Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I lied

I just don't have the time to post regularly, so until that can happen I'm just putting this thing on hold. I'll leave the blog up. Anyone reading feel free to comment; I'll check the blog now and then.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh, where have the months gone?

I suppose an update is in order. It's been a busy couple months, and, as a result, I've neglected my blog. Since August I've spent much time planning last-minute details for my wedding, getting married, planning and taking the two-week honeymoon, readjusting (barely) to "normal" life, working 55-plus hours a week at the dairy farm--in addition to all the other little things that pop up. Needless to say, downtime is rare these days; today is an odd day where I have found the opportunity to post.

But don't you worry, any of you three out there who might still be checking out this blog every once in a while, for I hope to be taking shorter hiatuses between posts. Really, I mean it this time. Really. Well, as long as I can stay awake past 9 p.m., which has been a struggle lately.

Time has flown. One month ago we were on the road, probably in Charleston, WV, at the conclusion of our honeymoon. It seems so long ago, but not really. We did a Southern road trip of sorts, starting in New Orleans, winding through Savannah and Charleston, SC, and ending in the mountains of NC, VA and WV. I wish I had a laptop so that I could've blogged on the road.

The whole trip was great, but I can't get over those mountains. We camped in Cataloochee in the Smokies (our second visit to the great national park--the first coming a few years back), where we saw the reintroduced elk herd up close and wandered the trails where several thousand people made their homes before the park became a park. Some say Cataloochee is NC's counterpart to Cades Cove, but less crowded and (so the logic goes) more enjoyable. Well, it was substantially less crowded than Cades Cove, utterly beautiful, and filled with intriguing historical remnants, but lacked the sheer, divine power of the Cades Cove landscape. There's a reason Cades Cove is the most visited location in the the most visited national park. That said, Cataloochee was amazing in its own right, and I wish I got to spend more time exploring it.

We also rented a renovated farmhouse near Waynesville, NC that had spectacular mountain views and modern indulgences (like a hot tub on the porch). Loved the view, loved the house, loved Waynesville. But it didn't matter where I was or what I was doing: I just love the mountains, and I can't really put it into words.

All in all, we spent about three days in western North Carolina, partly because we are thinking of relocating to the mountains in the near future. We've spent time on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, which was when we fell in love with the Appalachians, as well as the foothills of Kentucky, and now we've explored parts of NC, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. Floyd, VA was a very cool little progressive mountain town, population somewheres around 435 (one of the best small towns to raise a family in America, some publication said recently), SW Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway was filled with mountain homeyness and a deep, inspiring tradition of American roots music, and everywhere we went in NC was great. West Virginia, while filled with astounding scenery and great nature opportunities, didn't really measure up, though we didn't spend enough time there to really get a feel for it. Let's just say that the state capitol, Charleston, seemed about as lame as cities come. But then again, I'm not a big fan of big cities anyway.

Anyway, the rural and small city areas surrounding Asheville, NC seem like a great place to live (mountain country living and modern, progressive, urban benefits in one area). After descending back to the flatlands I couldn't let go of the feelings I had while being in the mountains--again. Somehow, some undefinable part of me is truly at home in the highlands. When I'm not there I yearn to be there; when I'm there I'm exceedingly inspired.

And sometimes, lately, I seem to lack inspiration. Often, I think I'm just biding my time until I can get home. Then again, sometimes I think I have issues living in the moment and embracing the gifts in front of me, which is probably true. But the awe and excitement I feel when I get to look up and see mountains all around me is impossible to write off as some passing fancy or superficial attraction that will fade with time.

Ever since I left my original home in Illinois, I've thought of myself as a nomad. Place is utterly important to me, hence the current focus of this blog. And central Wisconsin is great and all, but I've always known it would be a temporary place for me. But I'm tired of temporary after all these years, and I want to find a homeplace.

The southeastern mountains are calling me home. The questions is, When can we feasibly make the journey? We need to answer that question very soon.

In the meantime, as I get the opportunity, I plan on changing the focus of this blog because I just don't have the time or passion to do justice to central Wisconsin as a place. Who knows where I'll go with this, but I hope to be able to write something of value, even if it's just random ramblings.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How a sprain leads to useless ponderings on technology

Being laid up here for the past few days has allowed me to ruminate a bit. Part of those ruminations have been fueled by reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I can't believe that I haven't read this book up till now, considering my formal training is in English and philosophy; this book is essentially the modern day meeting of literature and philosophy, though more focused on the latter than the former. But I don't intend to review the book in this here post, or dwell on literature or philosophy.

Instead, I want to talk, I think, about plain old technology, a concept central to the book and something I've thought deeply about often. The last few days I've been sitting around a lot, generally recuperating my wrist, reading, clicking away with my left hand on the computer, and watching a bit of baseball, all the while with a fan blasting me--because it's been farking hot. And it occurs to me in this very situation that I hate technology and love it at the very same time.

I pretty much hate modern dwellings. My apartment sucks. It's almost prison-like in the way it separates you from the outside world--and most abodes I've experienced are the same way. But that's the way it is I suppose: modern housing does a good job of protecting us from the elements. And yet, that protection seems detrimental in some aspects, as if the my body requires at least a bit of the elements I'm not getting inside my place. I'd like to think that we could do a better job designing these places we spend so much time in.

Now, you're probably shaking your fist at the screen saying, Just go outside, crapface! I know. You're right. But, as I said, it's been so hot, and my wrist has crippled my ability to walk around pain free without wearing a big brace or some Ace bandages. And so I decide to stay mostly inside. And sulk a bit.

And inside lives the remarkable invention known as the fan. It moves the air and dries my sweat, leading to some cooling of my body and a slight bit of satisfaction. Just a bit. But it's nice. What if there were no fans? Well, I'd get by, probably with a couple of fanning slaves from the neighboring tribe, but you can't really beat fans for efficient cooling (and their relative lowness on the cruelty scale): for pocket change and a few units of renewable energy I can stay fairly cool all day long and rest my wrist.

In contrast, my new neighbors feel they have to run their air conditioner all day long, every day. Now, I don't wanna be a snooty asshole about this; I've contemplated using the A/C a couple times over the past few days, and we've even kicked it on once this year (it's a-nice), but air conditioning has to go in the category Inventions--Fairly Bad. Not only is it a wasteful power sucker (and consequently a major polluter) but it's also loud and expels additional hot air into the already hot air outside. You know about urban heat islands? Well, I have to imagine that A/C units contribute a bit to that phenomenon. How does that saying go? It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul ... or some such ridiculous thing. Stupid technology, unless it is required for health purposes.

Anyway, I'm conflicted. I'm not really a luddite (well, kind of). Nor am I by any means a tech junkie. Generally, I'm just a practical fellow who tries to get by with the minimum. And I've always wanted to make a list of what I consider the most essential and useful forms of modern technology (that is, technologies that require electricity or its equivalent) for no other reason than to amuse myself. So, here we go:

  • Refrigeration -- This will always be at the top of my list. Refrigeration, as well as its cousin, freezing, is one of those things that make life a whole lot better for humanity in general. Being able to preserve food makes things substantially easier. Of course, I could rely on spring houses, cellars, and caves, but then I'd have to worry about snakes and bears and security and ease of access. Refrigeration is a major improvement.
  • Computers -- What a tool for democratization, connectivity, and problem solving. We don't even know the potential yet. Also, as a form of entertainment, the interactivity of computers is a giant improvement over TV.
  • Powered transportation -- God, don't make me say cars, because that's not really what I mean. What I mean is powered vehicles make the world more accessible to the individual (and simultaneously limit our reliance on animal labor). And this desire to explore, I think, is somehow encoded in our DNA. The current transportation paradigm is way fucked up, but we have to start somewhere I guess.
  • A/V recording and preservation -- How fucking sweet is it that I can hear Tuvan throat singing in my own house? Or throw on something that was recorded in the early 20th century? Future generations will be overwhelmed by such direct, multifaceted access to their ancestors' world.
  • Indoor plumbing and sanitation -- This kind of stretches the definition of the list, but it's one of the big, important technologies of our time.
Hmmm. I'm out of time and ideas. Dinner must be made. In an oven. With electricity. I'd use wood or solar if I could though.

Monday, July 30, 2007


I haven't posted in a while because 1. farm work has been quite the adjustment for me, and 2. I slipped and fell while dismounting from a skid steer and seriously sprained my wrist. Needless to say, this is really the first day in several days I can type without too much pain. But it's still fairly uncomfortable (there's some weird sort of stiffness/pressure in the inner wrist) . So, I'm on hiatus from most things for a while. Should be back posting soon, and hopefully better adjusted to my new line of work after this forced rest.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mmmm... beer

We spent last night at The Art of Brewing event down on the Square in Stevens Point taste testing the best malty-hoppy goodness Wisconsin has to offer. By my count there were 10 breweries represented, one wine table, and a totally out of place Cold Stone Creamery cart offering their crap for $3 (beer and ice cream do not mix, OK?). Entrance was $15. We were given a three-ounce tasting glass and the opportunity to take as many samples as we wanted by 9 pm. Let's just say that I seized that opportunity. It was like liquid heaven.

Of tasty note was the Milwaukee Brewing Co.'s three offerings: pale ale, ale, and stout. I've had a lot of Wisconsin beers, but never from these folks. I think they're a fairly new operation. Glad they were there to show me the light. The Solomon Juneau Ale was exceptionally good; it seemed to be fairly light on hops for an ale and had a slightly sweet, almost vanilla character to it. Will definitely buy it.

Also great was South Shore Brewery from way up north in Ashland. I've had one of their beers before--the Honey Pils, which I believe is my favorite Wisconsin beer--and discovered last night that their Herbal Creme Ale is about as yummy as Ales come. Actually, the name of the beer says it all: it's got a complex body of herbally flavors that is exceptionally smooth and creamy. Probably my favorite beer of the night. They also had a very good Nut Brown. I was lucky enough to have been handed nearly a full bottle of the creme ale at around 8:58.

Other breweries represented: Wisconsin favorite New Glarus (always excellent), Minnesota-based Summit (didn't leave any impression on me), Sand Creek (OK), Capital (yum), Miller (boo!), Tyranena (not my favorite), local micro-micro Central Waters (great bourbon barrel stout and porter), and, of course, Point.

Point has changed the label of their White Biere. It is now being called Belgian White. The brew is still the same, but the dude at the Point booth told me that they made the name change to avoid some sort of confusion about the type of beer it is. Something to do with how the Germans say "vit" or something. I don't know. Either way, it's a pretty unique and tasty beer.

Also, local home brewing shop Point Brew Supply was on hand to let us know that they are in the process of opening a really really really microbrewery at their new location in Plover. They hope to have their first beer served up at the Springville Wharf Restaurant (which will become part brewpub when all is said and done) round about September. I forget what the name of the first beer will be, but it has something to do with a big "O." I can't wait to try it.

I can't believe I remember all this stuff.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Things have been a bit out of the ordinary here lately. I had hoped to post with more frequency since blog traffic was on the rise. But I recently quit my job as an editor/writer to become a farmhand on a dairy farm (makes perfect sense, right?); I've been waking up at 4 am and putting in 14-hour days, which has left me sort of zombie-like and generally discombobulated. But I've just begun a four-day weekend, which is nice. More on the experience in future posts. For now I'll just say that it has been a great learning experience so far and much more satisfying than my last job-- but exceptionally hard.

Anyway, it's late and I probably need to sleep (sleep schedule is all messed up right now). Hopefully I'll post again in the next couple days.

Monday, July 02, 2007

On the farm, day 4 -- Beetlejuice

Friday was a fairly easy day on the farm. We did a little cleanup from the previous days' harvest and set up boxes for the upcoming week. Then we hoed around the eggplant, which have beautiful little blueish flowers sprouting, and squished potato beetles that were doing their best to keep all the eggplant to themselves. It was quite unpleasant to squish adult potato beetles with my fingers (compared with the juveniles, who weren't crunchy), but such is the trade off: instead of spraying his crops with all sorts of pseudo-safe pesticide, farmer Mark employs a time-tested, more direct approach to crop protection. Either way, the bugs die; having to crush the beetles with my own hands has helped me realize that the production of almost all food involves some sort of death. I never thought about it so concretely when I bought my food in the grocery store or at the farmers market.

Oh yeah, we also rolled up some ground cover before working on the eggplant. I'm not sure what the purpose of the cover was; perhaps it was some form of insulation. I try to ask Mark questions, but I also try not to be a burden out there. Plus, we're usually really busy. Anyway, after the eggplant we moved some sprinklers around and laid some t-tape in the broccoli beds. T-tape is used to drip-irrigate the crops; it has tiny holes in it, which allows the water to slowly make its way into the soil. I believe Mark said he is testing out the sprinklers for the first time this year. He finds the t-tape more efficient, but doesn't like the fact that he has to trash it when he's done using it on a particular row of crops.

This week's sustenance: lettuce, mixed greens, salad turnips, garlic scapes, scallions, snow peas, snap peas (sweet like candy!), and swiss chard.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Photos from Connecticut

Just got back from a week's trip to beautiful rural Connecticut. I'm still settling in, and I hope to post something of some sort of substance soon. In the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip.

Wildlife abounds. In the center is an adult from a family of woodchucks that lives on the property where we stayed (116 acres in central Connecticut). If the photo were better you'd also see a male red-winged blackbird right behind one of the leaves in the foreground. I have never known them to be feeder birds.
One extremely unique skunk eating cat food on the porch.

An adult raccoon wanting to get in on the action during a previous evening.

They feed together (though the coon was hesitant because the skunk had sprayed it the night before near the feeding dish, and while this photo was being taken, the skunk was literally doin' the fakeout on the coon, causing the coon to flinch with fear).

Finally, a shot of the drawbridge in Mystic, Conn. Those are large concrete blocks that apparently utilize the force of gravity to help the bridge open. It was quite a sight.
I'm playing around with ways of posting photos to blogger, so hopefully these come out OK.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A few photos

Well, I finally got around to unloading the camera.

My attempt at doing macro with a crappy auto digital presetting. Came out OK I think. Taken in early May.

Not sure what kind of snake this is, but we stumbled upon it in Iverson, near the Green Circle Trail. Early May.

Finally, this porcupine was moving like full-flavored molasses up this tree in Black River State Forest. A week and a half ago.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On the farm -- Days 2 and 3

It's Monday and I'm still in pain. Friday was a killer day on the farm. Not only was it something like 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky, but we spent most of our time doing squats while weeding and transplanting. We also went back on Saturday in lieu of this coming Friday. My quads are very upset with me, and so are a number of other leg muscles I never knew existed.


So, we weeded more garlic crops. It's a good thing, too, because the weeds were so thick in some areas that the particular plants in the vicinity were obviously stunted. And, remember those nitrogen-fixing flowers we removed last time? Turns out that they were part of the thickness problem in some areas, and we were asked to pick 'em this time so that they don't keep reseeding and become serious weeds themselves.

Then we moved onto transplanting a couple varieties of french crisp head lettuce. It's Farmer Mark's favorite kind of lettuce. They were seeded earlier in the season, and at about 2-4 inches tall they were ready to go in the earth. Mark prepared the bed of soil with his biodiesel-fueled tractor; then we rolled this nifty homemade-looking barrel-like contraption over the area to put divots in the soil that would serve as home base for each plant. I couldn't even tell you how many transplants we did (my thighs say, "lots"), but it was a great experience actually putting our food in the earth by hand. The process consisted of taking the seedling--which was rooted in a "plug" of soil--putting it in the divot, gathering the surrounding soil with our hands to cover the plug, and pushing the plant into the soil so that it would make good contact with the earth. Each plant was thus in its own crater of earth, where any water would readily collect and efficiently hydrate the lettuce (this system of planting is especially important, I assume, with all the hot, dry days we've been having recently in central Wisconsin). Running my hands through the warm, nutrient-rich soil was a peaceful, warming endeavor. I naturally feel connected to the earth, but this was a new type of connection for me; despite dripping with sweat and being inundated by the sun's powerful rays, I felt as if I were sitting lakeside amidst a cool breeze, underneath a thick canopy of trees.

Our remaining time was spent watering the transplants and hoeing. We took home radishes, turnips, some sort of green leaf lettuce, swiss chard, salad mix, and strawberries.


I was already hurting Saturday morning, but it was back to the farm for another three hours. It rained moderately, so we spent almost all of our time rehabbing a long-overgrown greenhouse. Let me tell you, it was like a rain forest of wild plants and remnant oregano in there. And some of those plants had deep roots. And it was so humid. And I'm such a cry baby. But I did end up soaked in my own sweat from head to toe; so, so much for staying dry in the greenhouse.

A couple interesting encounters: we ran into some either thistle or nettle that fucking killed. Grabbing this plant is like grabbing onto thousands of tiny needles that stay in your hand for most of the rest of the day. Also, while digging out the oregano we encountered little bugs that would toss little particles of stuff at us. I don't know if it was a a defense mechanism, but I've never seen anything like it.

Anyway, after about 2.5 hours or so, we succeeded in turning the "weed" rain forest into earth that is almost ready for crops (the soil is well-compacted from being trampled for so long). It was quite a transformation. Wish I had my camera.

We've subsequently used our crops in several salads and sandwiches. It was my first-ever taste of swiss chard, which is so yummy I can't recommend it enough. It has a very earthy, crispy, hearty flavor unlike any other leafy green I've had, and apparently it is much more nutritious than spinach even. It works good raw (especially when its young, but if not, just remove the stems for cooking at a later time), sauteed (I cooked it with fresh garlic, olive oil, and onions), and steamed.

Today, I'm trying for the second day to recover from the farm work (I could barely walk straight yesterday). I thought my legs were strong, but I guess I fooled myself. Tonight I'm making stir-fry with turnips, radishes, turnip greens, chard, onions and tofu, all over a brown-rice/wild-rice mix. Not sure what the sauce is gonna be yet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ruining the climate change party

How about that An Inconvenient Truth? I actually think that Al Gore changed the world like few people have in recent history. Don't ask me how he made such a tremendous splash with a PowerPoint presentation. I guess it was the straightforward, few-frills approach. It's quite unexplainable. Whatever the case, we've reached a tipping point, where a critical mass of people stands up to tell our leaders (and everyone else in the panopticon) that something needs to be done or shit is really going to hit the fan. Even non-chemists know what the hell CO2 means now. Every company that wants to continue making money has learned that they have to "go green" and proclaim their love for "the environment" publicly. For fuck's sake, even Rupert Murdoch, in what must be a sign that the Four Horsemen are on their way, has said that he is revamping News Corp. to be more, as the kids say, ecofriendly.

I'm all for it (ignore my cynical panopticon reference for a moment), as long as people back up their talk with action and we see the earth and its creatures (people too, for you anthropocentrists) begin to heal after a couple hundred years of industrial onslaught.

But, I'm a party pooper, too. See, there are two major problems with all the rage over climate change: 1) some people are faking their concern or using it to cover other misdeeds, and 2) the welcome but overly obsessive focus on this issue has taken almost all attention off other equally important ecological issues.

Regarding point 2, yeah, it sucks that so many people are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at such high rates. But it also sucks that so many people are destroying (both legally and illegally) such large quantities of intricately evolved habitat that unique species are losing their only homes and niches, and localized ecosystems are quickly (in the blink of the earth's eye) collapsing. Biodiversity is on a rapid decline thanks to direct (as opposed to, for example, the secondary collapses associated with climate change) human destruction, which has got to be just as urgent a situation as greenhouse-gas emissions. Let's not take our eye off the larger ball.

I mean, people are obsessed with the topic of climate change. They say, "We're reducing our emissions." That's great and all, but I think reducing emissions and encouraging companies by buying into their emission-reduction advertisements is missing the whole point of making a change. Whether people are reducing their emissions is not really the central concern here: the key question we need to be asking each other is, are you adjusting so that you no longer needlessly wound the earth? In other words, are people reducing their emissions simply because reducing emissions seems like the righteous thing to do , or are they reducing their emissions because they understand it to be part of their wider obligation to protecting their home? If it's the former, we're screwed; if it's the latter, well, then we are automatically concerned with more than climate change and will make a real difference. Wholesale changes are needed, not fads or marketing campaigns.

What I really worry about in the short term with the whole banging of the environmental drum is that people are going to paint themselves green in order to take advantage of the wildly popular image they can create. The cases are popping up already because companies know they can make some serious money if they lead the way.

Here's one example--

Gulahiyi thoroughly informs us, in several well-written posts, of the very recent bursting of a dam that was part of the exclusive, highly touted Balsam Mountain Preserve (nice name, huh?) golf course in the mountains of North Carolina:
Balsam Mountain Preserve is an interesting case. Ever since they set up shop here, they’ve garnered plenty of press. But reportage has been almost entirely public relations, with hardly any NEWS. Chalk it up to a Balsam Mountain Preserve public relations team that understands media, understands the message it wants to convey, and understands how to use environmentally-friendly jargon designed to project a certain image.

The out-of-town investors behind the project claimed that the waters they managed in the "preserve" were uber-clean, their practices were so environmentally friendly, and their water was the last remaining haven of southern brook trout. In the meantime, rivers downstream from the golf course were slowly silting up and wildlife was dying. Oh, and it turns out that they were wrong about the trout. And then, the damn burst and people downstream were really up a creek. Luckily no one died. But the local media are apparently doing a shitty job of reporting on the situation.

Golf courses and rich folk retirement/vacation communities are going up all over the mountains (ah, to enjoy nature's beauty, right?), leading to landslides, water quality problems, erosion, and general habitat destruction.

Monday, June 11, 2007

On the farm -- Day 1

It was an eventful weekend for Meagan and me. Friday morning was our first day ever working at a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. For those who aren't familiar, CSAs dot rural America and are a much better way to attain most of your food for much of the year. CSAs work in two primary ways.

One way is for you to find your closest CSA and buy a share for the year. At our CSA, Sunny Sky Farm in Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, a share costs $420 for the regular season, which gives you a weekly average of 10 pounds of delicious, local, pesticide/herbicide-free, land-preserving, picked-yesterday food that will feed a family of four on a mixed diet for a week. Sunny Sky has convenient pickup spots in each of the 5 most populous cities in central Wisconsin. You get resupplied every Thursday/Friday from June through November, and you have the option of buying a storage share of hearty vegetables at the end of the year that you can preserve, so you can extend your consumption of local goodness for several more weeks.

The other way: you actually work for your share. At Sunny Sky Farm, we each put in approximately three hours of work in exchange for a full share. Being only two, we plan on shifting to a more vegetable-based diet in order to best take advantage of our earnings. Right now, the shares are on the lighter side, as it is early in the season, but later on, the boxes are supposed to get quite heavy; so we'll have plenty to share.

Your mileage may vary at other CSAs.

So, on Friday we earned our food by taking the tops off of radishes, hoeing between salad crops, preparing a greenhouse for planting, and weeding the garlic crop. The work was harder than we thought it would be, especially the weeding part, which was hours of bending and squatting and pulling. But besides overlooking a couple boxes of radishes and weeding what we thought were weeds (a.k.a. wildflowers) but were actually nitrogen-fixing crop covers, it was a decent start to the season. Having been raised in a megalopolis, we're gonna fuck up a few times, I'm sure (Farmer Mark is very understanding and nice). But we're learning how to raise the food that we and other community members eat to live. There are not many other things I'd rather do right now than learn how to tend my own food--to know what goes into it and what piece of land it comes from.

Our reward for working was a peaceful Friday morning in the country, a gigantic bag of spinach, a head of romaine (I think) lettuce, a bag of salad mix, a large quantity of Rhubarb that leaves me at a loss, a bunch of radishes, and a decent quantity of turnips. The selection of crops will change as the season progresses. The spinach was so delicious that we ate it all this weekend (sandwiches, wraps, salad, on pizza, in tomato sauce, and in a dish with mashed turnips, tofu, garam masala, turmeric, garlic, ginger, ghee, and onions) . Everything else is excellent too--except, I'm not sure about the rhubarb, which, as I said, perplexes me. Meagan says we'll make cobbler with it, and everyone else says "Rhubarb pie, duh!" but I still just sit there and shake my head wondering what I really can do with rhubarb. We'll make it work though.

Besides feeling the rather unexplainable joy of helping my sustenance grow straight out of the ground, I feel good knowing that most of my food takes minimal machine energy to produce and transport and that it is a sustainable operation. What better model could there be? You contribute either a fraction of your time or a fraction of your paycheck, and in return you get the most delicious, well taken care of, produced-nearly-in-your-backyard crops, as well as a connection to your community and the land.

Industrial agriculture, with all its pesticides, herbicides, disease, destruction, cruelty, GMOs, and pollution, is a failed model. As more people become aware of the CSA option, and as CSAs of all different kinds start to connect with each other across their localities, I'm sure we'll see a long overdue revolution in agriculture that actually serves to alleviate hunger and environmental damage thanks to the way CSAs bring commonsense, efficient, generations-tested yet fully modern methods of basic living to our refrigerators.

Time for some salad.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Eekin' out the MPG and reducing the footprint

These are my kinds of people:
Hypermilers slightly overinflate their tires to cut rolling resistance, seize every chance to coast with their gasoline engines off, and sometimes “draft” like race cars behind larger vehicles.
Though I don't own a hybrid like these folks, my manual transmission allows me to conserve a bit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The making of Summer Camp (Rated R)

“There was a lot of tolerance for psychosis.” This statement comes from the History Channel show called Hippies. And though I'm not old enough to personally have experienced hippieness in its original state, I'm pretty familiar with its demented child... er, i mean its modern remnants.

Having not seen the History Channel program, I can't really comment on its content. But, as to the quoted bit of text above, I can say with certainty that psychosis is still tolerated, if not encouraged, in the community.

I spent Memorial Day weekend down in Chillicothe, Ill. at the neo/pseudo-hippie Summer Camp music festival, where approximately 10,000 people gather every year to camp, cook, imbibe, and smoke, and listen to some subpar bands. And, oh yeah, there's the portapotties, or "Little Johnnies" if you prefer, which, at certain horrifying parts of the weekend, inevitably end up filled to the brim with a foul brew of modern-day hippieness.

It was my third Summer Camp. Mostly I've been prodded into going every year. See, I used to be into the whole jamband scene, back when the bands were pretty good. I've seen Phish more times than I care to count, and I've seen scores of other noodly shows. But it got to the point where I felt most of the bands were either poor Phish/Dead imitators or just terrible, terrible songwriters and singers. While a few good bands still grace the scene, I now prefer my noodles in the form of unbleached whole wheat flour and appendages.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely love improvisation, which is at the root of the type of music that hits the festival circuit every summer. But it's gotta be good, productive improvisation that takes you on a journey and challenges you to question the fabric of reality. I know, I'm a demanding listener, but that's what improvisation is to me. While not the worst of the bunch, Moe. and Umphrey's McGee, the "headliners" of Summer Camp, are far from challenging. And most of the lesser known bands suck even more. I enjoyed three sets of music all weekend (Drop Q, Brainchild, and Toubab Krewe), two of which I already knew I was going to enjoy. All of this detail is to explain just what mediocrity composes the modern hippie experiment.

It's pretty sad. All the drugs (and then some) of the original hippie movement flood the fields of modern festivals. And people just don't know how to take their drugs responsibly. Granted, this year wasn't as bad because the authorities cracked down pretty hard, but still, almost every drug you could think of was available without a prescription, no matter your age or mental state. In fact, I'd say drugs take center stage at these festivals, with the music an afterthought or, in some cases, a vehicle for the drug user.

And this is where psychosis is still tolerated. People want to trip so bad that they're willing to take all kinds of things in liquid, powder, and solid form on the word of complete strangers--many of whom are there mostly to bank. Then the trippers run around all night doing weird things until they're so strung out all they can do is walk around like zombies and fall into people's tents. (It never fails; I always see someone crash into someone's tent at a festival.)

And then you've got the folks who think they are the gatekeepers of love and can see into the souls of everyone. They'll tell you your aura is bad or good (and then you're totally pegged!), or they'll talk about lightning bolts coming out of necks (not making this one up--no joke) and other such what I presume to be vague derivatives of vague derivatives of Eastern religion/philosophy that they use to establish their superiority.

And then there's the portapotties. While sanitation is probably one of the most crucial advances in our society, some people at Summer Camp don't care. They stuff all kinds of random stuff into the poop and pee receptacles, causing the latter to often clog, which is especially fun at night. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that someone always feels obligated to smear their crap around in there; don't know how or why, but it happens a lot.

Anyway, psychosis is the only plausible explanation for some of these actions. And people obviously love it: just consider the yearly increase in attendance for Summer Camp and other larger festivals like Bonnaroo. It's the modern incarnation of Woodstock. Hippies left a bad legacy in this regard.

All that said, this was my favorite Summer Camp. All our neighbors were awesome and kind (for a change) and there appeared to be less unstable druggies wandering around menacing others. Still, this will probably be my last Summer Camp. I'd rather spend my money on other, more satisfying experiences.

I'll take peace and love and communal living and jamming and saving the earth and enjoying myself--just without all the weirdness. Come on, you pseudo-hippies, it's not too late: don't bolster the Nuge's position, OK?

Monday, May 14, 2007

A-huntin morels, part dos

Nada fungus found. Too dry methinks. Or we're bad hunters. Like the tepid Cubs fan I am, I have no problem making myself feel better with the mantra, "There's always next year."

We did, however, get infested by ticks, mostly of the Wood variety--though those Lyme-carrying Deer ticks were out and about as well. But, once again, it was a beautiful day for a hike. Gorgeous green landscape has returned in force to central Wisconsin.

There's nothing like a glorious, relaxing weekend to make you have an aversion to Monday in the office. Or maybe I'm a bit cynical and/or ungrateful. The wiser part of me would take the beauty of the weekend and inject it into my vocational obligations, thereby making the workweek tolerable or even (gasp!) slightly enjoyable. The hardened side of me, though, is all too aware of this tomfoolery and preemptively smites the wiser part, just looking forward to Friday. And then there's the adventurous part of me (my better third, as I say) that wants to do nothing but try something different. This, my friends, is a Typical Monday™, brought to you by my brain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A-huntin morels

Me and the fiance went huntin for morels yesterday. It was our first time ever doing it, and like so many others during their first time, we went home empty-handed. We kind of went out on a whim to a local forested area in Stevens Point; I'm pretty sure it was less-than-ideal habitat for morels, as I didn't come across many ashes or dead elms or apple trees.

However, it was a beautiful evening, and we glimpsed a snake, some kind of ground toad, a heron, a pileated woodpecker, a family of deer, and newly flowering vegetation. I did get a couple nice closeups of the snake and the flowering plant, which I'll post soon, hopefully.

On the other end of the spectrum, the ticks and mosquitos are out. I need to dress more appropriately next time.

We plan on doin some more huntin this week, preferably in more suitable morel habitat. It's just about the perfect time of year here I hear. Anybody out there in Central Wisconsin know of a good general area to look for morels? Please help a beginner out. I promise I won't give up your secrets.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Old transportation of the two-wheel kind

I ride my bike to work almost every day. I do it for the earth, my health, and my wallet.

From an ecological perspective, all I emit is the CO2 I exhale during my ride. My bike spews zero chemicals (aside from the occasional lubricant I need for my old chain), all the parts are original, and the bike is probably 15 years old.

As far as cost goes, smart environmental decisions often equal smart financial decisions. Many people in america are just beginning to really figure this connection out, but it has been evident for so long. And, as I said, the bike is 15 years old, yet I haven't had to throw down money on replacement parts. Granted, it's in pretty bad shape, and I haven't always ridden it full time, but it has been quite durable nonetheless. The brakes do need to be changed soon though--before I crash into a tree or get impaled on a hood ornament.

The health thing is definitely the most tangible reward for biking it every day. It's awesome to feel myself get stronger and gain more endurance with each ride. I probably get into work smelling like a dirty hippy and sweating like a crackhead, but life requires such tradeoffs.

My journey is six miles round trip, and I probably do another couple miles during lunch. It takes about 20 minutes to get to work. The most amazing thing about cycling, I've found, is that it's personally fulfilling and liberating to power myself around. And it actually makes going to the office a bit more tolerable.

When I first moved to Central Wisconsin, my round-trip commute to work was about 50 miles. Later, when I went back to school, it took 70 miles to get to and from the university. Now, during a normal week, I put more miles on my bike than my car. I much prefer my current mode of transportation.

I only wish I didn't have to deal with such harsh winters, however. To that end: Anybody from a warmer yet still beautiful area of the country (nudge, nudge--I love the mountains of the Southeast) want to hire me before winter returns? I'll bring you cheese.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Our forests

I've always been a lover of forests--well, at least since I can remember. I remember being taken up to Wisconsin when I was a kid, on vacations to escape the weird sprawl of Suburbia, Chicago. Of course, my parents had no real problems with suburbia: they had lived there forever, aside from a few short departures. So, when I say escape, I mean that leaving suburbia was to become an escape for me. I remember being awed at the forested landscape, at the smells of the pines, at the wild prairie flowers. What was an escape eventually became sustenance. I would learn to focus most of my vocational efforts on saving up enough money to take frequent trips into "natural" areas.

Now I live in Wisconsin, a heavily forested state, relatively. The first county I lived in here was Adams. It is one of the poorest counties in the state, sparsely populated and filled with lots of interesting forest lands. The county I live in now, Portage, has a university and several decent-sized towns. It is less forested than Adams, but it still has lots of natural beauty. Stevens Point is quite an amazing city from several different angles, but I'm gonna focus on the forests here.

Though Stevens Point is the largest city in Portage County, with about 25,000 people, you'd be hard pressed to find a more forested city of its size. And I'm talking about forest in the city proper. Not only do we have a wonderful nature preserve attached to the college and a sprawling Green Circle Trail, with 30 miles or so of beautiful trails that meander next to rivers and through pine stands, but we also have acres of private forestland hidden away in various corners of the city that are open to exploration (not sure if its legal, per se, but the lack of those "no trespassing" signs tells me I'm allowed). According to the WI Dept. of Natural Resources, urban areas in Portage County average about 35% tree canopy cover, whereas the state average for urban areas is 32%. Pretty impressive, in my opinion. I can't even tell you how much I love the Green Circle Trail; I use it to ride my bike to work--it accounts for about half my ride.

But there's a troubling trend in Portage County: We're literally losing our forests. Back in 1984, long before I got here, 34% of the county's land was forested. Same percentage in 1996. But, in 2004 only 30% of the land was forested. That's a loss of nearly 24,000 acres of forestland in only eight years. Numbers aren't available for 2007, but I can only imagine the downward trend continues. At the same time, though, most of the counties surrounding Portage have steady or increasing levels of forestland, and Wisconsin as a whole is showing an upward trend.

I'm not sure what the deal is here. I suspect that the recent influx of national chain stores has something to do with it. Where there was nothing but land just a few short years ago, there now exists Walmart, Best Buy, Lowe's, Kohl's, McDonalds, some buffet chain, a couple regional restaurants, Starbucks, US Cellular, MC Sports, Cousin's Subs, Petsmart, and Michael's craft store. Hmm... I'm probably forgetting a couple. But, damn, that's a lot of stores--and that's all in one area. Don't even get me started on the rest of the city.

Portage County is definitely growing, and businesses are pouring in. But it's the same old business model that is the product of a failed, unsustainable era of city and land planning. Most of these chains don't know what local means. So, as they set up shop on the outskirts of our city, take up our land and resources and suck up our money, most of the wealth is diverted to some corporate headquarters where it will no doubt be invested in another duplicate building somewhere else in some small city that is ripe for plundering.

I don't know. I see a lot of subdivisions and same-old neighborhoods going up around here, especially in the neighboring towns of Plover, Hull and Whiting. In fact, it seems to me that these towns are some kind of weirdo upcoming suburbs of Stevens Point. It's kind of a sick thought. As once-forested lots are bought up by developers, trees are just mowed down to make room for cookie-cutter houses. I just don't understand that model of development. I do, however, understand that population is growing and people need to put up houses. But can't we lessen our footprint? Haven't we learned something?

Whether one wants to admit it or not, all evidence points to the fact that the earth needs its forests. Truly healthy forests are places of biodiversity, places of sustenance and renewal. We rely on the life processes that are protected and nourished by our forests. Yet, when business comes along, we forget that. One only needs to look at the recent decline of the honey bee--just the latest in a line of collapsing life processes--to realize that when we harshly encroach on the natural order without any forethought, we risk causing serious problems with major repercussions. Ah, the "hidden" costs. When will we start factoring those into the equation?

Back in college, my environmental ethics professor, a Leopold scholar, had an elegant theory of wilderness usurpation. It went something like this:

Draw a square on a piece of paper; this square represents our wilderness. Now, shade half of it; this is the part of the land we agree to turn over for development. Now, shade a quarter of what's left; this is the part of the land we compromise on and turn over for more "needed" development. Now, shade an eigth of what's left; once again, compromise has brought us to give up our land for more "needed" development. And so on, until not much of the land is left to its own devices. Those who refuse to compromise what's left of the land (because they know better) are smeared politically and marginalized as radicals; though, in reality, they are the true conservatives when it comes to this issue.

While certain parts of the country may not be operating under this exact model (as is evidenced by the actual increase in forestland in Wisconsin), many places are struggling to hold on to what's left of their wilderness. And it's literally a struggle, because some people still can't see how the land is important on so many levels.

Fortunately, Wisconsin has a rich tradition of conservation and preservation. We fostered movement giants like Muir and Leopold. I have faith that Wisconsin will go in the right direction, even if my county falters a bit. And I know that other parts of the country have their inspiration as well.

Seeing as how I got my environmental ethics degree under the tutelage of the aforementioned Leopold scholar, I carry a lot of Leopold's Land Ethic with me. His thoughts just rang true with what I already knew. And if there's anything Leopold expressed that we need to remember today, it's this: humans are merely plain members of the land community. Our days of domination are effectively over, and the sooner we come to terms with this situation, the better we'll be in the long run.

We're a populous species, and we will likely require more space on this planet. But I think we can live in harmony with the land. For me, the forests are not supposed to be separate from us; I think, with commonsense development, we can safely take our places in the heart of the community, just as we have most of our history on this planet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Update; and The obsurdity of territory

My absence has certainly gone unnoticed. But anyway, I haven't had much to write about lately. The problem is: all my best ideas come to me at work. Then I get home and turn my brain off for a couple hours. And, unfortunately, I can't really post at work.


For those who don't know, a few days ago Iran seized a bunch of British sailors who were conducting a standard search of vessels entering Iraqi waters. Iran claims, however, that the Brits were in their waters. So they took those seamen. And they won't give 'em back. But they have assured Blair that the troops are safe and fit, or something like that. Blair was pissed; said something to the effect that shit would hit the fan if Iran didn't return the soldiers. Iran said, "no."

Today's development:
``The rumor is that the Brits went in for a rescue attempt on the Royal Marines and Navy guys,'' said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures Inc. in Huntington Beach California, referring to 15 British military personnel seized by Iran on March 23. ``And we don't know if that's true.''
Two things: First, this (read: everything about this situation) is the small shit that starts world wars. It's ridiculous. Both of these countries' leaders need to sit down and smoke a bowl or something. Remember what happened when Hezbollah swiped only two Israeli soldiers? War. But an Iranian-British war would be horrible and far reaching. Second, and more importantly, this goes to show the absolute lunacy associated with the concept of "territory." Not only do countries claim land, but they're like, "shit, I need to extend my ownership out 100 miles into 'coastal' waters, too." Well, I don't know if it's 100 miles, but it is some similar distance. Are the North Pole and Antarctica claimed? Methinks not. But it won't be much longer. Same goes for the moon and the earth's orbit and any ocean that's left.

I'd like to think this modern Westernized world could be capable of one day living without brutal and absolute ownership of land (and water, for that matter). If yes, it would probably cut the number of wars by some significant percentage. But I just don't know if we have it in us anymore. Maybe there's some extant cultures out there that can show us a better way. We have some on this very continent who might know, if the old ways haven't already been obliterated by globalization.

Don't even get me started on globalization.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The weather and other random crap

It hit the 40s here today. It's a frickin heat wave. How awesome. I like talking about the weather for some reason (anybody who ends up reading this blog regularly will probably see what I mean, so let me apologize ahead of time). What's funny is that as a teenager I absolutely hated talking about it: I thought it was the smallest of the small talk. Now, I don't know what has happened to me, but I'll gladly carry on a hearty conversation about jet streams and convection and Alberta clippers and thunder snow. Well, I'm kind of lying, because nobody in their right mind, aside from meteorologists, wants to talk about those things. (Which reminds me, if you like meteorology and have access to WGN over the air or on your cable/satellite provider--and if provider carries the feed of WGN that shows the Chicago news--tune in to the noon and nine p.m. broadcasts, Central time of course, to see the best weather forecast breakdown I've ever witnessed on TV.) Anyway, Neil from the Up Series of documentaries makes a good point in 28 Up. He says that people who live most of their lives outdoors don't talk about the weather much because they live in it; everybody thus intimately knows what's going on in their environment and they have few reasons to discuss it further. Makes sense to me. So, we'll see what happens when Spring finally rolls around and I get my ass out on the hiking trails. Will I blog less about the weather? One can only hope.

Other stuff of interest (maybe):

~Spring your time ahead this Sunday morning. It'll be nice to have some extra light during waking hours.

~Did ye know Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog? That's right. He and a few of his merry friends make witty posts in all their Middle English glory. And don't miss the occasional Old English (must be late OE) post by guest blogger Tremulus Aescgar, who reminds us what it was like "bifore the Frenssh cam to Engelonde." Represent!

~Wikipedia has a list of unusual articles. Trust me, this page is hours of fun.

~One of those articles is about Uncyclopedia, Wikipedia's alter-ego. Again, hours of fun.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Substance behind the statement

So, flipping through the channels last night, I caught Mitt Romney on CSPAN. It was part of their ongoing series highlighting the race for president in 2008. Mitt is a Republican, former governor of Massachusetts. I watched for about two minutes while waiting for Alton Brown to come back on, and I really couldn't handle Mitt's bullshit for much more than that anyway. At first Mitt sounded okay on the surface. He talked about lowering various taxes for the middle class--that kind of stuff that every politician talks about. Then he got all proud of his so-called social conservatism. He basically took shots at homosexuality and medical science and the other standard stuff that is so sound-biteish in modern politics. His big subconclusion was something to the effect that he has, throughout his political career, stood up for traditional values. Traditional values? I guess I don't know what that means to some people.

As a big history nut, traditional values are interesting to me. One of my passions is Appalachian history. I like the idea of a family unit and/or a community coming together to survive in this world, despite the fact that most times the rest of the world you are aware of is against your people. I value many traditions, including respect for and deep knowledge of the land. I like the tradition of self-government and self-reliance that is deeply, though more and more obscurely, rooted in our unique history. I like the fact that we have the chance to look to the oldest in our society, those who are the keepers of nearly lost knowledge.

The values of tradition that I hold dear are, to me, intrinsically useful. Losing these values would cripple our society if one day our modern technology/lifestyle failed us. I value lots of things that are rooted in the past.

Unfortunately, politicians and journalists don't understand tradition. Or, if they do, they spin tradition into a narrow meaning. Either way, the result is people like Mitt.

To interject, I don't really consider myself partisan. Most people who know me would say I'm liberal. And that's fair. I lean to the left quite heavily. But I really don't buy into the right/left dichotomy. Those who really know me would say that I have strong libertarian tendencies as well. I'm also rooted in the philosophies of Montaigne, Hume, Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Foucault. I think I'm fairly independent when it comes to issues and politics. But hey, the labels come out when you have to operate in a political system that is so polarizing. My point is that I'm not a Democrat, or a Republican, or Green, or anything. In other words, if a politician wants to talk to me about stuff, I'm listening. But you better not talk like an asshole or a simpleton.

Nowadays, the culture war is everything. One side claims tradition and values. Another side claims acceptance and progress. And none of it makes sense because all sides could easily exchange the labels they rely on and still be talking about the same shit.

When people say they stand as the gatekeepers of tradition, they're full of crap. Most people, in one way or another, cling to tradition. At the same time, most people want progress. You can't have one without the other because the resulting lack of any balance would cause the personal system you live life by to collapse for want of structural integrity. When I hear a politician get on their pedestal and tell me that they and their party represent the sole voice for tradition, it makes me want to yell. And yelling is not good: it destroys a conversation. So, I refuse to yell. But then, my subsequent natural preference is to withdraw. And that's not that good either.

What I want to see is people argue for their traditions based on the simplest sense of utility: How does your tradition and your values positively impact society? You can't just say "traditional" or "values" and automatically claim some sort of authority. No, you must elaborate. You must show us how what you hold dear is beneficial for people. You must show us relevance. I want it carefully spelled out for me every time you make such a deep claim. If you don't, I will not hesitate to completely disregard your whole message. We know how logic works: if one premise is weak or unsupported, then the rest of the argument is lost.

Sometimes tradition is unhelpful, sometimes it's productive, and sometimes it's downright harmful. All the time, it's worth exploring--but, we can't forget, so is change.

Sadly, people who are strict partisans fail to see how another perspective always--always!--has something of value to offer. Screw parties and the political spectrum and anything else that attempts to essentialize a person's mindset or philosophy. Think we'd survive without political parties or partisanship? Yeah, it's hard to even imagine what that world would be like. But I believe it's probable and preferable.

What Mitt's little superficial appeal to tradition really got me thinking about was my value for some old ways that were prevalent not too long ago: people in this country, at least those who lived the rural life (which were many), used to have a close connection to the earth. They knew when crops needed to be planted and harvested; they knew how to track animals in the woods; they knew which wild plants were which and what each was good for; they knew the best wood to burn for warmth; they knew the general time by the position of the sun, moon or stars in the sky; they knew the night sky so well in general; they knew their neighbors; they knew solitude; they knew quiet time; they knew really, truly hard work--but work that was all theirs; and they knew uncountable other things that are virtually lost in modern day America. Our entire history as humans has been about living closely with the land. While that relationship has been complicated, and filled with ups and downs, it has been the physical (and often spiritual) center and bedrock of people's lives since always.

What happens if technology and synthetics have to completely replace intuition and naturally occurring substance? I don't really know. My gut says that it would turn out bad eventually. And if it doesn't, well, I get the impression that it wouldn't be such a fun or meaningful world to live in. But I also admit that I could just be desperately clinging to an old way of life that is bound to die like so many others. I doubt it though.

So, who's seriously talking about this tradition out there? It's important to a lot of people, even if it's not vocalized loudly. (Wink wink, nudge nudge--I'm talking to some of you libertarians and environmentalists. This is right up your alley.) I want to hear talk about what it means to be self-reliant or to be an environmentalist. Our political lives are not about the hot-button, superficial issues that generate high ratings on TV. Anyone who says, "I own issue x" just doesn't get it. And that goes for everyone--right or left, the religious or the secularists, northerners or southerners, the political or the non-political, or whatever binary opposition we are told to position ourselves in.

Alright, this post is getting out of control.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Snowy weekend

Nothin like gettin nailed with nearly a foot of snow right after it sooo seemed like Spring was on its way. The beginning of February was a deep freeze -- And it ends with a blizzard. This morning cars were just about buried up to the tops of their wheels, unless of course a snowdrift made it even worse. I could barely open the door to get outside. And it took all my might to get into my car. The plow/snowblow people came around 3:30 this afternoon. Took em long enough, eh? Our landlords aren't the greatest at getting things done. The poor saps who weren't home or didn't answer their doors to move their cars and have their spots plowed are gonna be pissed tomorrow/tonight. Like this guy/gal (not good):
But really, when I'm not the person who owns the car above, I don't mind the snow so much. A fresh fall makes for some beautiful sights. And there's just something cozy about getting blanketed. I didn't get a chance to capture any really beautiful shots, but here's a look down our street this afternoon, right when the snow was starting back up again (three more inches to come they say):

Friday, February 16, 2007

Woody on diversity

I've been getting into older American music lately: folk, old time, mountain music etc. I've also been getting into americana and alt-country. These interests led me to this album:

For those who don't know, Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie's daughter by his second wife, discovered thousands of unpublished Woody lyrics that he never got around to putting to music. She asked Englishman Billy Bragg to pick some of these lyrics and make 'em into music (I heard somewhere that Bob Dylan was initially asked, but turned Nora down for some reason--but don't take my word for that). Billy, in turn, got Chicago rockers Wilco in on the deal. Thus, Mermaid Avenue was born.

And what we were given here is some amazing music. The songwriting (what I mean is the instrumentals and vocals) is beautiful and deep and yet simple enough to remind you of centuries of music that came before it. The lyrics--well I've known about Woody for a little while now, but I guess I never paid extra close attention to what he was saying, because the lyrics on this album are often spectacular. Which brings me to the point of this post.

There is one particular lyric on this album that really grabs me: track six.
She Came Along to Me

Ten hundred books could I write you about her
Because I felt if I could know her

I would know all women
And they've not been any too well known

For brains and planning and organized thinking
But I'm sure the women are equal
And they may be ahead of the men

Yet I wouldn't spread such a rumor around
Because one organizes the other
And some times the most lost and wasted
Attract the most balanced and sane
And the wild and the reckless take up
With the clocked and the timed
And the mixture is all of us
And we're still mixing

But never, never, never
Never could have it been done
If the women hadn't entered into the deal
Like she came along to me

And all creeds and kinds and colors
Of us are blending
Till I suppose ten million years from now
We'll all be just the alike
Same color, same size, working together
And maybe we'll have all the fascists
Out of the way by then
Maybe so.

I'm not sure when this was written, but the window would be early 40s to mid-60s; if I had to guess from the content, I'd say some time in the 40s. Anyway, there's a lot of stuff going on in this song. Woody takes the individual experience and extrapolates it to the collective; he's talkin civil rights and feminism; he's a bit postmodernist; and, perhaps most striking, is this song's discourse on diversity.

Woody sez that diversity is the key to progress: the "wild and reckless" get with the "clocked and timed," the "lost and wasted" with the "balanced and sane." When different folks get together, they not only moderate, but they essentially change one another. The acceptance of diversity, here, is the engine of life: for if life were ruled by some monolith and nothing else, then we'd be missing out on a lot of variety, a lot of passion, a lot of things that makes living living--no matter your perspective.

Yet, the last stanza is difficult to put a finger on. Woody sez that "we'll all be just the alike" after years of mixing. Gone will be the kinds, creeds, and colors. We'll be one people. And where does that leave us? Perhaps we'll be rid of the fascists because we'll all inherently be fascists. We'll be one master race, one culture, all mixed up nicely in a brave new world of mass media, where we feel, through osmosis, hate for anyone trying to do anything that is nonstandard. Don't even mention beings from another planet. That would probably be the worst fear of all. Is that what Woody means?

Nah, I don't think so. Ten million years is such a long time. We probably won't even be around then. Woody knows this. It's the ideal; it's Platonic I suppose. As with Plato's Forms, the idea of some kind of beautiful perfection that is just out of our reach is motivation for finding the good*. Unlike Plato (perhaps--depending on how you interpret him), however, I think Woody recognizes his over-the-top idealism for what it is. When he talks about the unfathomable sum of 10 million years, he acknowledges the impossibility of his stated perfect mix of people. Even so, he can't say with any confidence that fascism will be dead. He "supposes" everything in the last stanza. It's no mistake that the whole song ends with "maybe so." What he presents is a land of pure conjecture. And what that leaves the listener with is only a focus on the process--one that has value in and of itself. It's a beautiful echo of ancient, timeless philosophy, but with lots of twists.

And it all comes back to the central theme of the song: the importance of one-on-one interaction. If we aren't willing to challenge ourselves by opening up to a different experience or by thinking deeply about something unfamiliar, then what, really, are we living for?

Anyway, I originally intended this post to be about hate in America, particularly how "in-group thinking" contributes to unbelievable divisions in this country and how it seems an inevitably perpetual problem. Maybe if I remember what the hell I intended to say, I'll continue this next time I have computer access. Happy weekend.

*Good is generally a bullshit term, in my opinion. However, sometimes the context requires it, and sometimes it is rhetorically useful. When I use it I'll try to stipulate exactly what I mean. In this case I mean Platonic beauty.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The rebirth, or, a bit of an introduction

The rebirth

I had three posts sitting here for so long. They were three lonely, crappy posts. Later, I discovered MySpace where I made several other posts -- some crappy, some not so crappy. But MySpace is a shit place for posting anyhow. I've come limping back to Blogger, hoping to make some quality posts. The three crappy posts have found their way into the abyss of bytes, where they will no doubt find a better home as I recycle the space they were taking up in order to produce something different.

A bit...

I currently live with my fiance in the middle of Wisconsin. Grew up in the burbs of Chicago. I've been in the area here for about 6 years now. I never thought I'd be here this long, but things happen. Suffice it to say, I really adore this place, but I know that I need a bit more elevation in my visual diet along with temperatures on the more moderate side.

I say this blog is partly about place because I have a strong sense of place. For me, that means a lot of things, but chiefly that I need to feel a sense of substance about the area I inhabit. While that explanation is vague, there's really no other way to say it and still be accurate about how I feel. I can say this though: Wisconsin is beautiful, and when I ponder the place I live, I sometimes get the warm fuzzies. I love the community I live in, I love camping the shit out of this state, I enjoy the history that informs present day WI, and I think that the sense of governmental duty here has deep roots in progress. Taken together, this is a great place to live. It's just too fuckin' bad that the last two-plus weeks haven't seen the lows climb above zero. While the temperature doesn't really ruin this place, it does kill about 6 months of what I like to do most: hike and camp. Maybe I just need to suck it up and become a winter camper, someone might say. But I've camped in my supposedly 0 degree bag when it was in the 20s, and I was literally not a happy camper. Maybe later in life.

Anyway, I wasn't a fan of Chicagoland. I had the opportunity to leave, so I did. I suppose I could have gone anywhere in the country, but rural central Wisconsin was convenient, so I settled in. Let me tell you, despite my love for nature, it was quite a change to go from a metropolis of seven million to a small town that could be counted in the hundreds in the winter. But it was a positive change. I now live in a city of 25,000, within a bike ride of anything I could want, including grocery stores, music, a state university, rivers, forests, and lakes. I love the fact that I'm only about a five-minute bike ride from completely exiting the city proper, and a one-minute walk from a six pack. While my passions truly lie in the rural life, my sense of social/environmental responsibility combined with current technology and city planning schemes require me to live elsewhere. I'll take the compromise I have now.

I also say that this blog is about sound. My love for sound is just about as strong as my love for the outdoors. Together, they inform my passions and creativity. When I write "sound" I generally mean music, but I might also be referring to various other noises of beauty.

How all of this melds is what I find intriguing about life. I also fancy myself a sort of thinker and writer. I see this blog primarily being a creative outlet for me; in other words, here will live my random musings. I currently work as an editor (business-related stuff). And for writers, editorial work can sometimes be antithetical to what we truly love. I need this venue. If other people stumble upon this thing and find some value here and want to converse, that's a sweet bonus.

So, welcome. Join in on my journey, which I guarantee won't end in this here place.