Sunday, May 25, 2008

Survivalism is Green?

I find the current discussion about this trend to be rather disturbing. I recall a thread on the Garden Rant blog not long ago where some of the comments took on a survivalist tinge (as when one guy mentioned land in western NY, south of Buffalo, was selling for cheap and it was possible to homestead there effectively so buy up some acres now and you'll be all set, but BE SURE TO HAVE SOME GUNS...

Yeah, it is the guns thing that disturbs me. I think people living in rural areas and planting orchards and vegetable gardens and raising their own animals that they slaughter themselves for food and learning herbal medicine and eschewing constant automobile use is all a great thing. But apparently this neo-back-to-the-earth movement is not about connection to nature and rejection of urbanization, but instead a full-fledged panic-driven effort at extreme self-preservation. The attitude seems to be: we are going to be prepared for what's coming (widespread food shortages apparently borne of fuel depletion), and when the people who don't bother to prepare come knocking, we have guns to keep them away.

There is something wrong with this picture. It just gives me a weird sense of cognitive dissonance. I associate organic gardening and "green" practices with liberal peace-loving humans. Sure I grew up in a family that grew our food and also hunted for it, with guns among other things. But there was never an attitude that guns needed to be around to deal with our fellow humans. Especially fellow humans in need.

I am picturing that opening scene of 28 Weeks Later where a group of random people have made their way to a huge country house that happens to have some canned food and bottles of wine socked away and they are doing just fine until the bloody, rage-ravaged "infected" happen upon them and try to tear their way in. The infected don't want the wine and vegetable stew on the table; they want the flesh of the survivors. The infected can be killed: but you have to be quick and brutal about it cuz they are FAST and STRONG and HUNGRY. So you'd better have big clubs, or knives, or guns. Or an impenetrable fortress to hide in.

This "green survivalist" scenario feels a lot like a horror film to me.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Heirloom apples...and writing

Thanks to the Evil Fruit Lord for posting a link to this article about heirloom apples. Most grocery stores sell no more than five or six varieties of apple, maybe more during the harvest season. But more and more at farmers' markets these days you see a wider variety and an exciting array of heirloom apples. I have tasted some wonderful apples that had been more or less lost to history for many years, except to expert apple growers. Now all sorts of growers are getting in on it, just as enthusiasm for other heirloom crops like tomatoes is also increasing. You can even order trees to plant, like the ones offered by Trees of Antiquity.

I really want to write about them, too. The idea of them interests me a bit more than the pragmatic aspect of how to find and grow them. Seeing this, I had the thought that I really should try to follow up on researching and writing about things that interest me and try to submit them more widely...ya know, start acting like a freelance writer again. I guess I just kind of assume that magazines and newspapers are starting to be a thing of the past and that blogging is the only place anyone reads anything anymore.

Or maybe I am just losing focus and discipline. Writing has fallen to the wayside. I always kinda feel this way just after the semester ends. Must regroup now and get back in the habit, before summer teaching starts. These book projects will not complete themselves!

Not feeling particularly loquacious just now. More on this later perhaps.

But I leave you with this reading recommendation: Apples by Roger Yepsen, a gorgeous and nicely-written little gem of a book about heirloom apple varieties. I got this as a gift from my sweetheart during our first year together and I treasure it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Orchards in Blossom

Todd and I visited Indian Ladders this morning. The farm store was not open (no coffee or fresh cider donuts, boo hoo) but we walked around a bit so I could photograph trees and enjoy my favorite smell in the world: apple blossoms!

I was reminded of that scene in Excalibur where Arthur drinks from the grail and is renewed: the knights ride through the blossoming orchard, with petals raining down, as the Carmina Burana of my favorite scenes in all of cinema.

These orchards have been farmed by the same family for several generations, and sit at the base of a huge mountain in a gorgeous area in New Salem, NY. There was a house for sale up the road. I would love to live near this place!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trees Make Breathing Easier

This news story cites a study that suggests children who live on tree-lined trees suffer from asthma less often than children who live in treeless neighborhoods.

There is no direct correlation suggested, other than improved air quality and the fact that children may be encouraged to play outside more in such neighborhoods.

In my own experience, I have never wanted to live in a neighborhood where there were not plenty of mature trees, so I always have chosen apartments based on the surrounding area as much as what the actual living space had to offer. It seems like this should be easy enough to achieve even in big cities (like Brooklyn, New York, pictured above). Treeless streets seem unwelcoming, ugly and unhealthy. This makes me wonder if kids who live on tree-lined streets are just plain happier, and less stressed out, and thereby less prone to chronic illness. Of course, there may be an economic connection, too, although asthma seems to strike well-off kids as much as it does poor ones.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Without honeybees, life as we know it would pretty much cease. Plants can't pollinate themselves; they need bees, birds and other insects to help them. If the bees disappear, fruit and other food plants don't grow, forests die out, and produce shortages would probably follow in many parts of the world..

Colony Collapse Disorder: it's a problem. Learn more here.

101st post! Japanese Knotweed

This article describes the controversial subject of controlling Japanese knotweed in the UK.

Until recently, the only effective method of control was to use Roundup or similar toxic chemicals, which of course are probably causing worse problems than the spread of this noxious weed. If anyone reading this uses Rondup in their gardens, I beg you, get rid of it. Dozens of studies around the world have linked its use to many forms of cancer, particularly testicular and ovarian cancer.

Japanese knotweed (also known as "false bamboo") is a plant that has caused extensive damage to European, Canadian and American parks, forests and urban areas. It spreads rapidly, kills other plants (including mature trees) and is extremely difficult to eradicate.

Let's hope the use of beetles will prove to be a non-toxic measure for helping control it. The Brits are obviously more interested in organic methods than we are since they have a smaller landmass (with denser pockets of people) than we do.

I recall the first time I saw this noxious weed in the UK: it was growing in a huge patch near a stand of elder trees, at the base of Glastonbury Tor, not far from the old apple orchards. I had never seen it in England before but had seen it destroy parts of Franklin Park in Boston. Needless to say I was horrified. I found myself cursing tourists, assuming this was how it was spread there. Now I know it can be found in soil shipped from infested areas, so it's just as likely a local gardener transported it while out on a daily walk.

More information on both toxic and non-toxic options for controlling this scourge can be found here: Japanese Knotweed Alliance.

An alliance...seems quaint. We need a freaking army to defeat this stuff.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bright Beltane Blessings!

Last night, May Eve, I drank May wine (pinot grigio with some sweet woodruff leaves added) and ate bread and cheese in my garden with two friends (I forgot to send out an invite until yesterday morning). We walked around the gardens and enjoyed the magical colorful twilight and oohed and aahed over other people's flowers. I saw a cool trash pick: a two-tiered wicker table. But when I returned to get it someone had snatched it already.

Today, I rose with the dawn (no alarm clock even!), washed my face in the dew (so I will be beautiful for the coming year, hee hee) and journeyed to Harvard Square to sing in the May with a bunch of other like-minded folks on a chilly but sunny morning. Shook hands with the formal-wear clad ballroom dance club folks who'd been up all night and formed their annual receiving line to wish "Merry May" to the Beltane revellers (who are mostly much older and NOT in tuxedos and gowns!), then went to breakfast at the S & S Deli (a yearly tradition).

A fun morning, and then an uneventful (and gloriously, greenly scenic) bus ride home. Cut a bouquet of tulips (weirdly, the first time I wrote this post I had written "roses") for my Mom (visiting her tomorrow) and this weekend we're off to Brushwood for another Beltane and to set up our campsite.

Hope your celebrations are bawdy and boisterous!