Day Twenty-Five in the Neighborhood
Management and Design
As a designer of small to large acreage I know that pretty pictures and scintillating narratives do not a comprehensive Permaculture design make. It does not end here. Nature has an intriguing way of succesionally filling all niches. Somehow these snapshots, these creative gestures that we create are only a conceptual map, a set of goals, a vision for only a “finished” product, a corpse of sorts. But, in the long and short of it, all life beyond the picture is management: grooming, fixing, dealing with human and animal interrelationships, the list goes on ad infinitum because it never does not end. Is infinite the proper adjective (take it as noun, verb, whatever) here, be that as it may? Is our protracted observation (per Bill Mollison) a one year deal or an always, ever, forever deal?
Who brushes their teeth upon awakening from a night’s slumber (or before falling into dream worlds)? Who does the dishes (all hail the dishwasher – got to rinse them off first – stack em in – soap – run – dry – back onto the shelves and into the cabinets)? Oh my, work, work, work. What to eat? Fast food? Off to Mickey D’s. Got to fuel up (the car). Got to order. Got to chew, digest, dispose of wrappers, and inevitably poop it all out (which can be work). So, we create beautiful designs. Works of aesthetically superlative art, simple snapshots that do not change outside of the fact that the paper that they are printed on deteriorates, the computer that they were created on contracts a virus, the hand that drew them withers with age, you know the scene, eh?
All life is management, maintenance. Install those trees! Build that straw bale house! Gray water! Yeah! All fine and good. Management! Management! Management! Maintenance!
When I was a framer I was a farmer. Sunup to sundown. Paperwork at night. When I was a builder: detail, detail, detail. When the house was finished (?) the homeowner had to adjust the thermostat for comfort, change filters, paint, sweep, plumb, egads…
Design is key, but in the long and short of it management and maintenance are life after the picture (and before it). If the picture is fluid, if it does not end with the printed page, if past and future converge on the present and all is immersion in constant change, if we never step in the same river twice but are still willing to step in the river, than we are immersed in the living and dying of it, always…
Day Twenty-Six in the Neighborhood
What, may I ask, does the skunk on the side of the highway do as we barrel by in our automobiles and upon seeing it “avoid it at all costs”? Does it spin tailwise and take aim? Does it waddle into our path of steel and wheel? Does the “stench” of the skunk remind us of something? Stress? Annoyance? Anger?
When I was a kid and young adult I would sit in stillness at the edge of the forest and the gentle skunk would approach and walk gingerly across my shoe tops. No threat, no spray, no posturing from either party.
Sometimes, off in the distance, a distinctive odor wafts in a broad band and seems to penetrate atmosphere and ooze from buildings and trees. Sometimes the dog comes home whining with skunk radiating from damp fur. Sometimes a roadkill skunk finds a tire or two and the heating unit in the car sucks it in like a sieve, a colander, a funnel.
It is only from a “disturbed” skunk that its smell is broadcast far and wide. In other words, what about the gentle and beautiful black and white creature that gingerly walked across my shoe tops? Where did he or she go? Obviously, and presently, under the shed in my yard, and the neighborly chickens don’t seem to mind a bit…
Day Twenty-Seven in the Neighborhood
We draw, as human beings, a line between opposites: inside and outside, subject versus object, hot versus cold.
Take, for instance, the garden. Always outside? What is the definition of “garden”? The Old High German etymology states that it is an enclosure (gart). Webster’s definition: a. A plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated; 2. A rich, well-cultivated region; 3. A container (as a window box) planted with a variety of small plants. Let’s take a look at some of these terms. Plot of ground. Container. Enclosure. Region. All of these terms are predicated on distinct boundaries, the demarcation of a perimeter, as though separate. There is little diffusion across boundaries.
But how can we demarcate impenetrable boundaries in anything in life? What really lives (or dies) in isolation? In spite of myself, let’s say, even though I may feel isolated, I am still in relationship with the chair that I sit on, the air that I breathe in the room, the electronic device I listen to. There are infinite “connections” being drawn in every micro-millisecond.
So, let us step inside the house and blur the edges of indoor versus outdoor. The plants make no distinction. Why might we? Step into the kitchen, the living room (not sure why the other rooms are not the dying rooms in contradistinction to the living room, but…), the office, and witness wheat grass, microgreens, sprouts fermented vegetables, mushrooms increasing everywhere. What we habitually think of outside is now inside (or is it inside-out or outside-in?), fresh, succulent, delectable, nutritious.
Where the distinction? Where the demarcation? Where the perimeter? Yes, the lines blur, the edge (ecotone) is nothing but transformation and metamorphosis, the alive in-between, rich in diversity, and steeped in vigorous, robust, and vital growth. The senses are full to the brim…taste buds longing with bottomless anticipation…
Day Twenty-Eight in the Neighborhood
The Delectable Mulberry and Two Poems
The mulberries have come and gone this year, but the memory of these delicacies of the plant world is still vivid within. I cannot imagine a summer without mulberries. Here in the neighborhood they are superabundant! I have the fondest memory of riding bicycles around town with my daughter and stopping at every mulberry tree and ingesting one of the sweetest and most delectable fruits in the plant kingdom. Highly perishable, mulberries are best eaten fresh off the branch, but if you get them home immediately they are excellent for drying, jellies, jams, pies, juices, smoothies, the list goes on. They will last maybe three days in the refrigerator, but will soon turn to a mass of mulberry sludge.
The mulberry is in the genus Morus. There are approximately 15 species of mulberry growing in temperate regions all over the world. Sometimes considered a “weed” tree, they are fast growing and reach heights of 30-50 feet. I have several mulberries growing in my yard and most them are pruned to the size of a tall shrub, but even with a hard pruning they produce prolifically year after year.
The paper mulberry, which grows in the US, is a related species in the genus Broussonetia.
A distinguishing feature of the mulberry is its three different serrated leaf margins and shapes: single, double and triple lobed. The only other tree species in the US that has this distinction is the sassafras.
Mulberry trees are either monoecious or dioecious.
Monoecious means that plants have both male and female organs in the same individual. They are hermaphroditic and the stamens and the pistils are in separate flowers on the same plant.
Dioecious means that plants have the male and female organs in separate and distinct individuals, separate sexes.
The fact that reproduction can happen in these two ways makes for the prolific and opportunistic spread of this tree species.
The mulberry has a multiple fruit, is 0.79”–1.18 “ long. The fruits change color rapidly as they mature in possible white, green, pale yellow, pink, red while, dark purple or black phases. The fruits of the white mulberry (a non-native species) are white when ripe. The fruits of the white mulberry are sweet and in some cases have hybridized with the black mulberry so that telling them apart is near impossible. Regardless, they are all delectable and worth the effort to seek out and harvest. Once you get started you will be hooked.
Mulberry fruit, as already mentioned, can be eaten as a juicy, refreshing, raw fruit right off the branch. As a dessert fruit mulberry stands out and, cooked into preserves, jellies and jams it rivals the best of them. I have harvested mulberries for over more than a month continuously when in season beginning in June. If you take the fresh berries and put them into the food dryer immediately you will have a luscious dried berry within one day. Wine is made from the berry and is added to fruit ciders to enhance sweetness. It has a slight acid flavor.
Mulberry wood makes an excellent and resilient bow wood
Mulberry wood has a beautiful figure (yellow and a rich golden brown) in it and can be worked into many wood-crafting projects. It especially suits fine joinery and chip carving.
When I was a primitive skills instructor we made countless ropes and pieces of cordage out of fibers stripped from the inner bark. It’s applications for weaving and basket making are endless. You can also obtain dyes from the berries (dark purple) and the leaves (yellow-green). The mulberry is resilient to water. It is hard and durable and makes for good firewood with high BTU’s.
Dying wools with natural plant dyes yield subtle and earthy colors. Most plant dyes require a mordant in order to set the colors permanently.
As a medicine, mulberry has been found in the Chinese materia medica for centuries and used in the west for a variety of ailments. It is antibacterial and fungicidal, analgesic, emollient, sedative, anthelmintic and purgative, and it is used to expel tape worms The leaves are effective for colds, flu, eye infections and other illnesses requiring antibiotic action. I have made tincture of the bark and used it on toothache. As long as the toothache pain is not too severe relief can be had until one pays a visit to the dentist. The stems are antirheumatic, diuretic, hypotensive and pectoral. As with many cooling fruits the mulberry has a tonic effect on the kidney. It is used in the treatment of urinary incontinence, tinnitus, premature greying of the hair and constipation in the elderly.
The leaves of Morus nigra or black mulberry are inferior to those of Morus alba or white mulberry for feeding silkworms. The white mulberry was originally brought to the US in order to initiate a silk industry, but they did not fare well. The white mulberry escaped cultivation and now has become endemic to this country.
The leaves of Morus nigra are used as a fodder for domestic rabbits, cattle and goats.
We could go on and on here. What I have discovered through all my years of working with plants for food, medicine and utility is that the more we utilize the plant and the more we research and explore we find that the applications of the plant are infinite. Based on how the different parts of a plant are processed it is quite possible that each plant can be used for almost anything.
Modern medicine has the audacious habit of isolating single chemical actions of plant material into highly toxic medicines. When we harvest a plant from the wild, or from our gardens, and use it in its entirety we garner health giving attributes with a full spectrum of actions that balance each other out and work for us in the long haul in terms of medicine and food. For utility purposes we may find uses that go beyond anything we have thought of before.
It takes years to master the art of plant utilization, but at every step of the learning process we can make use of the plant at the point of what have learned. If we can imagine that what is growing in the alleyway behind the house is a supermarket of food, medicine and utility, we might be inspired to change the way we look at the world. And all those beautiful plant specimens growing in the alley are free for the taking.
We are unaccustomed to outdoors.
Outdoors, out-of-doors, swinging doors.
Maybe there is no distinction between in and out?
We build outsized domiciles. It is a longer walk to the door.
A tiny home says: yes, the living room is outside.
I remember the first observation my Bengali friend had after a drive from the St Louis airport into town (about two hours through the burbs).
This observation came in the form of a question: where are all the people?
Sprawled out in two-dimensional mania?
Ensconced in virtual irreality?
Crushed by piles of information, hip-hopping into inexactitude?
It all comes down to this:
The trees will tell you secrets that no one believes…
When They Said the World Was Flat
When “they” said the world was “flat”
The believers of roundness sailed ships
To disprove flatness and the idea that
One might fall off the edge of it.
And then “they” said that the world was
But how the fuck do “they” know this
How could they ship the heart into the unknown
Without contemplating the willy nilly subterfuge of
Life? What would be the reward of all this?
Riches, gold, power and “I, me, mine”?
So, there is this inevitability of the heart,
The foot, the hand, the pen.
And Lord help us, yes, there is the laundry…
Like Mohammed said, “Before you go to prayer,
Tether your camel first”.
The fish know this.
They are inevitability in motion.
They twitch and turn and dart and dodge.
And if the sharks of this world bare their teeth,
And the Pharoahs of commerce bare their teeth,
And the imperialists of yore and future bare their teeth,
The fish will twitch and turn and dart and dodge
And slip through the jaws of existence
Travel the oceans to the very edge,
And spin with the circle of fish lives
And shit, catch them if you can.
Day Twenty-Nine in the Neighborhood
The Night We Hit the Deer in the Neighborhood
A faint ellipsis
Cutting of words into two
A language older than language
Split ribs and a deer with broken legs
Leaping over fence with a burst heart
But no blood
We only went back there for the trophy
Antlers and a piece of skull
When it all stopped
Frozen but for the eye staring back
Into the windshield
So fast this slow motion
I often think
That life in its shortcomings
And long goings
Time in its yolk
Drags babies into death
And we have no reason to think
But for a burst heart
A broken rib
And the unenviable collapse of cultures
Day Thirty in the Neighborhood
Tonight the neighborhood is profuse with sound and rhythm. Have you seen the thick, veined, transparent wings of the cicada?
Cicadas feed on the xylem of trees with protruding proboscices. They love the taste of sap.
“Male cicadas have a noisemaker called a tymbal below each side of the anterior abdominal region. The tymbals are structures of the exoskeleton formed into complex membranes with thin, membranous portions and thickened ribs. Contraction of internal muscles buckles the tymbals inwards, producing a click; on relaxation of the muscles the tymbals return to their original position, producing another click. The male abdomen is largely hollow, and acts as a sound box. By rapidly vibrating these membranes a cicada combines the clicks into apparently continuous notes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae serve as resonance chambers, with which it amplifies the sound. The cicada also modulates the song by positioning its abdomen toward or away from the substrate. Partly by the pattern in which it combines the clicks, each species produces its own distinctive mating songs and acoustic signals, ensuring that the song attracts only appropriate mates.” (From Wikipedia)
I cannot imagine living underground for 13 or 17 years as does the cicada. Or maybe I can. Maybe in some “other” world I could discover definition for my life, a 13 or 17 year meditation of sorts? Maybe I could find a comfortable way to fold my antennae in lotus position and empty myself of song and rhythm? If I am quiet enough could it be that the squirrels or birds could not find me, could not make meat of me?
The cricket also sings on this fine and humid summer evening. From Wikipedia:
“Most male crickets make a loud chirping sound by stridulation (a few species are mute). The stridulatory organ is located on the tegmen, or forewing, which is leathery in texture. There is a large vein running along the centre of each tegmen, with comb-like serrations on its edge forming a file-like structure, and at the rear edge of the tegmen is a scraper. The tegmina are held at an angle to the body and rhythmically raised and lowered which causes the scraper on one wing to rasp on the file on the other. In the central part of the tegmen is the “harp”. This is an area of thick, sclerotinized membrane that resonates and amplifies the volume of sound, as does the pocket of air between the tegmina and the body wall. Most female crickets lack the necessary adaptations to stridulate, and these make no sound.
There are several types of cricket song in the repertoire of some species. The calling song attracts females and repels other males, and is fairly loud. The courting song is used when a female cricket is near and encourages her to mate with the caller. A triumphal song is produced for a brief period after a successful mating, and may reinforce the mating bond to encourage the female to lay some eggs rather than find another male. An aggressive song is triggered by contact chemoreceptors on the antennae that detect the presence of another male cricket.
Crickets chirp at different rates depending on their species and the temperature of their environment. Most species chirp at higher rates the higher the temperature is (approximately 62 chirps a minute at 13 °C in one common species; each species has its own rate). The relationship between temperature and the rate of chirping is known as Dolbear’s Law. According to this law, counting the number of chirps produced in 14 seconds by the snowy tree cricket, common in the United States, and adding 40 will approximately equal the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.”
I love this word “stridulation”. Do you? From the Latin, “Shrill”. From Webster: “to make a shrill creaking noise by rubbing together special bodily structures —used especially of male insects (as crickets or grasshoppers)”.
There are many people around the world who eat crickets. Somewhat of a delicacy I presume? When fried in an iron skillet they are crunchy. Does the first bite stridulate? “The food conversion efficiency of house crickets (Acheta domesticus) is reported to be five times higher than that for beef cattle, and if their fecundity is taken into account, fifteen to twenty times higher.”
There are many crickets in my basement. Yum…
And there is a moth fluttering about the lamp next to which I am writing. A triangular moth. Dusky grays and browns. Needle-like appendages. Moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, as do butterflies. Lepidoptera: from Greek lepido-, comb. form of lepis (genitive lepidos) “(fish) scale” (related to lepein “to peel;” see leper) + pteron “wing, feather” (see pterodactyl).
It seems that etymologically moths are related to pterodactyls? But maybe I am only remembering Mothra from my childhood? Or was that Rodan?
I think I will step out on the back doorstep to listen once again, and to search the skies for pterodactyls. I will let you know what I find. I will be accompanied by the song of cicadas and crickets. All is good in the neighborhood on this fine and humid July evening in Southern Illinois…