Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Country Time

One of the things everyone loves so much about country life is that you can move at the pace of the seasons, waking at dawn, moving slowly and mindfully to your garden and hand-weeding it, watering it gently, greeting the trees and the birds as the morning brightens, moving through your day with slow, gentle actions -- and get four days behind in six hours!!! I don’t know where this Slow Life is located (though many are looking -- there are even websites devoted to it), but it’s not in my county. I have tried to move at a sane pace; I have even cut out many events and tasks from my schedule so that my life is simpler (or at least, complex in different ways)… but time is definitely speeding up.

It’s not just the extended daylight savings time that makes the hours melt and shift in decidedly unchronological ways. There is a rubberband effect that is disconcerting: when I read news on the internet (since I’ve dropped the paper and most magazines, in an effort to be frugal and avoid tons of recycling), an hour can vanish in two sips of coffee, but when hauling away yard debris, or other heavy lifting, time stretches and slows so that I can see the barcodes on the seconds! (You didn’t know they are barcoding Time now? It’s a new DARPA project, in order to track who’s using what time; costs about $45 per nanosecond - apparently the cause of a large chunk of their billion-dollar budget, but since that’s all secret, we can’t know for sure).

As I learn to adjust to “country time” (loosely translated: you never stop working), I ponder the relationship between time and money. The old saying, “Time is Money” seemed a muddled comparison, since one is printed and the other -- as yet -- is not controlled by any government agency. Except that both vanish, melt, mutate the moment my back is turned. You’ve all had the experience of breaking a $20 and having it turn into three singles in your wallet, right? And as I get older, it is harder to hang on to either Time or Money. In fact, I’m suspicious that the terms “hour” and “minute” have been devalued as part of this recession -- an hour definitely isn’t going as far as it used to!!

So there seems to be a quantum connection between the two - one of those “non-local causalities” that tie time/money together over long distances. Is it a coincidence that as time shrinks like a mohair sweater in a dryer, there are now whole websites on frugality advising us how to live more simply? And is it evidence of this see-saw connection that the one thing they don’t grapple well with is Time? Most of their frugal steps need much more time and often result in generally re-shaping our lives to move to a different rhythm (which used to be called “hand to mouth“ but they have fancier names for it now). I discovered that is exactly the point for many people, and they seem to think you get more time - or at least a better quality -- like Haggen Das or Mercedes Time.

But to me it exemplifies that “conservation of energy” principle in physics -- if I save money, I spend time. Some kind of energy gets spent in either case. For example, after having purchased one gutterspout deflector drainboard of non-descript brown plastic and been staggered at the $9.00 price tag (yes -- almost $10 for basically a narrowed dish drainer), I employed Creative Frugality for the rest: meat trays from the large family packs (a year’s worth of pork, but what the hell); the toilet tank lid from the recently deceased toilet; two halves of a cracked bucket, sawn into shape. This gives me the illusion of saving money, even though it almost certainly ends up costing more when I factor in my time and trips to the emergency room. (Me + sharp objects = ouch)

Other “money-saving” examples: looking for $5 worth of ‘shrooms in the National Forest and needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment; going rock hunting for “free” garden walls and needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment; gathering and chopping wood that eats into my work time… and ends up with me needing a $40 chiropractic adjustment. Actually pretty much anything I’ve been doing for the house seems to end up with my dialing the new chiropractor. I wonder if new houses should come with a coupon book for a local chiropractic and massage services…

But I digress… and I only have about an “hour” to spend this morning on this blog (and I think at the going rate, that‘s about 20 minutes). Time, which had slowed to the pace of a passive aggressive teenager when I was waiting to close on this house, has now snapped back to its usual pace, slightly under the record speed set by Lance Bicycler in France… in fact, don’t you sometimes wonder if the increasing number of races they keep organizing are having a quantum effect on everyone‘s time? When the Olympics were the only annual race held in Greece, life was much, much slower -- coincidence? Perhaps not. I think we need to carefully consider the possible “pollution” of time by all these race fanatics, and maybe regulate their frequency and location - keep them away from busy workers, perhaps locate them near senior centers, which have lots of unused Time (although the logistics of keeping runners from plowing into senior shufflers might turn the whole race into an obstacle course). That way, people like me and Thoreau who are trying to live simply (ie: waste hours pondering the Universe and then annoying others with our “findings”) can get on with watching the minutes unfold like a new seedling, holding its cotyledons to the raw energy of the sun -- and finding a weed has outpaced it to the soil’s nutrients and it’s SOL for another season. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi and everyone else who pauses for a second to catch their breath.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, Cold-Hearted Season

Nature is having a prolonged “April Fool” on us - the last weeks have seen snow, hail and frost, as well as bright sun that warms up into the 80’s before plummeting again. Temperatures are doing Robin William imitations, changing with quicksilver swiftness and me racing around like a new mother after an un-diapered toddler, trying to get hot caps on/off/on my veggies. I’m using every plastic and glass container in the house, all the tarps, a leftover For Sale lawn sign bent double over a new rose, all the bubble wrap from Xmas and Easter gifts, and even old tablecloths. And this is where my ambitious garden design comes back to bite me: the circular beds do not easily lend themselves to draping, so the garden looks even more like a war zone, with body-sized mounds of tarps everywhere.

This is no job for the unfocused -- as I discovered, all it takes is one forgetful moment, one instance of leaving the cold-frame open, the hose un-drained, the faucet uncapped -- and something new is on the casualty list. Small comfort that the frost made pretty patterns on everything -- rocks, windows, and my tender plants. I took photos that I sent to my friends, with the note, “Morgue photos - plants in cold storage now”… one of the saddest to me seemed to be the dandelion crushed beneath my bootprint.

After watching a hail-and-snow storm mid-April and knowing that nothing I’d done was gonna help the inch-high seedlings survive being packed in ice pellets like fish fillets, I understood a bit more the true miracle of being able to heedlessly run to the store and pick up a bit of fresh lettuce. At this rate, I will have paid about $20 for each head of lettuce I harvest, not counting the slave labor wages and overtime I’m (not) paying myself. I think the perfect cure for America’s obesity problem is that you can only eat what you grow. I’d love to watch the nation’s teens out back frantically trying to grow the components of a Snickers bar.

Amazingly, nothing actually looks dead, now that the snow has finally (knock wood) gone. And the seedlings are growing rapidly - unless I’m looking at the weeds. Unfortunately, Oregon has exceptionally hardy slugs; I saw them inching along the snow with their Columbia Sportswear parkas and tiny Lands End galoshes, determined to dig out the broccoli sprouts with their Kinsman shovels. Really resourceful, they are. And now that it’s green again, they have come to feast like third cousins at Thanksgiving. Every couple of days I put out new sunflower seedlings that are devoured whole by the following morning. This has gone on for so long because my middle-aged memory hadn’t caught up - I’d look at the bare ground and think, “I swear I planted something there; I guess not.” and plant more, while the slug chuckled from behind their rocks. I’ve finally caught on, and the sunflowers are under mayo jars until they get too big to be the appetizer. I don’t feel quite so angry, since the seedlings were given to me by the birds -- they had buried their stashes of sunflower seeds in the garden - sprouts everywhere, to be transplanted. So I guess I’m like the trucker who’s delivering the fresh greens to the slugs’ front doors.

Even the crushed dandelion has sprung up again; those golden-haired blossoms have developed an immunity to being stomped on that reminds me of Hilary Clinton. Would that I could spring back after such relentless abasement. Yes, everything seems to be recovering from the artic blast, their growth simply delayed a few weeks due to chill. The problem is, they are now going to be impinging on those tropical veggies and annuals that are due to show up in May; we’re gonna have a crowd like at the Pope’s Yankee stadium mass, everyone elbowing for more room to show off their special outfit. And the Master Gardner - me - still needing a vacation from the frantic snow-zercise, now looking at double-time response to all things greening.

Hold on. Just read the weather report - another Polar Express is heading our way. Better tell the slugs to get their galoshes out of storage.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Cold Frame is Finished

This is the second part of the blog posted 2/29/08... how does Life sprint past soooo fast??

When I had recuperated from fetching the window out of the attic, I went looking for the other parts of the cold frame, which (according to the instructions) everyone surely has lying around the house. Luckily I had bought some boards for shelving, and since the shelving was still in the planning stage, I used good old ReAllocation Implementation Process - Owing From Future (RIPoFF) to steal the raw materials for the frame. Having read that a slanted frame does the best to catch the sunlight (and keep the rain from pooling on the window until it shatters the glass), I started to measure the various boards viz a viz the window. I think I’ve mentioned before how measurement-handicapped I am: not only am I a 1950’s victim of New Math (we didn’t learn arithmetic, we learned Venn Diagrams and Base 2 - computer language), but “relative size of things” is not a concept that I have mastered. I can’t pack a trunk. I can’t measure a cupful by eye. And I rarely leave enough room when parking to squeeze my body out of the truck!

Anyway, I had a 2x4, a 1x8, 1x12 and some assorted poles and planks… I measured the window, measured it again -- got a different number -- measured it a third time -- got a different different number… and gave up on numbers. I resorted to my old habit -- the visual measurement. I took the 1x8 plank and lined it up along the window and drew a line. I have no idea how long that was, but it came to the end of the window, which was the important point. I did the same for the wide board, and I also measured that board against the 1x8 to get the top of the angle that I needed to cut at a slant.

Now I know you’ll tell me, “It’s 8 inches, Cath!” but it never is -- that’s the point! Somehow the marks on the bloody ruler move around and it never does work out to the supposed measurement. My best guess is that my ruler is marked off with irrational numbers. The only thing that doesn’t seem to shift around for me is the physical object… so I drew a line on the 1x12 at the place where the 1x8 stopped and then measured the bottom angle against the 2x4. The only difficulty as I was doing this was trying to hold these various eight-foot boards against each other in a studio which is only 15 ft wide and is full of shelves holding ceramic artwork! So -- I’m trying to balance one board on my chair, while the other is leaning gingerly against the shelf of art supplies, and using my knee as the drawing surface, which tends to make the line a little wobbly… No matter, since there’s very little chance I can follow a straight line with the huge, double-handed circular saw (described in a previous entry) that I have to use. I figured if I cut it without also cutting through the cardboard box used as sawhorse, I’d be very grateful. (The 2x4 was actually scheduled to become a sawhorse, but RIPoFF got there first).

They always recommend that you measure all the pieces before cutting, in case something doesn’t add up. Since I wasn’t gonna do any adding, and because I was running out of places to put eight-foot boards, I shifted to cutting the primary planks. The sound of that circular saw always reminds me of an airplane engine, and the similarity doesn’t stop there… once I manage to chew through the board and release the power switch, I have to hold it at arm’s length (all 35 lbs of it) while the engine (ie: saw blade) comes to a complete stop. Since there were several small cuts, I ended up holding the snarling saw at arm’s length for at least a half hour total… while watching the sawdust swirling into every sculptural cranny and open box in the room. I made a vow to get enough boxes unpacked in the garage to be able to do this dirty work there next time… but meanwhile, I finally had the four pieces and it was ready to take outside. Oh, but no -- there had to be some kind of stake/support that the window sat on… I checked the picture again and saw the vertical pieces. I found a 2x2 and painstakingly measure them against the edges of the board, and cut two -- and somehow lost the marking of the other two. No matter - I decided the 2x4 was thick enough to serve. And I was getting tired of cutting -- I wanted to bang some boards! (I tend to approach construction projects with the attitude of a 5-year-old). So out I went, and lugged the boards, window, hammer and nails to the flat ground where I was gonna place the cold frame. This was the location of that ugly old shed with the truck-topper roof… I will document its demise in another entry.

While kneeling to hammer the boards into a box, I discovered the local cats had gotten there first and were very appreciative of a new litter box. I raked the place clear and started again. I know there are clever braces and traditional methods for getting boards to line up square to each other -- but this is a 5-year-old working, so I held one board between my knees and tried to nail the other one to it… my knees don‘t grab that good. Next, I used a left-over log as a brace, but it was being braced in turn by the grass, which although strong enough to resist any attempts to dig it up, was not actually good for leaning things on. Eventually I stood one board up, resting the other on it and hammering downward… it was close enough for Republican economics. In similar makeshift fashion, I got a rough rectangle that -- mostly -- fit the window, and proudly placed my tender seedlings in their new cold frame.

And two days later, the weather had plummeted like the stock market, leaving swirls of frost on the cold frame window… but that’s another story…