Ripples…

A.V. Walters–

ripples

Sometimes there are crystalized moments in your life, moments that are loaded in a way that forms who you will be, or that define a new direction that your life will take. I’m fascinated at how a chance event can snowball to construct an entirely different version of you, than the expected path might have yielded. You may not even know it at the time but, upon reflection, you can see how the impact of that moment left its fingerprint on you, and maybe on others around you.

We all have answered those “pivotal” questions, “Where were you when…” But they reflect a wider sensibility—that of a community or a nation. And I don’t doubt that those incidents that form the arc of history have an impact overall. What I’m talking about here, though, are the more personal moments—the AHA! events that took who you were, an instant before, and then mapped a new direction for who you became as a result.

 

From time to time, in this blog I’m going to address those ripples—in my life, and in the lives of those I know. I invite you to ponder your own circuitous paths, and how the “you” of today emerged. Feel free to share.

 

The Magnificent Radovini Brothers

stick built

We were stair-step kids, arriving with catholic regularity, one, nearly every year. Before long, our standard issue, three-bedroom tract home was too small, owing to our lopsided gender distribution. When the time came that my brother, the only boy, really needed a room of his own, we four girls were too much for the other bedroom.

My parents own interests were running out of space, too. My father’s woodworking and my mother’s new involvement, in the world of clay, were spilling out of the utility room and into the kitchen. So, my parents took the plunge. Together they sketched out a plan to expand our home to make enough room for our wild tribe, and enough for all the different things we did. An architect made their dreams into plans and the bank gave the go ahead. My parents found builders, the highly recommended Radovini Brothers. These young men accepted the job, but warned that, in the middle of it, they’d be taking off for two weeks for a long planned family reunion. As long as the project was enclosed before they left, and then finished before the end of the summer, my parents didn’t mind. How could they? They understood family.

It was high theater for us. It was summer and we were off school so we could watch. They were doubling the size of our house, there was digging, with its piles of dirt and concrete, and finally, The Radovinis arrived. We loved them. They were five brothers with mops of dark hair and sun-bronzed skin. They worked shirtless. The neighbor women came to watch. The Radovinis worked and laughed and sang—sometimes opera, sometimes Italian folk tunes. The brothers harmonized, in their songs and in the rhythms of their work. They brought enormous lunches, which they unpacked from coolers with great ceremony. Food was important. They ate with great gusto, the jokes and ribbing continuing between bites.

It was like being visited by the circus. They were as charmed by us as we were by them, a string of blond towheads, following their every move like puppies, soaking in the aroma of pine boards, and watching the building take shape.

Our house grew by the day—faster even than we’d been told to expect. These men loved their work, and loved showing off their skills. Our jaws hung slack as we watched the drawings from the plans take shape in the air. It was a two-story addition and they were fearless—walking out on the thinnest of planks, twenty feet in the air, tossing up tools to the outstretched and ready hands of trapeze-artist framers. We tipped our heads back and shielded our eyes from the summer sun with cupped hands, to watch. How lucky we were to have found such tradesmen! As the time for their scheduled vacation approached, they worked long hours, determined to frame and sheath the structure before their trip—as promised.

The oldest brother approached my father. Were we happy with the work? Of course! Sheepishly, he requested that my parents advance the full contract price. The brothers were traveling across Canada for their reunion and wanted a “safety reserve.” My parents, thrilled with their work, were happy to oblige. Hell, they’d have adopted them if they could.

In their absence, we clamored over the new addition like squirrels. We collected nails and pieces of scrap wood—which we hammered into odd towers. When parents weren’t watching, we walked on the skinny joists, high above what would be our new garage. It was all so exciting–we could hardly wait for their return.

My father broke the news at dinner one night. We knew that something was up. My mother’s face was puffed and red. There’d been an accident. The Radovinis, they were going over the mountains—with most of the family riding in a travel trailer. A passing car clipped their trailer and forced it, and its tethered truck, over the edge. Four of them had been killed, along with their wives and children. The surviving brother would never walk again. With him, all that remained of this vibrant family was the elderly grandmother and an infant child, who’d remained home. The singing and laughing, gone.

My parents never mentioned the money. And, from that day, we became builders. My dad rolled up his sleeves and learned. His weekends became building time. We were his cadre of conscripted workers, little fingers stuffing insulation around windows, holding the end of the measuring tape and carrying tools and supplies. He learned wiring and plumbing and tiling (Oh My!) So did we. He harnessed his intense fear of heights to finish the roof and upper walls. We learned to put our fears in context. Money was tight, but skills we could learn. We became a family that built what we needed. We never shied from what willing hands could perform. It took my parents, and us, ten years to finish, but it was done, and done well.

That continues to today—not a professional builder in the bunch, but my siblings, mostly girls, are not strangers to the working end of a hammer. The Radovinis came into our lives nearly five decades ago. Right now, I am poised at the largest project of my adult life—my husband and I are building a home. As I wrote this, the concrete truck arrived to pour the footings.

 

Pouring Footings

Pouring Footings

In my minds eye, I can see the Radovinis, perched, straddling the skeletal ribs of our new roof, drinking ice water from re-filled Coca-Cola bottles. They chug it down and pour the rest over their heads, laughing and working in the summer’s heat.

 

 

 

Slash and Burn

A.V. Walters

We learned about it in grade school. It’s a “primitive” agricultural practice of cutting down the forest, burning the “slash,” any unused timber products, and then planting crops in the resulting ash-fertilized clearing. Typically, in areas with poor soils (mostly areas outside the soils-rich Pleistocene glaciation) agricultural use would be for a limited duration, until the soil was nitrogen depleted. Then the farmers move on and the cycle begins again. It was, we were taught, a short-sighted and damaging form of farming. Looking in the mirror, I think that that was Western agriculture’s pot calling the kettle black.

In most of North America, we are blessed with deep and rich topsoils, compliments of the ice age and biodiversity. Our European forebears were more lucky than skilled when it came to farming. Indeed, many of them practiced exactly the slash and burn techniques that my grade-school teacher bemoaned. How else, in a world of hand tools and oxen, was a pioneer family to clear an old growth forest for farming? Over time, excessive cultivation of dry or marginal soils, and the failure to rotate crops, brought us to an ugly truth—the dustbowl. Even without dustbowl conditions, 1970’s estimates showed that using American, post-war agricultural practices were causing the loss of up to six inches of topsoil, per year!

Some early colonialists brought with them time tested farming methods that fed and protected the soils, as you can still see in Amish and Mennonite farms throughout the Midwest. They considered themselves the stewards of the land. Studies have shown that the natural methods used by these farmers retain the topsoil and keep it loaded with organic material and beneficial bacteria. From these traditions, today’s organic farmers learned the mantra, “Feed the soil, not the plant.” Organic farming methods have been proven to fight soil erosion, build the soil’s ability to retain moisture (even in dry conditions) and foster a micro-biome that supports healthy crops.

We’ve sent a soil sample, from our property, in for analysis. We know we have some soil building to do, but it’s been lying fallow at least thirty years for a running start. We start with the premise that we’ll build the soil as we go. We’ll start first thing, next season. Ours is not a conventional approach

The GMO corn planted on our current, landlord’s property, is suffering. Its leaves are curling in; its growth stunted. I’m hardly heartbroken about it. We do not have a drought here. These sandy soils are “well draining,” which could be a pun if you wanted to irrigate. We haven’t had rain for just over a week—which shouldn’t make too big a difference in healthy soil. That corn doesn’t have healthy soil. Years of successive corn crops, over-tilling and outright chemical abuse have stripped the cornfield to its geologic base—sand dune. This soil cannot hold moisture. There is some stubble tilled in, but in the absence of “the living soil”—the bacterial component, the stubble cannot breakdown and feed the soil. (Though it may hold a little moisture.)

So, who is practicing slash and burn, now?

 

 

Spam, Spam, the Menu Plan

A.V. Walters

 

Hey bloggers, we all get spam, right? Do you read yours? Sometimes, it’s tough to tell whether it is spam. After all, you’d feel bad thwarting some poor commenter–for bad grammar or other minor sin. (Though I’d love to have a chat with all those folks who want to convince me that I could make oodles, if only I’d stoop to online marketing.) We want to be inclusive. We just don’t want spam.

A few days ago, I received the spam shown below. Hell, somebody made a mistake. They sent out their whole playbook–complete with optional fact inserts. (You know, so you can personalize your spam.) I laughed so hard, I almost peed my panties. Of course, I’d seen most of these–just not the whole list. I goes to show you that the spam forces out there are organized. They speak the language of ambivalence (and flattery.) To keep our blogs clean of the senseless blather of marketing hitchhikers, we must be vigilant!

Because I never want to be guilty of failure to attribute someone else’s work, I will disclose that this compendium of spam comes courtesy of

http://topfunnyweddingcaketoppers.com/
topfunnyweddingcaketoppers.comx
cheribracker@hotmail.com
192.230.42.130

 

And here it is, in excruciating detail….

{
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{Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to
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{Tx|Texas}! Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep
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{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme. Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this
website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself?
Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying
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and {would like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find
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{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could not} be written {any better|much better}!
{Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me of my previous roommate!
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{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just}
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keep {doing what you’re doing|up the good work|it up}!|
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{little bit of|bit of} it. {I have|I’ve got|I have
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It was {inspiring|funny|practical|helpful}.
Keep on posting!|
{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your {article|post|article post}.
I {like|wanted} to write a little comment to support you.|
I {always|constantly|every time} spent my
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My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince} me to move to .net from PHP.
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Add Your Voice–

A.V. Walters–

The deadline for comments to the FCC regarding net neutrality is July 15. The head of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, has indicated that he’ll give more weight to those comments that are unique and personal. This is not a “click” opportunity. For those of us who feel that net neutrality is critical to free speech–now is the time to add your voice. (Do it while we still can!) You can email your comments to Docket Number:14-28 Protecting an Open Internet at the FCC (OpenInternet@fcc.gov) Or you can call at 888-225-5322. You don’t need to write a lengthy tome, but we all need to express the importance of Net Neutrality. If we hand the keys of the internet over to the corporate interests that would like to make it a toll road, we can kiss our free speech goodbye. This is way more important than cute cat videos. Write and tell them why a free and open internet is important to you. Here’s my two bits:

 

There is an inner kernel to the internet–maybe it’s the core of what’s wonderful about it. It isn’t photo swapping on facebook. It isn’t shopping on Amazon, or downloading movies. These are pedestrian and commercial uses. The important stuff is the inner core, the “small d” democratic use–like what I’m doing right now.

Over the past few decades, there has been unprecedented consolidation in the media. Maybe even because of the internet, newspapers have failed or merged. Increasingly, we are left with fewer and fewer real voices. If one’s position isn’t that championed by major media (who are increasingly co-opted by corporate interests) there are few forums for free speech. The internet is that free speech forum. Keeping it neutral guarantees that there will continue to be an avenue of opposition and dissent. In this country we cherish our freedoms. Unfortunately, too few of us actually exercise them. Those who do become the fulcrum of democracy. Given an opportunity to be heard, they are our collective conscience and are often the inspiration for the rest of us to wake up and act. Without that speech opportunity, we are lost. Without it, there will be no true marketplace of ideas, there will only be those voices that have corporate or government support. We cannot let the ideas that drive the nation be reduced to the occasional tweet. In a world where our politicians and process are for sale to the highest bidder, we need to preserve citizen speech.

Net neutrality guarantees us an outlet of democratic access. If the internet is a toll road, if there are prepaid “fast lanes,” the rest will fall to disrepair. The internet lets us meet, online, to discuss the issues that are central to our today. Net neutrality ensures that those voices can be found, and heard. Out there, in the din of corporate and commercial messages, is the real soul of our nation–the blogger who protests government or corporate tyranny–the witness whose photo goes viral and forces us all to look in the mirror at oppression–the artist whose work isn’t pretty but graphically makes us look in our hearts to see whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. True free speech isn’t pretty or popular. It’s not likely to garner corporate sponsorship or the internet fast lane.

Even more worrisome is that, in the hands of a corporate fast lane, there is no incentive to protect true speech. Their interests are to sell, to entertain, to market. Despite frightening recent court rulings that corporations have rights, we all know that the driving force in the world of business is money. There is no business interest in the small conscientious voices among us. Indeed, the voices we most have to protect frequently challenge government or corporate authority. Ideas like equality and fairness do not have price tags associated with them, yet they are the most valuable currency this country has. That’s why we need net neutrality.

We all learned this as children. Basic fairness and etiquette don’t give the advantage to the dollar. Net neutrality is a simple proposition, and one that’s difficult to argue against–first come, first served.

Bugged–

A.V. Walters

My California friends can’t believe that I moved to a place that has snow in the winter and bugs in the summer. I usually put it right back at them—both of those features are a direct result of one thing—we have water.

In California you don’t even need screens on your windows. Sure you’ll get a couple of insects—but because of the long, dry summers there never was a big problem with mosquitoes in the summer (early spring, sometimes, but it never lasted.) In Two Rock, living right next door to a dairy, we had flies and spiders. (There, I was glad for the screens, though, in all honesty, sometimes the dairy smelled so bad you didn’t dare open the windows.) When Californians recoil about insects, they mean one thing—bugs that bite.

We have them here. I know all the jokes—In Michigan, the mosquito is the state bird… Okay, so there are insects; it’s a given. We measure them in seasons. Just now, we’re (hopefully) coming to the end of blackfly season—which is usually June, but running late this year because of the overlong winter. Blackflies are an annoyance in Leelanau. Back in Keweenaw, they are a force of nature. (I always suspected it was why June brides wore veils.) Back home, one’s wardrobe for June activities includes a “bug baffler,” screened headgear that looks like beekeeper’s clothing.

July is the main mosquito month, though Rick and I have already earned our fair share of bites. We insist on being outdoors, even into the evening, and that’ll do it. Mostly we wear hats and we keep moving. In August and September we have an assortment of biting flies—horseflies, deerflies and stableflies. Again, a hat and proper clothing for the outdoors is your best defense. They (the biting flies) aren’t really looking for you (though you’ll do in a pinch.) The worst of it is that they annoy as they buzz in circles around you. As kids, we’d pick ferns to wear on our heads, like some kind of pixie tribe. It kept the biting flies on a farther perimeter and gave us some small measure of control.

Having adequate rainfall means we have bugs. Having bugs means we have birds, so don’t wish your bugs away so quickly. We have amazing birds. The air here is, more often than not, filled with birdsong. We live outside the town of Cedar. That’s a polite way to say “swamp.” It’s located in a low-lying area and, like any wetland, rich in biodiversity. Bugs.

We try to get some kind of exercise, every day. Right now we get it primarily through working on the property. We’re doing site prep—and in the summer heat and humidity, it can be grueling. If that wasn’t enough, we often go for a walk around the block at the end of the day. “Around the block” is a three-mile loop. The bottom third of that loop runs adjacent the swamp. It’s probably crazy to go walking there at the buggiest time of the day—but it’s cool, and, if you keep moving, you can escape without being bitten. We went for one of our walks the other night, right at dusk. It’s a great way to unwind— to talk about the day’s events and connect with your surroundings. We were just getting to the swamp section when I first saw them. At first, I thought it was a bit of trash, maybe a scrap of Mylar, catching the fading light. When I saw it again, I realized—fireflies! Even though I grew up in the Great Lakes region, I’d never seen them before. Once you look, suddenly they are everywhere–a profusion of flashes, shining at you in an orchestrated mid-summer display of sparkles. Some, in mid-flight, look like three-dimensional punctuation, illuminated ellipses. Rick was amazed—both at the tremendous surprise of nature, and that we were seeing it, together, both for the first time.

You won’t see them from a passing car. You have to be out with them, at the right time of day and, at risk from the rest of the insect kingdom. But, it’s well worth it. It leaves you breathless, awestruck and feeling almost childlike. This will do for our July fireworks display.

 

 

 

 

Killing Fields

A.V. Walters

The view out our window.

The view out our window.

We knew. We’d even talked about it. Our landlady rents the acreage around her house to a local dairy farmer. He grows corn to feed his cows. We stand at the edge of the lawn, where our clothesline is, and we look. There are no weeds in this cornfield. The farmer does not practice no-till planting. On a windy day, the sandy soil catches, and the air fills with an ominous dustbowl specter. Worse, he plants corn, year in, year out, without any crop rotation, depleting the soil of nitrogen and other nutrients. Why should he care? It’s not his land. Some people actually like the tidy lines of weed-free corn in formation. I find it sinister.

You see, I know that nature abhors a vacuum. Weed-free is unnatural. It means that her fields are sprayed with Round-Up. I live within spitting distance (literally) of GMO corn. Worse yet, the lower part of our property is downwind of it. It’s a little funny; for years I’ve been protesting and writing about the dangers of GMO and its impact on the environment, and now, I have a front row seat.

Yesterday morning was as still as death—unusual in our normally wind-whipped world. For that, I’m thankful. I’d gone out to the compost and heard, and then saw, a tractor headed up the road in our direction. I had a bad feeling. I sprinted back inside, gathering up a loose cat along the way, and closed the windows. Sure enough, it was the farmer coming to spray the field. I stayed in most of the day, canceled my plans to do laundry, and kept the cats inside—feeling a little trapped. But, my little garden is out there, on the side facing the field. If that Round-up went airborne, it’ll be dead within days

I know that this is the norm in agricultural communities. As a kid, I remember they’d spray the fields right by us, even as we walked to school. Even now, nobody thinks twice about it—it’s a way of life. Yet, there are studies galore showing the neurological impact of pesticides and herbicides on those living within a mile of sprayed crops. A new one came out this week showing the correlation (not causation) between the increased incidence of autism in the children of women so exposed. I have a friend who has Parkinson’s—the legacy of her childhood exposure to pesticides in California’s Central Valley. It’s not just her saying it—the medical studies bear her out. In my world-view, chemicals have become the problem in farming, not the solution.

My landlady thinks that my property—vacant for twenty-five years, overgrown and wild—is an eyesore. She was glad I’d finally appeared, thinking I would whip things into shape. She thinks that any insect or weed on her property must have come from the undisciplined wilds, of mine. We were at a function together when she informed me that she’d told her farmer how much I’d love to have him grow corn on my bottomland.

I recoiled in horror. “You said what?

“You know, get rid of all that scrubby pine and weeds—he pays well. We have good soil here.”

We are worlds apart. There are times when one should hold one’s tongue. Unfortunately, when it comes to neighborly relations, I forget about those times.

“Think again. I wouldn’t let that man set foot on my property.”

She looked like I’d slapped her. “He’s a good farmer—and what’s wrong with corn?”

So, I let her know what’s wrong with corn, at length—especially with the way it’s grown on her property. I’m afraid (but not totally regretful) that I even said that she stands by while he’s killing her soil. She looked injured. Well, she only knows what she knows. She grew up on a farm and better living through chemistry is deeply ingrained in her limited, world-view.

What will we say to the next generations? Maybe (just maybe) those of my landlady’s generation have an excuse. They just did what everyone else did, what the Agriculture People told them. My generation started out knowing better. We started out with Silent Spring and a glimpse of the damage done by “modern life.” Where did we go with it? From fertilizers, to organophosphates, to GMO/ Glyphosate, to neonicitinoids. How will we explain a world of dead soils and contaminated groundwater? How will we justify the loss of the bees? And this is just farming I’m talking about.

For much of my adult life, I grieved that I was unable to have children. I’m at peace with it, now—maybe it’s even a little bit of a relief. I have always tried to do my part—to garden within the rhythms of nature, to avoid products that do damage to the environment and to limit my participation in our throw-away culture. I look around now and realize that taking personal responsibility isn’t enough. We all need to do more, to tip the scales back in balance. So, there is a sense of relief that I’ll never have to look into my children’s faces to tell them we knew, but we didn’t do enough to stop it.

 

 

Right Plan…

A.V. Walters –

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

It’s said that, when the Europeans arrived in Michigan, a squirrel could cross the state, Great Lake to Great Lake, without its feet ever touching the ground. That didn’t last. Michigan’s vast forests became the fuel for building the region’s great cities. By the turn of the twentieth century, the pillaging was near complete. Only a few stands of virgin timber remained (and remain still.) Here in Leelaunau County there were numerous mills—timber being Michigan’s first wave of development. Empire, the little village where we spent the winter, was historically a booming timber mill town, with the largest, best equipped and most productive hardwood mill in the region. Its claim to fame is that they invented tongue and groove boards. (Our previous home, Petaluma, was responsible for the invention of the chicken incubator. It’s always something.)

In 1917, the Empire Lumber Company mill burned to the ground—and not for the first time, either. But, it was the last time. With the timber all but gone, there was no point in rebuilding. The devastation from Michigan’s unrelenting, statewide clear-cutting inspired Teddy Roosevelt to create the National Park System. It was the era of the Robber Barons. They gave little thought to man’s impact on the environment. After all, with all its rainfall, it’s a climate that renews. But you can never rebuild the majesty of a virgin forest. Michigan remains a timber state—eager to clear-cut the very minute the trees are marketable. We’ve seen the results, a striking scar on the landscape, and a hazard of erosion on these sandy soils.

As if to illustrate the point, our property is actually zoned “Timber Cutover,” shorthand for “already cut and too steep to farm.” Though there are some fair sized trees, now, the land shows distinct signs of clear-cuts through its history. It’s crisscrossed with ancient barb wire fences—grazing being the normal succession to clear-cut. The land was last “selectively” logged in 2004—to thin the trees, as recommended by the local extension people. I saw first hand how the taste of timber-money can change one’s view of the land. When I bought the property, I saw it as a sanctuary, a refuge in the forest, but my then-husband’s view of it changed after the quick profits from the cut. It became a timber holding and he, by extension, a timber baron, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to cut. It’s silly to aggrandize so small a kingdom. I knew then that he had no intention of ever living on the land.

IMG_1863

The property is still recovering from the ’04 cut, and we’re suffering the ravages of the ash trees to the Emerald Borer. But, Rick shares my dedication to the land. We walk its steep hills, taking note of the trees and identifying the undergrowth. Blackberries sprout up in the sunny spots where fallen trees have left openings in the canopy above. There are wild strawberries, grapes, and, we hear, morel mushrooms in the early spring. We explore and plan, learning the land’s glaciated folds like the lines on our hands. We’re cutting a little now—mostly scrub pine out front on the more gentle slopes—to make way for a driveway and the foundation of our home. We debate the merits of each tree. Does it provide screening for privacy, sun, or snow? Is it healthy? Does it have aesthetic value? Does it block the view? Is there another alternative to chopping it down? We are pioneers to a new future, which goes to show that life can be full of wonderful surprises. We laugh at the short tag line I use to describe the circuitous circumstances that brought us here at this late point in our lives—right plan, wrong man.

IMG_1864

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