix--mid-August, but I didn't free up any room for fall planting until I dug the potatoes. Then Tom transplanted onions into two of those rows. But when we returned from Washington state, I cleared out the cowpen daisies that were past their bloom, and Tom pulled up a couple of dead tomato plants. Gardening here is an experiment for us, anyway, and we can always blame any failures on our being newcomers and unfamiliar with the climate.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon making salsa from tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro from our garden. I'm a slow worker when it comes to cooking anything more than dinner. I'll chop up some vegetables, take a break and read some headline news on my computer, return to chop up more vegetables, take a break to check on the garden, and return to the work at hand. That's why it took me all afternoon. Also, I simmered the salsa for 75 minutes to get it to the right consistency. 
salsa ingredients from our garden, serrano peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro
And after all that work, I got only 6 pints of salsa (we ate one pint already) out of about 12 tomatoes. I am freezer-canning the salsa rather than pressure canning and hope to can some more salsa as tomatoes continue to ripen in our garden and greenhouse.
Salsa simmering on the stove
five little half-pints of salsa for the freezer
This morning I took the cats out for a brief romp in the yard before their second breakfast. (We space out small meals throughout the day; Tom feeds them first around 4 AM.) Taking them out before meals makes it easier to call them inside.
Sunlight and shadow--cats getting their morning yard time
Cassie in the daisy fleabane flowers that haven't opened yet for the day
While the cats sniffed around the yard, I wandered into the garden. The birdhouse gourd vines have covered the back fence, and several large gourds are ripening. Instructions I found online counsel harvesting the gourds after the stems turn brown, then gently washing and storing the gourds in a cool, dry place to cure. The stems of my gourds are still green, and I'm anxious that the gourds be ready to harvest before the first freeze so that they won't rot.
birdhouse gourds
more gourds
It was a beautiful early morning in the garden.
early morning in the garden at Casa Malpollos
Tomato plants escaping from the greenhouse; shadow of a neighbor's shed
A high wind yesterday blew apples from the apple trees
Not having grown apples before, we're not sure when they're ripe for harvesting. Our neighbor Gloria says after the first frost, but she has made apple butter with the ones that have fallen from our trees and says the apples are tart and a little sweet.

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.