In the 1750’s, when posted in Winchester, VA, George Washington did three things to strengthen the area: built a fort (Fort Loudon), restored a sense of order and hope, and had every household plant hundreds of apple trees.
Today, Winchester, VA boasts that it is the apple capital of the nation, and it hosts an annual, blow-out Apple Festival. All told, the county has 700,000 apple trees, courtesy, no doubt, of our founding father’s foresight. (This was a full 40 years before the legendary Johnny Appleseed set forth on his historic crusade.)
I was delighted to hear this as I thought about my paltry but valiant apple “trees” on my front lawn.
This past March, I planted 8 apple seedlings. No more than twigs, some only 1 foot high, the others a towering 2 feet. Lodi, Jonathan and Winesap - a necessary trilogy for proper fertilization, or so I was told. I lost one tree to the voracious nibblings of our large four-footed friends. The others are recuperating from their tops being unceremoniously lopped off by darling deer dentals, so that they lost a full year’s worth of growth and are enduring the botanical equivalent of PTSD. After that, I began to spray the trees with Deer Off, an environmentally-friendly, non-toxic repellant (evidently, deer don’t like garlic).
Now, the survivors stand, straight if not tall, waving their fistful of leaves as if they were banners arrayed in a tiny parade. It will be years before branches develop, never mind fruit. But I planted the trees for the long haul.
When my family first moved into this Stevenson area in the 1950’s, the area around Fort Garrison was all apple orchard. Planted, no doubt, like the trees in Winchester, in an effort to provide the local residents with harvests that could provide nourishment all year round. These orchards were part of the landscape and beauty of the area. When the houses were built, the trees were brought down.
But why, I wondered, couldn’t we re-introduce them on our lawns? There is today a cultural conceit that demands that front lawns be pristine, emerald swatches of constant demands. And polllution. The fossil fuel we use to mow the lawns (never mind to transport the man and machine to tend to them); the pesticides and herbicides we use to treat them; the money and time we squander on them, make them not at all the nature-friendly areas we imagine.
There is, in fact, a nascent guerrilla effort to take back the lawn and turn us all into gentlemen farmers. I will confess that neither my lawn - with its lack of full sun, nor myself - with my lack of ability, are good for vegetable gardening. But fruit trees? In the spring they offer luscious fragrance; in the summer, budding promise; in the fall, the fruit of their labors; and in the winter, their gnarled beauty. What is not to like about fruit trees?
So for better or worse, I have joined the ranks of others out there somewhere who are also bucking the manicured front- lawn idolatry of our nation and planting fruit trees there.
It will be five or six years before my “trees” develop sufficiently to bring forth their first harvest. And even then, it will only be with the cooperation of my deer friends.
But I look forward to inviting you all to the first annual Cardin-Reisner Apple Harvest festival, hopefully well before my dotage. And if you too plant now, I would be honored to come and celebrate yours.
The on-line version of Scientific American posted this fascinating news item July 14:
Volcanic rocks deep beneath the sea off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington State might prove one of the best places to store the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global warming, a new study finds. In fact, the very instability that causes earthquakes and eruptions adds an extra layer of protection to keep the CO2 from ever escaping.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other experts, including the G8 (Group of Eight) leaders of the world’s richest nations, have called carbon capture and storage a critical tool in the fight against climate change. In essence, such technology catches the CO2 and other pollutants emitted when coal or other fossil fuels are burned. It is then compressed into a liquid and, theoretically, pumped deep beneath the surface to be permanently trapped.
Such technologies have been demonstrated on a small scale to enhance the recovery of oil from tapped out fields; pumping down the CO2 pushes up more of the black gold. But geophysicist David Goldberg of Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., and his colleagues found that pumping such CO2 into basalt rock beneath the ocean floor might be a better solution.
Specifically, liquid CO2 is heavier than the water above it at 8,850 feet (2,700 meters) or more under the surface, meaning any leaks would never bubble back into the atmosphere. Further, the CO2 mixes with the volcanically warmed water below the surface and undergoes chemical reactions within the basalt (the black rock created from rapidly cooling lava) to form carbonate compounds—otherwise known as chalk—effectively locking up the greenhouse gas in mineral form. The 650-foot (200-meter) layer of marine sediment on top of the basalt rock acts as yet another barrier. “You have three superimposed trapping mechanisms to keep your CO2 below the sea bottom and out of the atmosphere,” Goldberg says. “It’s insurance on insurance on insurance.”
This is a great solution IF we want to keep mining, digging and burning fossil fuels. The question is, do we? Why spend all this money on the excavation of fossil fuels, the degradation of the environment (especially with the extraction of coal) and then the cost of sequestration, all for a time-limited and volume-limited commodity when we could put that creative energy, money and public support behind renewable energies?
Clearly, no one technology is going to be the be-all-and-end-all solution, so sequestration might be one part of the solution. But we have to keep the other renewable options on the table, moving forward and well-funded and publicly supported.
Enjoy this fabulous summer weather!
(This is the fifth in a series of the art of staying at home)
Part of the art, and joy, of staying home is that it allows us to discover new ways of being.
Travel, of course, does this effortlessly (as long as we don’t thwart it by sealing ourselves up in a tourist’s cocoon.) It literally takes us out of our daily habits, our ritual ways of being, our programmed schedules, food and daily interactions . That is part of what makes travel so alluring, and so stressful, all at once. The familiar externalities that hold our identity together are missing when we are abroad. Those being shed, we are freer to explore both the world and ourselves.
But the best staying-at-home experiences can do this too. We just have to plan for it. In fact, there is a gift that home exploration offers that traveling denies us. At home, we can experiment and unveil new parts of ourselves while in the midst and presence of our friends and family. If they are part of this remaking and remodeling of ourselves, they can better accept it, understand it, and support it. With them as our partners in growth, we can more readily be accepted as the new kind of friend, neighbor, citizen, self we want to be.
Being at home without the commitments of work or school allows us to alter our patterns and our expected roles in our community. Vacations gift us not only with the time, but also, should we choose to grasp it, the psychic latitude, to experiment with becoming more of the kind of person we want to be. Even if our designs are not inclined toward change, but rather toward expanding, extending, who we already are, staying at home affords us more time to do that.
One grand extravagance we can give ourselves, and our community of friends, is to become the host for the neighborhood’s Salon. (see the Wikipedia entry for more information on the nature, history and role of Jewish women in the salons of Europe.)
The salons of Europe over the past 400 years were breeding grounds for the development of culture, thought and an intoxicating mix of guests. They were places where the narrowed boundaries of art, politics, literature and social class were bravely trespassed in the protective company of a gracious host, the salonierre.
How enchanting to host a salon in one’s home. Whether with musicians or poets, artists or politicians, or scientists, or best of all, all of them. Everyone benefits: the community, the guests, the host and, if managed well, the environment.
The collateral benefits of attending to the environment send us back to our roots, to the basics of home, community, appreciation of the homespun entertainment, cultivation of our own talents, and a strengthening of our love of place. It is not only the appreciation of local food that caring for the environment and the high price of fuel are teaching us. It is also the appreciation of community, local talents, a sense of belonging to this place. All it takes to make it happen is for us to make it so.
Clearly, avoiding travel during these days of pumped up fuel prices is on everyone’s mind. I just read about “stay-cations” - places to go when holidaying at home. The zeitgeist is at work again.
I thought about this while listening to a captivating story on NPR about Marta Becket. Marta is 83, a former dancer New York-quality professional dancer who stumbled onto an abandoned theater on the outskirts of Death Valley Junction over 40 years ago. Peering into the darkened theater through a hole in the door, Marta says she felt like she was looking at the other half of herself. This place belonged to her and she belonged to it. She and her husband settled there and got to work rehabilitating this personal Shangri-La.
For forty years Marta has performed on the stage of the theater she named the Armagosa Opera House. Recruiting an audience in such a remote and sparsely populated area was, shall we say, difficult. But no matter who showed up (or didn’t), Marta performed.
One of the most engaging aspects of the story is how Marta buoyed herself through the slow, isolated times and created the audience she needed to keep her going. Looking around one day at the bare white walls, Marta determined to paint an appreciative gallery of spellbound spectators. For four years, she populated the walls of the theater with a richly designed and ornately executed Spanish renaissance congregation: a king and queen front and center; courtiers and commoners, lovers and drunkards, priests and nuns. When she finished that, she tackled the ceiling, with cherubs and doves.
I thought about this as I opened my vacuous, monochromatic closet door this morning. Now, while I do not have the skills with which Marta Becket is graced, I do have one valuable commodity - lots of blank doors. What if, during this time of staying at home, I threw my inhibitions to the wind, researched landscapes of the hills of Jerusalem, the Judean desert, Sefad; recreated the interiors of 18th century shtetl homes, and surrounded myself with leaves, trees and spices from the Bible? What if the vacant canvas leading into the closets of my home were transformed into portals of our imagination. Pigment paradise.
I will definitely need some help pursuing this. And I will be grateful to whitewash that can, as a last resort, cover up all my artistic sins. But what an awesome memento of staying at home these magical murals would be.
Closets are full of contradictions. They coddle the things we wish to keep safe, and, somewhat conspiratorily, swallow up the stuff we wish to throw away (but can’t). They hold at the ready our quotidian matter, and absorb into their deepest recesses the stuff we want to hide. They are our best friends and our most dangerous informants.
We love them and hate them. One thing is for certain, we never have enough of them.
Most of the time, we take them for granted. Things go in and things come out, and as long as this exchange remains uneventful - no bats, for example, clinging to our sweaters, and no sinkholes gobbling up our shoes, that is, no unexplained disappearances, or re-appearances – life goes merrily on.
But life inside a closet is anything but uneventful. Two black sweaters emerge where one used to be; shorts vanish; strange coats materialize; ties multiply obscenely; toys spontaneously whir and burst into motion; and don’t even bother talking about the sock drawer. Sometimes closets seem to have a life of their own.
If pressed, we would have to acknowledge: closets are not all that benign. They are not just recesses in the walls where our material stuff resides. They are more accurately citadels that harbor our hopes, dreams and fears; a refuge for all the emotional detritus our souls stir up that our minds cannot readily deal with, so we put out of sight. And of all the places in a home, we know, therefore, that it is our closets that lead to the land of imagination.
As wife and mother, I moved into two different houses, seven years apart, each with a linen closet on the upstairs landing. Both houses were adequate to the needs of our family. Both seemed perfectly serviceable when we moved in. And yet, within a month (I want to say a week) of living there, I had the same dream: I was exploring my new house and found myself on the upstairs landing. I looked at the linen closet door and remembered thinking, ‘Funny, this wasn’t here before.’ So I approached the door and opened it (this dream door opened inward, on a hinge; the “real” door slid from side to side).
And as I opened it, I was flooded with bright light. Through the light, I saw a staircase, which I ascended. At the top was an enormous empty room, practically doubling the square-footage of our new house. I thought, How fortunate are we! And how amazing that we didn’t know about this door and this room til now!
I am sure Jung and company would have many things to say about this dream. I always took it to represent the new adventures, the unwritten story, the space to grow that awaited my family. It was a symbol of possibilities, of expansiveness, of not being trapped. And while it was triggered by a radical change of place, it holds a message that continues to serve me well, no matter what my station in life, and no matter how long I have lived in my home.
As children, we knew that leaving the closet door open at night was reckless. No one told us this. We just knew. Neglecting even the tiniest of openings was tantamount to inviting Armageddon. Word would travel like lightening throughout the monster world: Security breach in Matthew’s bedroom, 114 Maple Drive. They would begin to gather in our closet, slip through that crack and terrorize us in bed.
If there weren’t monsters in our closet, there were at least secret doorways to enchanted places through the darkened inner walls. The closet, of course, denied all this. It masqueraded as a passive, inanimate receptacle oblivious to our visits. But we knew better. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Indian in the Cupboard; even what happened to us when we closed ourselves in with our flashlights proved us right. Things came alive in there, and they plotted and planned and played when we weren’t watching.
Closets, like attics, both reveal and conceal a storehouse of our psychic energies. And every now and then, we have to clean them up. Both for their sake, and for ours.
A great Staying at Home adventure is found in this most avoided of all chores: cleaning the closets. When I was a grad student, I knew who of my colleagues were married and who were not simply by listening to them describe their winter vacations: those who said they were going skiing or to Cancun were not married; those who said they were cleaning their closets, were.
So, wait for that rainy day, when a trip to the neighborhood pool or nature hike have to be postponed, change into comfortable clothes, and attack your closets. The question now becomes, which one? First, be sure you have permission to enter said closet. If it is spouses or a child’s, permission is essential. One never knows what one might find there – and it is better off keeping it that way.
Second, to model good behavior, to set the household standard and to give others time to clean up their own, it is always a good idea to either start with yours, or a very public closet. These are two different experiences. The public closet requires public engagement: clarification of who owns this baseball glove and who still fits into this jacket. Or who got this game for their birthday and does it belong here or in their bedroom. Cleaning public closets is an exercise in boundary setting and lessons about the Commons. Things left in the Commons are governed by the rules of the Commons. At some point, these need to be clarified and witnessed by all. Things that are of private use should be stored in private space. Cleaning the public closets is a family, as well as quasi-legal, affair.
Cleaning one’s own closet is a different matter. Waiting til everyone is out of the house, or at least gainfully occupied elsewhere, is not inappropriate. The dread with which we approach this task is often offset by the discoveries, sweet - sad and achingly powerful - that await us. Or overtake us. And sometimes we just want to be there, alone. Uninterrupted.
At this point you might be wondering why this topic is an entry on my blog. That is a good question. For the moment, I have two inter-related answers.
(1) Everything we do contributes to our global footprint. Finding great ways to discover more and be more while consuming less and wasting less (fuel, money, stuff) is essential if we are to sustain sustainable lifestyles. Nobody sticks with an unsatisfying diet.
(2) Most of us have too much stuff. If we go through it regularly, we can reduce our off-site storage; recycle our unwanted housewares that can be of great use to others; reduce the clutter in our homes; shed our redundant clothes and shoes; dampen the desire to keep purchasing more; recapture bits of our personal history that we tend to forget; make room for those objects with greater personal resonance; and otherwise construct a more satisfying life that enriches our children while fulfilling us.
And, I love thinking, talking and writing about homes.
Walking back from putting out the trash this beautiful summer morning, I paused more than usual to take a look at my trees. I am getting much better at identifying them through their leaves (although -easy it sounds - I am still struggling a bit). But I wondered if I could identify them by their bark. While there are clear differences with, say, birch trees (that peel), or beech trees (that are smooth), often, bark can look so generic. Still, my tree-identification books assure me it can be done. So every now and then I try.
Today, I paid attention to the stately tulip poplar trees that line my driveway. This tree is native to this area and clearly content to lay down roots and generously populate my woods. That is to say, it is by far the most common tree on my property. When one fell on our house a year or so ago (such is the price we pay to live beneath the protective shade of these modest giants), the tree surgeons told us, in the pauses between the chomping of the chainsaw, that this wood is popular for cabinetry, paneling, siding. You can see why just by looking: when packed together in clusters, they shoot straight up for 100 feet before branching. That’s a lot of clean, fine boards.
But what I just noticed today among the specimens that have a bit more space around them, is that their bark shows signs of the tree limbs that grew, and broke off, as the tree aged. Stacked in a line climbing the sides of these trees are faint tracings of arcs, like boarded up gateways of long-ago fairy kingdoms. The mundane, almost bored, familiarity I had been feeling toward my abundance of my American tulip trees transformed into awe at the sight of this cascade of archways.
It reminded me that though we too shed bits of our former selves, they are never fully gone. We carry their tracings as markings upon our souls (and sometimes as scars upon our bodies!), recalling the adventure of our former dreams, or foolishness.
Such is the gift of pausing while Staying at Home. Getting to know (better) the trees and bushes in your yard or neighborhood could be rewarding past-time while you stay at home. Tree and leaf identification books can be found at almost any library. Friends can be an unexpected source of wisdom. So can the internet.
Seeing the variability of the same species can be awesome. When grown in clusters, as we noted, the tulip poplar grows tall and stately with no branches, for almost 100 feet. Yet when standing alone, often as a decorative specimen, its branches can flow down near to the very base. I knew nothing of this until I moved to this house. And even then it has been a slow self-education. (Who knew that the nectar from the flowers of the tulip poplar serve as a major source of honey in the Appalachian area?)
Okay, maybe it is just me. But instead of my trees feeling like strangers, like the neighbors down the block whose names I don’t know, the trees are now part of my home. That is a nice reward for staying at home.