There is a major thunderstorm happening outside here at this old house. A lot of people got caught on the trails and are soaked. Some are running through the driving rain; others have given up and are just walking, wringing out sopping wet shirts as they go.

We have had a fair amount of rain this summer, always a blessing in a semi-arid, high desert environment. Our relatives in California are in a severe drought. Their town is nearly out of water and they are making plans to begin hauling water in from somewhere far away. A water tank will need to be installed in the neighborhood and cost estimates for all of this are high. Those lawns and swimming pools are going to be even more expensive than they are normally.

The American lawn is an environmental nightmare in so many ways. The fertilizer and water required to keep it green and the weed killer needed to keep it pristine are not ultimately wise choices. Run-off of the chemicals make their way into our streams and rivers and finally, our faucets, affecting fish and other wild life along the way to their impact on us. Using our yards to grow fruit trees and vegetables or to graze animals makes so much more sense and is actually historic.

This link is a fascinating history of how green lawns got started in America: http://www.american-lawns.com/history/history_lawn.html. Originally, it was just the wealthy who could afford groundskeepers to scythe the grass who had the expansive lawns that seem so normal now. Even the White House used to have sheep grazing on the front lawn. It was the English who loved their lawns and as Americans traveled there in the early part of the 20th century, they came back with the idea of doing lawns here. Combine the interests of the US Golf Association with the Department of Agriculture and suddenly research on grass became big business.The American dream of the 1950s and 1960s,a house in the suburbs with a big lawn, suddenly became possible.

I grew up in one of those scenarios. No one ever seemed to be in their front yards except to mow or weed. Even we kids played in the backyard. It became another level of social isolation as many backyards were fenced or surrounded by bushes that kept people apart from each other. Imagine if in my childhood neighborhood, women were out front working vegetable gardens during the day. It seems to me there would have been more socializing that took place naturally and the whole phenomena of no one knowing their neighbor would not have taken such deep root.

Besides wasting water, another reason for us to convert our lawns to food production is that, as we get further away from producing our own food, we become out of touch with what food is supposed to be. We think that so many of what are really edibles are the same as food. For example, Cheetos are edible but are not food. We allow a lot of bad things to go in our food that we aren’t even aware of! Many of us have lost the sense of what things are supposed to taste like and so we don’t realize how bad our food really is. The classic example is the grocery store tomato picked weeks ago and trucked to a store hundreds of miles away. It can’t be picked ripe as it would rot so they are artificially ripened. If you walk outside and pick a tomato that goes straight into your salad, you are eating it at its peak ripeness, sun finished and tasting as Mother Nature intended it to. How many people really know what a tomato is supposed to taste like? Also, the homogeneity that comes from hybridization sets us up for crop failure, among other things. And, what we might gain in length of storage, we lose in taste.

I had a first-hand experience with this when we went to France. I am non-celiac gluten intolerant and eat gluten-free. I had heard that the food in Europe is “cleaner” and that many non-celiac gluten intolerant people can eat the bread there. I found it to be true. I ate everything in Europe and felt better than I do eating gluten-free here. I could even drink red wine at night. Without the sulfates, it didn’t bother me like it does here. Europe understands that food need to be local and fresh to taste good. They use minimally processed ingredients in many of their dishes. [Note: one has to be careful talking about processed food. Peeling a potato is a form of processing it. The problem becomes when food is highly processed. A potato chip is a far cry from its origin as a potato.]

Some are sounding the alarm that we may be coming to a crisis with our food sources. Agri-business, with all the chemicals used to sustain mono-crop farming, may be behind the bee colony collapse. Farmers dependent on a certain kind of herbicide for a genetically-modified crop sets up the potential for massive crop failure when the insects mutate around the effectiveness of the herbicide. It seems we may have to convert our grass lawns into gardens at some point soon. Wouldn’t it make sense to get a head start on that before a crisis hits? Even those who live in apartments can often find a place to have a pot of herbs or a tomato plant on a balcony or in a window sill. Anything you can do is useful and will help raise children with an awareness that food is a product of the earth, not the local supermarket.

Someone once said that human life survives on earth because it rains and there is 6″ of top soil. May we do all we can to care for and celebrate both.

My web site had an error in it. We are working to fix that. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Here at this old house, we, like many, have been grieving Robin Williams’ death. The Mork and Mindy house is here in Boulder and it has become quite a shrine. A constant stream of people, some from long distances, have brought signs to hang on the fence, placed candles and flowers on the front sidewalk, have taken pictures, or stood in silence. After one choir rehearsal, the singers trooped down the street and sang an arrangement of “Abide With Me” for the mourners who were there. We know the people who own the house; I haven’t yet asked them what it has been like to live with virtually no privacy these past several days.

Here is a link to what the house looks like today: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_26322166 The first picture below is what it looked liked in the 1970s. In the video that the newspaper provided, a gentleman talks about Robin Williams spending a lot of time in the house. In truth, only the outside of the house was used in the TV series; all the inside shots were filmed in a studio. How many others assumed that what we saw in the TV show is the actual inside of this particular house?

What does it mean to live in a tourist destination? We in this old house gets some of that as people walk through our National Landmark neighborhood. My husband, especially, when he is gardening will get questions from people, wanting to know about the park or how to find the trailhead. Occasionally, I will see someone taking a picture. The most nerve-wracking moment I had was before we added a shed-roof sleeping porch to the back. I came upstairs one day to see people on the hiking trail below the house staring up into my bedroom window with binoculars. It took me a moment to realize they were watching birds at the bird feeder! (This was back in the day when we still had a seed feeder. The new sleeping porch blocked the view of it from the kitchen and the bears were always taking it down so we gave up and now only feed hummingbirds; see last week’s post.)

The house in which Jon Benet Ramsey was murdered is only a few blocks away from this old house (see bottom picture). People still drive by and take pictures of that, years after that tragedy occurred. The house has been sold several times and had some modifications to it but I wonder how many more years will go by before the stigma of that tragic night is no longer attached to that building in present memory.

People are drawn to structures and places where significant events happened. Battlefields, Presidential homes, historic mining towns, celebrity homes in Hollywood–all hold our interest and fascination. We want to have a tangible sense of where an event, distant past or more recent, took place. We try to imagine the people who lived there or what the event must have been like. With the Mork and Mindy house, people are recalling episodes from the TV series and remembering where they were when they ran into Robin Williams unexpectedly.

Our homes are not neutral. They have histories, short or long. I have often wished the walls of this old house could talk. Oh, the stories they would tell! That is true of all of our homes, large or small, single-family or multi-unit dwellings, owned or rented. It is the lives lived within the walls that “make a house a home.”

However heart-warming it may sound, though, that cliche isn’t exactly true because in some cases, the stories unfolding within the walls destroy any sense of home for the occupants. The stories are ones we seek to flee and forget. One of the powerful scenes for me in the movie “Forest Gump” was when Forest and Jenny go back as adults to her childhood home (a run-down shack in a cornfield) in Alabama. It had been the place of sexual abuse and other unspeakable horrors for Jenny. She starts crying and throws stones at it until she collapses on the ground. Forest has it bull-dozed. Some things are not redeemable.

I will be interested to see how long the shrine for Robin Williams continues to grow. What will our friends do with all the tributes? Will the Boulder history museum take them for some future display? When will they get to enjoy their home in private again? It is a tension when you own something everyone wants to connect with. Where are appropriate boundaries for having a life and letting people have a place of pilgrimage? Each case is different, I suspect, and right now, the Mork and Mindy home front sidewalk is holding a lot of memories and emotions.

 

I just had to re-fill the hummingbird feeder here at this old house. The hummingbirds are draining it nearly daily these days. They, too, have felt the rounded-corner turn into autumn and are stocking up for their long migratory flights. We have Broad-tailed hummingbirds, with iridescent fuchsia throats and bright green bodies, all summer and Rufous ones, with iridescent orange throats and rust-colored bodies, starting about mid-July. The latter come down from Alaska, stopping here on their way to Mexico and even South America, and really heat things up at the feeder. (The Broad-tailed and Rufous females are nearly indistinguishable from each other though I feel the Rufous females are more “nervous” than the Broad-tailed.)

The male Rufous does not like any other hummingbirds on “his” feeder, especially the Broad-tailed males. Ideally, we would have two feeders: one for the Rufous male to defend as his own and one for all the rest but with the bears and the racoons to also think about, we only have a good spot for one feeder.  When the Rufous males are fighting with each other and with the Broad-tailed males, they make the Harry Potter Quidditch game look slow. I have been sitting on the back deck as one-ounce dive bombers flying close to 60 mph have swooped by, a rush of wind in my face or hair. How they manage to not hit me or the apple tree is mind-boggling though there has been more than one occasion where I wondered if they went in one ear and out the other.

Creation is marvelous. So much variety and color. So many interesting and funny animals, plants, birds and fish to observe. How anyone can mis-use or abuse animals or the earth in any way baffles me. It is a form of self-destruction, really. When we don’t remember that we, too, are a part of creation ourselves, it is like sawing the limb off the tree while sitting on its outer edge. Not only is the tree affected but the person sawing goes down with the limb. In the years ahead, I fear, we will be seeing a lot more destruction within Nature as humanity has tipped the natural cycles past the point of return. It reminds me of an off-balanced washer load that spins wildly, making a loud noise and destroying the delicate balance in the spin cycle. Nothing good comes of it–the clothes aren’t spun out and the washer mechanism is ultimately ruined–unless someone intervenes and re-balances the load. How that will happen on a global scale with billions of people who can’t or won’t work together for a solution is beyond me.

Already, the hummingbirds are arriving earlier in their arrival window due to the warming climates around the globe. Will I someday have the hummingbird feeder out ten months a year, instead of the 5 I used to do 25 years ago? Hummingbirds may seem expendable when it comes to finding oil and gas for human life but what kind of life for humans would there be with no hummingbirds to go zinging through the trees? What kind of starvation would humanity face if all the bees died off and there was nothing to pollinate the crops? The tiny things as well as the big things in Creation all have their place and when a hole due to extinction is created, the fabric of Nature begins to unravel.For me, that is why the small steps I can take of recycling, driving less, using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs make a difference because in Nature, one may seem like an insignificant number. However, a vast multitudes of ones can make or break the natural order of things.

The first hummingbird of the season, one lone, tiny creature at the feeder, is a day of celebration at our house each year. It is a day to know that the circle of Life is still spinning properly, that the days of total unbalance have not yet arrived. God bless the hummingbirds.

 

 

We are in transition here at this old house. The first whiffs of autumn have floated by: that certain quality of air that will be more consistent as we move closer to September, trees loaded with green apples, warm days with very cool nights, a dark blue sky only seen in fall. The historic summer community is mostly gone except for those who own houses and are able to live here, out of the Texas heat, well into September and October. The tenants of the owners that rent their houses during the academic year have begun to move in. Those of us who live here year round will educate them to the ways of living in this community: Quiet Hours, though the afternoon ones will end in a couple of weeks, interfacing safely with the wild animals, respectful parking on narrow streets, not driving the wrong way on the thoroughfares, even though it can be faster and more convenient to exit the park that way “when no one is coming up.”

Living well in community has to be taught, especially in this day and age when too many children raise themselves in front of a screen. Also, when you are used to not knowing your neighbors, having people who interact regularly with each other, who watch what goes on in the neighborhood, can be an intimidating sensation. The “right to privacy” is an important part of the American psyche but we need to look out for each other, care for each other and we can’t do that if we don’t have any idea who is living next door.  People with no experience of community either in their childhood neighborhood or with a close extended family are clueless as to what living in community means. Like lifelong urban dwellers who are frightened by wilderness, true community can feel like a negative to people used to living in virtual isolation in their homes.

Some of the characteristics of good community include:

Knowing your neighbors’ names and basic life circumstances (where they work or go to school, who their kids are, what kind of car they drive).

A sense of how they live. For example, does your neighbor come home every day at the same time or do their work hours vary? Do they always mow their lawn at 7 AM on Saturday mornings? Do they go to church on Sunday mornings or sit on their deck reading the paper? Would you know if something looked amiss at their house based on a sense of what “normal” means for them?

One cul de sac neighborhood I am aware of met each other for the first time at a potluck initiated by one couple. A map of the neighborhood was given to each attendee so that they could fill in the name, phone number and/or e-mail address of the occupants. This was not only for safety reasons but for working together, if desired. Who has a generator? Who has a very tall extension ladder? Who could be called to run check on your house in an emergency? The end result was everyone loved meeting the other people on their small street and having a sense of who was who. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t done something like this before! A simple evening but one with potentially profound implications for future connections.

I know at this old house, whenever the bears are around in the fall, the phone starts ringing. Not only do we all want to see them (from a safe distance, of course) but we want to alert others to their presence so that doors or windows can be closed, dogs be taken in, bird feeders brought in, and the garbage cans secured. The next morning, we share stories of what the bear did in whose yard.

Our neighborhood is pretty safe, even as public as it is, and some of that is due to the fact that we all watch out for each other. We know what is normal on our streets. After the historic floods last September, we all gathered spontaneously and shared stories and food to comfort ourselves from the shock of Nature’s power in our little stream valley. It felt good to know that we were not alone, that there were people to call even in the night when the water was pouring over the road and threatening our house.

Community takes time and effort. It can be messy. Not everyone will like everyone else. People will be selfish and insensitive. Some people will just be odd and quirky but the overall benefit of knowing your neighbors, of having someone to look out for you as you look out for them, is priceless. Even when your community changes frequently, as it does here at this old house, the effort of being “neighborly” is well worth it. You never know when it might make a real difference in your life.

 

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