Bald eagle update and a canopy of ferns

The bald eagles in our neighborhood have been very busy with their nestorations. They have added a lot of branches. If you look at the center of their nest, they have piled it high with a soft cushion of Spanish moss. We are ready for babies! It is misty here, so please excuse the drops on the camera. What a lovely place to come into this world.

This is not a great picture of Samson and Gabrielle, as it was getting dark, but here they are bonding in their nest. Samson is the son of the eagles who originally built the nest.

We went for a long walk along a very flooded Intracoastal Waterway this evening. Whenever there is a Full Moon or New Moon, we get higher-than-usual tides. This usually floods all of the low areas, including the rivers and streams feeding the ocean. It was something to see this evening – the water was almost up to our path in places. A little higher and it certainly would have swallowed some of the docks.

Everything is so lush after the recent rain, which wakes up the resurrection ferns that grow along the branches and trunks of the sprawling live oak trees. (That seems to be how they received their name – even a small amount of water “resurrects” them. But I might be wrong.)

Coming off the trail into our backyard, I noticed that my powder puff tree is in bloom now too. This fun tree is native to Bolivia, but works well in Florida. I had no idea it was even a tree when I planted it. I was shocked when it grew to be taller than I was in its first year. Now it is a monster.

Hegel, Michael Pollen, and gardening with children – what it means to feel at home

The German philosopher Hegel wrote about Heimatlichkeit, the sense of being at home, as a way of knowing. Europeans had taken this concept from the Greeks, who also believed that knowledge was a sort of feeling comfortable with one’s situation. It was the goal of parenting and citizenship in the ancient world to raise children who could feel in their bones what it meant to be Greek, to know they belonged in their city-state.

In contrast, someone feels alienated when nothing in their environment makes sense to them. The worst punishment in the ancient world was to be expelled from the community by the exact same forces that helped give someone a sense of home. To live in exile and lose one’s sense of home was worse than execution. If you have ever lived abroad, you likely know that homesickness can feel like physical torture.

I think about Heimatlichkeit a lot these days. Many people look at elements of our society, feel acutely alienated by them, and develop a passionate longing to return to a time where they felt at home in the world. That’s not really a story about change being difficult, so much as a falling away from the constellations of beliefs and practices that have real meaning to us. Civilizations can navigate and endure all kinds of disruptive events if they feel like they are defending a home. (It was the Heimatlichkeit of Americans and Europeans that took down Hitler as much as bombs.) But there’s no political vocabulary that offers an effective substitute for Heimatlichkeit.

The ideal held up by self-proclaimed elites nowadays is a sort of un-Heimatlichkeit. They talk incessantly about being a “citizen of the world.” That’s a nonsensical phrase. No person can feel at home everywhere, unless their own life is a vacuum. A hipster from Los Angeles may feel like he is a “citizen” of Europe because he went backpacking and toured some art museums, but that’s not a sense of real belonging. You only get to this perspective by diminishing the place where you originally belonged. And that’s exactly what they want you to do.

I think I can say confidently that I have very little in common with the author Michael Pollan now. But I used to. This is someone who used to grok Heimatlichkeit.

When he became a popular proponent of organic agriculture and clean eating, I read several of his books. I’m not sure I gleaned anything spectacular from them, mostly because I already agreed with those principles. I was buying locally-sourced, organic foods before they were easy to obtain and I never put pesticides on my own gardens or lawn. Not from any sense of moral superiority, but because these things are a way to be happier. In fact, one of the things I loathe the most about living in suburbs is the amount of poison people dump into the ground for no other reason than they are too lazy to pull weeds. (Again, where is your sense of home?) It’s a struggle for me not to point this out to my neighbors when they ask me how I achieve such massive blooms each year. The answer is simple: I respect that soil is a living thing and I don’t try to murder it. Really kind of simple, if you think about it.

But my agreement with Pollan pretty much stops with soil. I could never follow him daily because his progressive politics is eyeroll-inducing to me, and don’t even get me started on how he’s become an advocate for legalizing psychedelics. Whatever good he has done in reforming the food industry he’s cancelled out with the harm he’s helping inflict upon the social fabric of great American cities.

All that said, I have been reading his book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s a reminder of how much I liked Pollan’s early writings.

Pollan takes a David Copperfield approach to talking about gardening in the book. That is, he starts with what are literally his first memories of “working” in a garden. In his case, that was climbing behind the lilac and forsythia branches in his parents’ suburban yard as a preschooler. You can appreciate how a child perceives scale from his description of his first “garden,” under those towering shoots of blooms. There he would spit out watermelon seeds, and then triumphantly one day realized a watermelon plant was growing out there. He had made that happen, there in the margins ignored by the adult world. He picked the melon and ran with it to tell his mother, but the melon went splat on the back porch, since it was being hauled by a young child with little agility. As you can imagine, tears were involved. (I wanted to tell him that I have shed real tears over plants as an adult.)

The first serious gardener he knew was his grandfather, one of the first real estate developers on Long Island and thus a very wealthy man. His grandfather had a professional gardener to assist him in keeping decorative trees and flowers, but his own domain was a half-acre vegetable garden. His grandfather maintained his gardens with military precision, waking up to hoe his vegetable garden every day and not letting a single weed survive in his beds.

The man could afford any luxury, but he lived in the dirt. His wealth came from the dirt and that’s what he put his wealth back into.

You are left with the impression that this is why he lived well into his 90s. He was a passionate man with a passionate sense of home. He had a reason to wake up each day because of it. Even when he moved to a condo in his last years, he had a container garden on the patio to tend.

His memories of his grandfather’s immaculate gardens stood in sharp contrast to his own father’s refusal even to mow the lawn of their suburban plot, much to the humiliation of his wife and children. His father became persona non grata in their neighborhood, and when the neighbors finally confronted him about the fact that his grass was so high that it had gone to seed, he responded by getting out his lawnmower and carving his initials into their suburban meadow. Pollan says it was a “fuck you” to their neighbors, but I think it was as much a “fuck you” to his wife and kids. Fuck you having a sense of home.

In reading that, I felt like I understood Pollan’s own behavior as an adult better. Imagine the pathology of growing up with someone who doesn’t want to make things beautiful for their family. Who cares so little about their home that they will go out of their way to manufacture outsider status for their children. His kid likes ingesting toxic mushrooms, you say? That’s just depressing. But at least he had his grandfather, who thought like a good Greek citizen and modeled it for the kids whether they were wholly receptive of it or not. Pollan did not grow up entirely without an aesthetic, which would have been tragic.

The more I read about Pollan’s accounts, the more I started to think about how I garden with our daughter and the significance of the memories we are creating. How she will probably remember even the smallest details about being out in the garden with me because gardening is such a big part of my own identity. This is what her mother loved to do and this is how she acted while she was doing it. This was how we made a home and it was important.

From Pollan:

In both our eyes [his and his grandfather’s], this was a landscape full of meaning, one that answered to wishes and somehow spoke in human language….

One of the things childhood is is a process of learning about the various paths that lead out of nature and into culture, and the garden contains many of these. I can’t imagine a wilderness that would have had as much to say to me as Grandpa’s garden did: the floral scents that intimated something about the ways of ladies as well as flowers, the peach tree that made legible the idea of fruit and seed, the vegetables that had so much to say about the getting of food and money, and the summer lawns that could not have better expressed the hospitality of nature to human habituation.

He recounts how, as a teenager, he proudly built his own garden on an especially small plot of land. His parents, after the lawn incident, moved into a new, more posh neighborhood with the intention of having their yard professionally maintained, as his father was entirely too lazy and uninterested in being outside to push a lawnmower back and forth or dig a hole for something beautiful.

They would only concede a corner of the yard that was completely out of sight for their son to plant vegetables. He was older, but still working along the margins of the adult world.

Pollan did many right things in setting up his garden. He ordered quality soil and organic materials. But he planted the vegetables in a jumble to maximize his small space. They were mixed together as they could fit, and were not in his grandfather’s neat rows. And he was certainly less religious than his grandfather in weeding.

He was rewarded for his efforts, however, with bushels of vegetables. He considered the garden a great success and convinced his grandfather to come see it. Of course, all his grandfather saw was a mess that reflected his hippie grandson. To him, the fact that his grandson could not maintain a simple vegetable garden with any sense of order mirrored a wasted generation of young people who weren’t going to be good for anything. And he let young Pollan have it. That was the end of Pollan maintaining a garden for a long time. Pollan got his driver’s license and spent as much time away from home as he could. You can’t work on your gardening skills if you are never at home.

Gardening with children can be really frustrating, especially if you have a talent for gardening yourself. Gardeners are hypnotized by order, even the ones with strategically messy cottage gardens. Their calendar revolves around the first frost and the last frost-free day. Full sun and shade. Flat and sloped. They plant according to what will not shock plants, which can seem like some unintelligible primitive ritual to the uninitiated. They can look at the plants and tell you what specific elements are keeping the soil from perfection. Gardening is about management and control.

Children, on the other hand, learn about boundaries by testing them. This applies both to what they can and cannot do to make things grow and how far they can go before exhausting all of your patience. Working with them can seem like deliberately introducing chaos into the order you’ve worked so hard to obtain. And the stakes can be high. Have you ever set a kid to work planting bulbs only to realize they’ve planted 50 tulips upside down? Trust me, it’s time to give up and fix a martini at that point. The plants will do their own job and find the Sun.

The only way to get past all of this is to multiply the time you spend with your children. Much like education, you have to introduce children to order gently and over time. You aren’t going to have much success dictating to your child how things must be. They will learn from your example and from their own successes and failures that if they want to create something beautiful themselves, they have to work deliberately.

You are helping them build an aesthetic. You are helping them understand what belongs, and a big part of that is helping them understand that they belong.

Practice hospitality

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Romans 12

I have been amused lately by asking random strangers while I am out and about if they have started decorating for Christmas. Almost universally, they have said yes. We had a rule in previous years that we would not start decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving was over. In recent years, however, I am decorating for Christmas by Veterans Day. I’m guessing a lot of people are breaking their own rules these days.

My theory is that as public discourse becomes more and more toxic, people start to pull the joy of the holidays forward. They respond to the negativity by going home, as they should.

On that note, this is a photograph of one of Kanye West’s services at a Houston prison. There is a lot of good in this world, if you choose to see it.

November blooms

Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself… But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it… The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.

Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Hurricane Dorian killed the bougainvilleas I had been growing around the arch leading to our front door. Well, technically, I killed them by moving them indoors and then evacuating for over a week. There aren’t any good places inside our house for plants to grow because we have a large porches running the length of the front and back of the house. The porches protect the house from the intense sun in the summer, but they do not let in enough light for house plants (except orchids). I wish we had defied the evacuation orders and stayed, because it only ended up being a tropical storm here and I lost a bunch of plants.

I decided to replace them with these mandevilla. Aren’t they beautiful? Since I bought several of the plants, I am hoping to get them to cover the archway and run along the railing of the front porch.

Mandevilla

My cape honeysuckle also decided to bloom again this fall. Cape honeysuckle does well in (frost-free) coastal areas since the plant can tolerate salt. They are technically a vine, but you can train them to grow as a shrub 6+ feet in size. (They are very similar to bougainvillea like that.) The only downside to the plant is that you have to religiously trim back the tendrils it sends out along the ground, otherwise it will suffocate neighboring plants.

This plant will stop traffic when it blooms. I’m not kidding. I have never had so many people stop their cars in front of our house to ask what it is. As the name suggests, the plant is from South Africa.

Cape honeysuckle

Some of my azaleas are also blooming. They will do this again in the spring, along with the lavender azaleas. I have a hedge of lavender azaleas along the entire perimeter of our house, and it is incredible to see when it blooms. All of Florida is incredible when azaleas bloom, really.

Azaleas

Every year I tell myself that I am not going to plant bulbs, and every year I end up doing it anyway. It’s truly compulsive behavior and I wish gardening addiction specialists were something that existed because I would certainly seek professional treatment for it. I cannot walk past the tubs of bulbs in a garden center in the fall and leave empty-handed. And it’s not like I only get a single bag. Last year, I planted close to 200 gladiolus bulbs. My gardens are already packed with plants, so this is a huge problem logistically. I need one of those shock collars people get for dogs that zaps me whenever I walk into a garden center in the fall.

Gladioli make the ultimate flower arrangements.

This year, I have 120 Dutch iris bulbs and a few dozen Persian buttercups. Because, sure, why not.

Before we moved here, I did large beds of tulips. You can’t really do tulips here because it does not get cold in the winter. But I did consider chilling tulip bulbs in a drawer in our refrigerator for a couple months and then planting them in January. I can already picture the look on my husband’s face when he opens the drawer looking for celery and finds a couple hundred tulip bulbs instead. He’d probably have me fitted for a shock collar then.

Persian buttercups

Chick-lit authors pile on a college student who dissed content at a junior high reading level

I don’t know if this story should restore my faith in humanity or nuke it altogether.

An article was published in the local newspaper for Aberdeen, South Dakota (population 28,388) about the Common Read program at Northern State University, a small regional school (enrollment 3,622).

It was something of a human interest story, praising what sounds like a pretty cool program:

The first Common Read book at Northern State University — “The Routes of Man” by Ted Conover — was picked because of a budget and a phone call.

“So I Googled speakers’ reps, and I found a guy and I called him and I said, ‘Who’s your best person for $3,500?’” said Erin Fouberg, professor of geography and director of the honors program. “And he said, ‘Absolutely, hands down Ted Conover.’”

The next couple of books were picked by Fouberg and Jim Smith, president at the time, she said, often with budget in mind.

But as the program has grown and evolved, the books are selected by committee — a committee that anyone can be on, Fouberg said …

At first, the only students required to read the book were Fouberg’s freshman honors students, but it eventually became required reading for all first-year students once freshman seminar was moved from a one-credit class to a two, she said. But it also grew to a campus-wide event, and quickly beyond.

In 2013, the selection was “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls, which was also a popular book club book, Fouberg said.

“People who were in book clubs saw that she was coming to speak, and they showed up, and they have just trusted us ever since,” Fouberg said. “I’ll get stopped in Kessler’s as soon as March and people will be asking, ‘What’s the book?’

They started off with a small group of students reading a book together and talking to the author. People loved the book discussion so much that the program was extended to everyone on campus and then members of the community started joining in as well.

That sounds amazing, right? They have the whole city now reading the same book and getting together to discuss it. Maybe literacy isn’t dead after all.

The article goes on to explain the various motivations students at the university had for joining the committee that selects the books. Remember that this a committee that anyone can be on. Anyone.

One former student said she joined the committee to improve the caliber of books being selected. It would seem some wanted a young adult book to be the common read. She thought pop fiction written for teenage girls was not appropriate for an adult academic environment. They ended up reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a nonfiction book about wrongful convictions, instead of Sarah Dressen, who writes books with 8th graders as the target audience. And they had the opportunity to speak to a man who experienced being wrongly convicted.

During her junior year, Brooke Nelson said she fought hard against a Sarah Dessen book being selected.

“She’s fine for teen girls,” the 2017 Northern graduate said. “But definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”

That was the year they ended up picking “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson.

“It was incredible, so that became the book I supported,” Nelson said, who majored in English and is now working on a master’s degree in Florida. “That’s how I sort-of inadvertently joined the Common Read Committee.”

That was Katie Olson’s favorite Common Read book.

“Not only was it an extremely moving book that spoke about the injustice that can occur within our justice system through the stories of real people, but personally meeting and hearing from one of the individuals we read about was an especially powerful experience,” wrote the senior art education major.

The subject of the book, Anthony Ray Hinton, rather than the author, came to speak that year, Fouberg said.

Now, you might not think the suggestion that college students should be reading books at an adult reading level would be controversial. Sure, if you are in the university’s School of Education, you should be reading young adult books as a study of how to teach them to young people. But that’s not what we are talking about here.

I’m not sure how this became a larger news story than Aberdeen local news, except perhaps that the young adult lit author Sarah Dressen probably Googles herself every day and lost her mind when she discovered that people in flyover country think she writes unserious stuff.

Dressen summoned a posse of chick lit authors on Twitter, including Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult to rant, rant, and rant some more about how a young female English major is oppressing them and suffocating the voices of teenage girls everywhere. They made sure to talk about her directly, to shame her for expressing an opinion and invite their followers to join in the harassment, which from the looks of their feeds is pretty much what these female authors do on social media all day long. Apparently it is lost on the chick lit crowd that we are talking about a college and not junior high school here. (And, honestly, I would hope junior high kids are reading books like To Kill A Mockingbird instead of the bubble gum drivel any of them write.)

I want to talk about this. Not only does it suck because @sarahdessen is one of the loveliest women you’ll ever meet, and because she has been a guiding force into the love or reading for thousands of kids including my own…but because this implies something more sinister. /1 https://t.co/JLnVgN90MO— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019

This suggests stories about young women matter less. That they are not as worthy or literary as those about anything but young women. That their concerns and hopes and fears are secondary or frivolous. This kind of thinking is what leads to gender discrimination in publishing/2— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019

It’s why there are more shows on Broadway with male leads than female ones. It’s why there aren’t many female directors. Even though the majority of book buyers and ticket buyers are women./3— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019

Got that? If you are a young woman who thinks reading about criminal justice reform is more important than chick lit written at a junior high school reading level, you are doing the work of the patriarchy. Your actions are sinister. You are the reason why there are more male actors than female actresses on Broadway. (Not sure what Broadway has to do with a book club in South Dakota, but okay.) It’s like I always say, if you want to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you need to read beach romances so you can talk competently about the needs and aspirations of women.

I don’t read chick lit, never have, but I had no idea that chick lit authors were so mental. I’m starting to get the sense that it’s a prerequisite for the genre, however.

A middle school teacher chimed in, again apparently oblivious that we are talking about college students here, to let everyone know that chick lit is the most circulated content at their school library and the coed critic is probably just jealous the author. In case you wanted another reason to feel sorry for kids in junior high.

I’m a recently retired middle school librarian(and teacher)and Sarah’s books were among the highest circulated books in our library ALWAYS…she was and IS an important voice in YA literature. I personally loved each of her books…any negativity must be jealousy pure and simple.— Bookchick 53 (@JuliaBo53) November 13, 2019

Author Jennifer Weiner thinks this is a #MeToo moment, because not reading young adult books is obviously like rape:

And I will piggyback in what Jodi said, with a reminder: when we tell teenage girls that their stories matter less — or not at all — there are real-world consequences. https://t.co/WlYoALXW9H #MeToo https://t.co/stYfTJd0qZ— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) November 13, 2019

You’ll note that she’s upset that teenage girl drama is not being taken as seriously as a black man being being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. The struggle is real, y’all.

And then there was this, which Weiner seems to have deleted, perhaps when someone pointed out to her that anyone can serve on the committee, no one is turned away:

Weiner even went to the news article to comment, saying that it was sad the college student had “internalized misogyny to the extent that she can see nothing of worth in books beloved by ‘teen girls.'”

If I were the young woman being mentioned, I’d take some screen shots of these comments for my C.V. Getting dog-piled by people like this should be worth something. Cheers to college students who have standards for what the kind of books they want to consume.

My favorite exchange from the impeachment circus so far

The impeachment inquiry hearings are an unbelievable circus, and I think most serious people realize this is only happening because Democrats do not have a single electable candidate for president. They don’t have a prayer of removing Trump from office because they do not control the Senate. And the notion of trying to impeach a president in the middle of an election cycle is self-mocking. “We must impeach the president before democracy happens!” Um, yeah, you run that game, Einsteins. Maybe no one will notice that your top candidates are going to tax the snot out of the middle class trying to imitate Venezuela’s path to prosperity.

But this exchange was truly something. The former ambassador to Ukraine acknowledges that during her confirmation process, the Obama administration held a trial question-and-answer session exclusively on the topic of Hunter Biden being on the board of a seriously corrupt Ukrainian company while his dad was the architect of US-Ukrainian policy.

She says there was no other topic being considered during these prep sessions. They were training her to respond to policymakers’ questions about how Hunter Biden landed at the very top of a company, in which he had zero relevant experience and couldn’t even speak the freaking language, and was getting paid a million dollars a year. It’s like putting a Korean housewife on the board of Exxon-Mobil and expecting no one to scratch their head.

We’ve now had months of political theater that is costing American taxpayers millions of dollars over a phone call that mentions something Democrats themselves recognized as a material conflict of interest and legal liability, to the point that they already had a long history of coaching one of their star circus witnesses on how to answer questions about it. And she said that out loud. I mean, why not, Biden himself is already on video bragging about getting the prosecutor looking into his son’s gravy train fired. They are so hysterical in their hatred of Trump that they think the electorate will overlook garbage like this?

As I have mentioned before, Burisma is far from the worst of the corrupt dealings the Biden clan was engaged in. Biden was backing investments in Chinese companies that are blacklisted in the United States for military espionage and the facial recognition company that is helping the Chinese track the Muslim minority community that they are throwing into literal concentration camps. Democrats are lucky Trump is in the middle of negotiations with China over trade, otherwise Biden bankrolling the torture and murder of Chinese citizens would be what we are talking about now. Because you know that’s the only thing preventing his advisers from calling that to his attention.