Categories
Home Life Writing

Bicycling Again

Gaddis Pond Rest Area, Big Grove Township.

When my medical practitioner diagnosed plantar fasciitis in 2015 it mean I had to give up running. I’d been running for exercise since 1976 when I enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Doc suggested bicycling. I took my Austrian-made Puch Cavalier ten-speed down from the hooks in the garage and delivered it to the bicycle shop where I bought it in 1980 to get tuned up. Parts were scarce for the old bike, but the technicians found them. I brought it home and hung it in the garage where it stayed until this month.

During a recent medical check up I asked again about running. I needed more exercise and my feet felt better. I could run again, I thought, maybe not five daily miles as before, but something. He said if I returned to running, plantar fasciitis would flare up again. I started walking and it wasn’t enough.

On June 18 I dusted the bicycle off and rode for the first time: about five miles. I’ve been out the last four days and expect to continue bicycling, gradually increasing my daily distance.

I’m a cautious bicyclist. I have a good sense of myself on the bicycle and know how to use the derailleur gears as they were designed. I couldn’t locate my helmet or riding gloves so I adjusted our daughter’s helmet so it would fit. I put a fanny pack over the handlebars to hold my mobile device and the garage door opener. I still have the plastic water bottle I got when the bike was new. I have two pair of bicycling pants with the cushion in the crotch. I’m wearing my old running shoes for now.

While I was in graduate school I ran and rode a lot. I would run from my apartment on Market Street in Iowa City out to the Coralville dam and back. Afterward I rode the bicycle for another ten miles. I was a restless soul then. I made all the usual rides: to Sand Road Orchard; to Kalona before dawn where I saw kerosene lamps illuminating homes and barns; to Stringtown Grocery; to the Kalona cheese factory; through Hills, Lone Tree and Wellman. I was a primitive rider, having no training and an undisciplined approach. I made a century ride with the Bicyclists of Iowa City and experienced glycogen burn out. At the time I didn’t know what was happening to me and it was a little scary. Not freak out scary though, and I made it home safely.

I need more exercise. It’s cheap medicine. Today I rode 7.6 miles with a goal of being able to make it to Ely without stopping. After that, who knows? For now it’s enough to feel the cool breeze as I ride and make progress toward an unspecified goal.

Another part of life in Big Grove Township.

Categories
Home Life Social Commentary

Forward

Milkweed on the state park trail.

It’s time to move forward.

In a couple of hours I’m heading to the farm for the last shift of soil blocking this year. After that the rest of the year is a blank slate.

I’ll be writing something on it, to be sure.

Yesterday was a quiet day in Big Grove Township. After working the garden, processing the harvest, exercising, and cooking dinner, I figured out how much of my pension would be left when the next check comes and donated to Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Theresa Greenfield and Rita Hart. A person’s gotta do something.

Some of the local grocery stores are recalling bagged lettuce because of contamination by the parasite Cyclospora. I’m picking up lettuce at the farm today, enough to hold us over until the next wave is ready in the garden. The crew takes appropriate precautions to ensure our food is safe, so I have little worry about what we eat when it comes from the farm.

2020 has been a hella way to transition. The coronavirus pandemic pushed me into retirement. With a pension that pays basic bills, I can test pilot a financial structure in which I no longer trade labor for dollars. It’s like universal basic income, only just for us in the disorganized mess U.S. society currently seems to be. For the longest time I directed my life to this place. I did not expect to make it here.

I think I forgot to take my prescription medicine before sleeping last night but feel okay this morning. Feeling good is an existential threat. It causes us to take risks we may otherwise not have taken. There is a four-day spike of COVID-19 cases in our county. Initial analysis by elected officials is most of the cases are young adults. In other words, people who live as if there is no tomorrow and they are invincible. They feel good now and cast aside recommendations by our public health staff (if they are even aware of them). I prefer to have a list of conditions which moderate my risk taking. I need to do something to remember to take my pill before going to bed.

Humans have no choice but to move forward. We cherish nostalgia yet it’s not enough to sustain us. We enjoy stories yet there is a difference between a narrative and what really happens. I believe it is possible to understand reality. When I suggested on social media I might view The Matrix, a friend posted a reply, “Jeezus, take the red pill already.” That’s fine, I think I did, but can’t remember. Instead of taking it again I’ll initiate the next step forward.

Categories
Environment

Sustainability in the Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery

Garlic and onions from a test dig on June 17, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.

It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.

People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels are surging back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”

No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

The fact that almost no one is talking about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Sharing the Wealth

Neighborhood Kale and Collard Stand, June 15, 2020.

Yesterday’s kale harvest was big. To share the wealth I displayed some at the end of the driveway and posted the free give-away on Facebook.

Some of it was claimed, the rest returned to the garden via the composter.

Ten years ago I saved or preserved everything I grew in the garden. Any more I keep only enough to get us through to next year. I’ve visited root cellars filled with very old Mason jars of a garden’s preserves. That’s not who we should be. We take what we need and if we can’t give it away, leave the rest for compost.

Leafy green vegetables are not a favorite around here. I have regular customers who use it in smoothies or bake kale chips. Others prepare it traditionally as greens. The main use in our household is in tacos, soups and stir fries. When out of lettuce we make kale salad. Once in a while I add a leaf to a smoothie. I’m not a smoothie person. I tried kale pesto once and it was okay. Pesto with more flavor, like mustard greens, is better. For a gardener the main challenge is to grow just enough to meet needs. I cut back the space for kale to 18 plants this year. It is still too much.

Combine kale with kohlrabi, collards, mustard, spinach and chard and there is an abundance of greens this year. Next year I’ll use the planting space differently to more closely match what I grow with kitchen usage.

For now there is kale for all who want it.

Categories
Writing

Cool Spring Days

Lake Macbride State Park trail. June 13, 2020.

The last few days have been ideal. Rain let up, temperatures dropped to the 60s and 70s, and much about our time on earth is worth living.

These days are golden.

The garden is producing and it has already been an abundant year. Last night I made biscuits with fresh sage and cheddar cheese from my cookbook, split them into a bowl, and spooned homemade vegetable soup on top. It made a fine dinner. There were leftovers.

I’m ramping up for my summer stint of covering Blog for Iowa while our editor takes a break. My first post is scheduled for July 6. In the meanwhile, these days don’t last yet we enjoy them while we can. Or as James Russell Lowell wrote:

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light.

  ~Excerpt from the Vision of Sir Launfal

Categories
Social Commentary

Adapting to the Coronavirus

Sunrise June 13, 2020.

There have been 7.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide according to this morning’s Washington Post. The virus has killed more than 410,000 of which 112,978 deaths occurred in the U.S. since Feb. 29.

Mitigation of the coronavirus is not going well here. Poorer countries have done much better handling the crisis. Absent leadership, incompetence, and a deliberate decision to treat COVID-19 like influenza for weeks in February and March, combined with a just ‘let it go’ attitude have taken their toll according to one public health official.

On Thursday the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,861 points when witless traders found out there wouldn’t be a quick recovery from the pandemic. How did they get the notion the recovery would be quick? Praise the Lord I got out of the market when I did.

In any case, the administration has thrown in the towel on their so-called fight against the pandemic and is moving on to the campaign trail. They are having rally attendees sign a liability waiver in the event there is COVID-19 spread at them. Their work has been about re-election since the day after the inaugural address and little else. In the Republican political playbook what’s another 100,000 COVID-19 deaths? F*ck it! Four more years.

Where does that leave bloggers, writers, gardeners and humans like me? We have to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the adaptation was forced upon us.

Retiring from retail work on April 28 was an easy calculation. At age 68, with some health conditions and a reasonable pension structure which included Social Security and Medicare, I decided to do without the additional income and potential exposure to the virus. I won’t be going back to the orchard to work in the retail barn this fall either.

For the first time ever my medical practitioner prescribed a medication which I now have to take daily to reduce cholesterol. I asked him what circumstances may result in ending the medication. He said maybe toward the end of life. While it’s not unusual for Americans to be on medication, and I’ve been lucky to avoid it this long, my health and welfare needs more consideration.

Finally, a lot of people remain unemployed and some jobs closed by the pandemic have not re-opened. Many won’t reopen at all or will emerge vastly changed. In any case, other people need the work more than I do. If I generate income it won’t be working as a wage worker for someone else.

What are the possibilities?

Our household spending plummeted since leaving work. The retained value of our balance sheet increased by 3.25 percent since the pandemic began in Iowa. Our personal debt decreased by 50 percent in the same period. We have a possibility of paying off our debt by the end of the year, opening up spending on large projects in 2021. There is a long list of backlogged projects.

I’m already reading more books, 23 since the pandemic began. I don’t know if it’s possible to “catch up on reading,” but many books wait in my queue and I might actually get to a lot of them. This is a positive alternative to spending more time on social media.

The schedule of work outside home is minimal and that enables a focus on home life. Part of that is taking care of health, and part is going through and getting rid of unneeded possessions in preparation for refurbishing our living space. More attention can be paid to the kitchen garden so our diet can improve, providing better nutrition. All this is welcome and showing marked improvement since the pandemic began in Iowa.

How I might re-enter society, being among people I know, doing things together, is missing from adaptation. With continued spread of COVID-19 I won’t join others at events unless I know their social distancing practices. That seems like a lot to ask friends and neighbors just to spend time with them. Zoom meetings aren’t really a replacement for someone who has been very social for as long like I have been. Likewise, with more people at home on the internet our connection isn’t adequate for an uninterrupted Zoom event. How all this gets resolved remains an open question.

Until there is a vaccine with widespread distribution, or some acknowledgement by public health officials the pandemic is over, I don’t see how adaptation can resemble the past. There will be gatherings but for now I ask myself why risk it? That’s going to continue for some time.

Being at retirement age has made adaptation easier. Maybe the best adaptation, the most socially responsible one, is to just fade away into my family, my bloggery, my writing, and my kitchen garden. There are worse fates than that. Eventually an opportunity to re-enter society will present itself but not yet.

Categories
Politics Social Commentary Writing

Being Racist

First big kale harvest, Spring 2020

We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and consider whether we are racist. It’s not easy to do in the best of circumstances.

Dictionaries consistently define a racist as someone who has a notion that one’s own ethnic stock or genetic makeup is superior.

Which is it, ethnicity or genetics that defines race?

This week Merriam-Webster updated their dictionary to include a definition of institutional racism. Okay. The authority of dictionaries has diminished in society. There are few rules in the living language except we be understood. Haters gonna hate, as Taylor Swift wrote, regardless what’s in the dictionary.

I was confronted with the idea there were different races as a child. It was and remains an idea. I knew I was different, but superior? I don’t think so. Diversity in the neighborhood in which I grew up meant defining whether one’s family was of German or Irish descent. Racism as we know it today, as in the Black Lives Matters Movement, wasn’t an obvious issue. We were shielded from racism and those blacks we encountered were in a context of their relationship with our father: plantation workers in Florida, co-workers at the meat packing plant, fellow union members.

What are the genetic characteristics that define race? What cultural behaviors are specific to race? Should we care about race? These are the questions I’m asking while witnessing the resurgence of protests over race after the viral video of George Floyd’s murder.

Our family visited the Gettysburg battlefield when I was a grader. Which side of the Civil War was I on? My maternal ancestors immigrated after the war and my paternal ones from Virginia fought on both sides. After a moving childhood visit to the battlefields I decided to adopt the Confederacy as my own history and bought a Confederate flag in the museum gift shop.

We cannot disown this history even if we want or if contemporary values discredit the institution of chattel slavery. Thanks to the combined work of my fourth grade teacher and my mother I came to realize the racism inherent in that embrace of the Confederacy, and that it was wrong. Before long, with their encouragement, I sought and found my own history.

I first encountered systemic racism while serving in the military. I paid little heed to the naming of military bases after notable racists Andrew Jackson and Henry Lewis Benning, where I trained in the U.S. Army. I was stationed at Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz, Germany. It was named after the World War II veteran with the same name as the commander of the Northern Army of Virginia. Racism in the military was about more than names.

Daily work was integrated, which is to say as an Army officer I paid little attention to race when giving orders or following them. All but one officer in the battalion was white and the lone black lieutenant and his family lived in a twelfth century castle off base. I visited them a couple times while we served together. In conversations, I came to understand he was held to a different standard because he was black.

When we lived in Indiana I managed an operation that recruited thousands of truck drivers. I became familiar with parts of Chicago and the suburbs because of this work. I hired the first black recruiter the company had and remember the surprised faces when we returned to the corporate office for a meeting together. Race made no difference in this hire. I just wanted someone who could do the job.

We rejected an applicant from our orientation and he threatened to call Bobby Rush because he felt we were discriminating against him because he was black. The claim bordered the ridiculous because more than half the group in orientation was black or Hispanic. I don’t recall why we rejected him but I said I’d like to have that conversation and provided my number. Several weeks later we received a letter from Rush’s office and I replied. That was the end of it.

That protesters in the county seat chose to shut down Interstate 80 this week in response to the murder of George Floyd was predictable, expected, and ineffective. It’s something, yet I’m not sure exactly what. In 1971 I was part of a group of protesters that shut down Interstate 80 near the Dubuque Street exit in response to the Vietnam War. We built a bonfire in the Eastbound lane feeling we had to do something to disrupt business as usual. What more usual thing is there than traveling on an interstate highway? Law enforcement attempts to keep the interstate open, although yesterday there was a report one of the Coralville exits was closed by them because of protests. Protesters have to do something to gain attention enough to create a fulcrum point for change. I support their actions and also believe there has to be a better way.

What does the Black Lives Matter Movement mean to me? In our rural subdivision the only time race comes to the surface is when it is scratched. If there is talk about a black family moving in neighbors assert property values will decline.What does one do with that? I point out to them the assertion is patently false and reject it. Most people here don’t scratch the surface of race to avoid such conversations.

If George Floyd’s murder was a turning point in how racism is viewed in the United States then some good will come of it once he is mourned dead and survivors heal. We must look ourselves in the mirror on racism. If we can’t then we probably are racist and don’t want to admit it. If so, Floyd becomes just another black man who died at the hands of police as white hegemony continues a while longer.

My religious education taught we are all equal in God’s eyes and I believe it. Yet slave owners sought to justify the institution using the same Bible I read today. In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we are racist, not because we seek an answer, but because in asking we open the possibility of a remedy. We seem so far from that now.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Three Months In A Pandemic

Planks on the footbridge.

The absence of definitive guidance on what society should be doing during the coronavirus pandemic led us to a path of individual choices.

When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proclaimed the disaster emergency on March 9 few of us knew what to expect. Sadly, three months later that continues to be true.

Our social behavior is developing around risk avoidance, some of it informed, some less so.

Jacque made us facial masks on the sewing machine. I carry three of them in a plastic bag on the car seat to use when in public. Most frequently I wear them while shopping for groceries, and at the drug store, convenience store and at medical appointments. When I return home I wash my hands, change clothing, and if I’ll be inside the rest of the day, take a shower. I wash the masks after each wearing.

At the farm I don’t wear a mask because the crew has been self-isolated together since the pandemic began. The risk of me being exposed there is minimal. Since I’ve been tested, limit my activity, and maintain social distancing, I seem unlikely to bring it in. They developed a social distancing method of share delivery and are doing everything they can to avoid getting sick. An outbreak would be disastrous for them, their customers, and the business.

I don’t wear a mask to the state park trail and very few people I’ve encountered there do. Because it is outside and there is room enough to maintain social distancing the risk of contracting COVID-19 there seems minimal. I avoided going to the park for the first two months of the pandemic yet the need for exercise outweighed the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

With more people home during the day the number of contacts with neighbors has increased. I don’t wear a mask while I’m with them because these encounters are pop-up activities of short duration. I have yet to see anyone in the neighborhood wearing a mask. The letter carrier and parcel delivery drivers are a source of potential contamination although a necessary service as our number of trips off the property has decreased. We sanitize packages and let them sit on the landing before opening.

Our main approach to risk management is reducing activity away from home and social distancing when we are out and about. It serves us well in that neither of us has been sick since the pandemic began. I don’t believe our experience and behavior is much different from any Iowan who takes the coronavirus seriously.

Clearly the pandemic will be of longer duration, so how should risk of COVID-19 spread be managed? There is little guidance from our government and public health guidance seems so universal it’s hard to figure how it impacts us in our actual lives. As a former career transportation and logistics professional I’m familiar with risk management. The pandemic is just one more layer added to risks already managed.

When I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store I got sick a couple of times a year. I caught something at work that caused runny nose, coughing, congestion or some combination of those ailments. The need for income outweighed potential health risks. When we entered the pandemic I reassessed and reversed my approach. I haven’t been sick since I walked out the door for the last time on April 2.

My point is we take risks in everything we do. During the coronavirus pandemic we must get better at doing so because the lives of our family and everyone with whom we come in contact depend upon it. The question never was “should we open up the economy?” The better question is what are the conditions upon which we can re-engage in society? How do we know it is safe enough to send our children to school, return to paid work outside the home, and participate in mass recreational events like concerts, sporting games, fairs and local festivals? If anything, we assumed those activities were safe before the pandemic, even though we knew, subconsciously at least, that safety has a broad spectrum of risk and no human activity is completely safe.

What are reasonable risks? Lacking appropriate guidance from experts each of us is making up our own rules, our own trade-offs between risk avoidance and participating in life. There is no going back to life before the pandemic. How do we restore enjoyable aspects of our lives with less risk of contracting COVID-19?

I don’t have definitive answers except that we are on our own. We are doing our best and for the time being, until we figure this out, that may be the best we can do.

Categories
Garden

Weeding the Onion Patch

Kohlrabi greens with spring onions and garlic, steaming in vegetable broth.

I’m determined to grow shallots and onions this year. I took the solar powered radio to the onion patch, took down the fence, and weeded until it was done.

The onion starts purchased from the home, farm and auto supply store are growing but not yet forming bulbs. The shallots growing from seed look like they will be something, and soon three varieties of storage onions started from plants will need thinning so there is room for them to grow.

If the garden produces storage onions it would be for the first time. I’m following the guidance of my mentor so there’s hope of success in the form of a bin full of onions stored near the furnace over winter.

A few dozen onions from 2019 remain in the bin. I am so confident of onion success I’m planning to caramelize a big batch of them and transition to reliance on what I grow. More than anything, onions are a mainstay of our kitchen and growing them a key part of making our kitchen garden more relevant.

Among the weeds I found was lamb’s quarters, which grows in abundance without doing anything but planting other things. Lamb’s quarters grows everywhere in Iowa on its own. While culinarians forage these leaves to include in gourmet preparations, in a kitchen garden a cook needs only so many greens. I ate a few of the tender top leaves and composted the rest. They are a tasty green, less bitter than some I grow intentionally.

Around the country protests continue in the wake of videos of the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported large turnout for demonstrations in nearby Cedar Rapids and Iowa City last night. No one knows how long demonstrations will continue or how long it will take government to act on them. The expectation is government will act.

In 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and ensuing riots in American cities, it took six days for President Johnson to respond by signing the Civil Rights Act. I don’t see any such action coming out of the Trump administration whose reaction has been to build a fence around the White House and seek to retain power by winning the Nov. 3 election.

While we need to eat, the progress of my onion patch may be the least of our worries. What happened to George Floyd shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is systemic racism in the United States, and we must each do something to address it. What will be the enduring legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement? With our current federal government that remains an open question.

Categories
Cooking Garden

Volley of Lightning Strikes

Lake Macbride State Park, June 2, 2020

The day began with a loud volley of lightning strikes west of the house. I don’t recall hearing so many at once. When hail pelleted the windows it felt like were in for the worst.

It didn’t last long and there was no damage to the garden or anything else I inspected after the clouds moved on.

Thus began another warm, wet day in Big Grove Township.

The morning work project was to organize the garage so both vehicles could be parked inside. Mission accomplished.

I found a cooking preparation for Fordhook chard that can be applied to other leafy green vegetables with great results:

Bring half a cup of vegetable broth to a boil in a Dutch oven. Clean the leaves from the stem of the chard. Finely slice the stems, three spring onions, three cloves of garlic, and add to the Dutch oven. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add roughly chopped leaves and cover. Cook for 2-3 minutes in the steam then stir to get the other side cooked, a couple more minutes. When the chard decreases in volume mix the leaves and bits and pieces and serve. Makes two servings.

When the garden has many varieties of leafy green vegetables a basic kitchen preparation like this is important.

We are not out of the impact of video footage depicting the murder of George Floyd being released in social media. While there are no demonstrations here, the crowd of protesters in the county seat grew to about a thousand on Wednesday. The president’s amateurish way of handling the crisis will prolong more than end the violence. We can all feel the vacuum of leadership sucking.

The coronavirus rages. 106,198 people died of COVID-19 in the United States as of yesterday. No end to the pandemic is in sight, although there is hope for a vaccine. The plan after a successful vaccine is unclear. The president’s failed leadership is evident: he should set expectations and take bold action to assist with the response. He has done neither. Meanwhile, society is deteriorating into chaos with one state legislator saying yesterday to a group that opposes mandatory vaccination laws, “COVID-19 isn’t even killing anybody.”

On the state park trail near where I live most people don’t wear protective equipment. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does not require it although they request people otherwise maintain social distancing. Joggers, hikers and bicyclists haven’t been wearing facial masks, although I spotted a family group wearing them while taking a hike.

My activities outside home are restricted to grocery shopping, drug store visits, gasoline purchases, medical visits, and a shift per week at the farm. The farm crew moved on site at the beginning of the pandemic and has been self-isolating since then. I work alone in the greenhouse when I’m there. Other than at the farm, I wear one of my homemade face masks whenever I’m with people anywhere else.

I have been participating in TestIowa, the statewide COVID-19 response application. The app suggested I was eligible to be tested so I went to a drive-up clinic at nearby Kirkwood Community College. The result was negative. After visiting clinics for a diabetes follow up I made a list of conditions I’m experiencing. There were a dozen. I’m at a loss to say when all that happened but I feel pretty good. Feeling good likely hinders the effort to address these conditions as well as I otherwise might.

As spring turns to summer I’m ready for change. It’s a time when the morning thunderstorm is both familiar and frightening — a time to persist in doing what’s right for our family and for the broader society.