Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend

Four day weekend. Thank god. Rain possible here and there every day, but it's looking promising.

To do list:

Get the bigger plants in the ground

Scythe/mow around the plant cage boxes

Gather up the cut grass and start yet another compost heap in the corner of the raised planter by the shed

Loosen the soil/weeds/compost in that planter for use as compost for growing plants

Drag the really long 2x10s from the deck fire from behind the shed and put them in the middle of the yard to kill the grass for future cold frames

Chain smoke

Drink too much (but only after 5PM)

Shave my beard off (for heaven's sake)

That'll do. If I get half of that done, I think my mood will improve greatly, though that's not saying much since it has nowhere to go but up.

Life is so damnably short. I guess that's why we need pain: just to make it seem longer.

Happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"your eyes have their silence"

Her eyes. That was all that was left of her at the end. Green, like the waters of the Gulf in late April. Alert. Present.

Up until the last few hours of her life, she was there. Unmistakably sharp and aware. But she was so weak it was all she could do to say even just a few words. I often found myself interpreting for her to her delight but not to her surprise. We had a sort of shorthand. You see, I'm the youngest of 5, Julie, my sister, being the oldest, and 4 boys. Al, the second youngest, is 4 and 1/2 years older than I am. So when he went off to college, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

When I think about just how frustrating that must have been for her at the end, having so much to say, to ask, to want to share, and yet unable to to her own satisfaction, or to ours, I'm unmanned. When I think about the indignity, the humiliation of her circumstances that fate bestowed upon the most dignified person I've ever known, it takes every last bit of will power not to sob uncontrollably.

So I just go ahead and do anyway.

I told her it was okay to go, that everything would work out just fine, that I'd be just fine. But you know what? I'm not so sure I was being completely honest with her. All I seem to have these days is a deafening silence, and I've never felt more alone, more abandoned ever in my life.

Courtesy of a very dear Irish friend of mine named John:

In Memory Of My Mother



I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

You walking down a lane among the poplars

On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -

You meet me and you say:

'Don't forget to see about the cattle - '

Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland

Of green oats in June,

So full of repose, so rich with life -

And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after

The bargains are all made and we can walk

Together through the shops and stalls and markets

Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,

For it is a harvest evening now and we

Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight

And you smile up at us - eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

Friday, May 8, 2009

Windmills And Bunkers

Okay, nobody and I mean nobody sees rain as a blessing more than I do. But, I mean, come on already. There's a severe weather alert till tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure the 6 seedlings I put in last Saturday are toast. If only I had more to plant as a backup.

Oh. Wait.

Mostly despair this week. Don't know what's brought it on. I guess the rain. This weekend is all about the tomato cage boxes. And getting more plants in the ground. Maybe. I'm a little gun shy after this week.

The weekend of my mom's funeral I was driving around Morrow County, Ohio, when I came into Fredericktown, a small burg just northwest of Mt. Vernon, and I saw a chicken cross the road, right there in town. This isn't the start of a joke. It just occurred to me at the time just how... appropriate that was.

Say. When did we stop having a couple few hens in the back yard? When exactly did that become white trash? When did farming become inferior, relegated to the few idiots who couldn't do "real" work? When and why did urban become superior to rural?

At the hospice, my brothers and I spoke at length about our current state of affairs. They're not exactly Obama fans, nor Bush/McCain fans. We are, all of us, fans of our dad, who could best be described as having been a Teddy Roosevelt fan. Fierce, rugged independence. Responsibility, accountability.

My brother Jack, the middle child, was going through some rough spots in his adolescence: drugs, alcohol, stupid friends. He was working at a filling station in town, driving the tow truck, and he caught on fire. The whole thing is hilarious today when he recalls it, but it wasn't at the time, obviously. That weekend of the immolation, my oldest brother Jesse and dad were outside raking leaves when Jesse, pondering Jack's adventure, said to dad, "Boy, Jack sure does have some bad luck." To which my dad responded, not missing a beat, "There's no such thing as bad luck; just bad judgement."

That was dad.

Anyways, Al and Jesse and I basically agreed that we need a revolution. Not one that will be televised live. One, rather, that's quiet, almost unnoticeable. And maybe even one that's in line with our current President's agenda. I'll talk about this some more later, when the cages are lit by the setting sun, finally. I'll just say that our fallback position is Jesse's back 40, where a gorgeous srping-fed stream cuts through the woods. Windmills and bunkers. And living in a corncrib powered by a car battery that's constantly recharged by egg-laying chickens somehow. Or something. Still working out the kinks.

I.e., we get the sense that folks will get so fed up that they'll quietly and gradually slip off the grid, not by any means necessary, but by the best ends justified.

Happy Mother's Day.

(To you, too, mom. I miss you so much.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eye Of The Beholder, And All That

"Department of Public Works

City of Birmingham

Dear switters

This letter is to notify you that your property was investigated on 4/23/2009 and a warning was issued for violation of City Ordinance Section 11-8-8 for: Overgrown/Junky Yard.

All grass, weeds bushes, saplings or sprouts (9 1/2 inches or greater in circumference) shall be cut to a height range of from two (2) to four (4) inches on the entire lot; including abutting alleyways and the area between curb and street. At least 50 percent of any right of way, alleys, unopened roads, etc. that adjoin a lot are to be cut. Vegetative cover shall be maintained after weed removal. There shall be approximately 2 inches of grass or other ground cover remaining. All cleared vegetative materials, as well as junk, inoperable motor vehicles or man-made debris located on the property, shall be removed from the site and disposed of properly and legally.

Please bring the above referenced property into compliance with City Ordinance on or before Monday, May 11, 2009

A follow-up investigation will be held in seven days. If the property is still in violation a citation may be issued, and if we are unable to contact you a warrant will be issued.

Please notify us if and when the property is brought into compliance. This will allow for a follow up inspection to verify compliance with City Ordinance 11-8-8.

You cooperation is appreciated.


Department of Public Works"

Overgrown, sure. But junky? It looks like the meadow in Bloom County.

I recall William James writing about seeing a homestead in West Virginia and remarking how unattractive it appeared from afar. But as he neared it and saw its efficiency and efficacy, he was stunned by the beauty of its harmony with the surroundings. I believe his philosophical conclusion was that most people are stupid.

So I called and spoke to Inspector Jones and told him what I was up to, namely,  2009: A Tomato Odyssey. I explained that I needed the grass to be tall enough to go to seed to make my "green manure" that much more green. He was skeptical at first, wondering who in his right mind would have 60 tomato plants in a postage stamp-sized yard. I went on about my project.

I think I must've touched something from his childhood, maybe a grandfather's vegetable garden or his grandma's potted plants, because the more I explained what I was doing, the more and more he got on board.

He said to try to keep the yard visible from the street scythed down at least. Then he wished me the best of luck. I did refrain from asking him what "weeds bushes" were. Never heard of that variety. Nor did I thank the Department for the complete confusion the "9 1/2" in circumference" paragraph caused, despite the helpful numerical (2) (4) clarification.

I'm with Billy James: I really hate people, because most of them are stupid. And each and every day I'm astounded by a person's mind-bogglingly willful ignorance. But every once in a while, if you're sincere and earnest, some of them actually do listen.

More rain yesterday, and more today. I'm starting to feel like I'm a bit player in "This Bulging River".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

Put 6 seedlings in the ground Saturday morning. They're about 4-5 inches tall. Then dug 23 more holes and made 5 more cages. It rained on and off all day. I was soaked.

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me was particularly terrific. The panelists were Charlie Pierce, Amy Dickinson, and, my favorite, Paul Provenza. A dream team, though I think Amy was a little drunk.

Then Sunday afternoon at about 2, the skies opened up and we got roughly 13 inches of rain in 20 minutes. Dang. The last thing tomato seedlings need is massive amounts of water.

Turned my white trash compost heap, and, despite being in the sun in the afternoon, it's actually composting. I love that odor; it smells like... possibility. And garbage. It's right outside my back door so I can just throw vegetable peelings out there. But I really need to figure out how to shade it so it composts faster. I had it all figured out last night after 3 glasses of wine, but for the life of me I can't remember what my idea was. Note to self: Carry that ThinkPad and pen your big brother Jesse gave you at the hospital, you idiot.

This weekend is all about the cages. Saw Saturday, put the boxes together Sunday. I.e., get the sawing over with before Mother's Day so as not to disturb my neighbor's picnic.

Sunday afternoon was very maudlin. When you hate your job, you can never make enough money. When you love what you do, money somehow works itself out. It's a mystery, in that Shakespeare In Love sense, I think.

There's a foundation in Birmingham that helps people financially dealing with cancer. They need volunteers to help with anything from getting people to their treatments to making meals for them. I think I need to volunteer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Growing Tomatoes From Seed

I badly needed a diversion. So I ordered 2 packets from Burpee's: Belgian Giant Pink, or some such. An heirloom plant, allegedly. Each packet, as advertised, was to contain roughly 30 seeds. I ordered 2 packets because I thought, surely, not all the seeds would germinate. Well, each packet didn't contain 30 seeds. More like 45. So as I placed the individual seeds in the soilless germinating mixture on an early April Saturday morning, said mixture ebbed while the seeds seemed to impersonate the baskets of fish and bread loaves. So I decided to plant multiple seeds in the small germinating cups. Surely, I thought again, attrition would rule the day and I'd have at least 2 dozen or so viable seedlings.

Nope. 1 week later, every last one of the seeds had germinated. So there I was with 55 small paper cups of tomato seedlings. Some with 1 seedling, some with 2, many with 3. Even some with 4.

I'm overwhelmed.

I've been making tomato cages out of the lumber I salvaged from "40th Birthday Deck Fire 2007". A 16" box made of 3/4" x 5 3/4" decking; 5' pieces I've ripped into 1 1/2" slats for the vertical supports; and 16" bamboo horizontal slats salvaged from last year's tomato pyramids. Not exactly elegant, but simple enough, providing distracting problem solving projects. And the price is right. (Free, minus labor.)

So, yeah, about 80 seedlings are currently sunning themselves on my back stoop, probably wondering to themselves, as they gaze upon my 1/10 acre, "Err... So where's he gonna plant us again?"

3 words: Tomato Orchard.

I've not mown my backyard since last fall. So I've been digging holes 6' apart about 24" in diameter and about 12" deep. I'll add a bit of seasoned cow manure, and maybe some seaweed. Add the fact that I over-seeded rye grass in October, and you don't need much imagination to realize that after some back-breaking digging, the top soil has quickly become The Great Prairie-like. It's a sight to behold, to be sure.

But as I do the geometry, that will only account for about 35 holes. So looks like I'll have to dig another hole in the middle of each 6' square. That might yield 50, at best.

I'm tired all the time. But my appetite has returned a little bit, and the work is honest, if slow.

It's all for her. I feel her presence, for lack of a better word, so I ask her advice on this and that. Sometimes there's an answer, usually me talking to myself.

A Tomato Orchard. Keep in mind the growing season down here is ridiculously long. The plants will be 6' tall and I'll have fruit from the middle of July through October, god willing, if all goes well. (Obviously I'm gonna have to give some seedlings away. I'll think of it as a spiritual tax.)

But I can say I do honestly feel her close, usually in an unexpected cool breeze I don't deserve. And it's explicably devastating. Perhaps, sooner rather than later, hopefully, it'll be less devastating and more... therapeutic.

Ironic, isn't it, that my mom* and dad spent their entire childhoods trying to get off the farm, while I'm spending my entire middle age trying to get on one. It would appear fate is not without a sense of humor.

I'll keep all y'all posted, if you'd care to follow me on this "trip".

Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,

And fill to the brim our cup of blessings.

Gather the harvest from the seeds that were sown

That we may be fed with the bread of life.

Gather the hopes and the dreams of all,

Unite them with the prayers we offer now.

Grace our table with your presence, and give us

A foretaste of the feast to come.

-from the Lutheran Liturgy for High Communion (from memory, so, sorry)

*Truth be told, I have it on good authority that my mother would've been perfectly happy as a farm wife. She told me as much. It was my dad who couldn't wait to get away.