Saturday, May 25, 2019

Fantasy gardening

It's that time of year again. The S.O. tilled the garden space, I have starter plants and seeds, and of course I'm fantasizing about mega harvests.

What's actually going to happen, of course, is I'll be relatively ambitious for about two weeks. I'll get things planted, and then the weeds will arrive. And I'll weed, sort of, until I start noticing the damage from the chipmunks. That's when the lamb's quarter will overshadow everything else and if we're lucky I'll harvest half a dozen tomatoes sometime in late August. If we relied on the garden for survival, we'd be dead fairly quickly.

One thing that's probably going to happen is I'll have to fall back on Econo Foods again this year for tomatillos. I have a recipe for a salsa verde made with tomatillos so I decided to start some plants from seed. Not sure if I killed them through overwatering or if the wind has destroyed them when I have them outside during the day to harden. Whatever the cause, out of 16 seedlings, there's maybe only half a dozen left that might survive. Then again, tomatillos were never meant to be grown here on the tundra. They have a long growing season and need temperatures in the 70s just to germinate.

I've tried with tomatillos before. I think they're becoming my white whale of gardening. The S.O.'s fantasy used to be to grow watermelons from seed. He succeeded a few years ago. I did have some success with tomatillos when I bought starter plants from Shopko several summers ago. That was the one and only time I saw tomatillo plants for sale in the U.P. Since then I've been trying with seeds and failing. Maybe I'll get lucky this year, the six surviving plants will hang in there, and I'll get enough to produce one batch (six pints) of salsa.

The more likely scenario, however, is that the tomatillo plants will survive, they'll set fruit, and right about the time the tomatillos are ready to pick the chipmunks will discover that they, too, like salsa verde.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Where have all the volunteers gone?

I spent a good chunk of yesterday at the Spring meeting of the Northland Historical Consortium. The Consortium is a loose organization of local historical societies and museums located in the western half of the Upper Peninsula and along the Wisconsin border. The membership includes county historical societies and special interest groups, e.g., the Painesdale Mine and Shaft, dedicated to preserving the history and physical structure of a particular site.

Champion Mine Shaft No. 4, Painesdale, Michigan
I was, for what its worth, moderately amused to hear the Painesdale representative describing their mission as "preserving the shaft." Strikes me as a simple task if you take her literally: just don't let anyone fill in the hole. What she meant, of course, was preserving the shafthouse, a building I don't recall ever seeing in the flesh, but obviously it exists. Also for what it's worth, every time I encounter folks who have dedicated themselves to preserving something like a shaft house, I find myself breathing figurative sighs of relief that the Baraga County Historical Society isn't the proud owner of a similar money pit.

The focus of yesterday's meeting was digitization. The archives at Northern Michigan University received a grant to help set up a collaborative network that would include members of the consortium and potentially other heritage organizations. The goal is to get us all started on digitizing our collections and making them available through the Internet. The project would allow people all over the world to access materials that at the moment they may not know even exist and would also serve as a bit of an advertisement for our individual institutions. You know, you go searching for a particular topic on the Internet, find that a copy of a photograph or a document relating to that topic is part of a collection at the Covington Township Historical Society, and become curious about what else that organization might have stashed in its filing cabinets.

Michigan is apparently a bit behind some other states in setting up this type of collaboration. North Carolina has an impressive program up and running; so do a number of others. I personally think it's a neat idea. At this point all it would cost our local historical society is a little bit of time so I can't think of a logical reason to refuse to participate. I know our museum has materials academic researchers would love to look at if they knew they existed, so I see the project as a Good Thing.

But the digital project isn't what was actually on my mind when I started typing this morning. It was Volunteers, or the lack thereof. I've been going to these consortium meetings since September 2012. I don't make it to every one -- as a group we do try to spread representation out a little -- but I've been to enough that I'm starting to recognize people. You know what?  I see mostly the same faces at every meeting. They're not getting any younger. Everyone has the same problem. Membership numbers are shrinking, people are aging out (it's hard to volunteer once you're in the nursing home) or dying, and everyone is having trouble recruiting new volunteers. The woman who is the computer geek for one group mentioned that she's now 85 years old. Quite a few of the representatives from other groups looked like they weren't much younger, if at all.

So where have all the younger potential volunteers gone? As usual, there was a fair amount of carping about how useless and self-centered the younger generations have become. Pshaw.

As a social scientist (or a retired social scientist), I'm inclined to give it a structural and economic explanation. I can recall being a Girl Scout leader back in the '70s. At the time I began volunteering, I didn't have a job. I didn't need one. The S.O. was employed full-time; he made enough money that I could enjoy the (remarkably boring) life of a Stay-At-Home mom. Most of my fellow leaders were in the same position: spouse worked, wives had plenty of free time for volunteering at church or with youth groups like 4-H and Scouting. The women who did work had good jobs with predictable hours. A few taught school, a job that wasn't nearly as soul-sucking and stressful as it is now (it was before the insanity over testing swung into full force and schools still had budgets that allowed teachers to make sure classrooms had the supplies they needed). No one was doing the juggling two or three part-time positions in the hopes of coming close to having the equivalent of a 40-hour work week. It's hard to volunteer for anything when you're dealing with truly bizarre work schedules.

Then when you toss in the unintended consequences of raising a couple of generations of kids, people who are adults now, who were told they HAD to volunteer. Two words that do not belong together: volunteer and mandatory. But that's what schools have done in a truly misguided attempt to get students engaged with the community. Forced students to volunteer. If you're a member of National Honor Society, you MUST volunteer. It's not volunteering if you're told you have to do it. But if you're a member of various other organizations (football team, DECA, whatever) you will be told you have to volunteer.

I do not doubt there are some kids who enjoy their volunteer assignments, but for a whole bunch of others "volunteer" has become associated in their minds with picking up trash along the highways or some other task they did not particularly want to do. If I'm talking to someone who is, let us say, in their 30s and I see them visibly cringe at the term "volunteer" I know that person was coerced into doing something unpleasant in order to satisfy a criterion for retaining their Honor Society eligibility.

So where have the volunteers gone? Between an economy where wages have been stagnant since Jimmy Carter was in the White House and an educational system that turned volunteering into a punishment detail, it's not much of a mystery. At this point, the more relevant question may be who's going to turn off the lights at our museums when the last of the geezers takes the dirt nap?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sneetches, elites, and other tribal weirdness

I've been thinking about the bizarre tendency people have to separate themselves into groups, Us vs. Them. I saw a strange example recently in the RV group I'm part of on Facebook. People's minds can do some weird contortions in their efforts to differentiate themselves (the good guys, the elite, the people worth knowing) from the riff raff, the hoi polloi who aren't worthy of being associated with.

I already knew that the RV-ing world is full of ridiculous amounts of elitism and tribalism. The people with the high dollar Class As (the motor homes that resemble buses) are perceived as snobs by some other campers. I'm not sure why, other than the fact that it seems that many of the folks who buy brand new Class As tend to prefer camping at privately owned RV resorts rather than hanging out in state parks or doing dispersed camping in National Forests. But that's definitely not true for all of them -- when we've been campground hosts, there were always a few Class As around. Granted, most were not brand new Leviathans, but they were Class As.

There's also kind of a split in the Class C world between the folks who have the brand new equipment and obsess about keeping it looking like it just rolled off the dealer's lot ("OMG. My decals are fading!! What can I do?") and those folks who have older equipment and stopped worrying about waxing a long time ago. I cannot begin to fathom why anyone would want to wax an RV. . . but then I don't wax my car, and it's only a Focus.

There's the split between the RV owners who obsess about the interiors -- must make sure the flooring is perfect, have to cover the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom with glass tiles, must acquire lots of RV-themed knickknacks to clutter up the place and/or bounce off the walls when we hit some rough pavement -- and those owners who figure as long as it's clean and comfortable it doesn't need to look like a spread from House Beautiful.  They spend tons of time obsessing about decorating, finally hit the road, and then we're treated to posts about an alternator failing or tires blowing out.  Maybe if they thought less about how pretty the inside was and spent more time thinking about mechanical stuff, they wouldn't end up sitting by the side of the road waiting for a wrecker.

There are the RV owners who absolutely have to have full hookups (electric, water, sewer) before they'll "camp" anywhere and there are those who are sure it's not camping unless they're on a dispersed site in the middle of nowhere in a National Forest or on Bureau of Land Management land. You name it, and you've got one group that's totally for it and another group that thinks the opposite.

The weirdest example I've seen lately, though, of someone drawing a line between Us and Them was a dude who advised someone who was new to RV-ing to join an organization that operates RV "resorts" around the country. You pay for your membership and you get to camp at the properties that are affiliated with the organization/parent company/whatever. He laid it on thick about how by staying at these "exclusive" RV resorts you know you're safe because the riff raff like you find at state and national parks are kept out. You know, the resorts are gated and have private security. WTF?

The first bizarre part, of course, is that business of riff raff in state and national parks. If you're staying at a state-owned campground, you've paid for the privilege, and, depending on the campground, it may not have been a particularly cheap privilege. You're also limited as to how long you can linger in those campgrounds. No one in a state park is squatting there indefinitely. It's not an environment that is riff raff friendly. (FWIW, I am interpreting "riff raff" as low income, poor, possibly homeless.)

As for security, you know what you have at the privately owned resorts? Rent-a-cops, security guards whose training may have consisted solely of "drive around once an hour so visitors think we're doing something." I've known people who worked as security guards. The basic requirement for being hired was that they were still breathing and could stand upright. In contrast, if you stay at a public campground -- state or federal -- you're going to see commissioned law enforcement officers coming through on a regular basis. Real cops, not pretend ones, men and women who have had extensive training and actually know what they're doing.  When we camp hosted at a national park, we'd see a law enforcement ranger come through several times a day. They were a highly visible presence and a whole lot more intimidating than a rent-a-cop would have been. Why would anyone willingly delude themselves into believing that they were safer under the watchful eye of a mall cop when they could camp where there's real police?

Pulitzer Project: Lonesome Dove

How can a book that's so huge (800+ pages), reasonably well-written, and packed with action and Western cliches (cattle drives, cattle thieves, bad guys in general, love triangles, hooker with a heart of gold) be so boring? Lonesome Dove was a hard slog for me. Individual paragraphs were gems, but it really felt like the book overall went on and on and on and on without much of anything seeming to happen. It is not a good sign when I'm reading a book and keep falling asleep before I get through more than a couple pages.

Lonesome Dove was a best seller when it was published in 1985. It didn't take long for it to be optioned and turned into a hugely popular mini series on television.  According to Wikipedia (not always the most reliable source, but what the heck, I'll believe them this time) Lonesome Dove first saw life as a screenplay developed by McMurtry and director Peter Bogdanovich (they also collaborated on the film The Last Picture Show) in the 1970's. At the time, McMurtry saw Lonesome Dove as a John Wayne film. Wayne wasn't interested, time passed, McMurtry turned the screenplay into a massive novel, and a decade later it aired as a mini-series starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

In any case, I am totally mystified as to why Lonesome Dove turned out to be a snorer. McMurtry can write, there were individual paragraphs and pages that were great, but it was also one of the most soporific books I have ever read. Better than Valium. I'd pick it up, start reading, and pretty quickly I'd be falling asleep with the book in my hand. Really strange.

So where would I place it on the usual zero to 10 scale? Somewhere in the middle of the pack, I guess. The writing is good, the storyline reasonably interesting. Would I recommend it to other readers? I don't know. Something that served as a great sleeping aid for me could be gripping and dramatic for someone else. I do know that if anyone decides to read the book they need to block out a fair amount of time. The sucker is fat enough to serve either as a doorstop or a footrest.

Next up on the list: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor. Once again, it's a book I've never heard of despite it being published in 1986, a mere 33 years ago. Never heard of the author either. This could be a very good thing -- some of the best Pulitzer winners I've read were by authors who were apparently one hit wonders. Or maybe not. In any case, unless I stumble across a cheap copy at Goodwill it's not getting read until Fall. It is now late enough in the school year that Interlibrary Loan is not an option.

Friday, May 10, 2019

An update on asshattery

The Mud Season is almost done, the gravel roads are finally firm enough that the County Road Commission can send the equipment operators out with graders and trucks with the under-body blades to attempt to smooth out the washboard and fill in the potholes. I noticed when I went to town recently that our road had been graded.

Sort of. Turns out whoever was operating the truck was again some shit weasel who can't drive a truck in reverse. As usual, the straight part of the road got graded, more or less, but the operator turned around by the neighbor's driveway and ignored the curved section of road with the worst ruts, the biggest holes, and the largest protruding rocks. Guess he couldn't figure out how to back in to the dead end with no snowbanks to guide him. Good to know that (a) the shit weasel is consistent and (b) said weasel has figured out he can do a shit job because no one down at the county shed is going to do a damn thing about it. Of course, I figured that out at the road commission meeting I went to. Two of the commissioners spent more of their time lecturing me about calling such a "nice guy" an asshat than they did expressing any concern about the fact a county employee had decided he really doesn't need to do his job as long as the commissioners find him personally likable.

You know, our road is included the miles that the road commission budget covers. Maybe it's only a few hundred feet but it does factor into their applications for grant money and in calculating their budget as a whole. There was speculation at the meeting that the part that's still on the books as active county road actually extends about 900 feet more than it currently gets treated as. It's quite possible that on paper the road still terminates up by our barn. I am becoming increasingly tempted  to research that question. If it's never been formally abandoned maybe we should start pushing for a new culvert and a whole lot of gravel for the entire length, not just the part that ends at the property line.

Starting next week a full-size L'Anse Area Schools bus is going to start driving in here. It's a long story, but we have family staying with us for a while who have school age kids. I am moderately curious to see how the bus driver reacts to that section of road the county likes to pretend doesn't exist.