Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Twenty One Days of Action

                On Halloween, I pulled a Tarot card to see what the next six weeks would bring: The World, reversed. It is usually a joyous card and, even reversed, the worst translation of it is “stagnation.”  A few days later, the election hit, Mark’s cold lodged in my sinuses, and I stagnated.  The weather did not help; it has been a remarkably dark and wet autumn. All I wanted to do was go to work (it is easier, as a teacher, to power through work rather than dealing with the repercussions), come home, nap, and sit by a fire with a cat. Stagnate.

                About a week ago, I woke up and looked around. It was still raining, but I went for a walk. I can’t stagnate forever, I told myself. I have council trainings to attend, people to talk with, cookies to bake, backyards to clean up….and an election to react to. The next day, Jill Stein announced a recount effort.  I know it will not change the outcome, but action makes us all feel better. To paraphrase T.H. White in The Once and Future King the best thing to do when you are feeling sad is to learn something—or do something. There are about 21 days to the Solstice, when the world tips towards the light once more, I thought. I will take some small political action every day for 21 days.

                What counts? Clearly, any day I have council training or meeting I have met the requirement. Small donations count. Thank you letters count (we love our national Representative, Peter Defazio), emails of concern about political appointments count. Even a serious conversation with someone I do not usually talk politics with could count. What does not count? Signing an on-line petition. Ranting on social media. Talking with Mark.  Anything I would do any day.

                Action so far:
·         Donated to the recount
·         Emailed the president about Standing Rock—and the governor of North Dakota
·         Council training on legal issues
·         Thank you note to Defazio
·         CEA work at school
·         Pre- council meeting
·         Email Oregon senators about the proposed Secretary of Education

I will say, it is still rainy and cold outside. The fire and a cat still look tempting. I am still massaging my forehead to move the stagnated fluids along. But I am moving. Taking small actions every day has made me feel better about the future. And then, there is Corvallis—where women will be the majority on city council for the first time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Candles in Dark Times

                When I was little, the best part of the Christmas decorations, even better than the tree, were the window candles. My mother placed one in every window (with the cords adjusted to fit to every outlet) and one of my jobs was to wander the house as the darkness came down, turning them on. I loved looking out through the frosty glass at the cold dark yard right before I tightened the yellow-orange bulb and cast a warm glow on the window and throughout the room. I paused after each, thinking about light and dark, before moving on. At night, the golden light was comforting; I believed my mother when she told me that Santa Claus was checking on the neatness of my bedroom and spent hours huddled under the blankets so he could not see me.  The candles helped.

                When I left home, I bought my own window candles. I changed out the bulbs to a more sophisticated white, but still wandered through my small apartments, turning the candles on in December. The lights were especially beautiful in the houses that lacked good heat because of the frost on the window panes.  I loved driving through small New England towns where all of the houses which lined the commons were window lit with candles. Square, proud Federal houses with white lights against the snow is a haunting image. Home, they said. We have been home for hundreds of years. You are safe here.  Years later, I lived with a Jewish roommate. We celebrated Hanukkah and lit his menorah every evening, then placed it in the front window, where it’s light shone into the darkness. Candle light in the window grew in significance in my mind. 

The Pacific Northwest does not use the window candles and our tiny house only has to front windows, one of which will hold the tree when Yule begins.  But, as nights grow darker, I am drawn to lighting a candle in the evening, before I begin dinner. Like washing my hands, it creates a line between times of day. When the candle is lit, it is time to draw inward, chop an onion, turn off the news, and make dinner, creating, every night, home. Sometimes I leave the candle on the table, but I often move it to the bench by the front window, where the light reaches out to our dark and busy street.

                I have read that the window candles signified a Catholic house in Ireland, a signal to the priests forced underground that a family was seeking his blessing, and that the Irish brought the idea to the United States. That would explain the geographic distribution of the decoration.  I have also read that they were a beacon for travelers on Christmas Eve, that there was a meal and warm fire within. And I like that idea. As we move into dark times, small gestures, like a window candle, become more significant. Ours says that our house is a safe place—that if you are in trouble, you can knock on the door.  I like to imagine streets, like the old Commons on New England, where there are candles in every window.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Technology Shabbat

I first wrote this several years ago, but I think it is worth remembering. Many people are struggling with social media and the election process-- and we do have choices here.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about technology Shabbat—the idea that we would all be better off if we just turned off our electronic devises for a day every week. At the time, it was a theoretical posting. Our computer resided in the cold basement and took ten minutes to warm up and access the Internet. Turning on technology took a serious effort. It was not hard to avoid for several days, especially if the weather was warm and the book compelling.

            This changed last winter. Two things happened. One, we had two huge snowstorms. Unlike New England, all of the Pacific Northwest shuts down for days on end when there is snow and ice. It’s rare. We don’t have snowplows. It’s cheaper just to close up shop and stay home. Stuck in the house, I turned to technology for entertainment. The other thing that changed was our technology. We acquired a mobile electronic device that allowed us access to the internet in seconds while sitting on the couch and produced a cheerful little chirp when someone contacted you. I was hooked. I spent hours looking at people’s photos of snow—people who lived a mile away, so it was, really, the same snow. We compared depths. We considered whether or not there would be school the next day. We liked each other’s snow. After two days, the cheery little chirp created a pavlovian response. I HAD to check Facebook, or email, to see what was happening. And what was happening was more photos of snow.

            When the snow melted and school was open once again, I had a newfound appreciation for my students' obsession with their phones. I understood, for the first time, why they could not just ignore that vibration during class. Something had changed in their mental wiring; I swear the cheery chirp stimulated the pleasure center of our brains. I also realized that I used my work email as a Prime Stalling Technique, checking for something interesting rather than engaging in grading papers. Even the chirp at work perked me up, although I knew it was often just the daily announcements.  I had to turn off the computer at the end of the day in order to work my way through the stack of papers on my desk. Something was not right here.

            So, last spring, I began the Technology Shabbat in earnest. Every Friday afternoon, when I come home, I check email, Facebook, my blog, and NOAA weather. By sundown, I turn off the device and place it on my desk in the cozy room, out of sight, out of mind.  And it stays off, often until Sunday afternoon.  I quickly came to like the peace of mind turning it off brought to me. And then I realized that—no offence to anyone—was not missing anything huge. Photos of cute puppies and good dinners, organizing emails, library reminders could all wait until the next day for my attention.  A day off is a good thing.

            So, if you want to contact us on Saturday, you’ll need to use old fashioned technology to do so. We still have our landline. Give us a call. If no one answers, come on over. We’re probably reading in the back yard.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Henny and the election Season

            I have been seizing the occasional hours between downpours to tidy the yard this week. I’ve hauled a pile of leaves and mulched, raked the back yard, cut down the asparagus,  moved my beautiful metal hoops onto the bed that will need to be covered if it ever grows cold this winter, and planted two buckets of small mystery bulbs that I sifted out of the front strip planter when I did a bit of revamping  in early October.  Bringing order to the garden helps my mind to settle down, away from the chaos of this last (Thank God!) week before the election.

                Our white leghorn, Henrietta,  is not feeling well. She has had a huge molt this fall, but she has also, suddenly, grown old.  Her comb is drooping. She is moving slowly and napping a great deal. This week, she has not flown up on the perch at night. One afternoon, when I offered her some banana—a preferred food—she did not even see it. I was sure that she was about to go. I let all of the ladies out while I planted bulbs. The Buffs ran about, hunting bugs in the grass. Henny sat, stooped, in the sun. When she did not even come out on Friday, I sat with her for a while, telling her that she had been a good chicken and it was ok to go.  I sent Mark out when he came home for the same reason. The next morning, I did not rush out; when Mark took a while coming back in, I was dreading the news. “She’s still there,” he said. “Looks pretty good. She even ate something.”

                Today, we let all of the hens out again. Henny came out to sit in the sun near the greenhouse for the afternoon.  She was munching on some grass. I like to think that she is waiting, as I am, for the outcome of Tuesday’s election. She has always been a scrappy little hen, bossy and loud. A good layer—we could host Hot Cross Buns for eighteen on just her white eggs alone. She kept the Buffs in line until just last week, when her comb began to droop. Even now, they leave her be. She was always  first into the compost heap when we brought out the yogurt container full of kitchen scraps. Henny never doubted her place. So, maybe she is waiting—more patiently than me, to be honest—for Tuesday evening. And she is hoping, as I am, to see history – or, maybe Herstory—made, when we finally elect a woman for president. It will be a victory for women. I hope Henny is still here to see it.  I hope I am, as well.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Loose Connections-- the foundations of community

                Despite the sign reading “Corvallis: Population 56,000” on the way into town, Corvallis is a small community. Take away the 20,000 short term residents (AKA OSU students) and you have a village. And, after teaching English here for twenty years, I know a lot of people—or, more accurately, they know me.

                Last night was speed dating with parents, better known as conferences. I talked to 44 sets of parents, some with students, some with small screaming children, some with translators. You never know, when they sit down, where the five minute conversation is going to go, although I’ve developed some techniques for directing the discussion. At least five times last night, someone commented on my council run. One woman launched on a mental health is a cause of homelessness discussion (I’ll get back to her in a few months) and then remembered that there was someone behind her.  But the best moments are when you are teaching a younger sibling and the parents take a moment to catch you up on the older children’s activities. Married, working, kids….Parents are proud.

                This morning, I visited the library to find out about acquiring some books when they are de-accessioned. The Friends of the Library who were working in the sorting room were thrilled that I was going to be on council, reminded me that I had given them a tour of the back yard, and took me into the woman in charge of removing books from the system. We had a grand talk about the state of the world, how libraries are the foundation of a democratic society, and how the whole book sorting system worked, as I only see the warehouse end when I sort over the summer.  I left her with my name and the title of the book I was interested in.

                Finally, when I was raking leaves out of the street, an older man paused on the sidewalk. He had a big bag of cans and had been checking the neighborhood dumpsters for more. “Are you the lady who was looking for the cat?” he asked. I was and assured him that she had come home.  “Sometimes they just go walk-about,” he observed as he headed off down the street and I went back to work, using my new-old wheelbarrow that a friend repaired and gave to me last spring.

                These loose connections are the foundation of a functioning community. We all need the tight connections of family and friends, but we are floating in space without the constant interactions that tie us to a place and time. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tiny homes-- the solution to Oregon's housing crisis?

There is a deeply held belief in Oregon that tiny homes are going to solve the affordable housing crisis. At a forum last week, the Pacific Green candidate for county commissioner proclaimed that “People are dying to live in tiny homes! They were lined up around the block at a trade show to see inside one.” I sighed. People love to look at tiny homes—and they are very cool--but do they know what it is like to live in one?

                When I was eight, my parents decided to sell the house they had built in Hampstead, New Hampshire and buy a camper so that we could travel around the United States. It was 1969. We spent a year visiting trade shows and RV lots, looking for our new home. I was in love—all of those tiny, well-designed spaces for living….We found the perfect camper; it was a couple of feet longer than the others so that it had a side door. The inside was a very modern harvest gold and tweedy brown. My parents promised that the space above the cab was mine, so I lined it with my books, packed my clothes in the overhead compartments, and settled in. Our new puppy found her space under the table. For a year, I ate dinner with my feet resting warmly on the dog.

                The trip was amazing. We drove across the northern U.S., camping in state parks and along the road. In Washington, we spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula while I roamed the empty foggy beaches with Honey. We camped one night by the side of 101, where my father said you could “spit a mile” straight down. It was cool and misty. My mother lit the gas lamp which provided both heat and light and cooked dinner. I walked down the road while I waited—the camper was a golden beacon in a dark world. We ran out of money in California, worked for a few weeks, stopped in Las Vegas (where I won over twenty dollars in the nickel slot machines), and drove quickly across Texas to Florida, where we had family.

                We spent the winter living in the camper. It was not a hardship. In Florida, you live outside. We set up a table, chairs, and pretend classroom on the space beside the camper. The showers were down the road a bit; the laundry room made a great hair drier.  One campground was set in the “Gardens of  Light” where colored lights lit up palm trees along boardwalks. There was even a swimming pond. My parents worked. I went to school. We were normal; several other families lived in the park with us. Florida schools were set up for transient students.  In the spring, we came home. By fall, we had a house. Even so, my mother and I spent summers in the camper in New Hampshire, settled in alongside my aunt’s house on the lake.  Twenty years later, I made the same trip, living in my VW vanagon for three months—and many smaller trips since then. I love living in small spaces.

                That being said, tiny houses are not the solution to an affordable housing crisis built upon the rising costs of land because of demand and an excellent, strong land use law. It would be far more efficient to build studio apartment complexes on the same land; apartments are less resource intensive and expensive than hand-built tiny homes and provide the same level of independence as well as protection from the rain.

 Tiny homes are, also, honestly, artisanal RVs. Would you be willing to have an RV park next door to your house? If so, I could support that. There are hundreds of dying RVs on the back roads of Oregon. I counted at least fifty one afternoon, driving from the Otis CafĂ© to the turn-off to Monmouth.  This was not a functional vehicle count, parked in driveways; these were the ones buried in blue tarps and blackberries. I’d be thrilled to haul them out, fix them up, settle them into a well-managed park, and rent them out for nominal rates to local house-less people. That seems like a win-win to me. However, it would not be a cool looking as a tiny home compound.

Finally, tiny homes are not practical in muddy, rainy climates, especially some of the smaller designs that do not have fully functional kitchens and bathrooms. They may work well in dry climates, where roommates can escape to the back yard for some space, but here, where we are often inside, they would be very difficult to endure. Walking to the bathroom is charming while camping in a yurt at Silver Falls or spending a night at Breittenbush Hot Springs; it grows old fast in a downpour when you track mud inside after every trip or when you do not feel well.  I challenge anyone who thinks that tiny homes are a serious solution to the housing crisis to try living in one for the month of January in Oregon, with their entire family and, perhaps, a wet dog thrown in for good measure.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week in Hiaku

Tea. Toast. NPR.
Two cats sleep. Fall rain outside.
Wool socks. Home morning.

Rain. Wind. Leaves. Yardwork.
Armloads of tomato plants.
Beds prepped for fall mulch.

Bald Hill Walk in clouds.
It is lovely to be out.
Typhoon is over.

A day of meetings.
PLC. City Council.
People like to talk.

Grey sky, mug, table, wall.
Red pen draws lines through papers.
Gold leaves. October.

October Nineteenth.
Debate? Or Young Frankenstein?
The choice is so clear.

Ballots came today.
So weird. I voted for myself.
Charlyn Ellis. Ward five.