Category Archives: Gary Snyder

ordinary friday (list)

sure signs of spring in the yard

sure signs of spring in the yard

morning snuggle
tiny boy in fleece footie pajamas
three way hug before Poppa leaves for work
morning diaper change (a wrestling match on the kitchen floor)
breakfast debate settled
pot of oatmeal and toast prepared and served to a toddler who deigns to eat them
trash out
coffee made
comfort boy after a fall
take the mail out
notice birds singing as I walk back down the driveway from the mailbox
freshly turned garden earth glistening dark in the morning dampness,
waiting for my tweaked back to mend
so i can get out there and rake out the weeds
mop the latest iteration of muddy dogprints off the kitchen floor
move laundry into the dryer
3 emails answered
pack bag for boy’s weekend with Grandma
turn the house upside down in search of his Other Rainboot, (again), fruitlessly
edit press release for client
continue the great family paperwork Filing project
remember to feed myself around 10:30,
cold oatmeal with maplesyrup and soymilk in a wooden bowl with a kid spoon
boil water for the chickpeas I soaked overnight
change the sheets
check the chickpeas
make the boy more toast
help him fix a car
flip through Gary Snyder’s Collected Works while picking up the bedroom
stare for a little while at notes I scrawled in the margins when I was 21
and then put it on the shelf
and drop to my knees to look for the Other Boot
under our bed
add oil to the car that burns oil
grocery shop for the boy’s weekend away
deal with several separate tantrums, in various locations
pass two different people crying on the sidewalk,
5 miles apart from each other
and practice tonglen
realize I’ve added too much oil to the car
research the implications of this
and schedule an appointment to have it drained and changed before work
file more paperwork
make lunch
(kale chickpea quesadillas with vegan cheese and appleslices)
visit with Ma
bundle the boy off to Grandma’s
“I be back,” he assures me from his carseat
and I am glad that I feel like laughing instead of crying
If our son is independent
if our son is compassionate
if our son knows something about fearlessness
then we have done well.
get the oil changed
recycle the mail, because it is all irrelevant
dress for work

and practice gratitude
for all of this

even when its hard

its beautiful

"Beep beep."

“Beep beep.”

tilled and ready

tilled and ready

loves kale.

loves kale.

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Filed under basic goodness, blue collar, doldrums, facing east, Family, Garden, Gary Snyder, gathering, gratitude, Labor, motherhood, Ordinary, photographs, poetry, spring, stories, unrepentantly unedited, waitressing, watching it all go by

Coexistence

images

I’ve been particularly attuned to the weather for the last few weeks, because I planted my autumn/winter garden seeds at the beginning of September. Walking to work on nice days, I’ve been guessing at the heat of the light and the number of hours its been landing on the garden, warming the seeds. We had lots of days like that, interspersed with gentle September rainbursts, which I gloried in, imagining the droplets seeping down through warm soil to nourish emerging seeds. It was the perfect weather for starting a cool-season garden.

autumn in the garden 1: ripening tomato

autumn in the garden 1: ripening tomato

Witnessing vegetables sprout from seeds is one of my favorite things, so I watch my garden like a hawk in the days after I plant it. When they’ve had enough time to germinate, I start checking every few hours, increasingly giddy and paranoid. Giddy because I know tiny green shoots will appear at any moment. Paranoid because I know as soon as the shoots appear, the snails will come. They decimated my spring starts, migrating into my garden under cover of darkness by the hundreds and chomping the plants down to the dirt. So, as I took satisfaction in the garden-friendly September weather, I also because increasingly neurotic, imagining hordes of gastropods converging on my garden to destroy everything I’d planted and yearned for.

Autumn in the garden 2: pumpkins

Autumn in the garden 2: pumpkins

As the day neared when the seeds would sprout into the daylight, I became increasingly obsessed with tactics to protect them. I could use poison to keep the snails out. Or something less toxic; say a beer trap for them to slime into and drown. I could even follow the example of New Zealand grandmother Oriole Parker-Rhodes, who decided to one-up the helix aspersa by harvesting them right along with her garden veggies and serving them up in butter and garlic.

Oriole Parker-Rhodes

Oriole Parker-Rhodes

But weirdly enough, even though the snails destroy something I love SO much… I can’t bring myself to kill them. For a couple reasons.

First: its hard for me to kill anything, honestly, which is part of the reason why I am mostly vegan. [I eat fish maybe once a month, cheese once a week or so, and meat once or twice a year. Every meal I cook at home is vegan.]

Second: I’ve come to realize that each of my actions—particularly those that involve consumption—have far reaching consequences. I recently discovered that, in addition to creating a carbon footprint, I am also creating a water footprint. Josh Harkinson recently published a fantastic article on the subject in Mother Jones. Chew on this:

[Farmer] Shawn Coburn, turned toward me and demanded if I knew how much water it took to grow one almond, a cantaloupe, or a pound of tomato paste. (I didn’t. Turns out it’s 1 gallon, 25 gallons, and 55 gallons, respectively.) “The people in the city, they don’t know what their footprint on nature is,” he scoffed. “They sit there in an ivory tower and don’t realize what it takes to keep them alive.”

autumn in the garden 3: peppers

autumn in the garden 3: peppers

Farmer Shawn is right. We have no idea what it takes to keep us alive. After reading Harkinson’s article, I did some research and discovered that being mostly-vegan also enables me to reduce my water footprint by nearly TWO TONS every year. Once I learned that, I became obsessed with my two tons of not-wasted water. Where was it? I started imagining a tiny, two-ton alpine lake, ringed with talus slopes and huckleberry plants. Every day in the year I abstain from consuming animal products, the lake gets a little deeper. If I’m dawdling in the shower, I picture my lake-level dropping, and I turn the water off. I try to only water my garden at night or in the early morning, and if a dry spell goes on for too long, I will stop watering altogether and let my garden die until the rains come again.

I suspect that, akin to the imaginary lake filled with water I have Not wasted, there is an unseen ecological consequence of all the snails I have Not killed.

I’m not against using scare tactics. The other day, while helping me rake leaves and fill holes our dogs had dug in the yard, my friend Gretchen picked up a snail to study it more closely. Her chocolate lab puppy Butters darted up and licked the snail, top to bottom.

Butters, prior to snail-attack, in bottom left.

Butters, prior to snail-attack, in bottom left.

Gretchen turned the snail to face her and informed it seriously: “Tell all your friends. This is what we do to snails around here.” Then she tucked it safely in an empty potting container, from whence I deposited it in the (covered) compost cone later that day, to live out its snail-life in a paradise of rotting vegetable matter.

I’m too lazy and squeamish to pick them off my garden at night with a flashlight, like Thich Naht Hahn does at Plum Village. Some online gardeners suggest lining your garden with hair clippings, but I don’t have any at the moment. I have lots of dog hair, but I’m sure it would blow away. Eggshells are also supposed to dissuade snails from crossing into your garden, but being a predominantly vegan household, we don’t generate any eggshells. Copper is also rumored to dissuade snails and slugs via a tiny shock to their tender bellies (vaguely Guantanamo, but still non-lethal), so I tried lining my garden with pennies. It seemed to be working, but then they started getting knocked off the edge of the bed by unshocked and/or braver snails, clearing a path for their legions of followers.

By the time I’d pulled together a little extra cash to buy copper wire to wrap around my 36 foot garden perimeter, it was too late. The snails had made short work of my babies. Six rows of winter greens, chomped all the way down to the root. And despite all those hours of obsessing over my seeds, weather patterns, and non-lethal slug aversion techniques, I wasn’t angry at first. Just sad and frustrated.

I comforted myself with the concept of coexistence. I thought of a conversation I had last week with Dharma teacher and organic gardener Dan Peterson, who reflected thoughtfully that the snails probably enjoyed eating his garden just as much as he did. Staring ruefully at my decimated garden, I thought about Aldo Leopold, who noted in the Sand County Almanac, that humans are simply “plain members of the biotic community.” Who’s to say those snails’ pleasure is any less important than mine? I’ve identified philosophically with deep ecology since my early twenties romance with the writings of Gary Snyder. I agree with deep ecology’s founder Arne Næss, who wrote in 1973: “The right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species.”

Still, this was MY garden! Those winter greens belonged to Ryan and I. We were going to use the kale in soups, as and bake it in olive oil and salt. The spinach was going to get drowned in peanut sauce and served up with tofu, and the rainbow chard was destined for hundreds of breakfast scrambles. I clambered into the garden and knelt down, searching in vain for any surviving green. There was none. Now I was mad. I shouted at the alley, and retreated into the house.

Later, I listened to a recording of a talk Dan Peterson had given at the Seattle Shambhala Center on mind terma, the treasures of Buddhist teaching passed from teacher to student through the generations. I’m not a practicing Buddhist, and I have trouble sitting still, so a lot of Buddhist teachings sail straight over my head. But Dan tells great stories, and his talk pulled me in. He talked about “how we wake up, moment by moment.” I thought of all those days I’d taken note of the weather and the light, and all the times I’d knelt by the edge of the garden to watch for the tiny miracle of green sprouts pushing their way up through the dirt. Moment after moment of awakening to my surroundings, to the intimate process of growing food. The moment of discovering decimation by snails contained an equal amount of awe— awe at destruction, not creation. But in that destruction, the snails thrived, and something else was created. Dan told a story from his own garden:

In the morning I go out into the garden in my barefeet to water, and I had the experience of stepping barefoot on a slug. It felt like electricity. It was a sentient being! So I would gather the slugs in a plastic container and carry them to my compost heap. I kept it moist, and they were fine there. Later, I found literally fifty to eighty slugs coming out of the compost heap, and they were all lined up in the same direction, going back to the garden! Our regard for what we call slugs can be east. We can be facing east when we look at a slug. There’s no enemy.

By facing east, Dan was referring to a Shambhala chant. “Radiating confidence, peaceful, illuminating the way of discipline, Eternal Ruler of the Three Worlds, may the Great Eastern Sun be victorious.” He explained:

The East represents richness, brilliance, and is the quality of unconditional experience… Peaceful means that there’s no aggression, which means there’s no territory. There’s complete openness. With no territory, there is primordial confidence. There’s nothing to defend, no enemy. This is a lot of conceptual load to put onto the simplicity of direct experience, but I think its helpful to point out that’s what happening. There’s no enemy… Radiating confidence, peaceful, is east.

I tried facing east. Watching snails destroy my planting, after all those weeks of tending and watching and waiting, was an opportunity. A pile of direct experience to wade into and consider.

There is no territory. The garden Ryan and I built belongs no more to me than it does to the snails. The land the garden sits on belongs no more to my landlord than it does to me. We are all of us only dwelling here for a little while. Here, in my decimated garden, was my deep ecology philosophy made real. How could I be angry? There was no enemy. I took deep breaths. Felt peaceful.

A couple brussel sprout plants were large enough to survived the snails, so today I planted some company for them. Stopped by the West Seattle Nursery and picked up small starts of red cabbage, kale, broccoli, winter greens mix, and some onion and garlic bulbs, all big enough to (hopefully) survive the oncoming snails and frosts.

starting over.

starting over.

It begins again.

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Filed under Aldo Leopold, Arne Næss, autumn weather, coexistence, Dan Peterson, Deep Ecology, facing east, Food, Garden, Gary Snyder, mostly vegan, Sand County Almanac, september in seattle, Shambhala Buddhism, snails in the garden, water footprint, West Seattle Nursery, winter garden

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.


I still remember the first time I heard him say that, eight years ago this month, September 20, 2001. I heard the audio clip again today, sampled at the end of a hiphop track, and it gave me chills.

There was the America I lived in before he said that, and there was the America I lived in after. I am still trying to figure out what changed.

journal, 10 September, 2001. day off today, decent weather. decided to have a try at making the hike-climb to Camp Muir. Left Guidehouse around 10:45 or so and began trudging up the cement trails to Pebble Creek. Around Panorama point, I reflect on an orderpad (brought along cuz its lighter than the journal) “the breezes coming off the mountain are cold from the glaciers, and sweep away everything that lingers.” felt an incredible sense of peace and singleness of purpose as I passed through subapline meadows and hiked up into the fellfields. Notice for the first time that the waterfall coming off the Wilson Glacier disappears entirely into the loose rock above the Nisqually Glacier, as if it is funneling into a chute. No snow on St. Helens, but a fair amount on Adams. The Cascades stretch out in front of me to the ocean, ridgeline after bluegreenpurple ridgeline, like the shapes left in the sand after a giant wave has receded back into the sea. On that note, notice that the waterfalls coming off the mountain sound exactly like the ocean roar, and the occasional icefall or rockslide sounds much like the breaking of larger waves.

September 11 came at the end of my twentieth summer, which I spent living and waitressing in Paradise, the small employee village/tourist destination on the southwestern flank of Mt. Rainier.

Paradise is the small cluster of buildings in the sunlight beneath the clouds

Paradise is the small cluster of buildings in the sunlight beneath the clouds

The mountainsides were turning fall colors, and I was reading a lot of Beat poetry, and picking a lot of huckleberries, having figured out where the tastiest ones grew from a Gary Snyder poem: “Delicate blue-black, sweeter from the meadows, small and tart in the valleys with light blue dust.”
huckleberries 01

I was cynical about the new Bush administration, angry that the country had just laid down and let him take office when it was clear that something was rotten in Florida. I was unnerved by the prospect of a political dynasty, and the administration’s potential for doing harm. But I wasn’t afraid of them yet. Resenting corrupt national leaders seemed in keeping with being twenty and enamored of the Beat poets and living in the mountains. I figured they’d do some damage, and get voted out in four years, and we’d go to some rallies and make some good art about it. I didn’t understand yet all the ways people could get hurt. Would get hurt.

On September 10th, I set out to hike to Camp Muir, the primary base camp for mountaineers attempting the summit of Rainier. I’d been eying the hike all summer. None of my friends had the day off to go with me, so I went alone. Its no easy day hike— you ascend nearly five thousand feet in less than five miles, and the last portion of the hike crosses the Muir snowfield, which is prone to frequent whiteouts. That summer, enough snow had melted to expose crevasses on the snowfield, something none of the mountaineering guides could remember in recent decades. I was prepared, but also young, and bent on proving to myself and everyone else that I could. My male friends were constantly going off on solo hikes, but women were cautioned not to hike alone, and it rankled me. So I set off, with my ten essentials and my extra water bottles, on a sunny, clear-skied September day.
crevasse2

“in early afternoon, i finally hop over the last narrow crevasse and hike into the camp, tucked in the bowl between Cowlitz Cleaver and Anvil Rock. Sit leaning against the shelter looking out over the Tatoosh range, which seems so small now. The sun is warm, and the hiss of campstoves comes from all corners, as climbers melt snow for their water bottles. Most will leave sometime tonight to attempt the summit. We’ve watched their lights from Paradise before, nudging up those last four thousand feet in the dark, and its strange to be here now, looking out across the world from ten thousand feet. It was work getting up here, but I’m not really tired or sore. Steep slopes of snow angling down before the rest of the lowlands, crevasses cutting through the snowfield and the glaciers all around. Take a small nap on the little plateau, and talk with a few climbers, then slip slide back down the snowfield and trudge back down to Paradise.”

That night, I was sitting in the employee dining room, eating some food-service-of-america-brand dinner, writing about the hike in my journal. Two of my coworkers came in to make pb and j’s for a hike, and told me they were setting out to camp on Pinnacle Peak. Within twenty minutes, I’d traded my September 11th breakfast shift for someone’s lunch shift and re-packed my backpack. We drove down to the Pinnacle Peak trailhead at the foot of the Tatoosh Range, just below Paradise, parked the car, and turned on our headlamps.

ten percent of the time, we are hiking on the trail, and 90 percent of the time we are winging it, navigating scree slopes by Petzlglow beneath dark peaks silhouetted against a sky absolutely overflowing with stars, clambering down rockslides and cutting mountaingoat style across rockfaces. we find a spectacular little plateau on the backside of Castle Peak and unroll our sleeping pads. the plateau is on a saddle between two of the Tatoosh mountains, which means we can see the small cluster of lights on Rainier that is Paradise behind us, and the small cluster of lights downvalley which is the town of Packwood before us. We pass around a bottle of Sammy Smith oatmeal stout, and watch the moon rise. For a time, it is an eerie shade of red, as it passes through the more chemical-laden slice of our atmosphere, then it fades to yellow and then bright white as it ascends. The night grows cold, and I don’t sleep much. Crazy sunrise in the morning, like laying under a heatlamp by eight. We eat pb and j and pick huckleberries for breakfast, then clamber straight down the side of Castle and bushwhack our way to the car, talking about vagabondage and Merle Haggard.

I think: I could live like this all the time, and be really happy. love having fingers that smell like pine and are covered in dirt and huckleberry stains.

back at Paradise, I run up the stairs to my dorm room. Throw on a black skirt and the cleanest white shirt I can find, splash water on my face and hair. I am digging for a clean apron in the mess on the floor when another waitress pokes her head through the door. She says “someone flew a plane into the world trade center!” I picture the small airplane that had crashed on the lawn of the White House sometime in recent memory, and i say, “oh, how bizzare.” Realize I’m truly late for work, and finish getting dressed as I run to the dining room, picking the dirt out from under my fingernails and adjusting the knot on my tie.

8 years later, I remember how quiet it was in the dining room when I came running through the double doors. All the servers, bussers, and hosts were standing on the little platform by the bar window, peering through at the only television set in the lodge. The footage was a few hours old by then, and we weren’t entirely convinced it was real. Smoke billowing out of downtown New York. The planes, flying into the side of the towers. The tiny specks that were people’s bodies, leaping from the inferno. The dumbstruck newscasters. It was all too much like a movie. As it turned out, so was what followed.

Because no one wanted to fly anymore, out-state-guests canceled their reservations at the lodge. The shell-shocked, somber national mood dovetailed with the end of the summer season, and every morning we waited on a smaller group of tourists, refilling coffee cups and moving quietly among tables where everyone was reading the same newspaper. The air grew cooler, and the rain and fog settled in around us. We kept living the way we had been, taking hikes in between shifts and sitting next to bonfires and playing out summer romances.

On September 23rd, I copied Ed Abbey’s definition of somnolence out of Desert Solitaire: “a heaviness in the air, a chill in the sunlight, an oppressive stillness in the atmosphere that hints of much, but says nothing.”

As Bush ramped up the nation to invade Afghanistan, my best friend and roommate Erin and I ripped up a sheet and painted banners to hang out our third floor dormitory window: “War IS terrorism,” we proclaimed to the emptying parking lots.

erin sitting beneath our banner, journalling.

erin sitting beneath our banner outside of Guidehouse, our dormitory building, writing in her journal.

We realized the president was asking us to take sides. His speeches, which we clipped out of the Tacoma News Tribune, reduced reality to two dimensions. There was good, and there was evil, and you were one, or you were the other. Young as we were, we were unnerved, and not fooled.

journalsept 01
8 years later, I am married, and 28. I live with my husband and my dog in a sweet little house with a garden near the water in West Seattle. I’ve gotten a master’s degree and written a book manuscript. I am still a waitress. My life is good. Erin is 29, married with a stepdaughter in a sweet little house in Portland. She’s been the editor of a newspaper, has gotten a master’s degree, and has learned to surf. We still read beat poetry, write in our journals. The war George Bush began has lasted nearly the entire decade of our twenties.

21 September 2001, Friday. weather comes and goes today. Rained a bit. Bush says you’re either with America or for terrorism. I refuse to believe its that black and white. especially when I seem to remember laerning that America trained a lot of these “terrorists” in Afghanistan back in the 80s to fight communist Russia? So much for good versus evil. how do you mobilize against “terrorism,” anyway? Bombing the Middle East will accomplish the following, in my uneducated opinion:
1. the deaths of untold numbers of Muslims from violence, starvation, and “smart bombing” (which will be continually three steps behind the “real terrorists”)
2. More terrorism.
3. racism, rampant prejudice, alienation and violence against Muslims and brown people in the United States.
4. on the “plus” side, war is often good for the economy, and solidarity among many Americans will increase, at least temporarily, which tends to happen when you think evil people are trying to kill you. Consequence: the country will rally behind our “leader” and let him get away with pretty much whatever he wants.

8 years later, change in presidential administrations notwithstanding, Operation Enduring Freedom is still churning merrily along. America has gone bankrupt, but plenty of golden parachutes have opened, sparing corporate execs a bumpy landing in the ravaged economy. Some corporations—primarily prescription drug companies and defense contractors— have actually managed to get richer. (Bad times are good for buzzards). We’ve had other Hallmark moments; in August of 2006, American citizens drowned in New Orleans because the National Guard was stationed in Iraq and the national leadership was too busy plotting war and buying shoes. We’ve merrily ignored genocide in Darfur, installed new puppet governments in the Middle East, and made torture part of our “national security” program.

Last month—August 2009—was the deadliest month to date in the war in Afghanistan. 77 coalition soldiers died… that’s 2 people a day, and 3 on Sundays. 199 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year alone—the highest casualty rate sustained since we invaded in 2001 to root out Osama bin Laden. Who, eight years later, is reputedly alive, well, and releasing more videotapes. The Taliban now controls an estimated eighty percent of Afghanistan. 2009 set another record as well, while we’re on the subject: in the first six months of 2009, over 1000 Afghani civilians died, a 24 % increase from 2008. .

Eight years later, I realize there’s very little connection left between the people of Afghanistan and those New Yorkers who held hands and jumped into the sky. I realize there was never really much of a connection to begin with, and what connection there was got lost in the mud of a war waged in Iraq under entirely false premises.

America claims to have turned over a new leaf. I’m not sure what’s actually changed.

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Filed under 11 September 2001, Americana, Barack Obama, Change, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, History, Mt. Rainier National Park, Nostalgia Trip, Ordinary, outside, Peace, violence, waitressing