Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Smell of the Big Lake

On the West Coast of Michigan we talk of the smell of the Big Lake. The smell coming into my window now. Right now. The smell of childhood and grounding. All things from the water and between the water and me. The ladyslippers and sassafras, wild columbines and trilliums tucked between shifting hemlock dunes.

The Big Lake. Said with reverence. Big Lake. The smell of the Big Lake. Lake Michigan. The smell of the Big Lake...with shared communal reverence. Because we know and remember. With a wistful nod to memories and dune grass and darkness in the mossy woods.

Spring comes and the smell of the Big Lake changes the city and the people to children and memories. Flashes of senses. Closing the eyes in the back seat, hot and with the head pressed against the window, light flashing behind closed eyes backdropped by eyelid blood vessels as the sun dashes between trees and treetops, dots and dashes too fast to interpret behind the closed eyes. Sugar sand in the shoes and in the car and in the hair.

But there's meaning. A message. Olfactorial and in the dreams. The window is open and you wonder why the sun is still up and you have to be in bed. And the sheer curtains breathe in and out a soft breeze. Outside a white noise off in the distance.

A hush.

A pulse of hushing. A ten thousand year song. And a breeze. The curtains sway. The smell of the Big Lake tells you something you both already know between the decaying oak and wintergreen, the algae and the white pine. Porcupines have stripped the thin and young beech and maples from the midsection on up and a damaged resin flows from millions of tiny scratches, and as you walk the dune ridges you turn your head to give privacy to the young and enamored who think they are alone among the springtime dunes and leaves and fresh fiddlehead ferns.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'd Advise MI Republicans to Support the Green to Gold Renewable Energy Tech Initiative

**cough** I'd advise our Republican reps to take the new Green to Gold bill seriously, considering a solid majority of Americans of all political stripe support the renewable energy transition.

The new bill (Bill 5599) introduced by Rep. Charles Brunner - D of Bay City is a loan program (LOAN program) for providing incentives and low interest loans to small, green energy tech businesses in Michigan. It's a loan program (LOAN program) that provides capital to entrepreneurs, builds a new industry to diversify our economy, creates jobs...and helps to make Michigan a leader in renewable energy.

The Renewable Energy issue enjoys majority support from all parties. If Republicans choose to ignore the will of the people on this, the bill will be a nice cudgel to clobber Republicans during the election year.

Bill 5599, which Brunner introduced late last week and is certain to face Republican challenges in the Legislature, would provide loans and other economic development incentives to qualified businesses. This green to gold revolving loan fund would be created in the state treasury. The money would come from a variety of sources, including local, state and federal revenues, as well as private contributions.

"It's not a tax giveaway," Brunner said. "Companies receiving a loan must provide good-paying jobs that offer medical benefits."

The bill would also require loan recipients to set clear job creation requirements that must be met twice during the duration of the loan. If a company fails to meet its job-producing obligations, it would face higher interest rates on the loan, officials said.

Sounds good to me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It feels like I've come back to something today

I went fishing with my older Boy today (8) and caught a northern pike. And hot diggity were we thrilled about that...but let me back up.

I remember walking through the woods with my Grandfather as a child. With the Swisher Sweet cigar in his hand, the passing smell of which now conjures vivid and warm memories, he'd show me  wild woodland plants I could eat and that seemed to me just about the coolest thing ever. Wintergreen. Sassafras leaves. Fern fiddlheads. Berries. Wild mushrooms. We'd walk out to the marshy land behind his sinking house, the one his own father built on an island along the Grand River, and we'd go fishing. Pull worms from a rusting can and cast them into the river. Swisher Sweet smell through the willows and cat tails and the metallic call of the redwing blackbird.

I remember imagining when I was with him that we could, in fact, survive off the land. The fish. The plants. The squirrels. In my child mind I'd become a nomad. I could escape into the deep woods and live off wintergreen and sassafras leaves.

That notion of eating locally was planted into my head early, but I never really took it seriously. A childhood imagination. I never took it seriously as a notion until recently. Sure, sure...I'd been dabbling in my organic garden. I buy stuff from the local farmers market. I liked the Eating Local idea, but I wasn't really prepared to go out of my way for it until, for whatever reason, that Havard Red Meat study came out.

Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Total, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality

One daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13% increased risk of mortality, and one daily serving of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20% increased risk.

We all knew that, of course. I mean...it's no huge revelation that red meat is horrible for you. I just wasn't prepared for exactly how enormously, unquestionably horrible it is for you. I used to imagine it was just sort of slightly bad...or maybe a gray area. No. Absolutely not. No gray area. It's just bad.

And I'm aware that from an Eating Local perspective one could buy local beef. Even lower fat grass fed beef.

But the call of the stuff I had learned from my grandfather came back to me. Walking through the woods, reaching out and grabbing something to nibble on. Catching fish by the shore.

Recently the Boys and I decided we're going to spend the summer learning to fish.

I've always enjoyed fishing. But save for a couple excursions out on the Big Lake with some family friends to catch rainbow trout or salmon, my fishing experience rarely went much beyond bluegill and sunfish.

And bluegill is fun. Don't get me wrong. They're plentiful, easy to find, and fun to catch, and I like the way they taste. But I always felt like less than a real fisherman being somebody who only fished for bluegill.

So the older boy and I recently ventured into fishing with spinners. We read up on 'em. We experimented with them on the lake for a while. We went fishing over the weekend, and then went today. Today we went down to the lake, the boy with his red and white spoon and I with my brass colored French spinner....and holy smokes.....I caught a northern pike. It was a pretty awesome day. We jumped around and cheered. We compared notes about our various fishing techniques and the lures we were using. I think we're getting the boy a similar spinner but of larger size next time.

It feels like I've come back to something, today. Between the garden where my boys have their own spaces for gardening, and the fishing, I feel like I'm returning to something simpler and basic. Something closer to home, in my memories of my grandfather and in my food. A continuum that I hope to hand off to my small boys.

Anyway...we still have much to learn about fishing. So if you happen to have some sage fishing advice, I'm all ears.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Power Outage at the Only Barriers Holding Back the Asian Carp

And this is why an electric barrier is no match for a brick wall.

I mean, who could have predicted this:

This week a power outage shut down electric barriers that are the one thing keeping the invasive asian carps from crossing over from the Mississippi basin to Lake Michigan. The invasive species are predicted to throw the entire managed Great Lakes ecosystem into chaos and potentially killing the 7 billion dollar a year Great Lakes fishing industry.

An electric barrier network near Chicago designed to prevent Asian carp and other species from migrating between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River systems had a 13-minute power outage this week, officials said Friday.

The outage began at 12:58 p.m. Wednesday, said Lt. Col. James Schreiner, deputy commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Chicago district. Two of three barriers were operating at the time and both failed. Backup generators were activated, but a power surge prevented them from immediately delivering electricity to the barriers. Personnel at the site manually reset a circuit breaker to get the generators working.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been studying long term strategies for keeping asian carps out of the Great Lakes and holy mother of f*** have they been taking their precious sweet time. While asian carps are knocking at the doors of the Great Lakes, the Army Corps of Engineers will release its report...in 2015.

How's that saying go? Politics is the art of delaying a decision until it's no longer relevant.

Many groups and US representatives from Great Lakes states are pushing to speed up the report and get on with the solution before it's too late.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- Legislation introduced in Congress would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a study of how to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes.
The corps has identified 18 locations where fish and other organisms could migrate between the lakes and other watersheds, including an artificial linkage between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin in the Chicago area.
Corps officials say they'll release their recommendations by late 2015.
Michigan's U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp say that isn't soon enough. They're sponsoring bills to require the corps to submit a progress report within 90 days of the legislation's enactment and a full plan within 18 months.
Scientists say Asian carp could starve out native Great Lakes fish.

The electric barriers are a joke.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I'm sure there's a metaphor in this spring garden diary somewhere

With the spring moving in, it's been time to tend the garden and, of course, re-stock the sand box. Here in Muskegon, the latter means taking a drive down to Pere Marquette park along the shore of Lake Michigan with a shovel and the biggest containers you can find. All along the drive, houses post signs offering...no...BEGGING people to take away sand. "Free sand!" sand "Freer Sand!" and "free range sand!" and "For the love of GOD PLEASE take away our san...mmmmmmfffff"

Because going back for thousands of years, Lake Michigan has been pushing sugar sand up and out along the shorelines, which means a massive dune will quickly form where the houses currently stand unless folks like me and my small son here pull up in our little car and start shoveling sand into buckets and haul it away for "personal use"

That's a rental property that apparently hasn't been shoveled out since last year. Note the sand encroaching on top of the deck there on the upper right corner.

Anyway, when you want sand here in Coastal West Michigan, that's where you go. Down to the beach to dig out somebody's house....

...which leads me to my organic garden. My wife finally took notice of my slow annexation of the yard and we've agreed, in a final armistice treaty, that my garden would stop at the tiny cedar, and before the gate.

Now that I'm no longer in expansion mode, I'm focusing on improving my garden internally to improve the yeilds, make it more pleasant, and grow more stuff.

I'm sure there's a metaphor in there for our nation, but I can't figure out what it is right now.

Anyway, back to the sand. I've delineated various parts of my garden with some flagstone that somebody dropped off at my house last year. He sort of..........................................................borrowed the flagstone after so and so's friend's home was foreclosed on. His friend said "take anything you want in that yard" and so he was all like "Yeah, okay." Anyway, the short story is a pile of flagstone was dumped in my yard. Not all bad. The rest of the wood in that garden is recycled and repurposed from other stuff.

I put the flagstone down...but now I'm thinking of taking it back up and making a path all proper like, with tamped down sand below it to keep the growth from coming back up. I realize it's kind of a long story about why I'm getting buckets of sand, but what the hell. It's a Friday:

On the lower left there is a raised bed for my two boys. They can go in and plant whatever the heck they want to plant there. There's some pumpkin and carrots and radishes and whatnot.

On the right is my perennial garden. I've got a perennial leek bed in the back there...trying to get that growing more. And then there's my son's strawberry patch. And to the right of that my perennial and semi-invasive egyptian walking onions...

This morning I made some breakfast with those this morning, along with some morels from my parents' yard and some brussel sprout greens from a brussel sprout plant that survived the winter.

Anyway. That's the garden and spring so far.

Howsabout you?

Neighborhoods and Gravel Roads

This afternoon we drove through gravel streets in Muskegon that not too long ago had been paved. With no city funds to fix the roads they deteriorated to axel destroying strips of potholes. Eventually the city of Muskegon Heights just dumped gravel over the streets.

Entire city blocks and neighborhoods near the center of town, road after road after road has been transformed from paved to gravel. Along the neighborhoods streets, boarded up homes and ragged blue tarps on the rooftops. Or moss. Or broken windows.

Near the housing projects.

My father recounted to me living in similar homes growing up. Wide tracts of homes once built to house soldiers returning from the war, then soon after used as places to herd impoverished families. The old homes, not quite as fancy as the Levittown homes, have since been sliced apart from one another and placed on the outskirts of town in their own disjointed neighborhoods of dilapidated homes built from the remnants of dilapidated homes.

As we drove through town a man whose yard was entirely dug up for a vegetable garden - a sensible decision in my opinion - had looked woozy and fell to the ground. Two other men across the street ran to him and helped him up. Broken glass windows and duct tape and card board, structural elements to keep the cold at bay just as long as it can.

People talk of a need for fundamental systemic change in this country. Fundamental systemic change to improve the situation of Americans.

I agree with that.

But what until then?

What do we do UNTIL then?  It's been a half century since my father grew up in the 1950s equivalent of housing projects.

How long EXACTLY do we wait for this fundamental systemic change that will solve everything?  While folks are battling the Big Fight about Big Ideas for the Big Future over there....what do we do down here?

I'm less interested in taking part in a battle royale about fundamental systemic change that may, might, somehow, some way come along and improve these chronically impoverished areas and communities that need something better RIGHT NOW.

I'm more interested in knowing what can happen TODAY? What can be done THIS WEEK? This MONTH? How can a community help a disadvantaged young man IN HIS LIFETIME while we wait for this grand systemic National change to take place? This HUGE systemic national change that's going to improve everybody's life Some Day. It's going to be great. I believe it will.

But what until then? How do we, down here, fix things Until That Day?