Monday, September 29, 2008


If you're like me, you're doing a good imitation of Bambi in the headlights- watching the train wreck in progress that is our world "financial system".  And wondering where it's all going to wind up.

There's no shortage of pundits, most of them now proclaiming doom, since the bailout was rejected.  No shortage of finger pointing.


I could just really use a hug, right about now.

I bet you could too.

Hugs, guys.

Hang in there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Dance

We've moved on in our harvest work to the next crops- which does not mean we're any less busy, alas.  Busy is an understatement.

Amid all the noise in the news, I thought you might like a little respite.  Here is a re-cycled post from last September, which folks liked.  It's in time, I think, for folks to put to good use, and maybe be on the lookout for this event in your own neighborhood.


The turn of the year

There's a special autumn event I look for every year. It doesn't have a name.

Actually, I've never met anyone else who has seen it, or heard of it. A fact that makes me think, and wonder if that should worry me. Us.

It's quite a spectacular thing, when it happens. Spectacular as it is, though, it goes unnoticed; partly because at the best, it can only last for a half an hour. No more. And it doesn't happen every year, either.

It used to happen most years, at least in part. Now it happens less. That worries me, too.

In a good year- meaning one with good rainfalls, good growing weather- we go into autumn with the trees having their year's work fully completed. The leaves are drying, getting ready to drop; all the nutrients that can be recovered already pulled back into the tree for storage. That's what the fall colors are about, of course, the leaf machinery has been shut down; the nutrients sent back for recycling.

Several species of trees, particularly those with "compound" leaves; walnuts, hickories, ashes- often reach a state where few leaves have fallen yet, color is rather minimal, yet the leaves are finished, and the "abscission layer", the exact area where the leaf is attached to the tree, is fully mature; the leaf is separated, but still, just, hanging on because of a little residual "glue". A compound leaf, you understand, is one that has a central rib with maybe 5 to 9, or more, leaflets on it. It's really one leaf, cut up by nature; and the whole thing is shed when it's time.

Then comes the first frost.

Here, that almost always means a day when a fierce blustery cold front has been moving in, rattling branches, leaves, and teeth, all day. Like magic - year after year- the wind dies to dead calm exactly as the sun goes down; leaving the crystal blue autumn sky fading through all possible blues to black. The stars appear, almost unblinking in the winter-like clarity; the wind stays still; and we know, going to bed, that there will be frost tonight. We usually don't light the woodstove, but just put on sweaters and extra blankets; we know the heat of "Indian summer" will certainly follow this day or two of winter previews.

I make it a point to be up before dawn on these days, because of what happens when the rising sun just touches the treetops, instantly melting the frost that's grown slowly all night long. The frost in the abscission layer; in-between the leaves and the branches. Millions of leaves are now attached to their parents not by glue, or tissue; but only by a tiny thin layer of lacy ice...

You have to be IN the woods to see this. And you have to be up before the sun. And you have to watch every year; because sometimes- it doesn't happen at all.

The air, typically, is still dead calm. The stars are starting to fade as the sun, still below the horizon, brightens the eastern sky. No red in the sky- no clouds to make it. The coffee in my hand is hot; and welcome because it's cold, since I've stubbornly refused to light the fire. The sky gets steadily brighter.

Then- the sun touches the highest leaves.

Nothing happens. Well, the ice has to melt, you know; it doesn't happen instantly. How cold is it? 33°? Should melt fast. The leaves get colder than the air, as they radiate their heat to the black cold of space. This is true- the air temperature can be 35°, even; and if the air is still and the sky clear- it will frost. Or is it colder? 26°? It will take longer to melt if it's cold.

Will it happen? Or is this not the right year?

Then- in the right year- from the very top of the tallest ash tree- an entire compound leaf detaches; in the totally still air- and drops. Sails, is more like it. They can float down like kites with broken strings, shifting, drifting, changing directions- and bumping other leaves. Then another. And another.

The sun only moves up; the warmth only increases, the ice melts faster, the leaves let loose in great shoals, schools, flocks.

Sifting down through the branches; knocking some non-participant maple and elm leaves off, too.

All in total silence; no wind, no sound. Except the sighs of the descending leaves. In my memory, even the birds are silenced by this astonishing forest-wide event. Everything stops to watch. And the whole woods whispers.

For perhaps a half an hour, the sky rains leaves. Quietly, with only the occasional drip of melted frost to accompany the swish of the sailing leaves. What happens when some compound leaf loses a leaflet or two on one side? Unbalanced, they twirl, and swirl, and... well, dance is the only word. Each an individual; a sky full of brilliant, flashing, variations.

Walking in it is transfiguring. Walking through it with a loved one- moreso. Walking through it with a small child- neither you, nor they, will ever forget.

It's a throat-hurtingly beautiful thing; a rite of change I've shared with my loved ones whenever I could. This is IT; the exact instant of change, from summer to fall- the world has turned, successfully, once more. That "successfully" bit is not a given, you know.

I hope you can see it; a little, here. And I really hope you have the chance to see the .. hm. The Last Dance? in real life, someday. It's not easy to do; you can't sell tickets to the leaf peepers, the actual event is far too unpredictable. If you don't actively seek it out, you'll never see it. I'm sure ash trees in cities do drop their leaves this way sometimes- but it's not the same as walking through a forest, where it's all happening at once.

It didn't happen, this year. We got the frost; and the clear clear night; but the trees were oddly on both sides of the equation; the walnuts had all dropped their leaves weeks ago, when drought turned to flood. And the ashes. But hickories, strangely, are still brightly green. Even if the hickories decide to drop at a later frost, the "whole forest" thing can't happen. Of course, I'd been looking forward to showing the Smidgen. Watching her watch with her wide, wide "2 anna HALF" year eyes. Chasing leaves. Seeing the world turn.

Not this year. I'm not greatly disappointed- I'm pretty sure there will be other times. But I do wonder, and worry. When I first lived here, this was something that happened pretty reliably, 2 years out of 3. But in the last 10 years- it's only happened twice, I think. Too many climate signals drifting away from their original settings? It's not just me, the real old-timers here notice the changes, too.


One of the points this leaves me pondering is- how much of our world do we miss- or misunderstand- because critical pieces of it simply go unseen?

Any student of human behavior will tell you that humans mostly see what we expect to see; what we're taught to see.

I don't know anyone else who's ever seen, or noticed, this Last Dance; spectacular as it is. I HAVE had a couple visitors who were here during one- and still didn't SEE it, until I pointed it out.

I doubt the Last Dance has any particular environmental significance, on its own; but-

What else, on this earth, have we just never seen? Never noticed? We humans are so short lived, really- and so self occupied. And still we assume, even the most careful of us, that we have a reasonably good idea how "things" work here.

I have my doubts. And some evidence. And how do we learn; and how do we teach- how to open our eyes?

It's important.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hey, ho, nobody home.

Meat nor drink nor money have I none.
Still will I be very merry merry-

An old round, lots of fun to sing with 3 or 4 parts, and with a German version too; Hey-o spann den Wagen an.

A couple days go Daharja commented on my "Emergency Room Shock" post that the big financial crisis stuff was really mostly an American problem- not the rest of the world yet.

But it is.  If you want more heartbreak, read this BBC article about the situation in Haiti.  Or this one, on East Africa.

Haiti has been a humanitarian catastrophe for decades at least- hundreds of years, really.  But this is different.  From being "on the edge" - they are over it.

A million homeless?  A city- entirely flattened? 17 million starving in Africa?

One ship from the USA- could make a huge difference in the suffering.  But- we're just too busy to notice, and too frightened for our own futures to care.

We'll be seeing a lot more of that- but it's already here.  Darfur- in our own backyard, right now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Parable Of The Grateful Serf

In Merrye Olde Englande many people lived as serfs, in the Middle Ages.  A serf is property, usually bound to a particular piece of land; essentially a slave.  Not- quite; if you want to quibble.  Serfs weren't chained, though they often wore an iron collar; and they had some rights.  They just weren't allowed to travel, say, more than a mile from their farm.  Free-range slavery, then.

Geoff, our serf, was born in the wattle and daub farm cottage, and when his father died in harness Geoff became the one chiefly responsible for operating their farm.  He took a mate, and they had children, to make sure the farm would continue to bear produce for the Lord.

As a reward for the family's labor, and incidentally to provide them with enough food to survive, Geoff and his family were entitled to keep 1/10th of all they raised.  No, not including the pigs, don't be stupid; those belonged entirely to the Lord.  But they got to keep 1/10th of the turnips; 1/10th of the barley, 1/10th of the wheat.  No potatoes; this is before Columbus infected America.

The Lord's Reeve (I think that's the right name) would come around in the Spring and tell Geoff what to plant- and how much- and when.  When a child became old enough for labor- the fields to be managed would be enlarged- more must be produced.  Only fair.  The child eats, the child must produce.

Work starts before dawn and runs to after dark.  Essentially every day of the year.  When not working in the crops, there are the pigs and geese to tend, and protect from wolves, foxes, and outlaws; brushwood to gather to feed the fires in the Lord's kitchens; etc.  Land to plow; by hand; fences and hedges to repair; roads to build...

The system works beautifully.  Geoff has just enough food to keep his family alive.  If they all work hard.  And a roof.  Any effort to leave the land would almost certainly result in death- or if they did manage to escape- starvation.  They would have no land, no turnips, no law.  Staying put is by far the best option for Geoff, and his 8 children.

The years pass.  The children grow, those that survive.  More are born.  There are moments when it's not utterly unbearable.

One Spring...

The Reeve arrives on his annual visit; riding his horse, and accompanied as usual by 5 men-at-arms, on foot.  He is wearing a sad face.

Geoff and his mate and family greet him; of course they are expecting the visit, and are waiting to hear what their tasks will be in the coming year.

The Reeve begins; "Great news, Geoff.  Our Lord is going to war!  You know that the lord to the south has been raiding our people for years- the time has come to end it!"

Geoff is mildly interested; he's heard of the raids, though they are far away, almost 5 miles.  Perhaps the pigs he tends will be safer.

The Reeve continues.  "Of course- war is costly.  Our Lord must have more men; and they must be armed.  I know we can count on your best efforts this year."

Geoff is now terrified.  Will they take his sons?

"Everyone in the Lord's keeping must contribute.  Geoff- this year, you must deliver the Lord's portion - and half your own, as well.  This is the law."

Geoff and his mate are stunned.  The children stand by, uncomprehending- and are interested to see the tears begin to run down their mother's face.  Geoff and mate know- this is a death sentence, for someone.  The 1/10th they keep is barely enough to keep body and soul together as it is.  Cut in half- they cannot live.  Perhaps some of the children can be sold into full slavery, and saved that way.  Perhaps.  But they can't afford to lose the strong children, and the market for puny young ones is very poor.  They don't really own their children either- the Lord does...

Like a pole-axed ox, Geoff sinks to his knees- it's not premeditated, not an act- he's facing utter catastrophe.  "Please... Sir... you know us, we work hard.  Every year, we've been fair to the Lord; we always deliver his share; we don't cheat and hide some, as you know others do.

"Please.  We will lose our children- or we must all starve together.  Please, Sir Reeve...  we beg.  Is there no other way; is there nothing we can do to escape starvation?"

The Reeve appears moved.  "Geoff - it's true; you and your family are productive; I know you work as hard as you can; better than most.  I've always considered you a good serf; I have always been as a friend to you.  But what am I to do?  The decree is clear.  All must contribute more for the safety of the fief.  I am powerless."

Geoff and mate are prostrate on the ground.  "Please.  Please.  Must we starve?  Please, Sir Reeve- Please..."

The Reeve appears uncomfortable up on his horse, and unhappy.  He sends the men-at-arms away, out of earshot.  "Geoff" he half whispers... "I cannot see you starve- I will turn a blind eye, as much as I can- I will do all I can, because I am your friend - I will allow you to keep 1/4th of the lord's extra portion.. if I tried to let you keep more, I would be found out, and we both would be put to death..."

Geoff and his mate are wild with joy.  Instead of losing half their family's annual food supply- they will only lose 3/8ths.  It's wonderful!  They have escaped an incredible danger!!

"Oh!! Thank you!  Thank you, Sir Reeve!!  We will never forget your kindness!!"  and Geoff and mate gather their family into their arms as tears, now of joy, run down their faces.


The Reeve, most likely, had firm instructions from the Lord to gather 1/4 of the Serfs' shares, not 1/2- he wouldn't want his serfs to become too weak to work.

Have you noticed how absolutely delighted you are to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas?  It's wonderful to have it so cheap, isn't it?

I didn't make up this Parable of the Grateful Serf - I heard it somewhere, long ago.  It's an ancient- truly ancient- and well known, well studied, method of "management".

We're being "managed" folks.  Or manipulated, if you wish.  Good old management techniques like this is how Exxon et. al. have had staggeringly huge record-breaking profits for what, 2 years in a row, now?

It works on us all- it works on me- I'm SO grateful gas is only $3.50 - and I KNOW it's a trick.   And  the folks on Wall Street- are ecstatic that the Dow closed at 11,020 today.   When a couple days ago, it was at 11,700.

Even the mainstream commentators are catching on- speaking up.  Steven Pearlstein at the Washington Post has had several very tough things to say over the last months; in his column today, he lays it out: 

"What we are witnessing may be the greatest destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen -- paper losses measured in the trillions of dollars."

Those are very heavy words indeed- for a business columnist at the Washington Post.

And keep in mind- not everyone is getting skinned.  Some folks are getting rich- every time a dying bank is "rescued".   The managers have stripped your pennies, and mine- now they are turning on each other.

It's all being managed.  And the managers have known how to do it, for hundreds of years.

And like Geoff- there's really nothing you and I can do about it.  The alternatives are worse.  But just maybe, it could be useful to keep your eyes and mind open- and try to see what's really going on.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Emergency Room Shock

It comes to us all, eventually.  You find yourself, with no warning, in the Emergency Room- dealing with a real, life-threatening, emergency.  Yours, or someone you love- the impact is much the same.

If you're not brain dead, you're experiencing it now.  The world financial system is steadily imploding, there's not one competent government left anywhere apparently (I used to think Canada- but...) and we seem to be staring into the Grand Canyon of life.

Looks like a long way down.

If there is any comfort to be had, it's this: people have survived this sort of thing before- and worse.  You can, too.

In the actual medical emergency room, that slowly dawns.  Now that the unthinkable has happened- what?  

Life goes on.

If you've already had your emergency room experience, you know- it's absolutely astonishing what people can survive.  And how strong some folks become, when it's required.

Hang in there.  

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sigh. Dick Van Dyke knew all about it.

Sorry.  More politics.  Sorry, RC, no guinea pics yet. The real problem there is that the guinea story is too important- so I keep putting it off, need to do it right.

Politics, on the other hand, is really very simple.  And very annoying at the moment.

I'm going to recycle a little essay here from- oh, 4 years ago.  Just substitute "Obama" for "Kerry" - and sometimes "McCain" for "Bush"- and every thing else is exactly the same.



Here's the thing.

The reason the Kerry campaign is so puzzled by their lack of traction is because they utterly do not understand what they are opposing; or what they themselves are doing. In spite of years of good political experience.

Dick Van Dyke had a brief variety show, I think, after his TV triumph with Mary Tyler Moore. He did a skit I saw, which with complete clarity illustrates the present problem.

Dick's guest star on one show was the current Heavyweight Boxing contender. So they had a skit about a match; between the boxer, an enormous, powerful, charismatic, black gentleman; and Dick.

The boxer boxed. Dick played chess.

I can see the skit quite clearly yet. They both got into the boxing ring; boxer in trunks, Dick in a suit. In the middle of the ring was a chess set, on a table, with two chairs. The referee gave them the rules; they sat down at the table. Dick looked intently at the chess men; and his opponent-- and boldly- made a chess move. The boxer looked briefly at the board; and Dick- then hauled off and clobbered Dick; knocking him across the ring and into the ropes.

Dick was very puzzled. Climbed out of the ropes; half-crawled across the floor to his chair; pulled himself up, sat down... and cautiously made another chess move. The boxer hit him again; harder; leaving him upside down and tangled in the ropes.

Whereupon Dick disentangled himself; crawled back to the chair... and made another chess move.

And the boxer hit him again.

I don't remember how the skit ended; I was kind of rolling on the floor at this point, at the brilliant absurdity. But you can see quite clearly the only possible end.

This is exactly what the Kerry folks are doing; and I don't think they realize it; or they'd start boxing a little.

The Democrats are hung up on logic. They nicely point out that x, y, and z; done by Bush and his gang, are not good; not sensible, and we should all do something else. Democratic voters all say, "Yeah, exactly! How can they not see it??"

The Republicans respond with primal chest pounding: "AMERICA!! FREEDOM!! LOYALTY!!"

Logical analysis of problems has NOTHING to do with this situation. Direct emotional appeals will trump logic every time, with many many voters. Finely tuned logic will indeed just make many of them suspicious. So; do we want to continue to preach to the shrinking choir; or actually reach some Republican voters? The Move On ads I've seen are usually particularly bad about this- they make Democrats feel good, and annoy Republicans. Hello?


Kerry could quite easily handle this. Stand up, and pound his chest back at them- and make a little fun of it all.


I wrote that almost exactly 4 years ago.  Passed it around a bit; but I wasn't blogging then.

Please do pass this around if you find it of interest.  It's not- yet- too late.  Maybe.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Life is sweet.

Yes, it is.

In spite of all the hyper-abundant crap we carp about constantly.

We actually had frost last night- not a killing freeze, but very light.  Leading to a brilliant, crisp Autumn morning for Smidgen's first day of - pre-school.

Spice and I and Beelar, her big brother, walked her out through the apples to meet the neighbor who's sharing driving chores with us.

So, I got to wake up early; make some hot coffee on our woodstove, which kept us warm all night, burning wood from trees I planted myself (with Beelar's help) - then walk out, through apple trees (which I planted and grafted 25 years ago) drooping with fruit in spite of no real rain since June- (really) and watch two of my children together, taking a big step forward -

Spice went along with the neighbor, who has twins; and brought back this pic of Smidgen feeling her way into school- first day, first moments- with "her" twins on either side.

Worth a lot.  Worth remembering, that the good times, the good things, are still there; even when the worries and bad stuff keeps piling up.

Happy Autumn out there.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And the good news is...

Definitely in the "WHAT!!!!!!??????????" category.

According to the BBC - climate modelers are now reassuring us that Sea Levels will NOT rise - more than 2 METERS by 2100.

Oh, thank goodness!!  That's all right then.  The ocean will not rise more than 6 feet in our children's lifetimes.  (oh, and ours - I'm not really intending to check out for a good 30 years yet.)

This is good news.  Apparently.

Seriously- it's happening, far far faster than even crackpots like me were muttering.

Move away from the coasts- the sooner the better.  There are going to be millions upon millions of very unhappy refugees- oh, anytime now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My brain hurts.

I'm assuming you're all familiar with the Monty Python skit.  It seems like the "WHAT!!!!??" events are piling up faster and faster these days.  Pick a subject, any subject.

I'm officially boggled, and will not attempt commentary at the moment.  I'm retreating to poultry.

Guineas are thriving; most are spending their days in free range conditions now; lots of details coming there.  Big news is; we're now attempting to integrate our birds- the teenage guineas, and the 1/4 grown chickens.  I moved 5 chicks from the brooder tub into the real world of the guinea pen just hours ago.

Primary response from both species seems to be: consternation.  "WHAT!!!???"

Hey, join the club.