Waking and the Imagination

Curing Squash

I’m not a fan of human physiology. Given a Cartesian outlook toward life, I’d rather not think about or acknowledge my physicality even exists.

Yet there it is, influencing my daily affairs in ways I don’t comprehend. The physicality of others impacts everything I do in public and in private. My physicality — driving a lift truck, operating a bar code scanner, lifting bags of feed, sitting in meetings with other humans — impacts others as well as myself. For at least a moment, I should consider and endeavor to understand physiology.

Maybe in another life.

“I think, therefore I am” has been my beacon since I was a grader. I call it Cartesian now but its roots are in serving as an altar boy a few blocks from home in the Catholic Church and in the convent located on the upper floor of our elementary school. I’d come home from daily Mass and read what today is called juvenile literature printed on cheap paper and mailed from places of which I’d never heard. I became fixated on my own awareness and with the fact that other people, places and things existed and had impact on me. I felt separate from their reality, connected only by ink on paper, conversation, and radio and television. I became aware that in fact it was a reality.

The origins of a Cartesian outlook have roots further back in my hospitalization for a head injury at age three.

“What I learned through the injury and recovery in the hospital was that there is an infrastructure of knowledge and caring to support us when things happen,” I wrote in 2009. “This experience assured me that although we are vulnerable, we are not alone.”

Four physicians ago, when we first moved to Big Grove, my doctor laid me back on the examination table and rested his left hand on my naked belly and held it for a moment.

“This is not normal,” he said, referring to excess weight layered between my guts and skin. I agreed, respecting his training and experience in physiology, something about which I cared little. One would have thought it easy to improve my Body Mass Index given the intellectual provenance awareness can bring.

But no.

It has been especially hard to exercise since developing plantar fasciitis. Given my love of jogging, I tend to avoid thinking about exercise now, hoping gardening and the physicality of work at the home, farm and auto supply store compensates. I don’t know if it does and am reluctant to do the type of analysis I did with other life schemes.

If mine is a life of the imagination, that’s where I’d prefer to live. Yet reality beckons: in the form of news stories of horrible things happening to people the world over; in the work required to put a balanced meal on the table; or in staying awake during the 25 minute commute to the home, farm and auto supply store. Who wouldn’t want to live in the imagination? There is an unparalleled comfort there.

Whatever I am, physically or intellectually, I go on looking.

I look through a window where spiders persistently weave and reweave a web to catch insects drawn to the warmth and light of our home;
I look through eyeglasses the prescription of which needs an upgrade;
I look through the car windshield alert for the sudden appearance of deer during the rut;
I look through the fog of morning to see what each day brings;
I look for things I recognize more than for discovery and that’s regrettable.

After college I vowed to read every book in our Carnegie library. At the time that may have been possible. I didn’t get past the religion section of the Dewey Decimal System-organized stacks. I don’t read as much today as I did then.

Now the veil of Maya wears thin.

Everything I believed upon retirement from my transportation career has been called into question. I was hopeful the long, difficult work of electing a Democratic president was finished and that common sense would dominate public discourse. It turned out to be too much imagining as we were struck in the tuchus by the physicality of modern politics.

As if awakening from a dream, it will soon be time again to get dressed and find my running shoes. Not because my plantar fasciitis is in abeyance, but because the built in arch support will comfort my aging feet as I re-engage in society. I didn’t imagine I’d have to do that again in this life. It turns out I was wrong and Frederick Douglass was right:

It is in strict accordance with all philosophical, as well as experimental knowledge, that those who unite with tyrants to oppress the weak and helpless, will sooner or later find the groundwork of their own liberties giving way. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.It can only be maintained by a sacred regard for the rights of all men.

I imagine it’s time to get back to work in the physical world.

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Nothing Matters in Government

Iowa Capitol

At 11:21 p.m. yesterday the U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted to pass a tax reform bill on a partisan vote, according to Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). Note well, it was during the dark of night.

No Congressional Budget Office scoring, no hearings, no nothing. It was an indication that nothing we once thought mattered about legislating matters. Wealthy donors have an agenda and through the Republican Congress they are having their way with the American people.

My spouse and I were discussing the situation a few hours later and I concluded my part of the conversation by saying, “They are all a bunch of assholes.” I’ve calmed a little since then.

It is probably just as well the Congress rip the bandage off this live wound of a government, exposing its interest in perpetuating narrow views of governance and increasingly becoming a voice for the richest Americans. They go on because few citizens are engaged beyond headlines in the news.

While the federal government set me off this morning, Iowa Republicans are waiting to see if the Senate’s tax bill gets 50 votes plus the vice president and goes to reconciliation with the House version. If the president signs a tax bill into law, that will set the stage for the Iowa legislature, now controlled by Republicans, to take their own, reflective actions.

Here’s the exchange between Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) making news this morning. I watched it twice and can’t do it again.

In the meanwhile, I’ll go to work at the home, farm and auto supply store where I’ll take home another $54 after deductions for a day’s work and try to sustain our lives. It’s clear nothing matters in our politics. That is, nothing except our own engagement to repair the wound and protect the commons.

It’s tough going but we can’t give up.

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Armistice Day at Home

Group of captured Allied soldiers on the western front during World War I representing eight nationalities: Anamite (Vietnamese), Tunisian, Senegalese, Sudanese, Russian, American, Portuguese and English. Photo Credit – Library of Congress

Most of Armistice Day was at home.

The forecast had been rain, however, a clear fall day unfolded and I planted garlic. Pushing cloves into the ground with my thumb and index finger, I made two rows and covered them with mulch retrieved from the desiccated tomato patch. It doesn’t seem like much, it’s my first garlic planting ever. If it fails to winter I have plenty of seed to replant in the spring.

Had I been more prescient about the weather I would have spent more time outside: mowing, trimming oak trees and lilacs, clearing more of the garden, and burning the burn pile. Neighbors were mowing. The mother of young children piled up leaves from the deciduous trees at the end of a zip line portending great fun. Instead, I spent the morning cooking soup, soup broth, rice and a simple breakfast.

Leaves of scarlet kale were kissed by frost leaving a bitter and sweet flavor. I harvested the crowns and bagged the leaves to send to town for library workers. Usable kale remains in the garden. It will continue to grow with mild temperatures. Leaves of celery grow where I cut the bunches. There is plenty of celery in the ice box so I didn’t harvest them and won’t until dire cold is in the forecast. An earlier avatar of gardener wouldn’t have done anything in the garden during November.

I picked up provisions at the orchard: 15 pounds of Gold Rush apples, two gallons of apple cider, two pounds of frozen Montmorency cherries, packets of mulling spices and 10 note cards. Sara, Barb and I had a post-season conversation about gardening, Medicare and living in 2017.

The morning’s main accomplishment was clearing the ice box of aging greens by producing another couple gallons of vegetable broth. I lost count of how many quart jars of canned broth wait on pantry shelves. For lunch I ate a sliced apple with peanut butter.

We live in a time when favorite foods are under pressure from climate change. Chocolate, coffee and Cavendish bananas each see unique challenges from global warming. In addition, recent studies show the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the nutrient value of common foods. Our way of life has changed and will continue to change as a result of what Pope Francis yesterday called shortsighted human activity. He was immediately denounced in social media by climate deniers.

This week, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) introduced the HERO Act which purports to reform higher education. Specifically, the bill would open up accreditation for Title IV funding to other than four-year colleges and universities. In an effort to break up the “college accreditation cartel” DeSantis would keep current Title IV funding but add eligibility for other post K-12 institutions. States could accredit community colleges and businesses to be recipients of federal loans for apprenticeships and other educational programs.

Telling in all of this is that as soon as he introduced the bill, DeSantis made a beeline for the Heritage Foundation for an interview about it with the Daily Signal. Does higher education funding need reform? Yes. What are Democrats doing to effect change in higher education? That’s unclear. A key problem is progressives don’t have a network of think tanks and lobbying groups funded by dark money to counter the HERO act or the scores of other conservative initiatives gaining traction in the Trump administration.

Even though the 45th president seems an incompetent narcissist, the influence of a conservative dark money network within his administration is clear: in appointments to the Supreme Court and judiciary; in dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, in undoing progress in national monuments and parks, in weakening the State Department, in potentially politicizing the 2020 U.S. Census, and much more. The reason for his success is his close relationship with wealthy dark money donors and the agenda they sought to implement since World War II.

Today is the 39th anniversary of my return to garrison from French Commando School. I returned with a clear mind, physically fit, and an awareness of my place in the world.

“I am ready to experience the things of life again,” I wrote on Nov. 12, 1978. “The time at CEC4 has cleansed me of all things stagnant. I will pursue life as I see it and make it a place where I pass with love and peace for all.”

We work for peace on the 99th anniversary of the Armistice. If people are not unsettled by evidence of climate change and a Congress that ignores it in favor of pet projects designed to please the wealthiest Americans, we haven’t been paying attention. The need to sustain our lives in a global society has never been clearer.

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Back to Work

Barn Wood

The desultory nature of lowly paid work is a grind.

That’s what I found yesterday upon returning to the home, farm and auto supply store after a four-day vacation. By afternoon I was ready for a nap but instead scratched at the stacks of piled up work and made a day of it. I won’t run out of work there any time soon.

I had thought to secure provisions at the warehouse club after work but was tired, achy and my feet hurt. I skipped shopping and drove straight home.

Vacation consisted mostly of sleeping, reading, napping, cooking, writing and resting. I’ve been working almost every weekday and weekend since February when I started soil blocking at the farm. It all caught up with me. By Tuesday night I felt more human if not fully rested.

I left our property exactly three times: to meet with a neighbor about our relationship with Iowa Department of Natural Resources, to fill Jacque’s car with gasoline, and to pick up our share at the farm. Most of what I hoped to do while vacationing remains undone. I did manage a few things using the internet: applying for Social Security retirement benefits, ordering a couple of books for winter reading, and ordering parts to repair a burner on our aging electric range. It’s something.

I’m not complaining. We have it better than most who make it on less than a livable wage in the post Reagan society.

What matters more was the ability to author a few posts during this down time. Nothing profound — public journaling really — and that escape into the imagination made all the difference.

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Solon Council is Iowa Nice

Woman Writing Letter

The president of the Gallery Acres West home owners association invited me to attend Wednesday’s city council meeting and I did. I was amazed.

It was amazing that council gave such thoughtful and considerate deliberation to a request by the rural subdivision to hook up to city water.

Running a three-mile water line from Solon to Gallery Acres West would help resolve a public health issue for about 50 residents who have elevated arsenic levels in their drinking water. They have been consuming non-compliant water since 2001 when the Environmental Protection Agency standard for arsenic changed from 50 to 10 parts per million.

The history of this public water system (No. 5282306) and its failure to comply with the arsenic standard is available on line. In 2015 the Iowa Department of Natural Resources threatened legal action over non-compliance. DNR should not back down from enforcing public water system standards in this or any other case.

Whether running a three-mile water line from Solon to Gallery Acres West is a good or fair idea is for others to say. That council is willing to consider this proposal, even though they are under no legal or moral obligation to do so, reflects well on them and the City of Solon.

Wednesday’s council meeting was a living demonstration of what it means to be a good neighbor and Iowa nice.

~ Published in the Nov. 9 edition of the Solon Economist

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Political Engagement and the City Elections

Polling Place

Never mistake absence of political noise for lack of a campaign. In both Solon and West Branch, the number of write-in votes in yesterday’s city elections was substantial. West Branch write-ins may make a difference in the outcome of one city council seat.

In West Branch there were 105 write-in votes of 213 cast (49 percent) with Andrew Mundell getting 91 of those and 14 remaining unresolved on election night. That makes Mundell competitive with Jodee Stoolman who received 93. Nicholas Goodweiler received 163 votes for councilperson and is safely elected to one of the two open seats.

In Solon there were 94 write-in ballots for city councilor of 214 cast (44 percent). The Johnson County auditor has not identified the write-in candidate(s) and those votes won’t change the election outcome of Steve Duncan, Lynn Morris and Lauren Whitehead being safely re-elected. One suspects a sub rosa write-in campaign for Dale Snipes who lost to Whitehead in a May 30 special election. I asked the auditor’s office for the names of write-in candidates once they are tabulated.

In low turnout elections a write-in campaign can make a difference by activating voters. I decided to run for township trustee only after casting my ballot in the 2012 general election when only one candidate for two township trustee seats was listed. It took some work to activate my network to vote for me, but not that much for an easy win.

These elections highlight the importance of local political engagement.

On Nov. 2, Dallas County Republicans heard how important they are. Acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann extolled local political activists saying their county effort was essential to implementing the Republican agenda.

“This is where so much energy is, and this is where the work that gets done to elect conservative candidates really happens,” Gregg said. “This is where the organization happens, this is where the get-out-the vote effort happens, this is where the door knocking happens, and it’s so critical and it’s so important.”

“Electorally, there’s only one way that we counter a Johnson County, and that is for a Dallas County to run up the total,” Kaufmann said. “That’s the numbers game, how that does that.”

Elections matter and there is no denying Lauren Whitehead confirmed her credibility with last night’s solid win. However, when 12.4 percent of registered voters show up for a city election it also indicates people are engaged. In the 2013 Solon city election only 63 voters (4.5 percent) cast a ballot. By tripling voter participation in an uncontested city election last night, Solon voters set the stage for further electoral wins.

It’s a year until the 2018 general election and last night’s results indicate we’re off to a good start.

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Last Share at Sundog Farm

Sundog Farm

The sun set as I pulled into Sundog Farm, home of Local Harvest CSA.

Eileen from Turkey Creek Orchard had just dropped off fresh aronia berries and jars of fruit jam to fill orders placed over the weekend. Farmers Carmen and Maja were there but didn’t have time to talk as they had deliveries in Cedar Rapids.

That left me with the goats and sheep to pick up our share.

Low wage work has kept me so busy everything that was once important gave way. I finished reading What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first book I read since April. Clinton’s book is an important read for Americans and finishing it a year after she lost the election seemed good timing. What surprised me was how much space she devoted to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. My native reaction was what happens on the internet doesn’t matter much to a U.S. general election, but she convinced me that maybe it does. I also enjoyed her personal stories throughout the book. As was the case while reading her last book, Hard Choices, I found her analysis to be helpful and reasonable.

Today is election day in Iowa’s cities and towns. My pal from the Clinton campaign, Lauren Whitehead, is running unopposed for city council in the town nearest us. There is no election in the unincorporated area where we live. Because of our family roots in southwestern Virginia, I have been following the gubernatorial race there. The Democrat is leading in the polls although that’s no guarantee he’ll win. Whatever the result in Virginia my Twitter feed will be clogged up with analysis and punditry tonight. It’s a good night to retire early with a book and read about the election in the morning.

Yesterday I applied for Social Security retirement benefits. If all goes as expected the first check will hit in late January. By Spring I’ll be in a position to scale back my work at the home, farm and auto supply store. After that I hope to return to the CSA farms to help with spring planting. It will be the sixth year.

For now, I took the vegetables home and will consider how best to use them before they turn to compost. That’s an essential human question. One I spend extra time trying to answer.

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