Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

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Another Season Up

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The other day I sat on the couch with my daughter, laughing. She had grabbed the wool beanie cap from my head and popped it onto her own head. She took a bunch of selfies and cracked herself right up. And it cracked me right up. And we laughed about it.

She isn’t small anymore. That happens, of course. All those trite things other parents say are true after all. “They grow up so fast!” and all that crap isn’t wrong even if it is hackneyed. That moment laughing over the silliness of a hat was a gift. I’ll be sticking that one in my wallet to carry around.

The sun rose in the east today. Exactly in the east. No northeast or southeast about it. Spring rolls around, even if if feels like winter. At least the sun is higher and stronger. The blackbirds seem to notice that. Every day is just a little bit different, sweeping through the seasons. Day to day I find it hard to notice the difference, but I keep looking. That is the way with all of us. My daughter changes but not enough from yesterday to notice. I change too. That is why marking the moments, like the equinox or laughing on the couch, is important.

Tucked in the corner of the yard, under the big spruce, old toys lie scattered. Those toys were once a world. Now they are forgotten, not even seen they have been there so long. The sun bleaches them and the grass grows around them. What day did they get left there? What story was created just before they were left there for the last time? How many days, how many seasons, have passed since that world was real?

Frost melts in the new spring sun. Green shoots push aside last year’s dried stalks. My children will be taller today than they were yesterday. Those toys will fade just a little more. One day I will pick them up and find a place for them. One day my daughter will head off into her own Spring. I should pay attention. I should notice the days. I should hold onto the stories so they do not fade. I should enjoy this glorious day, today. The sun is high already.

And Now a Few Words from Dr. Dean

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Look, it’s the former governor as seen through a smart phone camera from the back row

OK this is just not a great photo, but I wasn’t prepared to take photos. There I was visiting Milton High School today to help out some students and I hear on the morning announcements that juniors and seniors should come to the auditorium for the visiting politician, who blah blah blah really important whatever I can’t really hear I have things to do Vermont big wig such and such and his name is Howard Dean. Howard Dean? Right here today? I started listening but had already missed the details.

After I met with one student he asked if I was going to see Howard Dean. I had a hole in my schedule so I followed him into the auditorium. We were a little late. I sat in the back. He spoke for a while and answered some questions. He talked about how their generation has a different world to take care of and different tools to use to do that. Some key ideas, paraphrased:

When he was young, he and his peers could organize a protest but it took lots of coordination and months to organize. Today anyone can go to change.org and set up a petition to make big companies or Congress take notice, with hundreds of signatures in a couple of days. He told the story of the young woman who got five dollars tacked to her bank statement each month to allow her to use her debit card. She organized a petition and, very quickly, got 300,000 people to say they would switch banks unless the fee was dropped. The fee was dropped.

He asked the group how many of them had at least one international connection, including through social media. The majority of hands went up. He said that when he was in high school there was no social media so only about three hands might have gone up; ok maybe four since “we had some exchange students.”

He was asked a question about the cost of college and noted that college is expensive but there are ways to do it cheaper. He noted the expansion of students at community colleges and that one can transfer into a larger school to get a degree from a different institution. He said that anyone can get a good education at just about any not-for-profit institution if one works hard enough.

He was asked about the number of students who go to college outside Vermont and said “I think that is a great thing.” If you grow up in Vermont and go to college in Vermont and stay in Vermont to work, how are you going to get any experience with the world outside Vermont? Half of what you learn in college is from professors. The other half is from students who go to school with you. So go somewhere to college where you can be around people who are different from you. He likes the idea of students from other places coming to Vermont to go to college. It means that Vermonters who stay here get to be around different types of people and that will make their education better.

If you think you are going to work your way up through the system and become president and then change the world, that isn’t going to happen. To become president you have to work your way through the system you need to change. Change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Today there are more tools to organize people to make change than ever before in history, and more people are doing it despite a dysfunctional political system.

The Iraq war was “the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States.” Patrick Leahy is “my favorite senator.”

He said some other things, as well, of course–things that got me thinking. I especially got thinking about the idea that 50% of what one learns in college is from peers. Somehow that phrasing set right with me. His thoughts on the college experience were directly relevant to the conversation I was having with the student I had been meeting with. I asked the student about that later. He said it was weird that the college topics came up and then said this:

“It made me think differently about how awesome Vermont is.” Yes, Dr. Dean, your words still are inspiring, ten years after you changed the face of political organizing and fundraising, both for me and for the students you met with today. Keep that up.

 

Water in and Out

Morning Rain

Rain. That’s what we’ve got. And plenty of it. It started raining last night just after dark. And it kept falling. All night, all morning. It is still raining.  I sat in a morning workshop for a few hours today and I kept looking out the window. I was distracted by rain. It fell hard and never let up. My umbrella got some use, as did my windshield wipers. And my boots. It is wet.

It is snowing up high. The road up the way is flooded. The road up the other way will likely be flooded by tomorrow. A bit of a mess. The frogs love it. It replenishes the water table. We won’t run out of water in the house any time soon. My water bottle will be full.

Yesterday I worked at a school. Students dumped quarters into the vending machine slots to get water. Right next to the water fountain. Right next to the restroom with running water. They washed their hands with water clean enough to drink, then spent money to buy water.  Then tossed the empty plastic bottle in the trash.  What gives with that?

People from across the thought spectrum in the United States talk about “common sense.” And then we spend millions of dollars on bottled water. Common sense?  I’m not so sure of that. And we throw away the bottles. Again, is this common sense? No way Jose.

I have a colleague who feels bottled water is totally fine because “I always recycle the bottles.” Good for you! But if you did not purchase the bottled water to begin with you would save lots of resources and money and energy. And your purse would be fatter.

The rain falls and falls. Free water. Clean water. Healthy water. If you on board with understanding the tragedy and the scam of bottled water, then I’m glad to hear it. If not, then consider watching the Story of Stuff video about bottled water.  It might enlighten you.

For other stories about water issues around the world, check out the Blog Action Day web site.

Eating Around Here

I made dinner tonight and let me tell you it was good stuff.  It was simple, really, but a simple pleasure.  I scrambled up eggs and cheese and we ate it with greens. The greens were as simple as the eggs–leeks, garlic, peppers and kale with some salt and butter.  The combination was tasty, tastier than I thought it would be.  It felt good to eat food so wholesome and healthy.  And it felt good to know that almost everything came from right around here.

The leeks and kale came from our farm share. Our last pick up was Tuesday and we got a lot. We used some of it tonight. The peppers came from our garden–the last of them to be picked. The butter was Cabot butter, so also fairly local. The cheese in the eggs was also Cabot, and the eggs came from Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury (the eggs could be more local, I admit, but this wasn’t bad). The olive oil traveled far to get to us, as did the salt, but those are hard to get from local sources.

The one thing that was questionable was garlic. That came from a farm somewhere, but that’s all I know. Our farm share did not include garlic several times in a row–they didn’t have a great year. I missed the farmer’s market last Saturday–I couldn’t get there until too late. And our local market, which often has good local produce, didn’t have any local garlic, so I bought what was there, even though I hate not to know the source of my food. Part of the reason we had no garlic was that the garlic I bought at the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago I planted in the ground. I want to make sure I have plenty next year, so I planted all the cloves and hope for them to burst out of the ground in spring. That would make things local, eh?

So our meal had only a few food miles. It is simply crazy that our food system means we can get cheap food that is transported hundreds or thousands or miles. How is it that we can spend 87 calories to get one calorie and not pay more for that one calorie than we do? How is it that we are OK with the poor quality of those strawberries or winter tomatoes when we buy them, out of season? We ship food all over the place so we can eat whatever we want whenever we want it. So we get poor quality food and we burn up all kinds of oil to get it and we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like mad (literally) when we could could have better food at less real cost if we ate locally. So I try to do that.

Having a garden helps. Taking part in a community supported agriculture program helps. Living in Vermont helps, as local food is available much of the year because people care about it. And canning and freezing helps, too, as that means we can spread the harvest out over the cold months. I am new to canning but thanks to my parents giving me a tutorial, I have canned my second batch of jam. I have pesto and pumpkin and soup in the freezer and will freeze more. I could do better and, with some experience and over time, I will. Pulling pesto out of the freezer in January is just about the best thing ever.

Keeping my food miles down is important. I don’t want my food traveling more in a year than I do. It is one thing I, and collectively we, can do to make a difference to abate global warming. Eating locally can make a big difference in limiting carbon emissions, since we all need to eat. One day we will be forced to eat more locally, since oil will get expensive and raspberries from temperate climes won’t be cheap to ship in the winter. Plus, food usually tastes better if it hasn’t traveled half way around the world. And it has more in it, so it is healthier. Sure, if we eat locally we don’t get to have anything we want whenever we want it, but waiting for things makes them sweeter, sometimes literally. And I can wait for a little sweetness.

(This post is part of Blog Action Day).

What Am I Doing?

This summer I read an article in Orion Magazine that has really stuck with me.  It was Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen.  Here is an excerpt:

An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

He goes on to talk about water (more than 90% is used by industry and agriculture), energy (individual consumption is 25% or less) and waste (municipal waste accounts for only 3% of the total).  The message that I took away was not that what we do doesn’t make a difference.  It does, and we need to do it.  But if we want to make the kind of change required to address climate change, then tackling it by recycling and carpooling won’t cut it.  We need change on a bigger scale.

The basis of our economy, of any capitalist economy, is that we need to grow and grow, endlessly.  A business is seen as a failure if it fails to grow.  Making a profit isn’t good enough.  We ask that businesses make more profit every month/quarter/year.  The GDP needs to grow, employment needs to grow, sales need to grow, new home starts need to grow.  We can never have enough.  That is the problem.  I love to get a raise, but when I’m told I can’t have one this year I make do.  My home doesn’t need to get bigger every year.  I don’t need to gain weight.  In many spheres of our lives, we know that growing is not always good–it comes with a price that often we don’t want to pay.

So why is it that we need to keep growing, in the big picture, in our economy?  The idea is so ubiquitous that it isn’t even questioned.  We hear regular reports on the news about “the economy,” as if any of us really know what that is.  The “economy” isn’t growing so things must be bad.  No, people are out of work, so things are bad.  People are out of work because we constantly depend on growth.  When growth turns into shrinkage, people lose jobs.  We don’t work with a sustainable model where our economy is flexible enough to accommodate fluctuation.  Or at least our values aren’t there.

We need to deal with climate change, but with a mindset that we need to keep growing, it is difficult to talk about shrinking carbon emissions.  I keep hearing talk of the search for some technological silver bullet that will allow us to keep up the same habits and yield lower carbon emissions.  It’s not going to happen.  We need to make major changes to how we think about our economy, agriculture, transportation, everything.  Changing light bulbs isn’t enough.  Changing systems is what we need.

This morning I heard the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, noting how the city has been trying to change its image from dirty and industrial to “green.”  The very next sentence in the story noted that the city has this huge supply of bottled water ready for those coming to Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit.  Excuse me?  You just said you are going for a green image and you are offering bottled water for a summit where world poverty, which commonly involves issues of access to fresh water, will be a major topic of discussion?  Um, bottled water has too many issues to list.  Am I the only one to see the irony here?

After seeing the film The Age of Stupid the other night (moving and powerful and a must see for anyone who isn’t a climate change denier), and continuing to ponder Jensen’s article, I have been thinking about what the heck I might do.  I have made personal change.  That is necessary both to send a message to others that one is serious and to actually make a bit, however small, of difference.  I have changed light bulbs and I use the clothesline whenever I do the laundry.  I try to limit waste.  I compost.  I grow some of the food we eat.  I also, however, have been writing to my congressional representatives.  I at least need to do that.  If I want us to make big changes, I have to let some of the people in a position to make those changes know what I think.

What else might I do?  I am not all that sure.  That is one of the problems here.  We all need to stand up, to get involved, to cry for something bigger than tax incentives for solar panels we can’t afford even with incentives.  We need to get out there and take action now.  Climate change is a problem that won’t wait for us.  I’ll start by writing.  I will write on October 15 about climate change for Blog Action Day.  You should, too, if you have your own blog.  And I’ll talk to people.  I need to do more and I will figure out my place in the solution to this problem as I go.  I’m getting started.  We all need to.

Dude at the Post Office

I had a package to mail this morning and I stopped at a post office in South Burlington where I rarely go.  I had been there once before and it was a standard transaction.  I figured today would be the same, but it colored my day in a way I had not anticipated.  It wasn’t a big thing, just something that made me think, pretty much all day.

I had to wait in line for a bit.  An older couple were in line ahead of me with two packages, one that was in a box that must have held several pounds of Splenda, the other in an old slide carousel box–the kind that had once housed a round tray for photographic slides.  The woman was looking through all the literature she cold fine there and it turns out she was seeking a change of address form.  She couldn’t find one and her husband kept pointing to a large bin, insisting that they were right there.

“No,” she said. “That is just instructions for doing it online.”

His response:  “For-GET it!”

I thought that exchange was interesting in itself, and it made me think about technology and how we adapt or don’t, how we sometimes stick to ways that seem to work for us and then one day find that those ways don’t work so well anymore.  Those were the kinds of ideas zipping about my little cranium while I waited in line.

When it was my turn, I greeted the man at the counter and placed my package on it.  I have mailed things many times and I always feel bad for the mail clerk who has to ask the same questions every time a customer comes to the counter.  “Is there anything fragile, liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous…” and all that, with the added requests for my additional postal needs.  That would pretty much drive me batty if I had to ask those same questions in the same way every time.  So I tried to be helpful.  I wanted to save time for many people who were now in line behind me and save the effort for my helpful postal worker.  He was not, however, pleased.

I tried to offer that there was nothing fragile, liquid, perish…but he cut me off.  “I have to ask so let me do my job.  It’s like a cop stopping you.  You let them do the talking.”  He was curt.  He was grumpy.  I noted that I was just trying to be helpful but he merely returned to his list of questions, all of which I could have answered before he asked them.

I left feeling upset.  Why would someone get so upset when someone else was trying to be helpful?  It was uncalled for.  If he had merely told me that he was required to ask the questions, even if I offered the answers first, I would have been informed enough to accept those questions.  He was rude, however.  As I drove off, I recognized that his emotions had transferred right to me.  Now I was upset.  Because I recognized that, however, I stopped. Take a lesson, I told myself:  People feel like they do and I can’t necessarily understand why and I certainly can’t change it, so accept that and remember to try not to react like he did.

I felt as though I was not treated with respect.  Note to self:  try hard to be aware so that you treat others as we all would like to be treated.  Thinking that made me feel better.  My day was still off, and I thought about that interaction more than a few times, but I now thought about it in a more positive way.

My wife later pointed out that perhaps he assumed I was making fun of him.  “People make fun of postal workers all the time,” she noted.  “Why would you be any different.”  She had a point.  He perhaps made an assumption about me, regardless of my true intentions.  While I was trying to do something that most people don’t do, he may have assumed that I was doing something that too many people do.  It is too bad.  I hope he was feeling less than stellar just today.  I wish him more happiness in his work tomorrow.  And every other day, while we’re at it.