The GMO Antidote
I was once again ambitiously furthering my study into The Effects of Placing Multiple Hummingbird Feeders Directly Within Desk Seat Viewshed On Springtime “Work Space” Productivity when, instead, I suddenly found myself profoundly contemplating the dangers of endlessly reusing a dozen identical quart yogurt containers as Tupperware.
That is to say, I noticed from a resonant crack to my left second bicuspid that I had been eating a surprising quantity of very old pasta before discovering that it was not in fact last night’s tabouli. That, in turn, was when I found myself called away from the magazine column deadline I was testing (vis a vis the pull of the colorfully darting buzz of the busy hummingbird feeders) and down to the garden and orchard. No reply as yet on my proposed paper on this topic from the editors of the Journal of Ways To Statistically Categorize Causes of Lost Worker Productivity For Use as Graphs in Bad Newspapers. Hey, John Blutarsky had his Toga Party — for me a Work Break means meandering outside amidst the fruit trees and tomatoes. Usually in something considerably less confining than a toga.
Now, to the untrained observer, this might have looked like straight goofing off, AKA yet more lost worker productivity, but I had just reconnected the drip line timer the previous day, and a man trying to free himself from McGlobalization needs to eat. In other words, I had to take care of my (suppressing guffaw) chores at some point during the day, and I figured there’s no time like when not getting any inside work done.
I won’t soon forget that garden and orchard sojourn — for one thing, my fingers (and thus my barely under-warranty keyboard) are still a rich brown as I write, reminding me how quickly a desert can turn into worm-filled topsoil thanks to some goat poop and a little weeding.
But the main reason why this May “Work” “Break” will stick with me is that while gazing appreciatively at my recently-mulched and thus lush and leafy three-year-old plum tree, I saw with my own eyes the antidote to GMO — about eight thousand ladybugs, eating the pests that might do my putative debut autumn plum harvest harm (ah, to reach the stage where the orchard produces more than even the birds can sample!).
These good bugs, Lone Ranger-like, feast on the bad bugs, and then they move on. The beautiful living pesticide army in fully active mode before my eyes was both so blatantly organic and so patently effective that it not for the first time left me wondering, who was that first farmer was who said, “Hey, lay some of those carcinogenic chemicals on me. That sounds like a good plan”?
Forget about learning everything you needed to know in Kindergarten — my two-year-old completely groks natural pesticides. The good bugs eat the problem bugs (various mites and aphids) — he sees this, points and smiles. It’s so sensible and easy, and this is why I get enraged whenever confronted with the Non-Poison Surcharge — the extra price I pay as a consumer for “alternative” products that “add value” by not adding the carcinogens. Ah, well, I guess it’s Pay the Grocer Now And Not the Doctor Later. Yeah, that and I get airline miles for my monstrous food-dominated credit card bills.
And there was even more going on to finalize the bliss-inducing backyard wild kingdom experience into the Deeply Memorable category. It had to do with the “my work feels like play” dynamic that I’ve been hinting at throughout this Dispatch. As readers of Farewell, My Subaru will know, I originated in perhaps busiest demographic in the history of the Homo sapiens species. Where I grew up, the local Planetarium had to reduce its hours because of the 25/8 light pollution. Living In The Now, for the average suburban denizen in the 1980s, occupied perhaps one percent of existence. So the fact that I even notice a friendly ladybug pest-reduction assault strikes me as an incontrovertible blessing, when it comes to important-to-me concepts like Longevity and General Contentment. That said ladybugs save me from having to consider less palatable (or less goof-off-friendly) methods of tree protection just deepens the joy armor I wear as I go about my day.
Other plates in that armor include my on-board chuckle when I notice during travel (and after passing through security) that I have burrs and cactus spines embedded in my neoprene laptop case, and the daily appreciation I give for the sounds I can actually hear in this life I’ve carved out for myself, this Neo-Rugged Individualism that I’m making up as I go along. For instance, there’s the migrating songbird I think at first has to be some kind of complex new hotel digital clock alarm rebounding off the canyon from a neighboring arroyo, the hummingbird dive-bomb shriek that my toddler mimics so impressively, the vibrato raven laughing as my dog chases her away from her egg hunt inside the chicken coop, and most of all by far, what you might call the bass line, but also one of the band co-leaders; the background quiet in the desert air that allows me to discern all these other subtleties, so lost in the urban world. My alarm clock at this time of year, decidedly un-hotel-like, is the drumbeat of the resident quail family’s wings as its members are startled at sunrise by my cat’s approach. Would that hotels sampled that drum roll crescendo. It’s a fine way to awake.
Probably because simply being outside brings me so much pleasure, and for all my self-observation surrounding goofing-off (indeed this entire Dispatch can be read as an Ode to Distraction. but then what, really, is the advantage of sticking to one line of thought or action?), I notice I linger at my outside chores (ranching being one third of my work day), and tend to do them well and completely. To name a few of this day’s: tree water system checking (including various valve tightenings and leak mitigation), rhubarb gathering (my sweetheart’s been talking of making a pie if presented with components), egg gathering, and, of course, the traditional (and twice-daily) goat-milking-while-watching-an-owl-couple-high-atop-the-sepia-butte-teach-its-fledgling-how-to-fly (believe me, it already knows how to hoot to the point of human sleep disruption).
But the ladybugs were the icing on the rhubarb pie. It’s another good sign, I believe, when your life-affirming, day-dissolving, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” Absolute Now adventures tend to happen in your Home Space. When your Special Occasions occur in the everyday. I mean, I watched those ladybugs for more than an hour, pulling myself away only briefly to grab my camera and ignore a growing number of panicky emails from my editor. I felt I had to get back to this ancient soil — by which I mean Cambrian, much of the dirt here in my valley — and a thriving orchard partly vitamin-supplemented by my son’s placenta.
And it was a good decision: I can usually tell when my spirit is in The Zone, because the Ranch’s extended fauna family, both wild and allegedly “domestic,” like to be near. They recognize and I think feed off the energy — while at the same time adding to mine. After ten minutes of gazing at a plum tree, I noticed a quail on the nearest fence post, a cat tangled around my legs, and several Technicolor lizards apparently meditating next to the drip line.
I felt both so moved and so educated by the ladybug, in fact, that I decided to take the rest of the afternoon “off” (I also give thanks frequently that if such a day is “off,” then I’m very rarely “on”) and reward myself by immersing in an activity that in my spiritual pantheon, I’m thinking more and more, might be a fairly significant catalyst for bringing about whatever your phrase is for the Next Stage of Development for Conscious Beings On This Planet.
What is that activity? Well, I’m not so much teaching my son how to ride a bike (we wouldn’t get too far in the rocky canyons that surround the Funky Butte Ranch, though for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has read it, we sure relate to the Berenstain Bear’s book The Bike Lesson). Rather, I’m teaching him to read and run wild rivers.
Whenever conditions allow, on a spare truck innertube.
When considering the safety of members of my family, I like to do a cost/benefit analysis before engaging in any activity, recreational or otherwise. The cost of mistakes while innertubing are generally low: a little shivering if the weather changes, and in an extreme situation, perhaps the odd contusion. And the benefits? My son’s learning that a river, like the universe itself, might have its dangers, but at equilibrium it wants you to flow smoothly downstream — and what’s more, to flow in joy approaching a safety-minded ecstasy.
In other words, innertubing provides an invaluable lesson: “Work with the River — there’s no need to fight it.” This, I strongly believe, is the Cosmic Equilibrium — all you have to do is stay calm and remember it in nearly any situation. It’s worked for me from Rwanda to Burma, to that toughest of environments in our galaxy, kayaking with a humpback whale in an Alaskan fjord while trying to record its blowhole exhalation on a fragile digital recorder to the satisfaction of an NPR sound engineer in Washington, DC.
My conclusion after a decade of engaging in this activity with all of (or more than) the frequency that grown-up life generally allows: innertubing in the wilderness pretty much without fail provides guaranteed benefits that far outweigh potential cost. For this reason alone, I request all readers for whom this lesson resonates to contact the International Olympic Committee (https://secure.registration.olympic.org/en/faq/ask-question) and lobby for Wild River Innertubing to become an officially-sanctioned Summer Games event.
You think ratings won’t skyrocket (I mention this so our emails speak the IOC’s language)? C’mon, it’s Huck Finn, a National Geographic Special, and NASCAR all at once. I think even the Greeks would have approved. I mean, the ancient ones, not the debt-ridden ones. I envision the whole spectrum of exciting developments that accompany wildly popular new sports: colorful tube sponsors, youth facilities built in Zambia and Paraguay, and controversial Space Age river gear donned unexpectedly by the Czeck team.
The sensation of riding along one of nature’s most powerful forces on a cushion of air combines the soothing chi massage of the baby bouncy chair with a unplanned roller coaster ride. Fun stuff, and that’s before you get into, in my region, the hawks, Anasazi pictographs, sienna hoodoos absorbing long-angled late afternoon sunlight, and other bliss-enhancing elements of the local dÃ©cor. The specifics will differ regionally, of course, but if you’re tubing on a wild river, the effect will be life-enrichingly beautiful.
This is not the first time I’ve expounded on the virtues and benefits of hard-core river innertubing. But my secret agenda here is spreading the good kind of virus — what I know happens to anyone who hits a river in any kind of vessel, the innertube being the cheapest and easiest to acquire for a family on a spontaneous Living In the Now binge. In my own case, the results are so consistent and extreme that whenever I find that things are not flowing according to joy approaching a safety-minded ecstasy, I hit the river again to remember and invariably recharge. Provided I remember to stop on the way to fill the tubes (and ignore the right-wing propaganda) at the excellent free air pump of McGintry’s General store.
This is probably because the sport of recreational innertubing is, at core, a day in the wilderness with friends or loved ones. Perhaps most importantly, my research, admittedly anecdotal but thus far incontrovertible, shows that the River Tubing Practitioner will not end up admiring or emulating any of the following:
Any petroleum company executive
Anyone at Fox News (unless they’re all engaged in a long April Fool’s prank)
Bouncing back to the ranch house happy and wet via vegetable oil power at evening goat-milking time, I must still have been firmly in Olympic Planning mode, because when I plopped down at the keyboard just before sunset so as to make my column deadline (or, alternately, for further goofing-off as research for my as-yet not accepted scholarly productivity loss article) I saw what looked to be a particularly Gymnastic and blindingly school bus yellow oriole, angling for the hummingbird nectar by coming at the straw tip of one of my blown glass feeders upside down. It was distractingly impressive.
This, too, I thought, would make a terrific human event. Sure, the pommel horse routine in its current form is no doubt challenging enough, but ask that four foot-tall Romanian teenager to grab a cracker topped with brie while pommeling — and eat it before dismounting, perhaps while balancing on one claw, I mean hand. Then we’re in “better’n a video game” territory. Sadly, I have only limited confidence in the IOC seriously considering what to me seem to be these sensible suggestions. Too bad the Olympic honchos seem to spend so much time bogged down in petty bribery scandals and opening ceremony pissing contests (that seems to be the real gold medal event for home country organizers).
Ah, well. Most people mean well. So these days I try to cut â€˜em a little slack, whether its routine corruption, or an oil company deception attack. Most untenable behavior seems to stem from some kind of personal insecurity. Most of us have been there — that’s how you learn. For me, much of the education comes from creatures like ladybugs and activities like innertubing. But how can I cast stones? I might find myself in a state of less insecurity and corruption than some, but in several parts of modern existence, I seem unable to learn despite multiple lessons.
For instance, even now, as I type, I am still absentmindedly taking bites from my ancient petrified pasta yogurt container, instead of investing the twelve seconds necessary to take as many steps to the solar-powered fridge to seek out and consume the deliciously fresh (and much safer) tabouli dwelling within either yogurt container numbers two, three or five. This could go into my productivity loss research as evidence of how difficult it is to distract me when I’m inspired. But it’s probably just a Homer Simpson-like laziness — other, if arguable, food is at hand.
So I guess you take your education where you can. I’ll try to live as though my actions can provide perhaps one-quadrillionth of the energy required to bring about some kind of wonderful Next Phase for Conscious Beings. Hopefully there’ll be room for stale pasta-eaters when that happens. Or maybe a characteristic of that Era will be that the freshest meal comes to you. If so, perhaps we’re almost there, because just as these words are out of my fingers, my sweetheart, tired of seeing (and hearing) me eat fossilized wheat, has brought me some tabouli on a an actual plate: “Tip your waitresses,” I hear myself saying to my son, who is just out of the bath. “We’re here all life.”
Meanwhile, If I’m going to get any “work” done this day, I realize I’m going to have to curtain about twenty feet of sliding glass window that fronts the Funky Butte Ranch house’s Southwest (and therefore full of solar feng shue) view — a step I’m not eager to take. It would be like stopping a good movie in the middle.
Everywhere I look I see beauty. Even if I tear my eyes away from what’s outside the window, the first thing I see inside is my tomato seedlings blasting out oxygen on the windowsill. The continuous therapy session that is my everyday life seeps over into the other senses (thanks to the tabouli gift, no longer even with the notable exception of my poor, abused, ancient-pasta-eating sense of taste). OK, OK, I’m going to sign off this Dispatch and focus on my magazine deadline. Unless the orchard drip system needs one more check before bed. Oh, hold on a second: I haven’t seen that kind of hummingbird yet this spring.
Vote For Innertubing!
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