Tuesday, January 26, 2010


So, I’ve become rather obsessed with the concept of the carbon footprint in the past few years, to the point of observing, as a friend was describing a possible date who traveled to Hawaii and Arizona every year, “Man, he’s got a huge carbon footprint!” It’s a constant topic of conversation at our house—how to measure such things accurately, whether or not it really matters what we do (are we just doomed anyways?), what can we do to reduce ours? What is the final goal here? Is it better to drive my old VW Vanagon, built at the tail end of the last energy crisis, or buy a new Prius, with its embedded construction energy? Is Volkswagen ever going to build a hybrid? How much gas do we use in a year? I can measure that….

Being the archivist and packrat combination that we are here, We have, filed away, all of our bank statements for the past five years, taking up way too much room in the file cabinet. As we always buy gas on our debit cards, I could see how often we bought gas and multiply it by 10.5 gallons. Since the gas gage broke, years ago, we’ve been filling the Ark up at about 260 miles, which is 11 gallons, but, occasionally, we’ll buy gas before leaving on a trip, so our average is 10.5 gallons. In the last year, we bought gas 26 times—so 273 gallons of gas in a year. Multiply that by 22 miles per gallon (our average consumption, which, yes, I figure in my head whenever I buy gas—always have) is 6006 miles of driving between the two of us last year. I then figured the amount of carbon from that gas consumption—19.564 pounds per gallon of gas for 5390.974 pounds released into the atmosphere. Not great, but way better than the average American family at 24,000 miles per person, per year. A Prius gets about 45 miles per gallon, twice as good as the Ark, so we could drive 12,000 miles for the same impact—or stay where we are, not driving, not buying a new car, and doing a little better than most Prius drivers. So I guess we’ll keep the Ark for a little longer—besides, we can camp out in the back, and save money, too!

We can do this for one reason—location. Mark works in the basement. I walk to work in less than ten minutes on a strolling day. Groceries—half a mile. Library—university, half a mile, public, a mile. Restaurants and coffeeshops—five blocks. Movies—a mile. Friends—all over town (which happens to be fairly flat)—within biking distance. We just don’t need to drive on a daily basis. We do drive—I love long road trips and we took two this summer, which I calculated into the mileage and we travel to Portland and Eugene regularly—we just don’t do it often. If it’s just me heading north, I take the train. It costs about as much as gas and I can stare out the window. Driving is like eating cake, especially mine, not something you do every day.

It’s January. The garden is resting. The world is raining. I’ll probably be digging through our files to calcualate the rest of our footprint in the next month or so—Utilities? Books? Cat food?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Snowdrops, etc

It’s hard to adjust, sometimes, to “winter” in Oregon. It is damp for months, but it is rarely cold or snowy .The dank season is brief, with a long slow spring that lasts well into June. I’m already tracking spring signs….

Positives first. We saw the first snowdrops today. There are two in the front yard and a whole line of them down the street, where they always bloom at least a week ahead of everyone else. The hazelnuts have been blooming for a week or so, too, but they are hard to see—a bright magenta flower at the top of the ever stretching catkins, but it is tiny. I didn’t even see them for years, until I was out pruning one sunny afternoon and ran into them (literally). The leaf mulch is also developing mysterious bulges and bumps in the garden beds, where the bulbs are pushing up. I moved some aside yesterday and the sprouts are beginning to green up and breathe. Some sprouts will push through the mulch, spear it, and bloom around the crusty brown leaf. In the woods, the mosses are unbelievably plump and bright, full of rainwater. Mark and I count the different mosses on a tree; we find at least four distinct species on each tree, and it changes depending upon the tree. Lichens have also turned green-ish, rather than grey. The winter woods glow in the late afternoon.

In the house, I’ve been rummaging through seed catalogs, considering tomatoes and beans, limiting the number of flowers I’ll order, focusing on food. We still have milk crates full of potatoes, although one variety has begun to sprout, so we’ve been eating down on them, making potato bread and soup. The canning shelves are still full of dried fruit, and roasted tomatoes, salsa and chutney and jam, but there are gaps now. We’ve eaten most of the peach chutney…I’ve baked all but two large squashes—one of which is so huge that I’m not sure what to do with it! I’ll be whacking it up in a few weeks….

Of course, there are the other signs of late winter/early spring. The yard is all mud, especially in the front, under the fig tree. Everyone has mud. The idiots who have been parking on the grass nearby have created huge gouges in the soil, which fill up with water, forcing them to park further down on the grass. The world looks sort of trashy. Moss is growing on everything, including the Ark. The basement is wet from the saturated soil, water pushing up through the cracks. I have to watch where I step in slippers. The back hall is constantly messy from mud and shoes drying out. There are cat prints running from the back door straight into the bedroom and onto the pillows, where they finally wash their feet. The house feels small.

But the air has changed. The snowdrops are blooming. We have turned a corner and soon, the days will really be a little longer. Early spring has begun.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Successful Seed Catalog Order Rules

1. Avoid Purple-Podded anything, no matter how luscious the description of the flowers and delicate shading of the fruit. It is not tasty. Do not be sucked in by purple prose.

2. Consider the cooking. Cardoons, for example. What a gorgeous plant—tall, striking, like an overgrown artichoke. What a shape. What a color. Deep purple flower. Bees love it. But, what do you do with it? Even Alice Waters is stumped. Do not purchase any seed/plant that you do not know how to cook.

3. Climate is important. Just Because it appears in the seed catalog does not mean it will grow in your yard. Sweet potatoes will not produce five pounds of food for every square foot of space at the Avery Park Garden, as one garden-curious man believed. This is Oregon, not Alabama. Kale, however, might….

4. Limit Experiments. Do not order soybeans, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, and blue poppies all in one year. There isn’t room in the backyard. You don’t know what the sprouts look like (thus weed them out). You won’t be able to focus all of your positive energy on them. There will be another year.

5. Wait to Place the Order. All tomatoes sound wonderful on January first. Who can resist a “Silvery Fir Tree”? “Chocolate Cherry”? And “Japanese Trifele Black—a truly transcendent tomato”? Give it a few days. Look at the canning shelf. Remember the old friend the “Sungold”….How many small tomatoes does one neighborhood need?

6. Remember—It All Grows. There is only so much room in the beds. There are only so many tubs you can snag from the recycling bag at the nursery feet waving in the air as you stretch for the bottom. What looks like an innocent zucchini in May will take over the yard in August. Save space for it.

Good Luck!