Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Monday, March 28, 2005

It Could Be Worse,

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Try To Make It Real

Slaughterhouse is killin' hogs
Twisted children killin' frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin' logs
Tired old ladies kissin' dogs
Hate the human, love that stinking mutt
Try to make it real — compared to what?
-The Les McCann Trio

The sky was cold gray steel over Asheville this morning, and a chill wind blew in from the west. The dampness never left the air and it looked like the sun forgot to rise. We couldn’t figure out why the woman was wearing a wedding dress. It wasn’t troubling at first – we just kept stealing glances toward the parking lot, waiting for a groom to appear. Everyone walking our way was wearing hiking boots and fleece – Naw, not him. Two somewhat well-dressed gentleman finally appeared, but they didn’t have a wedding vibe to them.
Gotta be, though, we kept thinking. But somehow …no. If I was gonna get married, I wouldn’t dress like that. But why else would someone in a fuckin’ bolo tie and another guy in a green suit and a tie show up at the Asheville Botanical Garden in this God forsaken weather on a Saturday morning? There’s the people in the hiking boots and the fleeces, they look like they belong here. Then there’s all the UNCA students taking a short cut across campus - they’re the ones who carry bookbags and look like they know where they’re going. Then there’s the woman in the wedding dress and the guy in the bolo tie – they gotta be together.
Then the band showed up. People walked past us carrying guitars and sitars and flutes and then a harmonium. A typical wedding band, at least in Asheville.
We were sitting on an oversized bench near the visitor’s center, a stone’s throw from the orientation map, just up the hill from the Herman Melville Rock and Cactus Garden. My companion had been hurled, savagely, down a flight of stairs by a roving band of six year olds, and I had grown weary of feigning compassion. The woman in the wedding dress was a welcome distraction, and the sitar player showed up just when we had exhausted speculation on just how she and the guy in the bolo tie had met.
These are simple times. Art manifests itself in Senior Exhibitions. Political discourse is reduced to bumper stickers. Civic monuments are described by their number of lanes. Occam's razor seems to be used on social issues.
But I wasn’t thinking in such terms at the time. No, I was thinking that I was having a good time and that Spring is just around the corner. I even ran into my old friend, B*, who had been riding his bike around all morning, exploring the underside of interstate bridges. I made the mistake of going home and checking my answering machine. I’ve been invited to a brunch tomorrow morning, a pot-luck sort of a thing, and the voice on the machine trailed off just as it was suggesting I bring some jello.
This after having spent the morning meditating before the Herman Melville Rock and Cactus Garden.
Yeah, I’ve brought a jello mold or two as my own personal offering to a number of social events, but I choose to not be pigeon-holed. No, that doesn’t mean I bring jello with me everywhere I go, and only stagnation can result if others expect me to do so. It’s only a sign of the times, I know, but I find myself rebelling at the thought and looking, furtively, for more fertile ground. I yearn for self-expression, and refuse to be categorized like so many recyclables.
The woman in the wedding dress never did meet up with sitar/harmonium band, and didn’t even give a passing glance to the guy in the bolo tie. They all wandered through the leafless trees independent of one another. According to a Native American cure, my companion made a poultice of ferns and snakeroot and basswood bark and limped home. I returned to the rock garden and reflected on the lessons learned aboard the Pequod.

Friday, March 18, 2005


is split and stacked in the shed. Ricked, as they say. The firewood was piled in the front yard, under the chestnut tree, since B* dumped it there in August. And when I say dumped it there, I mean just that. Three dumptrucks full of logs in the front yard. (It made a hell of a jungle gym.)
It’s gone now – sawed and split and ricked. It’s neat now, where it’s supposed to be.
The trucks are up in the barn now. I drove Ol’ Blue up there this afternoon, after she’d been in front of the house since sometime last Spring. New Blue gets parked up there every evening, now, out of the weather and away from the cats. The tractor’s in the packing shed. The equipment is lined up outside the barn. Some of it’s freshly painted.
This Spring clean up started about two weeks ago – not so coincidentally with Martha Stewart’s release from prison. I thought I’d feel better if I tidied the place up a bit. Instead, I’m feeling lost and undefined. I spent a lot of time carefully cultivating the overall "look" of the farm, something between an abandoned logging camp and a clandestine militia training facility. That’s all gone now. You could even mow the grass, if you took such a notion.
I need to redefine myself, and Martha’s liberation will hopefully inspire me. There are many possible directions in which to go. I just need to choose one.
I’ve learned that things can be planned too much. Things can be too well thought out. I need to relax a bit and let the farm evolve into its next phase. It’ll let me know where it wants to go.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Next, They'll Evict Oscar The Grouch

It’s getting harder and harder to throw stuff away around here, and I don’t know who to blame. Not the attendant at the dump – that would be unfair. The county commissioners maybe, but somehow I doubt they keep up with the garbage situation. Maybe there’s a county garbage czar – someone who was appointed for life twenty years ago because his grandmother was a Democrat and his grandfather was a state trooper who got shot down in the line of duty. Something like that. Someone out there is making decisions, and I don’t approve.
The latest hurdle in the process of simple garbage disposal is the compactor at the Hot Springs dump. I’ve avoided the Spring Creek dump for that very reason – the compactor. Used to be you could drive down to Hot Springs and let your garbage be free, but no more. They’re squeezing everything everywhere.
It’s an issue of compartmentalization. There used to be a big wide open green dumpster and who could throw anything in there. I mean, no anything – you had to separate things like paint cans and car batteries, but, really, no one was looking to closely and you were limited only be your personal sense of ethics. Not any more. They’re watching. And you need to be able function with-in their labels.
The dumpster with the compactor – that’s for garbage. That’s, like, potato chip bags and cereal boxes and diapers and the plastic they put on CD cases. Then there’s the big open dumpster – that’s for household trash. By that they mean old sofas and broken clock radios and broken Christmas tree ornaments and throw rugs that a cat peed on. Then there’s the metal dumpster. That’s for broken tricycles and broken barbecue grills and old roofing tin and lawn furniture.
There are no other options.
Anything you want to throw away must fit in one of those three options or you don’t have garbage. Their little system is fine for innocuous little suburban homes with innocuous little people throwing away innocuous little Glad bags, but this, by God, is a farming community. People have barns on one side of the house and fifty year old Buicks on the other side and old canning sheds on yet another, and all of them are filled with trash. And it has to go somewhere.
Here’s a recent sampling from yours truly: the inevitable linoleum, plastic pipe with a rusty old faucet that I plowed up in the field, broken glass from what must’ve been a window, gobs and gobs of fiberglass insulation soaked with rain water and rat pee, potting soil bags filled with broken plastic cell-packs, baby shoes from a previous occupant, produce boxes full of greenhouse plastic remnants, each with a patina of algae, a shredded tarp, crumpled window screen, empty motor oil cans, empty anti-freeze cans, and that plastic they cover CD cases with. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Objects that clearly defy categorization. So I’m pulling stuff out of the back of the truck and asking the attendant where it goes. He’s as confounded as I am. "Hell, just put it anywhere, son."
"But where’s it supposed to go?" I asked.
"Well, what is it? Ah, well, that goes in … ah …well …." He doesn’t function well with-in systems, either.
"There’s just too many categories," I pleaded.
He tried to be upbeat. "There’s not too many. Well, there’s this one, and there’s that one, and, then, there’s that one over there. That’s not too many."
"But where do old baby shoes go?"
"How old are they?"
"I don’t know. I dug ‘em up under the chicken coop when I was laying water line."
"Well, hell, son, just throw ‘em in there."
"What about pieces of a styrofoam cooler mixed with an old mop head and some roofing nails."
"Just throw it away, son. Just throw it away."
I wasn’t surprised when they passed the anti-billboard legislation. I’m not surprised as Main Street goes more and more upscale. I’m not surprised as land prices sky-rocket and taxes go sky high. But I didn’t think the dump would get gentrified.
There’s hope. Before I left, I asked the attendant about the cardboard boxes near the back fence of the dump. He’d turned some cardboard boxes up-side down, covered them with plastic and weighed them down with rocks.
"Those are cat houses, son. There’s lots of cats around here."
Enjoy them while you can. Zoning is right around the corner.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Weather Today ...

Sunny and warm today. Blue skies. It was downright warm at times.
March. They say it comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb, but I’m not so sure. March is more like your schizophrenic aunt.
They talked about a blizzard yesterday. The snow started coming down wet and strong at mid-afternoon. It came with strong winds so it came in sideways. The temperature plummeted as the sun went down and there was ice on the path to the greenhouse when I went out there after dinner. I was prepared to stay inside all day today, watching the great flakes fall outside the window. I was gonna start seeds and dust and maybe even read. I went so far as to inventory bread and milk and made sure I had enough kerosene in case I was stuck here for a day or two.
The snow was gone by morning. I went outside to the greenhouse first thing and didn’t even need a jacket. The dogs and the chickens were running around and there were even birds singing. The daffodils mocked me. I set right to work and in the warm sunshine actually managed to get quite a bit done.
But I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen days in the sixties with blue skies where it finally dried out enough to get some work done, and it was gray and cold and miserable the next day. And it stayed that way for a week. And then it will warm up overnight and you start thinking about mowing the grass.
I won’t be fooled anymore. I won’t let myself trust something only to be disappointed. I won’t count on good times and happiness only to have the rug pulled out from under me. Not can I dismiss something as being useless and unhappy, only to have it come back and taunt me with momentary promise. No. I’ve been in too many relationships like that already. And one thing about the weather: you can't tell it to pack its bags and go. You’re stuck with it, ‘til death do you part.
So I’m going to deal with it in the only way I know how: I’m going to pretend like it doesn’t bother me. Bring me sleet and flurries and cold, wet socks. You’re March. You’re supposed to do that. Turn the skies an unbelievable blue and make the grass grow. I won’t expect you to it again. Some months remember to take their medication and their behavior is more predictable, but, let’s face it – they’re boring. How many sunny June days can you put up with before you stagnate? January pretty much delivers what it promises, and when’s the last time anyone wrote a poem about it?
I’ve learned to love you, March, though you delight in breaking my heart.

Friday, March 11, 2005

My Few Sense

…And so I struggle in the dark with the enormity of my soul, trying desperately to be a great rememberer redeeming life from darkness.
Jack Kerouac

Teachers are being reminisced in the blogosphere these days, and I’m gonna add my two cents. (You could make some kind of play on two cents, like: oh, I’ll spare you.)
I offer for your consideration Mr. Joel Shapiro, who taught me literature in, like, tenth grade. (He’d become furious when I wrote "like", somewhat hypocritically, as we shall see, but rest assured, I use it here only for literary effect.) We read The Stranger by Albert Camus and Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Patton and, um, I’m sure a few other things, too. Oh, The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad. That’s right.
Joel was something of a leftover from the Sixties: "Hey, man. These cats, like, these cats believed in Aparteid, okay. They weren’t hip, you know." That’s how class would start. Then he’d lead us through the latest chapter, as if any of us had read it. He’d lead us through with a passion for the subject matter that I hadn’t encountered in school before. Before Joel’s class, literature for me had been a round little lady with a moustache correcting spelling errors on my report of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery or something like that. I’d be quizzed on how many days Jim and Huck spent in Cairo, Missouri and what the weather was like when they got there. Joel spoke of the characters as if they were alive, and talked about the authors as if they were real people. He’d ask us how they might react to current events; he never made us memorize the year in which they were born.
"This isn’t why Camus wrote, can ya dig it? Camus didn’t write for a world that would have to face Reaganomics, man. Camus was hip to the human spirit –" and he’d talk about the characters in The Stranger and what they represented about life.
There weren’t right or wrong answers in Joel’s class. He just wanted to know if you’d tried to understand the book. We read the books we read because Joel thought they’d make us into better people. Not so we could go around saying we’d read them. There was no disconnect between real life and Literature. There was us in the classroom and some ideas that someone had set down on paper and Joel leading us toward relevance. I didn’t know that’s what books were until I listened to Joel talking about them.

Lee Phillips was my creative writing teacher back then. Lee and I became good friends. He’d let me write whatever I wanted to and didn’t care if my margins were straight. I could always write a lot better that I could talk, finding some kind of lucidity and clarity when setting things onto paper that elude me when trying to address real human beings. Lee let me go where-ever I wanted to and when I was finished he’d demonstrate different literary techniques. "Twain would do this," he’d say. "Dreiser would do this. See if you can." I’d bring back to him some pages I’d ripped out of a notebook and he’d tell me what was clear and what wasn’t. Where I’d tried too hard, not hard enough, or had managed to really hit it. Mostly, I remember that he cared. About me and the written word. And he made me care.

Two other things about Joel. He’d tell a story from what he called "way back in the whacked out ‘Sixties." He’d tell about how he had once talked a friend out of committing suicide, explaining to the friend that he felt that such an act "would just be in very bad taste."
And one day in class he started talking about someone named Jack Kerouac. "That’s what we’d all read when we were your age," he’d say. "That was the hip thing. Experience. Goin’ through life for the experience of it." I didn’t know what he was talking about or who Jack Kerouac was.
I learned. It seems almost corny to appreciate Kerouac now. It’s almost embarrassing to remember myself sitting next to campfires in railroad yards with a copy of Kerouac in my backpack. It feels trite to think I’d have never read Kerouas without Joel and Lee’s influence, and if I’d never read Kerouac I’d be a lesser soul today. But it’s true, dammit.
"I don’t think it is possible to proceed further in America without first understanding Kerouac’s tender brooding compassion for bygone scene and pastoral individuality oddity’d therein. Bypassing Kerouac one bypasses the mortal heart, sung in prose vowels." Yeah. Ginsburg said that.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Little Green Rows

The greenhouse is growing. It’s greening.
Two weeks ago, a look-see down the greenhouse revealed a hundred plugtrays, filled to the brim with potting soil. It was a brown plateau from the tangled chicken wire on this side all the way to the dead poke tree on the far side.
Now, everything has sprouted. They’re poking their little seed leafs up out of the soil, each little plant a small green speck in the middle of a brown square. It’s all very geometric at this point.
Another week and the first true leaves will be out. There’ll be just a bit more green than brown in each little cell. The reach up a tad out of the trays. The view has dimension to it.
A week or two after that the brown soil is completely hidden by the green. The tables are fluffy and wavy and green. They glisten after they’ve been watered. They ruffle when you wave your hand over them.
I’ll empty everything out in due time. The scene then again is brown. Nothing left but the brown wood of the table tops.

I’ll be plowing soon. The nice green of the rye and the vetch that currently cover the fields will be flipped over and disked down into a two acre brown patch of dirt.
I’ll take the plants out of the greenhouse and plant them out into neat little rows. The vast brown fields will have evenly spaced green specks across them.
With time and sunshine and rain, the green specks spread out toward each other. They grow nearer and nearer to each other until there’s just as much green as brown, and then, more.
And with more time and, shall we say, um, inattention, there’s grows beneath each plant a nice mat of weeds, completely covering up any dirt that may have still been visible.
It all gets greener and greener and bigger and bigger until it’s finally harvested. Then, anything left that’s green gets disked back under and the brown soil brought up again. And stays that color until the rye sprouts into little green specks that grow and grow and the green reclaims the fields once again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Beauty Of Universal Parts

There was, at one time, a model number somewhere on the disk harrow. On the side, maybe, or, more likely, on a plate riveted to the front hitch frame. That would have been a long time ago. When it was new and shiny and someone went to the store and bought it and trailored it home and let it set outside the barn. They would have stood there and looked at it, all new and shiny and set outside the barn.

I don’t stand around and admire it much, these days, and neither does anyone else. The paint is all worn off and it’s been repainted and that’s worn off, too. It’s been scraped and chipped and rusted and someone painted over the rust. What would have been a model number plate wore off a long time ago, or was rusted through, or separated itself from the main disk frame through some unfortunate collision. The plate’s in someone’s field right now, awaiting future archeologists.

I tried to explain all this to the guy at the parts desk, and he was unsympathetic.

"I need a bearing," I said. "For a disk. A Long disk. A blue one. About this big." I held my arms apart. "And an axle. No, two axles. And some flanges and a couple of washers."

Deaf ears.

Apparently, they need more information than that to order the correct part.

I was close to giving up. I had resigned myself to muddling through with the disk, as is, for one more year, though it’s little more effective than dragging a box spring behind the tractor. Then I came across an old catalog. Cheap agricultural parts. Deere and International, mostly. Some Case. Some Allis.

The pictures for the International Harvester disk harrow parts looked surprisingly close to those I needed for the Long. I measured. With a tape measure and a yardstick and a little school ruler that had metric on one side of it. Everything looked like it would match up. I measured again. Looked at the pictures again.

Brilliant. Make a 1 1/8 ‘’ disk axle that’s 40 ¼ ‘’ long and make it so it will fit any harrow. Make the washer bumper square so that it will fit any washer bumper, and use the same groove in ‘em all so the same washers fit. That’s the nice thing about International. And Long, too. Universal parts. Unbolt it from one piece of equipment and bolt it right up to another. Get back in the fields.

It allows me to consider the equipment to be custom made.

The truck, for example, has a motor from a ’69 van and a transmission from a ’72 El Camino. I got the drive yoke from a ’65 GMC. I lose track of how many different vehicles the tires have been on. The battery has seen service in the tractor, both trucks, a Volkswagen and B*’s Toyota.

The greenhouse is made of plastic water pipe.

The packing shed was a garage before we moved it.

I could go on and on. Malleability. Adaptability. Those are the themes for today. Universal application of any part or skill that at first glance may appear specialized. It’s kind of like, well, evolution.

The disk harrow is operational again because it’s not picky about what gets bolted to it. It can accept anything and make it work.

I like to think that I work like that but really I don’t. I get my heart set on things being a certain way and I can’t adjust when things are different from what I expect. The difference between getting back to work and being consigned to a scrap heap seems to often be the ability to accept things for what they are. It’s so obvious that it doesn’t need to be spoken when I have a wrench in my hand, but is so elusive and hidden in other aspects. It’s hard to accept. The hardest thing to accept is that my disk harrow is smarter than me.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Urban Sprawl

The tragically hip are creeping out of Asheville. Slowly. Incipiently. Almost so you wouldn’t notice them, but they’re creeping out, and they’re coming this way. Marshall is downright happening. A typical evening can include African drumming, improvisational dance or perhaps a foreign film. Espresso is available. Art and politics are favorite topics of conversation. Industrial buildings are being turned into creative spaces. Yes, that’s right. There’s renovation. The New York Times is not yet available, as far as I know, so hip denizens must content themselves by tucking a token Mountain Xpress under one arm.
This was all unbeknownst to me until a few short days ago when I found myself in a very happening club in Asheville listening to a punk band covering Johnny Cash. I found that being from (sort of) near Marshall carried with it a certain cache, which I was quick to exploit. I immediately began to speak of things that I thought of as being in, like beheadings and the Oscars. I dropped names. I made it clear that I am, in fact, known as something of a boulevardier in Marshall, and am frequently seen with croissant in hand, speaking of art and politics. That quickly won me an invitation to a bar off Hilliard, a back alley sort of place that was packed in the wee small hours.
The place troubled me, though the ale flowed freely and the conversation was lively. Then it dawned on me, though it was still many hours before dawn. I was bending elbows in an unmistakenly hip place. The back alley anonymity of the location made it the place to be, and I realized I was surrounded by people who were in that bar so that they could be in that bar. Some of them had even been lucky enough to recommend the place to uninformed friends. We talked of art and politics.
This sort of garbage is fun in Ashevegas, because, well, it’s supposed to happen in Ashevegas. It’s a bit troubling as it encroaches Marshall, but it appears to be too late. One wonders at the fate of Hot Water. I’ve always felt it to have a sort of low rent granola feel to it, but that seems to be on the way out. Money is coming in, and the money isn’t hip. The money builds overbearing bed & breakfasts and prissy Mediterranean restaurants and whatever monstrosity the Ponder Building is turning into. Not a gallery in the whole town, and loft space isn’t sought after. Even the bikers are rich scumbags.
They’re not like the bikers I used to know in Colorado Springs, another incurably hip place where I used to hang out. The bikers there would stomp the shit out of you if you looked at them the wrong way. They’d hang out in pool halls over west of the Burlington tracks, and we’d hear ‘em late at night, unwinding the Harleys and roaring up the road to Manitou. They left me alone after a while. They knew I camped near the tracks and went out to Garden of the Gods when the labor office was closed. I got to be friends with one called Buzz. I’d see him in Poor Richard’s. That was a bookstore/bakery. We’d eat strawberry shortcake and make fun of all the hip people on the sidewalks. He was cool. He introduced me to Andre Gide, buying me a used copy of The Vatican Cellars for like fifty cents. I was young and impressionable, and that was the start of my education. It enabled me to talk about art and politics.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


I’m always surprised at how silently it comes and how quickly it goes.

The snow started Monday, but it was just playing with us. It melted as fast as it fell, accumulating just a little bit in the ditches and off the north side of the house. It turned to rain and dissolved itself, but sometime in the night became snow again.

I woke to a pure white blanket over the fields, up the hillside and sticking to the trees. The snow announces itself early by reflecting all tiny amounts of morning light into the house. I wake up groggy and confused and searching for justification to roll over and go back to sleep, and notice the light coming through the window is white, and not gray. That’s the paradox of a good snowstorm, I think. Snow, quintessentially winter, brightens and cleans the usually plodding gray days. So it’s like a toothpaste or a laundry detergent, only it can’t be newed or improved.

It doesn’t even feel overcast when it’s snowing. Like, the sky doesn’t feel like it’s covered with clouds. It feels like it’s full of … snow.

Wednesday I woke to clear, crisp blue skies over the white blanket. That’s when you wake to scads more light than you usually do – it feels like the sun is already up though you know it’s nowhere near to cresting that ridge to the east.

There’s nothing to do, of course, but go walking outside to make that snow crunch sound, then teach a two year old how to make snow angels (plus a pathetic attempt at snow horses.)
It melts off the roof first. By early afternoon there are wide gaps in the fields, and a little later all of it is gone. There are small reminders on the hillsides and under the trees, but it’s gone.

It rejuvenates the grass somehow. The fields, after the snow melts, under a blue sky, is a vibrant and electric green. Again the paradox. The morning gives you a snow covered field, a postcard of Winter, and fades into sparkling green grass, a postcard of Spring.

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