Saturday, July 31, 2010


Twelve hours of writing brings me to a short, bleary-eyed respite before bedtime.  Our brittle grass is soaking up a dose of gentle rain, after a day of gray skies threatened to pass without a drop.  A deer had been visiting my dear young American Chestnut tree, so yesterday I enclosed it with a couple cattle guards Karen had fashioned into a temporary dog kennel.  Its branches already seem to be taking leaf.

Yesterday was neighborhood visiting day.  I stopped twice during my early morning run.  First, I visited three men who were waiting.  For what?  A logging truck.  They claimed Thunder Ridge is too wet to drag giant logs from the woods.  If it's too wet now, then I can't imagine when it'll be dry enough.  One of them was Magic's dad.  Magic, a springer spaniel, often races next to me, nipping so close a slight misstep could draw blood.  I always maintain a continuing monologue with her, but if I stop she won't come near.  With Dad nearby, she let me pet her.  A first.

I suppose if you wanted to know who in our Valley has begun an exercise program because his or her doctor recommended it, I could introduce you.  Yesterday's newcomer was Dalmus, a handsome and friendly man whose Aunt Ruth plays Scrabble with Karen.  He's walking 1 1/2 miles each day and isn't happy about his doctor's opinion that his usual two glasses of milk daily isn't good for him.  Why?  Because of the salt.  Although we haven't had an analysis done of our milk, I suggested goat's milk.  He gave me the same weird look 8 out of 10 people offer us whenever we mention goat milk.  When they finally taste it, they inevitably say with a certain amount of shock, "It takes like milk!" Does it now.

Eight hours later found me on the road to town.  The mayor had invited us to "drinks and conversation."  Karen remained elbow-deep in a plumbing project, so I was on my own.  I left 2 1/2 hours later with a few new friends and a reputation for boring conversation about the financial reform bill.

"But they kept asking you questions," says Virginia, like Amahl in Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Maybe they weren't bored.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Student Housing

A few minutes ago, Adam called to say we need to pay the rent on his apartment by August 1.  He's going to share the apartment with 3 guys -- that is, assuming the building is completed by move-in on August 27.  Can you imagine a brand new 4 bedroom, 4 bath apartment for junior year?  No wonder the average college student these days takes 5 years to finish school!

I'm reminded of the 4-room 20' x 20' house I rented for 3 years of law school.  The $100 monthly rent was pretty sweet even then.  Rev. J.C. Burnett was our landlord.  The activity next door prompted one friend to comment, "I hear the safest place to live is next door to a Mafia don."  Two doors down the other way was an African-American church that often provided dinner music.  I figured it took me a half-hour to dig each square foot of my garden, a former junk heap that yielded buckets and buckets of broken glass.  I also rented a couple 25' x 50' community garden plots that kept me busy shelling peas while I cradled a 15-pound textbook in my lap.

"Did you feel safe?" asks Virginia.

Always -- except for the night I went fishing behind the stove for a salt or pepper shaker that had fallen.  My wire clothes hanger fishing pole found its way into an old 220-volt receptacle that had never been disconnected.  Fortunately for me, the current grounded on a metal conduit halfway up the wall.  Unfortunately, the metal conduit carried natural gas to the stove.  The metal melted instantly and became a blow torch.  Fortunately, the firehouse was only a few blocks away.  I threw bucket after bucket of water on the wall until the firefighters arrived.  The house lasted another couple years before it was condemned for a new street right-of-way.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Moment with Greatness

Home, James.  My older brothers waited years to use that line.  When I finally earned my driver's license, they got kick after kick out of it.  Yesterday, I climbed into the front seat of my Enterprise rental and homed home, 471 miles in 8 1/2 hours.  Not entirely uneventful, I alternated between National Public Radio and an "essential" 3 CD collection of Leonard Bernstein's works. 

Listening to Bernstein brought to mind my stint with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, 1979-1981.  At the time, I was studying voice with Naomi Blake, characterized by a University of North Carolina instructor as having "the most relaxed singing voice in the world," who had recommended Naomi, to the effect, "if she teaches how she sings, she can't be beat."  Naomi earth-mothered her students into her modest Crystal City living room studio, reaching far into our diaphragms to seek out any talent we might have.  She could make a modicum listenable.  When I tried out for the Washington Opera, the director admonished me, "Listen to Naomi.  She knows what she's doing."

I mentioned Choral Arts because its director, Norm Scribner, had a famous friend in New York who joined us for a concert each year.  He would arrive in flamboyance, surrounded by an aura of super-energy.  The young man who carried the maestro's silver water cup surprised me once, when Mr. Bernstein took a break and asked him to fill in for a few minutes.  He took up the baton and didn't miss a beat.  I wonder what it was like to travel in close company with the great man's photographic memory, Renaissance charm and unusual moral character. As a chorus, we never doubted where his beat was.  He may have lied, but he knew how to inspire our confidence.  Once, after finishing the rehearsal of a movement of his Kaddish symphony, he said something like, "that was great."  Hearing a bass mutter, he said, "what's wrong?"  "We didn't sing the right notes," said the bass.  "Don't worry about the notes," said Bernstein, "the rest is what's important."

"I would have loved to sing under his direction," says Virginia.

I say, "He would have loved you, too."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Around the Corner

A memory seems to wait around every corner.  Yesterday morning I ran to the university track that sits at the nearest 4-way intersection.  For most of my life in Bluffton (1954-1974), we lived a few hundred yards northeast, across from the school's former track and football practice field and a city water tower painted with big letters "B L U F F T O N."  I would have climbed it if I hadn't been afraid of heights.  Even though the old track lies under grass, football has given way to soccer, and the tower has been dismantled, they would apppear on any map I draw of this town.

This morning, several young men were clearing brush from the corner -- ordinary brush that struck a chord.  Later, as my brother, mother and I leafed through a scrapbook of current residents at the Maple Crest retirement living center, John Murray peered out at me.  The same face had watched me 45 years ago and chased me down after I lit a cherry bomb.  He had found me hiding in the brush and shaken a trembling kid with his tale about someone who'd blown off his finger.

Minutes later, Gary Lora arrived to tune one of the center's pianos.  My mind riffled through its Rolodex in time to greet him by name, although I hadn't seen him in 40 years.  For the summer of my sixteenth birthday, his sister, Gloria, had "dated" my good friend Max, a fellow staff member at Camp Berry, B.S.A.  Televisions were contraband at camp, but on July 20, 1969, the Camp Director set up several in our dining hall.  Everyone gathered to watch Neil Armstrong set the stage for Michael Jackson's moonwalk.  We listened spellbound to his famous words, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

"We won that race," says Virginia. "I wish we'd attack alternative energy sources with the same resolve."

Me, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dark Day, Dark Night

I'm in Ohio for a few days, visiting the village that raised me.  Many of the actors in that experiment are still here, including my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Kooker.

When I saw him handing out bulletins at church, I thought, "Can it be Mr. Kooker? He looks younger than I would have expected had I expected him."  Seeing him reminded me of November 22, 1963.  On that day, a boy in our class clapped when we were told that our President had been shot.   "That boy always was strange," said Mr. K.

Last night, after supper, we drove to the Dairy Freeze to stimulate the local economy.  Then my brother drove south of town, retracing part of the route our school bus had traveled.  On Zurflugh Road, we passed the farmhouse where this 5- or 6-year old found a key in the ignition of a John Deere and first felt the thunderous power of gasoline.  My father was a sprinter then.  In the soft grass of our side yard, Dad eased me onto the seat of a bicycle, gave a gentle push, and ran alongside as I wobbled to and fro.  Near the same site, my bare right foot found a hoe someone had forgotten to put away.  My tears spilled into a pail of water as it turned bright red.  The first time our townie babysitter came to visit, I raced to high-jump a low fence.  At the last second, I froze and planted my right hand on an electrified barb.  More red for this show-off.

Leaving Zurflugh, we tooled past Strattons' Woods, the site of a Boy Scout Camp-O-Ree I cannot forget.  A long line of scouts hiked back to camp from a football game at Harmon Field.  As our flashlights lit the road ahead, a drunken driver hit us from behind.  Brakes screeched, tires squealed and a boot landed in the cornfield a few feet from me.  I can guarantee that the rest of that black night was quieter than you've ever heard a hundred boys.  We did not laugh when we visited the frozen latrine the next morning.  For psychological care we attended a memorial service and struck camp early to return to our homes and families.

"How sad!" says Virginia. 

May you always walk or run against the traffic, plant your hoes with their blades down, avoid barbs, and not become President.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Plain Vanilla

I normally prefer mint chocolate chip, but if I had to choose one flavor, I'd pick plain vanilla, to which I can always add chocolate, raspberries, chocolate chips, or whatever else my mood desires.

As I read articles by industry insiders, I'm struck by the generally negative attitude toward the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, as if it would be traitorous not to gripe.

If you think about it, you'll realize the bill is good for most of the commentators.  It basically offers lifetime security to compliance officers and banking lawyers.  They might as well gripe, if that endears them to the corporate teams who hire them.

Two provisions have wide support, even within in the business world.  Title I creates the Financial Stability Oversight Council to keep an eye on players whose activities "threaten the financial stability of the United States," a/k/a "systemic risk."  The Council's task is to identify risks like those created by subprime lending so it can head each risk off at the pass.

The other likable move is Title II, which sets up a liquidation process for firms that pose systemic risk and are on the verge of default.  The Federal government did not have a process like this handy the last time around, other than bankruptcy, which is chosen by a company or its creditors, not the government.  Now, the government can take over the firm and wind down its affairs, not perpetuate it by offering a bailout.  Once a firm enters the process, the only way out is its death.  The bill specifically prohibits the use of taxpayer funds, except for limited loans that can only be made if the firm's assets can and will repay them.  Shareholders and creditors are out of luck until the loans have been repaid.  They will get nothing unless money remains on the table after the firms assets have been liquidated.

These two provisions are easy to support because they don't affect "us."  They only bother the bad guys.

"But what about all the limitations, especially those on mortgages?" asks Virginia.  "Will we consumers be left with few choices, just 'plain vanilla' products?"

"Plain vanilla" seems to have gained currency as the favorite derogatory term to throw at Title XIV (mortgage reform).  Forget, shall we, that the most popular ice cream flavor remains "plain vanilla."  I seriously doubt that consumers are going to miss prepayment penalties, mandatory arbitration clauses or flimsy, virtually nonexistent underwriting standards.  Maybe lenders will, but prior to the 1990s, all of us lived without these features for many years.  Even back then, we had choices -- including adjustable rate and graduated payment mortgages.  Let me hedge the future.  I'm willing to bet that lenders will continue to offer many choices.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I don't think I ever mentioned that I have a co-author working on this book.  I do most of the writing, but David is a huge asset because he comes behind me and straightens me up, sort of like the reviewers that read scholarly articles before they're published.  Another big benefit is the bounce-off blessing.  If you're a self-employed "expert" writing from home, you know what I mean.  It can be lonely in this nerdy world.

The more I write this stuff, the more I feel like water behind a closed spigot.  Yes, Virginia, you're percolating and I'm itching to let you out.

I've gone off track as usual.  Oh yes, synchronicity, that's where I was headed.  David emailed a couple hours ago to say he was packing things into his car to head up to Pennsylvania.  His father appears to have had a stroke or mini-stroke.  About the same time, one of my brothers emailed to say my mother was complaining about high blood pressure and had ended up in a hospital emergency room.  She's probably going home this evening.  I hope David's father gets to go home soon, too.

This reminds me of another synchronous moment.  Thirteen years ago, when my father was struggling with cancer, the father of one of my best friends had a deathly illness, too.  Our dads died within minutes of each other.

"Do your mother and David's father know you're working on that book?" says Virginia.

"My mother does," I say.  "I don't know about his father.

"He probably does," she says.  "Maybe you'd better keep these things to yourselves.  Stress might be contagious."

Hmmm.  I doubt it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Bleary-eyed, 19 chapters down, with 5 to go, I haven't counted the pages recently, but I'm sure I've passed the 400-page minimum my contract requires.

Remember when a teacher assigned you a paper and gave a minimum page count?  I never liked that, but I don't remember sweating it.  I figured it was the instructor's way of hinting how much detail was required.

What does 400 pages mean?  Write a book that visually demonstrates money's worth.  The publisher can always edit it down if it's too full of fluff.  This one isn't.

"How do you write 400 pages?" asks Virginia.

The same way you run a marathon, hoe a field, shell peas, or harvest sunflower seeds.  One by one by one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


"The most significant changes promised by the Dodd-Frank Act that directly affect most depository institutions are the abolition of the Office of Thrift Supervision ("OTS") with reallocation of supervisory responsibilities among the remaining regulators and the Volcker Rule."

So say three lawyers writing about the financial reform bill.  Wrong.  Most depository institutions couldn't care less about the OTS, which regulates savings banks and savings and loans.  And most aren't that concerned about the Volcker Rule, either, which limits their involvement with proprietary trading (buying and selling securities products for their own purposes) and hedge funds.  

Maybe the big institutions, the ones who are used to paying high legal bills, do.  The smaller banks are more interested in how the Act affects everyday business.  The three lawyers, in their article on the Act, didn't even mention the new consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the many new requirements regarding mortgage lending.  Oh well, maybe they'll get to those parts of the Act some other time.

Have you noticed that when you deposit checks in your account, the bank gives you $100 credit almost immediately and might place a hold on the remainder?  On or before the designated transfer date (see yesterday's posting), your bank will give you $200 credit.  That's a change banks may not be too happy about, since it doubles their risk if you deposit a bad check.  

If you apply for a credit card or a loan to take that trip you've been planning to Italy, and the bank turns you down because your credit score is too low, on or before the designated transfer date, the bank must disclose your score and some related information.  The bank's already accustomed (or should be) to providing this information in connection with mortgage loan applications.  Now it's going to have to do it for other types of loans.

Those are just two of many practical little things banks need to know about the new statute, but I'd bet you haven't heard about them.  Many banks probably haven't either.  

All of this is good for the book I'm writing.  Keep writing about the Less-than-Volcker rule, guys.

"Phew," says Virginia.  "Something got your goat?"

Last count, they were all there.  One might have mastitis, though.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'd Rather Be Kayaking

Many things are happening around here as I work on this book I hope a few people will read.  Myduck, who Karen saved by cracking open an abandoned egg, seems to be thriving.  See for a charming video of the little guy and his mama.  Replacement fences are rising in the barnyard.  Our water heater is dying, as indicated by leaks at the top, so Karen's tracking down an on-demand replacement.  We think a neighbor cat stole two of Ginger's other four ducklings last night.  Oats are ready to be harvested, winter wheat to be gleaned, beets to be pickled and frozen.

I find myself fretting effective dates.  The financial reform bill has so many it's mind-boggling.  Effective dates may sound like a simple thing, but time and time again I discover they complicate bill and regulation analysis.  This bill has a general section that says a provision takes effect the day after enactment unless some other section states otherwise.  So, if President Obama signs the thing Wednesday as scheduled, the date of enactment is July 21, 2010 and the day after is July 22, 2010.

Title XIV (see, Roman numerals remain in vogue), one of 16 titles, includes a section that says its provisions take effect after regulations are adopted, on the date specified in the regulations -- unless another section of Title XIV states otherwise or regulations are not adopted by 18 months after the "designated transfer date."

Virginia asks, "What's the designated transfer date?"

Good question.  By the 60th day after the date of enactment, which will be 60 days after July 21 -- now count with me to September 19 -- the Federal agencies need to get together and agree on the date on which the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection will assume its responsibilities.  That date, which cannot be earlier than January 17, 2011 or later than July 21, 2011 (unless something unexpected happens) is the "designated transfer date."

"Enough," says Virginia.  "I get the picture."

It's not that effective dates are hard to figure out.  They're just difficult to keep straight.

Well, sometimes they are hard to figure out.  Some of us are already disputing what that provision in Title XIV really means.  I think I've got the best argument, but a court may have to settle it if Congress doesn't amend the thing.

Silliness.  I'd rather be kayaking.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pop Star

Just wanna be a pop star
like the one I used to know.

He nursed us sick ones
in Mandarin, dissected frogs,
small engines resurrected,

carved five-leaved roses,
in his desk hid mints and
a sharp shiny scalpel.

A day's growth of beard
scraped like sandpaper
my smooth soft cheeks

grew their own to notice
he wasn't perfect, was he?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Financial Reform -- Just What You Wanted to Know

So, you ask, is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act good for the country?

I ask myself that again and again.  I get frustrated by the talking heads and writers, who act as if the bill only contains 4 or 5 provisions -- a crackdown on derivatives and securities trading, no more "too big to fail" bailouts, an independent consumer watchdog, an advance warning system, and new rules on corporate governance and executive pay.  Could these measures prevent a recurrence of another financial crisis?

Maybe.  But the bill contains much more -- lots of rules for everyday banking and mortgage lending -- that might have been effective in preventing this crisis.  If lenders had followed these rules, which include some very old-fashioned concepts, such as making sure borrowers have the ability to repay their loans, I'd bet mortgage-backed securities wouldn't have collapsed over bad loans.  Changing the way mortgage brokers are paid also may help them focus on making good loans.  I think these are good changes, although the fact that they're needed is a sorry reflection on what many of us like to think of as the prerogatives of a free market.  Greed is hard to conquer.

Uncertainty reigns.  Perhaps you thought -- not long ago I did, and I went to law school -- that if Congress lays out a requirement in a statute, that's the rule to be followed.  For example, a few years ago Congress enacted some credit card changes that included specific language to explain on monthly statements the effect of making a minimum monthly payment.  The language appeared inside quotation marks and even used capital letters here and there.  I assumed that the prescribed language would eventually appear on my monthly statements.  But no, the Federal Reserve Board tweaked it after concluding it wouldn't achieve the intended effect.  Board bad?  Wrong, the statute itself permitted the Board to do just that.

The financial reform bill takes the same approach.  First, it provides that most of the rules won't take effect until the Bureau adopts regulations to implement them.  Second, it allows the new consumer watchdog (the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection) to tweak the rules if it wants to.  So what actually happens is going to depend on who heads the Bureau.

"I guess the lobbyists who've been paid gobs of money the past six months are going on vacation," says Virginia.

"Whoa-ho," I say.  "Far from it.  Their work has just started.  Now they have several years to lobby the regulators who must implement the bill.  What they've been paid so far is chicken feed."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Walking the Plank

I'm floundering in words -- words like systemic material risk nondepository institution subsidiary.  I'm walking the plank and the sea is full of them, snapping at me.  But I keep walking, do not jump, as I tame them, I must, one by one, into pods, comprehending.  A few will leak on my page, leaving stains to remove.  Okay, for if perfection were possible or desirable, the plank would be empty.

"Right?" says Virginia.  "Wrong.  Jump.  You and I are getting nowhere."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010



If I had a twin,
could we share boyfriends
and watch each other being me?
Would I have a guaranteed
best friend for life?
My luck, I’d go to prison
for something she did
and she’d forget to visit me on Sundays,
or my parents couldn’t afford
more than one of anything.
It would be tough
always trying to be better,
constantly seeking a way to stick out.
I like being twinless,
but does she?

These are the words to a song I wrote several years ago. The Arrowhead Trio will be performing it in a benefit concert Friday night, along with guest soprano, Catherine Gaylard.

The husband of the soprano who premiered this piece asked me this when he heard it, "What were you smoking when you wrote that?"

"He didn't know you very well, I guess," says Virginia.

True, but then how well does anyone really know anyone else? 

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Smiling Boar

Twice, for a second or two, I smelled paradise, a gentle perfume with a tiny hint of lemon, as I ran up and then down Thunder Ridge.  Maybe some vegetation had anxiously awaited today's generous raindrops.

My eyesight took its turn yesterday.  I crossed a creekbed as a huge hog gently lowered himself into the cool water.  I'd almost swear the corners of his mouth turned upwards as he sank deeper and deeper.  Even if I were nearly blind I would have recognized him as a boar, not a sow or a barrow.  Later, I passed a dead snake on the road.  Not an ordinary copperhead or black snake, its rattle must have caught my eye, or maybe the width of its carriage.  I stopped and returned to examine the timber rattlesnake.

The skies warned me this morning, so I surrendered to my stomach.  It cannot afford a summer without enough of our own corn to freeze, even if I should have been writing.  I attacked the winter wheat garden over by the goat paddock, hoed eleven trenches and dropped in enough seeds for 25 dozen ears if we're lucky.

"It's late for corn, isn't it?" says Virginia.

Seventy-three days takes us to the end of September, which should be plenty of time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Drafting Virginia

"Hattie's Valley?" Virginia sinks another nail.  "The name drew me."

"Hades Valley brought you down from the Trail?"  Sylvia's tape measure snaps as it rewinds.

"The sign said, 'Hattie's Valley Overlook.  Elevation 3400 feet,'" says Virginia.  "That's not Hades in mid-town Manhattan."

"Here neither.  We've got two languages, one spoken and one written.  Often the one's got nothing to do with the other."

"Three," says Virginia.  "I've heard y'all talkin' ta kinfolk.  Your turn.  What brought you here?"

"God planted me in this valley," Sylvia pauses. "Or the devil did."

"From what I've read," says Virginia, "Hattie was almost as amazing as you."

"The proof's in the pudding."  Sylvia hands Virginia the end of a chalk line.  "Hold tight, her great-great-great-granddaughter, or whoever you are."

"Don't be so sure. Sorry, I wasn't quite on the mark."  Virginia lets go as Sylvia winds it in.

"Heed this warning," says Sylvia, offering the blue line again. "Don't trust what you read.  A lot of the truth ain't there."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Super Rich

After what seemed like endless limbo, some of my watermelon seedlings got the urge to grow.  I wonder if there's still time for them to produce before the first frost.
A couple weeks ago I suddenly remembered we have hoses and a pump near the garden.  Mother Nature also began to chip in two nights ago.  These Georgia candy roasters look grateful.
Here's a sister squash, a late-blooming butternut.
"Enough with the squash," says Virginia.  "Don't you have something foreign?"

How about Chinese? 
These Chinese "yard-long" green beans offer two advantages: (1) one bean is equivalent to five or more regular-sized green beans; and (2) I don't have to bend over to pick them.

For another "foreign" project, a cellist friend from the Eastern Shore sent me several of her pomegranates.  I planted the seeds in a big pot in my greenhouse last Fall, then waited and waited, faithfully watering a couple gallons of dirt.  Finally, in late Spring, green appeared.  Weeds?  I don't know for absolute sure, but I transplanted them anyway, into smaller pots filled with super-rich soil donated by a friend.  Thank you, Scott.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rich or Poor

"A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them," writes Michael Gerson in today's Washington Post.  

Replace the word "party" with "person."  That's what happened in Germany under Hitler.  That's what happens when a teenager goes along with the crowd.  That's what happens if you and I sit silent when we know something wrong is going on.

A commentator in one of our local newspapers writes this week that "...our government defines the poor not by their lifestyle but by whether they fall into the lowest 15 percent of wage earners.  So, while it is true we have some actual poor that need assistance, under the government definition, 80 percent of our poor live in air-conditioned homes, 43 percent own their own home, 62 percent of those homes have cable and 31 percent have two or more cars parked in the driveway."

That sentence intrigues me.  Karen and I live in a house without air conditioning.  Does that make us rich or poor?  We own our home (most of it, that is).  Does that make us rich or poor?  Our home doesn't have cable, but it does have satellite reception.  Does that makes us rich or poor?  Right now, three vehicles are parked in our driveway.  Does that make us rich or poor? 

Several years ago, a couple who lived in a city spent a weekend with us.  Sunday afternoon, just before they left, the husband, shifting left and right, said he had one question he wanted us to answer.  "Why do you choose to live in such poverty?"

"I get it," says Virginia.  "Think Mother Teresa.  Was she rich or poor?  What would she think of air conditioning, an owned home, cable and cars, or of earning less than 85% of the crowd of wage-earners?"

Here is one of my few published poems.


Someone I know does not understand
how good it feels to cut firewood,
hang wet clothes on a line,
add garbage to a compost heap,
spade a new garden by hand,
and harvest sunflower seeds.
He calls it poverty.

The eye of the needle
spots me on the way to heaven,
hefting my sack of greenbacks,
glories won in wonder years,
deadly burdens dearly borne
while tending thriving gardens
dying refugees cannot taste.

I shovel manure into my pickup,
imagining it rich as gold,
but I am an imposter who knows
how tough it is to be simple
when being simple is not tough
and I cannot help thinking
someone I know might be right.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Volunteer Faces

This year my garden has been blessed with volunteers, at least two in this picture. (You may need to click on the picture to see the little fellow with his back to the camera.)
That picture doesn't show the majesty of this plant.
"That's not the same plant."  Virginia always keeps me straight.  Yes, it's a different plant, but the two to the right and left of the bloom in this picture are about the same height as the first one's stalk.

"What's the windmill?" Virginia asks.  It's a mole-chaser that spins around as the wind blows and sends vibrations down the pole into the soil, which, supposedly, moles don't like.  The reddish brown box on the locust post to the right of the mole-chaser is an ultrasonic DeerGuard, which doesn't power up any more for some reason I haven't figured out.  Fortunately, knock on wood, this year we haven't had any deer volunteering to nibble on our gardens.  A few rabbits run away whenever I approach the carrots.

I think this is a volunteer lettuce bloom.  I know it's a volunteer, might not be lettuce.  See the guy in the middle, with the green head and thorax?
"Don't peek!"

"Okay mom, I'm not quite ready anyway."

"Neither are we," says today's only models that are not volunteers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Words, Words

Our December and January snows melted long ago, seeped into aquifers underground or evaporated and now our air is as dry as Arizona on a damp day.  Our grasses have browned like winter wheat ready to harvest, worse in some spots, black, Karen says, as if a flash fire flew down from the James River Face.  I'm thinking about buying a pump to shift water from Elk Creek to my field garden, and a solar panel to power it or maybe I could harness the energy of the stream itself and microhydro the hydro.

Not really, instead I'm learning new definitions of residential mortgage loans, mortgage originators, prepayment penalties and high-cost mortgages.  Yes, mortgages.  For years I've resisted using that term that way.  A mortgage is the document filed to bind your home or other real estate to your lender, to ensure that you live up to the promissory note you signed when you borrowed money against your house.  You got a mortgage loan and gave a mortgage.  But I'm finally giving up.  Congress, in its new financial reform bill, uses the word both ways, as does everyone else.  I'm sorry, shoot, now I can't even remember your name -- the elder lawyer at Citicorp Mortgage who shook and shuddered when folks in the office said "mortgage" instead of "mortgage loan" -- you're the last of a breed, my friend.

It's nothing after all, no worse than saying the sun sets.

"Stop shaking," says Virginia.  "This, too, shall pass."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

So this is the official Independence Day holiday, the Monday after July 4.  A couple people recently impressed me with lessons about our government. "Judges," Elena Kagan declared during her confirmation hearing, "should realize that they're not the most important people in our democratic system of government."  And a week or so ago, one of our military leaders learned that generals (and "Team America?") also aren't the most important people in our democratic system of government.

"Who is?" says Virginia.

"We, the ordinary citizens, are," I say.  "Unfortunately, you, Virginia, don't qualify.  Now, now, don't get huffy.  You're important in other ways and, who knows, some day you might find ten minutes of fame."

So to celebrate, I'm going to return to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. On second thought, this would be a good day to re-read the U.S. Constitution:

Sunday, July 4, 2010


"You forgot to mention me yesterday," says Virginia.

"Yes, but I didn't forget you," I say, "when I wrote of ancient history, of continual fighting, I thought of grandfatherland.

When I think of grandfatherland I think of what some folks call solidarity, the concept that we, our ancestors and future generations are bound together in this time and place.  Our actions, like those of our ancestors, affect today and tomorrow. 

I like the phrase "memory of future times," which places the future in the present, something I think we must do, we have an obligation and responsibility to do.  We are stewards of the Earth, temporary managers for future generations.  As we make decisions, we must remember the future.

"We aren't very good at this," says Virginia.

No, too many of us have optimistic delusions that when the going gets really tough we or our descendants will save the Earth with answers pulled out of thin air.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nighttime Kayaking

Tonight the river was black, the sky sparkling with diamonds, as we kayaked home from the rapids about a quarter mile upstream.  No moonlight made our take-out more challenging than usual, and no use trying to dodge the poison ivy patches.  We had to wonder why we wait a year between these excursions.

Perhaps this seems like nonsense to people who persist in fighting over ancient history, religious differences, contrasting genes and other things they think divide them.  How sad.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Shave, Will Ya?

"Shave next time before you come see us."  It was a joking comment by a friend.  Should I?

Karen and I recently remembered a night when we laughed about our parents not taking showers for days.  It occurred back before our oil glands slowed down, when we cared much more than we do today about what others think of the way we look.

Not long ago, Karen suggested to a friend that some day she and I might return to spending money on wardrobes.  The friend said, "Please don't.  It wouldn't be you."

I added a blue-ful shirt to my collection Wednesday evening, a "race-worthy" synthetic number awarded to me for attending all 3 events in the House Mountain summer track series.  Polyester's come a long way since my first wedding day.

"You shaved today," says Virginia.  "Why?"

I find beards awkward in summertime.  Is it too late to shave my head, now that the rest of me has been toasted brown by sunshine?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Voice of Reason

"The sky is falling, the sky is falling," yell banking industry insiders, "community banks will have to sell out or close up shop because they won't be able to afford complying with the new requirements."

Other commentators write things like: "Yet, at the end of the day, essentially nothing in the entire legislation will reduce the potential for massive system risk as we head into the next credit cycle."

I suggested, yesterday, that each of us looks at a chair differently.  Those differences pale in comparison to the various ways we interpret written words.  As I write about the financial reform bill that languishes in the back rooms of the U.S. Capitol, I'm constantly balancing the two very different viewpoints expressed above.

You and I know better than to accept those views at face value.  They're devices, used to further their authors' bias and self-interest.  I think it's unfortunate that screamers of extreme viewpoints seem to get much, if not most, of the attention today.  I guess that's how money is made.

I hope our young people get the picture.  I suspect they're ahead of the rest of us, a generation or two farther removed than we from the grandmother who believed "if it's in writing, it's true."  They know better than to believe what they read on the Internet -- until they've rechecked with a variety of independent sources.

"So you're the voice of reason," says Virginia.