Laws of Morals as of Botany: Emerson

“I have confidence in the laws of morals as of botany. I have planted maize in my field every June for seventeen years and I never knew it come up strychnine. My parsley, beet, turnip, carrot, buck-thorn, chestnut, acorn, are as sure. I believe that justice produces justice, and injustice injustice.”

from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1852 journal entry

 

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Pipeline Protest

anti-pipeline poem,

Pipeline Protest 

 

Its name is Nexus,

from the Latin

meaning to bind, fasten, tie.

The pipeline, nearly as wide

as a kindergartener is tall,

will cut through

dairy farms and backyards,

hurtling high-pressure

danger for profit. Always profit.

 

Maybe it’s another wake-up call,

like the one Bush offered

by invading a sovereign nation;

brutalizing the Iraqi people

we claimed to be saving.

Brutalizing ourselves.

 

Of course we keep hitting

the snooze button.

Waking up isn’t easy.

Birds flounder

in oily waters

and we’re desperate

to sleep a little longer.

 

Today you and I stand

amidst hand-lettered signs:

Windmills Not Oil Spills,

Eminent Domain=Greed,

Fuck Fracking.

Cold wind brings tears to our eyes.

 

Fear brings us here. Anger too.

And bone-deep grief

for this lovely lovely planet.

Awakening shows us a million ways

to climb past despair.

I want us to do it for love.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Originally published in the Blue Collar Review. Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 

 

  • Here’s more about the Nexus pipeline including the route and blast radius in Ohio.
  • Here’s an article I wrote about how fracking might affect my family, and yours.  (First published on Wired.com.)
  • Here’s a glimpse at just how shady the oil and gas industry can be. More than 100 letters sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) in support of the pipeline are fakes, using names and addresses of Medina County residents who did not write them or sign them. A FERC project manager said the falsified letters would remain on the docket.
  • Here’s recent disheartening news. An appeals court, using a 65 year old Ohio law meant to facilitate the construction of utility infrastructure after World War II,  has ruled against the rights of property owners. This means pipeline surveyors are free to intrude on the yards and farms of 65 landowners who have actively objected. Yesterday armed security guards stood by as surveyors took measurements on a horse farm just south of the fairgrounds, a farm that’s bordered on three sides by wetlands and park property. As resident Paul Gierosky said in a recent article, “NEXUS is no more a utility than I’m an astronaut. This pipeline is not a public agency designed to service the people along its route. It’s a for-profit company that’s going to sell the gas to a foreign country.”
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Saving A Desperate Creature

in which I try to rescue a desperate creature

Early mornings are dark and quiet in November. I put on my boots, coat, and hat to walk out with a bucket of kitchen scraps in hand. I pause to appreciate mist rising from the pond and autumn’s complex scents. Some mornings I chat quietly with birds and trees as I head back to the barn. Other mornings I sing.

This particular morning I’m wearing a heavier coat against the cold, an orange hat in deference to hunting season, and carrying a bigger pail than usual. As I walk I notice a muted squeaking sound. Immediately, I imagine it coming from some small creature. I picture its dark desperate eyes. Maybe it is trapped or injured.

I slow and the squeaks become harder to hear.

I stop. The squeaks stop too.

Poor wary little thing, I must be close.

I walk slowly toward tall grasses lining the creek. A few desperate squeaks can be heard. I pause, hoping intuition might tell me where this little animal is hiding. There’s probably nothing I can do, but if it’s trapped I can free it. If it’s injured I might be able to move it to a place safer than the side of a flood-prone creek.

I stand still, listening.

Nothing.

Okay, I say to myself. It’s your imagination.

I head back toward the barn.

The squeaking starts up again, rhythmic and desperate.

Logic is late to this adventure, but it finally clicks in. I’m carrying a large bucket, one we left out on the cold porch overnight. The squeaking noise I hear is the handle rubbing against the sides. I stop to confirm. The squeaking stops. I feel silly. I also feel, against all reason, enormously relieved for the creature I’d imagined in distress.

I take a deep breath and continue on toward the barn, ever more grateful for the peace of the day.

I hope your morning is less emotionally fraught.

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Outing Oneself

liberal in conservative Ohio

I live in a rural Ohio township in a county that’s resoundingly conservative. The last few months it has bristled with Trump signs. Some of them are huge. Some handmade. Many farms and businesses have sported dozens of signs that haven’t yet come down. I acknowledge their passion, although it’s beyond my comprehension.

When we first moved here I was told to avoid putting up Halloween decorations, since that would mark me as on the side of Satan. When I displayed homemade yard art, our postal carrier asked if we were devil worshipers. Just admitting we weren’t the correct brand of born again Christian resulted in a de facto death threat.

Still, we’ve stayed. Heck yeah. We planted fruit and nut trees, along with raspberries, asparagus, and other perennials. We built barns and fenced pastures. We intend to live here until we’re so damn old that we can’t feed livestock or can our harvest or take a daily walk. If nothing else, we’re resilient.

Years ago I visited Portland Maine to see a friend. It was a delicious shock to my keep-your-opinions-quiet life. From bumper stickers to storefronts it seemed everyone was wildly progressive. I’d avoided broadcasting my planet-friendly politics, beyond-denomination spiritual beliefs, and sustainable lifestyle, only to realize there were actually places where such things were de rigueur. There are all sorts of closets.

I find hope wherever I can, especially in a house I pass each week on my trip to the library, where signs for polar opposite sports teams and political parties are posted on the same lawn, in front of the same house, where the same couple presumably shares the same couch, toilet, and bed. If they can do it successfully, so can a nation.

The only place I feel free to be myself out loud, politically and otherwise beyond my own small circle of family and friends, is on social media. When I post on my natural learning page I steer well clear of potentially inflammatory opinions out of respect for other people’s beliefs, but when I post on my own Twitter and FB pages I share ideas and reflections that are interesting to me. Mostly it’s hopeful but the last few days my posts have been raw, fearful, and unsure —- the way humans beings can be in times of flux.

Such posts may have cost me one of my dearest friends, someone my family and I love.

Since the election I’ve felt battered and bruised, barely able to pull up my optimism pants. And I am saddened beyond words that being who I am may mean losing people I love. I hope that’s not what coming out means. If this is what it’s like, even for a political stance, I can’t imagine what it feels like to come out when the issue is much larger and much more personal.

This is what I’m hanging on to — that spring always comes no matter how cold the winter.

a

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There’s Something About Stacking Stones

I’ve always loved stones. Not gemstones; I’m not a swayed-by-shiny-baubles sort of girl. I mean the wonderfully rough-shouldered stones found heaving up in the garden, pasture, and woods. I’m drawn to their geologically long view of things. Their solid gray patience with scurrying life forms. And their reassuringly substantial form in a world preoccupied with ephemeral concepts like wealth and fame.

Maybe that’s why I’ve got a thing for stacking them.

It’s intriguing to pivot one stone on another, finding the spot where they rest in pleasing balance. Then to place another stone on top, then another, and another. I need to be careful. I don’t want stones to drop on my loved ones or my dogs or any other innocent being happening by. What’s interesting is that they don’t. Sometimes stacked stones slump sideways a bit, almost as if establishing a balance they find more pleasing. Or maybe the Earth’s rotation is felt more honestly by stones as they lean in accord with the great whirling Mother stone.

The stack on the left is leaning off in its own direction.

A few seasons ago, what looked like a stone forehead emerged from the grass. Every time the tractor passed over it the mower blades shrieked. So my guys got out a shovel, crowbar, and wheelbarrow to fully liberate it from the earth it was trying to exit. Now it’s above ground again, nestled with companion rocks by our garage door, safe from the mower. Being a stone, it’ll sink back into the ground eventually, waiting for Earth’s tides to heave it back up again.

Here’s that stone, waiting for a taller and more artful stack.

Actually, quite a few of my stone stacks have rocks piled nearby, waiting until I’m hit by stacking inspiration.  Like this one,

and this one.

These are sister stacks, seen from the side,

a

My current favorite is this gravity-defying stack.

a

I even stack stones indoors, although I’ve kept myself to one spot, the little dresser that served as our Waldorf-y nature table for years. (By the time my kids were teens that mostly meant animal skulls, fossils, and strangely shaped sticks.) These are three of the seven stone stacks there. Now, seeing this picture, I realize the one on the left has lost the pyramid-shaped stone that used to perch there. I’m off to search for it!

” The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.”  ~ Bertrand Russell

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The Method Is The Mindset

Reveling in the glory of what are too often considered weeds.

Reveling in the glory of what are too often considered weeds.

There are people who come on forcefully. Soldiers are trained to take charge first, ask questions later. Cops are trained to assert their authority immediately, then figure out what’s going on. The approach isn’t limited to those fields. I’ve known some pretty tough math teachers….

Driving a tank, wearing a badge and gun, or wielding a grade book likely shapes the approach that’s taken. I don’t have a lot of evidence in my own life, except as a gardener.

For decades, I’ve taken a minimally invasive route. Tutored by an early love of The Secret Garden, Heidi, and Rabbit Hill, I respect a garden’s complex mysteries. I’ve chatted with devas (who may or may not have been listening), followed lunar calendars, enthused about books by Christopher Bird and Stephen Buhner, aspired to co-create gardens like Findhorn and Perelandra. I’ve applied permaculture techniques, even built modified hügelkultur beds. I’ve let daisies, thistles, joe pye weed, ironweed, and wild carrot live along garden borders for their sheer beauty. I’ve accepted that rabbits, slugs, and birds will take their share.

It’s not necessarily garden smart, but it’s not in my nature to wipe out living thing. I honestly apologize, quite often out loud, when I have to pull weeds or remove bugs.

Excuse me green stink bug, mind if I brush you aside?

I see and respect your soil-enhancing ways thistle, sorry about yanking you out. (Sometimes swearing as I do so.)

I never thought, for a minute, I’d take a weaponized approach to gardening. Then this year, too lazy or busy or heat-addled, I went on the attack using both a spray and a machine.

Spray confession

For the first time ever, I used a poison. I’m not talking pure evil (like Roundup, I’ll never go there). Pyrethrin is a synthetic version of the friendly chrysanthemum’s power to repel pests and, under some guidelines, approved for organic growers. It loses effectiveness in a few hours and is supposedly safe enough to apply close to harvest. I was driven to this edge by squash beetles.

I’ve lost to squash beetles too many times. These are well-equipped invaders. I’ve asked them many times, “Why are you destroying your host plant?” and “How about we compromise and you just eat this one plant?” They seemed unconcerned, aware I’ll go ahead and plant squash again the next year. (Rotating to another garden plot, dear reader, at least I try.) Adult versions of the squash beetle look like armored vehicles. I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing lumbering around the base of my large and lovely squash plants, but they seem to be patrolling their own cucurbit military bases. Squash bugs have four, count ’em four, life cycles starting with eerily lovely copper-colored eggs, which hatch into spiderish creatures, which turn into nymphs, which grow into those armored vehicles. I’ve become weary of their domination.

I grow the healthiest squash plants I can. I save seeds and start plants indoors, tending them with kind words and bright light. I tuck them into spring-warmed ground with aged poo from our beloved cattle. I water and weed like an overly attentive nanny. Then I watch them succumb to the bad influences of powdery mildew, cucumber beetles, vine borers, and squash beetles. This summer, enough was enough.

I felt the itch of cognitive dissonance as I mixed up a batch of pyrethrin in a small squirt bottle I once used for art projects. And then I went out to kill. My dad patrolled his garden every evening, plucking offending insects from plants and dropping them into a jar of soapy water. I’ve never been able to bring myself to do that. But my naturally gentle nature, I swear, was altered by the weapon I used. I’d part a few leaves to find squash beetles, then spray them with a vindictive, “You can’t hide from me!” I thought guiltily about their tiny nervous systems breaking down, about the place they held in the ecosystem, about my species’ hubris.  But that guilt gave way somewhat to my new sense of power.

Yes, I carefully avoided lightning bugs and butterflies and toads, although I know it’s likely those pyrethrin droplets affected more than just squash beetles. That didn’t stop me from mixing up another small batch to repeat the treatment a few days later. Thanks to that spray,  I only lost three squash plants out of 15. After decades of not always successful person-to-insect negotiations, I’ve declared myself in charge. So much for co-creation….

 

Machine confession

Which leads me to my new weeding method. I’ve kvetched here many times about the trials of weeding an organic garden, often losing the battle with wild carrot, morning glory, thistle, and crabgrass. I’ve gone on at length about my various attempts to control weeds, even stretching old cut-up jeans between rows (it works, btw). But, my friends, I have hit upon a method that actually works for me.

It has to do with a machine that gives me dominion over weeds.

Thanks to that machine, this year I put down paper or cardboard only a foot or so around each plant, topped with straw or grass clippings.  Because I have big garden beds and lots of room, I can leave plenty of space between plants. Instead of laying paper and straw everywhere I don’t want weeds to grow, I’ve hit on whacking the weeds between plants.

I’m not tall enough or strong enough to operate the monster weed whacker that lurks in the corner of our barn. But this spring my husband bought me a small battery-powered weed whacker. Using it means the soil isn’t left bare (unnatural for soil anywhere) and the vegetables plants aren’t compromised by weeds using up their sun, water, and soil nutrients. I feel faintly guilty mowing down healthy velvetleaf, pigweed, dock, and nettle. I know these plants have their uses and their presence helps the soil. I still want to keep them from choking out my eggplant, tomatoes, and beans.

It’s a revelation to me how extraordinarily easy it is to control weeds this way. Compared to the slow, laborious, plant-by-plant process of hand weeding or hoeing our 1,200 square feet of vegetable gardens, this is like wielding a machine gun. I still need to do close-up weeding around individual plants (which I’m totally ignoring in this August heat) but oh my lord, this is an agent of liberation.

It also, far less pleasantly, changes my relationship with the soil and the plants. Where before I was right there, on my knees, now I’m standing and ruthlessly whacking. Wet green splatters hit my boots and plant shrapnel speckles my peppers, basil, and broccoli. Our garden rows look far more circumscribed and smell like what’s cheerfully called “cut grass” even if it’s quite honestly the smell of plant mutilation. I’ve got mechanized dominion now, despite what the nature world prefers.

 

After all these years of the most gentle approach possible, I seem to be shedding the hairshirt of idealism that has always made gardening so difficult. It’s pretty obvious that these methods are easier. Much, much easier. But it’s also clear that the method used truly does affect the mindset. I can see the distance made by machines and sprays, even ones considered eco-friendly, right here in my own life. The effect is worth pondering.

Olivia, in front of one of our vegetable gardens. Obviously weeding still isn't a priority.

Olivia, in front of one of our vegetable gardens. Obviously weeding still isn’t a priority.

 

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Raising the Price of Eggs

Bit of Earth Farm eggs

We kept the price of eggs steady at $2.50 a dozen for nearly a decade. A few years ago we reluctantly raised it to $3.00 a dozen. That’s still not enough, most times not even close to covering our costs.

Here’s why.

Gotta have a place to range to truly free range.

Our chickens have acres to roam, eating bugs and greenery as they choose. They’ve got favorite spots for dust baths, for shady naps, and for exploring.

They enjoy daily treats from our kitchen and gardens.

Laura's fan club

Their freedom to roam boosts their quality of life and also boosts the nutritional quality of their eggs.

But with freedom comes danger.

Predators.

It’s not unusual for us to lose chickens to raccoons and hawks —- in fact three of our chickens were killed in the last few weeks. That’s much more than usual, but it happens. We once lost 22 chickens to a marauding dog in a single day.

We could keep the chickens safe in confinement. After a predator kill we are forced to keep the chickens locked up for a day or two in the pen we attached to the coop, an 8 by 16 area with a roof for maximum protection. Industry standards say we could call chickens constantly penned in”free range.” Heck, we could call them that if we raised hundreds of chickens in a barn with a tiny outdoor area only big enough for three chickens. That’s what “access to the outdoors” really means to agribusiness. But we don’t. There’s no real quality of life in such conditions, no way to live as chickens prefer to live.

Despite the danger, it’s a delight to see chickens happily roosting in low shrubs or clucking companionable with each other under the shade of blackberry bushes. They’re as free as chickens can be.

We make sure they have fresh water, a roomy coop to keep them safe at night, and all the GMO-free feed they want (we hope to afford organic feed someday soon). But we never really turn a profit when selling eggs. So we’re raising the price of our eggs, reluctantly but honestly, to $4 a dozen. Hope you, our egg customers, understand.

Bit of Earth Farm, where the chickens are happy

 

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