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Archive for June, 2010

flip flopping

Ready for work, opened door to leave.

Cat ran in.
Debated: Make cat run out?

Grabbed purse and bag of tomatoes from garden. Too many.
Debated: Beg whom?

Gave up on cat.

Drove. Made good time. Parked.

Walked toward office
Walking felt soft.

Looked down.

At flip flops kept by back door
for quick trips into the yard.

Not at shoes lined up in closet
for long days sitting at work.

Boss on vacation. Relief. Except. I remembered before.

When I wore
bare feet
even for
slow trips
into the yard.

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Just finished reading About a Mountain by John D’Agata, a creative literary nonfiction book about Yucca Mountain, with Las Vegas, mothers, language and suicide striations flowing through it.

Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas, is the site originally chosen to be the  U.S. repository for spent nuclear reactor fuel.  All the billions of dollars spent on plans, construction and political enticements couldn’t smother the truth that the place was geologically unsuitable, and Obama shut it down. (But who knows if it will stay down for good.)

The Yucca Mountain site was supposed to be able to keep nuclear waste safe for 10,000 years, which is a regulatory compliance period. I think, like oil spill flow rates and handyman estimates, this 10,000 maximum requirement is a bit off. For instance, the  waste from Hanford WA, which gave us most of the plutonium to make our 60,000-plus nuclear weapons, has a half-life of 24,000 years.

Anyhow, in 1990 the DOE became concerned that humans living near nuclear waste repositories 10,000 years in the future (with the actual buriers long forgotten) wouldn’t be aware  of the potential danger simmering underground and could innocently set off a life-ending disaster. So, to prevent “inadvertent intrusion” they created a panel of experts in various fields to determine what kind of marker would warn people to stay away.  Assuming humans are around in 10,000 years. And that whatever language or symbols the marker uses could be understood in 10,000 years.

The official Sandia Report called “Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant”  is here.  From D’Agata’s book it sounds like the experts enjoyed the experience.

And this is what they wrote about the message for whatever intelligent life stumbles onto our deadly gift to the future:

“The message that we believe can be communicated non-linguistically (through the design of the whole site),  using physical form as a “natural language, ” encompasses Level I and portions (faces showing horror and sickness) of Level 11. Put into words, it would communicate something like the following:

This place is a message.. .and part of a
system of messages …pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us.

We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor.. .no
highly esteemed deed is commemorated here
. . .nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us.
This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location.. .
it increases towards a center.. .the
center of danger is here.. .of a
particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as
it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanution
of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you
substantially disturb this place physically.
This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.”

But it’s a clean energy, right?

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Last night I ate the first ears of corn from my garden. Remember, I’ve never grown any vegetables so having ears of corn appear, plump up, and six weeks later signal they’re ripe and ready is pretty exciting. I picked five ears and rushed home from the community garden to cook them immediately.

One method of cooling your house in the desert southwest is using an evaporative cooler, more commonly known as a “swamp cooler.” Not sure why it’s called that because it would never ever work in a swamp. The cooler works by pumping water over pads usually made with excelsior (often of aspen wood fiber.) Evaporation changes the dry warm air to cool air, and a fan blows, really blows, the air into your house through vents. Dry air is the critical ingredient.  A swamp cooler works great until the  summer thunderstorms bring humidity, at which point it makes your life hell unless you’re lucky enough to also have a regular air conditioner.

This is important for you to know because I have a honkin’ big swamp cooler that makes certain areas in the house feel like a wind tunnel. One of these is in my kitchen, specifically by my stove.

Have you ever boiled water in a wind tunnel? But I’d only cooked corn with boiling water, which would mean  either eating dinner at midnight or eating raw corn. I considered that, eating it raw. I ate a couple kernels, pondered eating two ears’ worth, then hopped on the internet.

I bow to whoever figured this out. Dampen a paper towel, lay the corn complete with husks and silk, microwave about 1 1/2 minutes per ear, turning the ears over at the mid-point. You let the corn sit for  five minutes, undress it with the silk dropping easily, and enjoy tender glorious sweet corn. WOW! My favorite vegetable is the easiest one to cook!

Oh, the sister part. Some Native peoples use an agricultural technique called the Three Sisters. Corn supports beans, which convert nitrogen into a form corn can use, and squash shades the soil and helps keep out insects. They are also nutritionally complementary. Next summer I’m doing full Three Sisters, a garden of corn and beans with squash interspersed. Let the wind blow while I gratefully harvest.

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This morning I made a special effort to get to work on time because we’re shorthanded due to vacations. I made it out the door during the best window of driving opportunity, between the worst of rush hour and being late. It took me a minute to get my car key out of my new first-day purse, push the unlock button and….and…see a large pile of (definitely) cat vomit on my car roof.

It was smack in the middle, not easily reachable even on my Honda Civic. I would have had to go back into the house, change clothes (I can’t do anything without getting something on my shirt), clean the roof, change back. No way.

I hoped it would blow off, logically knowing it wouldn’t. So I drove down the street, cat vomit intact. And started laughing. When you get a non-disastrous “first time” in your life, you should try to enjoy it. Half way to work I hit a red light and a city bus pulled up  close behind me. The driver had, well, a bus driver’s view of my car roof. While he studied my roof, I tried to study what he was thinking. We studied each other for about three minutes.

Which made me laugh more. I was pretty proud of myself for coping so well until I remembered I had a meeting later, one that I had to drive to. And park. In a high traffic area. With co-meeters.

When I reached work I got out of my car hoping the situation had improved during the drive. It hadn’t. The cat vomit had merely slid about six inches toward the back. If the sun melts it instead of drying…I don’t want to think about it.

But walking to the office from the parking lot I started laughing again. And several people rushing to their own offices, who normally would have walked past me without a word, said “good morning.”

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I was cleaning my desk, a drop leaf with cubbies crammed with once-important papers now immobilized into clutter. Amidst receipts, subscription offers and communications from credit card and insurance companies I found half a yellow index card with writing on it.

I occasionally jot down bits of things I read and like, and tuck the notes…somewhere. Most of the time I never see them again but I found this one before it had the chance to get away.

My son gave me this Proust print for Christmas

Before I write on, I should talk about Proust and me. I’ve read all the volumes of In Search of Lost Time, some parts more than once, but I doubt I could have an in depth intellectual conversation about any of it. What I can share are the memories of that first reading: going into “training” by reading books about the book;  beginning and pushing through the challenges of long sentences; being surprised that I laughed out loud at his humor; getting irritated at those pages that made me want to slap the Narrator upside the head. Oh, and the gift of transcendent moments.

Many readers say they love the book because they encounter characteristics of people in their own lives in those living in Proust’s population. I used to say that too, but honestly (and thankfully) I can only agree with that as a very broad concept. I mainly love the book because after I’ve spent time reading it I feel I can see better. It’s not just that I’m more aware of what’s around me, but that I actually feel like my vision has improved. So now it’s become a form of therapy for me, when I need a shot of wake-up-and-look-around. Proust pulls me into a painting in motion that revivifies my reality.

Anyway, on the card I found in my desk was a quote from Proust, writing about remembering his beloved grandmother. No notation where I copied it from, but since he usually wrote about remembering and loss, it may not matter:

“We acquire a true knowledge only of things that we are obliged to re-create by thought, things that are hidden from us in everyday life.”

I probably was thinking of my father who died almost five years ago when that passage reached out to me. Reading it now,  the dim literal reader I am thinks there’s no such thing as  “true knowledge.” And as for  “…things that we are obliged to re-create by thought…” I wonder if the translation is exact. What was the French word he used? Why obliged? Obliged because there is no physical alternative? Obliged because you cannot let something go, even though you want to?

Mostly I read Proust like I’m skating on a river. If I try to see too far beneath the ice, my brain ends up in a vortex swirling without end. Unlike Proust’s sentences, which swirl with scenery and a map before dropping you back at your destination, only not quite.

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awash in squash

I didn’t get my new plot at the community garden until the end of April, which put me in a frenzy to plant fast before the heat. (In the desert you plant early and often.) Since I’m new at this farmer business, I went to the biggest nursery in town and grabbed stuff. I figured if they were selling it, it would grow. (Possibly a wrong assumption.)

Early Prolific Straightneck Squash

I snatched up the standard plants and later other community gardeners shared plants from their six-packs (6 squash plants, noooooo) so I ended up with four Crookneck summer squash, one “Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash”, eight sweet corn stalks, two Kentucky Pole Beans, two ancho peppers, two green bells, two jalapenos and possibly one red bell but I think it keeled over. Plus too many cherry tomato plants. In the middle of this bounty are several seven-feet tall sunflowers left over from the person who had the plot before me.

The plot is only 3 feet wide and 20 feet long. I should mention that before I planted I amended the soil with very expensive Happy Frog soil conditioner. Lots of it. I think my summer veggies will come in at about $50/lb.

Clearly I know nothing about any of this. I figured I’d be waiting half the summer for my first harvest, and that I’d have to be rushing over to the garden every day to fend off bugs, birds and blight. So far all I’ve done is spray some aphids, and I even gave up on that. Last week I did drop mineral oil onto the corn silk to keep The Worm at bay. It seemed like a hooey idea to me, until I went to the pharmacy counter to get a medicine dropper. A young woman rang up my mineral oil with the dropper. I felt compelled to explain that this was for my garden, not that she would care but I couldn’t remember if mineral oil was ever part of some unseemly personal process. She said, “oh yeah, my dad uses it in his garden all the time.”

Here’s where we get to the awash part. The plants were tucked in about the first week of May. It took less than four weeks to get my first squash. And second. And third…I’m sure if you’re interested enough in gardens to read this far you understand.

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Last night on NBC’s evening news Brian Williams said that the amount of oil that has gushed into the gulf to date was enough to cover the needs of the entire U.S. for ONE HOUR.

Not sure what estimate he used, but whether it’s one hour or 30 days, I’m aghast. I’ve been thinking about all the petroleum-based materials I use in my life, and feel guilty but also at a loss as to how much I can eliminate.

Little steps I guess. To 61 minutes?

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