Posts by Ellen Rocco

Oil: are we crazy, optimistic or greedy?

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

I’m no more an expert on the global oil industry than anyone else. I am old enough to remember the 1973 oil crisis–when Middle Eastern production was reduced to put pressure on Israel and its allies following the occupation of Gaza–which led to a U.S. ban on oil exports, a ban that has remained in place through multiple oil crises in subsequent decades. Until now, maybe.

NPR reported this morning that the President is favorably inclined to reconsider and remove that export ban, in light of increased domestic fuel production in recent years and the availability of expanded fuel resources, partially because of new extractive technologies like hydrofracking.

Since 1973, we’ve seen a brief public and corporate response to oil crises and then, each time the price of fuel at the pump declined, our national memory is wiped clean again and we’re back in the 1960s when fossil fuels seemed limitless, cars got 10 mpg, and “national security” was code for the cold war with the Soviet Union not domestic vs. imported oil availability. So through multiple fuel security scares, our long-term response has been relatively trivial, except for developing new extractive technologies. This brings to mind an old saying, which I’ll paraphrase: doing something the same way over and over without success is a sign of insanity.

But, maybe it’s good ol’ American “can do” optimism. Another story from NPR considers the current price decline at the fuel pumps. In recent years, with the growth in the Chinese, Indian and large emerging economies, with conflicts across the globe, we would expect a rise in demand and cost. Instead, prices have declined and there’s plenty of fossil fuel. This fuels our optimism about the future: we will continue to find reserves and ways to extract those reserves and, by the time those reserves may be depleted, we’ll have found new reserves or new fuel solutions. This makes economic growth possible, and economic growth is good.

Or are we just greedy when we accept 25 mpg SUVs as a good enough response to climate change? Can the planet handle our material greed? In developed and developing nations? In our own country? In you? And me? Is the extraction of seemingly limitless fossil fuels and the use of those fuels by billions of people something our planet can handle?

Just asking. Crazy, optimistic, or greedy?

 

Who’s the most different from you and me?

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Howling wolf. Photo: Via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

My pug Guy. Yes, he is descended from the wolf and genetically a close relative. Photo: Ellen Rocco

My pug Guy. Both wolves and pugs bark and howl. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Them. Those other people. And, sometimes, friend, I gotta say, I wonder about you when you (fill in the blank here).

This week, NCPR is honored to host Keith Woods, NPR’s VP for Diversity, during his two day visit to Canton. In preparation for  the variety of events and activities he’ll be participating in (scroll to bottom of this post for details about what’s open to the public), I’ve been thinking about diversity and difference.

What better setting than an Amish barn-raising I was invited to earlier this week? In many ways, the Amish are the most different from the rest of us (we’re all the “English” to them) than any other cultural, religious, or racial group in the region. Your skin color may be different than mine, you may have grown up on a farm and I grew up in the city, or you may be agnostic and I’m a devout church-goer, but we all live in the same world of politics and government, media and entertainment, education and culture. Regardless of your political affiliation or favorite tv shows, regardless of the college you attended (or didn’t attend), collectively–including our differences–we create a common world or society called the United States.

Now, think about the Amish. Aside from local school and town levies, they pay no taxes; they do not vote in general elections; they send their children to one-room schools through 8th grade and no further; they build no churches, but their lives are unequivocally grounded in their Christian faith; they don’t drive cars (!); and, in a time when we “English” have abandoned small family farming and moved en masse to cities and suburbs, the Amish believe that a life on the land is inseparable from their Christianity.

Plus, they speak a dialect of German in their homes and among themselves, and English to the “English.”

So how do we even talk to each other?

Here’s the amazing thing. Over the years, with many Amish neighbors and friends, the differences seem less and less important in terms of knowing each other and caring about each other and working with each other. Don’t get me wrong, there are big differences. But, the proximity of our homes and the fact that we operate small farms gave us common ground. We use tools that most large farmers–not to mention non-farmers–don’t even recognize. (A teenage neighbor who helps out his grandfather on a very large dairy, gave us a hand haying. He was truly flabbergasted at how much time and work it took to put up hay in small square bales, compared to using combines and round-balers. My Amish friend Abe was helping me and we had a good laugh–both of us have also brought hay in loose, so square-baling seems kind of modern to both of us.)

We share small farming as a meeting point and a place to work cooperatively. We share a lot of similar values, too, though our Amish friends are quietly devout Christians and I’m a cultural Jew whose awe is directed toward nature and this planet, respect for the land is mutual and paramount. We all work hard at physical tasks, and respect those who use tools well.

We laugh at each other and our quirks; we share slightly off-color jokes (y’know, farmers are pretty earthy whether English or Amish); we take care of each other when we need help; and we trust each other.

Even a cat, a lamb and a dog can find cross-species trust. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Even a cat, a lamb and a dog can find cross-species trust. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Being invited to the barn-raising was a sign of friendship and trust. Here’s what it boiled down to as I see it: Abe and Lizzie knew that Mike (my “adopted” son) and I, without being told how to do so, would be comfortable ourselves and wouldn’t make uncomfortable the 150-200 Amish men and women there to help. We are not anthropologists. We were there as friends to pitch in and get the job done–me in the kitchen (mostly washing dishes and stirring stuff), and Mike on the building site (where he said he watched a lot and pounded a few nails once he got the drift of what is clearly well-established barn-raising procedure).

In the kitchen, the women spoke German almost exclusively, unless I asked something or someone was chatting directly with me. It didn’t matter. I’ve washed dishes and laid out food for big crowds. In this case, the entire house and main porch were filled with tables and benches to accommodate the midday meal (still called dinner by the Amish and other older rural people). The men washed up outside, were seated and served first, then the tables were cleared and the women ate.

Here’s another difference: the Amish still divide much of the day’s labor by gender, just as rural “English” families did a century ago. Men take on the bulk of the field and building work; women shoulder the house, garden, milking and childcare duties. This is not about sexism. This is about efficiency and lifestyle. Women know how to drive a buggy or a work team in the field, but their work is centered around the home, and taught by mother to daughter. Outside, it’s not unusual to see Abe’s oldest two sons, John and Levi, 16 and 14, go zooming by the window like any teenage boys…it’s just that they zoom by driving a team of work horses pulling a skidder or wagon.

So what’s the takeaway for me in the context of the upcoming visit from Keith Woods? I remember something Keith said to me when we were talking about how to shape the conversations he’d be leading. In spite of his title, VP for Diversity, Keith urged me to think of the challenge as one about difference. He considers this a better way to think about our complex make up as a society, a better way to find common ground and meaningful conversation.

For me, the key difference between talking about difference rather than diversity is that it levels the playing field. There’s some kind of hidden code in the word “diversity”–it’s been used for so many years, in so many ways, largely by those who have played a dominant role in our society (white, male, well-educated, affluent or simply more privileged in any specific setting). For those who have been more privileged and who have had their voices heard,  even when well-meaning and wanting to extend a kind of magnanimous message to those who are “the diverse peoples,” the language shapes our thinking: the dominant group is not part of the meaning of “diverse.” And that perpetuates a kind of imbalance, and wariness between different peoples.

So the barn-raising was a pretty clear place for me to begin my thinking about Keith’s upcoming visit. I was alert to the differences between my world and the Amish world but it wasn’t about them including me or me including them. It was about working across, through and with our differences.

This is not a cutesy or romantic thing to do. It builds community, it makes us all better, in all directions.

Here’s hoping you’ll join the conversations with Keith Woods. There’s the Great Conversation dinner event on Wednesday, at 6 pm at Eben Holden on the SLU campus in Canton. Here’s a link to more info about the evening and how to secure a spot at the table. (By the way, Keith suggested we call this Good Conversation, bring it down a peg. Not a bad idea.)

If you can’t make the evening dinner, plan to tune in f1om 11-noon on Thursday for an on air conversation with Keith, who will be taking your questions via phone and online.

Until then, how about your thinking on this: what are the differences between the people of the north country that strengthen or challenge our region?

 

 

 

September gardens

Still brilliant marigolds. Flowers and photo: Diane Romlein, Potsdam

Still brilliant marigolds in Diane Romlein’s garden. Photo: Daniel Romlein, Potsdam

The full moon last night felt like a corner turned into autumn. Still, some great flowers and vegetables flourishing in gardens across the region. Here’s the latest collection from the first few days of September. Keep these photos coming–there can never be too many photos of garden harvests and even clearing and prep for next year.

Here are four stunning photos sent by Jim and Virginia from The Hedges in Blue Mountain Lake. Beautiful, whimsical and creative flower-gardening.

The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

Beautiful, elegant porch garden at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

Beautiful, elegant porch garden at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

 

Garden at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

Garden at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

More flowers at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

More flowers at The Hedges, Blue Mountain Lake. Photo: Jim and Virginia Jennings

On the other side of the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake, Betsy Folwell is growing vegetables. Here’s a basket of recently harvested fare:

 

Produce from Betsy Folwell and Tom Warrington's Blue Mountain Lake garden. Photo: Betsy Folwell

Produce from Betsy Folwell and Tom Warrington’s Blue Mountain Lake garden. Photo: Betsy Folwell

Our friend George DeChant captures the end-of-garden feel as the coreopsis go into decline:

The end of coreopsis. Photo: George DeChant

The end of coreopsis. Photo: George DeChant

But Martha Foley reports that the morning glories are in their, well, full glory right now.

 

Morning glories going gangbusters. Photo: Martha Foley

Morning glories going gangbusters. Photo: Martha Foley

Dead and dying flowers, cut back perennials, rows cleared of finished plants–all part of the gardening cycle. Let’s get some more harvest photos from our vegetable gardeners for next week’s post. Send all gardening photos to: ellen@ncpr.org

 

 

 

Gardens in the last days of August

Dramatic planting at the Indian Lake Public Library. Photo: George DeChant

Dramatic planting at the Indian Lake Public Library. Photo: George DeChant

We still have glorious photos of flowers and vegetables planted in pieces of ground scattered across the region, from western Vermont to the Tug Hill, from the southern Adirondacks to Ottawa. Kinda cool. I’d imagine a lot of food is being harvested as we move into September. Send photos of everything you’re getting from the garden–and show me what you’re doing with that harvest: canning? drying? freezing? cooking?

Here’s another photo from our friend George DeChant taken a couple of weeks ago.

Garden along the Saranac River Walk. Photo: George DeChant

Garden along the Saranac River Walk. Photo: George DeChant

Cassandra Corcoran, our gardener friend in Monkton, took these photos during the past week.

Phlox, glorious phlox. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Phlox, glorious phlox. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

For me, digging potatoes is a magical treasure hunt. Here’s some of Cassandra’s find.

Potato patch, about 12 plants. Don't really think adding straw to the mounds did much except save labour. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Potato patch, about 12 plants. Don’t really think adding straw to the mounds did much except save labour. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

The bounty--about 18 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

The bounty–about 18 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wintered over these hyacinths and now they've sprouted! Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Wintered over these hyacinths and now they’ve sprouted! Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Lettuce, arugula, kale--a small planting in the old garlic bed. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Lettuce, arugula, kale–a small planting in the old garlic bed. Photo: Cassandra Corcor

I’m a big fan of garden experimentation. You don’t have apply new techniques or ideas to the entire garden, but try growing small patches of beans in different ways, or stake some tomatoes in heavy-duty cages and trellis some others. I love the way Rainbow saved labor but simply cultivating small bits of ground, burying them in straw bales, and letting the surrounding ground go wild.

 

My straw bale garden. Photo: Rainbow Crabtree

My straw bale garden. Photo: Rainbow Crabtree

Finally, a couple of photos from a different kind of garden and harvest: haying. These taken late in August, final cut.

 

Your blog host running the baler. Photo: Pierre Nzuah

Your blog host running the baler. Photo: Pierre Nzuah

The crew, minus our Amish friend Abe. Mike, Ellen and Pierre. Photo: selfie

The crew, minus our Amish friend Abe. Mike, Ellen and Pierre. Photo: selfie on timer

Okay, send me those late garden and harvest photos. ellen@ncpr.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joining the back to school gang

I'm taking on something new just like Miss Cicely Clark in 1942, of The Women's Timber Corps at work in a timber camp in Suffolk as part of the war effort.  (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

I’m taking on something new just like Miss Cicely Clark did in 1942, joining The Women’s Timber Corpsas part of the war effort. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

One of the perks of working at NCPR is our access to free courses at St. Lawrence University, also available to spouses. My late husband, Bill Knoble, earned a BS in Geology (Summa Cum Laude!) which he started at the age of 60. I’ve audited a couple of classes and taken one for credit.

This week, it’s back to school for area colleges, and after Labor Day, public schools return. I’ve joined the school crew. I signed up for an advanced fiction writing class with Professor Paul Graham. I’m thrilled, and a little scared.

I live with a “foster” son who is in his senior year at SUNY Canton, just two semesters away from a degree in Electrical Engineering. He takes 19-21 credits each semester and pulls down straight As. In my family, top of the class seems to be the norm.

But here’s the thing. At this age (my age, over 60), who cares, really? I no longer worry about what “people think.” My mother-in-law passed away and took to her grave the metaphorical white gloves swiping windowsills; I traded in fashionable for functional clothing years ago; and, I’ll pretty much let you know if I don’t like the music.

The joy of going back to school late in life is that grades and status just don’t matter any more. It’s about curiosity and challenging yourself. I wish I could say the same about my undergraduate years four decades ago (that was more about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll). Now, I want to stretch. I write a lot of prose for my job, but writing fiction is a whole different world. I’ve dabbled. Now I want to challenge myself to do it for real. Maybe get a few chapters for that novel started.

Wish me luck…the younger students in this class are the cream of the writing crop at SLU. I hope I can keep up.

Oh, and help me out by telling me about your late in life learning experiences–formal classes, seminars, shadowing a artisan you learned a craft from, whatever. Thanks.

 

Old timers know what love is all about

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Old Gay Couple on a Harley. Photo: Thaths, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Not teenagers. In fact, you could argue that Romeo and Juliet were motivated more by lust than love–hard to separate at that age. So, when I came across a Boston Globe story about an 80 and 90 year old who re-found each other after decades, well past the season of lust, it got me to thinking about love.

My mother, who outlived three husbands, and loved each of them dearly, was full of advice about love and relationships. Generally, she seemed to be right. Some of her ideas may seem a bit quaint in this day of online dating and blurred social practices (e.g., always let the man think he’s smarter than you–yikes!), but the Henrietta Rules definitely worked for her–and some of them for me.

Here are the standouts.

1. Take care of each other. In sickness and in health. Good times and bad. Be there for each other.

I think this one moves to the top of the list as we age. I’ve seen friends care for their partners through life-threatening or terminal illnesses and been moved to tears of respect for how much energy, selflessness and love this takes. This is the extreme. But taking care of each other is part of daily life when you’re in a marriage or committed partnership. Helping each other get through each day with a little love.

2. Don’t nitpick. Or, as some would say, don’t sweat the little stuff.

Y’know, everyone snores or makes equally irritating noises. My father, to the day he died, wiped each piece of silverware before using–in our home, as well as at restaurants. My mother shrugged and refused to take it personally. (Dad had spent much of his youth in a Lower East Side tenement–sanitation definitely an issue.) We all have habits or tics that may be at best unattractive and at worst drive others to distraction. I always saw the “don’t nitpick” as a basic requirement for living with anyone–partner or roommate.

3. Enjoy life, with each other.

My mother had true joie de vivre. She loved to eat, she loved to travel, she loved to socialize with friends and family, she read voraciously, listened to music, and enjoyed most of these activities with her husband(s).

4. It’s only money.

We know that sex and money are the two likeliest causes of tension in relationships. Henrietta often said, “it’s only money.” Mind you, she was thrifty and rarely spent money on useless “stuff.” But, once the bills are paid, she’d say, don’t worry about money. You may not have a lot but as long as the basics are covered, use money to make your life and others’ lives better. Don’t be neurotic about money.

5. Laugh, a lot.

No explanation needed, right?

So, there you go young lovers, advice from an old gal who had three successful marriages and a long rich life. Now, tell me what works for you–young or old–to make love stick around.

 

Our gardens runneth over

Gardening is a work of art. Photo and garden: Deena McCullough, Plattsburgh

Gardening is a work of art. Photo and garden: Deena McCullough, Plattsburgh

Each week it gets better and better. Lilies and daisies, beans and peppers. There is so much variety in the gardens of our region. Your growing techniques range from precise, vigorous vegetable gardens to slightly wild and whimsical flower beds, from stretches of be-flowered fencing to lovingly tended blooms around public buildings.

I don’t know if this blog has given me a pipeline to gardening activity that’s always existed in our region or if more people have discovered and re-discovered the joy of growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Have you noticed an explosion, or even a modest increase, in gardening in your neck of the woods? On my 8-mile long road, it seems that the same four families garden each year. No new gardeners that I’ve observed.

The Pierce family vegetable plot in Lisbon: a bumper crop of carrots, onions and corn. Photo: M.D. Pierce

The Pierce family vegetable plot in Lisbon: a bumper crop of carrots, onions and corn. Photo: M.D. Pierce

Garden Club handiwork at Indian Lake Post Office. Photo: Lois Kelley

Garden Club handiwork at Indian Lake Post Office. Photo: Lois Kelley

I’ve noticed beautiful flower beds around churches–a project of the green-thumbed congregation members. It’s a commitment to maintain one’s own garden plus another space (and one that your friends and fellow congregants are going to notice on a weekly basis).

Lois Kelley sent in this photo of the Garden Club’s effort at the Indian Lake Post Office. She says that the garden changes a bit from year to year, featuring different color arrangements, but is always spectacular. Indeed.

 

 

 

Canadians grow gardens, too! Here’s a collage of a gardener and her handiwork in Ontario.

Marian Hofmann in the gardens she maintains around her home. Photo: Hank Hofmann, near Ottawa

Marian Hofmann in the gardens she maintains around her home. Photo: Hank Hofmann, near Ottawa

Okay, I’m a sucker for a photo of good, bad, ugly, beautiful creatures in the garden. Here’s one from Waddington.

Did this toad eat THAT MUCH PUMPKIN? Photo: Christy Snider, Waddington

Did this toad eat THAT MUCH PUMPKIN? Photo: Christy Snider, Waddington

Our friend Cassandra Corcoran in Monkton is harvesting the wild and cultivated.

 

Mint, dried chamomile and cleaned garlic. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

Mint, dried chamomile and cleaned garlic. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

Beans, hot peppers, leeks, cilantro. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

Beans, hot peppers, leeks, cilantro. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

Sumac drupes ready to be dried into sumac powder or used for tea. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

Sumac drupes ready to be dried into sumac powder or used for tea. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran, Monkton VT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an idyllic Adirondack garden.

Sweetwood Farm, Vermontville NY. Photo: Lisa Caggiula

Sweetwood Farm, Vermontville NY. Photo: Lisa Caggiula

And more beauty from another part of the Adirondacks…

The vegetable garden. Photo: Judith Ross, Wadhams

The vegetable garden. Photo: Judith Ross, Wadhams

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Endless day lilies along the fence. Photo: Judith Ross, Wadhams

Finally, this one from the keen eye of George DeChant.

Reflecting pond at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake. Photo: George DeChant

Reflecting pond at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake. Photo: George DeChant

So, it’s only mid-August. Keep those photos coming. You can expand out from the garden to the kitchen if you’re preserving flowers or food you’ve grown. Send your photos to me at ellen@ncpr.org

I’m working on keeping up with green beans. I freeze some but my preferred method of putting up beans is canned as dilly beans. Or, I let the beans at the top of the pole bean support go past fresh eating and then I harvest as dry beans at the end of the season. It’s an easy way to dry beans–no worry about ground moisture or critters getting at them as they dry. Eat your heart out, Jack, my bean cage is about 15 feet high and the finial tendrils reach well beyond the top.

 

The music that makes you shiver or cry

Solomon Burke--his version of "How I Got to Memphis" was the theme song at my wedding. Photo credit: Tom Beetz

Solomon Burke–his version of “How I Got to Memphis” was the theme song at my wedding. Photo credit: Tom Beetz

It has nothing to do with logic, taste or even quality. I’m going to guess that you have one or more songs that bring on the tears or goose bumps or just knot the stomach into an emotional ache every time.

I’m not talking about great compositions necessarily, though the music that makes you cry, that really moves you may be brilliant. I can listen repeatedly to pretty much anything by Bach–from the Mass in B Minor to the cello sonatas and piano concertos. It’s always a revelation.

But tears? shivers? Three songs which cannot hold a candle to Bach but which rattle my emotional cage every time I hear even the first few bars:

1. Donna Donna (“On a wagon bound for market, there’s a calf with a mournful eye, high above him there’s a swallow, winging swiftly through the sky…”) Is it my genetic connection with the Eastern European melody? The inevitable and imminent demise of the calf? Who knows. Here comes the knot in my stomach.

2. The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Oh this one always brings on the crying. No kidding. Really, please, do not ask me why. I haven’t a clue. Julia Ward Howe wrote new lyrics for “John Brown’s Body” and the song became totally connected to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and somehow neurologically connected to my tear ducts. Go figure.

3. That’s How I Got to Memphis. This one, less well known, makes sense as an emotional trigger for me. For my late husband and me, it was “our song.” Somehow there was a parallel in the lyrics about a man searching for his beloved in a strange town and our story of relocation in order to be together. Sung by the late great Solomon Burke, this is the ultimate tearjerker for me.

Your turn. Share the music that goes right to your emotional heart. Doesn’t have to be great music. Just curious to see what does it for other people.

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Letters. Photo: Liz West, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Letters. Photo: Liz West, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

For Jon at our front desk, it was 3rd grade when his teacher required pen pal letter writing. For Dale and Bill on our digital team, blank stares and no memory of when that last letter might have been written. Ditto for Denise who’s on the janitorial team in our building and said she emails and texts. Period.

Shelly wrote a letter last month to her young son in summer camp. Apparently the camp encouraged email messages but Shelly went the distance: she found the postal address at the camp’s website and sent off a real letter. Her son brought it back in his duffel bag when he returned home. (I guess handwritten letters are collectibles.)

Letter from Eileen and Shirley Hussey's foster mother to Mrs. Hussey, 1940. Over 35,000 children were evacuated from Birmingham during the second world war. Children left at short notice with few possessions, and their parents often didn’t know where they were going. Some children were unwelcome, or even mistreated. Letters provided vital contact with home. Some parents either refused to send their children away or brought them home before the war ended. Many Birmingham children perished in air raids. Photo: Birmingham Museum via Creative Commons

Photo: Birmingham Museum via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

I’m talking about personal letters. Not business letters. Not email letters. Not condolence or happy birthday cards. Letters. David Sommerstein wrote a letter a couple of months ago in reply to a letter he received from a friend in New Orleans. That’s the thing. We reply to email with email. We reply to text messages with text messages. And we may be more inclined to write a letter in reply to receiving one. It used to be we just wrote letters–with or without a prompt.

There’s been chatter in recent years about the loss of personal–and cultural history–with the death of the written-on-paper letter (doesn’t matter if it’s typed or handwritten).

For example, take this letter from Eileen and Shirley Hussey’s foster mother to their mother Mrs. Hussey in 1940. Here’s how the Museum describes this artifact:

“Over 35,000 children were evacuated from Birmingham, England during the Second World War. Children left at short notice with few possessions, and their parents often didn’t know where they were going. Some children were unwelcome, or even mistreated. Letters provided vital contact with home. Some parents either refused to send their children away or brought them home before the war ended. Many Birmingham children perished in air raids.”

In my early years living on the farm–we’re talking way back in the 1970s–I used to write lengthy letters to friends and family, complete with hand-drawn illustrations of my garden, the cats and dogs by the stove, plants and trees I was learning about. Why don’t I write letters (regularly) anymore? Well, there are all those digital distractions, whether Facebook or email, texts or Netflix. In the “old days” we pulled in one or two local television channels with rabbit ears and if we didn’t like what was on, we turned it off…and often, wrote letters. All this media and digital entertainment (okay, and information) takes time.

Will we really delve into digital archives the way we rummage through dusty boxes retrieved from the attic? A few years ago I came across a letter from an uncle who replied to my mother’s request for advice about her relationship with her first husband. Holy cow. Shared with my cousins. Their father had written this incredibly moving and empathetic letter. Somehow I can’t imagine my son finding something as meaningful buried in my digital files.

Photo: Selfie by Jake Rotundo.

Magic marker and an air kiss save the day.

 

Speaking of my son, he’s the reason I felt compelled to consider the issue of letter writing. He lives in NYC and is increasingly more reliable about texting, calling or emailing me on a regular basis. I might even receive a quirky birthday card in the mail. But letters? Not since he spent three years in Japan, and even then I was more likely to Skype with him than receive something on paper. (Remember the old tissue-thin blue-tinted airmail envelopes?)

In any case, he’s been a bit remiss for the past few weeks. Feeling guilty, he texted this photo to me. Made me laugh.

 

Okay, digital communication has its up side. For sure. But isn’t it fun when you go to the mailbox and there’s something inside besides the grocery store flier and bills?

And, I’ve got to tell you it is much more satisfactory to take a match to a letter from the lover who scorned you than to simply hit the “delete” key on your laptop.

 

Photo: Howard Hall, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Howard Hall, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Flowers, vegetables galore…and deer

Bambi, go home! Photo: The Weasel Family

Bambi, go home! Photo: The Weasel Family (Judy Simon, Canton)

 

From my garden perch in DeKalb, and from looking through all of the photos you’ve been sending in, it appears that we’re having a banner growing year. Good mix of rain and sunshine.

Of course, there are bugs and deer to challenge us. And, I’ve heard from many gardeners about the abundance of other hungry critters: woodchucks, rabbits, raccoon (look out corn). I think of my garden as the food pantry for the neighborhood–not just the human neighborhood. And, as long as no one gets too greedy, I’m happy to share.

We’ve been eating green beans, onions, garlic, snap peas, lettuces of all kinds, Swiss chard (until the bunny mowed it down), tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and of course summer squash. I think we’ll be eating our first sweet corn this week. This is a surprise: I planted the corn about two weeks later than usual and it seems to be the earliest I’ve ever harvested. Go figure. After 40+ years of gardening, it’s all still a mystery to me.

 

 

 

 

Brad Pendergraft, long time NCPR friend and serious gardener in Parishville, has used high mesh fencing to keep out the deer. This has become an increasingly common solution as the deer population across the region exploded over the last 10-15 years.

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Deer fencing around Brad Pendergraft’s robust Parishville garden. Photo: Brad Pendergraft

Just up the road from me, Phil Harnden (founder of GardenShare and a really talented gardener) sent in a photo of his summer herb and vegetable patch, situated in an old barn foundation. It’s beautiful and interesting. Phil grows storage and high quantity crops (winter onions, tomatoes, etc.) in an adjacent large garden. Like Brad, Phil surrounds the entire growing area with high mesh deer fencing.

Phil Harnden's old DeKalb garden. Photo: Phil Harnden

Phil Harnden’s old DeKalb garden. Photo: Phil Harnden

How about a garden with a lake view? Here’s one on Black Lake.

Garden on Black Lake. Photo: Rebecca Reynolds

Garden on Black Lake. Photo: Rebecca Reynolds

It seems to me that people who garden in the North Country overcome all kinds of adversity–most notably, unpredictable late and early frosts. The higher the altitude, the more likely those frosts will challenge gardeners. Here are a couple of garden photos from Michael Relyea who faces down the odds in Paul Smiths.

Paul Smiths garden. Photo: Michael Relyea

Paul Smiths garden. Photo: Michael Relyea

 

Paul Smiths garden. Photo: Michael Relyea

Paul Smiths garden. Photo: Michael Relyea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Haedrich in Chestertown sent some photos with this note:

“The backyard garden of perennial and annual flowers is in its fourth season. Originally, a stoned area of lawn and overgrown yews. Creating the garden and watching it evolve – pure, simple pleasure.”

To my eye, Kathleen has succeeded in creating a magical space. Sometimes, that’s the most fun: take even a small, unused or messy area and turn it into a microcosm of beauty.

A secret backyard garden. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

A secret backyard garden. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

A spot of beauty. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

A spot of beauty. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echinacea (coneflower) in the foreground. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

Echinacea (coneflower) in the foreground. Photo: Kathleen Haedrich

Another flower photo from Judy Simon in Canton, plus a nice deck garden from Lois Kelly in Indian Lake.

Clematis and friend. Photo: The Weasel Family

Clematis and friend. Photo: The Weasel Family (Judy Simon, Canton)

Deck garden in Indian Lake. Photo: Lois Kelly

Deck garden in Indian Lake. Photo: Lois Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the photos coming. I’m hoping for a collection of photos from Old Forge documenting a recent tour of gardens. You can send your photos to ellen@ncpr.org and remember to include your name and location.

This is a great time to put in the late crop of lettuce, spinach, beets and beans. Yes, there is still time!