Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jack and the Beanstalk

The beans have been eaten to the point of extinction by something as yet unidentified. Perhaps Jack's mother, to keep him more earthbound. But some of the corn is over 11 feet high. I believe this is the corn I was given on that trip to the strip-mining sites in Kentucky last Fall. It's decorative (red and brown), not especially edible. But I need to find to what that means.
Last year crows ate the cobs straight off the plant. Despite the drought, and the soil problem, we are getting some serious produce, thanks to the regular afternoon rain. I plucked my first cantaloupe today, and cannot wait to test the idea that ripening on the vine really does make a difference, that locovor is not just a slogan.
There are more seeds sprouting in the nursery, and despite the bare patches, this whole network of raised beds will be full - probably with too many tomatoes. But I can never get enough.
And here's a shot of the garden from the gate.

Out with the old, in with the new

One old billy died last week (see Bye Bye Billy, below). He was an individual goat, this goat not that goat, and not just part of a flow of goatiness. With spectacles I can almost imagine him reading up on the variety of peach tree I had planted, and making some suggestions for future plantings. He did look wise. But here he is, half submerged in the water. Did he get stuck in the mud, fall over and drowned? Or did he have heat stroke, and died looking for something cool? Here is a sad image.
So Billy was not just a transient goat-phase. His loss is real. And yet, a few days ago, look what appears! A new kid on the block, brimming with bounce, a life that did not exist at all before. And now?
We can't just say he's a replacement for the old dead goat. And yet we do say - "Life goes on." Is that just a way of coping with death?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Goats and the Moral Vortex

I met neighbors Bob, Carol and their family at the weekend at the local Goat Show in Woodbury. Half way through had won a third prize. All the goats looked great - groomed and super clean. I wondered what the criteria fort excellence were. Well, they are meat goats, so what counts apparently is shape that reflects meat. I lamented my own decline in goat herd numbers, and my need for some new genes. I was told I could perhaps buy a new nanny for $80. Background: recently dead Billy in the lake, plus loss of one day old kid. But yesterday I spotted a mew kid on the block, all jumping around with his Mom. I abandoned plans to put both up in the barn, and let them wander off. So far so good. Dad seems to be hanging out with them too. How does he know he's Dad? I assume he's top goat and can claim them all. When I find myself hoping the new'un is a girl, I think about the effect of China's one child policy in which girl babies are often aborted. Am I playing the same game? I spend so much time and effort protecting fruit trees against goats and goats against predators. And their guardians (dogs) against ticks. Why? Perhaps they are symbols of the Other, with their destructiveness the best evidence of their not being reducible to my needs etc.

AnimalArtists in Residence

I am reading Ranciere's The Emancipated Spectator, in which he wrestles with the problem, especially in theatre, of reducing the spectator to being the passive victim of illusion on the part of those who know better, continuing a line of argument that breaks with Althusser's vanguardism in the name of a certain equality. This equality welcomes an ever broader sense of The People, and the possibilities of their participation in thinking, art, power etc. I am coming see something friends have long pressed - the importance of providing people with opportunities not just to walk and gawk, but also to shape and make. The WordPoem project works like that. Liz and Lauren led the way last week with their Swing Break installation (see attached)- notionally for humans but actually more adapted to the weight of dryads and fairies. I could direct wanderers to supplies of naturally occurring materials, and perhaps supply string, nails that sort of thing.
To which, I add, do non-humans get a look-in? In my work on Bangladeshi sandcrabs I explored the question of whether animals (incl insects, crustacea) could be said to be artists. At the vary least, contemplating this question can open up the question in new ways. There are two obvious ways this could work. First one could document existing animal art, perhaps commenting on its status. Second, one could try to encourage it by facilitating favorable conditions. So far, the best examples I have are from mudwasps, which have colonized both inside and outside the cob sauna. Inside they have built organ pipes. Outside, they have constructed burrows in the cob that look like the spray pattern of a shotgun. I am reminded of Jencks tolerance of the moles in his Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I want to go beyond toleration to celebration. Are they not artists in residence?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Going Japanese: Grow Your own Bamboo Fence

Some six years ago, we planted various kinds of bamboo down by the road. They are the spreading invasive sort. My theory was that I would in fact harvest them, making regular inroads into their invasiveness. This morning I started. They have started spreading up the hill away from the road, supplanting brambles (which is good), heading for the rocks where, I suspect, they will meet their match. The goats have resolved my dilemma over the sauna - whether to enclose it in a fenced garden or not. It seems a shame to do so just to enlarge the range of plants I can grow outside in planters without becoming immediate goat breakfast, but it has become clear that the shade of the sauna is a goat magnet, and their odiferous offerings are renewed on a daily basis. So, in keeping with the neo-Japanese theme, a bamboo fence is just what is called for. Google bamboo fence and images of two kinds appear - very close bound privacy screens, and much looser structures that will nonetheless keep out animals. The latter will suffice, and not give too enclosed a feel. Inside the new space will be limestone pavers, and tubs with scented plants: rosemary, basil, jasmine ... ideally hardly perennials. I cut about 50 tall bamboos, some 30' high. Now to trim and drag them back. Pictures soon. Suggestions for scented bushes?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In the Back of the Fridge

What if the mind were like the fridge? Lots of stuff that's lost its label, and got shoved to the back shelf. One day, time for a clean-out. Scary. Leftovers from that party. Was it THIS year or last? This jar smells good but what is it? How could that grey/green mold have grown so thick without being spotted - and what are those little beads on top. Will the mold spores still lurk if I really clean the fridge? If I want to take this process to heart existentially, is it enough to go through the pile of unfiled papers on my desk? Or experience and memory too? Therapy? Writing? Among the old jars, this time in the freezer, a mug with what looks like a Guinness crown of frozen foam on top. I am about to toss it when something stays my arm. Could this be .... an ancient sourdough starter. I leave it on the counter and forget it for days. The following week I press the crust gingerly and it rocks like a floating iceflow. Underneath bubbles of activity. I bring it to my nose: its the soughdough starter, brought over from Germany over 100 years ago, and mailed to me by a friend in New York 10 months ago. I have two wonderful new wwoofers, Liz and Lauren, recently released from Cornell and Bennington respectively. This morning, 15 hours later, we are wolfing on the best sourdough bread I can remember. Thanks Lauren (and Liz). We must learn how to feed the starter. Already, I am sure, new wild yeasts are knocking on the door, wondering if they can join the old band.

Bye Bye Billy (and an Armadillo)

I made some loud clicking sounds, and then whistled. But the white patch at the edge of the lake in the distance did not move. It was too far away to be clear what it was. But unless it was a couple of sunbathing herons, it seemed clear enough that something had died. The old billygoat's long white tongue was hanging out, its stomach was bloated, and the sound of the flies was overwhelming. Its huge baggy testicles were half-buried in the mud. Six black vultures lined up on the bank had slowly wafted away as I approached. The sun-soaked stench of death already suffused the air, suffocating any consolatory thoughts about cycles of nature. Carl Sagan suggests our deep connectedness to the stars by saying we are made of stardust. But the intensely invasive smell of a decaying body teaches another story. It marks an absolute difference between the living munching devilish goat and this rotting corpse. It may be turning back into stardust, taking a long detour through suppurating flesh, maggot nests, chemical decomposition and so on. But each one of the molecules that once made up that fine billy could have come from anywhere. What mattered was their combination, organization, and the dynamic directedness of the whole into which they were fused. The death stink is a cacophany of disintegration, breaking down complex forms into raw materials readied for reabsorption by the chain of life. But the goat had long since utterly gone. Living beings may well be shaped somewhat by the building blocks available, but the difference between a lump of coal and a carbon-based life form is absolute. The watery corpse at lakeside is a mere shadow of what once was. Not far away on this day of death I found my first armadillo, looking like a cross between an angel and a mega-rat. Covered in scaly armour, its leathery flanks encased folded-up limbs that seemed cupped together in prayer. Its insides had already been gutted. It was not clear why it had died - out there in the open on the straw-dry grass. I looked back at the goat. The vultures were already circling back. Walking away from this impromptu cemetery, I felt anew the strength in my legs, the air in my lungs, the thirst in my throat. And I thought about what it must be like to be trapped in a body (or soul) dedicated to an armored existence. I wondered how armadillos made love (and porcupines). Amour and armour! I thought of Wilhelm Reich, and the idea of psycho-somatic body armour, and its connection to fascism. This latter shows us that life itself can do deals with a certain 'death'. Nietzsche: "Man would rather will nothing than not will." This testifies to the power of life even as it betrays its highest possibilities.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Rain raineth

Habits can lead us astray! It was about 7pm when I bundled up the hill to feed the animals their daily chow. The cats democratically all at once, with some mild hissing. The dogs in strict hierarchy: father (Rex), son (Swash), and finally mom (Zip). I get back as the sky is darkening, gathering itself for a deluge. I think, just for a moment, "I must water the garden soon or I will be caught in the rain." This is different from, but on a par with stopping on the way back from the spring realizing I have forgotten to 'turn off the water'. The rain did come. The weather forecast was still saying there was a 30% chance of rain as it was 110% falling. Only slightly less mad than telling us that today's max temperature would be 94, while indicating at the same time it was 97 outside. Some people don't trust the web. How could one not trust such fearless inconsistency! We just need a rich supply of pinches of salt. It rained. It rained hard. It seemed like a miracle. Cracks in the earth waved the raindrops to their terminal rendezvous with absolute pent-up dryness, and the sighs of long-delayed satisfaction rippled all over the land.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

the reality of living with other creatures

On the eve of this year's summer solstice party (June 20) Leopard and I rescued the bank-stranded paddles of the Cheekwood floating heliotrope and reassembled them in the pond, wading out into its amniotic warmth as the sun was setting. In doing so we dismantled the shelters of unusual shaped frogs, salamanders, enormous spiders, one vole, one rat, numerous unidentifiable worms and insects, and four snakes. One of these immediately ate his neighbor the vole, by grabbing him and holding on, proving he was not venomous. (Venomous snakes bite, inject, and let the prey wander off until they fall over. They follow up and eat them at their leisure.) Two of these snakes were probably black racers. The other two either rat or corn or king snakes. (See image.) One at least swam off into the pond, and of course we wondered if they might not really be copperheads, or water moccasins, or something else equally unpleasant. Especially as we waded out into the water. Some fifteen minutes later, one such snake was to be found lying on the floating sculpture tweeting his friends. ("Hey, they're bringing art to the people - it's cool"). It's impossible to avoid the odd tick. They pop when you squeeze them between your nails, and mostly you find them looking for somewhere on the skin to settle down. The dogs are prime targets, and Rex and Swash now have collars. Swash has even been shampooed. Zip (Mom) remains aloof, and untouched. I have sealed-off the ground-hog tunnel entrances under the cottage. I still have one under the house that occasionally puts in an appearance during daylight. A few days after finishing the sauna ceiling, perhaps coincidentally, the stench of death pervaded the whole area, exacerbated by the heat wave. The memory of the dead cat I once found under a bench in the garage of what we then called Dead Cat Lodge (Warwick) was some comfort. It was flat, like parchment, dessicated, and completely odorless. After three days, the sauna smell had gone. Though the mystery remains. What was it? Where was it? The outside sauna wall is studded with the holes of a colony of mud wasps, with their characteristic projecting tubes of mud. Like Charles Jencks, when he discovered moles in his Garden of Cosmic Speculation, I will leave them be. What is a sauna builder but a giant mud wasp? My organic garden is being terribly eaten. Something is mowing down giant zucchini leaves. I suspect rabbits - which we know we have. But it would have to be a pegasus rabbit to get the tops of the sunflowers. The beans have been decimated. I don't mind sharing a little, but this is too much. What to do? I am mostly a pacifist. I deplore Carl Schmitt's understanding of politics as beginning with the distinction between friend and enemy. But I find myself willing the Death of the Other, or at least some others. In particular ticks, and poison ivy. I believe, broadly, that everything is connected, but I cannot see what bad things would follow if ticks and poison ivy were to magically disappear. But who knows. England transported criminals and miscreants to Australia, but they then learnt how to play cricket and came back to beat us at our own game. Trapping and transporting does seem like a non-lethal alternative for rabbits and snapping turtles. But the turtles need to be taken 10 miles to sever their GPS homing capacities. And my bet is that rabbits would simply amp up the breeding rate. Come back Berzerker (my once cat) who included young bunny in her week's hunting display. She was killed by neighbor Tom's pitbull Pinto, traumatized by once having been scratched by a cat. This is just a taste of the play/struggle of life and death happening all around. There's so much more - leaping squirrels, skittering lizards, nano humming birds, drumming woodpeckers, squeaking cicadas, orchestral bullfrogs, sweat bugs, iridescent damsel flies, swooping barn swallows, shadowy bats ... the list goes on and on. Everything eating and being eaten. A peaceable kingdom?


It is cooler today - headed for 96. In the last days, Baghdad would have been a cooler vacation spot. We have been only 10 degrees short of Death Valley, littered with white skulls. It's an elemental play between sun and water. Straw covered fields, shrinking ponds, cracking earth - but I can watch this with a distant eye. My children's dinner does not depend on the garden delivering. I can plan better irrigation for next year. But it is hard to forget the Anastazi cave dwellings of Arizona, abandoned, it seems, for lack of water. It is hard to remember how important water is when you have swum in it. And yet: "Water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water, and the lungs are nearly 90% water. Lean muscle tissue contains about 75% water by weight, as is the brain; body fat contains 10% water and bone has 22% water. About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature. Each day humans must replace 2.4 litres of water, some through drinking and the rest taken by the body from the foods eaten." (Water Science for Schools) The water trough fed from Ton Bean's spring stopped filling up the other day. I feared his spring had dried up. But no - the pipe was just blocked, and now it spills over onto the pasture, making raw green patches. My own spring still shoots out about 6 gallons a minute. Drought - what drought? It's hard to leave the spring head without wanting to turn it off to conserve water. I fantasize about connecting a few hundred feet of plastic pipe and filling a swimming pool by the house. Meanwhile I have YB spring water in the cooler in my house. Its SO good - both the taste and the very idea. Imagine these springs were to dry up. Everything would change. Right now, despite the scorching heat, these springs suggest the land is plugged in to a sustaining source of life, one dancing a deux with the sun's energy. If it failed, it would be a pagan God is Dead moment. And around the world, that has happened and is happening.