Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Rain in Las Marias

There are patterns and trends to these weather events. The rains roll in from roughly the same direction almost every day this time of the year, between the hours of 1 and 4pm. I'm better able to distinguish a shower from a deluge now as it is starting, though you can never know for sure. Often several pulses of showers signal; downpour imminent. Walk outside and you can feel the storm coming, see the sky darkening and the clouds seething, hear the thunder from afar, watch the lightning across the valleys.

We close the side door to keep water from pooling in the hallway, turn the knobs that tighten white metal hurricane-proof shutters, prepare for the water. Sometimes a false alarm, other times not; it is good to be prepared. You always know when a big one is underway, and there's not much to do but wait it out and enjoy. The heavy rains could last 5 minutes or 50, usually coming and going in spurts. Time slows down. I could be back in Ouagadougou.

Observe the movement of water over land: follow the splashes of individual drops into the cracks and tiny rivulets as they snake into channels with the others, and trace those to the main flood path that courses orange-brown, fast, ugly, down to the nearest creek and on, maybe to the Rio Guaba.

Large drops try in vain to pummel the banana leaves into submission but they persist, providing a bit of shelter to those who seek it. I heed the weather's pull, enjoy the refreshing mist pushed in under the porch roof, and relax. Tropical rain storms cleanse my soul.

Sunrise in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

The sun also rises over the intracoastal waterway in SC. The landscape slowly steadily emerging in this cool morning light. The sky was a rainbow near perfect progression of ROYGBIV from the clouds at the horizon and moving up.

Now everything is getting lighter and brighter, faint rays extend out from some yet-hidden point over the horizon. a few birds greet the morning, and the background insect hum never ceased from last evening's end. A bat flies overhead, and a dragonfly. A near clear blue sky is visible above the striking bands of gray-blue cloud, with red and orange and yellow light in narrow bands above that.

Look around, you realize day breaks in front of your eyes. Look back at the sky, the the light is brighter still. From my perch I can barely make out the teeming mass of life on the surface of the muck, now exposed at low tide, around the stream that winds along the left side of the house and out to the waterway LOOK TO THE SKY!

Great towering cartoonish shapes rise in that band of gray-blue clouds, abstract statues and players ushering in the day. Above them the sky keeps changing, some artist's palate progressing--more light, more faint butter yellow, more white. The deep red orange gone, replaced by softer pastels. Look around, note how much you can see now:

The squadron of dragonflies is evident now, swooping around overhead to eat up the small bugs. The marsh reeds now look green, the oak leaves all visible in the backyard. A big spindly-legged bird with skinny head and long beak stands next to the stream bed motionlessly stalking prey. Two large dark birds glide by silently overhead and pass beyond the tree island nearby.

The show is nearly over; my trip has been a pleasant one. The sun has not actually appeared, but its presence is felt. A fiery chromatic shape burns in the spot where I think she rests.

Here she comes. Streambed slowly fills up. The big stork bird continues its breakfast quest; the dragonflies push onward ever, tiny helicopters on patrol.

There she is! 'Okay, she's coming out now.' There she is, the bright beautiful sun blinding my eyes as she slides into view. Glorious glorious untouchable star that burns ever on for all to see if only they care to look.

The air will soon warm, and then get hot, but the present combination of cool morning air with bright low-on-the-horizon sunlight is exquisite.

Stretch, breathe deep, back to sleep.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tres Semanos en Puerto Rico

All of the coffee is espresso. I'm not sure if there is a word for decaf.

School buses are privately owned and generally tricked out with chrome, painted accents, and stylized scripts. I expect hydraulics and subwoofers in the near future.

Beer is mostly 'light;' cans and bottles range from 7-11.3 oz, and the standard beer can is 10 oz. The smaller units are apparently meant to account for the heat. American "college beers" (coors light, busch light) are widely available. The best local beer is Magna, made here in Mayaguez.

Traffic laws are casually observed by some, especially in the pre-dawn hours.

Talking with food in the mouth is more acceptable.

Police and ambulances always drive around with their lights flashing and use their sirens in emergencies.

The prohibition against drinking and driving is relatively recent, and the stigma against it is therefore less.

I am generally without a shirt around the house.

Traditional divisions of labor between the sexes exist. I am not surprised, though some are by my willingness to cook and clean.

Many households in this subdivision in Mayaguez, known as Sultana, have poorly trained dogs cooped up behind fences in driveways and patios and gardens. Try as they might, their yipping and enthusiasm will never get them through those bars. I have developed a special relationship with the dog here, Berra; she follows me around the house and she loves me. Give love and you shall receive. I enjoy taking her on walks through the neighborhood when she sets the pups a-yapping but does not rise to their bait. It's the kitties that get her going.

The disposable plastic culture is thoroughly entrenched here. There is no escape from the ubiquitous plastic bag; my laments are fruitless and my energy wasted on this subject. Letting go is not easy, but necessary; there are more important things to focus on.

If I am learning something, it is how little I actually know.

Friday, October 21, 2011


"Hey will you sing a song with me.

I'd be very pleased to sing a song with you.

You sure look nice.

Thank you, I'm glad to be back in Folsom.

Boy, I like, hah ha, I like to watch you talk.

I'm talkin' with my mouth, haha.

Heh, let's sing a song.

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout..."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"In another time and place..."

I can tell that we are gonna stay friends.

- - - - -

This'll be the day that I live
This'll be the day that I thrive
This'll be the day that I sur-vive!
This'll be the day that I live.


'Fell in love with a reservation girl/at the time of the sugar beet harvest'

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Merry Fields Forever

She's got a secret surname that nobody knows, with the most gorgeous hyphen-you wouldn't believe the way it glows.

I was born into some factualization, suburbanization, edification, call it what you will.

There is a new light inside of me that feels right and good and natural.

Here's to old friends and new, and Friday night Hive dinners, and Saturday plans of composting, communicating, and DIYfesting.

Serve love, give love. You will get out what you put in, so don't be afraid to give.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

the Devil and God reside inside All

Reconsidering Handcuffs-
You're shouting so loud, you barely enjoy this broken thing.
You're a song that's never sung, is what I say.
You can only blame yourself.

It's hard to be the better man.

But should we stop, and take her with us, for all our time. Say hello to an old friend.
Not mine. She is sitting in the corner now, a little bleary with far away eyes.
Her ice cream cake lay discarded, an iceberg of cookie and cake
in a creamy oreo sea.

I thought about the weekend, and her slinky red dress, and the way she
flipped her bangs and
blinked her eyes and
I lit the bubbler, finished my Sierra Mist and ice hint of triple sec,
thanked my hospitable hosts,
and rode home with Derek.

Maeve is my girl still, and I love her and her new rack. 20 pound bucket of organic matter please.

How about a garden in a cargo bike? Main Street frame<-=->a Pedicab minus loveseat. That's heavy. How about worm delivery by bike? Complete with in-home worm (and/or garden) consultation and set-up, maintenance optional. Look for me out there.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Making Humus

This Gal inspired this Guy, and I'm just real excited about the whole thing.

Composting, meat and all, in JP?
Great Home pickup service for compostables, at fair rates?
Focus is food, fun, human-power, community, and redefining waste?

Count me in, I'm real jazzed by decomposition...

Seriously, I'm gonna meet with this Andy Brooks, I want to see his operation, his secrets, his paycheck, the usual. We could do good things together, him and I.

Brookline has some real pent up composting energy I think, that needs a release, and it is only a matter of time before the municipality gets involved in home composting(--about time!). Until that time, there is a demand that Bootstrap fills and that Bountiful Brookline could help to fill tooo.

In my ideal world, every neighborhood has a place to compost, and every community has some food gardens to use the stuff. It's simple folks, we're making humus together. This is precious stuff, and it should be treated as such: with some love and patience.

In fact, I'm off to the BU greenhouse with a few days-worth of Hive compostables for the woms. Cycle powered composting is already here in Brookline.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Comfort, comfort, why did you run for it?

My body is still reeling and recovering from Dr. Cutting. I only noticed 2 veg. options at Panearah. I found my quiet place before the inbound train. The 1-Straw Revolution is begun. The Hive is alright, we're all alright. Greenside up kids, because we're all doing just fine. Basil and pepper seedlings potted up and snoozing on the front porch, better late than never. Graduation gift thank yous still a work in progress.

I relaxed under the blueberries several hours-lots to do in West Newbury these days. Thoughts of suburban farms and potential future endeavours. Urban Composting and worm farm seems the most likely, or easiest. Verndale worms are thriving: 2 outdoor recycling bins getting established, harvesting of indoor rubbermaid bin in progress. Greenhouse worms are also doing well, and 2 bins will be ready to harvest soon. It's easy to forget that these hobbies of mine involve 'marketable skills,' like biking food scraps down Harvard or Commonwealth. The greenhouse could sell its extra vermicompost to recoup costs.

Fukuoka does away with the prepared compost all together-this is something I am not prepared to do. His natural 'do-nothing' farming will come in time, and meanwhile we will mimic its results at the Goodwin Garden. Sheet to sheet, mulch to mulch, row by row we'll keep this garden grow-ing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Apples to Apples

Apples have been coming up a lot in my life recently. This has led to a dilemma that I will share with you. I am trying to reconcile this apple with this apple and in the process figure out what these two apples can tell me about the society that produced them both (of course both are amorphous--one apple is sliced and perhaps divided between sheets of plastic, whereas the other will not exist for another 2-3 years). But still, an apple is an apple, right? One is the same as any other...

Of course you know this is not true. The snackable apples we buy from Trader Joes are small, probably intentionally so to be cute and easily packed for lunch, and are practically inedibly bland within a few days of purchase. The Spartan and Macoun apples from Long Hill Orchards, across the street from my Dad's house in West Newbury, that I grew up eating vary in size and shape and taste delicious, tart and sweet with just the right amount of juicy without being runny. The Red "Delicious" apples, available in cafeterias and dining halls everywhere, have skin like leather and mealy lumpy flesh--Stay far away if you are looking for anything remotely resembling a tasty apple.

Furthermore, you may have heard that, as a result of technologies like chemical fertilization and irrigation, the nutritional content of many common fruits and vegetables has decreased over the past 50-100 years. This is called the environmental dilution effect (a process documented since the '80s, and even more reason to buy good organic food (not all 'Organic' is good--this is another post entirely)). Donald Davis and his colleagues at the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin also document a genetic dilution effect on macronutrient content, a result of breeding only for yield instead of overall health of the whole plant. Davis says that “We should not assume that plant composition remains constant as we increase yield.” The problem is that the roots of these organisms, genetically modified to grow large and fast with high yield, are not necessarily able to acquire nutrients at a rate that matches that growth. [Impending concession and dubious-conclusion-drawing sentence] While the article I read and cited above (from OrganicAuthority.com, an admittedly biased source), by Vicki Godal, that describes Davis' study does not mention apples, and while I have not seen Davis' study, I think I can safely presume that commercial apples have suffered a similar environmental/genetic dilution effect.

So, in summary, no, an apple is not an apple.

Apples bred for long distance travel and uniform shape/color/size are not fruit, they are commodities. The tiny snackable apples, the Red Delugeofmealycrap-scious, those huge dull yellow orbs the size of a grapefruit that you buy in the supermarket, they are not the real thing.

However, these apple-look-a-likes are still a piece of food. Ignoring the breeding process, the chemicals required to grow them, and their dubious nutritional content, they are reliably whole, contained, demarcated. We have Nature and the evolutionary process to thank for that wholeness, for fruit are a brilliant package to carry and disseminate seeds. It is a tried and true plant survival method, enticing animals with delicious offerings full of reproductive material.

Motts thinks they can one up this pre-packaged whole food with their pre-sliced apples. It is a pound of apple entombed in plastic, 8 individually wrapped sacks ensconced in more plastic. I don't think I need to waste any words about how idiotic this product is, or how much faith it causes me to lose in my fellow man (assuming Mott's wouldn't offer this product if people don't want to buy it).

So on the one hand we have Mott's plasticized 'sliceaple' (patent pending). On the other hand is The Boston Tree Party, a campaign from Hybrid Vigor Projects, which is about way more than just apples growing in Boston (italics mine, bold theirs):
The Boston Tree Party is a collaborative campaign to plant 100 pairs of heirloom apple trees in civic spaces across Greater Boston. The tree plantings will take place in partnership with a diverse range of institutions, organizations, businesses, and communities.

Our motto is Frux Civilis, “Civic Fruit”—we call for the planting of fruit trees in civic space, and we promote the fruits of civic engagement!

As an urban agriculture project, the campaign will create vital gathering places, build community connections, and improve community health. As a conceptual art project, the Boston Tree Party engages with metaphor and symbolism, and playfully reimagines patriotic and political language, imagery, and forms of association.

Like the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Tree Party is a symbolic political act. The project takes a stand for universal access to fresh, healthy food; for greening our cities; cleaning our air and waterways; reducing our city’s carbon footprint; creating habitat for urban wildlife; and for protecting the biodiversity and heritage of our food. Collectively, the 200 apple trees will become a decentralized public urban orchard that crosses social, economic, political, and geographic boundaries.

Who knew that planting 100 apple trees could take on so many layers of meaning. This collaborative campaign of civic engagement/urban agriculture project/conceptual art project/symbolic political act/beginnings of a decentralized public urban orchard is great, and I love it, don't get me wrong. There is no denying the fact that cities need to become more resilient and more self sufficient in order to last, and producing food in urban areas is one crucial part (I would content the most-important and easiest-to-implement pillar) of serious efforts at sustainability and sustainable urban development. We NEED to grow more food in and around cities. People are doing it in different parts of the country, and many more people do it in urban areas around the world (I've read that 10-20 percent of the globe's food already comes from urban and peri-urban areas). There are urban farmers in Cuba who make a great living supplying their neighbors with fresh produce, and there is no serious impediment (oh, besides a lack of funding and political will) to implementing similar programs here in the U.S. There are over 800 acres of vacant land/lots within the City of Boston, and how many (thousands?) unemployed people?

So I am all for planting 100 heirloom apple trees throughout Boston; I think it is a great idea. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now. I even would have attended the Tree Party's inauguration at the Rose Kennedy Greenway on April 10th if I wasn't working in the Greenside Out Garden that day, and helping to assemble some yard waste compost bins there, with the lovely volunteers and friends of Bountiful Brookline.

It is also true that public fruit trees have many potential benefits to society and the urban environment (beyond providing food), including the following ones listed on the Tree Party's website:
  • "Greater access to fresh, healthy food, which improves the health and well-being of all residents.
  • Improved air quality, which improves respiratory health for all residents.
  • Reduced flooding and water pollutants due to stormwater run-off, which improves water quality.
  • Increased shade and lower air temperatures, which reduces the need for energy intensive air conditioning.
  • Improved soil quality and decreased erosion.
  • New habitat for birds and bees.
  • Increased biodiversity in our food supply.
  • A stronger connection to the growing of our food.
  • The creation of inviting and memorable community gathering places.
  • A multitude of opportunities for experiential learning."
Okay, so despite all of these potential benefits and how much I support urban agriculture, I still can't help feeling cautiously optimistic about all of the fanfare around this project. I guess I am most skeptical of the overtly symbolic nature of the Tree Party, and how many shoes it is trying to fill. I will try to elaborate on this uneasy excitement.

Really, I just question the Party's status as an urban agriculture project, when in fact it is more of a public art project. Planting trees and growing fruit here is the means to an end. The main goal is civic engagement and community building, not growing food in urban areas to feed urban residents. This is fine, and I am not saying that the Tree Party is writing checks it can't cash about supplying the city with apples. But let's be clear, these trees have to get established and won't bear fruit for another 2-3 years. PLus the volume of edible apples they produce will not have any noticeable direct effect on the "health and well being of all residents."

The Boston Tree Party is a foray into civic engagement through urban agriculture, and it is a valuable first step towards the kind of edible landscapes we could create in our public places. This symbolic cultivation will make later efforts at viable and productive cultivation easier, and that kind of facilitation is crucial for urban agriculture to get legs and gain acceptance as a viable and important profession and pursuit. The success of the Boston Tree Party, who seem committed to seeing their work through in the long haul, is not guaranteed, but I am certainly rooting for them.

Okay, I feel better after articulating that. I still can't shake a bit of skepticism about the publicity and fanfare, and that is fine. It is a big project that requires coordination among many different institutions, organizations, and multiple levels and layers of government, no doubt, and all of that coordination requires communication. I know that cultivating a media presence is essential (or considered as such) these days, but I wish that cultivating healthy food in our cities was an imperative too.

I knew all along which apple I would prefer if forced to choose, so no real dilemma there. As for the larger implications for society and the sustainability of our agriculture and food systems, well these two apples represent very different parts of the spectrum. While I would rather see plasticized sliceaples over cheetos in vending machines, I would rather not see vending machines at all, so let's toss the Mott's sliceaples and pretend they don't exist for the time being (if only we could wish them out of existence). If you fall for that overpriced and overpackaged excuse for a healthy snack (they have 4 ingredients other than the only one apples should have, which is apple), then you are hopeless.

As for the sustainability of the Boston Tree Project, we will have to wait and see. In terms of food security and food access, well obviously a city can't feed itself with only a few symbolic fruit trees. Though I don't really want to make this comparison, I inevitably see a perverse similarity between the packaged nutritional claims of the sliceaples and the symbolism and publicity around the Tree Party. We would never get our apples if we had to go through all of this hullabaloo ceremony civic stakeholder engagement stuff every time a farm planted an apple tree--think about the very same 2 apple trees now standing on the Kennedy Greenway being planted in an orchard in Whately, MA or anywhere else. Same trees, less fanfare, more growing apples. I tentatively conclude that the sliceaples and the Tree Party are both unsustainable in certain very different ways, from the food production perspective.

Talk is important. Talk is cheap. Less talk, more doing. Less talk, more gardening. Less talk, more farming.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wholly Holy

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Everyone is self-interested.

Putting the collective before the individual.
Putting the whole before the parts.

I put the whole before the parts because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I put the whole before the parts because reductionist thinking is dangerous.

"Fuller said that the only way we can survive as a species is to have a design revolution...and it would have to be a comprehensive, anticipatory, science-based deign revolution."


I put a hole in the parts that contest the compatibility of the whole with my parts.
In my self-interest, I put the whole before the parts.
I put the whole before the parts because it makes me whole.
I put the whole before the parts because it gives me a chance to survive,
I put the whole before the parts to thrive.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hijacking Ideals

Corporatizing and normalizing radical ideals is nothing new. Terms are co-opted all the time, but that does not make it right.

The red tape that accompanies any bureaucratic certification process aside, the label organic, and some of the farms who sell organic, do not reflect the ideals of the original organic movement. By the way, the original movement began with indigenous Indian agriculture, as observed by the British soil scientist Sir Albert Howard who recorded and developed the system of 'organic' agriculture. Howard said that "the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible." Organic monocultures sucking water and fuel in California to produce spring mix for winter salads in Boston clouds Howard's holistic vision of organic agriculture just as the wordy federal organic program, which has more to say about regulations and marketing than organic farming methods, stifles his words in An Agricultural Testament and other works.

Organic agriculture is a modern description of practices that conserve natural resources while sustainably producing food. These practices have existed for over 6,000 years, and it is only within the last few hundred years that what we call conventional agriculture has emerged. Curiously, conventional agriculture is very unconventional in terms of its historical use, and it lacks widespread agreement, or convention, about its methods and benefits.

Organic agriculture is more labor-intensive than capital-intensive in nature, a characteristic that facilitates its spread and adoption. Its a reason why the demands of conventional high-input high-impact agriculture are so great--there are so many fewer farmers, and it is harder to connect with your land when you need a research plane to help manage the farm.

Organic agriculture works--there's thousands of years of research to prove it, and our ancestors didn't have nearly all of the cool tools we have. [Don't get me wrong though, because this is not a quick techno fix. We have plenty of tools to get the job done, but what we need is more hands, and more hoofs, trotters, claws, talons, paws, etc. This is not easy work, but many hands make light of the worst tasks.] I have seen and heard so many questions about Organic in the literature, but the main one deals with its ability to feed everyone on the globe.

My first thought: prove that organic agriculture cannot feed the world. 2nd: got a better idea? because by mining fossil fuels and fossil aquifers and our fertile soil, by protecting the behemoth centralized food machine and not prioritizing local capacity for production and processing and distribution, by modeling natural agro-ecosystems after machines, we are failing to invest in long term food security. We cannot afford to continue to eat in this way. Other countries cannot afford for us to continue to produce and distribute the quantity of food that we co. The western diet spreads across the globe like the quality of fast food decreases with its temperature. Quickly.

If we want to get serious about feeding everyone good real food, then we need to get serious about food sovereignty/safety/security. One very important thing to realize here: we need (more) people to play a role in the production, processing, and distribution of their own food. Start small and work your way up. It's getting harder every year to find excuses that will keep us in the clear. There are no more excuses. Get local, get involved, find some land, grow. Give it a shot, it's fun.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Coincidence? I think not.

"Remember remember the 5th of December," she chanted singsong.

Without breaking gaze from telescreen, "What's that mean?"

"It's from that V for Vendetta movie."

"consent absentmindedly{oh, so good}"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Illusions of progress

Tired of those 5 boring senses? Need a new way to navigate an uncertain and ever-changing world? Try the douchepad--I mean iPad. Oh right, the iPad 2!

"Once you pick up iPad 2, it’ll be hard to put down. That’s the idea behind the all-new design...it makes surfing the web, checking email, watching movies, and reading books so natural, you might forget there’s incredible technology under your fingers."

The idea? To facilitate your ability to experience the world by tempering its stochasticity and simplifying its complexity, all with the use of one handy device. It's so natural, you might forget there's a whole world of people to interact with and places to explore.

How does it work? Simple, just hold the device in front of your face and twiddle your fingers across its surface...instantly, you will feel your mundane external reality melt away.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Opposing Viewpoints

I came across this article from the BBC about the arrest of a Saudia Arabian student in Texas for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He was apparently researching ways to make and conceal bombs in order to conduct 'jihad' in this country.

Please, let's contemplate for a moment this situation: the U.S. government, as we speak, is conducting research on new and insidious ways of hurting people that we cannot imagine. That same government invaded the country of Iraq on the false pretenses of looking for weapons of mass destruction, and then proceeded to drop thousands of pounds of bombs and cruise missiles on the people there (among other atrocious acts of violence). What are those weapons but highly sophisticated killing machines, or weapons of mass destruction, designed to terrorize and destroy.

And yet, here, back in the heartland, this fellow gets arrested for conducting research into committing violence of a similar nature, only on a much smaller scale.

I am not condoning his actions or suggesting that I want him to have had the chance to hurt people. I don't believe that violence solves problems, ever, no matter the scale or intent or justification.

Still, this brings me back to a questions I have been grappling with since reading Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that some violence is allowed, condoned, even celebrated, whereas other forms of violence are punished. What is the difference between George W and Aldawsari? What is the difference between one one man's actions and another's, if their intent, to hurt people in order to further their cause, is the same?

It is perhaps most poignant that Aldawsari included former President George W.'s house on his list of potential targets. How many people in the world would like to see George W arrested for his role in the use of weapons of mass destruction?

I know what the supposed difference between these two men is, but I don't think it is as big as some might have you believe. The ends don't justify the means; the ends are the means. Violence breeds violence, always. War is terrorism dressed up in a uniform waving a flag.

The sign in this image, held by supporters of Julian Assange, pretty much says it all.

Ich sollte schlafen


I attended the most of a spaghetti dinner and presentation on Food in the City tonight (missed the 'ghetti unfortunately). With presentations on everything from backyard poultry to a yogurt-making-and-sharing cooperative to subirrigated gardening to the 'ag bag' project (tyvek growing bags slung over windowsills, staircases, fences, you name it, started in NYC and coming to Boston soon), it was a great time.

Perhaps even better than the evening's program was visiting its venue: Sprout. This is an incredible space, basically a big 2 story garage that has been converted into the following (their website says it better than I can): "a community education and research organization devoted to creating and supporting the community-driven learning, teaching, and investigation of science...united by a passion to reclaim science as a richly personal and creative craft."

Basically, as the evening's moderator described it, Sprout is dedicated to fostering playful, practical, and approachable science-based inquiry into people's problems and interests. It is an open studio of sorts, an incubator, a communal laboratory, and it seems really cool. I had no idea something like this even existed, but then again I know very little about what goes on in Somerville. I don't know the everyday logistics or what goes on there besides tinkering and events, but I will be going back 2 weeks from tomorrow (okay, really from today) for a project night on ag bag construction. I hope to come home with my very own ag bag so I can be part of this nifty urban agriculture experiment.

Did you know snails are the fashionable new urban meat? Who can say no to a vertical grazing animal? Hmm...I don't think any snails will come with the bag.

Speaking of creepy crawly critters, there is a tub of worms sitting in the basement of the Hive! I am excited for this chance to dabble in vermiculture, and I hope that I can use the castings to help grow some tasty vegetables this season.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Today is an auspicious day for Lentils

A living Medal of Honor recipient stands in military dress under a 600 ton-160 foot long television. He is recognized for killing brown people in Afghanistan in order to save his comrades in arms. The reality of Restrepo and the gaudy circus, fanfare, and inflated patriotism of the super bowl cannot be reconciled. The night is a spectacular synergy of bland bands and brands. There is no saving this land from the top down. There is no saving television nation. It has inculcated everyone and everything.


The curve of the edge of the clouds and blue sky mountain arcs down away to the horizon like supple birch wood rainbowed
Under pressure.

The professor's words still vex me. We wouldn't want to jeopardize
their future ability
to serve in the government
by exposing them to (shh, come close, you musn't tell a soul...)
secret government cables--better to pretend these things don't happen, to keep them in the dark as long as possible, to retain their ability to be utterly inculcated by later service.

I give thanks that the plutocrats can't touch Blue sky mountain.


I am utterly enchanted by the idea that other people would choose to read what I have to say. It is a self-aggrandizing truth that I believe: I have something to say.


I winced at the strangely human cries of her dog. The van smelled strongly: stale beer, cigarettes, old coffee.
I fear Mommy will comment on the dog in the presence of its owner, just like the gaugearedmariecallendar's waiter. The squawk box says he was not politically motivated, but I find that hard to believe.
Her smoker's cough was throaty, disguised, soothed by aguafina, and her lap dog was entirely unremarkable except in its pampered look, need for attention, and inability to fend for itself in nature.
In one way or another, everyone is politically motivated.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Food Geographer

Or maybe, a geographer of food. Sounds nice, eh?

My attempts to summarize my chosen area of study have enjoyed a wide range of success and failure over the past few years. There's the old standby, the definition from my department of "the study of the spatial organization of human activity and human interaction with the physical environment." I used to (and sometimes still do) rattle that one off with a matter-of-fact tone and a straight face (for some reason substituting 'distribution' for 'organization'), as if I am fulfilling the stuff of everyone's childhood dreams. But I have received enough blank stares, quizzical looks ("that's a real major?"), half-smiles of suspicion ("you're serious?"), and I-tentatively-think-I-get-it-but-don't-care-to-press-the-issue facial expressions to know that the old standby is not enough.

These days I usually proceed in a fashion similar to the following:
"I study human geography-it's the study of human activity and society, like, the distribution of our activities, in relation to the environment...it's somewhere between the social sciences and hard sciences, like, an interdisciplinary focus...yeah, it sounds broad, I know. You can study just about anything and call it human geography, like transportation systems, economic geography, urban planning, uh, and, lots of people go work for government agencies or as consultants...yeah, and I'm really interested in agriculture and how we get our food..."

Of course it is natural to get so many questions about such an obscure and inglorious field of study as mine--I would be wondering too if I wasn't the one studying it. Heck, I still have those what-the-bleep moments at times, and I don't feel at all like someone who is wrapping up 4 years of studying to be a human geographer. Looking through the lens of geography and environment and the above description of my major on the website, my classes and academic program have felt about as cohesive as wet sand drying in your hand in the sun. But that is the subject of another whole post, and probably a letter to BU too when this is all over. You can peek at my course list for the entire college career below.

However, I wasn't studying for 4 years to become a career or a specialist; I was studying to become JD.

That food/farming part at the end of the description of my studies, I added that within the last year and a half or so. (I found this great entry, in the online Encyclopedia of Food & Culture, on the geography of food; it neatly sums up the applicability of geographers to food studies.) That is something I am sure of, something that grounds me whenever I get waves of panic about not leaving school with 'marketable skills' or a job lined up for my favorite I-banking firm (did you know people, young people like students, have favorite I-banking companies? it boggles my mind, but it is true) or a clear sense of the direction my life will take in the next 5 or 10 years.

Whatever happens, I know that I want to devote part or all of my life to reconnecting people (including myself) with the landscapes that sustain us and with sources of healthy (in many senses) food. I daresay I might feel passionate about local food systems, sustainable agriculture, urban and peri-urban agriculture, and the many associated benefits these production systems can provide to people, communities, the environment, and our societies as a whole.

So yeah, it took a few years, but I feel I can say, finally, with confidence, in my last semester of undergraduate liberal arts studies, that I am a food geographer.

CAS CC101 Ancient World Hume 1
CAS CC105 Core Natural Science 1
CAS GE100 Intr Envron Science
CAS PS101 Gen Psychology

SPRG 08 CAS CC102 Core Humanit 2
CAS CC106 Core Nat Sci 2
CAS ID116 Africa Today
CAS LG212 4th Sem German

FALL 08 CAS CC201 Core Humanit 3
CAS EC101 Intro Microeconomics
CAS GE103 Economic Geography
CAS MA121 Calc I-Soc Sci

SPRG 09 CAS CC202 Core Humanit 4
CAS EC102 Intro Macroecon
CAS GE309 Envir Analysis
CAS MA213 Basic Stat&Prob

FALL 09 CAS GE250 Fate of Nations
CAS GE275 Intro Env Modelling
CAS GE356 Third World Development
CAS LA111 Hausa 1

SPRG 10 CAS HI384E N Afr History&Relig
CAS LY111E Modern Arabic 1
CAS LY112E Modern Arabic 2
CAS WS351E Women Islam&Pol

FALL 10 CAS GE302 Remote Sensing
CAS GE304 Sustainable Dev
CAS GE460 Resource Economics
CAS HI589 Hist Food Envir & Soc

SPRG 11 CAS GE492 Local Food Direct.study
CAS GE365 Intro to GIS
CAS GE394 Envir Hist Africa
CFA MU567 African drumming&dance
PDP DA179 Afro-Jazz

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Slavery

The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of an essay I wrote approximately three years ago titled "The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: The Origins and Characteristics of an Islamic Institution." It is pertinent because I intend to submit the essay as part of my African Studies minor and have been revising it slightly. I have also been having a lot of discussions lately with friends and housemates about depressing subjects, so the topic of slavery is on the mental radar. There are many bad things going on all around me, in this country and abroad, and I have been thinking about them a lot. I must say that I tend to initiate these conversations on depressing subjects.

I know precisely why this is; I can trace it to a certain book I am most of the way through. It is called The Culture of Make Believe by a fellow named Derrick Jensen. Though I don't agree with all of his ideas, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I have never encountered a book that has made me question as many things in my life as this one. His work is stunning in its breadth and ambition. His quest is to understand the roots of hatred and violence in our Western civilization and culture. In the process, he confronts the buried assumptions and established pillars that prop up our culture. Connections previously unconsidered, unrecognized, Jensen throws into sharp relief. In the process he makes many blanket statements and sweeping indictments, but his courage is admirable, his focus unrelenting, and his attention to excruciating detail painfully accurate, researched, exposed. In short, he is working towards a conclusion that I will likely find impossible to support in the context of my current life. If I were to fully agree with him, which part of me wants to, I would have to reconsider and reject much of what I have learned in my 22 years on this earth.

What is the difference between the United States' economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, which killed thousands of people each day, and the murderers behind bars all over this country? What are the connections between the Ku Klux Klan burning and lynching black men in the Southern US and an industrial disaster like the one caused by Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, in 1984? Why does our definition of murder depend on the victimizer? Why is institutionalized violence perpetrated by governments and corporations acceptable, encouraged, or profitable?

I do not see the full effects of the life I live, I do not feel its impact; I am not forced to touch and feel and live with the cumulative effects of my consumption. I feel on one side the pressure to conform, to get a job and make lots of money so I can live a life like everyone else, to consume and vote and settle and save enough and retire and feel secure. On the other side I feel the need to work against progress and production, to actively resist the advances of society and technology, to help move beyond the destruction consumption-and-endless-growth paradigm, to localize, to not fall in line and get a job. Even as I sit at my computer I am scared of spending the majority of my life in front of a screen. I am scared of feeling disconnected, lost, lonely, of settling for objectivity and illusion, of being one more netizen of Jensen's culture of make believe.

Jensen takes McKibben's thesis to the next level, beyond the factual, to the realm of feeling and spirituality. He is digging down below the fabric and pulling apart each thread of Western culture. History shows how our actions repeat and perpetuate perpetual atrocities again and again. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."


Atrocities are being committed right now, all over the world, some of them in the name of the United States of America. In the context of my comfortable life in Boston, it is difficult to imagine war, extreme poverty, rape, murder, or poisoning from toxic waste. It is also difficult to talk about these horrible things. It is easier to go about my life and not think about these things, to not talk about them, to pretend they do not exist. Not in my backyard, not in my perception, not in my reality, not in my name.


"Abolitionist sentiments and efforts became widespread in the nineteenth century and were largely successful by the turn of the twentieth century, yet for all of recorded human history (and probably before that as well) slavery was normal and accepted. It is only within the last 200 years that abolitionists and others seriously challenged the institution of slavery and wrought a change in the practice. One is therefore compelled to wonder about why slavery persisted for so long and why it was only relatively recently abolished, despite the institution’s widely known atrocities and largely terrible practices.

Part of the answer stems from the institution’s significance in an economic and, more importantly, social sense, a significance that the examples above from Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa show. This paper is an attempt at analyzing the trans-Saharan slave trade and some of its important characteristics in order to place this specific trade in the larger context of slavery worldwide. The institution of slavery is a self-propagating, never-ending cycle of violence and submission that keeps the powerful on top and the down-trodden weak at the bottom of the pile. Indeed, the never-ending circle is still spinning today, just in different ways. The answer to the above question can probably also be found in some aspect of human nature, for there seems to be a natural inclination to take advantage of those that are inferior. Perhaps this aspect of our behavior stems from our basic evolutionary instincts, the residual effects of natural selection and intraspecific competition for resources. This natural inclination can be observed throughout history, both with slavery and in many other examples.

Even today, many years after the abolition of slavery, countless reported instances exist of forced labor, child labor, human trafficking, sharecropping, forced prostitution, and more, all of which fit the definition of slavery. Consider also the circumstances of capitalist societies in which the lower classes, especially minority and immigrant populations, are exploited as cheap expendable sources of labor and used to fill the most undesirable but necessary positions. These unfortunate souls are usually overworked and underpaid, bound to live in perpetual uncertainty from one paycheck to the next in what amounts to essentially an acceptable, or rather, encouraged, form of slavery. It seems that human nature dictates a perpetual cycle of the strong dominating and utilizing the weak for personal gains. Though we have progressed away from the infamy of slavery as a legally sanctioned institution, its legacy lives on in societal and racial inequalities and in the unequal distribution of wealth that still plagues modern societies. True equality is perhaps an unattainable Utopian ideal, for it seems that man will always find a way to take advantage of his fellows. Will the cycle of violence ever come to an end? Only the passage of time can answer that question, but in the meantime we can always look to history and past mistakes as a way to guide our future."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Il cesse d'être plaindre si vous êtes toujours chiant sang

Cette chanson me touche d'une manière que je ne peux même pas décrire. Néanmoins, je peux essayer.

Laura opens her mouth and I listen.
The tape would be worn out by now.
Soft and quavering, as melodic as you need.
Reaching for the spark that is impossible to reclaim, recreate, or even locate.
A brief moment of pure audible ecstasy;
I wish it were possible for anyone to caress me in the way her music does.
All the more fun because she makes it her song.


"Sing the fucking songs you told the world to sing.
Sing it right unless you want to fail.
Listen back and punch the things that we don't like.
You can't do it right in just one take.

Because you aren't good enough.
You were never good enough to sing your own songs oh so perfect.

If you fuck this up, you fuck the record deal
And respect of all our famous friends.
Drift too far and it is inaccessible.
Do it right! We worked as hard as you.

And we didn't come this far
For you to fuck this up and fuck our whole lives.

So write some songs with fucking hooks
Remember why you wrote songs in the first place.
Let's start a band.
This is all that you can do.

Cut the cookie. Five sharp points to make a star.
Cut the corners, get the biggest tours.
Traffic violations mean bad credit now.
Twenty triple zeroes in the hole.

And it wouldn't be so bad.
If we crashed the fucking van and watch our fucking debt go up in flames.

You know, it wouldn't be so bad.
If we just threw up our hands instead of feeding something
I did not want to create.
Your underground is a mistake.

So write one song without a hook.
Remember why you wrote songs in the first place.
Not for the band
You opened up for yesterday.

So write a song without a hook.
Remember why you wrote songs in the first place.
Not for a guy
Who runs a fucking focus group."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bittersweet reflections during snow

Medford 02155
West Newbury 01985
Groveland 01834
Ipswich 01938
Boston 02115
Allston 02134
Rabat 10101
Brookline 02446

A list of the places I have put down roots in 22 years of life. The briefest compendium of my geographical history, a manifestation of sabbaticals, studies, divorce, suburbia, leases, mortgages.

A zip code can say a thousand words. What is yours? What attachment do you feel to the physical place you live in? What are the effects of a life without attachment, of transitory employment, of a disposable culture? You can live anywhere, do anything, be anybody you please, but where does that leave you? what is the value of an identity defined by its transient adaptability, and what are the adverse effects of an ephemeral existence?