Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Structural obstacles

This weekend, as some of my family headed off to services, I headed out back to the blackberry patch behind the barn. Yep, that's pretty much me - sometimes, I just need to head out to remind myself of my connections to nature. That I, like the rabbits and the birds, think of the bramble as "going to ground" and like blackberries. There were even a few raspberries hanging on to the very end of the season. What an incredible gift that was. When I finished, my arms and legs were scratched, and my fingers were a little stained, but the bowl I'd brought was about half full. I noted that the grapes were coming on for a good year, and the apples for a poor one. I'd missed the cherries completely. It was a chance both to connect with the land I'd known since childhood, and to do something practical for my family - I was taking on that classic role of providing food, joining people together over a meal.

And yet, in order to get there, I had driven a car a fair way. How much damage did I do for a weekend with family and blackberries? Admittedly, this was a pretty special weekend for my mom, and one I would not have wanted to miss, but I think of something Pam recently said in "Reaching for the Light" - which of us thinks our lifestyle is "excessive"? When I took the ecological footprint quiz, I came out at about half the footprint of a typical American - and still use much more than is sustainable (with the caveat that these quizzes are so general that it's hard to get an accurate reading from one.)

And yet, a good bit of my concern is for people. When the environment is poisoned, it will be people that suffer. When cultures have destroyed the land's ability to bear, it is people who starve, people who erupt in war for the precious resources that remain, people who destroy each other. And I wonder when we will begin to mine our own garbage dumps. All that iron and plastic, glass, resources that could be reused.

When will we once again encourage victory gardening? Composting our food wastes, and growing food with actual flavor? When will we turn to helping out the areas of this country which suffer want, so that there is opportunity for all? Encouraging local foods? How many people still can their own foods? Re-use jars? Interact with their neighbors? (This last is one thing I love about the building I live in. We do have some community going on. Yesterday, I was talking with a bunch of women in the lobby when my husband came in, and he was invited into the discussion.) When will we realize that workers need a fair amount of personal time? Americans work longer hours and are incredibly productive, but reap very few of the rewards of this work ethic.

How much of the structure we currently have inhibits change for environmental betterment? Why are the (mostly very wealthy) users of a golf course able to block a light rail that would benefit many (mostly not very wealthy) workers in the county? Why must young people, especially those with an education, leave home to find a fair-paying job? Why are we encouraged to think of extended families as more "quaint" than the nuclear family, leaving people without the support that an extended family can give? Why are voices of dissent silenced?

I honestly believe all these questions are linked.


Blogger ef (Pam) said...

I am planning on driving to the North Shore (of Lake Superior, about 3 hours away) this weekend. I take a few longish car trips a year, all to places or things that matter greatly to me. I have thought occasionally of living up there, but there's the question of how to earn money (again!) as well as the concern that I would probably drive down here even more often to access "city life"

I agree that all your questions are interrelated (and important!)

I am afraid of canning. I have a city girls' squeamishness (really a lack of confidence) about it. I know a family that lives not far away that grows all the produce they eat. In my climate, that means a lot of stored food (as things grow well perhaps only 6 months of the year - maybe 8 if you have greenhouses and stuff) - it is a skill that I really should have if I'm going to choose to live here.

Extended family is another interesting issue. I don't get along well with my extended (well, or my nuclear!) family (not terribly, but not enough to put effort into visiting them) - and we are all over the place. The people that were relatively local family (philly and nyc) when I was a kid are now in California, Philly, Boston, Texas, Upstate NY, Minnesota (me), NYC and North Carolina. My best friends from high school are in Portland, Oregon and somewhere in Germany. There is nowhere that I could even move to to be near a preponderance of "my people" (though I have considered western NY, as it's sort of equidistant between some of my folk and my sweetie's)

Extended family makes the idea of community work more easily. I think it's easier to share stuff without thinking you're betraying the american dream or something, and it's hopefully easier to ask for help when you need it (what a concept!)

Thanks for this post


7/26/2006 11:45 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I don't know if you eat jam or jelly, but if you do, this is definitely the place to start in canning. (Though part of what went into that question was my difficulty in finding pectin during strawberry season.) Jams and jellies have other protections against the ickies that can get into home-canned stuff - highly acid and highly sugared. Pickled stuff is a decent 2nd step.

And if you would like my recipes for green tomatoes (useful when the season ends, especially), I can gather a few for you.

My bit about extended family comes from being a member of a huge one. In school, it was constantly emphasized that Americans have nuclear families, and some foreigners have extended families. I've had work difficulties before over needing time to go to funerals of people who I was close to and were family, but weren't immediate family. And when we're together, there's serious conservation of both effort and resources going on. The kids form a sort of multi-age pack with the older ones looking after the younger. A dinner for 300-some people is the work of only 2 kitchen crews (usually divided by gender - okay, so there were a few other reasons I left...). Also, I associate my extended family with a slower pace - we make time to spend doing things like swimming in the lake, frying fish together (catfish - ick. Hushpuppies - yum.)

7/26/2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Hey, I like catfish! (I don't like to clean them, though.)

My parents come from families that are almost polar opposites--my father's family is hypereducated, liberal, and almost overbearingly intellectual. My mother's--and she really does come from an extended family--are very conservative, traditional (my uncles had a fit when my brother got married and--gasp--hyphenated his name), trained-rather-than-educated, etc. We lean toward Dad's family ideologically but will never be their match in worldliness, ambition, or sheer egotism. Mom's family is much friendlier (my father says they were raised in a pile, like puppies) but we don't dare talk about anything more serious than the basic how've-you-beens. We don't live near any of them. I have friends that I consider de-facto cousins who are somewhere in the middle--more hands-on than Dad's family, more open-minded than Mom's.

I can't even grow anything here because I'd be overrun by raccoons! Aargh! I wish.

7/27/2006 9:08 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Bleh. Mud with bones. I have no problems munching on the hush puppies, though. (Or the beer-battered onion rings that are often done at the same time in one of the other kettles, or the french fries which come after the onion rings...) Or, for that matter, the stuff we're making in the kitchen - pie, salads, fresh bread, sliced tomatoes, three bean salad, sweet tea, corn, casseroles, dumplings, stuffed eggs... mmmmm.

Luckily, green tomatoes are waiting at home for a touch of the skillet.

My extended family is also pretty conservative, except for Granny, who tells stories about when she was a reporter and had to struggle with editors who didn't like the stories she wrote.

7/27/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

I wonder about that tendency, or stereotype. It seems that frequently those who are committed to family, and have large ones, are often conservatives. I can be cynical and think that that's because no one would put up with their entire family unless god told them they have to, but something amazing does grow out of it, even if its frustrating too. I have a pretty liberal, pretty scattered family. I appreciate the one, but grieve the other.

7/27/2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

The other side of my family, the side that barely speaks to each other, is conservative, too, so there you are.

Actually, looking back, my granny and I have noted that it wasn't always that way. My great grandfather, a very progressive man (one of my favorite Granddaddy quotes is "I never heard the work complain about who done it, so's it got done" - said to a boy complaining about doing "women's work") was the father of a huge family, and lived in an old brick house with members of his extended family.

I think the real problem is that "family values" have been hijacked to mean something else than they have meant before. My granny, who has been a farm wife, mother to ten, and a Christian her entire life, has very little patience with it. She says her mother expected her, when confronted with a snake, to fetch a hoe and chop its head off rather than expect a man to interrupt his work to help her. And to do it with a baby strapped to her back if she had to.

My grandfather, when he heard about some of my religious path, looked me in the eye to tell me that he was afraid that I might be headed to Hell. But not five minutes later, when one of my youngest cousins, a toddler at the time, looked shy about coming into the room where I was sitting, he said, "Well, girl, don't ye know your own kin? That's your biggest cousin. Ye got no call to be scared of her." That afternoon, even though the whole family knew that I was not following the same religious tradition, I was welcome to sit and add my parables to the ones being told around the kitchen table. I even knew that they wouldn't give me too much more grief after I told a story about forgiveness, and one of my uncles grinned, saying that Granddaddy would have liked that one.

My "conservative" family rallied around my uncle, a Muslim immigrant, when he faced trouble after 9/11. My granny said that that immigration judge sure hadn't been expecting a bunch of Ohio River Valley accents in his courtroom. They turned out for my Jewish wedding, including the Muslim branch. (Actually, we tend to group at family gatherings, since we all keep vegetarian at them, so we end up making green beans w/o bacon, for instance.)

Many years ago, when I sat in my great aunt's parlor, sipping tea with the women (the first time I'd been allowed to sit there, rather than being told to look after the children. I felt so adult.), I remember the topic turning to gay marriage and one of my eldest aunts saying the world would turn easier if nosy parkers would keep their bigotry to themselves, and if someone could find a minister and wasn't hurting anybody else, well then it wasn't the government's job to stop 'em. The general consensus was that some men felt too threatened at the thought that they might have to handle a proposal, and we'd have to work with them to lessen their fear, but that the bigotry was going to have to go.

But some folks play on those fears - fears that the Democrats will swoop in and take away hunting guns, that their kids might go off to the big city and never be seen again, fear of crime, fear of...

7/28/2006 7:07 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Man, we need some more "conservatives" of that ilk in our family. My mother has some genuinely scary relatives--stuff I don't even want to know about. My mother does have one cousin, though, who was an Episcopal minister under Bishop John Spong, who is quite the character and will defend our lonely little family of liberals, though.

I don't know where the difference comes from. It's common around here, too, that kids are expected to marry locals and get a house near their parents, even in our middle/upper-middle class neighborhood. My father's family is unsentimental about this and have always had a sort of "Mark Twain" streak--slightly adventurous. It doesn't seem to bother them.

Actually, I was poking around MySpace [blush] and looked up both my high school's graduating class and my college's graduating class, and the difference was a total shock. I went to a very conservative, upper-middle class, public high school. My high school classmate's pages were utterly mainstream--girls talking about their kids and how they liked to shop and watch Sex and the City. My college classmates use much less pink on their profiles, are much less likely to be married and/or have kids, and are scattered all over.

7/29/2006 8:32 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I'm the only one of my "set" in high school to still not have a child. No one of my group in college yet has one that I know of.

7/31/2006 8:11 PM  

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