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Pruning and Despair

Pruning and Despair

Pruned Plum Tree
Pruned plum tree (and hand-me-down boy)

After calling in for the Orwellian “Tele Town Hall” my GOP Senator, Steve Daines held last night, and after this morning’s news that the GOP Congress has approved Scott Pruitt for EPA, I’m filled with despair and heartbreak. And anger at every single upper middle class person I know, which is pretty much every one I know, who continues to blithely fly around on airplanes and drive SUVs and buy new stuff just because they feel like it. We, the generation of selfish overconsumers, who have ruined the world for everyone else.

To all “my” kids — to the whole gang of you — I’m so so sorry for what we’ve done. We’re leaving you a blazing hellscape of a planet, with ruined water and oligarchs who we’ve allowed to buy up all the resources so they will be able to hold them hostage when you’re grown.

So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do and I’m angry, and agitated, and picking fights with people I shouldn’t be picking fights with on Facebook. I went out into the garden. It’s been warm here, and most of our snow has melted. The ground is still frozen, but I had pruning that needed to be done.

The little plum tree in the picture (behind the charming little boy statue that Biba, my neighbor, left me about a decade ago when she upped and moved to Argentina), that plum tree suffered bad damage in our freak freeze three years ago that killed all the cherry trees. It went from the 60s, to minus 20 in less than 12 hours, then came back up into the 40s. It was the freeze/thaw cycle that apparently did most of the damage, and we didn’t even know until spring that the cherries were all dead. I planted two new baby cherry trees last spring, but I think it’s going to be a while until I get fruit. This plum tree turns out to be a greengage. It has been an uneven bearer — fruiting every three or four years. The first year, I kept waiting for the fruit to turn purple, and it wasn’t until I was sitting in the backyard reading a book one afternoon, and a plum fell off it was so ripe, that I realized they’re greengages. They are utterly delicious, and I only ever get a peck or two.

Last year I was laid up with the ankle surgery, and I was waiting to see what parts of the tree would come back. By this spring, the dead parts were very dry and dead and easy to identify. So I got in there this afternoon, in my agitation, and cut out suckers, and sawed off the dead tops, and generally cleaned the little thicket that is my greengage patch out. I also took a shot at the gooseberry bushes while I was at it, and the currents (which are pretty battered by Hank-and-his-big-blue-play-ball). I pulled the thick layer of straw off the komatsuna and the kales, which were green underneath, and in general, started puttering around. (Oh, and cleaned up a lot of dog shit).

It won’t help with the state of our nation or the world. For that, I keep making my phone calls, and registering to go pester our GOP Senator who won’t speak to us, and trying to be patient as I explain to angry white Evangelicals that no, I’ve never had any of my Muslim friends try to impose Sharia law on me, the only people who have ever tried to impose their religious beliefs on me are white Evangelicals. I feel like we’re living in any number of dystopian novels, from Orwell to Margaret Atwood, and I’m thoroughly heartbroken about it.

But the world is turning a wee bit. The sun is coming back. There’s pruning to be done, which at the very least lets me burn off a little physical energy. And maybe, just maybe, there will be greengages this summer. To eat amidst the flaming ruins of our Democracy.

LivingSmall Reboot

LivingSmall Reboot

I started LivingSmall in 2002 not as a lifestyle blog, but as a political statement. My original tagline was “Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith, and the Subversive Power of Living Small.”

I moved to Montana not only because I could afford a house here, a house I managed this summer to pay off, but because I wanted to deliberately disconnect from the terrifying engine of consumer capitalism that I saw devouring the Bay Area (and pretty much the rest of America).

This has always been a political project, and now, as we see the monster who is us — the big baby in the highest office of the land, a man who does not read, who cannot carry a thought from point A to point B, who is an avatar of consumptive greed and the puppet of white supremacists and foreign dictators, a creepy rich man with a golden apartment in the sky who has, like some villain out of a superhero movie, taken over the Republic, well it seems that the real work of LivingSmall might be relevant again.

So keep an eye out here, or subscribe in the sidebar to be notified when a new post is up.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a non-political recipe for garlicky dinner rolls.

“Paging Tom Joad.”

“Paging Tom Joad.”


I’ve been watching the Wisconsin protests pretty obsessively. I about half grew up in Wisconsin, between staying at my aunt’s house in Cambridge, living in Madison in middle school, and going to college at Beloit and I’ve been deeply encouraged by the good people of Wisconsin, rising up when it became clear that the corporate overlords just want to take everything.

I’m working on a post on the other blog about this pernicious idea that people who work with their hands are not as intelligent as people who write or otherwise work in the knowledge industries (academia, writing, television, etc …). I sort of grew up with the opposite idea, that what really distinguished a person was being able to do something concrete in the physical universe (and hence, one of my biggest sources of writers block is losing faith that it means anything at all, these hashmarks on pieces of paper).

So go give a listen to Tony Schultz, and forward this video to anyone you know who thinks farmers are “dumb rednecks.” This guy is smart in the deepest, oldest agrarian tradition, and his passion is inspiring.

CookBookSlut vs. the Economy

CookBookSlut vs. the Economy

My new CookBookSlut column is up over at Bookslut — I take on cooking and urban homesteading as one approach to the continuing implosion of the economy and the unabating high unemployment rate. I mean, if we’re not going to have jobs anymore, we’d better learn to grow our own and cook our own and take care of our own. (Rant alert, btw.)

Here’s a list of the terrific books I discuss this month:

Small Town Voting

Small Town Voting

So I went off to vote this morning — we vote at the fairgrounds here, and as always, the act of voting restored some of my confidence in the American people. There we all were — ranchers in their muck boots, my fellow Democratic activists, the guy who fixes boilers, and next to me, a very very very old woman (who said “God Bless You” to the election worker as she handed over her ballot to go through the counting machine). It was, to say the least, a diverse group.

And yet, was there shouting? Was there tension? Were people giving dirty looks at those they thought might not be “real” Americans? (And this *is* a town where one of the people running for Sherriff is involved with a cult who disavows the “sovereignty” of the Federal and State governments).

Nope. There was a lot of nodding, and holding of the front door, and exchanges of “Good Morning.” Sort of like Jon Stewart’s Holland Tunnel analogy the other day — first you go, then I go, then he goes. The media is telling us we’re all riven and screaming at one another, when in reality, we’re all just doing what we’ve always been doing — working, taking our kids to school, doing our civic duty.

And just because I love this piece so much — here’s my friend Scott McMillion, with a video essay he did for PBS about voting in Livingston: Voting in Small Town Montana

The Wire, The Novel and the MacArthur Grant

The Wire, The Novel and the MacArthur Grant

There’s a lot of chatter this morning about David Simon winning the MacArthur Foundation Grant. While it’s true that he’s hardly a starving artist, and hence there’s griping about whether or not he needs the money, I think it’s a fascinating choice on their part. Simon, along with his many collaborators including novelists like Dennis Lehane, Richard Powers and George Pellacanos, has in some crucial way reinvented the novel as a multi-part, long form television show. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s the other way around, maybe he’s just plain old reinvented the long-form television show. All I can say is that The Wire, which I missed during the years it was on the air, is the most astonishing and rewarding and exciting thing I’ve ever seen on television.

I’ve been watching it all summer on DVD and chief among the many merits of watching the series this way is that without the interruption of seasons, one can really see the narrative arcs play out. This isn’t network television, and so the shape of the narrative is much closer to the shape of a great novel than it is a television show. Ideas play out over a long time. Motifs crop up, disappear, and come back. Characters have time to disappear for a while (I’m in the middle of season 4, when McNulty is almost entirely in the background) then reappear without the sort of idiotic explanatory crap a network show would stick in there because they assume we’re too stupid to remember who someone is if we haven’t seen them in the last five minutes. It’s a show that doesn’t assume we’re morons, that believes we’ll stick around in a world that is almost entirely black, that we’ll care not only about the scrappy bunch of eight graders who are still kind of cute, but about killers like Omar and Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale and about the cannibalistic mothers who groom their boys to go out and take their places on those corners because that’s the only vision they have of what it means to be a man.

It’s also a show that deals with work. As Lorrie Moore said in this terrific piece in the New York Review of Books (which I was reading last night when the news came in about Simon),

“The most intriguing phrase Simon has used regarding The Wire is that it is about ‘the death of work.’ By this he means not just the loss of jobs, thought there certainly is that, but the loss of integrity within our systems of work, the ‘juking of stats,’ the speaking of truth to power having been replaced with speaking what is most self-serving and pleasing to the higher-ups. … in the world of The Wire almost everyone who tries to buck the system and do right is punished, often severely and grotesquely and heartbreakingly. Accomodation is survival at the most basic level, although it is also lethal to the soul.

One of the issues that the sweetheart and I have been discussing all summer long as story after story spews forth from the mainstream press about the “end of the recession” and the “jobless recovery” is the absolute stream of bullshit that is any actual discussion of the economy. We’re each of us in slightly odd positions in this economy, both insiders and outsiders — he has an Ivy League degree and has spent his career building houses, while I have the full string of graduate degrees, wanted to be an artist, and wound up spending a decade in corporate America, a place I never expected to be. We’re both pretty conservative, financially — we’ve mostly lived below our means, saved some money, don’t have a lot of debt, and bought houses we could afford to pay off. Neither of us ever wanted to get rich, but we’ve always worked, and have watched over the past decade or so as the boom-and-bust mentality of what passed for economic policy consistently screwed over those of us among the vast majority of Americans who don’t want to get rich, but who just want to work, have a house, food on the table, and maybe put a little bit away for a rainy day.

What strikes me about The Wire is that it’s one of the only portraits I’ve ever seen on television of how hard it is to just get by in America. The cops, the dockworkers, the teachers, the government workers — they’re all trying to stick it out, keep roofs over their heads, food on the table, sneakers on the kids feet. The Wire is the only show I’ve ever seen on television that shows the lived experience of what happened as we all stood by and watched while factories were dismantled and jobs were outsourced and schools and government and unions and the newspapers were gutted from the inside. Sure, for some of us, our 401ks went up as these big corporations posted profits that were based on getting rid of all their employees, but they weren’t real profits, they were short-term paper profits (or was it just the ponzi-scheme effect of shifting everyone’s retirement from pensions to 401ks?). We’ve all spent the past thirty years living for short term quarterly numbers with absolute disregard for the means by which we were meeting those numbers. And now, we’re all standing around in the aftermath, like Svobodka in Season 2, looking at the docks and the closed factories and the graineries and lamenting the fact that we used to make things in this country.

The corrosive contempt for the working class, the continual griping that “they’re” making too much money, the pissing and moaning about unions with the audacity to negotiate for health insurance all somehow misses the point. If there are no jobs, then no one is making any money, and if no one is making any money, they’re not going to be able to spend it on the consumer goods that drive the economy. A solid and healthy middle class is the sign of an economy in good shape, and somehow, we’ve decided in America that we’re going to let the richest 1% take 24% of the wealth of the nation, let the richest 20% take a full 85% of the nation’s wealth. I’ve never understood why people aren’t more angry about this, and all I can figure is that somehow everyone has decided that they’re going to win the wealth lottery — maybe this is what’s behind the insane proliferation of “reality” shows about people who have neither talent nor accomplishment. A loss of integrity regarding work indeed.

And so, I think it’s brilliant that Simon won the MacArthur grant. Clearly the committee thinks he’s saying something crucial about the state of our society, and is using a medium that is too often gutted from the inside by it’s own reliance on formula and cliche in order to do this. He’s given voice to a whole section of American society that is too often hidden or demonized, as well as to that great silent middle class that we only see as the but of jokes or satire. And he’s done it by creating some of the most compelling characters ever seen on television. It also seems fitting after a few weeks where white, upper class, highly-educated men have been claiming a book about their experience is the central experience in American society, that the MacArtuthur Foundation has bestowed it’s “genius grant” on someone who spent so many years drawing a detailed, compassionate, character-driven portrait of the America in which the other 85% of us live.

Another Season, Another Redesign

Another Season, Another Redesign

Here’s to a cleaner design, and to more regular posting. There’s probably going to be less cooking and gardening around here in the future (if only because after eight seasons in this house, I sort of feel like I’ve written just about everything one can about my garden, and about what I’m eating for dinner) and more writing about books, and politics and economics.

One of the things I can’t seem to get out of my head is Shannon Hayes book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. I wrote about it for BookSlut in last month’s column The Revolution Starts Here, and then the Bookslut herself, Jessa, wrote about it in her Smart Set column this month: The Home Front. One of the things I found fascinating about Jessa’s column is how different Hayes’ ideas look to someone a decade and a half younger than I am. I’m old enough to remember the hippies of the 1970s, the back to the land movement, and to have seen both of those not as a joke, but as a possible way of life. In college I hung out with oddball types who were leading canoe trips and trying to figure out how to support themselves without ever having to come in from the woods. In other words, I’m old enough to have come of age before Ronald Reagan, when the world still held out some hope that making money and buying stuff wasn’t the ultimate project to which one could devote one’s life (although I also haven’t forgiven Bill Clinton for repealing Glass-Steagall and allowing the banks and Wall Street to gamble our economy in to ruin).  I liked Hayes’ book a lot, and I loved the portraits of so many people trying to figure out how to live richly without buying into the fear-based money economy, the one that wants to keep us on the hamster wheel forever, always chasing that thing that is just out of reach.

But I have to say, a lot of it didn’t seem that radical to me. Anyone my age who wanted to be an artist or who never wanted to come in from the woods knew that they were never going to make much money. I like to say that I moved to Livingston because of Gary Snyder, who showed us all in grad school, by his example, that if you bought a place to live that you could afford to pay off, then you had a huge amount of personal and artistic freedom. One of the things I find the most touching in Hayes’ account, is how torn she felt between the path that academic success opened up for her, and the lived experience of that life. She’s smart and got herself scholarships and, like I did, went all the way to the PhD. — only to discover that the life that opened up for her was going to require sacrifices in her personal life that she wasn’t able to make. I know that feeling.

It’s unsettling to feel out of the mainstream. I’ve gotten more comfortable with it as I’ve gotten older, partly because I’m old enough now that I sort of know what my life is, I’m past that point where you’re always worried about what you’re going to be when you grow up. And I don’t know that I’d be as sanguine about it if I lived someplace more “normal” — if I was surrounded by subdivisions and shopping malls and all the stuff that I fled when I left California (where I was very lonely, in part because I didn’t care about any of that stuff).  I do know that it’s folks like Shannon Hayes (and Jessa and everyone else out here blogging about how to live closer to the ground) who are asking the right questions, who are finally starting to crack the buy-buy-buy ethos that have caused us, over the past several decades, to run ourselves into the ground.

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day, and because the lilacs just bloomed, a little Walt Whitman.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards; 30
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black, 35
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

(Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes;
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)

O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk’d,
As we walk’d up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on;)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain’d me;
The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me.

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear……yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.

Now while I sat in the day, and look’d forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv’d us comrades three;
And he sang what seem’d the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc’d with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.

Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands…and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.

Practice of the Wild, Video

Practice of the Wild, Video

I’m lucky enough to have gotten to know both Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison over the years — I studied with Gary at UC Davis where we were also both involved in the Art of the Wild workshops at Squaw Valley, and Harrison, well, we have a bunch of friends in common, and he’s a neighbor here in Livingston. I actually first met Harrison when he came to Davis to do a reading and to visit Gary. Snyder was teaching a course in Zen and Chinese, Japanese and American poetry — it was one of those courses where several professors sat in, including Alan Williamson who used to gently chide us when we turned the Romantic poets into straw men for our arguments. Harrison came to visit, and then years later, when we ran into one another again here in Livingston, it’s that class that still stands out. That one course was worth all those years in grad school, all the hassle and pain and even the thousands of dollars I’m still paying off.

One reason Harrison came to Davis that spring was that he and Gary have been corresponding since 1965, about Zen, and poetry, and all the rest of it. Will Hearst had them down to his spectacular chunk of the California coastline and filmed them pretty much just walking around and talking to one another. The movie’s available on Amazon now, and it’s only $19 dollars, so I went ahead and bought a copy. And while I wish they’d gotten a little more of both writers’ humor in to the piece, it’s well worth investing in a copy if you’re interested in Zen, or the California school of poetry, or the challenges of representing nature in the written word, or Harrison or Snyder.

Linky Roundup

Linky Roundup

I’m in a deadline zone, but here are some interesting links from around the intertubes that I thought you all might like:

Weeds, being what they are, have developed their own Roundup-Ready varietals. Guess that whole GMO thing was so well-thought-out, eh? I have to confess, I used to resort to a little casual Roundup use around the LivingSmall ranchero, but between the frogs, and the cancer cluster in which I grew up, and my amazing Bernzomatic Outdoor Torch, I now just burn weeds up instead of spraying them with the dreaded Atrazine.

Fellow Ethicurean, Steph Larsen, has incurred my ever-lasting jealousy by buying a 12-acre farm in Nebraska where she intends to grow fruits and vegetables and chickens.

The LA Weekly has a roundup of the weekly food sections from around the country.

Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific interview with Tom Philphott of Grist about class, local food, and the economics of revamping our food system.

If you haven’t been following ShutUpFoodies, you must go there right now and check it out. Both hilarious and prescient.

My dreams are coming true with the establishment of the FoodCorps, a volunteer organization along the lines of AmeriCorps who are working to improve the quality of America’s school food.

And last, but definitely not least, FiredogLake has had by far the best coverage I’ve seen of the Gulf Oil Disaster including the link to Halliburton, and the ways by which the Bush administration’s identification with and deregulation of the oil business contributed to this calamity.