Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guilted Environment

Warning--this post has no stats, no links, no proof. Just thoughts, experience, belief. Unfortunately, belief is something easily poo-pooed in a culture that more and more is cynical toward groups--whether that be a religion, a bunch of garden writers, or a corporation. We have good reasons for cynicism; look at our federal government / special interest figure heads. Look at your last girlfriend who left you for a Packers fan.

As the conversation over the National Wildlife Federation and Scotts joining to save wild spaces and get kids outside simmers down into more rational emotion, I feel full of guilt. My own, and others. Am I a nut for believing that we have happier, healthier, smarter people if our home landscapes had more wild habitat and less lawn? That depression and anxiety and ADHD would ease? That our kids, following a butterfly or making mud pies might be more creative, abstract, and fearless thinkers in whatever profession they choose? That they'd be more effective leaders? Shouldn't I just shut up?

Do you remember playing in the mud? With sticks? Do you ever sit and play with sticks now? Grab a piece of mulch and pretend it's a bulldozer? Am I the only one? Maybe I played with my Lego sets too long past high school.

Homeowners are guilted into thinking they need a pristine lawn or landscape. Anything wild is wrong, you won't fit in, people walking their dogs will give you the evil eye. Whole neighborhood associations have policies towards stringent landscape appearances of green earth and bulbous boxwood. Where did this come from? A religious-based fear of the wilderness? The Puritanical idea that nature tests our morality? And if it does, we've failed. In our attempt to exorcise personal demons over class, race, wealth, sex, and intense emotions, we do everything we can to recreate the environment to what we need or want, to what our ideal is, pillaging as we go. We've cut down the forest to make it a savanna so we can see the predators coming at us, but now we are even more wary and uncertain. We are even more afraid of each other (who's the predator now?).

I was just thinking this morning about my Mennonite family, burned and torutred during the Spanish inquisition, forced to leave the Netherlands for Prussia, forced to leave again for Russia, then again centuries later in 1874 for America. Each time they relocated they rebuilt their villages and homes in the same way. They kept their culture close to them, and remade the land into familiar ideals that helped preserve their identity. This is why the prairie vanished so swiftly from Kansas and Oklahoma--a sense of home, not of adaptation or patience. And perhaps a sense of guilt, a built in wanderlust that seems innately human. We are nomadic and it hurts us, keeps us from the world and from our deeper selves. (If you want readings on these environmentally philosophical thoughts, look at The Machine in the Garden by Leo Marx, This Sacred Earth by Roger Gottlieb, anything by Lawrence Buell.)

Lawn care companies make us feel guilty for weeds in the lawn, for brown lawn, for not fertilizing and mowing and watering religiously. At the hardware stores it's 50% tools and 50% lawn care products, especially from April to July.

I don't use a drop of chemical anything, and I've only been gardening for four years--I just dove in and went trial by fire. I've created a habitat of mostly native plants, of various sizes and textures and blooming times, and the diversity brings in good bugs who eat bad bugs, insects who feed baby birds, and seeds that feed migrating and winter birds. Everything supports each other. Each year more life rushes in like a broken dam. I know I spend less time in my landscape than my neighbors because I can hear it from inside my house--the guy next door mows 2-3 times per week and waters every morning. The folks across the street mow at least as often, edging and blowing for hours on a once-tranquil Saturday morning, wasting away their weekends. (Do they really enjoy it I wonder? Even when it's 90?)

Maybe you see this as a judgement, but I see it as an opportunity--I spend about 2 days in March cutting down the garden, and that's it for the year. Maybe 1 day I'll top dress with compost. My mulch is cut down perennials. My joy is sitting back on Saturdays, watching the three-dimensional life swoop in and out, crawl around, I sitting in the deck chair sipping lemonade, letting my thoughts take me wherever and grounding me, all the while trying my best to tune out the whirl of fertilizer spreaders, the chug of sprinklers, and the vibrations of mowers spewing exhaust my way. Actually, I don't even go outside on weekends anymore. There's no point--everyone is outside working. I mean relaxing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Writing / Gardening Shed

I don't have my mythical 100 acres to restore to prairie yet, but I found the cloister I'd like to build among it. Which one do you prefer?

Just imagine the books I could write and gardens to imagine in my little haven. And these are just some of the designs by a firm in the UK. You can have a green roof if you like, a wet bar, a bathroom. Whatever. If you have $40,000, send it my way? (Actually, one million would be better--need the land and a tractor and geothermal and solar and wind turbine and walkie talkies to contact the wife and ask when she's leaving me since I never walk the 200 feet to the main house to say hello).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NWF in Garden Bed with Scotts

I'm sure most of you have heard that the National Wildlife Federation, promoters of the backyard habitat certification program, have partnered with Scotts of Miracle Gro and fertilizer and insecticide fame. Two programs are key: increasing wild songbirds (by buying Scotts birdseed) and getting kids back out into nature (where they can absorb all kinds of Scotts products). I apologize for my snark. Go read Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home, and Louv's Last Child in the Woods. That's all you need to light a fire under you.

The president of the NWF proclaims lawns as carbon sinks, useful places to help curb global warming. This is a joke. Please, do not dump chemical fertilizer produced with oil from Iran (hyperbole, maybe) on your lawn four times a year, most of which kills good soil bacteria and other life, then runs into our streams and lakes killing aquatic life. Instead, top dress with free compost from your local city. But, that wouldn't make any money for Scotts.

Lawns are antiquated dreams of a 19th century American middle class wanting to have small, private Versailles. And the democratic idea of Olmsted, where lawns create a large park bringing us together, is ludicrous--we have fences, I don't know my neighbors, et cetera. Kids may play in lawns, but they learn nothing about themselves or the natural world, its processes, its lessons. That happens among the brush. It cures ADHD. It speeds a patient's recovery from surgery. We don't need more lawns, we need more habitat, shrubs and trees with berries, flowers with insects--insects that are key protein sources for songbird chicks. In Nebraska, we need prairie like we need love and forgiveness and oxygen. Prairies are carbon sinks.

The best article so far, summing up the outrage, the backlash, and the corporate brush off, is right here. (This post also has links to NWF's Facebook and Twitter feeds if you're so inclined to say something to them.)

Feel free to check out this link about Scotts new GMO lawn seeds that resist Roundup, so anyone can spray willy nilly, and in the process create super weeds. 

Also, Scotts trying to overturn bans on nitrogen lawn fertilizer in Florida during rainy summer months.

Obviously, I don't agree with NWF--who claim not to support all of the Scotts products, and see this as a way to work from the inside out in a company that wants to change (so why don't they?). The chemicals we spew on this planet are immense--we really have no idea. From lawns to gardens to big crops, to the feed in cattle and chicken and hogs, to what we put into ourselves and release into the sewers to be "treated" but is never really gone--Tylenol, antidepressants, estrogen, the gmo food we eat.  When you refinish a bookcase. When you paint your house. Most anything you toss in the trash.

Now the NWF appears to be supporting (and is financially supported by) a company whose basic raison d'etre is "Buy chemicals. They will save you. Have a spider? Spray it. A brown patch of lawn? Treat it." We spray before we think, and NWF tripped up. My garden and lawn pests are treated, often within days, by natural predators, all because I invite in those predators with non-lawn habitat.

I have little to no faith in our government. If we want things to change for the better, whether they be environmental or social or economical, the private sector must do it, must turn the tide and create such an uproar the government may finally act. Unfortunately, I don't have enough money to buy politicians and get stuff done sooner. All I have is this blog. This post. Some anger, confusion, and sadness. Sometimes it gets me hoping through writing, but not today. I am so disheartened. As I will be again, I'm sure. I'm going to go start some liatris seeds.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Hawk in the Garden

For ten minutes I watched a sharp-shinned hawk try to snatch songbirds from my garden. It was an awesome experience. Guest post with pics over at Wildlife Garden.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Low German Mennonite Sayings

I bet I get about two comments on this post. But it's interesting to me as I might include some of these in the next book. I try to imagine each being quite clever, moving, funny, instructive, even scolding in their day. But were they? And what sayings do we have today that will be thought strange or hard to understand in one or two hundred years? "Like shooting fish in a barrel."

1) Wan du friee jeist,
dan besee die eascht de Mutta.

When you go courting to get married,
first observe the mother.

2) Waa lang lawe well mot Tsemorjest ate
aus en Kjeisa, opp Meddach aus en Kjeenijch,
on Tseowent aus en Pracha.

He who would live long must eat like an
emperor in the morning, at noon like a king,
and in the evening like a beggar.

3) De Kjaakjsche onn de Kaut senn emma saut.

The cook and the cat are never hungry.

4) Aules haft en Enj,
Bloss ne Worscht nijch.
Dee haft twee Enja.

Everything has an end
except a sausage.
It has two ends.

5) Wan’t emm Winta kracht
Can buschelt’t emm Somma em Sack.

When you hear the cold in winter crack
The summer harvest will fill the sack.

6) Dee weet nijch fal;
Dee es blooss hinj’rem
Owe oppjewosse.

He doesn’t know much;
He grew up behind the oven.

7) Onnmaajlich aus Kjielkje ute Kruck ate.

As impossible as eating noodles out of a jug.

I'm not sure what dialect of Low German these are specifically, and Low German has no set standard (likely because it became an oral language giving way to High German). Still, good advice on #1, wouldn't you say?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Macro Orcam

I recently did two things against advice I received: 1) bought a 15x 70mm binoculars and 2) at Christmas asked for and received a 25mm Canon SLR lens tube extender. I'm pleased with both, since I can now see birds much further away (and into neighbor's windows) with the former, and the latter produces such images as the below (click on to expand):

Marble in garden gate

River Birch

Copper bird feeder

Invasive rush
I do need to take these macro shots with a tripod, even on a still day--the images would be crisper, and I'd be less dizzy. I suspect a macro lens would require less fine tuning and hand holding--I'm still trying to figure out aperture and f-stops--but I'm having a good time, especially as it's in the 50s.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ode to the First Day of School

I'm sure I've posted the poem before, but this is the second half of the absence policy I give to my college students -- it sums up my teaching style pretty well.

Did I Miss Anything? by Tom Wayman

         Question frequently asked by
         students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours.

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent.

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose.

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here.