Monday, August 29, 2011

Well, now, who'd 've thought?

Monsanto Corn Under Attack by Superbug

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Monsanto's "seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest."[1]

[Monsanto generated $4.26 billion in sales worldwide from corn seed and biotechnology traits, about 40% of its overall sales, in its last full year.]

Monday, August 22, 2011

R.I.P. Jack Layton

Jack Layton
July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011 

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair."

An excerpt from "Dear Friends" -- a letter to Canadians from Jack Layton, who died at 4:45 this morning, of cancer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Found something interesting this morning I'd like to share.  Tuscaloosa Runs This, a 184-page online collection of poems, essays and fiction about Tuscaloosa, Alabama by writers in, from, and reminiscing about that town.

An entire book about a particular place.  A place I could say I've never had the slightest desire to visit, mostly because of the heat and humidity, in which I can't function  (and frequent tornandoes) but thanks to this online gem of a collection from Tuscaloosa writers I can do so vicariously, and enjoy some extraordinarily good writing in the process.

It's not just about Tuscaloosa, it seems to me; it's also about place.  How we look at it,  fit (or don't fit) into it, what draws us to it, keeps us there, gnaws at us in its absence, drives us maddingly from it; what makes us love and hate it at the same time.

We all have some place we carry with us, think and sometimes write about, named or unnamed, reminded of through words or images or happenstance.  The actual place may even no longer exist--it could even be imaginary.  But we (and readers) can go there, absorb ourselves in the landscape, recognize experienced parallels . . . remember.  These Tuscaloosa writers--their words took me there immediately.

"Heat, like a needle driving straight for the vein . . ."

          -- MC Hyland, "Tuscaloosa Notebooks",  p. 178

You yawning stretch of sky
pressing flat these houses.
Absence rooted in your soil
grows down until plowed.

Town like gasp of damp air
flung across bloated river . . .

          -- Pia Simone Garber, "To Tuscaloosa", p. 65

This mess is masterpiece, this shiver; 
wool of wood-burning moon scarved 
around lace rock and cobwebbed arch,
the branches of dream walking . . .           

-- Pia Simone Garber, "Late Harvest", p. 66

Tornadoes happen there; but rubble is universal, as is loss:

idleness a function of power
time a sum of everywhere you can help
ours is the fourth rubble on the left
at the magnolia lying across the road . . .  

         -- Juan Carlos Reyes, "The Bama Bolero", p. 37

Of frustration with incomprehension, that has unusual consequences (e.g.,  for the over- or under-used comma):

What one thing that you have learned in this course has proven most useful? . . . one thing . . . be specific:  one word.  

This is how I make a difference. . .  What if--I gave them a word they could use to compare things--?  It could pry open their perspectives, cause them to view, to consider, two things at once."

          -- Jennifer Gravley, in "Statement of Philosophy", p. 80.

And of comings and goings:

I want to tell you how to leave
this place for the last time.

I want to tell you: leave
the chipped red bowl
beneath the crack in the drywall.

Or the rain next month will drown 
                      all this room has to offer
                      its new family.
. . .

what is it to leave a place
for the last time?  . . .

          -- Brooke Parks,
"Residual", p. 130.

Thank you, writers of Tuscaloosa, for a very enjoyable read.

You can read Tuscaloosa Runs This online here.  And download as a pdf file (with a larger font) here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sharing rides, languages, music, soap

Scene from the front seat of the Philippemobile (fellow Montréal-Boston rideshare peeps will know to which car this refers), heading south, approaching the mountains of Vermont, two weeks ago.  Thanks to people like Philippe, for giving us an alternative to long, boring, expensive bus rides, for less than half the cost, with great music, lively conversation, and we get there 2 hours quicker (even with 4 stops and an unexpected 20-minute delay at the border).

Saw recently that the city of Burlington, VT (which is an hour from the border with Québec), in an effort to welcome tourists from la belle province (and encourage bilingualism) has passed a resolution recommending that 'everything from highway signs to restaurant menus' be in both English and French. [1].  There are, unfortunately, no funds to support this symbolic gesture but it does indicate a stated openness toward publicly acknowledging and warmly welcoming languages other than one's own.

Would that the greeters at the U.S./Québec border at Highgate Springs take the hint and make available some border agents who at least understand a bit of French.  I've been traveling this particular border for 15 years and it's downright embarrassing that an agent checking the documentation of incoming bus passengers traveling to the U.S. from Québec has to publicly ask the assembled group "Does anybody here speak French? Can anyone translate?"   Yes, that actually happened, and a young bi-lingual Québecker cheerfully unslung her backpack and stepped forward to assist.   (Over on the Canadian side, practically everyone at their border station is bi-lingual.)  I once heard a U.S. border agent scold an elderly foreign passenger whose accent he could not understand, "Why are you coming to the U.S. when you can't speak the language?!"  Never once have I encountered that attitude at the opposite border; or in Québec in general, where they go out of their way to accommodate you if you're struggling with, or have no knowledge of, their language.  This is not just my experience--ask any several dozen other travelers who've traversed this particular border, about each side's 'attitude' toward incoming visitors.)  It occurs to me there are plenty of French-speakers in Vermont--one wonders why this border station hasn't tapped into this resource, rather than having to ask travelers themselves to perform translation duties because no one on staff seems available who understands French.  Maybe they lack the funds for a full-time bi-lingual person.  Who knows.  But it's a frequent topic that comes up in border-crossing stories (along with examples, of course, about  "attitudes".)   Speaking of attitudes, you would do well to not bring this up while actually crossing the border, by the way.  It may be perceived as antagonistic.  BDO'S (Behavior Detection Officers) and Homeland Security personnel are trained to spot facial expressions registering discontent, which may be misinterpreted.  I'm just saying.

While  in Cambridge, I got a chance to go to a Boston Chamber Music Society concert at Longy with a 94-year-old friend, where we heard these particular pieces by Beethoven, Dvořák, and Walter Piston.  It's been a very (very) long time since I've been to a concert. This was a much appreciated, unexpected delight. (Thank you, S.)

Standing on a small wooden bridge in a neighborhood park
watching the brook (and rabbits, squirrels and birds) while
walking with the youngest little granddaughter

And guess what I found!  The pine tar soap I searched for but couldn't locate on the Pennsylvania trip. (You can buy it at Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square.)

[click on pic to enlarge]

Okay, this dark, brown-colored, strong-smelling bar might not be everyone's idea of a favorite bath product, but it is, by far, the best shampoo-soap you will ever find (in my humble opinion) [even better than Dr. Bronner's soap (with which you can also brush your teeth--the Peppermint one's the best for that)].   Grandpa's pine tar soap wins hands down over Dr. Bronner's for me in this respect: it leaves your hair squeaky clean and fresh.  (No, I am not getting paid to say this.)

A bit of a warning:  Its smell has been likened to a lumberyard, a campfire, "wet-wood charcoal and railroad ties", and   "burned wood juice", to name but a few.   This soap has been around since 1876 and people still like and use it.   It has stood, so to speak, the test of time.  Read the glowing accolades from sufferers of acne, eczema, rashes, itching, fungus, etc.   I just assumed I'd find it in my hometown again when I visited (no longer true); but apparently Amazon carries it.   A tad expensive ($5.50 plus postage).  I'm starting to sound like all the other people over on the Amazon review page praising this soap, ha ha.  "I'd do a commercial for pine tar soap ... in a heartbeat," says one.  (I think I just did one without intending to.)
What a happy surprise, in my absence the garden has multiplied, and then some! Tomatoes, especially.  A handful of fresh raspberries at breakfast time;   bigger, bushier kale & chard waving from the back-garden, a few new cucumbers begging to be picked and eaten--what a thing.  I now know what it means to "jump for joy".  (If you could call the excited little running around the veggie plots to see what's transpired, "jumping".)

Back to work . . .  Good to be back.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

There and Back, and Off Again

Fifteen hours to get there; sixteen coming back.   We used to swim in this river; climb into an inner-tube and float down under the bridge that no longer exists.  Water's way too low  this time though; you can literally walk from one shore to the other.  The rocks on the bottom are covered with thick brown crud, very slippery; hard on the feet because some are also sharp.  A foamy bubbly residue  sometimes floats by.  Further on up river by the eddies, swimming was happening, where you can still find the odd, deep (up to or over the shoulder) swim hole.  We used to be able to dive for fish hooks, could open your eyes underwater and see every fish and pebble, clearly.  Notsomuch anymore.

The area badly needs rain.  It was hot, humid, and basically a drought.  Not good news for the gas drillers  up on top the mountain.  Fracking takes an enormous amount of water.

In the early morning a fog descends and the quiet is deafening.  I was watching the river, from a third-floor window, and it was absolutely STILL.  Not a breath of a ripple, current, or movement of any kind but of course that can't be true. Rivers don't just sit there; they "flow".  It did, but so slowly you could barely detect it.
Growing up here, I used to wonder what was on the other side of these mountains.  They totally surround/enclose the town.  To some it's a protective feeling; to others, claustrophobic.  Answer to what's on the other side of the mountains: only more mountains.  You come, you go, you take them with you, they pull you back . . . that morning fog, and the train whistle . . . memories.

I was not prepared for the shock of changes.  My grandparents' old house, boarded up, its bricks falling inward into empty space; the other grandparents' graves in danger of sliding down the mountainside (the church can no longer afford to keep up the grounds).  Caravans of trucks going up and down the mountain on steep, narrow, winding roads hauling sand & equipment; three families report their chickens have died; a farmer in another county, his cows all died after a leak from the drilling operations seeped into his property.  Lost his entire dairy farm business.  Folks here have mixed feelings about the gas drilling, worry about their water supply, etc. 

You used to be able to buy pine tar soap here; looked all over, none to be found.  They still sell teaberry ice cream, though. Wonderful to see the family & all the cousins again.  Megabussed back with dozens of other weary travelers and am off again tomorrow, this time south, to Beantown with the rideshare peeps.  Parts of my garden have turned into a mini-jungle since my absence, or so it seems.  Thinking about all the projects/research/reading/writing, etc. waiting when I get back.  All of which I'm looking forward to. And to Boston as well.  The summer's passing too quickly. It's as if time's been fastforwarded and am still collecting impressions, not yet ready to unpack.

August already, jeepers.