Friday, February 29, 2008

Geography of Nebraska

Not the natural kind, the human kind. Far more annoying to talk about. The garden blog community is popping up with this geography project, and, not being from Nebraska, I thought: what would I want to see and do if I were a REALLY BORED tourist who'd seen every other state and was starving for a road trip?

Nebraska has corn and cows and ethanol. Yup. Nebraska is flat, unless you go up to the northwest corner near the sandhills of South Dakota--yet another state I said I'd never live in and so, like Nebraska, I figure is next on the list. We've got some rivers, the Platte and the Mizzou. Got a large contingent of migrating birds that stop over here in spring and fall--those sandhill cranes in the middle of the state, and lots of canada geese in the midwest flyway, among others. These migrations attract people from all over the world.

Here's a list of all the OTHER cool things that are human made and so FAR more interesting (sarcasm noted?):

1) Home to the Strategic Air and Space Museum, formally headquarters for the first strike, er, line of defense against them Russians. I wonder how many missile silos ARE out here? Go to the museum, which I would like to do, and see neato weapons of death, including a 1950's era hydrogen bomb "stripped" of its bad bits. Sure.

2) Nebraska, birthplace of Kool Aid.

3) Nebraska, home of the farmer druid sect which immigrated from England in.... eh. Carhenge. We've got Carhenge in the panhandle.

4) Ashfall Fossil Beds in northern Nebraska. 12 million years ago a volcano in Idaho blew burying parts of Nebraska in 2 feet of ash. Lots of rhinos here.

5) We have / had Andy the Footless Goose in Hastings in 1991. Born footless (but not fancy free), Andy's owner made shoes for him so he could walk around. Then, tired of cowtipping, some unknown local nut job kidnapped Andy and chopped his head and wings off, only leaving the body--shoes still on. Andy has a headstone and all. Sorry about #5 everyone.

6) But, to make up for #5, the largest ball of stamps is in Omaha. Eh.

7) LOTS of football fans. My lord. I don't leave the house on Saturdays in the fall. NO JOKE. I also try to say as many anti Husker things as I can while teaching. Hey, it makes them perk up.

8) Lincoln is the state capitol. It has a 400' center, 2nd only to Louisiana's. On top is a figure of a man throwing seeds out of his satchel. We have a nickname for all this. Penis of the Plains, or, The Prairie Penis. Sowing its seed. I don't know--never gets old to me.

9) I hear Lincoln has a nice telephone museum.

10) Lincoln has some bison. I live near a prison which is near the bison. I can hear the guards on the loudspeakers call inmates in from the yard for chow or sleep. It helps pass the time while gardening. What's that... wh wha what's that orange thing behind the cedar? Hello?

11) World's largest time capsule is in Seward. Has a car or two in it.

12) Look, to be honest, the interstate system was created for a reason. Once on I-80, keep going. The nice thing is Nebraskans SEEM to understand, and so we have high speed limits of 75 or 80 or somewhere around there. Either that, or they don't want you stopping, sniffing around, and discovering that the steaks here really ARE some of the best. If you're into that.

Arbor Day was started here in an effort, it seems, to create a forest in a prairie. Glad we didn't have that kind of hubris again pertaining to climate zones.

Hey. Look. A desert. Golf courses would go GREAT there.

Nebraska also had some guy named Audubon, who--if you read Lisa Knopp's The Nature of Home--helped care for birds by shooting and stuffing them. But it's not about the man, right, it's about what kind of legacy develops afterward, right?

I give you Nebrasky. Not a bad place. Not a great place. Just an American place where the car insurance ain't bad, but the phone taxes are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Doomsday Seed Vault

One species of plant goes extinct each day. Though this vault in Norway, 600 miles from the north pole, is only for agriculutral seed, it is meant to maintain international plant diversity (which seems opposite to the way things work here in the corn belt where monoculture rules). The vault will maintain a temp below freezing even in worst case global warming forecasts, withstand natural disasters, and survive a nuclear strike. Seed viability is estimated at 200-1,000 years (the latter if internal a/c stays on and keeps it below 0). Check it out.

Wouldn't you go here for a romantic walk? (couple in image above)
For a viewpoint against the vault, go here:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hummingbirds, Grandmothers, Gardens

Today is my grandmother's 86th birthday (2/22/22)--she passed away two years ago this spring. I'll never forget that insufferable drive down to Oklahoma for her funeral--not the distance, but how that distance never registered with so many thoughts and feelings inside me. Those 8 hours were 10 minutes. And on the way back to Nebraska, in Wichita, Kansas, an RV side swiped me at a toll station. My family, having taken the exit right before the tollway to head to Minnesota, turned around to sit with me as the troopers did their work on the interstate, and at a mechanics shop as I had my car checked over and tires replaced. They followed me to Lincoln as my car and I limped back home late at night. Did I mention a hail storm at the hotel one day left a huge circular crack in my windshield that the RV finished off? Heckuva week. But here's a short essay I wrote about my grandmother, family history, hummingbirds, gardens.... (need I remind anyone it's copyrighted? Just had to say):

Last summer, on a second, smaller flush of flowers on my pink penstemon, a hummingbird was jumping from bloom to bloom. It was late evening, just before dusk. In that faint light it looked completely brown with no visible colors one would expect on a hummingbird—no silvery reds or greens, not even in pockets. I was astounded, though, to have it in my little porch garden. Monarchs and assorted butterflies, bumble bees, honey bees, spiders of all sizes, lightening bugs, these were all well and good but were now so commonplace I’d expected them. I hadn’t expected a hummingbird. As I stopped my deadheading to watch it I knew that this would be brief. A hummingbird has to visit thousands of flowers in a day to keep its energy up, with its pencil head of a heart beating at ten times per second. It darted, it weaved, it was precise—like some sort of pneumatic piston pulling and pushing out of its shaft. It was this aligned to its business.

What’s really amazing, if you stop to think about, is that it flew backwards. Think about that. What flies backwards? And when a creature, for example a mammal, moves backwards it’s a sign of fear, or apprehension, or submission—this was anything but; it was singular purpose. Hummingbirds can’t only fly backwards, they can also fly upside down, perhaps to get at dangling trumpet flowers. In any case, for the few minutes that this bird / overgrown insect was at my flowers—or our flowers—I knew nothing else but this one creature and act. Time seemed to stand still. But how ironic that while for me time was moving so slow, for this hummingbird the record was spinning at a thousand rpm.

I’ve read that the frantic metabolism of hummingbirds is such that at night, when they rest, their heart rate plummets to keep up their energy stores, but also due to the exhaustion of their trips to all those flowers. Though they are highly territorial on only, say, a quarter acre of land if that large, at night their biggest enemy is themselves. Many hummingbirds die in their sleep as their hearts thump to an inaudible stop. While they dream, if they dream—and how couldn’t they—the world slows to an almost imperceptible pace. The sky, the garden, the bed, the penstemon, the stamen, the moment.

If gardens are a way back to or from our childhood, then my first experiences would have to be with my grandmother in western Oklahoma. She’d lived there most of her life, granddaughter of German immigrants in the 1880’s who settled first in Kansas along the railroad lines, then when Oklahoma opened to homesteaders (at the expense of many Native Americans), they landed on inexpensive virgin farmland, the last of the prairie. My grandma’s house, nestled in the middle of a town of around 7,500 people, didn’t have a garden per se; it did have an apple tree, a peach tree, and a line of honeysuckle bushes along the garage. She showed me how to carefully lift the stamen out of the flower’s cone and then taste what the many hummingbirds did.

I actually don’t remember seeing any hummingbirds there, at least not outside, though she insisted they came frequently to the honeysuckle and her many red feeders. Pretty much all of them could be found inside my grandma’s house: on drinking glasses, dinner plates, fridge magnets, decorative plates on the wall, hollow brass sculptures next to the plates on the wall, in cut out magazine pages slipped into books and drawers and photo albums, in placemats and calendars and fuzzy-half-real-looking models, in a pen that if inverted would have a silhouette float to the top, in bath towels, in a pinwheel with spinning wings ready to be placed outside—oh grandma liked hummingbirds. No one knows why, which makes it all the more interesting to venture a calculated guess or two.

I have to imagine that on some deep, metaphorical, philosophical, Freudian level, the hummingbird was my grandmother: its frantic work and seemingly stagnate or limited mobility, its pace to just break even, its thirst that can’t quite be quenched. Maybe grandma, in her good Mennonite German way, saw in this one slice of nature—among the vast fields of Oklahoma and the flat horizon—a possibility, a sister. She couldn’t very well take up and leave her three sons and husband, she couldn’t not milk cows, clean chickens, cook three meals a day, keep house, mend clothes, and all those other chores most of us don’t have to worry about. Her movement each day was constant and frantic, and yet she didn’t go too far from home. Maybe she ventured out into the fields where her family worked, or once took a tour of the slaughterhouse where her young husband was employed right after they were married. Maybe a few trips “to town” for Sunday lunch and to buy some small new thing, but the work of life was clearly centered on one small place of the planet, and hummingbirds, though they visit many flowers in a single day, keep to a specific area and then focus intently on one bloom at a time.

Perhaps grandma saw, too, something unique. The colors and the speed and size of a hummingbird is pretty much the antithesis of plains living: wide open spaces, “slower” pace of life, greens and browns year round depending on the season and rain fronts. Life was muted, perhaps, and the hummingbird is anything but. When she was older, and her and her family of teenage boys moved into town, she must have been happier with the shade of suburban trees and abundant water supply for colorful plants. Like I said, she had honeysuckle, a peach tree, and a few other things, but there was color and depth to the darkness of greens and the shade of oaks.

Even later, with her body slowing down, perhaps the mobility of the hummingbird was something to envy. Maybe its form was her mind, fluttering and booming and darting, still business-woman sharp from her realty and land development days. More likely, I suppose, it was an old lady eccentricity along the lines of souvenir spoons and belt buckles or a hundred other things—just something to keep her occupied. These speculations can go on all day, but each has to have some truth to it. When we cleaned out my grandmother’s house for her move into the nursing home I came across thousands of black and white pictures dating back to the 1880s, and that drab stillness was deep and haunting like the landscape. When she passed away a few months ago we hit the nursing home room and found boxes of potential gifts in mail order boxes—dried flowers in glass paperweights, tea sets, and hummingbird magnets. She kept going, buying things she’d never give and truth be told we’d never want. But now I do.

I’ll miss my family in Minnesota turning off the video camera at Christmas while we opened her gifts, thinking she might see this some day. I don’t remember how many various bird figurines the grandchildren received over the course of our childhood, but on my fridge is a hummingbird magnet she had in the nursing home (saved from the trash), and on my bookshelf a five inch tall figure of a green and red hummingbird, wings spread in a “V,” and balanced above a red flower. Its beak is almost touching a large orange stamen protruding from the flower’s center, the nectar just out of reach, this hopeful hopelessness frozen like a memory we can never go back to, but try frantically to regardless. Any day now, as I’ve said for almost a year, I know I’ll see my hummingbird again.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Teaching in a Post Virginia Tech / NIU World

I'm not a tenured or non tenured professor--I'm a lowly grad student getting paid just enough to teach courses the department can't cover with full time faculty. I'm thankful for this opportunity and genuinely enjoy it.

In a campus-wide email today I found out some student in a classroom noticed another student had a gun, maybe a toy gun, sitting on their desk in class. That student texted another outside of class who contacted campus police, who then came to the classroom. The student with the toy gun was playing Assassin, a game much like tag but with fake weapons.

If I were in college I'd probably play the game--it seems kind of fun, especially among the sometimes monotonous nature of classes. However, it seems idiotic beyond imagination to not know what implications this game can have in the light of the growing number of campus shootings.

What becomes more real as I teach in higher education--almost 7 years now--is that each class, each year, raises the possibility of something happening. To me or to my students. It IS a super slim chance.

But what if a student disagrees with a grade I give them? What if they misconstrue a joke in class, by me or another student--or any type of comment for that matter--as some personal insult or attack? What will trip someone? What if they just don't like me? (Quite an uncommon problem--students not liking teachers... novel idea.) It doesn't seem to take much, but it's the straw that breaks the camel's back--these things have years or a lifetime of building, and apparently teacher / friends / administration are supposed to notice. But that isn't likely for many reasons, especially with teachers who have four classes and / or large lectures where anonymity just is a fact. Teachers are not and will never be guards, or therapists, or mind readers (though we can easily tell when someone plagiarizes, though folks keep trying anyway, year after year after...).

I'm lucky, perhaps, that I teach small English classes of 6-32 students (that's been my range over 7 years); this makes it very hard for any student to be just a face in the crowd, even if they never talk. I get to know them to some degree whether they like it or not. But still, it doesn't drastically change the dynamic--students are still students, people I barely know with their own complex thoughts and emotions and logic. Just like me. It's the nature of being human.

I'm not afraid when I teach. I don't think about this subject often at all. In a world filled with senseless violence of all kinds how can one act among many make someone become so static as not to live life, more fully even as a result?

I've had students get terribly upset, but always in my office or on paper. I've had students accuse me of some awful things I just didn't nor would ever do. I've had students misconstrue verbal and written comments. These are all inevitable things. I won't be more "careful" than I am now in these interactions (consciously or not), because to do so would create an environment of trepidation in the classroom, and this isn't what college is about.

I only hope, and tell my students, that if something is bugging you, if something's up, you can and should come talk to me and I'll be all ears (and many take me up on this offer, and I appreciate getting to know my students more). I don't mean this in a therapy session type of way, I mean this in a collegial way. Students and teachers are interactive partners in living and learning, they give a lot to each other--with that comes, at times I think, a sense of being more than a didactic teacher; and that's where it maybe gets dicey. Either way it can be a no win situation (99.9% of the time it's a win win)--being impersonal could lead to violence, being personal could also lead to violence. Is this even the issue? One of them? The issue is so complex I need to stop writing. So back to what I said earlier--I'll just keep teaching because it's what I enjoy doing. Except for days I'd rather be writing. Or gardening.

I can't leave on such a serious note. Maybe I should. Below is a pic I found on the internet: spring in the (upper) midwest--just one month away!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Leave No Child (Adult) Inside

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, was in town last night. Instead of enjoying the -20 wind chills, I watched him on cable access (lord bless cable access, and the holiday season fireside streaming video that warms me so).

I wouldn't have wasted an hour watching him had I known I could go to Orion Magazine's website and read his presentation--it followed his short essay Leave No Child Inside. You could tell he'd done this a billion times before, commenting on how after 2 years the book hasn't gone away; and after reading up on the internet, he seems eager to move on to other projects yet thankful for what he started.

What I like about Louv is he is HOPEFUL, positive, we can do things better and make more money at it, says that part of our problem is we are paralyzed with doomsday talk, that to create change there must be hope. I read this in another essay on Orion that was concerned with capitalism's ability to squash hope and our spiritual connection to each other and landscapes.

Louv also hates the word "sustainable," and now so do I (I had an inkling I did)--for him, it means "stasis and stagnation." Yup. Why try to hold on to what's left when you can actually create more of it instead? Fun things I learned:

--Only 6% of kids 9-13 play outside on their own during a typical week
--Ansel Adams was kicked out of school as a kid for hyperactivity, which was fixed by his desperate parents taking him on repeated nature trips. Didn't he do something with nature in his photagraphy? (sarcasm)
--Playing outside is statistically proven to increase self esteem, confidence, social skills, creativity, lowers teenage suicide risk and symptoms of ADD, et cetera. DUH.
--Eco phobia is taught at a young age. Basically, we fear nature like we fear strangers.
--Which is why kids don't play outside--parents don't let them. In truth, child abductions and such are holding steady or dropping nationally. Virtual house arrest he calls it. News media is largely to blame, consistently covering the same story over and over to improve ratings and play on fears that something IS up, when it isn't.
--Lincoln, NE is pretty progressive when it comes to getting families outside repeatedly with their Lincoln Safari program (5,000 families projected this year).
--National Park attendance is down 25%.
--There's a 40% reduction in fieldtrips and recess nationally. Some schools post "no running" signs on the playground. That'll help curb childhood obesity.
--Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is about reclaiming our humanity, too, not just environment. I.e. we suffer emotional and spiritual lack for not playing outside.

And by the way, this isn't all about or for kids. It applies to adults. So go outside and build a fort.

Where did you play as a child? My dad built us a "tree house" once in Oklahoma (we were always at war with the neighbor's kids). But I think my spiritual, romantic, deep space must have been from my first impressions of Minnesota when we moved from Oklahoma--a dark, musty stand of pines and spruce near where we first lived. The ground was soft and squishy, the sunlight hazy, that darkness and stillness the same quiet inward solitude of fear and hope I felt after moving north--the same solitude I carry with me today as a definition of who I am and how I recharge, or find my way again.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Help Me Grow Green!!!

--Calling all garden bloggers--

I've got a large new garden wintering. I started with about 30% organic fertilizers last summer, but I want to go 100% on BOTH the garden and lawn, yet the choices seem ENDLESS. What works for you? Suggestions?

--I put down my first application of Ringer Lawn Restore in the fall. Does this work for you? Anything better?
--Does a person really need corn gluten meal to prevent weeds? It's pricey.
--Should I spread 1/2" of compost on the lawn?
(--Anyone want to aerate my clay for free?)

Garden (shrubs, trees, perennials)
--I've got very high ph clay....
--Green sand? Yes or no?
--Worm tea? Worm castings?
--Bat guano?
--An all purpose fertilizer? There are several.

How much is too much? I'd imagine if you use bat guano, there's no need to use an all purpose fertilizer, but maybe still worm tea?

--Any root stimulator suggestions for transplants?

--I anticipate iron chlorosis soon on my river birch, and maybe bald cypress (so I've read). Any suggestions here for treatment? Is sulfur an option, or something more specific for chlorosis?

Too many choices--and what REALLY WORKS?

Thank you thank you thank you. Free human guano for everyone (bag your own).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Suicide By Plastic Bottle and Spatula

Seriously. From this article here:

"A growing body of scientific research has linked the weak estrogenic compound bisphenol-A (BPA) to a variety of health problems, such as infertility, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

BPA is the main building block of polycarbonate plastic, a hard plastic widely used to make kitchen utensils, food storage containers, travel mugs, and water bottles. BPA is also a main component of the epoxy linings found in metal food and beverage cans.

The problem: Polycarbonate plastics can leach BPA into our food and beverages.

Heat, acid, alcohol, harsh detergents, age, and microwaving can also exacerbate the release of BPA, says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor and BPA researcher at the University of Missouri."

The article suggests the following to limit your intake of BPA:

--Limit canned foods & beverages.
--Don’t store foods in plastic.
--Filter your drinking and cooking water.
--Filter your shower and tub water.
--Don’t transport beverages in plastic mugs.
--Limit use of hard plastic water bottles.
--Minimize hard plastics in the kitchen.
--Skip the water cooler.
--Limit plastic toys for kids.
--Limit plastic baby bottles and sippy cups.
--If you're pregnant, take lots of folic acid, which may help negate some of the BPA.

#2 and #5 plastics have less BPA, by the way.

A big thanks to my dad for sending this to me. Jerk.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Echinacea 'Virgin' PPAF Has Lost Its Virginity

Echinacea 'Virgin'

Is it, now....

Seems to me like this frayed, overly-petaled freak lost its virginity years ago in the lab (I'm becoming a plant purist fyi). It ain't as much a monstrosity as others--see double decker--but if you're going to name genetically engineered plants maybe you should go with something else:

Echinacea 'Chastity Belt Unlocked'

Echinacea 'Been Around the Block'

Echinacea 'Nothing Gives You That Right'

Echinacea 'Don't Know What I Am Anymore'

Echinacea 'I Love You Long Time'

Buddhist Garden / Eco Meditation

This worked for me today, actually, if read slowly while breathing the way it suggests (though I might lean toward cutting the last couplet). It's by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.

Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel solid.

Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.

Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.

He's a somewhat interesting fellow, if you're curious: He was active in peace initiatives during the Vietnam War (and still is) , influenced some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s ideas, and lives exiled in France.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Red Knots, Horseshoe Crabs, Christianity

I stayed up late last night getting hooked by a Nature episode on PBS about this small migratory bird and sea creature. At the end I was nearly in tears, as the woman on the tv was (I admit I got pulled in to the rhetoric, but that's the point, yes? This stuff BETTER hit us in the gut).

--Red knots migrate almost 10,000 miles from South America (winter) to northeast Canada and the lower arctic circle (spring nesting).

--They fly in large groups, almost all at once, and stop at key staging areas to bulk up for flying and nesting. This makes them more vulnerable to environmental changes.

--Like many a migratory bird, they precisely time their flights up north. When the babies hatch, so too have the bugs, their main food supply. It's almost on the same day. Neat.

--But anyway, a key bulking up / staging area is in the Delaware Bay, where they feed on horshoe crab eggs in the sand. Problem is, fisherman use those crabs as bait, and specifically the female. Turns out fish LOVE those horseshoe crab eggs.

--Well, see, female crabs don't mature for ten years. So although we can protect habitat to some degree for red knots, it may be too late because a key food supply is gone for a decade.

--The population of birds has dropped from 100,000 to less than 15,000 in 20 years. My god, TWENTY years.

They interviewed a fisherman who was upset that the government told him he can't gather crabs for bait. Well, I first felt angry at him, then realized it's not his fault. Economics drive him. Capitalism drives him. Our general non chalance so engrained in our secular and religious ethical impulses drive him. What to do. Who cares.

The end of the episode pulled all the right strings at the right time. You see volunteers tagging birds, counting birds, counting crabs, then going up to the arctic to anticipate their arrival after seeing them in Delaware a few days before. Red knot pairs nest about 3/4 of a mile apart, so the people fanned out over the usual nesting areas.

NOTHING. Not one bird. Turns out, an estimated 90% never made it north.

How in god's name can 90% not make it? What are we doing? Who cares? If you're still reading you know why it matters. It's not about hugging trees--or birds--it's about redemption, about seeing ourselves as part of the world, physically and spiritually. So what if a crab and a bird die out? (That crab has been around for 350 million years, fyi.) One species becomes another, and another. Each species tears out a part of human compassion and understanding. As the animals go, humans go. Our neglect of the earth is synonymous with our neglect of ourselves.

I think about the necessity for crop diversity, of tree diversity in forests. Nature takes care of itself, but when we step in and "cultivate" it, the land dies. Look at the Amazon. Look at our suburban green space. Without diversity everything falls apart, and there's certainly no backup. If the ash all go in an ash forest, you've got no forest. If ash go among oaks, maples, and pine, it's easier to take. I can't help but think how deeply rooted, how symbiotic, our history of war and slavery and sexism is to that of environmental collapse. Well, it's actually pretty obvious.

And the scary thing is, religion--Christianity--is a large cause of so many things, and mainly because it's been misinterpreted through the millenia, misapplied as an ethical, moral, and spiritual directive to humans. And such a core belief system, if it's to be lived correctly in this new environmental light, must change overnight, be absorbed overnight. We don't have generations to save the earth, just as the red knot doesn't have a decade to come back. But, this larger topic of religion is a weekend post.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Winter is Better Than Summer

SO MANY bloggers are wearing down, complaining about winter. Complaining is good and healthy, and if you live in anything lower than zone 6, you've got a legit beef.

Still, it ain't over yet, so how about we have some posts praising winter? My turn to complain, because other seasons can't hold a candle to winter (mainly cuz it's too windy here on the plains). Why I like winter in 3...2...1...

1) I don't have to see anyone I don't want to. In summer I don't mow my lawn (with my electric mower) when I know my neighbors are out. I usually peer out the windows to make sure the coast is clear and do the front yard first. That way no one I can at least see--there must be peeping toms interested in my green shoes and hairy legs--will have the impulse to smile, wave, groan, or stop by. I have the garden in BACK with a FENCE for a reason.

2) People look better in winter. No flab (or breasts--it's getting bad people) coming out from under shirts or shorts, no sweat, less stink, et cetera. Also, people tend to dress better in winter. Why is that? Anyone else notice this? Is more money spent on winter wardrobes since they tend to get more use?

3) Snow. Nothing better than snow. Amazingly beautiful, highlights the architecture of life elegantly. In art classes I was taught to first draw the shadows, let the shadows fill in the object. Snow does this.

4) Snow part deux. Go outside on an evening when it's snowing heavily. What do you hear? Exactly.

5) Snow part trois. Makes everything smell nice, taste nice. Minus the yellow snow. And it creates some pretty cool sculpture in blizzard conditions.

6) You get time, precious time, to plan the garden. No impulse buying, but good, healthy weighing of what you need and don't, and making some great discoveries via research. Dreaming. Fantasizing. The foreplay is much better than the actual act of planting.

7) Winter means Christmas. Christmas means ipod nano and cookies.

8) No kids outside 7am-10pm screaming and yelling. I guess this can link to #1.

9) Less people in restaurants. Stay home, please, let me enjoy my meal. This can link to #1 and #7.

10) You can walk on water. Can't do that in summer. Winter IS a season of miracles. Plus, it makes you appreciate the others, and nature--in general--much more.

As with anything else in life, you have to earn a majority of the good things, work for them. I genuinely feel sorry for you nuts in Texas and Arizona and California and Florida. You live incomplete lives.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


ACHILLEA Anthea -- Yarrow

CENTAUREA montana Gold Bullion -- Bachelor's Button (see left)

DIANTHUS Greystone -- Dianthus (duh)

ECHINOPS Arctic Glow -- Globe Thistle

EUPHORBIA dulcis Chameleon -- Cushion Spurge

TRADESCANTIA Sweet Kate -- Virginia Spiderwort

CARYOPTERIS Longwood Blue -- Bluebeard

ITEA virginica Little Henry -- Sweetspire

MICROBIOTA Decussata -- Siberian / Russian Cypress

Friday, February 8, 2008

End of a Drought

Looking at the ole excel spreadsheet, it's been nearly two years since someone said "yes" to me. This fall I sent out over 60 SIXTY poetry / essay submissions in my largest, most insane, most consuming, most expensive, most exhaustive scattershot attempt to find some shadow of validity. Battle of the Bulge, perhaps.

Hayden's Ferry Review will be publishing my poem "Little Deep Creek--Oklahoma, 1984" sometime soon. A fine journal--pleased as punch to be in it.

The poem relates a time when I fell into a dry creek behind my house and puked up dirt for fifty feet or so. Hours later ants were eating it. Drats, I've given it all away.

Also today, New England Review told me "to keep sending!" Ok...?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

AWP and NYC and Herpes

A friend of mine did a list, which seems apropos, as too much happened this last week. I will say that I, too, felt the most grown up I've ever been while in NYC at the writers conference, to the point where I felt equal at some points to the well-known folks around me. And I met many interesting persons working the Prairie Schooner table.

People like this one woman, finishing her masters, who couldn't believe you actually WRITE while doing a Ph.D. For 10 minutes we talked as people came by getting magnets and buying subscriptions. She thought for sure all you did was get all hoity-toity theoretical and never write. What craziness. Who would do a Ph.D. simply to become an ivory tower block in the wall? I've successfully almost made it through grad school without really getting (or reading much) Derrida, Freud, Foucault, Jung, Kant, or Nietzsche, among others. Lord be blessed.

1) I nervously approached the editor of a press who has, for three years, given me many a kind note--hand written--about my poetry manuscript. He knew who I was right off the bat, and I thanked him for his notes over the years. This was awkward, especially as it occured after having been awake for only about 45 minutes. I'm not good at talking to people. I'd prefer a book contract, of course.

2) Ran in to one of my BFA profs, who also left a note for me. As well, one of my old undergrad colleagues left me a note. Pretty neat.

3) Met several MFA folks from way back at Ohio State. People even hugged me when they saw me at the conference. Why? I'm not approachable. And certainly not squishy.

4) Talked with a masters student--whose name I forget--at the Fugue table (published out of Idaho). Turns out he began his bachelors at Evansville just as I left. He knew me. Guess I left an impression in college. I wonder what kind?

5) Saw, from a distance, several writers that are well known. It was like going to the Guggenheim and MoMA--seeing famous art work / authors is sort of a "eh, so what?" moment. Especially the art, which we've managed to cliche up the whazoo so much, that I appreciate things I make at home out of straws and toothpaste much more. Too much Picasso in NY.

6) Bought two books by MFA "kids" I went to school with: Katie Pierce (poetry) and Sonya Huber (memoir). Both are very fine writers, so I look forward to the reads IF I get to them. I even got Sonya to sign my copy.

7) While being a bouncer at the Schooner soiree one evening, an editor of Crab Orchard Review--who published my first essay a year ago--talked with me about my work and the burgeoning genre. You know what's taken 8 years of grad school to tell me? Editors are people too. They like fart jokes, enjoy a drink, have good and bad days, even bleed. I am this dense. But helps me understand that my rejected work isn't complete crap, it's just crap that day.

8) Since AWP would not sell additional passes to anyone because it "sold out" (STUPID), my wife and I went to kinkos where we scanned my badge and made one for her. There were actually Italian mafia guys--hands folded across their belts, in suits--at entrances to events. Surreal. Dumb. She got in fine.

9) It's rare when you find decent food when traveling, but Pazza Notte was great; we only wish Lincoln had something half this good. French Italian is what I call it. Reasonable prices, very good food, 2nd best if not best fries I've ever head (and didn't expect to have fries at lunch with what I ordered, but it worked). The creme brulee looked perfect, and the wife said it tasted so. We went twice.

10) We went to FAO Schwarz and I bought a book worm (below), my wife mad cow disease. After looking at the company's website, you can also purchase Chlamydia, Herpes, Staph, Typhoid, Ebola, Athlete's Foot, Bad Breath.... Boy, all kinds of ways to considerately tell people what you think of them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My Rant Against #@%^$@!% Flying

Back from NYC, brutal head cold, 6" of snow coming down, paperwork backed up (no hope of writing any time soon).

Did you know that 2007 was the 2nd worst for on time flight arrivals?

Let me prove it to you. I've flown three times (11 different planes) in the last 1.5 months.

In December my wife and I flew to MN for Christmas. Then in early January to Mexico for a vacation. Then this weekend to NYC for a conference. ALL flights by Northwest, except where they gave up and put us on United:

December: 12/23 flight delayed ONE WHOLE DAY. We sat at the airport for 6 hours waiting. They kept pushing back the departure time until finally they just cancelled it and rebooked us. We arrived only a few hours before the Christmas Eve party on 12/24.

January: Ah, Mexico. Ah the 2 flights there, the three back. Customs in Houston was straight from HELL I tell you, (see below). We had a 3 hour layover in Houston and just barely had time to snarf down McDonalds before our 2nd flight left to MPLS, so redundant and long and confusing was the immigration processing (see below). Once in MPLS, we had a three hour delay until almost midnight because they were changing the plane's tires. Don't you know ahead of time that this needs to be done? Don't you have other aircraft to use? We got home around 12 or 1am after having been traveling for almost 14 hours (you wouldn't even expect it to be that long if your were flying to Europe....)

February: Leaving for NYC, our first flight out to MPLS was cancelled. Then the replacement flight was delayed and delayed and delayed till Northwest put us on a United flight SEVEN HOURS LATER to Chicago. I hate Chicago, but it worked this time. Usually, MPLS is the way to go. We arrived in NYC at our hotel 8 hours late, at 1am, and I had to get up at 7:30.

Then, on the way back, our 2nd flight from Detroit to Lincoln was delayed 40 minutes waiting for a co pilot. Hmmm, a plane needs a co pilot? That just came out of the blue, hence the delay. It's like tires. Or wings.

Now I'm sick, probably picked something up from one of these nasty, unfiltered air plane cabins.

Don't get me started about the INSANE just friggin' INSANE cabbies in NYC. Thought I was going to vomit all the food I ever ate in my life. How THEY don't die before 30 is beyond me, so stressful and angry is their job. GIVE ME A HIGH SPEED TRAIN.

Ok: Houston immigration? Anyone?

1) If you arrive on a regional jet, as we did, you get off on the tarmac, and take a bus to the terminal. There you literally weave for miles through confusing passageways with other plane loads of exhausted passengers--very little signage directs you, so they had employees yelling at you (in fact, we were yelled at so often I thought soon we would be stunned and decapitated and our parts sold in grocery stores).

2) You stand in a VERY long line for an hour, the whole time listening to triumphant music (no kidding) as if you just made it to the shores of the most remarkable country ever, as if just past the agent God himself waits with grapes and figs and gold and cool water. Nope. Didn't even get a stamp in the passport. Did I mention they have videos playing, showing "diverse" Americans doing "American" things? Too cliche, too trite, too obvious.

3) You get to pick up your checked luggage and CARRY IT DOWN A HALLWAY and hand it over to some dude who puts it through a scanner and rechecks it. WHY THE HELL can't this be done automatically? So many people were confused where to picks up our bags, why we were, and where to go once we had them. One guy from Australia was ready to nuke our country had he been given the button to push.

4) Not done yet. Another 30-45 minutes in another line where you get SCREENED YET AGAIN. This already happened in Mexico (where they hand checked EVERY passenger's checked and carry on bags, carry on bags got checked again at the gate).

5) Then you walk a mile to a shuttle bus that comes whenever it feels like it, it's mercurial that way. You take this shuttle to the terminal for your next flight, which happens to be the last stop on the shuttle. Here, they drop you off on the tarmac, and you climb stairs to a jet bridge to get in to the terminal. Stairs and stairs everywhere.

I'm going to take a nap.