Monday, March 27, 2017

A Reflection on the First Bees of the Season

one of the first bees I've seen this season--several buzzing around peach blooms
For the past few years I have been stalking bees and other pollinators in my gardens, first in Louisiana and now in Arizona. Taking photos of pollinators has opened up a whole new world to me, a world that we usually pass with little thought. I have identified creatures that I didn't even know existed and have watched dramas unfold in flowers. Paying attention to bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, and other pollinators has also made me more aware of the importance of sharing this world responsibly. It's an awareness that's gaining ground with a lot of people, including some corporations. 

The breakfast cereal Cheerios recently highlighted the plight of bees, some species of which are disappearing from our landscapes in record numbers, in a campaign the company called #BringBacktheBees. Every package of Honey Nut Cheerios provided information that encouraged customers to go online to order free packages of wildflower seeds (over 1.5 billion seeds, according to the Cheerios website). In addition, General Mills left a blank space on its packaging where the cereal's mascot Buzz the Bee usually appeared. The ad certainly had an important message, but like a lot of advertising, it over-simplified the problems of reduced habitat and threatened and endangered species. Some of the flower seeds included in the packets are native to some areas in the United States, but not others. This might not be a problem, necessarily, but the flowers might not be ones that native bees of an area usually pollinate.

The other issue is that while honeybees have had some serious problems in hive die-off and those problems have transferred to feral populations of honeybees, it's the native bees that are most seriously endangered. Honeybees are exotic to this country, introduced from Europe by white settlers. Because honeybees are used commercially in agriculture, from those bees transferred from farm to farm to pollinate fruit trees to those bred for honey production, European honeybees will always have moneyed support to fund research when a serious issue arises. Native bees and other pollinators, however, are extremely important in pollinating native plants, and these pollinators are often overlooked in popular Save-the-Bees campaigns. 

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinators face threats from habitat loss and degradation as well as over-use of pesticides:
As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, pollinators lose the food and nesting sites that are necessary for their survival.  Migratory pollinators face special challenges.  If the distance between the suitable habitat patches along their migration route is too great, smaller, weaker individuals may die during their journey.
According to research, native bees do a tremendous amount of work pollinating fruit and vegetables, with honeybees supplementing that pollination. In the words of one researcher, "honeybees can't do it alone." Native bees are most efficient in pollinating watermelons, tomatoes, blueberries, and squash, among other fruits. I have witnessed squash bees pollinating our squash plants here in Arizona. 
bee in squash flower (I took this photo in our garden in 2016)
And every year I listen for the arrival of bumblebees in our tomato patch. They seem less prolific than other bees. Yesterday while trying to take photos of bees visiting the blooms on one of our peach trees (blooms which will probably be hurt by freezing temperatures expected this week), I heard and then saw one lonely bumblebee buzzing around the blooms at the top of the tree. 
This was the best photo I could get of the first bumblebee I have seen this season.
Bombus huntii?
I have never understood the urge to create large, uniform swathes of green lawn and roadsides, and knowing what I know now about the degradation of pollinator habitats, I am even more adverse to those boring expanses of green, often made even more desolate by pesticides. In Louisiana, I let a large patch of daisy fleabane grow in a corner of our yard and was rewarded with being able to view and photograph the hundreds of pollinators that visited that patch. 

Here in Arizona, I am encouraging patches of native flowers as well as allowing dandelions to grow in the small grassy lawn that a previous owner planted in front of our house.
dandelions in our lawn
Yesterday I counted four different species of bees pollinating the peach blossoms in one tree (with the coming freeze, at least the bees got some pollen; we're not likely to get peaches.) Each species had a different buzzy hum. The natural world is full of music, if we only stop to listen.
bee landing on a dandelion in our front yard
bee landed and at work gathering pollen
deep in pollen

Thursday, March 23, 2017

One Compensation of Moving: The people one meets

My desk (originally Tom's Grandfather Greene's desk). Only once has it
been this neat, so I'm glad I took a photo.
Yesterday I wrote about how I mourn some of the relocating Tom and I have experienced in our married life, but mourning what is left behind is not the only feeling that accompanies a lifetime of moving in search of jobs. Every move has been accompanied by compensations that make me appreciate the experiences of living in different places. One of those compensations has been the interesting people we have met along the way, friends and colleagues whose influences still linger and affect me in a number of positive ways.

For fear of overlooking someone whose friendship was important in whatever place we lived, I won't list people by name, and I will only highlight a few outcomes of some of those friendships. 

If we had not lived in Denham Springs, Louisiana, I would not now have a friend who has been my most faithful correspondent since 1987 (and sometimes co-conspirator in adventures). We don't write as prolifically as we once did, but I have notebooks filled with our correspondence in which we discussed our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our daily experiences, our reading--in detail. These letters document my life, as do those of at least two other friends whom I met along the way, one with whom I corresponded just a few years, another whom I now call on the telephone because, at 77 or 78 years of age, she has become almost completely blind. Had I not been the office mate of the latter at Texas A&M University, I would not have been the model for a character in one of her novels, I would not have experienced a great literary weekend--accompanied by an aunt and two cousins--at a university where my friend directed a writing program. I would not have met (briefly--no way would he remember this) Frank Schaeffer, nor would I have attended a Glen Workshop and signed up for a five-day poetry workshop with Scott Cairns. Most importantly, I would not have received my friend's sage advice over the years.

Had we not lived in Denham Springs, Louisiana, I would never have met the friend who introduced us to Minnesota, an introduction which served us well years later when we moved there. Nor would I have had an intimate look at the struggles of being gay--including the loss of those with HIV/AIDS-- which helped me develop my own then-fledgling progressive attitudes. Had we not returned to Texas and to the church we once attended as undergraduate and graduate students, I would not have had the conversation with my pastor there that taught me how the fear of losing a job can prevent even a good man from openly promoting acceptance of those gays who were in his congregation and who were his friends. This pastor told me that science would prove how sexuality is governed partly by hormones, by electrical impulses in our brains, by genetic coding--and that the Southern Baptist Church, in its rejection of one part of sexual behavior, would further lose credibility.  I would share this encounter a couple of years later with a pastor in Minnesota, whose wife's family members were reeling from the suicide of a 19-year-old nephew/son/grandson who was gay.

Had we not lived in Harris County, Georgia, and had I not taught at Columbus State University, I would not have met the friends who introduced me to folk art, to Butch Anthony, to Pasaquan, and to art cars. I never would have created The Lady and would not have had so many adventures driving my art car to, from, and in art car parades in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. 
The Lady, my art car, Austin, Texas 2005 (before an art car parade)

And, thus, I never would have met Harrod Blank, ArtCar artist and filmmaker. 
Me and Harrod Blank, Baton Rouge Art Car Parade, 2006
I might not have sold my eccentric crafts at festivals.
colleague posing with a throw I made from felted, second-hand
wool sweaters, Artist Festival, Pasaquan 2010
And I never would have vacationed in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico--twice.

If we hadn't lived in Decatur, Georgia, I would have much less understanding of what it's like to be Muslim in America...or to be black in America. I probably wouldn't realize what a concerted effort is required to establish black middle-class wealth, the kind of monetary stability passed down from generation to generation that is too often taken for granted among those of us who have profited from white privilege. (I can sense the defensive hackles rising, and I would like to address them, but that's another post...someday.) Working on a community college campus among African-American colleagues and students who were in the majority made me face my own racism; yeah, I'm progressive, and I have worked at not being racist, but you know it's there, residual thoughts and feelings we don't like to acknowledge. A lot of my assumptions were upended--sometimes kindly and sometimes more aggressively. I'm better for it--not perfect, but improved.
farewell cake with tongue-in-cheek message
Had we not lived in Abita Springs, Louisiana, I would not have such fond memories of the Drinking Liberally meetings Tom and I attended; perhaps I would also be less motivated to be politically informed. I would not have seen upfront and personal how a state legislature works and how narrow-minded and dismissive of the less fortunate state legislators can be...publicly and unashamed. I might not have educated myself on mass incarceration, doing the research, writing a blog, attending political rallies and helping with local public meetings. I would know a lot less of what goes on behind the scenes in managing a small town and the work that some committed citizens do, gratis, to keep the rest of us informed. Many of the women I met during the time we lived in Abita Springs are far more politically involved than I am, but their continuing commitment to creating better lives for the most vulnerable in our society encourages me to stay engaged as a citizen.

Sometimes I get a little melancholy over what we've left behind, so it's important for me to take a moment to appreciate what we've gained. This post describes just a little of what I am thankful for.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

X Marks the Spot: A Lifetime of Home Searching

In mid-May, Tom and I will have been married 39 years. We met when we were 15 years old, and we began dating in February of that sophomore year of high school. We married four years later, when I was 20 and Tom was just two months short of his 20th birthday. As many couples in long-term marriages, we have had our conflicts, our sorrows, our worries, and our disappointments over missed opportunities--out of ignorance or chance. We have also had much to be happy about, the most important to us being our two children who have matured into responsible and caring adults. 

When we started out together at the age of 20, we had no idea where our marriage would lead us. I remember Tom's dropping me off at Texas A&M University, in the middle of a student population of at least 30,000 (now, in 2017, edging up to 60,000 students on the main campus). We had recently transferred to TAMU, Tom from Rice University in Houston, and I from Lee College in Baytown, Texas; we had been married for three months, and we had yet to move our meager belongings into the married student housing apartment to which we had been assigned.

Thirty-nine years later, we have packed and unpacked a total of 16 times, from apartments to homes, from rentals to purchased houses. The longest we have lived in an area? Seven years.  The longest we have lived in our own purchased house? Six-and-a-half years.  Fortunately for our kids, those seven years were the formative years of their childhood. We moved houses six times (three times from rentals to purchased homes in the same areas) between the birth of our son and his first year at university. Our daughter, being younger, experienced  an additional geographic move during her high school years. Our son still lives in the area where we left him eleven years ago; our daughter has moved across the country, hopscotching over the West. 

In our 39 years of marriage, Tom and I have moved from one abode to another, on average, every 2.43 years.

If this constant movement hasn't put an insurmountable strain on our marriage, it has certainly impacted us individually and personally. We did not set out to be academic nomads. Most of our moves were the result of chance: lack of good advice on employment upon completing our graduate degrees, lack of soft-money for continuing research projects, political decisions at the state or federal levels that led to budget cuts and thus job loss. Once we quit good jobs in pursuit of better opportunities and to be closer to family; only in Tom's case was the opportunity a better one. I ended up teaching part-time in Texas after having left a full-time teaching position at a university in Georgia--one of the hazards of a two-career couple.

I told Tom this past week that these years of moving have left me feeling "fractured." I grew up in an area in which 5 previous generations of my family had lived, the first generation of one family line having settled there with a Spanish land grant before Texas Independence and statehood. In the 16 moves since then (9 moves, not counting those within the same area), I have left behind friends, social opportunities, additional job offers, as well as hopes and dreams. Each time we have started over, making new friends, buying and arranging another home, growing gardens, making long-term plans for what we often thought would be our last move.

I have mourned something in every move, but the two moves I mourn the most are the moves from Cloquet, Minnesota, in 1996, and from Decatur, Georgia, in 2011. I was still in my thirties when we lived in Cloquet, with opportunities on the horizon. We had purchased a large home within walking distance of our son's elementary school, and in the year-and-a-half in which we lived in it, we did a lot of work inside: removing carpet to reveal maple floors which we sanded, painting walls, putting down new floor tiles in the kitchen, creating a garden. The kids had neighborhood friends who frequently came to our house to play. I taught part-time at a community college in Duluth, I wrote several articles for the local newspaper, I published poems in a regional literary magazine, and I became an active participant in a poetry society in Duluth. We loved the area, with its many hiking trails along the Northshore and its easy access to camping in Ontario.

But then Tom's research grant from the University of Minnesota lost its funding, and of the few job offerings available, the best one for Tom was in Georgia. Meanwhile, staying behind with the kids as I finished teaching my last quarter at the community college in Duluth, I was receiving offers to write for another newspaper in town, to teach at the local tribal community college, and to participate in poetry reading events in Duluth--all of which I had to turn down. 

Although my best teaching experience was to come in that next move, at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia, I think I look back on those years in Minnesota as some of our happiest, with its bright possibilities never consummated.

In contrast to our move from Minnesota, the move from Texas (to which we had moved in 2003 to be nearer family) to Decatur, Georgia, in 2007, was a move of middle age. I was nearing 50 years of age, our daughter was in high school; our son had just finished up a year of university. Encouraged by the state director of a national non-profit organization for which Tom had worked for several years in two different states, Tom accepted another position within the organization, prompting a move we hoped would be our last.

 Just six miles and a twenty-minute drive from downtown Atlanta, Decatur is a densely populated urban area, but its progressive leadership has made it a popular place to live: good schools, green spaces, walkable streets, well-kept neighborhoods, a great annual book festival that attracts well-known authors from all over the country, music venues, good restaurants, city ordinances that allow backyard chickens and front yard gardens. It's also a lesbian and gay friendly town. I chose the town because its high school had a decent reputation and was racially diverse. All of the other great attributes of the town came to light as we lived there, as we walked from our home to one of the neighborhood gardens or to events and restaurants downtown. (Its popularity does have some drawbacks, however, as taxes have increased, home prices have skyrocketed, and gentrification has had some deleterious effects on racial diversity. I read recently that McMansions have encroached upon one of Decatur's great old neighborhoods, Oakhurst.)

In short, Decatur offered urban amenities with progressive attitudes--a great place for a middle-aged former academic to live. Having decided to quit teaching after 25 years, I got a job as a part-time tutor on the Decatur campus of Georgia Perimeter College and began writing more poetry (with publication and award mentions in the Atlanta Review). Here was a place to stay, to retire and to enjoy life--X marks the spot. more moves later, we are in the West, living in one small Arizonan town of under 5,000 people which is cheek to jowl with another small town of about 2,000 people. The nearest non-Mormon/secular bookstore of any size is....probably in Flagstaff, a three-hour drive from our house. While the county trends Democratic, mainly because of Native-American voters, the area we live in is extremely conservative and primarily white. In a political argument with a local guy, I witnessed his saying that people could get shot at for making their progressive politics public. One neighbor's political signs for Barack Obama were shot up in his front yard. Only Trump signs were visible here in the last election. A pregnant neighbor encountered another neighbor who cheered her pregnancy because it would mean "more white babies." I am wary of being the X that marks the target: liberally progressive and proud of it.

Small towns are great for people who grow up in them, for community ties develop and deepen over time. They are also great if you can fit into some part of the culture: religious organizations are the usual avenues of acceptance and social life in conservative areas of the United States. When we moved here, someone told us that Eagar is the Mormon town and Springerville is the Catholic town. We are neither Mormon nor Catholic, and though we participated for many years in Christian churches--Southern Baptist in Texas and Louisiana (the first time we lived in LA), Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Minnesota, Methodist in Georgia, and the Disciples of Christ, finally, in Texas again--we are no longer interested in organized religion. Tom and I met some very welcoming folks at a Freethought Society event in Tucson, but Tucson is a 240-mile drive from Eagar.

Yet here in Eagar, we also have good neighbors, the area is beautiful with a great geographical history readily visible in the landscape, we like our home, we have had good luck gardening so far, there are hiking trails we could spend the rest of our lives exploring, summers are moderate, and taxes are low. We just purchased a second-hand kiln, and we're planning to take up pottery again when we get a shed made for the kiln. 

This week I took some photos of jets and their contrails overhead--here in Flyover Country. Two contrails crossed, creating an X in the sky. Maybe X marks this spot as the one place we will stay, I thought, as I snapped the picture. As Tom nears retirement, and both of us enter our sixties, maybe we can find enough to sustain us here, to settle our restless spirits. 

Or maybe X will mark the spot where my ashes are finally scattered, my final resting place, the longest stay of all.
Our first (purchased) home in Texas
view of the back of our home in Minnesota
Our first home in Georgia

Our second home in Texas
Our second home in Georgia
summer view of our home in Georgia
side view of our second home in Louisiana
another view of our home in Louisiana
my backyard garden in Louisiana

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February Letter to Senator Jeff Flake: "Elections have consequences"

This morning I wrote another letter to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, and in a few moments, I plan to write one to Arizona Senator John McCain. Maybe our leaders just throw our letters in the garbage, unopened; some are certainly claiming that our protests are violent (on the flimsiest of circumstances) rather than rightful exercises in free speech; some claim that the protests arise out of some scary "leftist ideology" rather than worries over health care; the treatment of women, minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ citizens; concerns for the environment; and disgust with a president who incessantly tweets and attacks anyone who criticizes him. But I will continue to write and to call because I hope to be as blameless as possible as the United States becomes meaner and uglier and isolated. The letter below was handwritten, off the cuff. In retrospect, I can think of how I might have worded some comments more intellectually or thoughtfully--but I've got years of letters yet to write my senators.

Dear Senator Flake,

            I appreciate the email response to my phone call in which I asked that you not vote for Mrs. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education because she is vastly unqualified. However, I think perhaps that you might not understand why so many Americans such as I are not satisfied with a reply that claims that “elections have consequences” and that our Republican senators and representatives think “that elected presidents should be afforded a certain degree of deference when they put together their team.”
            Mr. Flake, people such as I are not angry that a Republican won the election. We are angry that this particular man won the election; we are angry about how he won the election (Russian interference in our democracy) and about who he has brought into the White House (advisers who have a history of promoting alt-right views) and about how he is choosing some people for cabinet members who are inimical to the agencies for which they have been chosen to lead.
            We are angry because Senate and House Republicans are doing nothing to halt or influence minimize the worst tendencies of our new president. After years and millions of dollars spent on investigating Hillary Clinton, after stonewalling President Obama’s nominees (including his nominee to the Supreme Court), Republicans suddenly seem to care less about emails (Scott Pruitt’s) or foreign interference in a national election. Republicans suddenly seem to care less about a total disregard of norms and expectations of the most powerful office in the world. They no longer care about conflicts of interest or about millions of dollars spent on a president’s extended family and their business enterprises. They no longer care about morals—about what’s right and wrong, about what is the truth and what is a lie, about a president who attacks our judicial system and our free press.
            I do agree that elections have consequences. We are seeing the consequences of this election in the uneasiness of allies overseas and, yes, in the anger of voters—citizens—who are worried about where our president is leading the country. One consequence of this election may be that a majority of voters will lose all faith in the Republican Party.

Anita Dugat-Greene

Perhaps "ethics" would have been a better word choice than "morals," but Senator Flake sees himself as a "moral" man, I think. This letter is a response to an email I received from Senator Flake.

I am really concerned about how many of our senators and representatives are reacting to the protests and feedback that they are receiving from their constituents. Here in Arizona, the Senate passed a bill, now going to the House, obviously meant to quell peaceful protests:
Claiming people are being paid to riot, Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad — even before anything actually happened.  
SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others. 
But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side. (
 Isn't it interesting that these Republican lawmakers seemed less concerned when anti-abortion protests turned deadly, but when millions of American women and young people are protesting a president who brags of sexual assault or protesting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act or protesting the administration's attacks on science and lack of concern about climate change, they suddenly want to pass laws that will put a damper on protests just in case violence ensues.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Civil Forfeiture and Donald Trump

Civil forfeiture is a legal process by which local government can confiscate the property of criminals. As this Wikipedia entry explains, the practice has a long history, but in the 1980s, it became a popular way for law enforcement to confiscate drug money and to fill their coffers: "In some counties in Texas, 40% of police revenue comes from forfeitures." There is often little oversight in how police confiscate property. Because of that, innocent people have been caught up in civil forfeiture cases in which they have lost livelihoods, homes, cars, and money.

Here are just a couple of articles that describe some of the experiences of innocent people who were bullied by local police in civil forfeiture cases: 

Both Democrats and Republicans recognize that increasing abuses in civil forfeiture require changes in the law and more oversight on seizures. Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Michigan)  introduced a bill "to strengthen personal property rights under the 5th Amendment and ensure due process of law by reforming civil asset forfeiture laws."  The bill had 20 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, but as far as I can tell, it never got out of the House Judiciary Committee. Some states have passed civil forfeiture reform bills, while others have resisted, despite popular support for that reform.

It is an outrage that a person's property can be seized and liquidated by police without due process of law. In many cases, it's up to the person, not the state or law agency, to prove innocence. 

However, in a recent meeting with sheriffs, President Trump "joked" about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who was supporting such reforms. I put "joking" in quotes because although folks laughed, Trump's face suggests the authoritarian that he is: If he doesn't like what you do, he threatens you. And now he has the most powerful seat in the nation--perhaps the world. 

Just look at his face as he turns away after making his "joke."

Monday, January 30, 2017

An Open Letter to My Arizona Senators

Dear Senators McCain and Flake,

We are just over a week into the new administration, and if it weren’t clear before it is certainly clear now that President Trump, with the counsel of his White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is trolling the American people, to the detriment of the United States and its place in the world as a strong ethical leader. The first hint of the trolling was in the nominations to his cabinet—all people who are either underqualified for the agencies they have been selected to lead or who have a history of being opposed to the work of the agencies they are expected to direct. The second hint was in his dark and partisan inaugural address. The third hint was his representatives’ calling what are clearly lies “alternative facts.”

The fourth hint was the President’s refusing to refer to Jews in his statement commemorating the Holocaust, a pogrom which was specifically directed at Jews and by which two-thirds of European Jews were murdered. That others suffered, as President Trump’s sycophantic representatives smirked on national television, is certainly true, but the Nazis' “Final Solution” was primarily directed at Jews, and to elide that fact comes dangerously close to anti-Semitism. The fifth hint was in his hasty and ill-judged ban on immigrants, which caused unnecessary turmoil at major airports and unconscionable anxiety and harm to the people caught up in that net of callous capriciousness.

Perhaps this trolling is not a conscious tactic of President Trump but a combination of his desire to follow through immediately with ill-conceived campaign promises (and damn the consequences) and the provocative advice of his chief strategist Stephen Bannon. What is clear is that Mr. Bannon is on record as stating that he wants to “bitch-slap” the Republican Party, that his goal is to bring down the entire establishment. As founding member and later head of Breitbart News, he openly declared that the website was “the platform for the alt-right,” a loosely related group of anti-Semitics, white nationalists, white supremacists, and misogynists. That a man with this background, with these goals, is now President Trump’s most trusted adviser is worrying. That he is now a member of the National Security Council is absolutely irresponsible.

Members of the Republican Party, of Congress, of the Senate, need to do their duty to push back against the kind of capriciousness that is already hurting our standing in the world. I applaud the criticisms you have already voiced about some decisions of the new administration, such as its too-close ties to Russia and its immigrant ban that seems to target Muslims, but more needs to be done. We need cabinet members who will stand up to the kind of trolling that seems to be a characteristic of the new administration. While I have concerns about all the nominations, I am most concerned about those that deal with education (Betsy DeVos is very unqualified to be Secretary of Education; we need a well-educated citizenry, a well-funded and professionally directed public education system), with science (Mr. Pruitt, being considered as director of the EPA, has a history of outright hostility toward the work of that agency and toward the science of climate change, science that the U.S. military accepts and includes in its assessments of threats in the world), and with civil rights (Senator Jeff Sessions has a history of lack of concern, to be generous, toward civil rights).

Please use your considerably positive and admired public image to help put into place leaders of these agencies who will help those agencies perform their duties diligently and who will resist capitulating to any ill-prepared demands of this administration. When Mr. Bannon, the man who most has the President’s ear, publicly admonishes the media to “shut up,” to fail in its duty to speak truth to power, especially to the power which he has accrued to himself in the first week of the new administration, we are on very dangerous ground.

That many Americans are marching— many of whom probably never joined a public march or rally before—to voice their unease in the first days of the new administration sends the message that we continue to hope that democracy works and that our voices will be heard.
Most sincerely,

Anita G. Dugat-Greene

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Managing the Outrage

My "Haiku Garden," in Belton, Texas (2004-2007)
On the first day of 2017, Tom and I measured an area near our house here in Arizona in which I am planning an herb garden. A previous owner had covered the area with black plastic and then gravel. Years ago at our house in Belton, Texas, I had created a small garden area that had been compacted by parked cars. Tom helped me put in raised beds, and then I covered parts of the garden area with plastic and white gravel. Each year I removed the accumulated leaves and dirt from the gravel with a leaf blower in order to prevent debris build-up. Gravel-covered areas, which are meant to be as maintenance free as possible, still require some maintenance. I was reminded of this as I began removing the gravel from the area in which I want to create an herb garden here: the gravel was heavily infiltrated with dirt which had accumulated over the years. Weeds, ornery survivalists, had begun to poke through the plastic, too.
snowy earlyJanuary morning--dreaming of an herb garden here
It was quite a job to remove that gravel and dirt; I still have some gravel removal to complete, and Tom is going to build me a box with a screen so that I can screen the dirt from the gravel.

Gardening and writing have been my ways of dealing with troubling times, depression or emotionally-intense experiences--the writing since I was in 6th grade, when my parents gave me a five-year diary as a Christmas gift, and the gardening since I was a young adult in my twenties when Tom and I created our first shared summer gardens as students at Texas A&M University. Now I am 59-years-old, and I need the hard work and joy of gardening more than ever as we face at least four years of a Donald Trump presidency.

Every day as I read the headlines that worry me, I try to imagine the people who MUST read them with satisfaction, as they voted for Donald Trump for President of the United States--headlines such as these:

Who are these people, I wonder, who hate that 20+ million Americans now have access to health insurance or who think it's a good idea to turn over federal lands to states that are too often cash-strapped and therefore probably more willing to sell those lands to developers or oil and mining corporations? 

I worry about friends my age who do not have employer-based health insurance, who depend upon the Affordable Care Act and the marketplace exchanges it created, for their insurance. I worry about a president who praises a foreign power and its authoritarian leader whose opponents have met with mysterious deaths or not-so-mysterious jail sentences. I worry about leaders who not only dispute but who mock and disparage hard science. 

I worry about an authoritarian populist president who tweets his own outrage every day, for all the world to see, outrage which is sometimes even directed toward private individuals, and which encourages threatening behavior of some of his supporters.

But when the worry and outrage seem to overwhelm me, my well-tested methods of handling stress come to my aid: gardening, making things, and writing. I have also made my usual New Year's resolution to read more books rather than spending too much time online getting all worked up over Donald Trump's latest tweet. And I've made a recent pact with a neighbor to exercise together two or three times a week. 

I worry about our country's being led by a narcissistic, revengeful, policy-ignorant authoritarian, but I plan to channel my outrage constructively. Yes, I will be resisting; I will be daily monitoring the news; I will refuse to normalize the bizarre and aberrant behavior of our new president; I will be writing letters and calling my senators and representatives to express my views. But I plan to remain sane while doing so. And gardening will certainly help me to do that!

tentative plan for an herb garden

Friday, November 18, 2016

Making Sense of it All #2: What Are We Letting into the White House?

For the past week, I've been immersed in commentary on why Hillary Clinton lost the election: some pointed out that millennials didn't have the love for Clinton that they had for President Obama; others blamed Democrats who stayed home; still others blamed the Democratic Party for losing the votes of an alienated working class whose rage was inflamed by Trump's trumpeting racism. Or perhaps it was FBI director James Comey's two letters about the Clinton e-mails that tipped the balance in the election. Day after day I consulted Twitter for the latest commentary, the latest analysis. Then, yesterday I decided I didn't care why Clinton lost the election. What I care about the most--and what was bothering me throughout this presidential campaign--is the moral crisis the 2016 election seems to represent. Enough of the American voters (not a majority, but enough for Trump to win the Electoral College)--and 81% of white evangelical Christians--gave their support:

  • to a man who proved over and over again that he is ungovernable (see his Twitter account); 
  • is a pathological liar (as Politico and other fact-checking sites demonstrated over and over again); 
  • is not only a sexual harasser but brags about it
  • has made money mainly by selling the Trump name to enterprises he doesn't own and didn't build;
  • who has failed to pay federal taxes probably for two decades;
  • whose rich daddy helped him out of tough financial spots, and then banks that loaned him money helped him out to protect their own interests;
  • who stiffed his contractors--often small business owners;
  • who is exceedingly ignorant about government policies (just listen to those three presidential debates) and of the requirements of the presidency;
  • who appeared in a soft-porn film;
  • who has been married three times, whose first wife accused him of rape, whose second wife was his mistress before he left his first wife...blah, blah, blah.
If that list isn't enough to make people think twice about a Trump presidency, perhaps the choices that Trump and his transition team are making now will cause some to sit up and take notice. 
  • Donald Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which is known as an "alt-right" news source, a safe haven for misogynists and white nationalists. Here is what a former editor-at-large at Breitbart News has to say of Bannon:
"Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers....
Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon. He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies....[H]e's an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination." (Ben Shapiro, "I Know Trump's New Campaign Chair, Steve Bannon. Here's What You Need to Know," The Daily Wire, updated 13 November 2016.)
  • The word is out (though not confirmed as of this writing) that Trump has nominated Jeff Sessions, Senator from Alabama, as Attorney General. Sessions is a hard-liner on immigration, even on legal immigration. He has maintained a "tough on crime" attitude in opposition to the recent movement to reduce mandatory minimums and to institute other criminal justice reforms. Years ago, he was denied a judgeship because of racist comments. We can expect him to support voting suppression laws. So, this: Of course: Another reminder of just how far right Jeff Sessions is:
  • Rudy Giuliani is being considered for the position of Secretary of State. What is so ironic about this possibility is that Giuliani's conflicts of interest are so much worse than what critics accused of Hillary Clinton. In one year alone he made $11.4 million in giving 124 speeches. In addition, his firm, Giuliani Partners, has had business dealings with: the government of Qatar, the energy company TransCanada (Keystone XL Pipeline), Bear Stearns, Uber, and CB Richard Ellis (real estate giant), Purdue Pharma, TriGlobal Strategic ventures (company that helps their clients in ventures in former Soviet Union states and that has provided PR for Russian oligarchs and others with Kremlin ties):
"James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said Mr. Giuliana's consulting work over the last 15 years should disqualify him from taking the secretary of state job.
'It creates an immediate conflict of interest with leaders of nations that he has worked with,' Mr. Thurber said. 'People asked about Hillary Clinton and donations to Clinton Foundation. It is very different than being paid directly by foreign countries to represent them.'" (Mark Landler, Eric Lipton, Jo Becker. "Rudolph Giuliani's Business Ties Viewed as Red Flag for Secretary of State Job." 15 November 2016. The New York Times)
Here's what ties all these guys together: male, of course--all middle-aged or older--white, and very, very troubling, the racist views they have either expressed themselves or supported when expressed by others. New Yorkers of the right age will remember Rudy Giuliani's support of a demonstration in 1992, in which off-duty New York City police officers led 10,000 demonstrators through New York city, screaming racist slogans, trapping people in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and terrifying them by jumping on their cars. Many of the people in the demonstration were carrying guns and drinking alcohol, and there "[i]n the center of the mayhem, standing on top of a car while cursing Mayor Dinkins through a bullhorn, was mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani," leading the crowd in chants. And all of this because Mayor Dinkins was calling for a Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate police misconduct.

So, yeah, it's hard not to feel very, very worried about the incoming Trump administration and to wonder why Democrats in the Senate are trying to find ways to work with Donald Trump's presidency.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The President we might have had

For the first time since her concession speech, Hillary Clinton spoke in public at the Children's Defense Fund's 26th annual Beat the Odds Celebration in Washington, D.C.. As I write this, Clinton has won the popular vote at 1, 125, 855 more votes than Donald Trump. She talks movingly of the need to lift American children out of poverty: 
When I talk about children in or near poverty, this isn't someone else's problem. These aren't someone else's children. This is America's problems because they are America's children.
 Later in the speech, she says:
I know this isn't easy. I know that over the past week a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep. But please listen to me when I say this: America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country. Fight for our values and never, ever give up.
And at 17:30, she speaks very movingly of her mother.

 [Here is a link if the video doesn't play: ] --

Preparing for Winter....when it comes

honeybee on California poppy flower 
This past weekend and into this week, Tom and I have been cleaning up our place, preparing for winter. Winter seems to be tarrying elsewhere, though. Yesterday I stopped by a local antique shop and while paying for my purchases, asked the owner if it seemed unseasonably warm here. She told me yes, that the area usually gets its first snow in October. However, last winter, our first here, we didn't get snow until December, if I remember correctly.  The U.S. climate data website supports my memory. In November of last year, the highest temperature in November was on the second of the month, with a high near 74°F, while highs the rest of the month varied between 66°F and 42°F, with lows between 45°F and 7°F. Well, we've had a balmy fall, with highs in the 60s and 70s almost every day, giving us a great opportunity to work outside.

Tom cleaned out the greenhouse this past weekend, pulling out tomato and pepper plants and replacing them with onion plants. We have a lot of onions in the outside garden, so we'll see how well the onions outside survive the winter as compared to those inside the greenhouse. 
Tomato plants stacked up in front of the greenhouse, Tom and Cassie on the right
greenhouse cleared of tomatoes and peppers
onions, radishes, greens, cabbage still growing in the garden
Tom also affixed a rain gutter to the greenhouse and used plastic gutter material to direct precipitation into the greenhouse.
gutter added to the greenhouse, with downspout for directing precipitation inside
drainage gutters for directing precipitation in the greenhouse
I finally turned to a project that I had procrastinated on because it was a little overwhelming, repairing the gravel walkway in our backyard which the previous owners' dogs had torn up. To do this, I would be tackling two projects at once, adding to the walkway the gravel I'm removing from an area where we plan to put in an herb garden. Photos might describe these projects best.
The area where we plan an herb garden: I am removing gravel and the underlying plastic.
I'm recyling the plastic ground cover and gravel to cover bare areas in this gravel walkway.
Here is the area repaired, with gravel covering the plastic.
When I get all the plastic ground cover and gravel removed from the area where we are planning an herb garden, Tom will dig up the ground (I've asked for his assistance in this), and then we will put in walkways and separate raised beds. I hope we can get this done in time for spring planting. 

Another project I'm working on this week is repairing the rock "creek" that was part of the original landscaping of a previous owner. The "creek" was neglected and filled with debris.
The rock "creek" that had been neglected (photo taken in March)
Dirt, gravel, and other debris had filled in the rock "creek" bed.
This week, I cleared out the debris and uncovered buried rocks in the "rock creek."
Tom said yesterday that I was going to get the yard all in order in time for us to move again. "Well," I replied, "that would be par for the course." The 2016 presidential election has already impacted some of our hopes for the future. I just hope that the fallout will not be as bad as we imagine.
scrub jay at my makeshift bird feeder--some flowers still blooming in mid-November