Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

My Yellowstone Summer

July 20, 2016

’A Yellowstone double-rainbow


With two months behind me at the park, I’m beginning to sound as if I know something about this place.  I still regularly “beg for mercy,” as my yoga teacher taught me to do, but I’m growing confident enough to use the park-wide radio and to issue the Junior Ranger’s pledge without cribbing it from the booklet.

Ahead is the bison rut.  Already the herds are heading toward Hayden Valley like frat boys flooding into the streets of university towns after football games, and cars are backed up for miles as the occupants in the first vehicle aim their multiple picture-taking devices to get their 1000th picture.  Just in case the first 999 don’t turn out.

It’s easy to get jaded when the largest percentage of questions include “What is there to do here?” and “Where can we see bears?”  People have to drive hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to this out-of-the way spot, but it’s still not a long enough journey to drop their consumer orientation.

Not that they’re solely to blame.  The parks want to suck every last dollar from your wallet; even our interpretation guidelines counsel the same techniques as Superbowl ads:  hook ’em in emotionally and then they’ll care about your product, regardless of what you’re selling.  As a culture, we’re becoming so used to being emotionally pushed and pulled that we’re growing shell-shocked.  Maybe that’s why people come out here to this extreme environment:  to press themselves against something so unlike their everyday existence that they can find the reset button and erase what is inessential.

I guess I’ll just decide to believe this is true.  Because there’s no absolute truth out there, just individual convictions that, if you’ve made the choice to live consciously, you must be forever re-calibrating, ensuring your ideals are doing the least amount of harm to all we share this blue planet with.  It’s exhausting and rarely gains you any peace of mind, fame, or financial stability, but when you’re in a place like Yellowstone National Park, watching the bison herds migrate as they have for millennia and the cutthroat trout leap the rapids to spawn and the elk cows struggling to protect their calves, you know it’s what you’ve signed on to do.

winds of change

April 13, 2015

A truly wise person will not be carried away by any of the eight winds:  prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, praise, censure, suffering, pleasure.


It is too soon to tell whether my next adventure will be a failure or a success.   Undoubtedly, both judgments will take turns tramping across my consciousness, whether in the midst of a sleepless night or in the dazzling rays of the setting sun.  There will be moments when I’m cast deep into despair, overwhelmed and exhausted.  Then there will be times I will want to pinch myself, incredulous at how much pleasure and beauty have manifested in my life.

Spring in central Virginia offers one of the best exercises in perceiving how quickly potential shifts.  Grey rainy days caution that winter’s retreat isn’t complete.  The next day, blue skies and mild temperatures tempt us, caution thrown to the warm wind as we step outside in short sleeves and bare feet.  One afternoon I walk by a shrub tight with buds; the next, its extravagant blossoms spill forth in colorful riot.

Every beginning starts with an ending, as inextricably mixed as sorrow and joy.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, our good news comes at the expense of another’s loss.  It is the economy, the ecology, of life.

I have little to add in comprehending this cycle of eternal resurgence, especially when so many talented others have offered their insights, works of art that comfort us at our lowest points and send our moments of celebrations into a higher pitch.  As I stand at this threshold, I want simply to capture my feelings and to say a prayer I hope I’ll remember in the months ahead.


Cherry picking

June 2, 2013
cherry pie

a perfect cherry pie

I was 4 or 5 when we lived in the house with a cherry tree in the backyard.  I remember the spring it fruited. I can’t recall whether my sister and I picked them or simply gathered them from the ground, which makes more sense given how small we were. My thought was to gather them all and produce cherry jam that we would sell to our neighbors. Unfortunately, my method of creating this jam wasn’t informed by any consultation with an adult.  I figured all we’d have to do was to smash them together, which was an unfortunate decision.  The impossibility of getting an edible jam from this mess became clear to me only after we’d given them all a good smashing. Seeing my dejection over this error, my mom suggested I take a bottle down the street, where an elderly neighbor said she would be delighted to buy it, pits and all.

After I blew my first opportunity to enjoy an abundance of cherries, I didn’t have another chance to enjoy another until I was in my fourth decade. That June I had a job shuttling historic garden symposium attendees from the residence hall to various sites, one of which was Monticello, the institution where I’m further employed as a guide of Jefferson’s garden.  The days the group was up on TJ’s mountaintop, sitting through talks I’d already heard, I wandered the gardens and grounds, catching up with fellow employees and picking cherries.

It was a bumper season for cherries in Jefferson’s orchards, and the way I looked at, I was being paid to pick them. The Monticello gardeners had more important things to do on the clock.  Luckily not many visitors ventured that far from the vegetable garden, so there were few if any witnesses to my exceedingly dangerous perches, as I inched myself up higher and higher in the trees, trying to grab the ripe fruit. The weather that June was beautiful. And often as I reached for a bright red sour cherry, I could see the green line of orchard and forest and the brilliant blue sky dotted with clouds and feel again how lucky I was.

Better even than the fruit I picked with my own hands was the fruit picked by 4 or 5 attendees who, realizing that they couldn’t carry the fruit home with them, graciously gave them to me. That spring I spent a lot of time pitting (I’d learned at least this), making jam, a few pies, and freezing the rest. There are few things more delightful than a sour cherry pie at the end of autumn or even deep into winter since cherries freeze much better than strawberries or peaches.

The next year’s harvest was a bust, but in 2008, the trees sprang back. I took my boyfriend-at-the time with me and managed through seriously applied effort to have more than any sane person needed. It was that season, I believe, that my digestion got wonky from constant cherry consumption, and in searching for ways to preserve them beyond freezing, I tried out a recipe for cherry syrup that didn’t require pitting and is one of the few things that makes vodka palatable.

Since then, while I’ve continued to tour guests around the gardens each June, coming early to pick cherries or lingering afterward, I’ve only gathered enough to make a pie or two. The luxuries of jam and syrup seem behind me now, as I’ve resolved that this year is my last at TJ’s, and this year’s fruit not only is scanty in number but in size. In the nine years I’ve been there, I haven’t seen cherries with such thin meat. Unless I buy a quart at the farmer’s market, there won’t be a pie.

Where I live in town used to be blocks of stately homes, some of which were converted to office buildings when the hospital took up residence by mid-century. Now, with the hospital gone, the area’s real estate market is soft. Perhaps that’s why the owner of a house about 150 yards away is leaving his cinderblock wreck abandoned, waiting for an uptick before he unloads it.

I call that neglected yard “Bandit’s Field,” since it’s my cat Bandit’s particular haunt. The owner — no doubt the original owner’s descendant — comes every month or more to cut back an increasingly smaller amount of grass as trumpet vine and ailanthus claim the remainder. A small amount of tulips, hyacinths, spanish bluebells, and irises bloom, and there’s a pear tree, a fig that will only fruit if someone transplants it elsewhere, some mulberries, and a cherry tree. I’ve picked a few of the flowers, tasted a few mulberries, and bemoaned the pears fallen from the high branches of the unpruned tree splattered over the ground. But I hadn’t tasted a cherry until this year. I go to “Bandit’s Field” several times a day to call Bandit home and noted the fruit. Not a lot and too high above, I figured, for any significant haul. Plus I figured the birds would get them well before they’d ripened. But the birds have been distracted by the quantity of easy-picking mulberries, and today I noticed ripe cherries lying on the ground. The intact ones I put into my mouth with no qualms. Nothing could be more organic than this fruit that had not been sprayed falling in the tall grass of a lot that was neglected.

They were some of the most delicious cherries I could remember having. Not large and juicy like the ones from my early bonanzas, but their lack of volume was compensated by the delicate, singular tartness. There weren’t many, and some the insects had already gotten to, but still there were more than I would have supposed. I pondered briefly the possibility of getting a ladder in order to get those out of reach, but knew I wouldn’t go that far. After tasting a few, I wanted more. As I searched the long grass for the bright red baubles, I heard a plop. A minute later, another. Fruit was falling softly all around. It seemed to me at that moment that the tree was picking its fruit for me, the only person in a long while to be found circling below, full of appreciation for its bounty.

That’s what I’ve been doing every hour or two this Sunday. As a cold front moves closer, the winds have picked up, so when I need a break, I head over to “Bandit’s Field” to see if more cherries have fallen. More than the importance of pitting cherries before making jam, in the last 10 years especially I have learned that Nature has its own economy. Some years you’ll leave fruit on the tree, unable to keep up with the harvest. Other years you’ll treasure the memory of a scattering of cherries falling at your feet like the gift they always are.

wish list

May 28, 2012

At the beginning of each month I write out a list of what I’d like to buy with my disposable cash. I’ve been doing this for years now.  I’ve been so broke at times that the smallest things — moisturizer, hangers, running shoes, a swim pass — are great luxuries.  Now I find that when I start whining that all I do with my income is pay bills, I can take out this list, see what I’ve wished for and checked off, and shut up.

It’s certain that I don’t get to everything on my list the first month I write it down.  May has almost spooled out her days and “batteries” remains, for instance.  Batteries for the camera my friend gave me so I could take pictures of Bandit (he’s so cute I’m afraid someone will grab him and I’ll be making “Lost kitten” signs); batteries so I could take pictures for this blog.  I know next month’s list will identify “haircut” and maybe “save for vacation,” but I’m hoping “batteries” will eventually be crossed off.  It’s long past time for something visual.

The beauties of spring have rushed by:  azaleas and lilacs, peonies and irises, locust and catalpa blossoms.  Even the honeysuckle has gone, leaving the fireflies alone to decorate the twilight.  As I think about what lies ahead, I can write down the things I wish to purchase, perhaps because such wishes are small — they are merely material goods, in the end, those things easily foregone.  But I can’t bring myself to name any dearer wish for this summer like love or art, joy or peace.  Being a clever girl, I could rationalize my resistance, but deep down I’m simply a coward.  To name one’s desire is to provide the terms of one’s failure.  

A friend copied down this Sophocles fragment on Aphrodite which I will lean on to complete this unfinished thought:

She is called by many names
She is Hades, she is immortal life, she is raving madness, she is
untempered desire, she is lamentation.
In her is all activity, all tranquility, all that leads to violence,
for she sinks into the vitals of all that have life.
Which among the gods does she not wrestle and throw 3 times?
She rules over the heart of Zeus without spear, without iron.
All the plans of mortals and of gods are cut short by the Cyrian.

Name or unnamed, the truth is that desire lies deep within us, moving our lives forward.  This summer I will try to work harder wrestling with the important battles and leave the shopping lists for another season.

Christmas 2010

December 19, 2010

“Meanwhile, here we are, American riders on the short bus, barreling into the Grand Canyon.”

Things are so completely wrong culturally, politically, economically, spiritually, that I can bear only discussions that contain a strong dose of contemptuous satire.  Here’s Joe Bageant’s latest I love the way he lashes into the John Stewart rally:  “Progressives also fancy a revolution, one in which they participate through the Internet petitions, and media events such as the risk free Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity, where no one risked even missing an episode of Tremaine. Seeing people like themselves on television was proof fighting the good fight. The Stewart rally was nonetheless culturally historic; we will never see a larger public display of post modern irony congratulating itself.”  Hey! Here’s a question for all those rally attenders to ponder:  Who were you texting when a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President gutted the progressive tax system?

The light dusting of snow we had a few days ago makes the moonlit nights beautiful, but not even a full-scale blizzard would stop people from sitting in the “last shopping weekend before Christmas” traffic and trolling mall parking lots for the single open space so they can buy something to put under their 50 dollar  Christmas tree.   The sad reality is that most people are hoping that if they go through the motions of the most accessible elements of Christmas that somehow they’ll receive a moment of grace, kind of like the way you act when you’ve had too many drinks and you don’t want anyone to know you’re three sheets to the wind so you go through the motions slowly and breathe a sigh of relief when no cop pulls you over.   Dodging a bullet — is that our definition of success this year?

Consumer saving is up this year only because people are starting to pay their credit card debts.  Oil prices are rising due to the zero percent interest rates offered by the Feds to the banks, whose investment managers are once again buying up commodities instead of investing in American infrastructure.  Let’s be honest:  if you had any money, would you invest it in America?  It’s like giving a dollar to a bum.   But why should I be judgmental?  At least about the bum.  About the rich — I can’t help it.  Fitzgerald was right:  they are different from you and me.  Their lying, cheating and stealing is protected not only by the government and its laws but reinforced by the images every available media outlet shoves down our  collective cake-holes.

Like any other addict trying to avoid reality, I’ll keep on listening to Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” and comparing Dinah Washington’s version of “I Thought About You” to Mildred Bailey’s.   I’ve got enough Wild Turkey left for a few more hot toddies, enough chocolate to see me through the dreaded 25th, and enough friends who keep up the fight to live a conscious life.   Those are reasons enough to feel grateful this Christmas.

on the right track

October 18, 2010

From one of my favorite web news sites Counterpunch comes this excerpt of a Zizek essay.  Read it when your mind is clear and your stomach is growling for some intelligent political commentary.

There’s a lot of good stuff packed thick in here, but I was hooked when I read the following:

What if, in truth, intellectuals lead basically safe and comfortable lives, and in order to justify their livelihoods, construct scenarios of radical catastrophe? For many, no doubt, if a revolution is taking place, it should occur at a safe distance—Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela—so that, while their hearts are warmed by thinking about faraway events, they can go on promoting their careers.

I think of my fellow Marxist grad students now ensconced in tenure-track jobs, thanking their lucky stars.  I’m not saying that anything I’m doing is changing the world, but I haven’t forgotten what we said we were fighting for.