Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Monday, July 25, 2005

My Journey To The Mystical Isle of Sodor

started late, as can be expected. Up reasonably but not too terribly early, I picked squash and watered the greenhouse, expecting to still have plenty of time for breakfast and et ceteras. No such luck. I see J* and I* getting into their car just as I get down from the field, and run into the house for a semi-clean shirt and the tickets. The drive down to Dillsboro was, needless to say, filled with anticipation. We'd been waiting weeks, weeks, I tell you, for the fun-loving Thomas the Tank Engine caravan to come to our area, and when he finally got here it was almost too much to stand.
We boarded the shuttle to Sodor at an abandoned middle school they had set up as a park'n'ride center, negotiating our way past the minivans and finding an empty space.
Oh but first - yes, yet another reason to love western North Carolina. Like all holidayers we had to make a quick stop for batteries and film, selecting a grocery store called Harvey's in downtown Sylva. The Harvey's hadn't been redecorated in my lifetime. The architecture was from the Johnson administration. So were the hairstyles of the people inside. Yet, there was a bakery shelf with spelt cookies. (Maybe that would be funnier with an exclamation point: spelt cookies!)
Alright, so we board the glorious big yellow school bus, courtesy of the Dept of Correction, and are magically transported to downtown Dillsboro, where Thomas and his friends await.
The organizers of the gala craftily put their main merchandising section astraddle of the entranceway - there was no avoiding it. Period. You want in, you run the gauntlet. An hour and two tantrums later, we get out of the merchandising tent and at last reached our destination: Sodor!
Sodor is like the kiddie play section at McDonald's only with more camcorders. And no air conditioning.
We milled around, getting the lay of the land, talking with charming locals who offered to sell us helium balloons with Thomas' likeness, and sniffing at the bratwurst hotdog concession, apparently considered to be a delicacy on Sodor. Then a strange energy seized everyone, and as the PA system burst into rollicking version of the Thomas theme song, the Big Guy himself appeared, smiling and winking and pulling eight passenger cars! Amid a flurry of flashbulbs we located our coach and got on board, ready for the ride of a lifetime!
(I* was beside himself the whole time, I should say, shifting between uncontrolled giddiness and drop-jawed awe. Oh yeah, that's why we went.)
So Thomas leaves the station, and upon a mystery tour we did indeed embark. For ten minutes the train went backwards, affording a splendid view first of the Dillsboro train repair facility and then of a brushy hillside. Naturalists will be pleased to note the kudzu grows on Sodor just as well as it grows here. The mullein was blossoming, and the pokeweed offered some of the finest specimens this correspondent has yet seen.
The train then stopped, and went forward for ten minutes, recovering the same old ground and coming to a stop once again in downtown Dillsboro, um, Sodor. That's when I* got his Jr. Engineer certificate.
After such excitement, a little whininess was to be expected. J* and I* were both patient with me, though. They told me I wouldn't get any lemonade until after I got into the car and buckled up, and then we made our way home.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I Haven't Coughed In Weeks

I've succumbed to peer pressure, once again.
I can't tell you exactly why I've quit smoking, it's just that most of my friends don't smoke and I want them to think I'm cool.
As luck would have it, I'm quitting during the worst heat wave in the history of the world. The cocktail floating around in my brain right now, the mix of residual tar and nicotine and filter fragments all seem to come together in one giant weighted mass right in the center of my cranium. Then they all separate and go in different directions, seemingly bouncing off my eardrums and the back of my eyelids until they all come together again and make a bowling ball right at the top of my spine. Fortunately, the weather has turned itself into a giant, steaming wool blanket wrapped around me all day long. I've no energy but I can't sleep. I'm always hungry but I've no appetite. I can't think straight but my mind bounces around all day in hyperactive spasms. I feel like shit.
This quitting thing seemed like a good idea at the time. Everyone else was doing it. The thing is that, once you quit, it's so hard to start.

It all happened like this: Three events back to back put me in my present predicament. I know, they say it comes in threes.
At market one day, I got into a conversation with a friend about squash blossoms and their various culinary uses. We both leaned toward a squash blossom at the same time for a little whiff, then she pulled back, looked at me, and said, "Oh, you've been smoking cigarettes." But what she was really saying was: you stink. Hair, clothes, hands, in fact, your entire entirety, stinks, and you don't even know it.
Needless to say, that alone would not have been motivation to quit.
The next day, I'm over at T* & S*'s house. T* has just quit, and he's using the patch. He's sitting on the sofa, telling me all about the patch, and he's got this little package of patches on his lap. "See," he says, "this is what they look like."
"I'll try one of those," was my immediate response. "Gimme a toke offa that."
The third factor is a bit heartbreaking. The next day B* came over, and as is (was) our usual habit, we immediately lit up. We're just sitting in the shade at the edge of the fields, chatting and smoking, when I* shows up from outta nowhere. He sits down next to me. B* and I are inhaling and exhaling and spitting and inhaling and exhaling. You know. Then I*, sitting in the grass in the same posture as I, makes a big show of turning away and spitting. Then (get this) he looks at me with a wide-eyed expression of I'm just like you!
Not having a hole to crawl into, I decided to quit, instead.

The More Things, Um, Change ...

I thought this was really beautiful.

Friday, July 22, 2005

It Could Be Worse, I Could Be A Roofer

It will be in no way cathartic to complain about the heat. It will do neither you nor I a damn bit of good at all. I don't pretend to be about to say anything at all about the weather that is original, insightful, creative or thought-provoking. In fact, I may not even complain about the weather at all. I may just warn you that I am about to do so and about to do so in an insipid manner.
There's no relief from it anywhere, it seems. It's even hot at night. The house never cools down at all. The heat wraps itself around me all the time and squeezes and holds tight. Sloth doesn't help. I've tried. My brain is wrapped up by the weather and can't see anything beyond. Humidity - who'd have thought humidity has weight. It does, I tell you, and it presses down on me and wearies me so. I won't describe what things smell like. Or what I smell like. I can't bring myself to mention the flies. The air is stagnant, makes me stagnant, makes my thoughts stagnant, makes my posts stagnant. I'm tired. I can't even imagine a cool breeze. Time for another shower.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Why Bother Posting?

This is a non-post.

I'm not even going to bother trying.
I was thinking about continuing with some of the thoughts I started in my last post.
Or, I was going to recap some interesting things I learned today about Wilma Dykeman and our local watershed. I was going to brag about my tomato plants. (Send as much rain as you want, you Heartless Fucker in the Sky! You're not getting them this year!)
I was thinking about posting about various vehicle mishaps.
But no.
I'm not even going to try.
Back from a meeting in A'ville, I had a fun phone talk with my friend A* as I sliced squash to fry. When everything was good and fatty and artery clogging, I served it up as the phone rang again - my friend I*. We chatted as I ate - then I excused myself for dessert.
You're starting to understand my lethargy: I'm stuffed with breadcrumbs and egg (and a little squash) and I'm tired from fun conversation with old friends. I've a glass of wine in one hand, the rest of a blueberry pie A* made for me in the other, Neil Diamond on the radio (okay, not really. It's a CD by The Band with guest appearances by everyone on the world, including Neil Diamond, but it sounds so much better to say Neil Diamond's on the radio,) a cat on the sofa next to me, and Steinbeck's Pastures of Heaven in my lap.
I can't bring myself to come up with a decent post, but the thought of a non-post is too much to resist.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

She Even Remembered To Bring A Pen

The idea is to put a face on the farmer. It's a Japanese idea (no good ideas are American these days, it seems. All the worthy ideas are Japanese, or Native American, or Egyptian or Hindu. There was a time when jazz and the comic book were lauded as true American art forms, and celebrated as such. Nowadays, in order for an idea to be given any credence at all, it has to originate in someplace without running water.) And the Japanese came up with the idea of putting a face on the farmer. There's even a Japanese word for it, and those in the know will smugly drop this term when given the chance.It's a decorporization, if you will. If corporate agriculture depersonalized the food supply, then the food supply must now be decorporitized. The public is being sold the idea that an actual human being grew their food, and that human being is someone you can like and agree with. It takes the form of point of sale posters and leaflets - a store will hang a poster of a local farmer in their produce section. The poster will have the farmer's photo and a brief profile. It takes the form of farmers being mentioned by name in advertising, or visit-your-local-organic-farm tours, or branding a particular case of vegetables with a farm name. Like I say, the Japanese have a word for it.The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project is our local organization doing this type of work (they do it all.) Someone with-in the organization decided to put a face on me, and sent someone out to take pictures and compile information.She arrived last Thursday, and found Intern #1 and I seated in the shade of the white pine. We got her a chair and the conversation turned around to farming. We talked about sustainable this and sustainable that and how chain stores are evil and how organic lettuce is the best thing to ever happen in the world. And we learned in the course of things that she had come from Oberlin College to work a summer with ASAP and was then going to attend UNC-Asheville.Young people, or, perhaps more accurately: people a lot younger than I figure quite prominently in the cast of characters in the miniseries that is my life. Interns, friends of interns, people I hang with at market, friends of people I hang with at market ... you get the idea. When MB (my permanent intern for life) was still in school, I spent a lot of my time with her and her friends on campus. There are a lot of somewhat obvious jokes to be made in the they-don't-know-what-albums-are genre. They say yo at the end of a sentence. And from there we can move to a they have no grounding in the classics mode, and then make a short leap to what've they ever learned that can earn them a living? I could keep going, but it would probably make me feel old.They do make me feel old at times. At other times, they make me feel wise or experienced, and then, at still other times, I feel just plain stupid.I jump from place to place with my reactions to the younger people around me. There are times when my mind dismisses them as a bunch of beer guzzling kiddies who are wasting their youth. There are times when I say they've got a lot to learn before they'll be able to actually do anything. Or, the variation: they'll learn. As soon as they've got their own bills to pay, they'll learn.At other times my mind has jumped to a completely different place. They seem so together and grounded. They articulate their emotion so clearly. I sure didn't have my act together when I was that age. They seem capable of thoughts and feelings that would have completely eluded me at their age, or even today. I seem to meet a great many people with such an amazing sense of self-awareness and self-understanding. I think about how I was when I was in my early twenties and how absolutely juvenile I would've seemed next to so many of the people I meet now.All of this slapped me in the face again under the white pine as I tried to explain the farm.My interviewer expressed herself so intelligently, and so succinctly, that I decided to just shut up and listen. At times I was forced into responding to questions, and so I rambled on aimlessly with the kind of disparate thoughts that readers of this space are no doubt accustomed to, then backtracked and said everything all over again. All peppered with generous doses of ums and you knows. Then I'd shut up again so I could listen to her talk. She'd respond to whatever I'd said with some kind of intelligent statement and then ask me a question about something that I'd never even thought about. This went on for an hour or two before she finally left. I needed to rest.I'm left feeling dim-witted and slow. I'm left feeling like I've but a superficial knowledge of myself and the world around me, while so many others have figured out what's really going on and, what's more, can describe it intelligently. It's just me and my own muddled little brain here now, trying to make sense of things and wishing I was brighter.I doubt she'll mention any of this in the profile, though. She'll probably talk about my dedication to the environment or my heartfelt stewardship of the land. All that stuff that looks good in advertisements. If my customers only knew.

I Dream of a Baseball Star

by Gregory Corso

I dreamed Ted Williams
leaning at night
against the Eiffel Tower, weeping.
He was in uniform
and his bat lay at his feet
-- knotted and twiggy.

"Randall Jarrell says you're a poet!" I cried.
"So do I! I say you're a poet!"

He picked up his bat with blown hands;
stood there astraddle as he would in the batter's box,
and laughed! flinging his schoolboy wrath
toward some invisible pitcher's mound
-- waiting the pitch all the way from heaven.

It came; hundreds came! all afire!
He swung and swung and swung and connected not one
sinker curve hook or right-down-the middle.
A hundred strikes!

The umpire dressed in strange attire
thundered his judgment: YOU'RE OUT!
And the phantom crowd's horrific boo
dispersed the gargoyles from Notre Dame.

And I screamed in my dream:
God! throw thy merciful pitch!
Herald the crack of bats!
Hooray the sharp liner to left!
Yea the double, the triple!
Hosannah the home run!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Don't Worry, Kyoko, Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow

I* today ate the first tomato we have grown in three years.
He seemed to find it pretty tasty - he gummed it for a while, then threw it aside and started chasing the dogs.

We pick tomorrow, and when we do, we'll be picking cherry tomatoes. That's momentous because we lost our tomatoes last year - every blessed one of them. Ditto for the year before. A pernicious little influence called phytopthera caused the disaster, a somewhat highly evolved little fungi that thrives in cool wet conditions - just what we had the past two summers. So the first tomato harvest of the year, usually celebrated and feted with baccanalian abandon, is this year a zillion times as joyful.
I kinda just like to go up and look at them - rows of little tomato plants held upright in weavings of nylon twine. Their leaves are a lush dark green, the tomato leaf dark green (but for a thin layer of copper sulfite that adds a blue tint and wreaks havoc on the sex lives of fungus.) They're fairly well weeded - their stalks are visible coming up out of the ground. The stalks are kinda sparse - I've pruned away all bottom leaves to deny fungus spores any kind of a step ladder up off the ground, and to promote good air circulation. They're laden with tomatoes, all of them. Light green tomatoes clustered up tight to the lower branches and filling up every day with sweet summertime goodness, waiting for an off-stage cue from the Gods, when they turn a vibrant, rich red and are dinner plate bound.
It's nicest late in the evening, right before the sun sets behind the mountain. The light hits them sideways, filtered through the poplars at the top of the ridge and playing gently with the plants, making them glow just a little, almost making them smile.
The weather has been kind this year. We've gotten plenty of rain, but the rainclouds have invariably dissolved right away just as the last drops fall, letting the sun shine down and drying the plants. The days have been warm - downright hot, sometimes, and any disease that may be lurking has wisely opted not to show itself..
Even the hurricanes have been harmless - at least in this little valley, they have. Last year we found ourselves pummelled left and right by every possible disaster caused by man and weather. We lost the tomatoes, the squash was hardly worth fooling with, the potatoes rotted in the ground - even the okra looked like crap. (How can you not grow okra; it's a weed?) Perhaps the tides have turned our favor. If that little liquid gem of tomato juice dripping down I*'s chin is any indication, they have. There's an old saying in this business, something about the correct timing of counting hatching eggs, but I think I'll disregard it for a while. I've no time. I'll be too busy picking tomatoes.

Monday, July 11, 2005

July 11

Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, was born July 11, 1274. When he was almost licked by the English and about to give up the struggle, he learned the virtue of perserverance by watching a spider building its web. He then went right out and beat the English and regained his crown.
What happened to the spider is not definitely known, but someone probably stepped on it by mistake. Moral - there's always something.

-from How to get from January to December by Will Cuppy

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Now he remembered coming down through the timber in the dark holding the horse's tail when you could not see and all the stories that he meant to write.

Home from market today and I smoothed out the road. All the way up to J* and M*'s, graded down to a glass tabletop and ready for anything that comes its way.
These are unpredictable times, and I will not be caught unprepared. There's a hurricane out there, somewhere, and another behind it and another, inevitably, behind it. I won't allow the road to be washed away, at least not through neglect.
They're fleeing the coast even as we speak. I sit comfortably in my home, about to climb under the blankets for slumber, while a mere five hundred miles to the south people frantically throw belongings into a car and head north, hoping they haven't forgotten a child.
It hasn't been long since a hurricane made it all the way up here - downgraded to some other bit of jargon, perhaps, but no less destructive. I'm ready, or, at least, the road is.

Another intern showed up today. #5. Fresh from bumming a ride into A'ville, standing before my table and looking for a farm to stay on. Five minutes later and she's in the truck, heading for the holler as the old Chevy wheezes and spurts and backfires through the mountains. What karma gets me into these situations? What karma brought her to me? Such issues are too complex for me to fathom; I just let it all happen and waste no time with inquiry.
How shall history judge me? The mass migration of America's youth to organic farms may one day confound scholars, or may one day become this generation's cliche. Like those who hitched up the wagons and went across the continent to Oregon, or the exodus of blacks to the industrial cities to the North. Like painters going to Paris or flower children going to Haight-Ashbury. One generation goes to speakeasies and another lives in the suburbs. Will the cliche for this generation be that they'd travel across the country looking for a place to pull weeds away from organic carrots? If so, how did I get into the thick of it and what does it say of me that I do not flee immediately?

The fan gets turned on every afternoon, now. The sun comes in through the western window and heats the house like you wouldn't believe. Something's happening, though, inside the copper windings of the fan motor. It's generating (or, alternating, I'll have to check) some radio station somewhere. When it's real quiet, and I'm real still, and the fan's on, I can hear a song. Not clear enough to make it out, not clear enough to discern any of the lyrics, but I can hear it and it gets stuck in my head.
I informed the new intern of this. She was not as alarmed as she should be to learn that I hear voices.
The dryer's broken and the laundry's sour.
The air conditioner in the walk-in cooler may be on the fritz.

I'll take the tractor across the creek tomorrow to bush-hog S**'s field. It's the one where the greenhouse may be, some day. A bridge may go in, soon, but I'm not betting on it. A greenhouse may be built, but I'm not betting on it. D* may move into the old house across from the gondola, but I'm not betting on it. But I'll cut the field tomorrow, and I'll be on the clock.

People move. People split up. People get pregnant.
People from your past re-appear and parts of your past disappear.
Children get bigger.

I try not to obsess on unfinished projects, but they nag at me. I can't avoid it. I'll not deny it. There's a lot to do and there's nothing to do but do it. New people on the farm are nice. As I explain the lay of the land to them, I realize just how much I have gotten done. That's something. It at times seems ever so small, and at times seems like something quite significant. But it's something.

It's somewhere over the Gulf, still, way past Cuba and bearing down on the panhandle. They're saying it'll end up somewhere in central Tennessee, but I know better than to listen. There will be no sleep tonight. I've too much to do to prepare. I may grade the road one more time. I may cut all the trees around the house. I may cut a drainage ditch around the north side of the field, and clear the brush from the branch. I may dig up all the tomatoes and bring them inside. I've been going since 4:30 this morning, and the fan is singing to me and the storm is approaching and I feel nothing but confused and the kid has a fever and the bullfrogs are croaking and the last little bit of nicotine is being squeezed out of my mitochondria and there's a dozen massages on the machine that haven't been answered and someone ordered twenty pounds of mahi but I forget who.
Send whatever you got my way. I'm ready. The road is smooth, and whatever comes out of the sky will fade away like water off the back of a duck.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Legend of the Green Man

You'd be amazed how many people in the floral industry are homosexuals.
-Brian Racer
anti same-sex marriage activist
and pastor of The Open Door Bible Church
quoted in The New York Times
June 19, 2005

The discussion in the fields the other day centered upon the Green Man and his habit of re-occurring in various world cultures. I, as usual, was thoroughly befuddled by the subject matter at hand and allowed my interns to control the conversation.
It all started, as best as I can recall, when Intern #2 commented upon Intern #1's appearance, particularly the way that he favored The Green Man.
"He's really interesting," Intern #2 said. "One of my professors told me about him."
"The Green Man was a cool cat," Intern #1 said. "He's the woodsman. He's probably up there now, looking down on us. Hey! Green Man! Hey! How 'bout getting us some mead!"
"I read a book about mythology in my junior year," Intern #2 said. "The Green Man is found in archeological motifs through-out northern India."
"The Green Man's all over," Intern #1 said. "India. Africa. The cat got around. Everyone knew about the Green Man."
Interns #s 1 & 2 have a habit of having exactly the same conversation couched in completely different terms. Intern #2 is well-spoken and educated. His contributions to any conversation are always grammatically correct.
Intern #1 speaks more of a vernacular - a kind of rasta/rainbow/stoned-on-someone's-living-room-floor parlance.
Intern #2 footnotes his information by telling you which of his professors told him this or that.
Intern #1 thinks he heard it when he was driving with someone in West Virginia, or maybe he heard it from someone during a show in Philly.
Anyway, they're both equally knowledgeable about the Green Man.
They have similar goals, too.
Intern #2 wants to spend the summer on an organic farm because someday he'd like to have an environmental learning center, where people can learn about the natural world and their place in it. He would like to manage such a center one day, but he wants to first spend a summer here and then persue a relevant degree.
Intern #1 wants a farm so he can grow food for cool folks, and have a place where people can come to do their art work and drum.
I have trouble getting over the disconnectness I feel about the different ways they present themselves. Surely two people from such different background, who behave so differently, can have little in common. So says the top of my so-called brain.
Somewhere deeper in there I can see them for who they are, devoid of their external trappings. It's hard, and I can only do it when I'm not really trying. And that isn't often. I seem to have been conditioned to think with-in a set number of stereotypes. I'm trapped with-in them, and they dictate the way I label the world around me. I usually think that I am speaking the same language as everyone around me, the same superficial shorthand to describe all these things I already know. Everyone else, I conclude, is speaking in the same shorthand. The cliches explain everything to us, or they thoroughly elude us. Like the Green Man.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Small Is Beautiful, The Ugly American & The Burning Man

I built a shade house today, and I did it for free.
It was like the old days - my first year or two in this business, when I did everything for free or I didn't do it at all.
A shade house is a greenhouse covered with shade cloth rather than plastic. The idea is to keep things cool rather than to keep them warm. My goal is to have lettuce all summer.
Here are the ingredients:
Greenhouse hoops salvaged about seven years ago from a farm in Hot Springs and saved ever since.
Plastic row cover from S**. (Actually, it's that black mesh stuff they run along streams when they're working on the roads. He pilfered it a few years ago.)
Shade cloth I fished out of a dumpster from a nursery that went out of business.
Metal fence posts they put in the ground here at the farm about fifty years ago to keep the cattle out of the tobacco.
Old baling wire.
Start to finish, it took me and Intern #3 two hours.
It's none too pretty to look at, but I'm betting that it does the job.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I Was Thinking of You When I Went To Wal-Mart Today

(An early birthday poem for you-know-who)

I was thinking of you
when I went to Wal-Mart today
when I was in the check-out lane
I remembered
that I forgot to get light-bulbs
so I pushed my cart
all the way back
to the light bulb aisle
and in so doing
passed the hummingbird feeders.
I saw one shaped like a
and put it into my cart.
It hangs now
from the apple tree
in the front yard -
reminding me
of when you stopped here
on your way to the coast,
reminding me
of the lighthouse conversations
we used to have
when you did your dissertation.
I know it wasn't a dissertation,
but somehow
the word
sounds better in a poem.
And speaking of poems,
I'll move now from the narrative
to the metaphoric,
and mention that
the hummingbird feeder
hanging from the apple tree
acts as a beacon
drawing me toward the safe harbor
of your friendship
and reminds me
that all friendship
can flounder on reefs or shoals
if we fail
to guide ourselves toward one another
with steady hand,
allowing ourselves to be drawn
to what we prize most -
the light at the top.

Powered by Blogger