I loved going to museums, but over the last couple of  years the simple joy of it got entangled with doubt, guilt, and sadness. With every visit now it gets worse (and more interesting). In the “mummy room” at the MFA I felt a misgiving akin to my horror of zoos. I practically fled from the Peabody Archaeological Museum, where I used to spend contented hours grazing the treasures of human culture, for the sheer shame of it. The sight of the slag heap at the Harvard Semitic Museum reduced me to tears. At a contemporary “traveling” exhibit of Australian aboriginal art at the Harvard Arts Museum I read a curator’s explanation and got so upset I had to sit down for a long time.

On that bench in the full presence of an amazing work of art, the sadness, horror, shame, and anger ran like quicksand. I have not had the energy or clarity to untangle it all. I’m not, it turns out, after all, one of those admirable thinkers – Timothy Morton comes to mind – who can passionately set their analytical skills to the task. I’m in too deep. But I have some insights. They might interest someone.

~

Let’s start with place (always a safe place to start). All art works, artifacts and bodies in art and archeological museums have or used to have a home (a place there they belong and can do the work they are meant to do). For some that home is, for the moment, not safe or welcoming, and so one could say the museum is “hosting” them, intending to return them when it is safe again. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for instance, museums need to repatriate Native American artifacts and human remains when a tribe proves their ownership and claims the work. But that is the exception.

The place, time, culture of most works in museums has passed. Take a portrait by Rembrandt of a wealthy burgher: the seventeenth century parlor that it was painted for, that is even depicted in the background, no longer exists. The neolithic vessel: the culture that utilized it is remembered by no living person. Or a first-century Roman frieze: that temple has long been replaced by an office building, that god by other gods, or none. Homeless works of art, then, and the museum not a host but… an orphanage?

You might say, well, they might now and here be out of place, but in these cabinets of wealthy collectors, art galleries, and museums, they still do very well. Anything is better, anyhow, than oblivion. To which I would say, that may be so, but only under certain conditions – and how could it be otherwise?

~

I sit in front of these now, having paid my ticket, and I am grateful for the privilege of a glimpse of those past, dead, destroyed cultures. As someone who firmly believes that the past (whether it is remembered or not) very much informs the present, I also believe that it is helpful to know one’s past if one is to understand what the hell is going on.

dscf8003smallGilgamesh, you see here on this seal,

with the help of his domesticated wild brother Enkidu,

cuts down Humbaba, the spirit of the great forests,

so that next he can cut down the mighty trees to build his great city and feed its fires

and  when the gods protest, he will cut down the Bull of Heaven as well.

Because if you have an axe, you have to use it, right?

That old image and all the millennia that surround it, what a feast for the eyes and the mind! And in the glass case, the real thing, not a reproduction. It comes from that time, when it meant what it was meant to mean: the proud seal and story of the civilizing power of the man, Gilgamesh, through the domestication of spirits, wild animals, trees, gods and metals. As one who believes that the past informs the present, the original work of art and the absolutely perfect, indistinguishable (and therefore machine-made) copy of it are like the stone and the image of the stone: the one, with the gravitas of a long past of being worked on, in sweat and spittle, and carried through time, and sometimes lost and then found again, against huge odds; the other, a pastless image, three seconds deep. Oh, I appreciate the gift very much.

I can appreciate them on the condition of listening to them speak of what they are and where they come from, of all that being gone, stolen, forgotten, mislaid by carelessness, erased on purpose. This too they give. They are a good thing that is also terribly wrong, a corpse, stolen goods, a crime scene, a gravity well of loss and grief. There is much listening to be done, even more so as our own forgetting time draws near.

~

It’s a hard thing to do, that listening, but that’s not nearly the end of it. Part of the sadness and mayhem is that these dead are not also heard by the curators, funders, patrons and visitors on their rainy Sunday outing. When you hear it you want them to hear it as well. But it takes guts to weep in public places!

Ah, public spaces… Susan Sontag touches on this in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003):

Space reserved for being serious [“standing back and thinking,” and bowing and weeping]  is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or museum). (p.119)

So there is another condition, another task here.

Perhaps that is what we are looking for on social media, Facebook, and in blogs. But those “places” not being places, and those “people” not being people, and those “friends” not being our friends, and those faces not being faces, those are not the public, common space at all. When you weep at the museum, you undeniably are somewhere, being seen and seeing those who see you. And they will see you, in fact, they will stare.

I cry in museums. I bow down deeply before works of art in an offering of humility,

regret and apology.

You may stare, but

I think as time winds down, you will see more people doing it.

Imagine a picture of you and your family on the wall,

People passing by, unmoved –

you’re a beggar with your hand out –

They don’t even say, goodbye, goodbye.

If you think that we have lost the skill and habit of making public our thoughts and feelings in a mannerful, effective, healthy was speak only for yourself, or better yet, give it a try. The expressing of it is actually easy in that it just happens, pretty raw and naked, yet controlled too. You may want to shriek, but you’re in company here, of those who are calling you, and of others who are not hearing it yet. All this has a gentling effect on your expression, and on your mood too. That’s what used to be called “a civilizing effect” – now much maligned. Better to say: you’re paying your respects.

So, not so impossible after all. The difficulty still lies in the reactions of those who witness. You, who weep, know immediately that in one sense you have joined the vanished in the paintings, the mutilated victims in the war photographs, the eyeless mummies in their wooden boxes: your goodbye, goodbye is not understood. But unlike theirs, your grief is heard loud and clear. Where they were but images, objects for consumption, they now sound out through you. You’re drawing them all in, the long dead with their beauties and histories and grievances and joys, and all the living who are staring and hearing it, changing that silent museum/megastore into a common, public space.

So, a call for nevertheless, notwithstanding, going to the sorrowful museums and taking them to task by listening and weeping. And a call for approaching those who cry there and asking them: why do you cry? What is here that makes you cry? And why can’t I hear it? Yet.

Homeschooling is going even better than I had expected. We are sticking to a strict schedule in the mornings, with a steady core curriculum in math and language arts. In the afternoons we do Latin and, after that, we launch into our history/science module. I’d say the last one is our favorite along with logic, Latin and word roots. This is the pile of books accumulating in the subjects we’ve chosen for our science/history module:
DSCF4116
Yes, I know. But Amie and I both agreed we couldn’t start “History” with written history, or with the first humans, or the first life, or even the formation of our planet and so… we began with the Big Bang. And obviously we can’t do history apart from science. So: wonderful stuff!

Our first home school field trip was to the NOFA Mass Winter Conference. During lunch Amie went shopping at the stalls, all by herself. She had $5. After chatting with each farmer and herbalist and activist and whatnot, she got some fancy lip balm. We also bought bumper stickers. This one is her favorite and ended up on her cello case:

DSCF4119

On Friday we had our next field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a great homeschool program. I got to walk the halls for an hour and a half, and located this poster:

IMG_20150116_110323

Soon we’ll have to open those seed catalogs and start planning the garden. At the NOFA conference I picked up a lot of information on trace minerals. We went with a group and divvied up the workshops among us. Next week we meet to discuss the many gardens now in play: our personal gardens (about four, some of them quite large), three large Community Garden Plots, and some School Gardens as well. These come with town-wide compost systems that take in scraps from the schools’ lunchrooms, pounds and pounds of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop, and now, also, kitchen scraps from the local Whole Foods. Lastly, the surplus goes to Food Pantries and shelters in the neighborhood.

I’ve not had time to write much here, but please stay tuned!

My last blogpost worth that name is from March 14, and I haven’t figured our Riot since December last year. One of the reasons for my silence was overall business (explained below), but the main culprit was that all the sites I maintain were hacked (same server). We had to shut down the Green Team site completely, saved most of the Transition Wayland site, and the blog, well, as you can see, most of the sidebar features have disappeared and, as you can’t see, the editor is a right mess, but here’s an update anyway.

Here’s a roller coaster run-down of events.

DSCF4318

On April 21, my parents-in-law arrived from Chennai, India. On Tuesday, my friend and fellow blogger, Katharina, dropped off the 15 chicks that remained in her care – she was on her way to DC and the Reject and Protect Rally. On Wednesday, add to this menagerie my friend R’s 16-year-old, mostly deaf dog for dog-sitting. And me and R saying our goodbyes and leaving all this to them, not to mention the care of the garden and chickens, and the hundreds of seedlings in the basement.

DSCF4338
Where was I off to, that was so important that I could leave all of them, especially Amie (for the first time for so long)? It was Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School, and I will have to write more about that later. R and I were there, all wrapped-up in the goodness and sorrow of words, till Sunday, when we drove back in one non-stop haul (11 hours). R extracted her dog from the sleeping house, and I crashed, exhausted. The house returned a little more to somewhat normal when Katharina took all but our four chicks back a couple of days later.

DSCF4424

That Sunday Earth Day happened (more on that later too), along with Amie’s orchestra concert at Jordan Hall, and her grandparents’ surprise 40th anniversary present(s) and surprises(s).

Amie named the chicks and started “training” them. Always a joy to watch.

DSCF4513

DSCF4517

Our days warmed, with some summery days thrown in, especially Mother’s Day, which we spent out side working in the garden, planting, among other things, lots of strawberries and blueberries. I also finished the drip irrigation in 90% of the garden, all of it running smoothly off the top IBC tote, simply by gravity. The chicks too enjoyed their first outing into the big world.

DSCF4525

DSCF4531

I picked up new bees too: two packages. What a joy it is to see them fly again. In other bee-related news, Katharina, who is also a fellow beekeeper, roped me into helping her out with helping the young artist Jarrett Mellenbruch set up and maintain his Haven project at the deCordova museum. More about that soon, too!

My parents-in-law went back to Chennai, and the house is emptier. I like a crowd of animals, so I am glad for the bird song in the house: the chicks, though they now look more dinosaur-like, still squeak quite sweetly. And there is one more bird…

We finally got a friend for Amie’s parakeet, Kiwi, who lost his mate a few months ago. Kiwi had spent some time at Katharina’s (we’ve a veritable animal exchange going here) where he received a mirror, and he had fallen deeply in love with the bird in that mirror. That is why Amie decided to get a green parakeet, female though (hopefully), who looks like that mirror bird. Introducing a new bird is always tricky, so we had them in separate cages at first – having bought a huge new cage. But after some hours Kiwi was trying to push his heard through the bars, and they were singing to each other, so the next day we let Kiwi into the new cage and all was well.

DSCF4572

That’s my quick run-down of events. Lots to flesh out. I will do so, soon, promise! Now let me click the “publish” button and see how this looks!

Today, just now, in fact, four us met to talk about “inner work”. The question was: what do we need? Not just us, but our community. We talked about how we often feel judged and marginalized simply because we voice our doubts, fear, grief, helplessness. About how there must be others in our towns, struggling with these feelings, but alone. They might think that there is a problem with them, that it’s depression. But, as Jenkinson says, “what if there is nothing wrong with you?” What if it’s not their psychological problem, but a whole community’s cultural problem? What if what you’re feeling is not depression, but grief, and you have a perfectly good reason for that grief? What if we as a group started speaking a bit more openly about our grief, owning it, valuing it? What if we started building a whole new culture. We might create a space where people can come and talk, a safe room like Francis Weller describes, with a floor where we can stand with our grief and not feel like we’re in free fall. More organically, a place and community, in nature where we belong, where grief can enrich us and blossom along with its sister, joy.

Yes.

I’m so glad I picked up Barbara Hurd’s books, Stirring the Mud and Entering the Stone. I’ve started reading the first one and was hooked as of page one. She alerted me to the wetlands, bogs and marshes, and the marginal areas, high-traffic, super-diverse, home to species of the two biota that overlap there, as well as to “edge species”. Humans, she points out, are not such an edge species. We don’t feel comfortable in the undefined, not-one-or-the-other places. We don’t like to be on edge.

I like the idea of the edge. We’re not talking the kind of place where one thing stops and something else begins, a clear edge like a cliff, or the horizon, or the doorstep where indoors becomes outdoors. We’re talking of two edges in fact, in the case of the wetland, the edge of the land, and the edge of the wet,and an overlap, where it’s both wet and land. A nest of being, being-neither and being-both.

Can we think of ourselves in such a place? In between two stories, in both stories, and in neither, all at the same time. We are undefinable. Saints and hypocrites and average human beings in the twenty-first century. Let’s put others on edge. Everyone who thinks they know where they are, in terra cognita, when they’re with us and we’re at our best (with our talk of grief and danger and immeasurable joy) will suddenly find they have wet feet!

I also read, in Paul Shepard, that the ferocity of territorial species is highest in the very heart of their territory, and less on the edges, where the work is one of balancing territoriality with sociality, security with vulnerability. On the edges of the territory are the common spaces. This should give us courage. There is a way of being on edge together. We may have forgotten it – we who have paved over the wetlands, colonized the whole world into one territory, retreated deeply inward via the internet and psychotherapy – but that is our culture‘s error. We know that deep inside we are still human. Let us learn again the way of the edges, where give means take, take means give – one wild and fecund circle!

 

 

As gardeners we often don’t get to work in a field.  It’s a different thing altogether to work in a field than in a garden. There is all that space, sky, sun. You walk from one end to the next (diagonally, so as to get the most out of it) and throughout the soil is soft and pliable underfoot. There is also a lot of work, so in this field one gets to grow not just food, but community as well.  And of course, none of us being farmers, we also grow an attitude of adventure, a tolerance for making mistakes, a thirst for experimentation.

A lot has happened with the Transition Wayland community garden plots. We began with two weedy plots, pulled all those weeds, rototilled it, then sowed heaps of dry beans. The beans came up beautifully, and we watered and weeded, and then they were eaten, probably by the bunnies. The weeds then took over and we pulled and mowed them, then sowed buckwheat as a smother crop and soil conditioner. While that took in about 50% of the area, (the rest became weeds), growing to shoulder height in some places, we decided to not grow grains there but to turn it into a permaculture (perennial) garden.

This was the state of the garden on Monday:

DSCF2877

Friends brought a weed whacker (we couldn’t locate a scythe) and a rototiller and two hours later it looked like this:

DSCF2878

Today – in the surprisingly hot sun – we evened it all out, raked out some more of the straw, then sowed winter rye. Everyone got to throw up those smooth seeds in great arcs of fecundity!

DSCF2891

Here’s a close-up of the intrepid farmers:

DSCF2889

Aren’t they just silly?

DSCF2890

 

A group of us hammered out the mission of our Community Garden plots today. What a lovely meeting, dreaming, brainstorming, opening reference books… and all the while freeing the oats. So good to have something to do with the hands while conceptualizing.

DSCF2262

We started by putting together a mission plan, a dream:  why this garden? how will the work be organized? why would people want to work in it? what will it yield? what is its philosophy? how does it fit into the context of the foodshed and our organization’s mission? Below is an overview of what we came up with:

DSCF2272

By our next meeting we will have investigated the plants that were suggested and others, and we’ll be ready with our growth and function charts to design the garden in the space.

We had a full, full house this weekend, with SIL and friends visiting and dropping off their daughter for a week’s holiday at what Amie and I now lovingly call “Camp Boredom,” a.k.a. “Camp Mama.”  The addition of one has skyrocketed the ratings of this camp for both participants and organizer. I listen in on their play, only see them for meals and snacks. Put two single children who have known each other since the birth of the youngest together: sparks fly.

At the last meal before friends and SIL had to leave, I couldn’t resist. I debated whether I’d do it because I usually don’t make a show of my emotions, but here it was: “I’d like to make a toast!”

Here’s to sharing abundance with friends.

Forking up the mostly local food on the table, basking in the finally perfect temperature under the umbrella in our backyard, looking around the table at the smiles and laughter and deep, deep ease of the company, I had that feeling that I get a lot these days: this is the sweet spot and somehow I get to live in it! What follows is gratitude, clean and joyful, coupled with a little bit of the less bright how-did-I-deserve-this?

Reading Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics I am expanding my insights into this complex set of emotions (if that’s what they are). I have so many thoughts on the subject, it boggles my mind like any convoluted metaphysics. It’s a sheer gift and you know you’ll never be able to repay it but that shouldn’t stop you from working hard to maintain it, to keep the giving going.

I’m learning more and more that joy is the key to this. Eisenstein says something that turns even the most tragic catastrophe of this world into a gasping realization:

We live in special times. There are seven billion of us, all gathered at the same time. Sometimes I think that every human being who has ever lived is now incarnated here for the big party, for the big transition.

I don’t take that literally as I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I appreciate the thought and the what-if sentiment of it. It makes me a little more ready for the challenge. It also makes me think that, that I am one of the lucky ones who gets to gather with happy friends around a table loaded with wholesome food, should inspire me not to guilt but to gratitude, which is the only place from which full giving in return is possible.

To fully receive is an act of generosity. To fully give is an act of self-care and self-nurture.

What a GREAT day.

I was up at 3 am when Amie was coughing and then had trouble falling asleep, all the things I had to do running through my mind. Then the alarm rang at 6:30  and at 7 am I was at the Community Garden Plots, which no longer looked pristine like they did June. The thousand beans we had seeded had been chomped down to the ground and the heat and humidity had favored the weeds, both the mints and green weeds in the field and the woodies like bittersweet and gigantic pokeweed along the fence. In fact, the plots looked worse than how we found them at the beginning of the season. It was very discouraging.

(So far it doesn’t sound like a great day, and I’m not fond of sarcasm, so…)

Three friends showed up with a lawn mower and an array of gardening tools and what followed was two hours of pulling, chopping, hacking, mowing and chatting and laughing. In the end we had two huge compost piles of weeds, hands that won’t get clean with even the most vigorous scrub, and a plot that’s again ready to go. What a difference: we wowed ourselves and each other! And I didn’t take a picture, neither before nor after.

Now it’ll be a race against the weeds to find and sow buckwheat, which we decided to put in to smother the weeds and improve the soil. This season we won’t be growing any edible crop anymore, but at least we can make the best preparations for next year. I’ve been calling and leaving messages at the local farms asking for a stray 15 lbs of buckwheat seeds. We’re also going to start plotting some serious fencing.

I came home and gardened (weeded) in my own garden, then my friend L. came by with yet another quart of home-picked raspberries, and I gladly gave her some more kale and also six eggs. Then my friend R. came by and brought beautiful bouquet of flowers from her garden (she knows I don’t grow flowers for their prettiness).

Then Amie and I met a bunch of yet other friends at a local school and all of us (four adults, three kids) picked  at least eight quarts of blueberries. What a treasure! We couldn’t stop thanking the landscape designer who decided on these berries! (And also the masses of rosa rugosa with huge hips ripening). The kids just couldn’t stop picking and eating. They could have gone on for hours. We brought home three quarts and one pint.

DSCF1796

So much treasure! Weeds, flowers, berries, and friends. I am the luckiest person on the Earth.

{UPDATE} 7/12: We went blueberry picking again and then I had enough to make twenty-six half pints of jam, mostly blueberry and some blueberry/raspberry.

Today I spent five hours at our Farmers Market selling BEElieve honey. It was incredible. We sold out in 1 1/2 hour.

What we sold this week was my honey, harvested last year and still left over, even after all that eating and bartering with it. I had twenty-three 10 oz jars (by weight). I’ll harvest the new Spring honey that is still sitting on Hive 3 (the one that swarmed) and/or we’ll harvest honey from another Wayland beekeeper and sell that at next week’s Market. That should give us enough to buy the Maxant 9 frame hand extractor for the group.

DSCF1685

A friend and fellow-blogger made those cute cards with the BEElieve logo designed by Amie.

DSCF1689

Bad weather threatened but didn’t materialize.

DSCN0209_500

Crowds!

DSCF1691

 Here’s one of our newest beeks, fellow blogger and friend and two of her daughters.

It wasn’t just my friends who came and bought honey, honestly, though they did very generously buy a lot of it. But this wasn’t just a fundraiser, it was an awareness-raiser as well, and as much about community as beekeeping. I must have talked with about forty people about bees, took down sixteen email addresses for our newsletter. Got everyone, young and old, all excited about beekeeping.

DSCF1704

At the end, there was one visitor who kept coming back for the free honey. She came back for a refill five times. The movie has no sound because the background noise was trucks and cars passing.

DSCF1179

 Before tilling

DSCF1220After tilling

Our first foray into tilling the two Community Garden plots gathered a dear friend and her neighbor, who brought his small rototiller. After two hours, we had 1/3 tilled. This morning it was my beekeeping pal and a young woman I met through garden consulting work, who brought “Mommy’s Machine” – a mean tilling machine! Half an hour later: done! I staked out the plots for the beans and corn, then raked half.  On Thursday morning, after the rain but before the heat (91!F) sets in, yet another friend and I, and who knows how many more that I invited, will come and sow the beans.

And so I am already harvesting, big time. So many people, some of whom I didn’t know at all, some of whom I had met just once, some friends, are coming to  help with this harebrained scheme! This morning, when Amie was sick and I needed a quick sitter, a friend showed up as soon as she heard.  That’s community!