Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Some Folks Build Walls for Fun

We are blessed with quite a lot of rocks on our farm and last Friday Justin and some of his/our friends spent most of the day assembling a selection of them into a handsome wall at the entrance to the upper part of our property.

It takes an eye for placement, as well as muscles, gravel, and heavy equipment to build a wall.

I'm particularly fond of this standing stone.

I also like the jigsaw puzzle effect of the different sizes, shapes, and colors of the rocks.

They finished off by planting a pair of forsythias and a spirea then mulching heavily before adjourning to our house for food, drink and cigars. 

Are these guys great or what?

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Same Old Story?

Memorial Day -- a time to remember all who lost their lives in the service of the country.

And a time for cook outs, political posturing, sales, and all manner of red, white, and blue carrying on, much of it unrelated to the original purpose of the day.

Memorial Day was originally established to honor all the soldiers who died in the Civil War -- Union and Confederate alike. And by the late 19th century, it was expanded to honor all deceased veterans of all American wars.

But I really like the fact that its original purpose was to unify the broken nation so that rather than mourning the Confederate dead separately from the Union dead, as was done immediately following the war, the national holiday was established in hopes of healing  the wound and bringing the two sides, victor and vanquished, together.

So I find it more than a little ironic that a segment of the American right exploded with righteous vitriol when President Obama gave a speech in Hiroshima a few days ago, a speech that addressed some of the same concerns the original founders of Memorial Day had -- that of reconciling past enemies, winners and losers, of acknowledging the losses of both sides with the avowed hope of moving on, of learning from the past in hopes of a better future.

I have visited Hiroshima and seen the magnitude of the destruction, have been horrified to think that fragile, fallible mankind holds the key to such destruction. For me, President Obama's words were inspiring and hopeful. 

Right-wing media didn't see it that way. The headlines read: "Obama Dishonors Memorial Day at Hiroshima"and "Obama Gives One of the Most Disgusting Speeches in American History."

One of the things the president said was:

"Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done."

Dishonorable? Disgusting? I have trouble understanding this point of view. 

Here below is the full text of President Obama's speech -- well worth a Memorial Day read, in my opinion:

"Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.
Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.
Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.
It is not the fact of war that sets Hiroshima apart. Artifacts tell us that violent conflict appeared with the very first man. Our early ancestors having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood used these tools not just for hunting but against their own kind. On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.
The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.
In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us. Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism, graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.

Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.
Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.
Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.
Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.
The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.
That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.
Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.
Some day, the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.
And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan have forged not only an alliance but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war. The nations of Europe built a union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy. Oppressed people and nations won liberation. An international community established institutions and treaties that work to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.
Still, every act of aggression between nations, every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.
We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly materials from fanatics.
And yet that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mind-set about war itself. To prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must re-imagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.
For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.
We see these stories in the hibakusha. The woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself. The man who sought out families of Americans killed here because he believed their loss was equal to his own.
My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.
That is why we come to Hiroshima. So that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here, 71 years ago.
Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.
The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening."

"We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted."

Or we can mark another Memorial Day with sales and flags, barbecues and patriotism, forget the costly lessons of the past, and go right back to the same old story of Them vs. Us. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Learning from Mistakes

A while back I (along with a bunch of garden bloggers) was asked to share with the blog The Creative Vegetable Gardener the biggest gardening mistake I'd ever made.  

 You can find the post HERE with all the interesting diversity of the blunders of many gardeners. 

Since the blog is about vegetable gardeners, I didn't mention mistakes like planting wisteria and English ivy, both of which rapidly get out of hand. Or planting "dwarf" evergreens that soar to great view- blocking heights.

No, my biggest mistake was basic -- letting the weeds get ahead of me . . .  and finally I learned from that mistake.

And now I hoe, weather permitting, early and often, scraping away the weeds when they're no more than pinpricks of green.

There are so many things I've learned in my forty some years of gardening -- covering new-sown corn with chicken wire or plastic mesh to keep the crows off till it's tall enough they can't pluck the tiny blades out and gobble down the seed.

This year I'm trying floating row covers on the cole crops, in hopes of thwarting cabbage worms.

Mulch, lots of mulch. I've tried to use mulch every year and it has contributed greatly to the tilth of the soil. (Isn't tilth a lovely word? It means the condition of the soil as related to the proper consistency for sowing seeds -- crumbly, rich, capable of holding moisture is ideal. )   

Shade cloth to extend the season of the lettuce is another thing I've learned. What a revelation that was!

I also find that the box beds keep things under control  -- or maybe it just seems that way.  They do (somewhat) discourage the dogs from romping through them. 

Of course the first function of the garden is to provide food. But I like to add in some flowers for the pleasure of watching the butterflies at work.  

Some thinkers have opined that gardens are man's way of exerting control over Nature, carving out an orderly tract in the wilderness.

Could be. I know that Nature moves faster that I do. A little inattention and my orderly tract will revert to weeds in no time.  Come late Summer, I'll lay down my hoe and concentrate on getting the harvest into canning jars and freezer containers. And I'll heave a sigh of relief at the first killing frost.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Which Is It?

This lovely visitor to my flowers set me wondering -- is this a Spicebush Swallowtail or a Black Swallowtail? 

                    Or are there two names for one butterfly?

Fortunately my friend Mr. Google was there, helpful as always.

There are, indeed, two different mostly black swallowtails. And they look an awful lot alike. The Spicebush is larger . . . but that's not a lot of help when there's no Black to compare it with.

Definitive indentification come from a look at the underwing -- Spice (Papilio troilus) has a 'comet' while Black (Papilio polyxenes) has an eye spot.

My pictures don't show the underwing as clearly as I'd like but I think I've identified my visitor. If you'd like to have a go at it, the information on the identifying marks is HERE.. 

And here's a closeup of the relevant area of the underwing. Alas, something has taken a bite out of the tip where the eye spot is (or is not) but isn't that a comet?

As is so often true in this life of ours, it's the little things that make a difference. . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nature's Fleeting Artistry

Spiders have been hard at work, crafting elegant pendants adorned with dew drops, on the Harry Lauder's Walking Stick ( aka Corkscrew hazelnut aka Corylus avellana 'contorta.') 

I'd love to see what a talented jeweler, working with gold and silver and gems, could do with these designs.

Would a permanent creation be a pleasing as these ephemeral beauties, destined to vanish in the sun and wind?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Eve of Destruction?

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it." 

This seems to be the mentality of an uncomfortably large number of the American electorate who, unhappy with the status quo, are looking for a quick fix.

Or a revolution.

There are the evangelicals who say that Trump was sent by God.  Try to wrap your head around that. But then Billy Graham's daughter says God sends terrorists to remind us we need him. Maybe Trump is a reminder along the same lines. But I digress.

Of course many of these evangelicals are the same folks who would welcome Armageddon, who love the conflict in the Middle East as it brings the world closer to what they see as the biblical End Times. Could it be that the Beast with Bad Hair is foretold in Revelations? Oops, there I go digressing again.

Then there's the Bernie or Bust group who, if their candidate doesn’t get the nod, say they'd welcome the cataclysm that is Trump – to destroy the system.

 And then what?

I see the frustration so many feel as they watch the world they knew changing, the world in which their status and privilege was a birthright. I see the fear of the unknown so many feel as social mores shift. And I see the impatience of so many with the Byzantine nomination process and party politics. . .

Burn it down and build anew?

I don't trust what might follow that revolution. I agree that we need change but, divided as our country is, one person's welcome change would surely be another person's idea of tyranny. 

The change we need will require not revolution but a tedious, boring, frustratingly adult enterprise –a slow, two steps forward, one step back, process. It will necessitate compromise. Are there are enough adults in the electorate to accomplish this?

Meanwhile, the buzzards are circling.