Saturday, May 29, 2010

Locus Focus - A Remote Valley

(Update: I overlooked something so have removed unnecessary excuse-making)

For this Locus Focus I took Hills and the Sea down from the shelf.

The essays are generally concerned with the places that Hilaire Belloc, the writer of the essays, travelled. As the title suggests, each essay is vitally connected to a concrete place - the inspiration for each essay deriving from them, though not every essay is solely about the place.

Belloc's portrayal of these settings almost always goes into the mythical, whimsical and the fantastic (not to mention the historical, the political and the philosophical). The places that Belloc describes therein are vividly envisioned and become places the reader would like to, or wouldn't mind, visiting and exploring (preferably back in 1906).

At first I thought I would randomly pick a title from the index and go with that one, since I haven't read this collection for a while. But I read through a few essays. Now, I could go into the essay that talks about a town whose entirely unique, present-day layout was developed over time by the negative spaces that drying fish nets happened to make as they were haphazardly laid out on the ground - the buildings slowly growing over the centuries between and around the placement of the drying fish nets. A town born of its trade if there ever was one.

But the essay that reclaimed my attention was one called, The Mowing of a Field. Belloc is here returning to some place of his childhood. The essay begins:

There is a valley in South England remote from ambition and from fear, where the passage of strangers is rare and unperceived, and where the scent of the grass in summer is breathed only by those who are native to that unvisited land.
Belloc the cosmopolitan was big on non-cosmopolitan places. He continues:

The roads to the Channel do not traverse it; they choose upon either side easier passes over the range. One track alone leads up through it to the hills, and this is changeable...The woods grow steep above the slopes; they reach sometimes the very summit of the heights, or, when they cannot attain them, fill in and clothe the combes. And, in between, along the floor of the valley, deep pastures and their silence are bordered by lawns of chalky grass and the small yew trees of the Downs.
The clouds that visit its sky reveal themselves beyond the one great rise, and sail, white and enormous, to the other, and sink beyond that other. But the plains above which they have travelled and the Weald to which they go, the people of the valley cannot see and hardly recall. The wind, when it reaches such fields, is no longer a gale from the salt, but fruitful and soft, an inland breeze; and those whose blood was nourished here feel in that wind the fruitfulness of our orchards and all the life that all things draw from the air.
In this place, when I was a boy, I pushed through a fringe of beeches that made a complete screen between me and the world, and I came to a glade called No Man's Land. I climbed beyond it, and I was surprised and glad, because from the ridge of that glade I saw the sea. To this place very lately I returned.
Belloc has returned to this place in late evening. The next morning he wakes up:

…before it was yet broad day, I awoke, and thought of mowing. The birds were already chattering in the trees beside my window, all except the nightingale, which had left and flown away to the Weald, where he sings all summer by day as well as by night in the oaks and hazel spinneys…The birds and the thought of mowing had awakened me, and I went down the stairs and along the stone floors to where I could find a scythe; and when I took it from its nail, I remembered how, fourteen years ago, I had last gone out with my scythe, just so, into the fields at morning. In between that day and this were many things, cities and armies, and a confusion of books, mountains and the desert, and horrible great breadths of sea.
The author describes in detail the proper way of sharpening a scythe. He then describes the proper way of mowing the grass, and the proper time to do it. He has many swathes already cut before the time for the Angelus. Later, a man comes to help him for a wage. Belloc brings out some small ale for them to drink, and later some lunch…

Evening comes. The entire two acres are finished and the two men agree to meet again next morning to gather up the swathes.

One could venture to this nurturing, balmy place just to do the simple things Belloc did there, or else one feels he could go there to die.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Deliver. Sign name. Await reply.

Today is the date for delivering works to the art gallery for judging tomorrow. I dropped two paintings off this afternoon with something like a breeze of indifference. After almost ten years of entering work and being rejected, with the exception of one year (and the exception of other exhibitions), one begins to see how pathetic it can be. The most pathetic though are the artists who change their work to the likeness of those works that get accepted and prized.

Yet no amount of detachment spares one the hurt of going to the gallery and finding your pieces have been rejected. It's a healthy hurt - if you take it right.

Awhile back, there was this other competition and exhibition held locally, where the rodeo and fair is held every May long weekend (Victoria Day). It was a western themed exhibition, to be held during the fair and rodeo. I entered a landscape; a local landscape. I also volunteered to help receive the entries; to help move them around. There were a lot of entries. The large hall which held them was lined all the way around with paintings and drawings.

Helping to line up the paintings, of course I got to see them all, and felt mine to be like a scrappy little ruffian at a cocktail party. I remember one couple who had entered pieces. They were going along looking at the works, and they made snarky remarks about some of them, and I remember wondering what sort of nasty things they would say once they got to mine.

That was the morning, and the judges were going to come in the afternoon. Of course, no artists can be around when the judging takes place, so I went home. The entrants were to come back late in the afternoon to pick up their work and see if they were accepted or not. I got back down there a little early; the judges were still deciding. I loitered around the outside and smoked a mischievous cigarette. Of course, I was there to help again with getting the works of art back to the artists.

I was standing in the door to the hall and saw the judges sitting around a table, and one of them kept pointing in the direction that my painting was. I didn't think in the least she was pointing at mine. They were coming to a final decision, engaged in discussion; then they all got up and went over in the same direction she was pointing earlier; and I saw in complete bafflement that they were gathered around my painting.

One of the ladies at the table to receive paintings and keep records started talking with the judges, and she came back towards me holding up her index finger to signal: number one.

If I said that I didn't take delight in what just happened, I would be a liar. I was elated; I was shocked; not in the faintest had I thought my painting would even make it into the exhibition, let alone get first place. It was like a grace of God swooped down from on high and did it as if to say, "There are some graceful things in this painting. Keep going."

And I'll never forget the week after, at the end of the May long weekend, when I went to pick up my painting from the exhibition. I went into the hall, now filled with all manner of booths and tables; companies getting their names out there and selling stuff. The place was packed to the teeth, with people and artifacts. When I came to my painting, it was hanging there like a lost thing, completely forsaken. It looked like a dull piece of crap.

I always sort of have that dichotomy in the back of my mind; that dichotomy between Prize Number One and that day picking up the painting. Each day is a new creation and our works will have about them something that - though the work has savour in relation to a whole - is limited in more or less degrees. No one is exempt.

I remember reading Flannery O' Connor stories back-to-back over a stretch, and around the tenth or so story her infiltrating Grace started to look like a cheap parlor trick.

Take a hard look at Michelangelo's figures on the Sistine Chapel or on its altar wall. Lose sight of the whole, and narrow in on the singular anatomy, and you see that no one is exempt from this limitation.

You think you'll be the most conscientious and not fall into the same failings? Alright, the Muse says, wish granted: your work now stands before you, without light, utterly square and hopelessly pedantic.

This is an incentive that should free us, and not be a cause for cynicism. For what is most amazing is this: all that is so fickle in us and in our works is hardwired by a very direct connection to our eternal longing for the Permanent.

The Buddhist likes to meditate on impermanence - a noble thing: let's not be fickle. But what is it in one that is meditating on impermanence?

Keep going.

Repetition Therapy

Monday, May 24, 2010

A few 300 notes

--I don't know why I waited so long to watch this film. Well, actually I do. From the trailer, the film just seemed evil and loud; loud visually and sonically. The heavy metal didn't help. I didn't expect to like it, which is a good way to approach any film.

--Strange, that a film so rife with gratuitous nudity, sexuality and grotesquery should be one of the most morally sound, not to mention morally appealing films I have watched for a while. But those excesses, which are not merely 'excesses' but something profoundly at odds with modesty: typical graphic novel adolescence. They are not present in the film merely as those universal elements to be found in all great stories. And they are too enduring and indulgent to recommend the film.

--The film is not just 'comic book' in its visual effects, but in its gliding over the typical cinematic build-up to battle scenes. In regards to structure the film is nothing. But it's meant to be flipped through, like a comic book.

--I liked how the film pumps up the wiles of the Persians: tyranny wearing the mask of arbiter, making pleas for peace and the promise of shared power. All the while, their evil and hidden intentions, and uh, ugliness, are plain for all to see.

--My favourite line from the film: "Haven't you noticed? We've been sharing our culture with you all morning."

--Other favourites: "The old ones say we Spartans are descended from Hercules himself. Bold Leonidas gives testament to our bloodline. His roar is long and loud."


"This day, we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine."

Sheeeeeeeit. If My Big Fat Greek Wedding failed to make you want to be Greek, then those moments in 300 should prove the ticket.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Locus Focus - A home where there are none

Link up, share and read about the settings and worlds in books

"It was already very dense twilight when we struck southward from Purley. Suburbs and things on the London border may be, in most cases, commonplace and comfortable. But if ever by any chance they really are empty solitudes they are to the human spirit more desolate and dehumanized than any Yorkshire moors or Highland hills, because the suddenness with which the traveller drops into that silence has something about it as of evil elfland. It seems to be one of the ragged suburbs of the cosmos half-forgotten by God - such a place was Buxton Common, near Purley."

This Saturday's Locus Focus looks for a memorable (and recently remembered) setting in an early, obscure collection of short stories written by G.K. Chesterton and published in 1905, called, The Club of Queer Trades.

The six stories, making a slim volume easily read in one day, are narrated by Charles Swinburne, as he follows Basil Grant (former judge gone mad at the bench, now eccentric mystic and somewhat hermetic sleuth living mostly in his attic) and his more practical brother, Rupert Grant, private eye.

The trio is always happening upon inexplicable, often nightmarish mysteries that are inevitably discovered to have The Club of Queer Trades behind them.

This book is a gem. It is an early, crackling concentration (and portending) of many later Chesterton books: Father Brown, Manalive, The Four Faultless Felons, and there's even the air of The Man Who was Thursday in it - not to mention Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.

Before getting to the setting (nice rhyme eh?) in the fourth chapter (or fourth story), some light should be shed on what The Club of Queer Trades is:

"The nature of this society, such as we afterwards discovered it to be, is soon and simply told. It is an eccentric and Bohemian Club, of which the absolute condition of membership lies in this, that the candidate must have invented the method by which he earns his living. It must be an entirely new trade. The exact definition of this requirement is given in the two principal rules. First, it must not be a mere application or variation of an existing trade. Thus, for instance, the Club would not admit an insurance agent simply because instead of insuring men's furniture against being burnt in a fire, he insured, let us say, their trousers against being torn by a mad dog. The principle…is the same. Secondly, the trade must be a genuine commercial source of income, the support of its inventor. Thus the Club would not receive a man simply because he chose to pass his days collecting broken sardine tins, [LOL!] unless he could drive a roaring trade in them. Professor Chick made that quite clear. And when one remembers what Professor Chick's own new trade was, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"The discovery of this strange society was a curiously refreshing thing; to realize that there were ten new trades in the world was like looking at the first ship or the first plough. It made a man feel what he should feel, that he was still in the childhood of the world."

It is so good to return to this book! Each story is like a poem.

The Singular Speculation of the House-Agent is Chapter IV, and has the Grant brothers and Swinburne getting to the bottom (or shall we say top?) of an adventurous character named Lieutenant Drummond Keith, "…a man about whom conversation always burst like a thunderstorm the moment he left the room."

After Keith nonchalantly borrows a hundred pound cheque from Basil, both Rupert's and Charles' suspicions are aroused, in addition to the many other attributes about Keith's character. And they all go along with Keith to see whether this house-agent exists, of which Keith said was the purpose for the borrowed money.

The conversation between Keith and the house-agent seems coded and very evasive in front of the suspicious Charles and the far more suspicious and vehement Rupert, while the sleepy Basil seems unperturbed.

The next morning, as Rupert is having breakfast with Basil and Charles, a constable shows up at their door asking about this Lieutenant Keith, because it is apparent he gave the constable a false address after getting into a big street fight the previous night with five other people...

"'It was very simple, sir,' said the policeman, chuckling. 'The place he named was a well-known common quite near London, and our people were down there this morning before any of you were awake. And there's no such house. In fact, there are hardly any houses at all. Though it is so near London, it's a blank moor with hardly five trees on it, to say nothing of Christians. Oh, no, sir, the address was a fraud right enough. He was a clever rascal, and chose one of those scraps of lost England that people know nothing about. Nobody could say off-hand that there was not a particular house dropped somewhere about the heath. But as a fact, there isn't.'"
Basil, the mystic, decides he's going to go to the address himself.

"'Get down to that place?' I repeated blankly. 'Get down to what place?'

"'You don't seriously mean,' cried Rupert, who had been staring in a sort of confusion of emotions. 'You don't mean that you want to go to Buxton Common, do you? You can’t mean that!'

'Why shouldn't I go to Buxton Common?' asked Basil, smiling.

'Why should you?' said his brother…

'To find our friend, the lieutenant, of course, ' said Basil Grant. 'I thought you wanted to find him?'

Rupert broke a branch brutally from the plant and flung it impatiently on the floor. 'And in order to find him, ' he said, 'you suggest the admirable expedient of going to the only place on the habitable earth where we know he can't be.'. . .

Rupert ran after him with a considerable flurry of rationality.

'My dear chap, ' he cried, 'do you really mean that you see any good in going down to this ridiculous scrub, where there is nothing but beaten tracks and a few twisted trees, simply because it was the first place that came into a rowdy lieutenant's head when he wanted to give a lying reference in a scrape?'. . .

. . .There was certainly a sort of grey futility in the landscape itself. But it was enormously increased by the sense of grey futility in our expedition. The tracts of grey turf looked useless, the occasional wind-stricken trees looked useless, but we, the human beings, more useless than the hopeless turf or the idle trees. We were maniacs akin to the foolish landscape, for we were come to chase the wild goose which has led men and left men in bogs from the beginning. We were three dazed men under the captaincy of a madman going to look for a man whom we knew was not there in a house that had no existence. A livid sunset seemed to look at us with a sort of sickly smile before it died. . . .

. . .The wind swirled sadly over the homeless heath…There was not a sign of man or beast to the sullen circle of the horizon, and in the midst of that wilderness Basil Grant stood rubbing his hands with the air of an innkeeper standing at an open door.

'How jolly it is,' he cried, 'to get back to civilization. That notion that civilization isn't poetical is a civilized delusion. Wait till you've really lost yourself in nature, among the devilish woodlands and the cruel flowers. Then you'll know that there's no star like the red star of man that he lights on his hearthstone; no river like the red river of man, the good red wine, which you, Mr Rupert Grant, if I have any knowledge of you, will be drinking in two or three minutes in enormous quantities.'. . .
Without spoiling anything (though that may be too late at this point) they do find the Lieutenant (and his invisible home), as he greets Rupert and Charles:

'Happy to see you, gentlemen; pray come in.'

Out of a hole in an enormous dark egg-shaped thing…was protruding the pale face and fierce moustache of the lieutenant…

We fell into the full glow of a lamp-lit, cushioned, tiny room, with a circular wall lined with books, a circular table, and a circular seat around it. At this table sat three people…The spears, the green umbrella, and the cavalry sword hung in parallels on the wall. The sealed jar of strange wine was on the mantelpiece, the enormous rifle in the corner. In the middle of the table was a magnum of champagne. Glasses were already set for us."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Garden Sprawl Friday

Today, I'm just putting up these sprouts.

They are Minnesota Midget melons. Cantaloupes, or more correctly, musk melons. The melons only get about as big as a very large baseball. They're good for northern climates and have a relatively quick maturing rate. They are open-pollinated, not F1 hybrids. I try to limit myself to open-pollinated varieties only.

I grew them last year and the largest of them all only reached the size of a large golf ball. In all other regards they were perfectly sweet and tasted like cantaloupe - with the exception of a couple bland ones.

I saved the seeds from them all, and made sure to keep the seeds from the largest in a separate envelope. So, this year on April 27th. I sowed some from the original store-bought package from last year, some from the collection of the ones I saved, as well as the seeds saved from the Large One.

I sowed them in the greenhouse with no bottom heat or any other source of electric heat. I don't have any of that stuff anyway, nor want it. On certain nights at the end of April the night temps dropped to frost/freezing in fits. The first sprouts to come up were from the seeds I saved from the Large One. It is acclimation, which just gets better every year you sow from what you saved.

I sowed more the other week, and all together there are twenty of them up. This year though I'm not going to transplant them into containers (mistake!) but into the good old ground.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jury Duty

I have been officially "summoned".

An intimidating word.

I wonder, will it be like 12 Angry Men?

Because that movie was super realistic.


By Les Murray

By its nobship sailing upside down,
by its inner sexes, by the crystalline
pimpling of its skirts, by the sucked-on
lifelong kiss of its toppling motion,
by the viscose optics now extruded
now wizened insantaneously, by the
ridges grating up a food-path, by
the pop shell in its nick of dry,
by excretion, the earthworm coils, the glibbing,
by the gilt slipway, and by pointing
perhaps as far back into time as
ahead, a shore being folded interior,
by boiling on salt, by coming uncut over
a razor's edge, by hiding the Oligocene
underleaf may this and every snail sense
itself ornament the weave of presence.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ascension Day Musing

Often enough on Ascension Day or on its eve - either Thursday, Saturday or Sunday morning - I have woken up to this elation that has not in like manner occurred on any other day but those days (of the Ascension) - though it doesn't happen every year.

It is as though a miracle of deep continuity has happened; a healing; something out of whack has been realigned, beyond what it was before. Not just within me personally, but out there (though the pieces of the broken snake may writhe awhile in death). All the leaves on the trees are balm and seem aware - yes, even the leaves - of a supernatural departure, a supernatural absence that is also a new universal presence. It is what the Church calls Hope.

Frequently icons of the Resurrection depict Christ in an ovate sphere. Then in the ones of the Ascension we see Christ in a full circle. His work has been brought to fulfillment. But the Absentee is now everywhere present.

Unlike the often confused original absences we have in our souls, this absence of the Ascension is joyous because we know what, or more correctly who, was there - not to mention where He went. We are awakened to it almost in the way a person wearing a fine fragrance were to leave a room in a rush, trailing behind the perfume that previously was not so detectable. So as that person leaves, we become more acutely aware of him or her than when he or she was right before us.

Though that is somewhat superficial. Maybe it can be better likened this way: we can sense the perfection of our being, which is Christ, entering and abiding in Heaven (now no longer a distant, hermetically sealed realm) because he has our full humanity, in its perfection; thus in one respect, we are "already there", though we are still here on earth.

As Jesus who is fully man enters into the heavenly court, all that is about man, this created world, gets "minted" in some way with His fulfillment - if in the form of some anticipation that is weightier and richer than what we can physically touch and see. Though not negating our physical world, Heaven is even more physical, as Jesus resurrected takes up His throne at the right hand of the Father.

Imagine that: the perfection of our being, going before us to the Father, the Creator.

Who can fully fathom the beauty of this mystery?

I remember one priest giving a homily on Ascension Day. He talked about this class of students in a wood shop. It was a true story. One of the teachers lost his fine watch somewhere in the shop; and everyone spent a good deal of time looking for this watch. They eventually gave up looking. But as everyone left the shop, one student remained behind.

All the machinery was now shut down and everyone was gone: total silence in that large wood shop. In this silence the very clever student laid himself down flat on his stomach, and lay there for a long time in complete stillness, listening. Attuning his ears to the faintest stirring in the deep silence, he became like a nothing.

And he heard the faintest ticking. He listened longer to the ticking, detecting where it came from. He tracked the sound down, and found the watch.

Ascension is one of the richest joys we can have on this earth: to be happy that Jesus is going to His Father in Heaven; as one priest said: to be happy for Jesus. By being happy for Jesus, we make an intimate connection. It is so simple: you want Jesus to be more real for you? Then treat Him as if He were a real person!

Is one sad when a sibling or friend gets the job or school they were looking for?

Locus Focus

All together now, to the tune of Weezer:

Oh Eg-don Heath - that's where I want - to be!

When Enbrethiliel announced her new and very awesome linkup subject, Locus Focus - a meme in which readers share their favourite (or not so favourite) settings in books - I said to myself I would not cover anything from Tolkien's middle-earth, simply out of counter-intuitive self-limitation: I would find myself too far out at sea, due to infatuation, covering one of those middle-earth settings.

Then I immediately decided to do Egdon Heath - an early love - smacking my hands with delight. I was a little miffed when later in her official announcement, Enbrethiliel went and mentioned, in such passing manner, Thomas Hardy's Wessex as a possible setting to write about.

What, said I, is she reading my mind? I wanted it to be a sublime surprise; an interesting and unique choice; a wonderfully gloomy vote for the underdog who breathed the fascinating transitional airs between centuries…

Apparently this Thomas Hardy fellow is more popular than I like to imagine.

Nonetheless, without further blathering:

Egdon Heath
The Return of the Native
By Thomas Hardy

The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis - the final overthrow.
Hardy was my second literary love after Keats. It was Keats' Ode to a Nightingale in English Lit.12 that ushered me past poetry's threshold. Then it was, strangely enough, Hardy's A Darkling Thrush. That both are about birds is something I haven't really given thought to.

Though our teacher did not prescribe Hardy for our mandatory study, I read The Three Strangers (the setting from which is not Egdon, but pretty much the same) that night from the textbook. That short story, from what I rememebr, was all setting.

I remember once when I was doing "extra" work on a film set (you know those anonymous minions in the backgrounds of scenes), and I was sitting there reading The Return of the Native, just beginning it, when a man who passed me by a few times came to me and said, "Excuse me, but I couldn't help notice the book you're reading…"

Then he went on to talk about how he and his class (I forget what sort of class it was, but he was one of the students) went to Thomas Hardy's actual past residence and they (I can't remember if it was his class or some other class) found a piece of paper inside Hardy's desk which Hardy had apparently written. This piece of paper said something to the effect that the actual returning native of the book's title was not Cym but the Reddleman…

And the only thing going on inside my head was: Hm? Reddleman? The who Native…yeah whatever - but oh, Egdon Heath!

Later, I would read the opening passages from The Return of the Native over and over again…how I wanted to be in that November gloom, smoking a fag in the last of the twilight by a bonfire while the wind howled down among the furze. But more than that, I wanted to see the aliveness of Egdon Heath in my own real-life setting - a setting which shares many physical similarities with Egdon, though quite different altogether.

It is not simply Hardy's descriptive force which gives Egdon its staying character, but the way he organizes the setting as a first, sole chapter; then in the next chapter brings a few characters into the setting, but does so without further describing Egdon to the same extent as in the first chapter - though he will in later chapters.

In the second chapter He doesn't really cast our glance beyond the still-shining road which the wayfarers are walking along in the twilight, with the exception of what the reddleman sees at the end of the chapter: the lone figure on the high mound. Then, in the third chapter, we get the lighters of the bonfires as darkness fully covers what was described in the first chapter.

This architectural deepening of the setting is of the kind of power that is retrospective as you read; that is, Hardy has sifted and organized it so that the evocation of this setting comes to you in a moment that is not descriptive, but during some other kind of passage, like during some straight dialogue between characters.

Both Hardy's individual sentences and accumulative, architectural structure have what I've come to term, self-weight.

Perhaps as many as thirty bonfires could be counted within the whole bounds of the district; and as the hour may be told on a clock-face when the figures themselves are invisible, so did the men recognize the locality of each fire by its angle and direction, though nothing of the scenery could be viewed. . .

It seemed as if the bonfire-makers were standing in some radiant upper storey of the world, detached from and independent of the dark stretches below. The heath down there was now a vast abyss. . .

It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had before been familiar with this spot. The ashes of the original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread. . .
But Egdon Heath is additionally so ancient because it bears witness to a new century.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Garden Sprawl Friday

Some potatoes that were missed last year:

They were still good. They keep well in the soil. Some others also that I found from last year I planted in a container. And I noticed recently there are still two others sending up their stems and leaves, but they are too close to lettuces and cabbages to dig up right now.

I like a bit of jostling in my garden. I like to have the foundations right, and everything planned as to companion planting, the spaces of cool crops coinciding with the coming warm crops, knowing what time it generally takes for crops to get to maturity, crop rotation, saving seed and so forth; but once I have that, I keep it loose and ready, rough-and-tumble. I'm a wannabe Aussie who is trying to reconcile himself with French Intensive Gardening, the latter one being something I can for now, only imitate in the most fledgling sort of way.

A tradition I started last year is to take the blessed palm leaf from Palm Sunday Mass and, on Good Friday, cut it into pieces and bury a piece in each bed. On that same Good Friday I also plant the potatoes. Of course, I think this tradition, as far as the potatoes are concerned, would not be observed if Good Friday fell on too late a date.

Here is where I planted the potatoes:

I dug trenches, putting the soil in lengths beside each trench. Into the trenches I planted the spuds, some inches under the soil. As the stems and leaves rise you hoe down the soil that was stacked beside the trenches around the growing potato plants.

Some would say that having the soil as high as I did above the trenches (which can't be seen in the above picture as it is after some of the soil was hoed down) was a big no-no, as the potato seed could get drowned and rotted and blah, blah, blah. One thing I've discovered about gardening is that the more regularly and unswervingly you follow the "rules", the shittier you grow stuff.

It's all about catching onto rhythms which you observe, not countering potential negative setbacks. For instance, some would say having lots of leaves in your garden over winter and keeping them there and digging them in in the spring is potential for disease. Not say I, after I observe how many thick and juicy dew worms are now in my garden beds when I go out at night to kill slugs.

Along the outsides of the potato planting I transplanted cabbages that I grew from seed in the greenhouse. I planted them after the potato plants made a good appearance. Potatoes and cabbages like each other. The cabbages are an early variety: Early Jersey Wakefield. They grow modest pointed heads in short time and are considered by many the best tasting of the cabbages. The potaotes are also an early to mid season variety. The reason for this is that I will hopefully be using the same patch for later crops, one of which doesn't like potatoes.

You can see, in the third row from the left that I also transplanted from the greenhouse some Komatsuna - Japanese Mustard Spinach:

At the northern end where that cheap wire fencing is, are these spinaches:

Filling any cranny with a quick maturing crop...I'm all for that. Some 'Baby Green' romaines behind the garlic:

And I have to do that (not to mention pushing the stuff on friends), because I over-seeded the greenhouse:

At present after much transplanting:

So, here is what a bed looks like after being transplanted with some of the lettuce (and onions which are too small to see):

And later:

In between the lettuce plantings are the onions:

In my nightly battle with the slugs I do notice that they generally go after leaves that are already dying, like for instance the natural die-off of the outer leaves of lettuce when you transplant them. They clean up. Though of course they will also go after healthy green. And it is true: pests generally go after crops that are weakened, whereas healthy plants have a certain repelling quality.

Now, here are some of the overwintered plants. These are the carrots, of the number that made it through:

Those January King cabbages, starting now to head-up nicely (there's seven of them):

With this one by the leeks it's eight:

And I'm going to let these leeks (and the ones above) go to seed, for saving. There is, I believe sixteen leeks. The recommended minimum for saving seed from an out-breeding crop (as opposed to an inbreeding crop, such as lettuce or beans) is twelve plants, for the home gardener.

Here you can see how far along they already are:

The garlic. Three varieties which I should have labelled (the Aussie!):


Where I live we have this government money-grab called Air Care. It's a mandatory vehicle emissions inspection. You cannot get your vehicle insured without a pass from this branch, which claims to have reduced vehicle emissions by yadda yadda percent sinced the year yadda yadda. Thanks for doing your part for clean air!

You pay in the forty dollar range for the first inspection. If you fail that, you pay in the twenty range for the re-inspection. You drive your vehicle into their testing station, where the car or truck goes on rollers. You get out of your vehicle and must enter a booth to the side where a speaker starts up in monotonous tones about how much Air Care is helping to reduce carbon emissions, while one of the test-people gets in your vehicle, having hooked up the appropriate apparatus, and proceeds to pin the rpm gauge at an unhealthily (for the car) consistent high while a computer records all the emission data.

The diagnostic test goes according to three sections:

Hydrocarbons (HC)

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx).

On March 6th. at 12:18:53 ($45.00 amount paid) my test results were as follows:

Hydrocarbons: 0.4237 (Maximum Allowable: 0.5000) Result: Pass

Carbon Monoxide: 4.4621 (Maximum Allowable: 9.3200) Result: Pass

Oxides of Nitrogen: 1.7048 (Maximum Allowable: 1.2400) Result: Fail

Final Result: Fail

You see, I simply drove my car in with some extra time I took at lunch during work. I should not have done that. And I knew at the time that I should not have done that. But I didn't listen to myself. I was cocky from the time I got my last pass - the time in which I had driven my car for at least an hour before taking it in.

What you do is get some of the most expensive gas at the station - not the regular fuel. Then you drive around for at least half an hour, preferably along lonely stretches, or the freeway, where you can bomb it, and get your engine as hot as possible. If the weather outside is hot, all the better.

I know my car needs a new catalytic converter (the part on the exhaust that burns off and reduces lots of the emission garbage), but one can still get through Air Care without, granted other areas of your vehicle are in good working order.

On May12. at 15:30:16 ($23.00 amount paid) my test results were as follows:

Hydrocarbons: 0.3439 (Maximum Allowable: 0.5000) Result: Pass

Carbon Monoxide: 2.9597 (Maximum Allowable: 9.3200) Result: Pass

Oxides of Nitrogen: 1.1173 (Maximum Allowable: 1.2400) Result: Pass

Final Result: Pass

I drove my car around for around an hour and a half with some highest quality gas in it before going in. If I were to take my car in tomorrow, going straight to the testing site without driving it around for some time, I would very likely get a fail. In fact, a fail would be guaranteed. The pass is good for two years.

You see how arbitrary and ridiculous this so-called Air Care is? This is no secret. Everybody knows the ways of getting a pass. The government knows. But we all play the charade. The government gets the money. We hand it over, elated when we pass simply because it means we don't have to worry about either a hefty mechanic's bill or the thought of having to do a re-test before one's insurance runs out.

And that is how the government operates, by in effect saying: in order to avoid the hairy problems that we as a government have negatively effected alongside our effecting of the complex social system - a social system which does nothing but ensure the negative outcomes of fines and fees - you give us money.