It is funny how I no more publish a letter than I start a new one within a couple of days. You might question my use of the word 'publish'. Being a failed novelist who has seen his words in paper-print zilch times - and I failed with good cause, I am very pleased with this venue. Even though there are probably no more than 50, at most, who read my letter I am able to consider myself 'a writer' in some small sense. Small does not detract from my pleasure; the fact that I can string my words here and please some few people is really a thrill.
How many of us achieve something that we set ourselves to as kids? I started writing as soon as I learned the alphabet. There was a magic in the words I could manifest on paper; that magic has never released me. I don't think we have to be world class at something for it to matter, to have meaning down deep in our bones. This letter is like that for me. I know many of you are people who have found their own creative G spot, and no matter who notices or does not - though being noticed is nice, you will continue to work with stone, wood, pencil and paper, words, animals or music to the betterment of us all. It is the last we are built to, to create and share and try to receive one another kindly. I add that last as I am liable to being too critical and not receiving others kindly. I'd slap my hand, but it would cause havoc on the keyboard.
It is odd, thinking of being a kid, how two opposed poles exist in us so strongly. We stack blocks, dig tunnels, build tree houses; we love to create something tangible, an imperfect mirror of what we see around us. Crude blueprints of our inner workings. And then we seem to love equally well to tear apart, deconstruct and destroy. I am not talking about the creative urge that causes us to disassemble, but that devil in the pudding that makes us smash. I guess our salvation is in finding where these two meld; one must need the other, I think, for us to be complete.
The last letter caused some little stir. Women wrote to applaud the 'pink sausage' and other readers to chide me for indiscretion. (Maybe the graphic novel industry needs a medicare superhero: The Pink Sausage.) I think we fail to acknowledge that there is simply so much to us; we are, each of us, huge inside, such a store of contradictions and internal riptides and fragile certainties. It all needs to be explored. We need everything we are to be whole, and we need it out in the open, at least enough so that we can acknowledge our commonalities, both failures and successes, the base and the noble. We deserve this.
I am continually amused by the shades of human sexual content. We don't like to think our parents had/have sex. We don't like to think of them sweaty and groaning with pleasure, maybe even drooling on one another. But that is what we all do. We find sex fascinating, fun, necessary, compelling; we are consumed as we consume, as if completely inundated in water we melt away, briefly out of ourselves, dissolved. Some think it is as close as we come to god.
Yet physical sex is an absolutely ludicrous event when seen in conjunction with the rest of our seemingly well-ordered public, social context. We are people who say 'excuse me' when we burp, cover our mouths when we cough, we neatly queue in shops, we don't talk during the movie, we are quiet in libraries and we wear suits and ties and cringe at the spot of soup or the cat hair. And then we go home and rut. Our mix of tenderness, avidity, regard, compulsion, loyalty and the banging of back doors is the stew we live in, and it can be damn funny. The fifty year anniversary fascinates us as much as the acrid cloud of gunsmoke. It is all universally "us".
I like the phrase 'consenting adults' as it implies a private, shared moment. But the privacy of our love lives doesn't mean we must claim we are different. We can camouflage what we do, but not who we are. We are all pretty much the same. We are all grist for the humor-mill. At some point I suppose we approach pornography in discussing sex. Even that, though, has its various levels and layers. There are pics of kids on the Internet that ought not to exist, and there are the stunning and fabulous Japanese erotic wood prints that leave nothing at all to be imagined. Their artistry supersedes their content without ever denying it. We hit all the highs and all the lows. It is who we are.
I have been out in the greenhouse this morning. It is so wonderful. I recall that Sherman granted freed slaves 40 acres after the Civil War - that 'War Between the States'. The term later came to be '40 acres and a mule' and sadly denotes the complete failure of the Federal Government to accept any responsibility to these newly minted citizens as it reneged on the promise. Aside from the perfidy of politicians of all stripes in all eras I got to thinking that on retirement old guys should get a greenhouse and a trowel. Nothing could be more engrossing than what takes place inside those translucent walls.
After 4 weeks in 2" pots all our little winter crop plants went into a heady mix of topsoil scraped from the chicken yard - accumulated as I leveled to build concrete pads and sidewalk. The stuff is miracle grow on 'roids. In 4 potted weeks the seeds went to gangly root-bound striplings. In the 10 days or so since going into the permanent greenhouse boxes the plants have at least doubled in size. Still have no idea if I was so late with this year's planting that the brassica won't put out, but they look great right now.
The Romaine has bolted and as it seeds I am bending the stalks, about 2 feet tall, back into the box to let it reseed itself. Eliot Cole's newest book is a more comprehensive manual on 4 season growing in a greenhouse. There are a few crops that can freeze and not die; he has explored them ardently. The main factor seems to be the hours of sunlight. With less than 10 hours of sun a day plants go dormant, or at least grow very slowly. This period lasts here, on the 44th parallel, from about 5 November to 5 February. The plan is to get the cold weather crops to harvestable size by November; they can then be used all winter; they are in a living icebox. Spinach is particularly good as it regrows from its root system, so you can harvest all the leaves about 4 times over the fall, winter and spring before the temps warm and it bolts. Carrots simply winter over in the ground. The number of crops that can be grown and used all winter in an unheated greenhouse here is limited, but there are fresh veggies to be had just about all year round if I can just get it going right. One drawback is American tastes; many of the winter veggies are of European and Asian origin and seem bitter to us.
I see the Nasturtiums, rooted out weeks ago, have reseeded and are fighting for their spots; they are voracious eaters of planter box space, but I don't think it will be a problem as the cold will soon mow them down. I will never, ever introduce them into planter boxes again; they are so prolific and aggressive. A pot of them would be nice. I don't even know if they are favored by bees, which is why I added them. The 7' tall Lyng's Greystripe sunflowers are immensely popular. I am seeing more bumbles than ever feeding on them. These are an absolute must for a bee-friendly garden. The bumbles are also busy on the late-blooming Polana Red Raspberries.
On the subject of bees, I have preordered a 'nuc', a small new colony in its own hive, for next May. One of the classes I took at the Fair was an intro to beekeeping, and I purchased a book, Natural Beekeeping, which purports to be the prime book on organic beekeeping. The entire subject is absolutely fascinating; I look forward to starting this up in the spring. The various Maine State Beekeeping Association's chapters will host 'bee schools' in the spring. They teach the basics, hands-on, and place you in a support system of local beekeepers. Maybe it should be a greenhouse and a hive for retirees.
The other class I took was on growing mushrooms. While it focused on growing in hardwood logs another possibility was mentioned. Oyster 'shroom plugs put in a bucket of coffee grounds were prolific bearers. I have since been haunting Starbucks; they save their grounds in buckets near the front door - free to all, no purchase necessary. I was surprised they are available; the woman said the real demand comes in the spring. Why aren't people dressing their gardens now, to winter over? In a year or so the grounds will probably be impossible to find. Everything ag is growing so fast in popularity. Others may find, like me, that it is difficult to really grow enough to matter, but the doing of it is a fine thing to consider and revel in.
Doodling around on the web I ran into this site - ok, I am sometimes slow.
I should have done all this before I put the greenhouse in, but I didn't, so our next sunny day I will do a site survey to see what sort of sun I am really getting, as distinct from the wishful sort of rays. I could tell last winter that my thesis that once the leaves fell the trees would not be such a drawback seemed borne out, and I did take out the triple-beech next to the g'house a couple of weeks ago. That increased the amount of late summer sun enormously. But right now the leaves are still up and the sun is declining, and I need that sun to get my winter veggies on the road. I may have to generate a bit more firewood next summer. At least the lot is large enough, about 3 acres, to support some trimming.
Not long after Zoe was born, I was about 30, I hired on with the Calif. Div. of Forestry and spent a winter climbing in state parks, up in Humboldt, taking out the widow-makers around campsites, trails and parking. Heights scared me, which is why I took the job, but I quickly found that I didn't feel it when I was climbing because I always had a trunk right in my face; it almost felt like having my feet on the ground. The belt and safety rope were nice, too; every once in a while a spur would come out and I would go down a few feet before crashing into the tree, but the real excitement was the first time I was a hundred feet up an old fir and the wind came up. I don't know how much the tree actually moved side to side, but it felt like falling. The entire sensation was that you were suddenly plunging to earth in absolute freefall. Holding onto the trunk didn't help at all. I froze for a couple of minutes, got it back together and after that it was unsettling but nothing to panic at. It would be nice to be able to do that here, strap on the spurs and go up the oaks and maples and take them down from the top. It would be like flying.
I remember a crazy kid I climbed with named Noel; he'd smoke a joint and then climb with no rope or belt, no equipment but spurs. He used to fret the hell out of me. I don't think he had an ounce of imagination. It is that which makes cowards of us.
We did this for a bunk, meals and $40/month in the California Conservation Corp. It was set up as alternate service for conscientious objectors. I was a vet, but work was hard to come by. Humboldt wasn't a place I wanted to be, but Zoe's mom did. The year was full. I became born-again, got married, lost my faith, grew a plot of grass, got busted, and Katy took the fall since I was already on probation for burglary in Napa County and hiding out from my P.O. Strange days.
That is the editor's choice gold star. Best letter ever says she. Seemed mediocre to me, but the editor says "run the presses!" The entire building begins to shake and throb. We slide into our easiest of easy chairs and wish all of you all the best from all of us. don and pat, etc.