Solar Production 2019

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Safe Streets

A few weeks ago, I bought a couple of small, blinking lights – the ones Oregonians buy for their dog’s collars—to clip onto my raincoat and bag. I’d nearly been taken out in three crosswalks, crossing with the light, after looking both ways, in one dark and rainy week.  I know it is dorky. I am hoping that it is so dorky that it becomes cool, but I doubt it. I will say that it has been effective; three cars stopped for me while I have been waiting to cross the street last week. I feel just a little bit more visible now.

In town, we have had a series of accidents—fatal and not—involving cars and cyclists or walkers, those of us with no metal amour around our bodies. We hear tales constantly about near-misses: the college student dressed in a black OSU sweatshirt on Monroe, the cyclist who was cut off IN THE GREEN PAINT by a driver who did not understand the significance of the signage, the car turning into the path of a city bus.  On a rainy winter evening, it is just hard to see out there.

For the last one hundred years, we have been involved in an experiment in urban design. Rather than designing (and just evolving) our built environment around people walking, using mass transit, or driving carts, we have been designing for single occupancy cars. Entire departments at every level of government have been created for the express purpose of moving cars, each carrying one or two people, from place to place as smoothly and efficiently as possible. When we talk about intersections, a failing intersection holds cars up too long. When we design streets, we curve the corners so that cars can move more easily around them.  We have longer blocks, arterial and collector streets, cul-de-sacs  all designed to make driving easier and to separate people from cars. We have streets that say “Drive fast” cutting through neighborhoods, with schools, churches, stores, and the gym along them. Even our houses and shopping centers are now designed to be viewed from a moving car, not a slower walk.

In many areas of the country, if you wanted to walk somewhere, there is, literally, nowhere to walk. There is the road and the drainage ditch. No shoulder. In other places, you have to fight with five or six lanes of traffic to cross the street to the grocery store, sitting in a huge parking lot. If there is a sidewalk or a bike lane, it just may disappear when the road is narrowed by an old bridge or a merge. Because of rural sprawl, encouraged by cars and cheap gas, many people live ten or fifteen miles away from basic services and jobs. They have to drive. There is no other option.

We are beginning to see the failures of this concept. As climate change worsens, and peak oil, which was put off by fracking, finally becomes a reality, this settlement and design pattern will collapse. Our task—my task, here in Corvallis—is to work to lessen the impact of this crisis on our daily lives. I don’t know what to do about the rural sprawl, but I can imagine what a shift in perspective might do locally, in my own built environment. We need to start with a basic, radical principle.

Everyone has the right to be safe on our streets.  Trucks moving goods, cars, bikes, scooters, and walkers. No one user should be valued above all others.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Yule Gratitude

No photo description available.
Jack Kerouac, Beat poet, wrote a list of rules for Modern Prose which I work into my Honors Ninth grade curriculum every year.  The one I really emphasize is Be in Love with Yr Life (being the beginning of the atomic era, the underlying idea was "because we could all die tomorrow."). What do you love about your life? 

December 18th: I love curling up in bed under all of the blankets while cold night air blows over me head and moonlight shines down.

December 19th: Papers are recorded in the gradebook, Bean credit has been noted, chairs are up, dishes washed, and plants watered. And I ate five Christmas cookies during class. I think Yule can begin.

December 20th: Prepped for Solstice: clean out the fireplace, find the bulbs and pots for planting, grind the corn for cornbread and make some soup, fill the lanterns. Shut off the internet, the radio, and the lights. Tomorrow-- no lights, a long walk in the rain, and home to fire, dinner, and a Christmas Carol.

December 21st: Oak trees, like from Middle Earth, sketched against a rainy sky. Elk in the field. Mist covered hills.

December 22nd: Waking up the morning after Solstice, turning on the lights and making waffles for breakfast. 

December 23rd: Latkes for dinner!

December 24th: A long walk in the dark, cool forest, through the clouds, then the Indian Buffet for lunch. 

December 25th: Fish pie in front of the fire.

December 26th: Long walks and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. 

December 27th: Portland has done some very cool things for bicycle infrastructure!

December 28th: Ok, there's a lot of food being eaten over Yule. Today, we went to Roman Russian grocery in NE Portland, bought perogies, pickles, black bread, and pastries with poppy seeds and ate it all for lunch. It's like traveling to a new country without leaving  the state.

December 29th: The public library on a rainy afternoon-- warm, well lit, quiet, and full of books.

December 30th: Small cities are the best. I was to meet someone for lunch, but the place was closed. I looked across the street, saw her bike at the co-op. While hunting for her, I ran into three other people I knew. I love the web of threads that connect us all. 

December 31st: When Mark and I first started taking long walks through town, basically commuting by foot, the China Buffet (about 2 miles) seemed like a long dark trek through Ranchland. Tonight, it barely registered. Shrinking Corvallis, one walk at a time.

January 1st: A double rainbow arched over the valley this morning as we began our New Year's Walk. A little while later, after  a downpour, the sun shown through the trees and rain sodden air like a cathedral. It was a beautiful start to the decade.

January 2nd: I was walking home from a meeting when I saw a woman photographing the ground. As I passed, she smiled. "I have a friend who makes a cake for the first person who spots violets every year, " she told me. And there they were-- deep purple violets are her feet. 

January 3rd: Potlucks. People show up at your house with hot dishes of good food, ready for conversation. Is there anything better on a dark winter night?

January 4th: A clean house! Where did all of that dirt come from?!

January 5th: Hundreds of snowdrops blooming.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Bell's Seasoning

 Usually, on the day after Thanksgiving, I am happy to eat the salad that we traditionally bring to our feast that no one else ate along with whatever leftover soup that is in the fridge and a stray sliver of pie. I love the big mid-day meal, but no longer crave the piles of leftovers. This year, though, I am missing my mother’s hot turkey sandwiches.

 It started with the stuffing, which was the best. Finely chopped onions and celery, cooked with some pungent sausage meat, then mixed with two bags of stuffing bread croutons, already softened with water. Once everything was in the Big Bowl—we made a lot of stuffing—we would mix it by hand, one person mixing while the other sprinkled in the Bell’s Seasoning, a mixture of herbs that smelled strongly of sage. “Enough?” she would ask. We would both pause, sniff the bowl, and shake our heads. “More.”  The stuffing rested, mellowing, on the cold back porch overnight.

                In the morning, we stuffed the bird, letting the fragrant cubes spill out between the legs. More Bell’s Seasoning went over the skin and it was tucked into the oven. The stuffing and turkey baked together, flavoring one another. When the turkey was hauled out of the pan, we piled the stuffing into her best casserole dish, white with flowers, carved the bird, and made gravy with the drippings.  The entire meal smelled of sage and onions.

                The next evening, she would scoop gravy into a frying pan, add slices of turkey, and heat them up, hot. This was poured over toasted bread and barely warm stuffing that had retained all of its crunch from the day before. Some people might add cranberry sauce from the can, but I never did. We would bring our plates into the living room and watch T.V. while we ate. It was heaven.

                I know that I could make my own stuffing and turkey, my own Hot Turkey sandwiches, but a turkey is not a small endeavor and I no longer eat sausage. I’m not even sure where to find her specific brand, or the Bell’s Seasoning,  if I wanted to.  But I missed that pungent New England aroma this afternoon, as we eat our salad and cake leftovers.

Bell's All Natural Seasoning - 1 oz

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Compost Trees

                When the hazelnut tree came down last summer, it left a huge hole in the back corner. For years, the brushy tree had shaded Mark’s compost area and hidden it from the alley. Now, he feels exposed. Today, we moved towards changing that.  First, we planted a small grafted plum tree to replace the huge, end of its life, plum that arches over the back yard and Mark has always loved (I pick up most of the dropped fruit…). The plums are small and yellow and the tree is old—it  usually grows mushrooms in September.  A few years ago, Mark grafted a branch to a sucker in the front yard, and it took. We moved the sapling into a pot and, today, into the ground. We were careful to not plant under the power lines. The corner was still empty, so we planted a native elderberry to arch over the compost hoops. The elderberry was a cutting from a friend that had also been living in a pot. It had an amazing rootball, so I am hopeful. We are still thinking about some tall, waving grasses to mark an entrance and screen the piles from view while we eat dinner, but at least a start has been made.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Thoreau and the Cellar

                Cellars are important in Thoreau’s Walden. He describes his own, six feet square by seven deep, dug in sandy soil one afternoon, in the first chapter, thus creating a direct contrast to the pit he encountered in the Irishman’s shanty, which was covered, not by a hutch, but by the bed.  This is where he will store his potatoes and beans for the winter, so he was careful to dig below the frost line. In the same paragraph, he observes that the cellar is the most important part of a house, no matter how fancy, and the only thing that will be left when the house falls down.

                The last observation is true. In New England, when I was growing up, stone walls wended their way through miles of second growth, indicating old fields. And, in the corners, near the old roads, were cellar holes, lined with granite, sometimes filled with rusting trash. We climbed around in them; my parents used the one on our property as the shooting range for the BB gun. (My mother was a crack shot; she practiced on rats at the dump when young.)  

                Cellars still perform important functions. I am always aware of ours in November, because I spend so much time settling it in for the winter. We store all of our firewood in the cellar, sorted for fireplace and stove. The potatoes are in bins under the stairs. All of the canned goods line another wall, along with the rice, beans, grains, and teas that we buy in bulk.  The packing boxes for sending holiday presents sit on the desk counter. All of my pots for canning are stored down there, as well as the empty bee hive boxes and the extra apples and tomatoes. We have a box of Christmas wrapping paper and a box for birthdays. We bring the benches and chairs inside and downstairs. The furnace, water heater, and washing machine are in the cellar—it is the mechanical heart of the house. We also keep all of the stuff we are almost ready to clear out down there. I kept my old bike for a year or two, until I found a new home for it. There is still a bag of faux Tupperware and lids on the shelf. Mark holds onto old medicine bottles in a bag. Every four or five years, I do a cellar purge and clear out the excess junk, mostly by putting it out to the curb.

 I am not sure that Thoreau would approve of all of the stuff in our basement—it indicates that my affairs cannot be counted on my two hands, or even with my ten toes, and suggests that I should do some work to simplify my life. I think he would seriously object to Mark’s collection of vintage crockpots, burnt orange and avocado, waiting for harvest gold, on one shelf. However, the self-sufficiency of the winter stores and tools would please him, as it does me. It is the essence of New England, tucked away into the cellar.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Walden and the Beans

November is bean planting time in my classroom. We are about to read sections of Walden, where Thoreau contemplates the battles of weeds and beans in his life, and I realized a few years ago that not every student knew what a bean leaf looks like. So now, juniors plant beans: 2 Indian Woman beans to a four inch pot. If you bring your bean to “harvest” you get extra credit. It is not as easy as it sounds. It takes about two months from planting to the first little bean hanging from the vine. Plants grow long and thin, easy to break, on the north side of a building in November and ninth graders checking on the progress of a sibling’s bean can be a little aggressive. Accidents happen.  There are always jokes about who will not be raising food after the apocalypse.  Some people name their beans—Beanadette, Jim Bean- to help with the process while others bring in charms or fold tiny paper cranes. They water, and measure, and consider the beans every day, even when we don’t have class. They become, for a brief time, farmers.

Last week, one girl decided to sit with her bean during class. It had just put on the first true leaves, that bright young green that we usually see in early June. She held the bean, in its round pot, against her dark shirt, in front of her heart. Head down, hair curving around her face, stroking the leaf, considering its form… there were circles within circles, a poster child for Youth and Hope in dire times.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Snugging Down

A cold front has settled over the Willamette Valley. The sky is high, and bright, and clear. All of the leaves are falling off of the trees and rustling on the ground, shades of gold, and red, and brown mingled with the bright green of the grass. The days are beautiful, the nights chilly.  And, because of our schedules, we are a little behind  on snugging the house down for the winter. This weekend, we went into full on snug mode.

                First, we had to wash all of the windows, inside and out, in preparation for the storm windows.  There is no point covering up fig splatter and bird poop with storm windows for the winter! Once the windows were washed, Mark went to the basement to wash and wax the wooden storms and I worked up stairs. Wool blankets on the bed. All of the curtains washed—it was a good drying day! The last of the summer shirts shifted into the spare room closet, the heavy shirts moved to the bedroom. I made mac and cheese and a baked butternut squash for dinner, which warmed up the kitchen nicely.

                Outside, the leaves from our neighbor’s linden trees were raked into a tempting fifteen foot long windrow, ready for the gathering.  Before they were disturbed by cars running through them, I wanted to collect them in the re-purposed recycling bin on wheels, haul them around back, and dump them, one bin per bed, onto the cleared out garden beds.  This is a yearly task, made much nicer this year by dry, fluffy leaves. Once the beds were covered, I made sure that the plastic cover over the lettuce bed would withstand the winds. All of the plants in pots were moved into the greenhouse. Mark gave the bunny extra straw to block breezes in the hutch from below. The chickens, all five on one perch, are fine until the temperature drops to the teens. When I came home from a meeting last night, I went back out into the street ad gathered more leaves, piling them up in the driveway. This week, I will add them to the other perennial beds.

                Tonight, we have a fire in the stove. There are beans in the crock-pot, bread in the oven. All of the garden beds are covered. The storms are on the windows. The curtains are drawn. Outside, the wind picks up the dry leaves and blows them against the door, but we are all snug inside.