Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Weather



The last week of February has held some wild weather. First, we had snow squalls blowing horizontally by my classroom windows (I am not exaggerating here), then three or four inches of snow in town,-- Snow Day!-- followed by an arctic blast of 15 degrees overnight. Finally, we are returning to Late Winter normal—40’s and drizzle.

It’s not unusual to have a blast of frigid air in Corvallis sometime during the winter; it reminds us of how far north we actaully are. So, we have our systems. I have “frost blanket” of heavy duty remay that we wrap around the bay and the columular apple trees in barrels out front, right in the wind tunnel of house and garage. The larger one is even labeled “bay” – not that you can see it at 8:00 PM when we realize that the tree needs protection. I have an old army blanket and plaid plastic tablecloth that I wrap around the bee hive. And Mark brings the chickens in to roost in the cellar stairwell as our coop is pretty airy, even wrapped in plastic. They are not keen on the move; huge hands reach into the coop in the dark and grab them, tucking wings in under, and deposit them in a strange place that smells of potatoes and wood. There’s quite a bit of conversation between them before we turn out the lights. And again in the morning. Occasionally, one goes exploring….

Before the rains started this morning I went out to unwrap the hive and trees. A few bees were out checking out the morning because the sun had been on them for a bit. You could here them muttering—I know I came out of here somewhere—until the blanket was lifted. The trees came through unscathed, the daphne was beginning to bloom, and the chickens dust bathing under the rabbit hutch. Pre-Spring in Corvallis.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cody

A group planted a Peace Tree outside of the mosque last week. Back in November, after the FBI arrested a “terrorist” who was going to blow up the Tree Lighting Ceremony in Pioneer Square with materials which they provided, the local papers reported that the bomber was an occasional member of the mosque down the street. Over Thanksgiving Break, someone threw a pop bottle full of gasoline through one of the mosque’s windows and it caught fire. The building was saved by a police officer cruising the neighborhood who spotted the flames. I heard the sirens and then some guy yelling “the police” and diving into the bushes, but did not get up to check it out—it was cold that night. The office was destroyed, but the building saved.

Later that week, the progressive community rallied around the mosque to listen to speakers and surround the building with a candle light vigil. Mark and I went with our candle lanterns which we take camping and stood in the rain straining to hear the speakers. It was lovely when we all spread out around the building. Some of us were silent—others were cruising for friends. For several weeks after, carpenters donated time to rebuild the space. The tree is the continuation of that support. It’s a nice tree. Evergreen.

During the same time that the rebuilding was going on, the FBI was interviewing neighbors, searching the grounds for clues. There wasn’t much—over Thanksgiving, most of the neighborhood is away, visiting family. They found a flashlight and a brick. When they talked to one of our neighbors, he mentioned having a flashlight stolen from his porch, but did not recognize the one the FBI had. I saw them talking with the family when I drove by one day. Then, the local paper reported that our neighbor—Cody—was a suspect in the case. “No way,” I thought. “I’ve talked with this guy. He was a wild child in his youth, but he would not do that.” He has a four year old son now and sits watching him play in the yard. He planted sunflowers out front, and, unlike his reticent mom, he’s a chatter. Mark gathered that he had a fish farm in Central America for several years which was taken out by a hurricane, so he can home, moved in with his mom, and enrolled at LB. He was doing pretty well there and feeling good about his life. I looked at the reported evidence—a brick (they live in a brick house) and a flashlight which was not theirs. Nothing else. The address was in the paper.
The next day, I noticed that the car was parked on the grass in front of their door, like a barrier. No one was home for days—I kept my eye out. Then, early in the morning, I caught them.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Not good,” Robin shook her head. “People keep driving by and screaming at us, leaving stuff on the doorstep.”
“I didn’t do it,” Cody said, tearfully.
“I know you didn’t,” I assured him—if I had any doubts, they were erased at that moment.
Robin went on to describe the night the FBI descended on their little house. They came at around three in the morning, banging on the door. They searched the house by flashlight, barging into the room where Cody’s son, Jake, was sleeping. “They wouldn’t let Jake leave the room, “ she said. “He was screaming—big guys with flashlights in the dark, but they wouldn’t let him come out with me.” They put Robin in one room, Cody in another, the child in the bedroom, screaming, for hours. “He’ll get over it,” they told Robin when she protested. They left at dawn, taking a bunch of stuff with them, leaving the entire family shaken and venerable.

Cody did his best to protest his innocence. He gave an interview to the local paper, which they printed, after rehashing the entire story, including his arrest. Within two weeks, the FBI cleared his name—but we never read that in the paper. In fact, when Cody had a nervous breakdown, about a month later, they ran through the ENTIRE story again, even though his name had been cleared by that time.

They have moved. The child did not want to go back into the house—the bogeymen were there. People continued to harass them. They felt threatened—and I believe they were. I will miss them; they were quiet, hardworking people struggling to make ends meet in a tiny brick house, which is now empty. And this is what bothers me about the entire episode….no one knows. The entire community gathered around the mosque, sending flowers and aid, giving speeches and planting trees for peace. But no one did anything to protect this small, vunerable family from attack. I understand that the police make mistakes—that they have to follow up every lead they have, that there was pressure to solve the case quickly. But—and it is a huge but—no child should ever be terrorized, even if their parents are guilty. No local newspaper should continue to report that someone is guilty when they are not. And we need to remember that poor families are vunerable in ways that the rich are not, and work to protect them. Cody was left to hang on his own.

He’s now receiving psychiatric care. Jake has created a spuerhoro—Jakeman—to protect himself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Secret Breeding Ground of the Newts

The Secret Breeding ground of the Newts was peaceful—classic Oregon. We were heading out to help our friend Mark Meyer move an old, free, plastic, one piece greenhouse about a quarter of a mile down the road to his new house when I realized that the newts would be congregating in the old quarry just up the road from his place, so after the move and lunch, we turned the Ark uphill. As we climbed, the mist became a drizzle and the fir covered hills disappeared into the clouds. We are native enough now that a drizzle, even without raincoats, doesn’t deter us, but we were grateful for our wooly hats.

The quarry itself is about a quarter of a mile down an old logging road, used now by dog and child walkers, cross country runners, and mountain bikers—it’s a pretty popular entrance to miles of trails and roads, partly because it is not muddy in the winter. There’s a pile of logs, some cut into fireplace length, on the way. One day, when it was slushing out, someone had lit a fire there and others, walking by, tended it. Today, nothing.

The newts, however, were out in force. Newt watching is a trick, as their brown or grey skins blend into the rotting leaves and gravel on the bottoms of the local ponds and the reflection of the sky can make it difficult to see into the water. You have to look beyond the surface and watch for movement. Once your eyes adjust, though, there they are. Some hang in the water, tails down, noses breaking the surface. Some lurk under the pond grasses or logs. Others shift slightly and meander along. Then one moves—long tail sways from side to side, feet tuck close to the body, like a seal lion under water. It wiggles, dives—the feet reach out as brakes and he slows down. Another newt looks over. Several converge on one, like a dog pile. The orange undersides of their tails show, bright in the dark water. They meet, sniff, move away. It’s mesmerizing.

All around is quiet. The mist collects, drips off the rocks above, patters softly on my head. A breeze shakes the drops off of the Doug firs. A quarry stone is dislodged and drops into the pond. Far way, a barred owl calls. An excited dog barks on the trail above, maybe a bicycle brake squeals. Something plops in the pond further out. The newts move on, unaware.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Mosque and the Brush Pile



I’ve been haunted by what is happening in Egypt. First Tunisia tossed out their leader, then the protests started in Egypt…who saw it coming? It feels like the Berlin wall—one night, while I was driving to Washington D.C. for a NARAL rally, the wall came down. Sue told us when we arrived, shocked. Looking back now, there were clearly cracks in the fa├žade, but at the time—bang, down. Egypt feels like that. I think about one of the exchange students from last year, Shehab, who is from Egypt. I listen closely—are the protesters targeting educated, better off Egyptians? Is he safe? This is, after all, the function of exchange students—to give us a window into another country, a person to think about when something happens there, a connection to another place. And Shehab is such an excellent ambassador, intelligent, thoughtful, kind. So, I worry and listen closely to Democracy Now, because the senior producer of the show is Egyptian and on the ground there.

It was warm and sunny this weekend, so we attacked the brush pile in the far back corner of the yard. When we first moved in, I was inspired by the Findhorn Garden, where the spirits tell the gardeners what to plant, when, and how, and decided that we needed a wild place in the yard for the nature spirits to live—hence, the brush pile. It was also convenient; it was where we dumped all of the laurel hedge trimmings, and old wood from decaying compost bins, and fig branches, as well as the Christmas tree. It housed at least one possum family, and a few rats. The cats loved it. However, it has encroached about a foot a year. After ten years, that’s a significant chunk of real estate in an urban yard, even for nature spirits. Something had to go.

I can see the mosque as I begin work on the pile, casually pulling on a long branch about two inches in diameter. It snaps, rotten through. I tug at another—this is like playing pickup sticks as a child, where one stick shifts the entire stack. It also breaks easily. Soon, I have piles—dry branches from the top for burning, long wet, slimy branches broken down into smaller pieces to facilitate composting, and a constant shifting of almost compost—leaves and small stuff. The old compost bin is covered in various fungi; there is a lovely orange slime mold on a log; the figs are nasty and slippery. Soon, I figure out that just walking on the pile breaks it down even faster, so I start jumping up and down. Mark comes out, looks at the project, and starts the fire on one of the garden beds. Once that is burning, he cuts up the large branches that don’t break under foot. After an hour, I find the old willow logs from an ice storm eight years ago. We used most for firewood, but some were just to awkward to split, so we scarified them to the nature spirits. There pieces, at the bottom of the pile, are still dry, which is pretty amazing for Oregon in January.

As I work, I keep thinking of Egypt—Hosni Mubarak floats through my brain. I wonder what is happening now—what will be on the news in the morning? Will it spread—Jordan? Saudi Arabia? Democracy coming from the people, not from the United States and military intervention. How cool would it be if this succeeded—if people, peacefully protesting, could shift the balance of power in the Middle East, if peaceful action was more successful than the American military might. If Martin Luther King was right—“We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”—and moral, non-violent protest can move mountains?

The pile is rapidly breaking down. Stomping on the surface has compacted it by half and we’re clearing ground. Mark sets up another compost hoop and shovels the almost compost in, stopping to dream of a covered work area in the back corner. I hack back blackberry vines and tug on ten foot long branches in the back. We find bare ground we have not seen in years. Our neighbors walk down the alley and Lucy the Accoster cat follows them almost into their apartments. The sun is going down, the air is cooling off, I’m getting Hungary for dinner. The chickens are considering their roosts for the night with quiet conversations. We stop. We have made far more progress than I would have thought possible a few hours ago—the task will be done tomorrow. It feels good. Before I move inside, I glance towards the mosque—the crescent moon that defines the space—and wish for peace.