Out With the Old? Not so fast…

Yes, it’s a new year, so in with the new…but not without a shout out to some “old” that’s coming with me.

Liquid Fence
If you don’t have gardens, or gardens with animal problems—as in, your yard is their all-day buffet, Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent won’t offer much to you. But surrounded by woods, our yard often gives the impression we keep deer for pets, a veritable Disney land. Which we love. They have been known to stand on the side of the driveway and just watch while we pull our car out and close the garage door, and then they get back to grazing. But we don’t love the fact that over the years, our visitors have eaten large amounts of our landscaping. This largely natural product is about the best there is, keeping our graceful friends from munching our hedges with a mixture that includes “putrescent egg solids” and garlic. I get the concentrate, mix it with water, spray it on, keep my plants, and don’t feel bad at all.

Method Cleaning Products
I’ve loved these natural cleaning products for quite some time,  but after recently trying the 4x HE beach sage laundry detergent, I’m an even bigger fan. I love the clean packaging, the cheery colors, and the scents seal the deal.  Some of my favorites:  grapefruit, cucumber, and beach sage, my new bright turquoise laundry detergent. Happy cleaning!

Rose Lilies1-roselily
This is a personally spectacular find. Over the years of our marriage, my husband has enjoyed giving me lilies—plants and cut flowers, both Asiatic and Oriental varieties. He really likes lilies…but I really don’t. The blooms are too architectural, too stark, too unromantic. Until now. Rose lilies are ruffly, light, softly-scented, and have non-staining pollen. These wonders even have their own Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/Roselilyflowers/  Husband, gift me these ethereal wonders all you want.

Restorative Yoga
Is this a thing?  And where has it been all my adult life? Poses and practice that rely on gravity to create stretching and opening in the muscles and body. Finally, a yoga practice where I don’t end up feeling stiffer, more out of shape, or injured. After 25 minutes, I’m feeling relaxed, youthful, and ready to take on the next several decades!

Good Behavior
Every now and then, I discover a television show that I love so much, I don’t want to talk about it, share it, give an opening to anyone to say a bad word or not love it as much as I do. It’s mine, my secret pleasure. Outlander on Showtime was one such television event. (I can mention it now; it’s hardly a secret.) My 2016 find: TNT’s Good Behavior. I’m addicted. Michelle Dockery. Juan Diego Botto. (And where has he been all my adult life?) Shhhh….


The Magic of Buried Banana Peels

azaleasWhy didn’t I stop my elderly and disheveled mother from scooting out to the rose bushes flanking our front door to bury the breakfast banana peels? The short answer would be: she’s my mother. The longer answer would be: she so believed those banana peels would help my roses, she had me half-convinced, too. That was how we rolled, for decades. So firm were her beliefs about any number of  VERY outside of the box things, that I couldn’t unequivocally decide she was wrong.

So I didn’t stop her from rooting around under the rose bushes, even though I was uncomfortable with the activity for a number of reasons.  Foremost was the fact that this woman who was still climbing trees to prune them when she was in her sixties, and showing off her can-can kick in her seventies, was now in her late eighties, post a few strokes and the passing of my father.  She was frail, unsteady on her feet, and had retreated deep inside herself, courtesy of depression and beginning dementia. Second was the fact I wasn’t super supportive of burying any of our garbage a few feet from the front door, especially in daylight, and I wasn’t too sure my neighbors would be, either. And third, while I was open to the fact that the peels might help the roses, I was also concerned that rooting around the rose roots in the dirt among the few remaining strawberry plants that were supposed to be ground cover could be more harmful than helpful to that little front walk ecosystem.

I also didn’t stop her because my mother loved to garden; one of the only joys she had left. It didn’t bring a smile to her face; nothing did at that point. But fussing over plants was about the only place where present-day challenges would fade, and she would lose herself out in my yard, burying banana peels or pulling weeds, or in the house, walking around grooming my houseplants. Gardening was a comfort, one she’d enjoyed as long as I could remember. If I made her come in the house, or stopped her from taking her tipsy weak self up the stairs to complete her houseplant routine, what was a saving her for? If she died gardening, I knew she’d be happy.

My mother has not been in my garden for a number of years, or any garden for that matter, except perhaps a great garden in the sky. If we have any say in what our heaven is, my mother is gardening. My indoor and outdoor plants now survive despite the care, or lack thereof, that I and my husband can give them. Even with her crazy schemes, my mother was a better influence on any garden than I probably will ever be, even with a horticulture degree as one of my credits.

But I did inherit my mother’s curiosity about plants and what makes them grow. So last week, years after those banana peels were laid to rest under my roses, as I researched the answer to the garden legend that peonies need ants to bloom (they don’t), I stumbled upon banana peels under the rose bushes. Roses supposedly like buried banana peels because they increase soil potassium. However, the soil microorganisms breaking down those banana peels have to extract nitrogen from the soil to complete their job, so the soil can end up low in nitrogen along the way, and without even much potassium to show for it. A net negative. Composting the banana peels first is the way to go, followed by spreading compost around the roses.

I may have also inherited impatience from my mother. Who wants to wait for months down the road for the banana peels to be composted, after all that monotonous effort of liming and turning?  Burying banana peels to make your roses bloom is magical, a fairy tale we want to be true. Practical is important, but magic is imperative.

Note to son: the day I shuffle my silver-haired self out to scatter used coffee grounds under the azaleas in your yard, let me be! I’m doing just fine.


Guns On The Train

secretslogo Does Bernie Sander truly believe that carrying guns and ammo in  luggage on a train is the same as carrying guns and ammo in luggage on a plane? 

One of the first times I watched Bernie Sanders on television as he started down his presidential campaign trail, the subject of guns came up, and Bernie Sanders likened guns checked in baggage on a plane to guns in carry-on baggage on a train.

I had an uncle in Maine who went moose hunting with friends once a season in Canada. I’m surmising they took the train and packed their guns. I understand that there are valid reasons why people travel with guns, but we live in a different world now, a world where ensuring community safety may necessitate infringing on personal privilege. Personally, I’d like to get on a plane without taking off my belt and shoes and watching my purse disappear down a conveyer belt and out of my sight while I’m imprisoned behind the scanner gate. With a dichotomy in solutions for the “gun control problem,” either increasing gun control legislation so getting a gun is exceedingly difficult for all of us, or expanding gun availability and legality so we can all carry a gun and be ready to shoot back, I wanted to hear what The Secrets of the Universe panel had to say.

B: TSA is now using methodologies, like Precheck, to create scenarios where we can keep our shoes on and our socks clean and still maintain the safety of the flights, but I can’t imagine a pre-check methodology that would permit a passenger’s ammo and gun in the main cabin and still maintain the safety of the flight. No guns in the plane, and no guns in the train. Bernie Sanders, you got caught out on this one.

D: I don’t want guns and ammo with me anywhere without my permission and my permission is never granted.

P: I don’t think guns and ammo should be anywhere in public. Bernie Sanders comes from Vermont, a gun-toting state, so he was obligated to his constituency to go there, but I do not think he believes it.

R: Equally bad. Just can’t bring the plane down, but can take everyone down in Baggage Claim. Let me know if people are carrying guns on my train and I’ll drive.

Someone looks silly here: either you, Bernie Sanders, for selling these two scenarios as synonymous, or us because we were expected to jump under that umbrella and agree with you? Uh-huh. Unanimous on this one: No Guns On The Train.


Salvaging Our Future: True Resource Management

I don’t like seeing anything go to waste. Not anything. Does this stem from the stories many of us heard as kids as we sat stuck at the dinner table until we cleaned our plate because “children are starving in Africa”? Or is it wise management? Or perhaps guilt and wisdom combined. Children starving in Africa created an early awareness that resources are not infinite for everyone. Now, several years later, we’re aware that infinite resources are no longer a given for anyone anywhere.

I reuse, recycle, and recreate everywhere I can, and get great satisfaction from such efficiency. I do believe, however, that many of the young adults stepping in to take over the running of the world find this tendency quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain annoying. They are aware of basic environmental stuff, saving trees and recycling containers, but do they get that resource management just starts there?

My nephew was recently hired to film a documentary about a man who salvaged scraps from restaurants to create good meals. His mother observed, “I do this almost every night, and no one is making a documentary about me!” I do, too, and–no film crews. According to my sister-in-law, this is a hot topic, with recent articles in The Wall Street Journal about top chefs holding competitions to make meals from scraps and in the The Washington Post about using scraps, along with less than perfect agricultural specimens in support of the farmer. I love these ideas, but do the perhaps 20-something and 30-something writers and editors now in charge really see using leftovers to create another meal as a breaking new trend? Generations coming up behind me so totally immersed in having their meals, and beverages, prepared by someone else, at Chipotle or Starbucks or wherever, only to throw out the leftovers, and buy a new meal next time hunger strikes that they can’t fathom this type of efficiency and creativity? Say it isn’t so! I made a conscious decision not to follow the path of my parents’ generation, not to color my family’s dining times with bleak pictures of children starving in Africa. But now I’m thinking, maybe we all should have bleakened a meal or two by bringing the focus back to the starving children in Africa, or India or China, for that matter.

When my husband and I began to search for a home around Pittsburgh as newly-weds, we drove along the old highways south of the city past mile after mile of buildings, bricks and steel, crumbling and going to seed because there was land available in newer areas that could be developed in a flashier more contemporary way. We did not move anywhere near these wrecks, but the waste of all the resources to develop these now crumbling and abandoned structures was disheartening. The sadness pervaded the very air in these towns, and stayed with me…while I stayed far away.

We bought a house, a new one in a newly-developed area, and soon I was not driving around crumbling towns or spanking new ones; I was parenting my young son at home in my new neighborhood. As I joined with other formerly working mothers in my neighborhood for play dates with our toddlers, I began envisioning a new type of employment service, an exercise that intensified when I moved to a Boston suburb with a now school-aged son. My neighborhoods were busting with mothers professional in so many areas. Lots of work experience, multiple undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates we were, filling up that sippy cup, or driving the carpool. We wanted to be hands-on Moms, but many of us would have also loved the mental challenge, and value, of working…not to mention the income. I dreamed of an employment service that matched parenting moms with corporations who valued their abilities and wanted them as flex-time employees or consultants.

But the problem wasn’t just lack of an infrastructure to bring the two camps together. There was no serious pervasive interest in or value placed on all this talent languishing away around the swing sets. If you had a contact from when you were working full time, you were good. Otherwise, forget it. I discovered that anything I had done or written more than 24 months ago (and the fact that it had been in different states didn’t help) didn’t matter. What had I done in the last two years? That was the only truly important fact. Really? So rather than valuing my years as a writer amassing experience, and clips, once I’m home with my child not writing every week for money for a few months, I have also forgotten everything I ever knew and lost every ability I ever had? How does this make sense?

Now someone like me is apparently an even bigger buzz kill for potential employers: I’m over fifty. I’ve got more to contribute to any organization than I did in my twenties or thirties, as do my female, and male, colleagues. Do we bring different qualities than younger counterparts? Or course we do. That’s the point. We may not be as speedy. We may not want to multi-task because we know better. We may not be as technologically savvy. But we may very well be more organized. More skilled. More able to identify a problem with more experience in solving it. More stable. More dependable. More “we” then “me”.

And how about more joyful? Some of us can work now because we want to, not because we’re worried about paying our bills or because we have to prove ourselves, but because we like what we do, we’re good at it, and we want to contribute. Lowered stress frees up a lot of energy to fire synapses. When I hear repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, employees being phased out because they are in their fifties—oh, horrors—the creative efficient resource manager in me wants to tear my hair out, again. More waste. More horrible, and unnecessary, waste.

Our best way to navigate forward, for the environment, for the economy, for our humanity, is as a multi-aged, multi-experienced team. Holistic management of all our resources, animal, vegetable, mineral? Now that’s a trend to follow…



Winter 2015: The Season of the Indomitable Human

Roof raking, roof melt puck tossing, and icicle batting are the new winter sports taking New England by, um, storm. Or at least the first two are. Icicle batting—using a bat, broom handle, mallet, or my particular favorite for its strength and length yet lightness, shower curtain rod to knock icicles from the roof gutters—is more of a specialized sport, reserved for the elite who have stalactite icicles the length of Shaq decorating the roof line. Variations to the sport include an extra-long outdoor hose which is pulled through the house and up the stairs where the competitor then pops out the upper story window screens and leans out into the frigid air to spray-blast those suckers into obliteration. None of this is to discount the more traditional events taking place across the region, no less grueling or daunting, of snow blowing, snow shoveling, and taking out the trash and recycling. We’re doing it all.

New Englanders are known to be independent and strong-willed, yet some of the best game plans instituted this year for victory over the opponent—WINTER 2015—have been by non-natives, hardy competitors from distant states or other countries. This is Olympic-level competition, and every bit as multicultural. We’re Team New England, up against snow piles registered, not in inches or even feet, but yards. And single digit temperatures? Amateurville. We’ve reached pro status, weathering double digit negatives on a regular basis.

This is dangerous stuff, and we’ve got the badges of honor to prove it. We’re agonizing through tasks as simple as pouring a cup of coffee because we wrenched our shoulder hurling pucks onto the roof. We’re counting the minutes until we can take more analgesics and dreaming of heating pads because we fell while attacking the roof snow. We’re laid out flat in bed, trying not to move or even breathe wrong, because a strong twist-and-swing with the icicle bat threw our back into spasms.

And yet, we’re doing it. We’re okay up here. Snow weary, yes. Bruised and achy, yes. Cabin feverish, yes. And yet. Even this record-breaking horror-of-a-winter hasn’t broken us. Jumping into snow banks out of those screenless second-story windows may, but until it does, we’ve got this.

Move aside, Abominable Snowman, although our current terrain would certainly present as the ultimate Disney-dream fantasy for you. No, let’s all take a moment to reflect, after we take several to catch our breath, and commemorate a different species altogether: Indomitable Human.


Post Card from Cape Cod (Falmouth, MA)

Almost twenty years we’ve been going to Falmouth, MA, lucky enough to have a summer home there. What a beautiful place, in terms of nature –land, sea and marshes; and so many charming homes and shops, a quaint downtown. Cod fish and seagulls; Quakers and whaling ships; Wampanoags and quahogs; cranberry bogs and lighthouses. All that good stuff. Plus, time to slow down, enjoy the sunset, and have “visits” with friends and neighbors. But this year, more than other years, something is not right in paradise. This year, folks on the Cape are suffering, in crisis, in danger of losing themselves, quite literally, to drugs, alcohol, violence and injury.

Summer brings all kinds of folks to Falmouth, and not surprisingly, an uptick in crime, injury and accidents. The ER can be pretty busy from fish hooks in thumbs to accidents on the bike trail to tick bites and allergic reactions. And this year, heroin and opiate overdoses, sometimes fatal. In one week, five drug overdoses were reported in the Police log: two were revived with Narcan on the spot, two hospitalized, and one dead at home. There was an obituary for the 19 year old who died, with a picture, listing friends, family, hobbies. Looked like a nice middle-class white kid — with issues, no doubt. Two OD’s were in cars, one parked at Walmart; one at Christmas Tree Shops. Where we shop.

This week, my husband left Stop N Shop at four in the afternoon with his cart full. A group of people were staring at man hanging onto a light post; no one knew what to do. Another day, another man sat down in the street, unable to stir himself. Another was walking along the sidewalk, shirtless, missing a shoe, incoherent, without direction. There are flyers up around town about a man who has gone missing, middle-aged, with perhaps some mental issues. Like a dog or a cat. “Have you seen this man?” Along with the drug use, there have been a lot of cases of theft and break-ins, not a few in our part of town, uncomfortably close to our idyllic little corner of the Cape. On my solitary walk around the bog, I came across two men, meeting briefly and then parting; I kept my distance, feeling fairly certain it was a drug deal.

Besides the summer visitors, Falmouth has a sturdy year round population of people from all walks of life, including the Woods Hole scientists, the artisans, old Yankees, lively Irish, and the descendents of Portuguese and Cape Verde sailing and farm immigrants. It’s a changeable life, and yet, sometimes remote and even boring in the off-season, providing few jobs more than building, landscaping or services. The allure of drugs is widespread, but some areas seem more vulnerable, no matter how beautiful. Perhaps it’s the contrast of the wealthy who come and go to those who are stuck and struggling.

I’ve been aware of recreational drugs for most of my life, on some level. But this, what I’m seeing in Falmouth, is different. They are falling fast, these casualties of the drug war, bringing the battleground to us. My mother has said, “No one chooses to grow up to be a drunk or a drug addict; something has happened along the way.” It’s one thing to waste time, money, health, over time. But another to lose yourself completely, to lose your life, just like that. I wonder how these Cape Cod folk are any less victims than the Central American children being brought across the border, moved by terrible forces to places they never wanted to be due to their weakness and someone else’s greed.


Folks and Spokes – or, Hold the Spandex

Too late now – the invasion has begun. The bicycle folks are out in numbers, in our little town, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Almost every day, mostly all day, there are bicyclists on the road, clad in their black and neon spandex outfits, hydration at the ready, sunglasses, and – helmets, I’m happy to say. Like it or not, car drivers and pedestrians are having to share the roads and crosswalks with the folks on bikes. Most times, we adjust, but sometimes it’s not so pretty and can be downright scary. Twenty years ago when we moved here, it was not so. Now, they are part of the landscape: bright, quick, darting insects, in whizzing motion, on the periphery of my vision.

I enjoy riding a bike myself on occasion, on quiet roads or cleared trails. More or less I enjoy the scenery, taking my time, fresh air, small hills and few gears. Not so much for the bike folks, I think. The bikes themselves are highly engineered pieces of sporting equipment, not mere transportation. Expensive. And tricky to repair, requiring knowledge and expertise. The bikers themselves are by and large a fast, fit group, no dawdlers among them, and in it for speed and distance, I suspect, not recreation. No doubt there is merit in it, and benefit: stress relief, exercise, endorphins, perhaps and maybe a kind of meditation in motion. But, the hazards! My frequent reaction is to wonder, “Don’t they fear for their lives on these narrow shoulders?” or “Don’t the gas fumes bother them?” or, “Why do they want to scale that big hill on a bike, anyway?” Even more perplexing, to me, is the “spinning” craze, of indoor cycling that gets nowhere and sees nothing, but has its true adherents, I know. Maybe, like the more extreme sports, it’s the adrenaline rush and the escape from everyday problems. Yet, that hasn’t been, for me, the experience of biking.

I logged a lot of miles as a kid on a bike on rural roads in Connecticut, and I know that my husband was attached to his bike like another leg, that got him where he wanted to go. It was freedom, for us. No helmets, of course. There were the occasional accidents, although none fatal. My cousin Bobby had a spectacular “wipeout” at the bottom of Newgate Hill. We must have been ten; I was first on the scene to observe the damage to boy and bike, a bloody mess. I rode like holy hell to get help from the adults. Only, it was a minor cut after all. Apparently, the forehead bleeds a lot. My husband bought a piece of land on the Cape (with his mother), from a settlement after being hit by a car on his bike, around 12 years old. Also broken leg, missing weeks of school, and tutor at home. Our associations with bikes were not very glamorous or associated with anything like achievement. A means to adventure, yes, but not an end in itself.

In another chapter of my history with bikes, I arrived in Gloucester, England for a homestay during a semester abroad, and was promptly given “my bike”. That was it; no family car. Wherever I needed to go in town, hop the bike (buses or trains for longer rides). The trick there was figuring out where I was going. Fortunately, I had a self-appointed guide, the family’s 12 year old daughter, Moira, who took me everywhere. The biggest adjustment, of course, was the left-lane car traffic, and for bikes, too. And, the experience of being among so many other bikers on the old city streets. Yet, we managed without much fuss, and I’m here to write about it today. In visiting Europe in more recent years, there is still a “bike culture”, men and women, young and old, casual or business, priests and nuns. But not much spandex, that I could see. And how many would have said they were riding for exercise, I’m not too sure. Don’t think so, though. My son made great use of the bike-share program in Paris, and it seemed to work very well, but the bikes themselves were kind of bland, gray, workhouse models, maybe less likely to be coveted and stolen.

My old purple bicycle has gone out to pasture. I’d like a new bike; that is, I’d like to be able to go bike riding. But where? I’m still old-school when it comes to bikes: safety, comfort, and enjoying the scenery. Hold the spandex, please.


Boston, Coming on Strong

After almost thirty years, grudgingly, I’ve become a fan of the city of Boston. Granted, most of my experiences are based on being a suburbanite with brief forays into the city for temporary jobs and a few noisy and memorable field trips with kids. I never got used to driving in the city, often got lost, and soon realized that many of Boston’s treasures are hidden away, not immediately accessible. My early impressions: suits without smiles; too many students with not a lot of consideration for others; tourists with cameras; mediocre food; and more packaged shows than original theater. A New Englander by birth, I was not charmed. 

I arrived in Boston in 1987 after living three years in New York City, and it never really stood a chance. In Boston, there was nothing like the theater and arts scene of NYC, uninspired shopping and sidewalks that rolled up after 11 pm. The subway ran limited hours, and then it was a chancy taxi ride home.  Downtown Crossing was on its last legs (and only now getting revitalized), the city streets were difficult to navigate, bad signage. And the people! Quick, impatient, not very fashionable. Like many city dwellers, unsmiling, and more than a bit unfriendly – at times territorial, bristly, and rude. 

 By contrast, the Big Apple of the 1980’s was electric: a time of excitement and turmoil. Everything larger than life: Times Square and the World Trade Towers. Crowds, yes; crime; homelessness. A vital theater and arts scene, and plenty of upscale shops (and shop windows).  Not only a 24 hour subway, but a city of 10,000 restaurants (at the time), and many of them open all night. And Central Park – what a treasure — during the day. So many wonderful public spaces, free or next to nothing: plazas, parks and benches, subways and ferry rides.  The miracle of it all, in my mind, was that it worked so well, for all its people and its problems – a sense that we couldn’t all be out for ourselves, or no one would get anywhere and nothing would get done. An unspoken agreement to cooperate; a kind of democracy of the streets.

 Gradually, over the years, the cities changed – or I changed – or both. On my visits to NYC, I traveled well-remembered streets and neighborhoods, some now transformed – razed and gentrified. Not so much of the street people and the hawkers. Lots of tourists with cell phone cameras. Tamer, perhaps, less dangerous or exciting. The city reclaimed, to some extent, by the winners of Wall Street, the more well-to-do. Boston, on the other hand, somehow perked up, in ways I never expected. The pocket ethnic neighborhoods have spread and bled into each other. And the restaurants – a true revolution. In the early 1990’s, I taught English Comp to a class of Culinary Arts students at Newbury college, who assured me that Boston was about to become a great restaurant town. I doubted it. Turns out, they were right.  The Museum of Fine Arts has a tremendous new wing; important, major works are performed at the larger theaters, and a host of new plays and companies are popping up everywhere. 

 I haven’t missed the commonality in making these two major cities perhaps more livable, rewarding and humane – that they have survived attacks from without. Few of us in this country will outlive the memories of 9/11. We mourned the losses of a great city and shared in the slow, determined recovery. After Boston’s Marathon bombing, I had a better idea of what the city is made of, and it was not “each for him or herself”. I saw that in time of emergency, many, many folks did what they could to help, from attending the injured to cooperating with the request to “shelter-in-place” from police in pursuit of the perpetrators. The city I visit now has a different feel somehow. People ask if you’re lost. They might share a joke on an elevator.  Sometimes on the subway, they smile.

 I wore an I Love New York tee shirt to shreds, long after I’d left the city. I may just be ready to put on one that says Boston Strong.








What Would the Butterfly Say?

The year 2013 was the year of the fox, according to a recent magazine, because of the hit song “What Does the Fox Say?”  For 2014, by process of a hip little tree of elimination, this writer lands on the leopard. Not buying this lame, and redundant, suggestion. Supposedly a fashion trend this year, but leopard print is always a fashion trend in some populations.   

Then I read the latest newsletter from my town’s garden club. The April meeting features Going Organic at Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens.  The executive director of the gardens in Boothbay, Maine, is talking about the results of adopting organic practices:  The plants are healthier, pollinators more diverse, visitors happier, and costs have remained the same or decreased. Retire the myth that organic has to be much more expensive.

The next article that caught my eye was about Monarch butterflies.  Their numbers are in serious decline; an independent study has linked the Monarchs’ decline to the use of Monsanto’s Roundup.  Roundup kills milkweed, the butterflies’ primary food source.  Losing these butterflies means wiping out insects, birds, and small mammals that are all part of this food chain.

Maybe 2014 needs to be the year of the butterfly. This article pushed an old hot button for me. Round Up is dangerous to our ecosystem and the creatures who live in it; we’ve known this for some time. We knew it when I was studying for my horticulture degree, and need I say, that was a while ago. Scientists have demonstrated that the glyphosate in Round Up can cause cell death in amounts 200 times below agriculture usage. This same chemical has also been cited as responsible for the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease. I have several friends and relatives who suffer from this condition; one almost died before the condition was identified. I surmise the problems that this dangerous herbicide causes to living creatures is limited only by the amount of studies undertaken to link damage to source.  

I’ve seen good friends spraying Round Up around the yard to kill the weeds—no face mask, a dog playing nearby. I’ve seen neighbors at the beach drench their stone driveways and stone “yards,” with this stuff–there is an Ultra Max version now–no face mask, dog nearby. I watch as we both stand there, on different sides of the street, at sea level, both of us, and our dogs, as this neighbor basically sprays this killer chemical mix directly into the water table.

When will we rethink leafy “pest” management? Rethink chemical herbicides across the board. There is nothing natural about monoculture. There is nothing natural about a yard that is just grass, about a gravel driveway that has no plants peeking through, about a sterile brick walk.  Some British home owners seem to get this more than we do. Think British cottage garden–over grown, diverse, wild even, but happy. These gardens read happy. Think of our American suburban clipped and manicured lawns and gardens. These landscapes read sterile, cold, and racist. Only this type of grass blade or this particular bush is permitted; everything else is not welcome, and will be killed.     

These “unwelcome” plants are not the only ones being destroyed. Not to mention that one creature’s “unwelcome” leafy volunteer is another creature’s “welcome,” or as we’ve seen with the Monarchs, critical, volunteer. The destruction wrought by this rampant use of herbicides goes way beyond, say, that single dandelion plant—with the bright yellow flower and interesting leaves that also make a snappy salad. This widespread destruction seeps into all areas of our food chain and ecosystem. We are all connected.  

Would it kill us to allow a little more natural diversity in our yards? No. But it may kill us if we don’t.  

What would the butterfly say? Stop. Please.


The Walking Life (Part 2)

In these midlife years, I walk, but principally for pleasure and exercise. Everything in suburbia is geared toward the car, so I have to make a special point to walk, sometimes in nature, but sometimes just around the block with my earphones on. When we first moved here from a more urban area, it was awkward to take evening walks, in darkness, as I was used to. Prowling a suburban neighborhood at night may be considered cause for alarm, or dog chases. So, reluctantly I gave up my evening “constitutional” – which is so much a way of life in Italy, and other parts of the world, in places big and small. So, now I walk only in daytime, often at noon, when I won’t be the only one on quiet stretches of trails through the woods or the meadows, rambling along with my phone, keys and a whistle.

I have my favorite walks, i.e., the Great Meadows, the Minuteman Bike Trail or Shawsheen cemetery around here, and along the harbor and Falmouth Heights beach at the Cape, but my enthusiasm is not shared much by my own family members.  In a word, speed. My guys all like to skate – ice or roller – but walking seems boring to them, and pointless.  Once in a while, they will volunteer to accompany me, as a favor, but never on their own.  As for exercise, walking doesn’t have much appeal for them, compared to hockey or working out at the gym.  My husband grew up peddling around town on his bike, which he enjoyed,  until he got hit by a car while on his bike, breaking a leg.  The biking revival has not reached him, and he’s not one for spandex.

 For a time, I was pretty much a solitary walker, but increasingly, I see other walkers in the area, many of them with dogs or kids or strollers – as it should be. There is a lot more foot traffic in town, along the main roads, where before I don’t recall any.  Kids out on their half-days with a few dollars in their pockets and lots of places for a quick bite. The older Chinese couples, and some Indian, out to do errands.  I see some of the half-way house crowd walking along, fast or slow, their destinations unknown.  We have now a population of homeless families residing at a local hotel, and more and more I see the young moms with strollers, or a dad holding a kid’s hand, walking to the grocery store. 

 I can’t say that my fellow walkers are necessarily out for the pleasure of the outdoors – more like necessity. There was a time where it seemed most people out walking in town were people of color, with some of the socio-economic background that implied – who had no other means of transportation. We have more bus-riders now, I’ve noticed, and all kinds of commuters, white and blue collar, that walk to and from their bus stops.  Sometimes a drag, I know. But that doesn’t mean they won’t discover some of the benefits of walking. Maybe a slightly slower pace of life, and maybe a better pace of heartbeat.  Maybe a different way of thinking or problem solving.  I don’t mean Henry David Thoreau, and his rambles in nature.  My neighbors live more hectic and scheduled existences, I think.  But still, they’re out there, in the elements, breathing the air (and sometimes, fumes), sharing space with their animal kin, and feeling the sun or the rain on their faces.  Exploring the world
outside the bubble, out there for everyone to see, so that we may know
each other by our face and our gait, and not merely the flash of a car going