Friday, October 30, 2009

Stewart Brand On Shanty Towns as Green

I'm intrigued to pick up his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmitist Manifesto. In this video, Brand says squatter and shanty towns in developing nations are good things for saving the planet. Poor farmers leave the country, the country recovers. These farmers in the city create jobs and have fewer kids, since kids in the city (vs. the country) or not as beneficial, so world population will climax at 8 billion in 2050 then drop sharply. Maybe this is true--it's an inteesting take on something I think we most think of as a bad phenomenon. I'll have to read more so I can speak better on it, though. He also is a proponent of geneticlly modified plants that can produce more food per acre, thus taking up less room and allowing for more nature (ha), and plants that are no longer annuals but perennials, thus being no till (which means less carbon released into the air, and less topsoil blown away).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poet Costumes / Poet Graves / Vampire Poems

Ah Halloween. You can wear a Benjamin Vogt costume, or go as Dickinson, Poe, Williams, Whitman, or Sapho. Link here.

As a gardener, I like Whitman for the butterfly beard and grass stains....

You Will Need:
A beard
A simple collared shirt
Rustic pants
A floppy brown hat

Extra Credit
Hide butteflies in your beard

(In "Ode to Walt Whitman," Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca wrote: "Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man, / have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies")

Roll in the grass to complete the look: when someone asks what that is stuck to your shirt, you can reply as Whitman does in "A child said, What is the grass?"

And why not spend the weekend visiting a poet's grave near you?

The Vampire Bride

by Henry Thomas Liddell

"I am come—I am come! once again from the tomb,
In return for the ring which you gave;
That I am thine, and that thou art mine,
This nuptial pledge receive."

He lay like a corse 'neath the Demon's force,
And she wrapp'd him in a shround;
And she fixed her teeth his heart beneath,
And she drank of the warm life-blood!

And ever and anon murmur'd the lips of stone,
"Soft and warm is this couch of thine,
Thou'lt to-morrow be laid on a colder bed—
Albert! that bed will be mine!"


Friday, October 23, 2009

We've Got Color, Yes We Do

17 pics of the 2 year old fall garden. Though there are still many open spots on two sides, those will vanish next year. I'm happy with the color I'm seeing this fall--which is partly due to plants maturing, and partly due to the fact I picked some good specimans. I love myself. Sooooo much. (But let's not talk about the front garden, ok? I hate myself.)

I'm not going to show you maples (bright red) or willows (bright yellow). In fact, we need to praise the perennials and shrubbery (ni!), not the usual trees. I can't believe I just said that.

Oh and let me apologize for the mixture of quality. Some pics were taken by my point and shoot on a cloudy day, and others by my SLR on a sunny day--a fateful combo that makes the differences of both obvious to me.

Look at that 'Little Henry' itea with its bright red leaves on the lower right. Its big brother 'Henry's Garnet' is languishing beneath ironweed and eupatoriums and needs to get moved, but won't.

I love this shot. Aster 'October Skies' in front of 'Purple Dome', all in front of chokeberry 'Brilliantissima,' river birch, arbor, and way back 'Prairie Fire' crabapple in bright orange.

I was playing with the warping fence. Eh.

A cloudy day with the arbor shot. On the left some 'Isanti' dogwood is purpling, and on the right a delphinium is reblooming. Speaking of which, I have two 'Isanti': one grows like gangbusters (morning shade, moist clay) the other seems to be shrinking (partial sun, full sun afternoon, wet clay).

Fall crocus. Of course.

Eupatorium 'Prairie Jewel' seed heads. In sunlight, it's literally like snowfall.

Queen of the prairie seed heads. Lovely.

A view I don't often include because the back is so bare--which it won't be next year. No sir. On the left is an 'Autumn Brilliance' serviceberry, very svelte. I'm also happy with the 'Red Feather' viburnum behind the bench. Even the slow-growing-non-blooming 'Blue Muffin' is yellow along the chain link fence. 'Blue Muffin' sucks by the way.

Now here's a nice view. I hope no one overlooks sedum for fall color. Bright yellows to red and orange. I don't remember what I have along the steppers, but they get very red and orange. The goldenrod along the right helps perk things up, as does the fabulous rust of the bald cypress. Toward the middle of the photo is a yellow purple coneflower--usually mine turn black, so this was wonderful. I enjoy the white tops of the Eupatorium 'Prairie Jewel' along the fence, too, for even more color. By the way, 'PJ' self seeds. I have a few starts all over my garden, but I imagine it'd be prolific in a field. Its spring leaves are bright mottled yellow and green, and in summer cream and green, and in fall the insects come in millions.

Another shot I don't often include. A few new additions here as I try to fill out the garden on two sides (the house in the background is new, too, alas). You can see the bright red black and red chokeberriy shrubs. Right next to them the mauve leaves of a ninebark, and behind it the yellow leaves of a 'ruby Spice' clethra. Fall color is the only reason Mr. Clethra is still in my garden.

Horse penis liatris. I mean, L. pycnostachya gone to "seed."

Miscanthus 'Nippon'--I believe that's the cultivar name. It's growing slowly in a spot too dry for it.

Close up of lovely 'Prarie Fire' crabapple leaves.

Oh look. A crabapple to beckon you from the street to the garden entrance. Now make like a tree and leave.

Red chokeberry berries, which will still be there in spring.

Nice texture and color I think!

Twilight over the neighbor's acreage. It's getting cold out there after 3.25" of rain in the last two days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Breeding Wheat With Prairie Grass

Cool NPR article on a 600 acre Land Institute in Kansas, run by Wes Jackson, trying to solve agriulture's 10,000 year old problem--that'd be unsustainable practices with planting annuals that soak up nutrients, and plowing that lets the dirt fly away / run off. Click here. They've started hybridizing wheat with grasses, and making perennial sunflowers and sorghum.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Top MFA Programs (and some MFA Blogs)

Poets and Writers has an article appearing in the November 2009 issue that, seemingly, more accurately portrays the top writing programs in the country. I ain't in the loop--and don't care to be right now--but someone somewhere at some time might find it helpful. It does not list low res or PhD programs.

Top 50 Programs (along with top 100 or so)

You can download the whole kit and caboodle here for $5.

A few blogs seem very helpful for those applying or looking for program gossip:

MFA Weblog

MFA Chronicles

And since I'm awake, let me make it abundantly clear to anyone who might stumble their way here, an MFA program is for LEARNING THE CRAFT. It is for spending time reading and writing your butt off among peers and in a fully-immersed atmosphere of writerly orgasm. Indeed, many writers hook up and.... Anyway, it is not a PhD, it is not a gateway into a college teaching job or a book. I hate to burst your bubble or rain on your parade because that parade is what gets you through. Shoot for the stars, but be a little real about it, ok? It can be all of the above, but I think too many approach and enter an MFA program with delusions of grandeur regarding it being like ITT Tech or something. There are too many programs now and far too many graduates--which I think is just fine and dandy (not so if I think about my impending job search in a year or two). And please don't go into significant debt, or debt at all, getting an MFA. Please.

And finally, go to Ohio State. Just go.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trip To Oklahoma Homesteads

Mine, my father's, my grandparent's, my great grandparent's, and my great great grandparent's. It's taking me some time--my whole life--to come to terms with the fact that Minnesota is not my homestead, but Oklahoma is. Usually, upon entering that windy southern state, an immense dread, heaviness, and darkness pulls me under as if I were drowning in tar. This time it was different. Maybe because I was older, empowered, on a mission to do research for my next book, I don't know. But here--in many photos--is some of what I found, and most of it is only the tip of the iceberg I'll never know.

I come from German Mennonites on my Dad's side, who escaped the Spanish inquisition in the Netherlands by settling in northern Poland (Prussia at the time), and then escaped Prussia by going to southeastern Ukraine near the Black Sea in the late 1700s. They wanted religious freedom and nonviolence, i.e., no military conscription--this last reason is why they were constantly on the move, and why, in 1874, my great great grandparents (20 and 21 with a 1 year old son) came to Kansas via Castle Garden / Battery Park in NYC (pre Ellis Island days), then to Oklahoma in 1894 in one of the many land runs that displaced the last of the crammed-together Native American tribes in Oklahoma Territory. You should see the pictures--men on horseback and families in wagons on a starting line, then screaming south in clouds of dust at breakneck speed after the gunshot. So begins the pictorial narrative.

Great great grandparents, Abraham and Elizabeth Janzen, who I put money on never spoke a lick of English. Abraham was her second husband who she married in Kansas, after her first husband, Peter Kliewer, died of a fever just a few weeks before their first daughter died of it, too--daughter was 3 months old, and wouldn't be the last infant to pass away.

A small part of Washita County in western Oklahoma, centered around the town of Corn (Korn prior to WWI). The green squares are individual Native American quarter sections (80 acres), and the tan 80s belong to white settlers.

I struggle with the depiction and oral retelling from family of white settlers as brave and such. Yes, no doubt they were, I have no idea. And no doubt they were a product of self-serving religious and cultural mantras that lead to events like the 1st dust bowl (when will the 2nd one be?). I find it hard being both a product of too much higher education and a good Mennonite descendent. But there's more to the story than this--I just haven't found it yet.

(I'm also afraid that whatever I write on will not be the positive, rosey-glasses sort of thing everyone down there might want to read or expects to read. It won't be. It will be. But it won't be.)

Elizabeth earned her living--and supported her family in tough times--throughout her life as a seamstress, and this is the sewing machine she bought in 1875. It's in the Corn Museum on loan from the family.

The Janzen homestead today, home to great great grandparents, great grandparents, and grandparents. It is stunning how all across the plains the last reminders of these places are windmills. Not silos, not stone walls, but in the end just thin metal towers that beat tornados and lightening and fire (which all took a surprising number of family barns, churches, and other landmarks).

The Janzen place as it stood, perhaps in the 1920s or 1930s. Not sure. Someone is. (not sure why it wouldn't load correctly, either)

Pic of me, grandma, and my sister on a forced pilgrimage to the homeplace. It was burned down by a farmer in the 1990s or so when cows got stuck in the cellar, died, stunk it up, and as with all structures, was buried with topsoil and farmed over. Lost forever.

The Bergthal Church cemetary where Abraham and Elizabeth are buried. It stands across the street where another prairie disgrace happened.

Apparently locals were tired of windows being broken and vandals getting in, so they just gassed the thing a few years back. This pisses me off to no end. What is it in us that insists on razing our lives, physically and emotionally? There is so little left of us, and especially of those before us. We pushed millions of bison to within extinction down to a few hundred head, wiped away millenia of Native American culture, and now do the same to our own culture and sense of place. No wonder we are crazy. You won't find any historical markers, except here at Bergthal, ironically. Someone may remember just by chance where something was, or some old cedar tree might still mark the location of the first sod post office in Corn in the 1890s, but that's it. Poof. How long will it be before some farmer cuts the cedar down for a few more square feet of wheet or maize (or milo, as I heard).

My great grandparents, John and Katie Janzen. John quit smoking when he found the lord. Also died of a heart attack trying to get his car out of an icey / muddy / snowy country road one January. Someone found him there soon after.

Here is Gyp Creek (lots of gypsum) where John often fished, about 1 mile south of the Janzen homeplace. Catfish, I think.

And under the nearby cement bridge are mud swallows and their poop.

Here was a (in)famous tree, the Hanging Tree at Big Jake's Crossing, where Native Americans were hung after burning and skinning cowboys who had first retaliated against (read killed) the Native Americans who stole some of their cows to feed their starving families. History is rich, isn't it? Eye for an eye for an eye for an eye.... I was also suprised at how older folks still very much harbor stereotypes, ones I can only imagine as a Saturday morning cowboys and indians cartoon.

Where my dad spent his first 6 or so years. The house was moved to Weatherford. I went inside the barn, disturbed a huge owl, and saw lots of rusting things.

Where they kept the baby chickens / brooder house.

Also, apparently, where they kept the lawnmower.

Chicken coop, which was filled with roll after roll of barbed wire.

The only few sunny hours of the damp trip. Last remnants of the front lawn.

A rusty old driveway grader.

The wash house.

Wash house with pressure tank. In the back corner you can see the area where they once had a fire to heat a water basin hanging above.

Rusty old storage tank.

Crumbled milking barn. This is our equivalent of castle ruins, I think.

I know I'm a bleeding envrionmentalist. Whatever. I like this picture with the mid 20th century electrical stuff, and in the far distance, a large wind farm (click to exapand).

I like this shot, too.

Here are some final pics of other houses in the area:

That cow on the far right would NOT stop staring. I mean a straight on, vacant-cow-disturbance-in-the-force-telekinesis kind of stare.

-Fin- (for now)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Early Autumn in Tennessee

Before a October's gold veneer
Of leaf has covered the chilled creek,
And all the trees have grown antique
With change, before the wind unveils
Each rickety and grim physique
Of maple, poplar, oak and elm,
The cotton downs the drying field
Like strange, anachronistic snow.
The monarchs come. The monarchs go.
But still there are late swallowtails,
The cloudless sulfurs, too, that glow
Like incandescent lemon skins.
Just yesterday the evening sky
Grew gas-blue like a pilot light.
The meadow purpled into night.
And as a flock of grackles came
The black confetti of their flight
Seemed suddenly to shape a slurred,
Profoundly large and fleeting word
Against the cool and fragile dusk.
At the meadow's far end I heard
The downward spiraling of song.
It was a screech owl's shrill reply
To what was written on the clear sky,
Though, really, who could comprehend
The meaning of that mournful cry?
The air was sweet with soil and hay.
Two jet trails hooked a loose crochet
Across the writhing apple-green
And phlox-blue of the dying day.
It was a feeling more than a thought
That those cold colors glowing there
Seemed like the colors despair
Or some unnamable regret.
While such forebodings, it is true,
Will seldom sway the courts of law,
Or topple legislative chambers,
They may give prophets pause, or make
The broken-hearted exiles weep,
And this, for many, is enough.

-- Daniel Anderson

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's Too Depressing... I won't even show you pics of the early snow. 1 inch. Up the road in Omaha they got 3", and a few hours west, 4-6".

It's 27 now and will be 20 tonight. Methinks even the asters and solidago won't make that. And so much for a non-straight-leaf-drop fall.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'll Take a Nobel, Too, Since They Are Just Handing Them Out

I'm glad the whole wide Earth prefers Obama to Bush, what with double digit gains in global polls. But who elected him? Everybody? I swore it was just the U.S. International approval polls make a Nobel Peace Prize winner? There was no one else more worthy?

Look, he's not achieved anything substantial--yet. No nuclear arms reductions, no pollution reductions, no peace initiatives (and nothing much locally, either).

This simply lets every one of my half-assed students know that if you try, that is a goal in and of itself. If you hope to succeed, well shoot, that's good enough. If you simply seem to exude hope or any positive attribute, that's also good enough. Great. "A"s for everybody because you put on your sweatpants and showed up to class smelling of Corn Flakes and eggs, which implied you at least had a decent breakfast and have some level of public decorum.

(On the other hand, it teaches students the value of rhetoric and good presentations, but they won't get that.)

Feel free to disagree, but you're wrong.

Where the Hell Was Fall?

Welcome back home, Mr. Deep Middle. Snow showers Saturday with up to 1/2", high of 35, and low of 23. I get one last day today to enjoy my flowers, then BAM!

Spring was long and warm and glorious, but my favorite season is brief. I fear the winter. Don't fear the winter. Or the reaper.

Many pics to come on Oklahoma--I saw and soil sampled the homesteads of many a person dating back to the 1890s (and more to see in Kansas on another trip). Now I've got way too many books to read and photos / notes to organize and label.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I'm going in. Wish me luck.

Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin' lazy circles in the sky.

We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say
Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!
We're only sayin'
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.

(We had to memorize this song from the musical in grade school growing up in... OKLAHOMA. Not OK!)