IMG_9965

When I say “we homeschool our kids” to evangelical-Christian-types and I get the response “Praise the Lord!” I am genuinely happy to hear it. And if people assume we only homeschool because we are wierldly religious or something, that’s fine. You know, people will assume whatever they want.

IMG_9772

I came home the other day to find this graffiti painted on the dog house by my little, eight year old Banksy. It is a riddle apparently. It’s meaning, I have since divined, is ‘chicken’ plus ‘bread’ equals ‘what’? The answer is of course ‘chicken sandwich’.

IMG_9595

My son draws pictures of Ravana and loves to read the seemingly infinite versions of Rama & Sita (picture books from the library) again and again.

 

IMG_9599

I don’t know if he likes Rama & Sita more than the stories of Greek mythology and stories from the Bible. I noticed that a sun in one of his pictures had an image of Hyperion drawn in it.

He still favors dinosaurs. And he is getting into Mark Twain. We have a few picture books about Mark Twain. One incorporates a biography written by Twain’s daughter.

My son doesn’t like just sitting down to a chapter book like Adventures of Tom Sawyer and reading it. He’s not there yet (still on a steady diet of picture books). But he’s getting close, I think. He likes a level of familiarity before he’ll dig into something like that. So, I checked out The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Mark Twain Classic as told by Jim Weiss and he liked listening to that (multiple times). That was the impetus for him to start flipping through the full text by Twain. He was finding the parts that he’d heard and reading them for himself there. Now he and Mama are have started reading the whole text through aloud.

IMG_9669

Just before “third grade” started for him in a proper sense (first week of September) he organized a picnic for us and prepared all the food on a blanket in the front yard (see picture).

He makes swords for himself and his brother (two years old). His swords are made from Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) stalks and the swords he provides his brother are the stalks of day-lilies (Hemerocallis fulva). If you know these plants, you know this is not a square deal.

My ideas about what should be done by my son are becoming fewer and fewer. Think of this request I made to his teacher (Mama) that he write one page per school day. These are the hurried instructions that I provided:

“the goal of this exercise (you don’t need to tell him this) is to instill in him a love of writing for its own sake, because it can be beautiful and it is a powerful tool for reflection and distilling a jumble of thoughts.This is not something you can teach. It is something he’ll have to learn himself. That’s what the exercise is about, helping him learn it for himself.It is important to understand that the true lesson is all internal. So there should be no or almost no external motivation, reward, punishment, withholding, etc.The assignment is to everyday write whatever you want, at least one page.So this is how I would guide and facilitate:”I don’t know what to write about.”Are you asking me for help and a suggestion? Let’s explore that. You said you don’t know what to write about. How about write about that? How about a story about a boy who doesn’t know what to write about?…”I hate writing.”You can write anything you want. Are you asking me for help and a suggestion? You said you hate writing. Well, you could write about why you hate writing. You could say how much you hate writing…”I don’t want to do writing.”You don’t have to do it right now. Why don’t you take a break and come back to it later. Maybe you need to go out and swing for a while first…****DON’T GIVE HIM FEEDBACK on what he wrote. – If he asks, then just ask him what HE thought of it. If HE felt good about it. Or if it gave HIM ideas of things to write about in the future.**** Definitely DON’t CORRECT SPELLING. This is not an opportunity to teach spelling. that can be done when it is important in other situation. like addressing letters or something where if you make a mistake it could go to the wrong place. the point of this exorcise is to learn to love writing. and that has nothing to do with spelling.If this doesn’t seem clear to you then don’t start today, we can talk about it tonight…”

Do you hear all of the contradictions in there?

Who am I to say that he should love writing? Why should he write if he doesn’t want to? The answers to these questions might very well be that I am no one to tell him he should love anything. And, if he doesn’t want to write then he shouldn’t.

So yesterday he didn’t. And I’m okay with that. Am I okay if he doesn’t want to write the rest of the week? The rest of the month? The rest of the year?  I don’t know, maybe.

The last few weeks he’s really enjoyed making these dinosaurs out of paper and tape. He spends a lot of time involved in it and they are all unique and sometimes fascinating. And he and his brother and sister play with these creations and name them and set them up.

Who am I to say that he should be doing something else with his time? What could be “better” than making these toys to play with? Maybe I wasn’t adequately socialized.

IMG_9963

I was working on this poem a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to finish it.

 

There are those that can get an education in institutional schools.

And God bless them that they can.

They come out of the machine sparkling, blunt and ready to serve an unknown master.

And there are those that can only question the point.

And the system tries to beat servitude into them.

This violence is repaid in greater acts of rebellion.

They too leave the machine blunt,

but stained with their own blood, their sharpness removed

They’re less a threat to their unknown master.

Each of these, dull and thrashing, enters service in the world.

And the unknown master smiles as duty is carried out.

Duty, the quiet rebellion.

Duty, blind adherence.

All duty in service to the lord.

Play your part for the unknown master,

Protest injustice and call yourself good.

Deceive others for wealth and call yourself good.

You are duty bound and in service, either way.

In moments though, your sharpness returns (you slice through questions and answers)

You stumble into the master’s chambers on questions: what’s the point? what matters? what is duty? who am I?

It should come to some conclusion after that. I don’t know if I’ll work with the poem anymore.

I’ve received notice that my copy of Ben Hewitt’s Home Grown is on it’s way to my mailbox. So maybe after I read that I’ll have more answers, come to some conclusion and feel more socialized.

Guthrie_July

I’ll tell you a quick story… No, it’s not a story really but an idea.

“This piece of land that I stand on is my battle field and home. My hoe and my plow is my gun. Clothes don’t make no difference at all we are workers and fighters all. My uniform is my dirty overhauls.”

You know those lines of Woody Guthrie’s, right? I’ve mentioned them before. They’re kind of like a theme song of mine. And what are we fighting for is one thing. And why are we fighting is another. And them are big questions with lots of answers. So I’ll give you this one idea that I’m calling “remember the view from here”. The idea is that sometimes you’re branded with something strong, a place or a moment in your life that is burned into who you are.

I was driving through the capital city the other day, kind of lost. I was trying to make my way from the State Fairgrounds to a meeting on the northwest side of town. I got turned around. And I ended up driving by the juvenile detention center, the jail. From my van moving along the street I saw the long slits of the cell windows just wide enough for a face.

I remembered being in that cell and looking out at the cars passing by, the street lights and the electric lines. I remember so clearly what it looked like. And I remember so wanting to be out there, wanting that freedom those people and cars were so seemingly oblivious of. It was something strong to think like that. I may have promised myself that I would go out there one day on that street and remember. And maybe I did that on this day I got turned around going from the State Fair to the meeting.

Maybe I wasn’t really lost at all. Maybe it was something else took me there.

Then there was the time on the bridge in Portland. I made promises. I mad a real promise. It was a time when I didn’t have anything. And my friend and I stayed in the worst places where we would wake in the night in a craze and flip on the lights and smash cockroaches until we were satisfied. And in the morning and wash our faces, looking at reflections of ourselves through smashed cockroaches on the mirror. We checked the pay phones for loose change and the soda machines. We went to the soup kitchens and to the factory where they gave out free bread that didn’t make the grade.

We hopped on trains along the river, just to ride a while. And there was a homeless guy who had opened one of the box cars and thrown out a crate of pineapples. We found him in the woods just above the tracks. He was gripping his stomach in pain and sitting next to a large pile of pineapple rinds. He’d eaten too many. But he gave us each a whole pineapple and we took them and ate them. They were delicious, best pineapple I ever had.

It was around that time when I was on that bridge in an unfamiliar part of the town. I remember people were walking under us, going to a professional basketball game or football. I don’t remember what triggered the promise. But I swore I’d never take it for granted, none of it. I wouldn’t ever spend money on frivolous things or to create some image. I wouldn’t forget what having absolutely nothing was like.

Then there was the time when I was up on top of the mountain in Switzerland. Things always happen to me on top of mountains. I’d hiked up there by myself and I’d picked up a good walking stick on the way. And the rain was off and on. And I was looking out over a little town and all the streets and houses were laid out. It was quiet up there. It was peaceful. There was something special.

In a certain way, from on top of the mountain that world down there seemed like it made sense. You could take it in easy up there. But I knew I’d have to go back down. But only, I thought, if I could remember the view from on top of the mountain, then everything would be manageable. Somehow I was gonna take that peace with me. And I sat there for a long time looking. I took that stick and I carved those words in it, ‘remember the view from here’.  I took that stick down the mountain with me. I went back into the world with a reminder.

“We settled here to stay and I’ll stick here all my day. I’ll keep marching in my dirty overhauls.”

 

IMG_9007[1]

Remember spring,

When the blue-grey gnatcatcher nested (before the seedling plum tree earned it’s name, “fairy pink sherbet”),

DSC_3541[1]

And the frogs were tiny (our discovery depended on the depth of our examination),

IMG_8698

And we sat in the corner of the pond listening, looking?

 

Tonight the candle may flicker on the alter

And we’ll try to shut out the glow of the harvest moon as she passes.

And all we can do is offer it up,

The moments passing,

The life in hand,

The thoughts and dreams we are.

 

IMG_9956

There are not many moments when you can taste a fruit for the first time, a fruit that you know you’re going to be able to enjoy for probably the rest of your life and you’re cognizant of it all. We all ate strawberries, raspberries and apples for the first time before our memories begin. But what if you could taste raspberries again for the first time and you’d been anticipating doing so? It is a strange and unique experience.

Again, I’m reminded of the movie The Fruit Hunters, and I keep talking about it even though it wasn’t that amazing of a documentary, but truly I understand the passion with which those folks are searching for unique species and varieties. It is amazing to taste any fruit for the first time. I mean, it is something we were born to do. These plants have been growing these things for us, God bless them.

So it was that I stood next to the stove, under the bright light in the kitchen holding a maypop (Passiflora incarnata). It had fallen from the vine so we knew it was ripe. This is one of nature’s universal signals of ripeness. I had found two on the ground and picked them up. They were heavy and smelled faintly magical and marvelous.

We were gathered around in the kitchen under the light and I started peeling one. It peels easy to a light, citrus-like bag that tears apart  and holds these little packets of fruit that are like candy. You can’t really describe the taste of fruit so I’ll stop. But let me say that I love them. They are unlike anything.

It is strange to deal with the hard seeds in the fruit and trying to work around them is almost pointless. You can’t move them around and manipulate the flesh off the seed like you can with an American persimmon or a a paw paw (my favorite part of a paw paw is the bit of skin directly around the seed and working that off with your teeth). The only solution for these maypop seeds is to crush them with you teeth. Bear that in mind. But you’ll figure it out.

It is hard for me to write this because since we’ve discovered how to tell if they’re ripe my son has been out there checking them constantly and eating them all so I haven’t had any for a number of days now.

I’m so happy to have met you, may pop. My wife thinks I’m crazy for you. She might be jealous. We had tried starting plants from seed for two years and broke down and bought plants from a nursery this year.

We planted two under a trellis that we made from field fence and some posts and 2X4s. We should have only planted one (because it is so vigorous). The third plant we put under a similar trellis in a different spot but it didn’t ever get established and died. But we’ve been mulching with grass clippings around the two vines that made it and they’re sending up all kinds of suckers, real vigorous suckers, sometimes 8 feet away from the vine. So we’re extending the mulch out  aways and we should have a good number of suckers to transplant later. I’ll sever their connections to the main plants soon.

I want twenty maypop vines, maybe thirty. I want to spread the religion. I want to proselytize. I want to preach… I should settle down. I’m going to have your expectations up too high. I think I just want to eat some more. Some people call ‘em passion fruit.

Hot damn, it’s pretty easy to get carried away when you’re writing about food, eh?

They’re still flowering for us now. So we should have a steady supply until the first frosts come, mid-October. I’ve been posting pictures of the flower, you can scroll down and look perhaps. It is an amazing flower too. Strange and amazing. I remember how excited we were to see our first passion flower too…

I don’t know why more people don’t grow these vines, eat these fruit. I’m gonna try to get the word out, Johnny Maypop-seed-style and plant as many as I can.

IMG_9958

 

 

DSC_5128

After the storm passed there was a strange light all around like the sky was being lit by a rainbow. We went out in the ephemeral glow. Hot August remembered itself and we were in our underwear. We stood on the pink bench in the yard to look over the pasture and gardens. In the orchard someone started running and then I started running.

I ran as fast as I could on the wet, mowed grass barefoot. Very fast, on the edge of control, I teetered. Like riding a horse too fast, I balanced on the edge of speed and danger and trust and… Down the little hill and around the orchard we ran. I’m an old man so I don’t last vey long pushing the limits of my body.

DSC_5134

In the morning I went out to clear the beaver’s work and open the culvert in preparation for the rains. I had to eat first and I stopped in the raspberries, Autumn Bliss. I picked handfuls and rolled them slightly in my palm looking for obvious insects. I don’t look too close. If I look too close I might see little larva in the fruits that are over-ripe.

On the way back through the orchard, I grabbed a number of Asian pears. We’ve been eating them for a long time under-ripe, peeling the skins with our teeth and spitting it out. But now the fruits are turning golden. There is a metaphor in there somewhere. If we savor things before they’re ripe then what happens when the full flavor comes? We are like Romeo enjoying Rosaline before Juliet.

When people stopped planting fruit trees in suburban yards the warning flags should have gone up. These baby boom children who roamed the neighborhood with Boo Radley, they all climbed cherry trees and gorged on apple trees planted by their grandparents. This was back when there was one silver screen. You can forgive them their innocence.

IMG_9860

And now for your poetry. I do so enjoy these conversations. We like the wind and the trees. I can not hear myself but I have something to blow through.

Yes, everybody is trying to be happy. Trying to be happy gathering in for a storm. Trying to be happy laying up stores for the winter. Trying to be happy making out better than the next gal. Trying to be happy when the fruit trees are bearing. Trying to be happy when the mortgage is paid. Trying to be happy in the moment.

So theres no blame and no shame in trying to be happy, in trying to find happiness through profit off others or in deception or the suffering of others. Everybody is trying to be happy.

Problem is everybody’s trying to be happy. Problem is trying.

So stop trying. Stop trying to be happy everyone. Happiness happens when you stop trying to be happy, when you stop searching for conditions.

It’s like falling asleep. You can’t will it to happen. You just do it. Happiness sneaks up on you when you least expect it. When you’re not trying to find it, it is there.

The strange light is shining across the sky wiped clear of conditions and you just start running. Happy as a crazy jay bird in your underwear across the orchard. That’s how it happens. You don’t plan for it. You don’t work toward it. You don’t learn how to achieve it. It’s just there, when you stop grasping after it.

DSC_5186

 

IMG_9662

I figure the Cavendish need a proper introduction. And where there is a will there is a way. It helps (sometimes) to be clear and concise when you’re expressing yourself. It might even help to be plainspoken when you’re creating secret code language to effectively communicate a complex idea with a single word. But I am going to begin in a backwards way.

There are choices that you make in your life that might go against the grain. Heck, there are even thoughts and feelings you may have that set you apart from “the common man,” as she is today. I’m talking about actions that don’t physically hurt anyone. I’m talking about decisions that aren’t harmful. And ideas, well, ideas are the stuff of dreams anyway, more insubstantial than Shakespeare’s pageant faded and “as thin of substance as the air, more inconstant than the wind”.  Ideas never hurt anybody, right?

What I want you to remember is that though these choices set you apart, though these ideas may set you at odds with others. No matter what they say, you are still beautiful. And, believe it or not, if you can see clearly, the Cavendish are beautiful too. Think of them like your children trying to push your buttons and answer them with positive attention. Answer them with love. Answer fear with love. So, I’m not being plain enough, am I?

We’ve been watching this film at home called The Fruit Hunters, directed by Yung Chang (2013) and based on the book by Adam Gollner. It struck home with me on a number of counts.  I identify with the dream that is inherent in their quest. To walk out your door to an Eden where there is always the choicest ripe fruit ready for plucking, it must be the dream of thousands. Certainly, it was in the imagination of the Okies as they “scattered wives and childrens” trying to get to the California Peach Bowl.

In the course of watching that film a stark difference was presented. Here on the one hand, they had these half-crazed people out in remote parts of the globe searching for unique varieties of fruit trees, going to great effort to preserve the genetic diversity of a 200 year old pear tree, or a 130 foot (40 meter) mango tree. And on the other hand, you had the ubiquitous grocery store banana. I learned from the film that this banana’s varietal name is, you guessed it: Cavendish. It is the only variety of banana used in the world export market. And the film shows the Cavendish in great green stacks in the supermarket, but you’ve seen them.

So here we are. Isn’t it a beautiful spot? We have before us a choice. There is the one hand and then there is the other. At this point, you don’t have to make value judgements. You don’t have to bring in notions of right and wrong. To some people, survival of the human species is not necessarily a good thing. And most times, I’m not inclined to argue with folks. Let’s just leave it as a choice, all right? Here is your ground. What are you going to grow? That’s the predicament we’re in, you and I. See? It’s our decision what we grow. Even if you let somebody make the decision for you, that is your decision.

Now I don’t know if you’ve been down in the jungle with me and my barefoot friends tasting the wild fruit that grows in the Greater Antilles. Maybe you’ve never seen a mango, let alone begun to imagine the hundreds of varieties and how they taste, one like a “warm bath that you don’t want to get out of” apparently. And the varieties cross pollinate to make new varieties. You never know how they’re going to turn out. They taste in unimaginable ways.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that they are just like you. You can be as wild and unique as you want. You are free. Or graft yourself on a variety that you are partial to. Graft on a variety that does not ship, if you want. Graft on a variety that is unique to mountain soils. It’s okay. And, perhaps most importantly of all, be a Cavendish if you want to. It is a beautiful choice. It is not my choice but beautiful nonetheless.

This brings me to the decision we made to homeschool/unschool our children. Was that an easy enough transition, or did you need something more there? To be clear, we’re not being fruit anymore we’re human beans again. We are human beings and we need our education (don’t listen to people who fly pigs, education is sure necessary (note the correct usage of a tautology in passing, not at all ironical). Actually, we’re gonna get our education it if we like it or not. See here. So I was ecstatic when, Ben ‘I sure as shit ain’t a hippie’ Hewitt, published a phenomenal article in Outside Magazine on the topic.

Take some time and read the article, if you haven’t. I thought it was a near-perfect encapsulation of a lot of the ideas on education (and I can’t think of any that I don’t support) that he’s discussed more disparately on his blog.

Do you see how these two issues are the same? Do you see how the institutional schooling and commodity export bananas is a very similar thing? (If you don’t, let me know. I’m happy to expand on the idea for you) Would you agree that these two things represent fairly well an idea of what some might call “the system”?

I remember when I was a kid and if you heard some song playing in a restaurant or shop, it was instant death. That musician had sold out. Another artist consumed by the system. And my friends and I, we were in a band, we’d talk about how we’d never sell out. Not selling out can be a difficult thing. It gives Banksy has a hard time when Angelina Jolie pays millions for him to take a piss. It’s all the same thing. You can get swollowed by the system, eaten by the Cavendish as it were, without being aware of it for goodness sakes! And how’s that analogy working out anyway?

But the Cavendish look different to me now than they did when I was a teenager.  I see the soft edges and the hard edges. Sometimes you can tell when a Cavendish has lost faith. Things almost always look different when you’re on your deathbed. I’d say the Cavendish has lost a lot of ground since 2008, but that’s just my read on things.

So I don’t know if Cavendish is going to stick or not. It’s not quite as good as how the Amish call all of us “English”. But sometimes it’s nice to have a clean term to work with. Good words like intolerance or fascist can get used up quick.

The Cavendish jumped on my friend in the comments of his article in Outside Magazine. Poor guy, I knew how he felt. My family did the same thing to me when I was sitting by myself around this big banquet table on a weekend outing, them on one side and me on the other. Like Tupac, ‘it’s just me against the world, baby’. I was trying to make those arguments that Hewitt was making. It was a horrible experience. Things have not been the same with my family since and that was three years ago.

So after I read about how the Cavendish had been “angry and vitriolic” in response to his article. I wanted to do something. First, I wanted to take the fight to the Cavendish. But what am I going to do, eh? I’ve seen the Cavendish argue on websites before and it is sheer madness.

I’ve learned over the years, in my great wisdom and with a growing numbers of grey hairs, that a lot of times the best solution is to first love yourself and then love the other person. I remember when I lived in Boston and was going to see Thich Nhat Hanh for the first time and a lady got up and asked some question like, “What are we going to do about George Bush?” And Thay told her, “Write him a love letter.” So that’s what that post, “How to Deal with the Cavendish” was all about. If it was working for you before, I hope I didn’t ruin it.

When I was surrounded by Cavendish at that banquet table, when I was being attacked by Cavendish that I love, I remember one of them making repeated reference to “the real world”. That stuck with me. “But in the real world…”, he was saying.

So I want you to remember this too: Cavendish don’t get to decide what the real world is. (Cavendish can act like the cult to end all cults.)

I find it very helpful to understand at a deep level that, like Adya says, “I know nothing for sure except ‘I am’”. In most situations, I’m very prepared to be wrong, to give up my belief, to disbelieve whatever I’m saying. And if I’m not prepared to be wrong, then I remind myself: “100% of your thoughts are not true, but only 100%”. But this kind of thinking and talking is too much to get into with the Cavendish.

It is better just to look past the vitriol and anger. It’s best to look (sometimes very, very deeply) to the positive source from which confusion or fear is coming. And it is hard, but what you do is love that which is behind the fear. Like I said earlier, when your kid is seeking attention through negative behavior, you look past the negative behavior, you leap frog it and you give a loving response. The negative behavior is just a bit of confusion really. No worries.

Cavendish are important. We are a reflection of them. And they are a reflection of us.

Lastly, for some reason this song, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, was tied into all this somehow. Maybe it was like a theme song, playing in the background. Maybe it was just that I was associating the “anger and vitriol” with the word “negativity” in the wonderful first verse, where he says “negativity don’t pull you through”. So that’s how I’m going to end this. I’m going to end it with that song. Go throw it on the turn table you damn hippies!

“When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez, when its Easter-time too, And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through. Don’t’ put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue. They got some hungry women there and they’ll really make a mess out of you.”

And some quotes:

I’ve heard you say many times that you’re better than no one and no one is better than you. If you really believe that you know you have nothing to win and nothing to lose. – Dylan

We are what we are, that’s the way it’s going to be, if you don’t know – Bob Marley

Not everybody can be a slave of the corporate state – Banksy

Not everybody can be a Cavendish banana – Eumaeus

IMG_9747

You’ll notice in the picture at the top that I ain’t even started getting my wings out yet.

DSC_5073[1]

Oh Cavendish, do not be angry and vitriolic. The world is a beautiful place. Even suburbs are beautiful (from 30,000 feet).

Cavendish, I do love you. I’ve not come do destroy you. I understand the greatness of your achievements. You have built this great system. You’ve built this great and interconnected system.

There is value in what you provide and I won’t take that away. I’ve not come to take anything away from you.

You can call me names if you want, Cavendish. You can call me a hippie or a punk. You can call me an elitist or a parasite.

I will listen if you call me a scoundrel, Cavendish. I will listen and I will think, “maybe I am a scoundrel”. But then I’ll remember (thinking of my own thoughts): “100% of your thoughts are not true, but only 100%”. And I’ll smile inside, Cavendish, I’ll smile inside at the truth of that.

I am completely prepared to give everything up, all of it. I am not tied to anything. It is a dangerous position to be in. But this is the way of the world, don’t you see?

We are what we are, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

But Cavendish, let me say, if I haven’t said it well enough yet, that I hope you forgive me. I don’t mean to spurn you. I don’t mean to antagonize you. Like I said, Cavendish, I love you.

But I won’t ride in the container with you, Cavendish. I won’t ripen on the racks. I won’t breath in the fumes, Cavendish. I won’t taste like you, Cavendish.

It is impossible. I must be this. I must be what I am.

DSC_5024[1]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers