Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New York Times People, Take Two

"Later, Mr. McCain told reporters on his campaign bus that if the disaster had happened on his watch, he would have landed his plane 'at the nearest Air Force base and come over personally.' Mr. Bush first surveyed the damage when he flew over New Orleans in Air Force One when coming home from his Texas ranch two days after the hurricane, an act widely criticized." NYT, 4/24/08

Wait a second, sorry. WHERE was Bush when Katrina hit? That's right. Having cake with ol' Maverick "Free Ride" McCain.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

You Dig?

It hit me as I scanned the narrow patch of open sky behind our house, trying to figure out where to attempt tomatoes again: we live in the woods. It doesn't always feel like woods, what with the cleared land next door where the library and ballfields are and the main road not far off, but stitching together the open space, set off just slightly from the houses, are woodlands and scrub, with towering, massive oaks, mature evergreens of several varieties, black walnuts, opportunistic maples and who knows what-all.

This luxuriant cover does not admit much sun for vegetables. But right up against the house I think I've found a spot, between the heating oil fill pipe and the Bilco doors, that will get sun longer than any other part of the property. It's about six feet wide, this patch, and could comfortably extend out about six feet from the wall. Okay, fine -- two tomatoes, two sunflowers (school project), two cukes.

Except that to put seeds in the ground is to serve a salad bar for our friends the whitetailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus. So I'm going in heavy. At the last house, I dug a 12x16' patch in the front yard beside the driveway and built what I called the Plant Detention Center: heavy-gauge chicken wire strung on eight-foot two by fours set in concrete, with a gate and everything. It was hideous. However, the plot produced decent crops of strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, tomatillos, peas, green beans, cucumbers, zukes, one green pepper, marigolds and probably some other things. The couple from the Bronx who bought our house that May tore down the PDC before the strawberries came up. The blank stares they leveled at me over the closing table while I told them that actual strawberries were going to come out of the dirty ground in about a week was one of the first inputs that eventually resulted in the name of this blog.

"But this is only going to be six by six feet," you say. Deer don't care. The library tried to grow sunflowers in a similarly-sized patch, but after a few months had produced just twelve thin brown sticks about eight inches tall. They had used thin nylon netting and five-foot metal posts driven into the ground, and at night the laughter of the deer while they pushed it over and ate the budding stalks was a terrible thing. I blame Lopsides and his posse.

And because I cannot think to scale, I am building PDC CB2. This one will be a freestanding booth of pressure-treated two by fours with a gate (or possibly a screen door) set into the front. CB2 will have three sides, the back of it abutting the wall of the house. It will make the first PDC look like the Taj Mahal.




Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One Year Downstream
(or, I'm Going Back to the Well Once More)

A year ago today, we had a massive nor'easter that dropped one million inches of rain and flooded our cellar, in a way that I wasn't prepared for mentally, although I recognized the possibility. Given the number of hits I get for "sump pump running continuously" and "water in cellar" and "ohgodohgod the f**king water just won't stop rising," etc., it's obvious I'm not alone. In fact, I can tell where it's raining by where the hits originate; let me tell you, it rains a lot in the upper midwest and England. From Google's standpoint, this is a blog about sump pumps and wet basements. (And Jennifer Lopez, Ashlee Simpson, and the Marilyn Monroe sex tape. Welcome new readers!)

So I'm writing at my upstairs desk while yet another water guy sits in his van on his cellphone, calling in my problem to the office. [time passes] Okay, now it's twelve hours later and their solution was no solution at all. I'm seeking the contractor(s) who share the vision of the perfect cellar that's taking shape in my mind. It is most distantly protected by a slight drainage improvement on the town land next door, then by a curtain drain circling the house on the uphill side, then an additional pump and backup batteries added to the existing system downstairs, all of which will relegate this water thing to mere nuisance. So we can concentrate on the insufficiency of windows and that mossy roof section over the front porch.

Believe it or not, that's not what I'm here to talk about. No, the thing I've got brewing is more like a realization about how unique every life is, even mine with its common sump pump issues, even those of people who live in cultures that have changed little in hundreds of years, and even those that are unique in ways that are instantly evident. Whatever it is, it is just the book of your life, and every one is different. Fingerprints, you know? They're not extraordinary, really, except that no one is completely the same as any other. And the likelihood of any one of us ever being who and what we are is just as astounding.

I promise I'm not smoking pot. I guess I'm sitting here typing alongside Philip Carey. "He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life: had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died, was likewise the most perfect?" (Simple? Got news for you, Phil.)

In any case, take your pick of any variation on that particular plan. They're all astounding. As Mike Levine said, "the wonder is not that we die, but that we ever were."

So. Let it rain. Be.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Donations in honor of Greg Sewell

From Greg's wife:

Donations in honor of our beloved Greg Sewell may be made to Millennium Promise, a community-led development project aimed at helping rural African villages lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

All donations in Greg's name will be specifically earmarked for a cluster of six villages in central Ghana, where key initiatives include bed net distribution to combat the spread of malaria; training farmers in agricultural techniques; constructing and renovating health clinics; and providing safe water.

Greg spent a life-changing year in Ghana as a volunteer, teaching computer literacy as part of his passionate belief that access to knowledge can help people create better lives for themselves. His experience in Ghana set him on a course of volunteer work and galvanized his commitment to helping others less fortunate than himself. In September he would have started a Masters degree at Columbia, specializing in international human rights. Please help us continue Greg's work and his dreams of a healthier and more peaceful Africa with your kind contribution to Millennium Promise.

To make an on-line contribution in memory of Greg, please visit the Millennium Promise website.

Mark the box, “Check if you would like to make an honor or memorial gift.” Once “memorial gift” has been selected, please enter in Greg’s name in the space provided.

To make a donation by cheque, please make cheque out to Millennium Promise and send to:

Millennium Promise
Attn: Cassandra Ryan
432 Park Avenue South, 13th Floor
New York, NY 10016

*Please add “In memory of Greg Sewell” in the memo line.

With deepest gratitude at this time of our incalculable loss,
Frances

And from me (Bill) thank you all for your kind comments and well wishes. They've been very comforting to many people.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

RIP, Greg Sewell

"When I come back, I'll roll around in it." That's what Greg wrote to me from Ghana in 2003, speaking of our lush green suburban lawn, such a far cry from the dusty sandlots of Accra.

And I so wanted him to do so. But dragging a cosmopolitan like Greg from one of his cities -- London, New York, Toronto, Accra, Doha -- was like pulling a tooth from a healthy person. I knew he wanted to come up this way, but I also knew he couldn't. He was of Brooklyn. Once you move out of that environment, you see how hard it is to entice someone from the city north, especially someone without a car.

And so we didn't overlap as we once did. Even in New York, it was hard for the metropolitan woman who shared my apartment and me to meet up with our friends. We lived in Rego Park, they lived in Williamsburg and Prospect Heights. On occasion after the Lad was born we would eat bagels and drink mimosas, talk about politics, watch the marathon go by. We still felt mobile, they still seemed like our circle. But we moved, and our contact became sporadic, thrice-yearly. Nevertheless, even without direct replacement in our new geographic lives, these earlier ties remained just as important.

And then, this. Our dear Greg -- he who trod lightest upon the social circle, being somehow central to it but seeming least invested -- has left us. Pneumonia followed by sepsis followed by complications, and after thirteen days of valiant battle, Greg moved on. Irreligious and unapologetic, Greg had other plans for death, it's fair to say. He lived well, and savored, and immersed himself -- especially in music -- and was too young to ship.

The other day, when things looked particularly bad for Greg, I stepped out of my office in its office park and stood by the trunk of a willow that leaned far out over a constructed streamlet. This tree is older than the buildings, I think, with its thickset trunk and myriad branches. As I stared, it transformed into a lung. Its trunk drew sustenance from the earth and spread it into the leaves. Sure, maybe I had it backwards -- the leafy tendrils drew in carbon dioxide and transferred it to the wood, and my forced parallel to Greg's condition was just that. However, I took a few deep breaths and thought of my breath entering Greg's lungs, and I thanked the tree for its gift of oxygen. Connection of any sort, a tether in unmoored times.

In the past two weeks I've seen an outpouring of love and goodwill that tells me something: Greg made this. As a volunteer, coordinator, consultant, Greg's metier has been to give people a small gift of light, whether they be schoolchildren struggling to enter the modern capitalist consumer society, or victims of its worst excesses. Charm, erudition, wit, arty glasses -- Greg was someone to whom you wished to be close. By his very life itself, Greg created this outpouring of love, which only seems sudden in light of his death. It was there, a constant, during his life, even, and especially, toward the end. But there from the beginning, else the end could not have happened as it did.

Greg left us surrounded by love, borne someplace on love's cushion, drawing love forth from his friends and family, generating a gigantic gyre of loving feeling and goodwill from around the world, a violent light of love calling him to health and recovery but acknowledging the possibility of his passing, and celebrating all with equal recognition of his life. Greg is gone, but that love can only be spent among we who remain. I'm pouring forth my share to all who hear me.

Today the crocuses and hostas are pushing up. The daffodils are starting their green rise. The air is warm, the sky that particular shade of spring blue. And the grass, the grass is greening. It misses Greg, the grass does, and calls out for the shape of him to mold its contours and to lie briefly remembered in its embrace.

As he lies in ours, remembered, loved, always.