Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Two zebras on a snowy plain stop me, mid-run. They are surrounded by mountains. And ensnared in a static block of ice. Zebras so out of their element that it's like seeing them for the first time. How many visitors to New York City identify with their stilled confusion? I do.
The zebras hover, wary, over a parking lot adjacent to the High Line in Manhattan. Their disorientation is our art — the High Line a living, changing artscape. The Empire State Building presides from the northeast. The Hudson River flows, just to the west. Tenth Avenue delivers a perpetual surge of traffic northward.
These aren't the only disoriented zebras I've seen today. In "Life of Pi" a zebra leaps from a sinking ship and lands in a lifeboat. The movie, a gem by Ang Lee, and the book by Yann Martel, trap us just as surely in rectangular worlds every bit as strange and beautiful and wrenching.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Now he says "I misspoke"
When you're anointed, as Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri seems to think he is, you don't have to sully yourself with feelings, compassion, empathy or even facts. If a woman is raped, then Mother Nature will take care of it. His statement Sunday — "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" — is the best thing to happen to Jon Stewart since Dick Cheney went a spell without a pulse. Get Akin off the Republican ticket for the Senate and send him to summer school.
Imagine Todd Akin administering the rape kit on an episode of Law and Order, SVU:
"Hey, lady, was that a legitimate rape or fake rape?"
"And, by the way, just what were you wearing?"
"Worried about getting pregnant because you're single? Married with kids? A student struggling to make ends meet? Sorry. You nurture that zygote or pray to Mother Nature for a divine intervention."
Enough. I can't believe we're buying health insurance for Todd Akin when people with brains go without.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The mouse and I live quite peaceably.Her seed turds are a message:Hello. I'm here. I'm lovin' your digs.
Friday, March 30, 2012
I purchased this "mircosalad" at the farmers market
in Union Square, Manhattan.
It's made up of shoots from a variety of vegetables.
Buying organic at your grocery store doesn’t ensure that any of the extra money you’re paying for your produce is going to make it all the way back to the farm workers who pick the food. Whether they pick organic or not, theirs is a grueling thankless job with little reward beyond bare bones survival.
When driving through the vast fields of vegetables in Homestead, Florida, on my way to the Everglades or the Keys for a winter vacation, I always wonder: Why can’t we pay for the true value of our lettuce and our tomatoes? I would rather pay $5 for a head of lettuce so the man out in the field could make enough money to live in a house and feed his family.
In a county of bounty, such as ours, where people in mega stores like Costco and Walmart fill up enormous shopping carts with food, we lose perspective. We are so blinded by our largess that we cannot comprehend the real worth and beauty and deliciousness and nutritional value and importance of a crisp head of crunchy romaine. The only reason I can is because I’ve seen the bent-over pickers and I eat at least one salad a day. Lettuces and greens of all types form the base layer of a majority of my meals.
Very little of what we pay for our romaine gets back to the farm. More than 80 percent of the price of our produce goes to distribution and marketing.
Migrant workers get none of the labor protections our government affords most of us workers. There’s no such thing as sexual harassment training or videos on the ergonomic way to pick tons of bunches of grapes and trim them back so only the good ones remain.
Pickers work long hours under blazing sun. They suffer many job-related health problems, from sunstroke to crippling repetitive motion injuries to loss of use of limbs and fingers. They have no negotiating powers when it comes to the routine and deliberate shortfalls in their paychecks due to the way farmers convert their wages from piecework to hourly to comply with government requirements.
If you read Tracie McMillan’s new book, “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table,” then you will have a little better understanding of where our food comes from and why it is important to treasure every single head of lettuce. Someone somewhere picked it and trimmed it just for you. By the time it gets placed a Walmart supercenter shelf, that romaine may have been chopped to a fraction of its length and crisped and peeled back more than once by store produce workers who are paid only slightly better than the field workers.
Today I had an errand that took me to the edge of the big farmers market in Union Square, New York City. I walked through the vast array of wonderful foods, marveling at my good fortune. I saw farm workers selling the produce they grew. There were beautiful displays of spinach, root veggies including carrots, beets, potatoes and parsnips, kale, and fun microsalads made from shoots of all sorts of vegetables.
The workers brought the food to us in a truck. They probably set off at the crack of dawn in order to get set up in time for the morning rush of shoppers. I paid $5 for a small tub of microsalad that had been decorated with a few yellow pansies. This treasure I will bring with me to my friend’s house for dinner tomorrow night.
The microsalad is special. I took it from the hands of the farmer who produced it. It is beautiful to look at and it will be both delicious and nutritional. My friend will love it, too. This purchase was fortuitous on my part, but for once, my food purchase felt exactly right. I was paying for the true value of my fresh food.
Here is a link to my review of “The American Way of Eating.”
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
For Rod. For Lynn’s family. For Lynn’s loved ones. And for Lynn.
Eulogy for Lynn Harnett
on the NH/Canada border.
We had driven 25 miles on logging roads in northern New Hampshire looking for a clue to the trailhead that led to Little Hellgate Falls. The trail was extremely remote. You had to bushwhack to get to it. And we didn’t quite know where to go.
We parked the car at the designated mile marker. Was this even the right road? Lynn was excited. A good day in the woods for Lynn was a hilly run in the morning and two hikes during the day, gin and tonics on the deck overlooking First Connecticut Lake at 5, followed at 7 by a dinner made largely from vegetables Lynn harvested from her garden. Even up on the Canadian border, with a dull chopping knife and only salt and pepper to season the food,
Lynn knew how to find and create a quality experience. She was an ideal partner for any adventure life posed. Lucky were we who shared even one day in this adventure with Lynn.
Our quest for the falls was our second hike of the day. It was late afternoon and Little Hellgate Falls was in there somewhere. So was dusk. In the woods dusk is dark. And dusk awakens the wildlife.
All we had to do was find the trailhead. The whole hike was only five miles. Lynn was a runner. We could do this easily in an hour or two. We’d read that the falls got its name — Hellgate — because many a logger lost his life down there breaking up log jams. How intriguing. Lynn strode off ahead of me. No time to waste.
We were up to our shoulders in tall grasses. If there was a moose standing next to you, you wouldn’t know it. Lynn pushed on, unencumbered by anxiety or doubt. She was fearless, strong, curious, smart — the attributes of an adventurer unleashed.
These wild woods were as much Lynn’s element as the stack of books she’d piled on her nightstand back at the cabin. She’d plowthrough those books with the same resolve she plowed through the entanglement of brush.
Ahead of us, far in the distance, was a mountain. I knew Hellgate Falls was not in this direction. We were heading for Maine. Lynn flew ahead, straight into no man’s land. There was no trail. There was no sign that any human had ever trod here. A thrilling thought. Neither of us knew then that the trailhead was a mile back. We’d passed it, hidden by the brush and grasses.
Little Hellgate Falls trail was not the objective for Lynn. Though we eventually found the trailhead, it wouldn’t have mattered. Lynn was at thepeak of her game with a late afternoon bushwhack into the vast and unexplored unknown.
the source of the Connecticut River.
After dinner and perhaps some reading, Lynn would bring a drink and a cigarette out to the deck. She’d settle herself into a comfortable position and listen to the loons out on the lake. And eventually the animals would resume their noisy activities in the woods all around the cabin.
But what Lynn really loved, what engrossed her for hours at a time, was to look up into a sky so full of stars there didn’t seem to be any space left for plain black sky. As midnight approached and the dew thickened and the temperature dropped, Lynn stayed on, looking up, watching the stars shoot in all directions, big and little, bold and bright.
I’d head off to bed, too chilled, too sleepy to maintain the watch with Lynn. But when I’d get up for a glass of water or to use the bathroom, I’d look out and there was Lynn, gazing upward, fully engaged.
Just a few weeks ago, Lynn said that she had been waking up very early in the morning. At 4 am she would get something, maybe it was Ensure or maybe it was a fruit popsicle, I couldn’t quite hear what. By then, her voice was a whisper.
She said she was would sit with the silence and spend long, quiet time thinking in detail about her life. “I’m really enjoying this a lot,” she said. She felt it was a privilege to have this opportunity to reflect.
On a subsequent call, she said she’d begun to write a short memoir, or maybe, she said, you could call it an extended obit. Maybe 10 or 11 pages, she said. The next time we spoke, the project was of such interest, Lynn-the-writer said, that she’d decided to work on a complete memoir — if time allowed.
Lynn’s life defined the word “compassion,” as we all know. She understood us, perhaps at times better than we understood ourselves, and she knew what to do and say to give us truthful comfort and peace. She was not, however, self-sacrificing. She was grounded. Whatever she said and did flowed up from a core of self-knowledge and assurance that evoked our awe and respect.
In the last days of her life I suspect it began to occur to her, as she took inventory there in the growing light of early morning, that she had never deviated from her high standards. Book reviews, gardening, writing, cooking, reading drafts of our work and giving feedback, running and hiking, her honesty and authenticity — she had done everything exceptionally well and all of us shared in the bounty of Lynn.
With Lynn, you can say that hyperbole is an impossibility. No one here would disagree.
As Rod knows, because he kindly stood and held the phone for Lynn, the last words Lynn and I spoke to each other were: “I love you, good friend. Exceptional friend.” Rod said she was smiling. I think Lynn smiled because, at the end, she had taken the time to draw her life of unparalleled quality and compassion around her. She could warm and comfort herself with the success of her efforts.
Lynn died too young. And she suffered too much. But she said, “I’ve lived a good life and I’m ready for this. I am not afraid.”
This was not a story she told me to make me feel better. This is what she learned about herself at Little Hellgate Falls and that she later confirmed, with magnificent grace, in that clearing she discovered at 4 am on Marathon Key.
We cannot say thank you enough, Lynn, for the good times, good food, fine insights and deep thoughts you shared. With you, we all had a taste of the very best that life offers. What you have worked so hard to give us will not be undone by death. You will live on in the thousand ways you have touched us.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Be careful who you open your door to.
When I watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I learned that a vampire could not gain entrance to your home unless you invited him or her — or is it “it” — in.
Years before that, I learned a similar lesson. I was nine months pregnant, had just quit my job and was waiting for my daughter to be born. What I didn’t realize at the time was that she was going to be three weeks late.
I was restless and unused to holding still, so I found a temporary job inputting data. I worked in a small, hot office in Londonderry NH for a man who was enormously obese, unkempt and crude. Mostly, he wasn’t there. The worst part was the cheap office chair I had to sit in — really bad when you’re expecting any day.
This man collected, processed and sold people’s personal data. This was in 1973. Londonderry was a thriving bedroom community full of Boston-bound commuters (I was one myself). New housing developments were eating up all the apple orchards. Just a few months later, however, the economy ground to a hard stop.
So here’s what happened in June 1973:
Come on in!
Anticipating free coupons for discount meals and a cheap basket of worthless trinkets, newcomers opened their doors and invited Welcome Wagon representatives in for coffee. Over and over again.
People did not know what was really going on. Welcome Wagon was, perhaps still is, a spy network cloaked as an organization of upbeat greeters working to give you info about your new community.
The affable Welcome Wagon visitors note everything they can find out about you — the kind of car you drive, the estimated value of your home, the type of furniture you own, your estimated annual income, the number of kids you have, where you work, years left on your car payment. The more talkative you are, the more successful they are.
They then input this info into a database and sell it to anyone who wants to pay for it. You get a Happy Meal at half price or a free screening at the local dentist’s office and any company in the world willing to pay for it gets your entire personal profile. I know this because I typed in hundreds and hundreds of Welcome Wagon forms that were filled out, no doubt, in the secrecy of the car after the friendly visit and the coupon for a free Coke at McDonald’s.
Something like this is happening on a much larger and more insidious level. You don’t have to own a home to be violated. All you need is a smart phone and a few of the wrong apps.
Certain apps (up to 11 percent of the free apps) that you use on your phones collect the information from your address book without your knowledge and store it in their own databases. Until today I had no idea that this was happening.
Here is a link to the NY Times article explaining how people’s address books are taken without their knowledge: http://nyti.ms/z2Wbtf
Do you use Hipster, Locale, Uber, Yelp, Taxi Magic, Picplz, Scrabble and Waze, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Gowalla or Foodspotting? If so, contact them to find out what they are doing with your address book.
I store a lot of my and my friends’ personal info in my address book. While I doubt that Instagram cares what medications I’m allergic to, when my best friend was born or the name of my neighbor’s dog, the idea that this information could be transmitted when I decide to play Scrabble at midnight because I can’t sleep is enough to cause permanent insomnia.
The rule of thumb in journalism is: nothing is private once it’s written down. This rule is true way beyond the reporter’s notebook.
When you accept an app into your iPhone or iPad, it’s the same thing. Once you select “install app,” beware what you are letting in. It could be the Cookie Monster or it could be Welcome Wagon, selling your info to a clothing catalog, or it could be Yelp waiting to glom on to your most treasured of all possessions — your personal contacts.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
The Fourth Connecticut Lake — a marshy pond on the U.S. border
with Canada in New Hampshire —
is the source of the Connecticut River.
Note: I just read Gloucester author Gregory Gibson’s Christmas booklet about his John Ledyard-inspired walks abutting the upper Connecticut River. He reminded me of my own hikes to the source of the Connecticut River at Fourth Lake on the Canadian border. This is farther north of where Gibson's own adventures began. I’m re-posting this, from my guest blog on Write on the Water. Fourth Lake is inaccessible to me right now. It's January and the hike would be icy and treacherous. And snowmobiles are not allowed up there. Such inaccessibility makes the fantasy of being there that much more desperate. Gardeners with seed catalogs on their laps, when it's 5 degrees outside as it is today, must feel much the same way.
It’s called Fourth Lake, though by Connecticut Lake standards, it’s more puddle than lake.
Fourth Lake is a sludgy tannin-stained bog inhabited by frogs, dragonflies, Canada Jays and red-winged blackbirds. You have to climb vertically for about 45 minutes to get there, every once in a while catching pungent, sour whiffs of moose or a deer’s abrupt snort of alarm. Some hikers’ feet fit inside the hoof prints of the bull moose that have churned the trail into muck.
Once at Fourth Lake, you can walk its perimeter in an hour. You’ll need boots that are water-treated because you are treading on a grand and fertile sponge.
Fourth Lake is sacred the way mothers and muses are sacred. This spittoon of a bog is the source of the Connecticut River and the Connecticut Lakes. Unlike the other lakes, you don’t boat here and your dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near it. Relatively speaking, it’s pristine and rarely, if ever, will you encounter another human though you see their prints, too.
Fourth Lake sits on our border with Canada. The area just to the north has been ruthlessly clear-cut post 9/11 to give reconnaissance planes better border views. The trees, felled in a tantrum, are angled in all directions and take on the look of ten thousand booby traps.
To get to the trailhead, you have to drive to the terminus of Route 3 in New Hampshire, past the U.S. border guards, and, then, right before the Canadian border guards, you pull into a small lot. They no longer make you sign in and explain why you want to see Fourth Lake. The hike up to the lake includes several unsecured border crossings marked only by small brass plates embedded in the granite. What this means is that sometimes you’ve got one foot in Canada and one foot in the United States. As an aside, if you drove another few feet, you’d be on the Magnetic Hill in Canada. There, you can experience your car being dragged backward up a steep hill in some kind of astonishing and ever-amusing optical illusion.
I make an annual pilgrimage to Fourth Lake. When I go, I bring a lunch so I can prolong my visit. I sit on one of the felled tree trunks and stare across the bog. You never know what you are going to see on that busy surface forever a-roil in splashes. This is where life takes hold. Ripples radiate in circles everywhere across this buoyant breast.
One year, while crouched and savoring my ritual meal at the shore, I happened to glance at a small underground den capped by a pile of boulders — no doubt a glacial deposit. Inside that dark hole I thought I saw a flash of pink. Yes. I pulled out a small journal and a pen, wrapped in layers of plastic. It was covered in peat and had overwintered a couple of times.
Someone had begun a conversation about this place, and others had joined in. My daughter and I did the same, though by then the small pen skipped. No waxing effusively, then. The talk was about beginnings, about a tiny puddle that, at its southernmost spot, dribbled into something like a rivulet. One toddler’s baby step could traverse the Connecticut River here! From Fourth Lake the 407-mile Connecticut River took hold and passed through New Hampshire and Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut before emptying into Long Island Sound in Old Saybrook.
What could be more reassuring to a writer than a dribble that works itself into something majestic? If nature says it, it must be so. Be persistent, then.
To get to Fourth Lake one year, my daughter and I needed to break the ice that had crusted on the granite with our fists in order to secure footholds. We had to get there.
The late Don Murray, my nonfiction writing teacher at the University of New Hampshire, gave us a piece of paper on the first day of class with the message: Nulla dies sine linea.
Never a day without a line. And no river of words without first one word, then another.