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Farm To Farm

I was planning to plant peas Sunday morning. The moon was nearly full and therefore it should be a good time to put seeds in the ground to sprout. It was also a good time for digging fence post holes, according to the old timers. The full moon really does exact the same sort of magnetism on our soil as it does the ocean waters, which is massive when you really contemplate the rise and fall of the tides on three quarters of this planet.

The soil really is looser at the full moon. Seedlings feel the tug. They want to sprout.

After getting coffee in town I grabbed a pound of sugar snap pea seeds, a heavy hoe, and headed out to the garden that had only been worked with the disk, once. I carried a can of beer along just in case the whole idea called for more thought. It did, it turned out. The soils had been compacted by the winter rains, the cows and chickens. I chopped the hoe into the ground and shook my head, thinking I'd be a fool to plant the peas before working the soil again with the tractor. I leaned the hoe against the fence and started up the old, eccentric International, hitching it to this subsoiler implement that works the ground down about 14 inches or more. It's like the rippers they pull with caterpillars before planting grapes, only this one is small enough that our little row crop trac­tor can handle it. Several years ago the folks at the Apple Farm in Philo loaned this tool to me, and hope­fully they forgot about it because they never asked me to return it. What I like the most about this imple­ment is that it loosens the soil more than a foot deep without disturbing its layers or killing the earth­worms.

In the process of pulling this ripper I was marking out the rows for the whole spring and summer, so I tried to keep the whole deal straight, but my mind wasn't thinking in a line. It was out of sorts. It all had to do with this package that I'd received in the mail several days earlier.

It'd gotten this notice in the mail that there was a parcel – a box – for me, and that this time I needed to pay in order to claim the box. I guess the sender had not paid the full shipping. It struck me as odd because what I was expecting was a quarter pound of water­melon seeds from this company in Texas. It is this va­riety, Mickey Lee, this pale icebox melon, that seems to tolerate our chilly summer nights. The fruit is nearly seedless, with only a few dozen seeds in each ripe specimen. I've been growing and observing this particular strain since I was 16, back in Indiana, and only two springs ago when we had the terrible drought the darned gophers ate the remnants of nearly two decades of breeding. They tunneled up and down the rows, evidently, devouring every planted watermelon seed, and it wasn't but a few weeks later that my latest ex left me, took the kids with her. I haven't had the heart to plant watermelons since.

It turned out that the package wasn't from a seed company though. It was from my ex-woofer, Diana Winter, who is apparently now living in Sebastapol, working as a waitress in some organic restaurant. She sent me a birthday present with an accompanying let­ter. The nuances of the letter's content don't belong in a local newspaper, but the general gist was that she was encouraging me to enjoy some hot nights with Amy.

Amy who? I thought, until I'd returned to the farm and slit open the box that was wrapped in some festive parchment. Amy Goodman, it turned out. Amy Goodman is the anchor of a really depressing news show on public radio in the mornings. My ex-woofer, Diana, had listened to the show religiously until I'd begged her to either shut that stuff off or go and play it in private. It was too much bad news in the mornings. I'm already depressed enough.

It was an Amy Goodman blow-up doll. At least that's what it claimed to be. I've never seen Amy Goodman. She sounds like she looks like that, anyway. I tried placing the blow-up doll on the bench in our barn but the open-face fire pit spit a spark that melted a hole in her thigh right away. When it started hissing my blue heeler tore into the plastic flesh like it was a beachball. It's in the garbage, now, another wad of useless petroleum by-product.

But, you know what they say, It's the thought that counts. ¥¥

Letter from London

A Few Words Concerning But Not Limited To The Nonsense That Is Celsius: When I get off the plane at Heathrow it is raining. The temperature is zero degrees, a phrase I care never to hear again. True, they have some quirky thing over here in Britain called Celsius, which means I never really know how cold it is. Celsius, as far as I can tell, has only a vague relationship to actual situation on the ground. Zero, 8, 11 (oh, don’t tease me!), —1... all I know is that me knobs are beginning to stick. But it could all be sim­pler, for in London there are only five basic tempera­tures: I’m Dying; I’m Close To Dying; Me Cod Stick Is Blue; Yeti Again; and, Barely Acceptable. Please keep in mind that “Barely Acceptable,” while theo­retically possible, is never achieved, like peace in the Middle East or a pleasant day with books inside the medium security prison known as Ukiah High School. I have lived in Boston. I have endured a winter in New York City. I have even managed to survive a month in my friend David’s Ithaca lair during one par­ticularly arctic February, where I felt as if I was trapped in the final scene of THE SHINING, where Jack Nicholson is lost in the maze during a blizzard. But for my first few weeks here, I have never been colder in my life. The key has been a change in phi­losophy, and an enthusiastic embrace of underwear in all its forms: long underwear, short underwear, nubby underwear, ruby unwear, underwear fashioned from hot coals and string cheese, and then a liberal use of live geese and radioactive plutonium. It’s almost enough.

My first apartment is near Lancaster Gate, a block off Hyde Park. I have no idea what that means, except that the specificity is somehow reassuring. Hyde Park is beautiful, spacious and alarmingly clean. A public space not strewn with litter and drunk homeless peo­ple shouting at you for money? Is this even legal in San Francisco? For two straight weeks I run in the park, watch old men and young children feed the swans at Round Pond, and spy Russian women in mini-skirts and tall leather boots push strollers. How crazy is that! It is only on day 15 that I see a homeless gentleman; moreover, this man is carefully picking up cigarette butts and arranging them in a neat pile near a rubbish bin. Why he doesn’t put them in the trash is puzzling, but his forlorn temple of stubbed out Marl­boros and Pall Malls may be a justification for his presence: even in his unfortunate circumstances, the passers-by will see his contribution to society, his respect for the park by picking up bits of trash fallen from more prosperous lips and pockets.

The company has rented me a new flat, this time on the border of Little Venice and Maida Vale (that’s all I know). A minute walk to the left and I’m on a tony street with two of the best bakeries/upscale delis I’ve ever experienced: Baker and Spice, and Raoul’s. The only downside is that throngs of Americans fre­quent both, though better behaved than in Larkspur or Oakland. There are also a couple homeless people begging outside the Tesco grocery store, so that reminds me of San Francisco, too.

If I turn right from my front door I am only a block from Edgeware Road, which is full of cheap Lebanese restaurants, hookah bars, and merchants selling carpets and elephant sculptures. As I consider myself a happy-go-lucky manic depressive, I am pleased with my new location. True, I am now a twenty-five minute walk from Hyde Park (or five minutes by Tube), but I have nearby the canals and not too off Regent’s Park, another public green full of trees and fields and grand, bucolic emptiness.

Hours or days later, we are poking around an exqui­sitely decrepit hunting lodge/convent/condo development somewhere north, south, east or west of London. Normally I am not this hapless with direc­tion but zero Celsius (see above) has made nonsense of my compass, moral and otherwise. The gentleman who manages the property is an ex-biker with the knuckle tattoos to prove it. His old menace is still visible mostly in the way he peers suspiciously at the end of his cigarette before flinging it away: his hard stare says, See what happens to rats? You sold me out, and now you’re going to pay. The property manager is easily imagined forty years ago overseeing midnight drops from Marseilles. Now he rents a local stream to seasonal fishermen, and ensures that the rose bushes are properly cut. The other interesting bit about the manor is that there are seven ghosts. One is a Catholic monk who was hanged by King Henry VIII for refusing to swear off the Vatican; he appears occa­sionally amongst the trees at twilight. The second is the White Lady, who shuffles through the upper halls. A third apparition is the Green Lady, who prefers the back staircases, but is known to occasionally search the library for volumes long departed. That leaves four others, but I am too shy to ask.

Inside massive Paddington Station, a massive con­fluence of trains headed out in every direction except straight up. Policemen are interrogating a man wear­ing a sandwich board detailing his career in block let­ters. The gist is that he cannot advertise for a job in such a manner inside the station. With polite anger he insists his only crime is be made redundant. He is in a suit with polished leather brogues. He qualifica­tions include accounting, managing a staff of 15, a degree in economics. In smaller type near the edges it states that he enjoys rugby, comic theater and playing with his children. As he is led away by the apologetic cops, I blunt my shame by turning toward the only real thing that can give an American comfort: materi­alism.

Soon I am in a cell phone store, listening to the kid spout off different plans and rates and data trans­fer speeds. When I ask if night and weekend minutes are free, he says no. I tell him that it is frankly un-American to not include free minutes. We saved your asses from the Jerries, and this is our thanks? Eventu­ally, because I am convinced that the google map function for finding Tube stops, PepsiCo restaurants and British Air kiosks will prove handy in this massive city, ipay for an iphone. As ileave and istand on the sidewalk, irealize the awful truth, ilost.

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