Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Planning for Vacations

                Knowing that we were going to be gone for six weeks this summer—from the last day of school in late June until early August—I had to make some changes in the planting plan for the year. Basically, nothing that needed to be eaten or  processed could come ripe while we were away.

                Some things were just not planted this year. We have no summer lettuce or broccoli, no green beans, no runner beans. Beans need to be trained up twine for the entire month of July in order to produce anything, so they were out. Lettuce comes on and goes too quickly and then needs to be replanted.  Broccoli will get aphids if ignored.  We are missing these basic veggies in our meals, but I can still find them at the market or the farm, so we will survive. We will still have pasta with green beans, walnuts, and crème fresh for dinner.

                To fill in the space, I planted extras of other crops. We have more dried bushy beans in the beds, two beds rather than one. We have quite a few cabbages, both late and early. The early we ate before we left and a few held until we returned. I put in more winter squash, although I still planted two types of zucchini, one early and one that climbs, comes on late, and produces until November (which is, really a bit longer than you want it.) I planted a climbing cucumber, knowing that it would not really produce enough for pickles until August. I was right; there is a bowl soaking in brine right now.

                We arrived home right in time for canning season. The blackberries are ripe. The apples are ripe. The peaches are ripe. The blueberries are ripe. The gooseberries were waiting.  The eating plums were still clinging to the tree for a few days after we pulled in. Tomatoes will be ripe in a few weeks. The figs will wait until everything else is processed and will, hopefully, beat the fall rains.  The potatoes will need to be pulled soon, as will the beans and corn.  I am glad we did not stay way longer.

                Overall, we are missing some of the basic summer produce, but there are always cabbages and the six week trip was worth it.  Next year will be a garden-focused year.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hey Jude

Road Trip questions…..what was the first song that was yours, not something your parents played?

               The summer I was eight, my parents parked the camper in my aunt’s driveway for a month while the truck had some repairs done. We were about to travel across the country and the suspension system was questionable. They slept in the camper; I preferred sleeping in the house with my cousins. The boys slept in one room; I had a cot with my cousin Sherry, four years younger, in the adjoining room. We were all sent to bed at the same time; the parents were clearly done with us by about eight o’clock. Sherry and Steven went to sleep quickly. Roland, the eldest by a year, did not. He loved baseball, so he took a small radio to bed with him to listen to the Red Sox games. Most nights, I slipped over to join him. We would listen to the game, to the sound of our parents talking, drinking beer, and playing cards in the kitchen, and chat. No one cared. We were quiet. Every night that summer, the radio played “Hey Jude” at the same time, a few minutes after the game was over.  We waited for the song to begin, sang along softly, and then I would head back to my cot and sleep.  We did not quite understand the longing in the lyrics, but it spoke to us. And, oddly enough, I never heard the song during the day, when the radio was dominated by “Honey, Honey” and “When the weather is hot, you can do what you please.” It was a night song.

                Four years later, back from the cross country adventure, we moved in with my cousins again. The house was bigger—my parents had a room inside—another child had been added to the mix, but the situation was the same. Kids formed a pack that ran around just beyond the gaze of adults. On Saturdays, we were all left alone in the house while every adult went to work. We argued over whose turn it was to change Kevin’s diapers (he was only house broken for my father), watched bad television, went ice skating until we froze, and listened to music. Roland had acquired the Beatles compilation albums for Christmas and we played them over and over. Once again, we sang along to “Hey Jude.”  It was not my favorite song—the ending refrain went on too long in my mind—but we were loud.

                Three years later, Roland convinced our mothers that we had to go to Boston to see Beatlemania, a group of musicians who performed the classic songs, in authentic costumes, with a slide show.  Going to a show in the Big City was not common at that point in time; I doubt that he would have succeeded if the women of the house had not wanted an evening out, perhaps at the new Hyatt hotel on the waterfront. Whatever argument he used, they agreed. We drove into Boston, bought scalped tickets, which felt unbelievably adult, and went in. Our mothers drove off with specific pick-up instructions. (I believe they were late getting back…) The show was transformative. I understood, watching the slides and listening to the music, the connections between popular culture, current events, and music—something I was only just beginning to consider. And it was sad, too, to watch the group disintegrate over time, which I only sensed then and learned the details of later. I was transfixed. And so was my cousin, who always tried to be a Bad Boy, to be hip and cool. In that context, “Hey Jude” took on a whole new meaning, the longing to do well, to reach for something more.

                This was the last time I spent any real thoughtful time with my cousin. We were on separate paths by then. I was the Good Girl, the smart one, who took Honors English and read piles of books on the side. He was a Bad Boy, skipping classes, smoking across from the bus stop, messing around with girls. He did not graduate. At the time, I don’t think the adults really understood the problems that could cause; they had all done pretty well without high school diplomas. They would not be so causal now.   We all wanted something better; we just did not know how to get there. “Hey Jude” was written as a guide, if we only listened.  I still don’t think “Hey Jude” is the best song they ever wrote—but it sends me back to my roots every time.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

An Open Letter to H.D. Thoreau


I am afraid that the world has become a much noisier place than when you were living on Walden Pond. We have not listened to your words. I visited your old stomping grounds yesterday. It was a cool muggy day, overcast and threatening rain.  I teach your work to my students. We plant beans in your memory.

I stopped at Emerson’s house first as you would as well, where they talked far more about the portraits on the walls than about Emerson’s ideas, which is a shame, because I don’t think anyone really reads the man any longer. No time.   As you know, one was of Sumner, the friend who was beaten on the Senate floor for his positions on slavery. “Beaten, like yelled at?” someone asked. “No,” the guide replied, “beaten like hit. I think with a bat.” It was a cane, but that’s a small detail.  APUSH students love the story—who doesn’t like the story of a good fight for what you believe?  APUSH is all about memorizing dates and facts for attest at the end of the year; Alcott would not approve.  There is no recess in APUSH, no experiential learning. They read, listen, take notes. In some ways, things have not changed much since you were in school, Henry.

After lunch, I went to your grave. There was Emerson’s huge rock, dominating the ridge as he dominated the transcendental scene. And Louisa May, tucked in with her family.  Yours was buried in flowers and blocked by three people arguing over the national political scene. It’s bad, Henry. No one was been caned on the Senate floor—yet—but it’s ugly. In some ways, I think you all would feel right at home reading the national news. But you would never argue over tactics in the cemetery! Between the discussion and the road repair that was happening down the hill, I fled.

There’s now a trail over to your cabin. I know you came in and out of town via the railroad, but walking on or near the tracks isn’t legal any longer—someone might be hit and sue the railroad. We have become even more litigious than we were in early New England! So they put in a trail that wanders through the local wetland and by a bean field. The bean rows were straight and free of weeds. Someone had gone in with a tractor to cultivate that field, rather than using a hand hoe. Why? Time spent cultivating beans, knowing beans, is time well spent in philosophical thought.  But there it is, a perfect bean field. Well, almost. It had been flooded by rain last week. Your personal field has been taken over by third growth and returned to the woodlot.

Dog walkers like your trail, Henry. And women with phones do, too. This is the strangest thing. People now walk down a trail talking to someone miles away—this woman was talking to someone on another continent!—rather than watching for the wintergreen blossoms by the side of the path. You may even see two friends together, both looking at their phones, not at each other. We are a distracted society. We need your simplicity more now than ever.

People love your cabin. There is a broad path to the door—or the eight posts that mark the location in the woods. They write comments in the guest book like “the perfect house” and then head for the gift shop.  A ranger was lecturing a bunch of pre-college kids about your relationship with Louis Agassiz when I was there. Loudly. They wanted to add rocks to the pile by your door. That pile has grown since E B White was there; it is no longer a small ugly pile, but a large ugly pile.

But then they all left and I was able, for the first time all day, to hear the forest around you. There are still mid-summer birds and insects, the rustle of the leaves in the trees, the sound of pencil on paper in your little clearing, Henry. The pond is still there—no loons today—with a path down to where you gathered your water. In the near distance, the train still calls as it leaves town, but I think it is going faster now. And it is, still, just far enough away to block the sounds of humanity rushing about their lives, but close enough to walk into town to talk with a friend, one on one and face to face.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What I love about the South.

What I love about The South—the northern South, to be clear.

1.       Sides. Sides are the best dining idea ever! In Pacific Northwest parlance, you choose your protein—fried catfish, meatloaf, pork chops—and then two or three sides, which range from reasonably healthy, like collard greens or pickled beets, to deep fried okra or sweet potato French fries. Mac and cheese is a side. You can also just order sides if you are not too hungry.   Sides allow you to customize your dinner perfectly. And southerners have way more choice than other parts of the country. If the Lusty  Bun diner ever existed, it would have southern sides.

2.       Iced tea. It comes in big red plastic glasses, semi-transparent.  You can get it sweet or un, or, the best, half and half. With lemon. And the waitress calls you honey when she serves it.  It’s not strongly caffeinated, so it is safe to drink until afternoon.

3.       Night. Summer nights wrap around you, warm and humid. Moths fly into your tea if you leave it untended. Insects call. Fireflies float through the air. If it’s been hot, it cools down a bit. The air smells, too. Of river, or trees, or skunks or rain… Night makes up for the bake-y heat of the car when it has been sitting in the parking lot too long.

4.       Voices. Southern voices are slower, more calm, than northern voices.

5.       Time. Maybe it’s just Kingsport, where Mark is from, but Eastern Tennessee seems like a step back in time. I’m not sure exactly when, but at least to 1975. Sometimes earlier.  The buildings, the signs, the interiors, even some of the smells…they all remind me of my childhood. Objects that would have been replaced ten or more years ago in Oregon are still around, still being used.  It is haunting. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Kansas is an amazing place! Everything in American history washed through the state at some point and there is probably a small town museum that mentions it. And it is beautiful. Just beautiful. 

“Kansas was once part of the great inland sea, “a woman with a Mennonite cap informed us in the Oakley Museum. There was a local ranch where thousands of fossils were discovered in excellent shape, so many that the woman of the place, who was an artist, incorporated the bits and pieces into her paintings. “You can see them, with vertebra for the tree trunks and small shells for petals on the flowers.” She pointed the way. “And the big fossils are around the corner.“ We examined the paintings, then headed around the corner. And there was an eight foot long complete amphibian fossil, bigger than any we had ever seen-- and we just came from Dinosaur National Monument. Amazing!

At the next museum, we found the iconic photographs of the Dust Bowl rolling into Scott City, the ones that are in the Timothy Egan’s book that I assigned a few years ago. We saw the buildings that the dust covered-- ate lunch in one. We examined photographs of the Jack Rabbit Round-ups, when they caught 10,000 rabbits in one day, because they were eating any green plant that survived the drought. Ten thousand in one day and they held regular ups. Another display described the life of Zora Hurst, one of the plaintiffs in Brown vs. the Board of Education. She went to school in Oakley, which was integrated because the population was so small. As we headed down the road, I began to remember all of the history that happened in this state: the westward movement that started out in Kansas City, the debates over free and slave states that circled around the borders, the beginnings of the grange and populist movements of the nineteenth century. All of it happened right here, in the middle of the country.

The next day, we wandered over the Tall Grass prairies. The Nature Conservancy, working with the National Parks, purchased an old ranch and began to preserve some of the land as prairie. It had not been plowed, but grazed by cattle. First we explored the buildings, the fancy, modern for the time barns and the house, then we headed out to the grasslands. Bison grazed on the far hilltops. Flowers bloomed-- some that we knew, some that we did not. We examined the bloom patterns, commenting on how the tiny flowers began at the bottom of the stalk and opened upward. “There’s a name for that,” Mark muttered. Birds flew around our heads. Clouds covered the sky and a breeze dried the sweat on our backs. Some lovely. So quiet. 

And then, both nights, we had HUGE thunderstorms. They began with heat lightning at dusk and slowly built to full on, hour long storms, constantly flashing and rumbling. We laid snug in the Ark, listening to the rains pound on the roof. It was impossible to sleep. I understood, perhaps,why Kansas has always been so strong minded and contrary-- they may just be short on sleep from the summer storms. They were incredible. 

We left the state reluctantly, wishing we had planned several more days to explore the border towns, like Fort Scott, where we found a preserved downtown and the old fort when we stopped to hunt for a bathroom one evening. But we had miles to go, literally, before we slept and we pushed on. We may need to go back.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This Land is Your Land

When I was in fourth grade, our teachers allowed us to choose the patriotic song for the class to sing after the pledge of allegiance. It must have been in the fourth grade playbook—all three of my teachers, in two radically different states, did the same thing.  Few kids chose the “Star Spangled Banner”—too difficult to sing—and most chose “America the Beautiful”, favoring amber waves of grain over exploding gunfire. I, however, always wanted “This land is Your Land”, an early sign of working class radicalism.

It was, really, the lyrics. My family had just driven from New Hampshire to California, to Florida, then home again. I had seen the Gulf Stream waters and the Pacific Redwoods, the ribbon of highway stretching out in front of me. I felt, on a deep level, connected to the landscape Guthrie was describing. It WAS my land, all of it. I had roamed and rambled over it all, talked to people in campgrounds and rest areas, explored the woods and rivers. I could name all fifty states on the truckstop placemats without help. We did it for fun in the camper at night. Of course, in elementary school, they only sang the first two verses, on a good day, preferring to focus on landscape and not politics.

Years later, I heard Pete Seager sing the “lost” verses and was astounded by the new depth they brought to the cheery fourth grade song. First, Guthrie saw his people in relief offices and waiting in soup lines, the poverty that was—and is—endemic to our country. Times were tough in the 1930s when he was traveling the country, picking up money by rewriting songs about the Columbia River for the electric company. Grapes of Wrath tough. But, are they better now? I don’t think so.
And then, the laugh out loud last verse, where he talks about seeing the “no trespassing” sign, walks around it, and decided that “that side was made for you and me.” As someone who has always wandered into areas where I am not “supposed” to be, that line resonated.  I can see why it was left out of the songbooks. Finally, the song swings into one more grand chorus, celebrating the landscape one more time. This land belongs to you and me.

I think about this song once more as we drive across the country, hoping to find that we all have more in common that in opposition. This is an amazing land, from the gulf coast waters to the redwood forests; we need to celebrate it, not tear it apart. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kindness of strangers, part two

It was a hot afternoon.  Highway 84. Sagebrush, potatoes, long distance trucks, mountains in the distance.

We filled the Ark, pulled over to add ice to the cooler, and watched in horror as gas leaked out. It is always something. Always. We had a ton of work done before we left and still….We drove over to the shop next to the truck stop. They looked at it. At first, the mechanic was dismissive. “It’s your windshield wiper fluid.” “But it smells like gas.” “Yeah, it does.” He bent over. Mechanics are engineers after all. Once hooked on a problem, they are ready to ponder it.  Professional pride.  “I think you should have the VW place look at it,” he said. “We do fords and such. This is different. We’d hve to get out books and such. ” He gave us directions. “I’d drive it,” he smiled.

We headed into Twin Cities, seven miles back down  the interstate. Deep sigh. Saturday evening is not a good time to need a repair on a car older than many mechanics.  The VW shop was still open, but barely. The mechanic came out. “I think it’s something to do with the emissions on a hot day,” he said. He was a young guy, helpful. “We could replace that hose, but I think it will be fine. It was just hot. Keep an eye on it.” I looked at Mark. “It’s your car,” he shrugged. “But you are the worrier. Are you ok?” He nodded.  “We can get it fixed at your parents if it does not get any worse.”

Back onto the highway.  Sagebrush. Potatoes. Big mountains in the distance.