Rules of Pollination

After being diligent and never missing a Thursday for something like 16 years, I’ve started slipping off in these posts lately and though that bugs me, it’s just the way life goes sometimes.  When his publisher suggested cutting his column from six to three days a week, the sportswriter Red Smith answered, “Suppose I wrote three stinkers, I wouldn’t have the rest of the week to recover.”  That’s how I feel on a more relaxed schedule.

I’m taking a few days off, which I need.  It’s not only that I’ve been busy (I have) that I haven’t written, it’s that my brain was so full of the immediate it couldn’t have produced.  Didn’t have the bandwidth.  Maybe I can make it up this week.

Toward that end

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, I spent a happy Sunday hour in the basement cleaning beekeeping equipment, scraping wax and propolis, pulling wires from old frames, preparing them for new wax foundation and placement in the hive come spring.

(Bright, cold day in a very cold winter.  Plenty of carcasses in front of the south hive.  Good, means the hive is strong enough to clean house.  Not so at the north hive, but don’t want to read too much into it.  Supposed to be cold this week, so no chance to pop a cover.)
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See You Soon

My mom died last week.  I’m hesitant to write about it because I’ve rarely seen funereal journalism done well, also because my head is in a netherworld and I can’t quite seem to get to it.

It’s where my head was when I wrote the last post, you can tell by the fragment that passes for a fourth sentence.  The real story, the one I was trying hard not to write, was that as I skated north and south, into and against the wind on the old canal, I fretted, waiting for the phone on my hip to explode again with a call from my dad or brother or sister-in-law with the latest news of Mom’s health.

We didn’t expect Mom to die.  Routine surgery a week before Christmas took a wrong turn, then it was going to be OK, then not.  Back and forth my blades etched the ice as the reports from Florida, alternately grim and hopeful, mirrored and mocked my obsession.

Could I get a last-minute ticket in the midst of ice storms and holiday travel rush?  To Orlando?  What would it mean for me to try?  That I’d lost faith everything would be OK?  I tried to parse the words that came through the phone.  Was my family being alarmist or overly optimistic?  Hours became days, then weeks; I knew fatigue must be clouding judgement, theirs and mine alike.
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Ice and Fog and Lightning

Is it still Christmas?  Like jumping off a cliff, it’s not the fall that gets you.  It’s the sudden stop.  Having made the supremely wise (lucky) decision to stay put for what was a wonderful ice storm (as long as the power stays on and every surface in the house is deep with baked goods).

Ten days ago, neighbors gathering for a solstice potluck vaguely resembled an alpine team crossing a glacier with crockpots and plates of banana bread.  The party’s usually around a fire in the snow.  This year, indoors, we were invited to write on slips of paper either things we hoped for in the new year or things we wished to release from the past year, then burn the paper in a candle’s flame and let the ashes fall into a dish.  Not sure I follow the logic, but the kids seemed to get a kick out of it.

A young colleague, home in Vermont from DC for the holidays, texted photos and on-the-scene reports of the storm around the country.  I thought, “Gee, doesn’t he remember the ’98 storm?” then realized, “Oh.  He was nine.”

The thermometer floated between 27 and 35.  Snow fog and lightning as a warm air mass passed over cooler air below.
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Back on the Fear Standard

I may be in the shoal waters of Godwin’s Law, but bear with me.  The thing about World War II, aside from being the Big Event of the 20th century (or maybe because it was the Big Event of the 20th century), was the drama.  A world clawing itself out of years of economic mayhem, ethnic hatred belching everywhere, little tin dictators, comic if not for the wholesale slaughter, politics of fear and division and suspicion, even on the “good guys” side.  There was the run-up, the war and then 70 years of telling its stories.  We’re still not done.

You see where I’m going with this, generally, but the specific thing jumping out at me lately is fear and how it drives everything. The government fears the terrorist, so it creates a police state and the citizens fear the government, there’s a general diminution of civil rights around the world, because we’re all afraid of something.

So, just like in the run up to WWII (we’re still in the run-up stage, right?) we have subplots.  We’ve Julian Assange living on a tiny plot of Ecuador in the middle of London, hiding out from sex crime charges in Sweden which may or may not be bogus but what’s sure is the US government would like to imprison him for life, because he enabled the telling of embarrassing secrets. (Although it’s a dramatic set-up the movie stunk, I hear.  Came and went before I could see it.)  Edward Snowden, who did Mr. Assange one better, doesn’t seem much more comfortable in Moscow, advising the Brazilian government from afar.
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Mandela’s Ripples

I pulled out my old green, black and red “Abolish Apartheid Divest Now” button.  It was once pinned to the lapel of the black tweed blazer I wore every day, part of the 80’s newspaper reporter uniform (costume, I suppose).

I got the button up in Buffalo.  Allegany County, where I lived and worked, had no such buttons for sale.  There’s a town there that vigorously proclaims – contrary to all evidence – that it is the birthplace of the Republican Party.  That kind of place.

Allegany County

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, however, is home to Alfred University, known for its ceramic engineering and art schools.  It was Alfred students; building shanties and asking trustees to divest that inspired me to voice an opinion.

The plywood and nylon shanty went up on the campus green, was knocked down, rebuilt.  The kids were accused of discovering their conscience as the end of spring term loomed.  I wrote several stories and a column on the topic.

“Michael Emch, one of the organizers of the anti-apartheid student group said, ‘If we get enough signatures I don’t see how the university can refuse to divest.’”
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The Old Canal

The temperature’s been below freezing here for the last week.  At times well below freezing.  Even at low-altitude Burlington there’s a dusting of snow – frozen crystalline rime – but more important, ice.

Ice on the barge canal is almost thick enough for skating.  If it stays cold, maybe by Sunday.  For now, it’s Black Friday.  Did I mention the barge canal is a Superfund site?  Full of coal tar from back in the day.  OK for skating though; there are worse destinations on Black Friday.

There’s a rail siding across the canal and yard mules from the Vermont Railways yard line up a train.  The sun

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, now low over the Adirondacks, flicks light between the cars of rolling stock.

Remember Buy Nothing Day?  A decade ago well-intentioned, anti-materialist lefties urged us to take one day away from commerce.  Some still do.  They’re quainter every year.  Slightly less quaint was Mike Lux of American Family Voices, who emailed me via MoveOn Wednesday, urging me refrain from shopping not on Black Friday, but on Thanksgiving Day.  He’s neither anti-materialist Freegan nor American traditionalist, but asks us to spare the low-wage workers forced away from their families.  Fair enough, but it’s come to this?  We fulfill our ethical consumer quota by not shopping on Thanksgiving?  Sets the bar kind of low.
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“Is it real?”

This week I realized just what a fraction of media society I belong to.  I was in DC Monday afternoon and with Typhoon Haiyan and the Illinois tornadoes, Greenpeace got the soundbite call from the cable networks.  None of the usual suspects were around.

I keep a gray suit (purchased for C$12 at a church bazaar in Montreal) in DC for such misadventures.  I donned it and walked across town.  Nice evening. (Climate change has plenty of downsides.  You get a nice evening, take it.)

I periodically appear on cable tee vee, but almost never watch it, so I’m always surprised by it when I see it.  I have a serious news habit, for professional and temperamental reasons, but get fixed off the Internet and a sliver of dead tree publications.

If I am on tee vee, it’s usually at the site of some disaster and rarely in a studio; the green room is always strange.  A production assistant showed me in.  A Bruce Willis lookalike and a blonde woman sat on a sofa.  We nodded acknowledgement. They were smartly, expensively dressed.  In the C$12 and no tie, I looked like deputy foreign minister of a small, ethically compromised nation.
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