Thursday, November 26, 2009

Swamp Lily Lament in Shape of a Box

Swamp Lily Lament in Shape of a Box, Video, Audio Reading, Text <<<< GO HERE NOW!

In December of 2005 as a member of the Preservation Trades Network I visited in a working mode (meaning w/ work boots, hard hat, hands and heart at the ready) both Bay St. Louis, MI and Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans.

In Bay St. Louis we got involved w/ salvage of an 18 c timber frame structure that was discovered in the wreckage. The structure, the oldest in the area, to be re-installed in a public location as a testimony to the endurance of the community. What we saw and heard from the people there was pretty intense.

In Lower 9th Ward we stood near to where the levee broke. It was one of those experiences where you look around and the situation begins to sink in as to what had gone on there... and I broke down and cried. We subsequently became involved in Holy Cross, the very southern end of Lower 9th Ward, the older section that had survived -- on slightly higher ground -- better than the more familiar upper portion. Brad Pitt came later to the upper area and his activities have brought a lot of attention to that place while there is an immense amount of day-to-day activity that the country and news media has for the most part overlooked or forgotten about in the Gulf area recovery that continues.

Holy Cross is a traditional African American community. One of our first activities was to help the local Baptist Church to replace their wooden floor... so that there was a place for what there was left of the neighborhood to gather.

We then went on from there to hold our annual traditional trades conference (timber framers, stone masons, carpenters, slate roofers, plasterers etc.) in 2006 on site in which we worked a great deal with property owners both on fixing their 'shotguns', but also to give them a non-Home Depot sense of the value of their buildings, and a renewed sense of hope. Older and traditional ways of building directly connect into sustainability in a manner that our contemporary building industry actively works against.

We have continued working in Holy Cross with a program of yearly field schools in which students are able to go to Holy Cross and experience hands-on traditional trades work on the restoration of houses in the neighborhood.

But what it all comes down to is that the buildings are a catalyst for an interface with the people that live there, that try to live there, that are fighting to in some way bring their lives back together. This short story from my friend Donna D Vitucci really brings home the human.

Swamp Lily Lament in Shape of a Box, Video, Audio Reading, Text

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Home of the Happy Lion

There is a story here. From Ohio to Barre, VT to Rhode Island to Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island to Mastic Beach to the front yard for patination by weather (and curiosity of neighbors and visitors) to the in-progress kitchen suspended across from the wood stove, in the winter reading area now resides the happy lion, carved by Deborah Mills.

Celebrate Thanksgiving thru Comix

My friend Arthur Bicknell (Ithaca HS 1969) composed a comix about T-day when he was 12 years old. A friend of his in cleaning out boxes from his mother's attic ran across this delightful artifact. Arthur has given me permission to reproduce it for your pleasure and delight.

A portion of our family came over not on the Mayflower but possibly on the next boat to follow. They came from Northern England via Holland to New Amsterdam, where they then along with the Montgomery family cross pollinated their way up the Hudson to eventually end up in the Finger Lakes Region of NY State. As Arthur says, the storks must have cried for us too.

Another portion was Seneca, had been here in the USA for a while.

Another portion, the latecomers were from Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland and who knows what else.



SOS Gab & Eti

I wrote a serial e-mail story several years ago.

Gabriel and Etidorpha Orgrease were brother and sister. They are friends of the narrator. Their father Buck had brought home a fiberglass portable toilet with a hole in the side and Gab & Eti started out their life by my hiding their identity and sending out an e-mail to a list of 600 historic preservation practitioners with a request for advice on how best to restore the monumental artifact. This actually did happen, I did send this e-mail, it is not a fiction.

It all started when I was riding on a train from Chicago to New York so that I could ride through Horseshoe Curve. At the time this train ride was one of those pressing ambitions of my life.

This first e-mail caused several things to happen in short order. My poor mother got all sorts of weird e-mails and she had no clue why, seeing as I had disguised myself behind her e-mail address and not got around to tell her. She no longer uses her computer for anything, and I mean anything. A small band of people were delighted. A very large mass of people were outraged, and nasty. It seemed that 599 people on the list did not want to ever get any e-mails about anything even though they had subscribed to the list where nobody was supposed to say anything. The preservation they intended was the preservation of blank.

It was rough. Essentially if you are a young person in debt for having gone and got a Masters degree in fixing old buildings, and you can’t find a decent job, you will be very far above the mundane and vernacular study of outhouses. There are people with very heavy career investments in the religion of ancestor worship and they cannot truck any folderol in the midst of their well oiled world. In short as the e-mail series continued it gained fans, and it gained enemies.

The enemies and the fans both helped to encourage the project to continue. It did wander on for close to two years, with every week or few weeks or whatever a new e-mail that came along to play out the adventures of our two characters... and their dog Altuna.

The fans of the series would write in suggestions as to what the characters could be up to next... there was a lot of interest in shopping for shoes as I remember. It is one thing for characters to earn a living but readers seem to really want to read about characters that go shopping for weird stuff. I would meet readers in the real world, in the course of business (fixing old buildings) and they would talk about the characters. There was always a desire to know, “What next?”

The enemies of the series wrote death threats. Leastways they wanted the characters, and the series, dead. There is no telling how far unpleasantness that starts with words will go before there are shots in the night and burning Greek-Revival columns in our yards, let alone problems with freak flags.

The original has 42 installments, each section within the confine of a one to one-and-a-half page screen on a computer (eventually we sided with the anti-scroll down contingent) and people would have to wait days and weeks for more.

This all occurred on a listserv, a dynamic community exchange, an e-mail system that allowed broadcast, and feedback, and that was originated in part to sustain the life of the story, and also it established a worldwide community of histo presto deviants that has lasted in near daily contact with each other for 13 years now (give or take a few stragglers and lurkers).

In the grasp of an existential crisis I took on the name of one of my characters, Gabriel Orgrease and made it as my own a writer’s pseudonym. It is a name that I have worked steady and diligent to promote and brand as a distinct identity, as my real name has been previously used up in the market of books by a hack author that I need not mention here.

Well, this puts me in something of a fix if I want to do anything with the story, and I have decided that I do want to do something with it, like publish it as a book (a novella). For the longest time (10 years) I thought, well, this is fun but it is a bunch of crap... I have gotten far enough away from the heart of the mess to see it with new eyes and I am laughing. I like to share laughter, it is a very true and gut emotion and we need a whole lot more of it in our lives.

So, my problem is that in order to be the author [Gabriel Orgrease] and the friend of the brother and sister (and not the brother of the sister the author and the friend and the black dog too), I have to change the names of the characters. Henceforth they will be named Perveril and Etidorpha Farmsworth. In short, what has been known as SOS Gab & Eti will now be titled SOS Perv & Eti.

I anticipate and welcome heated and pungent argument. I am not inclined to put it up to a vote. I know that for some loyal fans and friends this will be a monumental change... but keep in mind your limited edition t-shirts will be worth more next week than they are today.

SOS Perv & Eti 1.3

"An ointment made of the juice, oil, and a little wax, is singularly good to rub cold and benumbed members." -- Nicholas Culpeper.

In line with the current topic we are reminded that a character in Ken Kesey's book Sometimes a Great Lotion (desperate in need at this point in the narrative) used pages torn out of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in practice of her daily constitution. Thank God that Old George did not, as far as GWSH (George Washington Shat Here) will confirm, likewise find himself compressed too often to rely upon signed paperwork that lay convenient at hand to assuage his constitution. Otherwise the population of Boston would probably still be stuck with soggy tea leaves, which, as I have heard rumored, causes one to remain consistently flushed and stiff in demeanor and is only moderated by a late-night flagon of Jamaican spiced-rum. Probably just another one of those bothersome urban myths to be Scoped.

Plugged up or otherwise defective plumbing is not of much good to a democracy and I would think the political scientists of academe would do well to contemplate the historical significance of single occupancy structures. There could be a whole new international movement, S. O. S. (Save Our Structures).

"We call a shack a shack and not a structure." -- Mies van der Rohe.

There are always detractors from any noble movements, and when they come down too abundantly, all conveniences have their inconveniences.

I'd be curious to know where Marco Polo stopped off in his travels. Bad enough he described a rhinoceros if he had also described a loo with a Ling Luk Loo busy in it. We might think it was a Saturn rocket prognosticated by the Tings, or the Tangs, or all those terra cotta guys, something slightly orange this way comes. I would not in the least be shocked, as with so many other claims of cultural superiority, to find that the Chinese are thousands of years ahead of the West in development of specific compost (humanure) black-art technology. There has to be a text on the feng shui of one-holer jakes. I can just imagine things like, "Do not place door of mouse in dragon mouth.", or, “Better a lizard in the well than a poot in the toot," 更好的蜥蜴以及在比poot的嘟嘟聲。,“Better than poot lizards, as well as the beep beep sound.” You know, those sort of thingies that seem to lose all sense in Google translation but sound kool and mysterious just the same.

To be continued... on the bus, again... well, almost on the bus, cross your legs and hold it...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sunrise at Salt Hay Marsh

Mastic Beach, NY -- November 21, 2009

There was incredible color in the sky at sunrise this morning. Between getting the wood stove going and correspondence w/ a writer in Japan (in real time w/ Google Wave -- re: an Author's Directory) I went down the street to capture a bit of the scene.

and I am struck by the colors of the salt hay as they blend with the water and the sky

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: Only a Girl by Lian Gouw

This is not a book that I would have found on my own but how we come to read a book is often an important element of our understanding and appreciation of the book itself. I will go into that circumstance further on near the end of this review.

As an American, and as I work in the construction industry in New York City where in a single day I encounter one-on-one a wide range of national identities, I am interested in the process of immigrant and cultural assimilation. As a writer I am interested in how an immigrant population that arrives in America, with the isolating aspect of different language will eventually work their way, often through generations to a point where individuals begin to contribute to the arts and literary culture of the American experience, in ‘mainstream’ American English, and to describe the history of the process of this ‘coming to America.’ And, though many consider America a destination, the path through America is not always the end of a cultural migration as much as a beginning. This book takes place in Indonesia and ends at the airport in Jakarta as the young protagonist leaves to America.

The author’s native language is Dutch. The book begins when Indonesia was the Dutch colony of the Netherlands’ East Indies. There is a whole lot to deal with the cultural and real politics of language in this book. In seeking out information online about the author I found a video interview where Lian Gouw describes how she had to learn to write her story in English. It does seem very much to be ‘her’ story, the book feels autobiographical. It is presented as a novel. As an object within a cultural vortex it says a whole lot about family, and feminist structures within the context of a politically volatile geographic place, growing up in Indonesia through WW2, a sort of growing up very modestly presented, with hopes, and fears, love, and pain that eventually necessitate departure.

This is not a prose to inflame the new-literati of the internet. The technical and stylistic elements of the story telling are not flashes. It all moves slowly in a relatively safe and traditional manner of telling it fairly plain without gew gaws. This lack of flair I mean as a solid compliment to the tenacity and strength of the author, the courage to simply get on with it as best as possible. When I first started to read the book I thought it was outright boring. By page six I was captured. Toward the end of the book the young protagonist is essentially raped, at first I was like, “Oh, great, the obligatory sex scene,” the sensational steamy bit that all romantic readers have been waiting for, but it was actually handled quite well and did not advertise itself as a deux ex machina. I would be curious if the author were to venture to explore this volatile element in depth, to provide a more dynamic emotional context to the incident and her feelings about it in a short story form. In fact, for reasons of visibility and access, that I will get into further on here, I would suggest that the author move into writing and distributing online shorter, more densely focused texts to explore a whole lot of the panorama of issues and emotions that this novel presents. I very much admire this writer.

Now for the downside.

Immigrants to any other place are at a disadvantage for a number of reasons. Often these disadvantages are never overcome in a single lifetime. Often these disadvantages are taken advantage of by the very community and culture from which the individual derives, but as well from the existing opportunities that are accessible. It is a tough life on this planet and one needs to admire anyone who obtains any level of satisfaction in the accomplishment of their goals. When I thought that I would want to write a review of Lian Gouw’s novel it occurred to me that I should look into where it had been published. The book is fairly expensive, particularly for a paperback. I will let you find that out for yourself (cheapest if you buy direct from the author). And there is the manner in which the book came to me that made the publication of the book more curious.

A younger generation relative of mine is a friend of the author and it was through a status update on Facebook that I was informed of the existence of the author, and of the novel. A book, and an author recommended up through the family seemed relevant to me. Usually I find out what is going on with various babies and young children that I do not know, but would like to know, in the family through Facebook. In part I wanted to procure the book in order to share it back through the family (which if you read the book will seem particularly circular and relevant). This share back remains my intent, and it is the main reason that the cost of the book did not dissuade me from the purchase. So I ordered it through the author’s attractive billboard website, paid with PayPal.

Next thing I get an e-mail direct from the author that thanks me and asks how I had come to find the book. I thought, wow, this is nice! I pay for a book and within the day I get a direct communication with the author. How neat is that? I explained the family connection. We shared over that. The book arrived in the mail. There was a note from the author, sort of — it looked like it had been a copied note to again thank me for the purchase, with the PayPal receipt information. It felt sort of like when you buy a used book through Amazon and it shows up in an envelope that has seen a few global excursions and the system wants to know if you were happy with the exchange. I was happy.

So I went to look further online into Publish America (ironic since I have been on about assimilation into America) and what I gather is that they offer to publish nearly any author on the planet... with a royalty (seems to be $1.00 which I suppose qualifies as a royalty) with promises of promotion (best I can tell they do a bit of cover artwork, nothing fancy, print up a blurby book marker and a large postcard, and take the author’s e-mail list of friends and relatives then send them all a mass e-mail)... and the book is POD (publish on demand) meaning that when it is ordered each copy is printed (a friend recently told me he wants to buy one of these machines that does this, they cost like $100,000 and you can set it in your living space and have an instant publication empire) and the author is allowed to purchase up stock at ‘discount’ with which they are able to sell, promote and distribute as they so please, and their book is locked into a multi-year exclusive contract with Publish America. Oh, yes, it is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, those conglomerations of enabling of the moving of books. Meaning that, best as I can tell when you click on your PayPal at the author’s site it goes to the author who collects a small amount of money, takes the book off the pile in the pantry and wraps it into an envelope and then off to the post office, but they do get one more copy of a book, in this case a novel that took the author seven years to produce, hard to tell if that time included all of the English language writing workshops, out into the hands of a potential reader... someone most likely in the family or a friend or a relative of a friend who is curious about reading stuff. In short, it is ALL up to the author to give their book legs.

I felt really bad for this as I do believe Lian Gouw deserves a whole lot more exposure. I get the impression that she may feel bad for this as well. But as Lian explains elsewhere on the web, there is an expedient to the need to get a book out into the world as life moves on. Her novel moves on through life and if any of all of what I have said above makes sense to you then I strongly suggest that you pay attention to the work and future appearances of this author. (And check out her traditional Indonesian recipes.)

Videos frm (which I did not watch all of before writing the above review)

Book Author "Only a Girl" by Lian Gouw, from Indonesia

What is the legacy in the book of "Only a Girl" by Lian Gouw?

"Only a Girl", by Lian Gouw, explain Why she become a writer?

1. Lian Gouw shares her experience how to write a book

2 Lian Gouw shares her experience how to write a book

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Not too many years ago we had a pet starling. I found it as a chick on the sidewalk outside of our then shop in Brooklyn. It obviously needed some help so I took it home, fed it baby bird food from an eye dropper and nursed it along. Named the bird Persnik... because he/she was always complaining about everything.

Leave the room Persnik would complain, enter the room Persnik would complain. Feed Persnik and all sorts of complaints. The bird was not exactly musical, not like the blue jay Blueboy that we had when I was a kid. Blueboy liked to sing along w/ Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos... Persnik liked to complain, bitterly. Whistle a little tune and Persnik would go nuclear. All the same I thought we were friends. It can be like that with friends.

In the spring I decided to give him/her freedom and took the cage out onto the front porch. When we let Blueboy loose he would not go away. The jay always hung around the house and would come visit us, and prefered to sit in his cage at night. Persnik had no such idea of human-bird communion... once the cage door was open he/she/it flew off across the street screeching and complaining the whole way. I felt... I felt abandoned.

My wife made up for my feelings of loss by giving me a pygmy African hedgehog that turned out to be a she and pregnant. Little hedgehogs do become attached to their human handlers.

Regardless, whenever I see a lone starling at the feeder I tell Persnik what is up for the day. Honestly, I can’t tell one starling from another.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writer's Workshop Along Bird Cemetery Road

In the barn studio below the amazing skylight the names were put in a large galvanized hopper and churned around.

A one-man aviary band Jeffrey cranked the curved handle on the reclaimed writer’s desk and some of them came down like sounds of wind or car horns, rude expletives or to mimic the crazy cawing from above. The names dislodged then rattled then spun down around a copper spring-tubing as with a timeless still where they slowly echoed down; in the shiver of small quills they left trail marks, as they revealed a more pure essence.

Other names got jammed at the top. They formed boldly arched natural bridges against gray metal skies; they were as dark bouillon cubes contaminated with moisture that stuck them together. No vibration of the writer’s mechanism could break them free.

Jeffrey cranked hard he blew the call. Caw. Caw. Caw.

As he cranked his name changed shape with their names and he became Jeff. Less black birds encircled in flight above the skylight and above the clattered pace of wooden gears. He thought of a windmill near the seaside and the dream of rye flour. The light of day that is special.

From our muffled station behind a sliding door we could hear the sound of cracking and cawing into a more centered sentience with the pressure of his hand against the gritty lever where he worked in the antiquities room. Then it was Jay, then it was just… and a list of small hearts which were previously homogenized with a kitchen cleaver in separate identities became like a nude perfume.

It leaked, spilled and flowed to etch identities to the desk, then rivulets down the oak legs then onto the pine floor where it mixed with dust-of-radon and congealed bird's blood, or boat varnish and copper flakes that smelled musky with a hint of greenish organic form.

As sun set the now fluid bird names eared themselves into the structure of the barn walls where all that night to next century they confused spiders and black crickets with their cackled noises.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bullamanka-Pinheads, Building Virtual Community Before Facebook and Twitter

Over a decade ago there was a listserv called Preserv-L that had 600 or so subscribers, mostly professionals within the Historic Preservation field.

The person who formed this listserv was a computer science major and had an idea to start a list. He had nothing more than an idea to create an online vessel and not much of a connection w/ historic preservation. There was very little done to cultivate the list, and there were no rules of engagement stated once a person signed up. People subscribed to the list I think because of the word [Preserv], but I believe the oddest thing about it is that less than 1% of the correspondents actually wanted to receive any e-mails.

I found this uncommunication out when, wanting to explore how to develop a virtual community, I started to write a tongue-in-cheek series about a brother and sister who inquired as to how best to treat the preservation of a fiberglass outhouse that may have been used by Alan Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky at a 1970s War Moratorium in Washington, DC, and that their father had acquired prior to his decease. [SOS Gab & Eti... SOS = Save Our Shitters, it went on as a serial e-mail narrative for like 2 years. T-shirts are no longer available. And since Geocities has shut down the series seems no longer to be hiding along the I-way. No more leaftime I suppose? No more recreation of bubble gum splotches on historic Levittown sidewalks?]

This vein of humor got a whole lot of people pissed off. [Also confused my mother since in a brilliantly inspired sleight of hand I used her e-mail address.] Eventually I found myself scorned in public in business, spurned on visits to historic sites where my name was mentioned, and in time I received virulent death threats (a lot of screwed up people have Masters in Historic Preservation along w/ debt load) against the characters... but I also found an audience, and friends that did not take historic preservation with quite so much of a Blue Blood Holy Grail fanatic obsessive religious attitude.

With all of the death threats and angst and other unpleasantness (that included my enduring a life sustaining heart operation for reasons not having much to do with social network media, but having something remotely to do with a long weekend in a Polish hospital w/ a visit to cardiac intensive care w/ 24 hr surveillance, pretty nurses to watch through the window at their station) I went looking for a host for a listserve independent of nasty people that don’t want to hear from each other, don’t want to know each other, have hatred in their hearts, small brain capacities and feel very proprietary in protection of their career investments.

We landed w/ St. John’s University at the psychology department. Our list was hosted alongside support groups for mental depressives, recovering drug addicts, and people with odd psychological disturbances and bizarre illnesses that to this day I cannot even pronounce the names of.

For the longest time we imagined that we were lab rats.

Bullamanka derives from the possibly Australian idea that it means “over there that away but we are not quite sure if it is there, or not, or even if it exists at all” and Pinheads derives from what was then called the Preservation Industry Network (PIN) and well, pinheads. We used to get various preservationists together in the NYC area once a month and share coffee and bagels for an informal breakfast gathering. Until we got sophistication, upgraded our act and abruptly stopped doing that.

We do not advertise the BP list, though your reading this is something of an advertisement, and sometimes I get the impression that as a community we do our best to chase people away from the list once they have subscribed.

Regardless, eventually St. John’s gave up their server status and we ended up w/ ICORS.

In great deal this transition and survival, and the retention of our archives (13 years of histo presto history, BS, noise, no or little signal, picnics, deviant stories, technical information, and plain good writing) is indebted to COD, our one subscriber who understands how to keep the internal lights of the machine burning. And seeing as how COD created light it makes sense that he/she/it wld know how to do that.

ICORS just got an award from L-Soft
and they asked if we would mind contributing to a survey.

BP survey -- Please provide a brief description of your list:

- Name: Bullamanka-Pinheads

- URL/link to archives: To terminate puerile preservation prattling among pals and the uncoffee-ed, or to change your settings, go to: <>

- Purpose: Connect practitioners and otherwise, often in remote or urban locations around the earth, who are involved in the preservation of the existing built environment, outreach, community support, problem solving, education, idle entertainment.

- Content Overview: Preservation of the existing built environment within a closed-system earth, stories shared, help given, questions answered, people connected

- Subscribership: Just past 13 years of activity in October, roughly 100 subscribers on average. Traditional trades practitioners, writers, educators, architects, structural engineers, architectural conservators, and the curious and friendly.

Please provide one or two examples (without names/identifying information) of how your list has helped its subscribers: Currently one of our subscribers is in the Yucatan in the jungle attending an environmental conference. He is a stonemason and a story teller and as an avid audience we are keeping tabs on him. His writing stories about his work and adventures, and the audience that he has through the list, induced him to attend a week long writers conference in Minnesota. Another member recently lost her PALS glasses while traveling and we all pitched in with various comments to aid and confuse her. Post-Katrina a number of subscribers participated on-the-ground in various efforts in New Orleans, in particular to work in the historic section of the Lower 9th Ward. We also recently learned how to avoid cone nosed kissing bugs.

Please describe how your list provides a unique service and benefits to its subscribers: Serves as a community of support to answer to the needs of individuals who are in the business of preserving the built environment. It is relevant that the most green building is the existing building that is not thrown away. The people who help save old buildings often need a channel of support to save themselves from being thrown away. We connect people.

Please describe how your list makes use of various LISTSERV features: As the subscribers have various levels of computer skills, and various levels of connection to the internet, some of the connections being dial-up or through their local library, and in several different time zones, the lack of bells n’ whistles works best. We have tried in the past to move the community to web passed forums and other forms of social networking and in all cases the result was a total failure. We do not share photos, and we do not ascribe to the correction of grammar or spelling. [We do have a special hand signal with which to identify each other in public in RL. – this was not included in the survey response.]

What is the one thing you would most like people to understand about your email list? We long ago made a decision to promote quality of subscriber over quantity. We play a lot of games, joke with each other, and some people found the laughter to provide too high of a noise:signal ratio. What we have found is that when people play games together, that when real important business comes up that a context exists with which we have a sense of trust in the sincerity of the communications. Noise is not distraction, it is the environment within which depth of relationships are cultivated. But never never wax your porch screens with Thompson's Waterseal.

What are some of the key issues and challenges facing your subscribers and stakeholders? How does email list technology enable you to assist them with these issues? E-mail is asymmetrical in that a subscriber either participates in full, or does not participate at all. It is difficult sometimes to control the excessive flow of e-mails, to not overwhelm people in information that they consider irrelevant to their own personal perspectives.

Please provide a quote summarizing the way your list helps change and improve people's lives: The CDC updates on people biting bats is always a blessing. When all else fails we laugh about it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Wild Birds Go

Some who follow me, and they should probably know better than to do that by now, will know that for the last year I have been tending a bird feeder and watching birds... it has kept me somewhat sane when I would rather be working more often, earning a wage and paying bills.

My friend, fellow writer, and correspondent David Coyote earlier in the year sent me these photos.

I was intrigued by both the small bird and David's amazing hand. I asked him what the story is behind the photos.

When as a boy I delivered newspapers there was a an old man along the route who lived in a very very tiny house near 6-mile creek. He was a frugal man and lived simply. He had boards stacked up all around his yard against trees. Boards that he pulled up out of the creek. Often as I came up to hand him his newspaper he would be standing at the street beside an hawthorn tree and he would feed nuthatches out of his hand. He would make little noises and they would hop about and chatter at him. I was always amazed at this alignment of an individual with the delicate order of the bird world.

David kindly responded to my inquiry. Here is the story in his own words:

The bird is a common sparrow. As we did most mornings, Pamela and I had been sitting outside at the table, having our coffee and watching the birds. Not more than a few days earlier I'd said, "I wonder where birds go to die? I never see dead birds lying around - and there are so many birds - one might expect to see a dead one now and then." Pamela agreed. "Maybe they have a bird graveyard, like elephants, a place to go when they're dying." That's the last we spoke of it - until this particular morning.

The sparrow flew over to the table, and then to my hand. It sat there quietly - I didn't move. Pamela got up quietly and got the camera. She took a couple of pictures. I moved my hand closer to the bowl of water, thinking that perhaps the bird was thirsty or wanted a bath - the bird didn't fly away. Pamela and I looked at each other, questions behind our eyes.

"I think the bird is dying," I said. I turned my hand slowly and the bird got into my palm. It simply lay down and left it's body as I held it - as we watched.

"It's dead?" she asked - and then began to cry. I held her hand and told her that the bird came to the safest place - and to be glad that we were chosen to be with it at its passing.

I buried the sparrow in the garden.

PS: Now, there's an herb garden growing at the sparrow's grave.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two vids frm Iguana House

frm Ohioan Larry C. Simpson, author of the novel, The Lost Cave of the Jaguar Prophets

It seems like only yesterday that Larry was warning us to look out for cone nosed kissing bugs.

Filmed in Kentucky, excellent canoe vid, and I like the eco-lit poem a whole lot.

If you lived through this era in American history then this vid will seem uber familiar. Otherwise ... it is a powerful historical interpretation. Share it with your parents? Share it with your grandchildren? Good music, too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Last Man Living, But Don't Know It

"Hey ho all you good buddies out there! This is WPBX 131.2 FM pirate radio coming to you off the coast of Montauk. I’m not sure what is going on here today... I don’t mean the weather; it is sunny, those black clouds are gone, black, drack, clack clouds... ozone levels are low, not a single jetliner in the sky -- on the water we got gentle waves with a light breeze... oyeh boy! I’ve not had a call-in in three hours. I hate to tell ya’ll but it is a bit difficult to keep a call-in show going for eight hours without a single call-in. Ya know! So... buddies, listeners, if I don’t get any calls in the next fifteen minutes I’m going to have to put this mike on automatic while I go take my afternoon shower. I know how much ya’ll like to hear me singin' in the rain, now. That all-natural soap my Aunt Minnie made is real slippery. Hoots and hollers! Who wants to hear that? So do the whole world a favor and give a call right now to 917-237-9503. And while you at it take a minute, take a long minute and tell me what you think about that dead thing washed up on the beach in Amagansett last week. Was it man or beast or your Uncle Willie? Ha, ha ha!”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leaf Raking

My friend -- I believe them on all things environmental and weedy -- said that they were raking leaves... to which I was inspired to write about my not raking leaves.

They also reminded me that as we live very very close to the Atlantic Ocean and the salt-hay marsh that our residence is an intruder on the saltwater wetland... and though they are a bit inland they noted that they are intruders on a freshwater wetland. Oh, my, we have so much responsibility in so little time.

When it occurred to me after reading Bill McKibben’s book (Deep Economy), and my reaching out to friend Mr. McKibben on FB -- on the day that he was doing an intensive at, -- the primary a reason we do not live in a super-kool place (like Ithaca, NY) is that we don’t do enough in the intensive local of ‘me’ to make our daily place super-kool. Not raking leaves, and feeding sparrows at the bird feeder makes for a portion of my answer to the feeling of uncoolness to be overcome.

First appearance of this article is at, which means that an editor looked at it and made modest corrections, said nice things to me, and had sense enough to show me where it made no sense whatsoever at all... things like the subtle difference between if it were the leaves that were indignant at my laziness, or my family, or the neighbors, or the yard police. At times it can be very important to know exactly who it is that is indignant. Regardless, if you have the energy and the wherewithal to hop over to my posting on Blogcritics and leave a comment on my leafy commentary it just may encourage me to keep gassing on in a similar vein, and it may attract a few more readers, and a few more lawn care savants to consider -- to rake or not to rake, there is no question.


I want to share some thoughts on leaf raking.

We live in a suburban neighborhood on Long Island that is lowly enough, working class and lower, where neighbors pretty much let neighbors be, though we do relate with each other. Guy across the street has turned his lot into a pool-table flatness of green lawn over the last few years. For decades it was a jungle of vines, poison ivy, and dead fallen branches. Now he has it mowed regularly and he put in sprinklers (note: though he works the lawn he does not mow it himself). Neighbor on the other corner works as a groundskeeper for a local school district... which means he mows a whole lot of lawns, and his lot is pristine, except the area where he stores his weekend freelance equipment and plays with tuning up his chopper.

Though I have no qualms about mowing the lawn, and enjoy the work, the smell of new-mown grass, and the pleasure of a flat (well, almost flat) green area, I also like weeds. I do have qualms about the use of fertilizer and herbicides. I enjoy plants that persist on their own – so our lawn is not exactly a monoculture of bluegrass fescue. When I do mow I avoid disturbing the devil’s paintbrush, and I never mow when the violets are hardy.

For a few years now I have been resisting mowing the lawn at all, and in particular I hold out until the grass that will grow in the acidic/sandy soil will seed. It is not easy to get grass to grow in our lawn and there are areas of persistent dirt. There are also areas where moss seems to thrive, and I like moss. I will even introduce moss into the scene. The failure to mow I call my "prairie restoration project." I do this act of landscape resistance in fear all summer long that the self-appointed citizen "lawn police" will come down on me for having a house that looks abandoned. They do come down on me if I leave bricks lying about in obvious piles (I threaten back that I am storing up to build a large bear sculpture). I think about maybe installation of an interpretive sign. People do like to read things. The professional lawn-mowing neighbor occasionally stops around when he walks his dog and asks if everything is OK with us.

We have oak trees, whose leaves are fairly acidic as leaves go. Raking leaves in our household is not a communal activity... if it gets done I get to do it alone. I get to mow alone also. There is nothing wrong with this, to my mind, it is just that it is lonely, and in preference to a lonely mow I would rather watch a group of sparrows fight at the feeder.

There is also a difference of opinion as to the proper disposal of leaves. I am a stubborn and frugal sort on some things, and this is one of them. Most leaf raking activity that I see in our neighborhood consists of putting the leaves in paper bags and setting them out on the street. My immediate reaction to this practice is wondering why my neighbors are giving away their biological wealth. The trees suck up nutrients from the ground of the lot, they put a portion of that into their leaves, then they drop their leaves, and we bag them up and send them away to a landfill site – or a facility near the landfill where they are processed into mulch, which we can then pay for, spending more energy to drive our cars around with processed dead leaves bagged up in the trunk. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

It costs fuel-energy to run the trucks to move the leaves. This is also true of all the leaf-blower machines that are so active in the autumn season (though I am all in favor of keeping the illegal alien population busy and employed, particularly out in the Hamptons)... Yesterday I saw a man using a pressure washer to move leaves (not to clean, but to move leaves) off of a commercial sidewalk. I will be the first to say that using a pressure washer for this purpose is a whole lot of fun, but it is, to be honest, an indulgence, a waste of a finite energy resource – though the guy did not look like the brightest mind on Long Island and I felt that at least he could be proud of his work. Hydro-power blowing includes throwing away otherwise potable water, in our case water processed through the public system, water sucked out of the Pine Barrens aquifer. Though I suppose after impacting a concrete sidewalk it goes somewhere.

At one point last year I considered an investment in pelletizing machines for a garage-industry to take tree leaves and turn them into fuel pellets for pellet stoves. I am interested in suburban recycling on a DIY basis. And I was really pissed about the cost of fuel oil to heat the house. Though tree leaves are not anticipated to produce as much heat as wood pulp, the lower energy return may be balanced by the fact that they are recycled and zeroed against the energy saved by not having to truck them to the landfill.

When I do rake the leaves (note, I say "when I do") I have locations on the property where I rake them into a pile and leave them. In essence our lot in life becomes one large composting operation. This hording of leaves seems to bother my associates to the point that they refuse to participate in the making of piles, no matter what I say – and if I cannot win an argument at home then how can I expect to go up against the entire lawn care industry? And who will buy all of those paper bags? I notice that not putting leaves in bags takes less time and energy, on my part, than simply raking them into a corner below the butterfly bush. Used to be I raked them across the street into what is now the pool-table lawn, back when it was a jungle and I could readily hide my organic subversion, and they composted up real well for garden soil. The energy expended in that transaction was the equivalent of a beer and a sandwich. Though nowadays what I also notice is that we have a fairly amazing population of worms on the property. I like to keep them well fed and happy.

I have also got in the habit, over the years, of holding out later and later into the fall season in the hope that there will be a groundswell of familial indignation at the steady accumulation of leaves on the lawn. Enough leaves piled up in layers will form an impermeable mattress to suffocate whatever green stuff we have growing there, threatening to make us Orgreases appear even more dejected and socially unsavory next summer. But that seems a false promise of a poor strategy.

Nowadays I simply let the leaves fall and the snow land and melt (it only stays for a few days), and I leave the leaves alone until spring when it dries up a bit so that I may give in and, alone, go rake leaves, or not.

I’m not sure about the psychological implications of off-season leaf raking. It is nice to talk about leaf raking with leaf raking peers. It is a variation on the usual chatter about the weather and climate change and the impending extinction of human life as we know it. "Have you noticed how the leaves fell sooner and they had a tinge of purple to them? I hear in Vermont the tourist industry is going gangbusters. Yes, it is terrible. Terrible. We need to do something about the international leaf problem." This spring, though, the crocuses got there with their life mission before I did. I was hesitant to rake the leaves because I wanted to see the pretty crocuses... purple, white, yellow... scattered haphazardly around the "lawn." I feel less depressed when I see them. They bring on the audacity of hope. So what happened is that I thought, “Oh, my gawd... this year I have really done it. I have killed the lawn.”

But nobody told the lawn that it was dead, and the grass, the weeds, the wild lettuce, the white clover, and the poison ivy all just came right up and flourished. It was so damned abundant that I worried I was in even more danger of being caught by the yard police. I broke down and mowed once this year (it helped that the town sent me a threatening letter). I am not exactly sure where all of the oak leaves went but I did absolutely nothing at all about them. And I suspect that we have an organic biomass cycle ongoing here where we are not using up energy of any sort to deplete the wealth of our small lot. Or at least I fancy that is the case.

In future I may add to my prairie restoration spiel and tell folks that I am indignant that we are not allowed to burn leaves, that I love the smell of burned leaves, and that I refuse by civil disobedience to rake leaves until I am given back my American individual free citizen entitlement to burn leaves and stink up the neighborhood. I will proudly flash my NRA membership card just to reinforce my leaf-bagging resistance.

There is one other consequence of my laziness that I notice this year. When my neighbor with the pool-table lawn comes back from a day out on his boat and stands bare-chested on his lawn, he has to keep swatting at the skeeters. A hundred feet away I sit on my porch and don’t notice any skeeters. I notice all the spiders, and I am often frustrated when I walk out the front door in the morning and I get a web in the face, but we don’t have nearly the skeeter population of our neighbor. I would like to ask him if everything is OK, but I can look out across the street and quickly see that it is.