Recently, I watched Urban Roots, a documentary on the urban agriculture movement in Detroit, Michigan. The film was released in 2011, just as the Motor City approached the height of its fiscal and governmental crisis. The state of Michigan assumed control of the city in 2012, and the city declared bankruptcy in 2013.
During the past several weekends, I have been cleaning up my garden to prepare for the coming winter months. Bit by bit, I approached this annual seasonal project: I pulled up the remaining pepper and tomato plants, pruned bushes and shrubs, dumped potting soil into the compost bin and pile, put away chairs and tables, and swept the deck.
Now, a crispness has settled upon the ground blanketed by fallen leaves. The garden is empty and silent. Even the squirrels and birds have quieted down. All that remains is a fig tree awaiting its protective wrapping. Once I cover this tree, the season shall officially conclude. I shall visit the garden when I need a moment of reflection, but there will be no more long meals with my wife or drinks with our friends until next spring.
When my wife and I purchased our home several years ago, we found ourselves faced with a multitude of immediate and long-term repairs and projects. Our new home was over a century old with beautiful interior flourishes and the proverbial “good bones.” Although we lived in a lovely remodeled apartment during the first three years of our marriage, this was our first true home. Building a home for our shared future invigorated and inspired us.
One of our first projects was to transform the weedy, hard dirt patch behind our house into a proper backyard. I quickly discovered my latent passion for gardening, likely inherited from my paternal grandmother. I read books, websites, and blogs about gardening, homesteading, and simple living. The long recent recession and the evisceration of the middle class have led to a renewed interest in such hobbies and skills throughout America. We’re rediscovering our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ home economics and tricks for stretching the budget and the larder.
My interests in gardening and simple living dovetail with natural foods, health, and a distrust of global corporations. To put it mildly, I find myself uncomfortable with the constant barrage of advertising and media surrounding us and the steady praise of consumption in our society. I try to lead a simple life. Just like every mortal, I am a bundle of contractions, failings, and hypocrisies. Nonetheless, my research included watching documentaries about the Amish, delving into novels set in a candy-coated future after technological collapse, and perusing websites spinning comical predictions and conspiracy theories.
Memorial Day ushers in the summer for most Americans. When I was a child, summer days burst with wonder and adventure. Even the most jaded adult, I believe, still clings to a notion of summer as a time of leisure, pleasure, and contentment all tinged with magic. Sit in your yard or your neighborhood park and listen to the birds sing as the evening falls. Then, tell me if you disagree.
Since my wife and I bought our home, gardening has become my warm-weather avocation. Each year, we attempt to plant more flowers, more vines, and more vegetables. Some plants thrive and bestow us with a bounty of color and even food. Others sadly sit in the soil until giving up the ghost.
While tending to our tomato plants or sitting beneath the comforting shade of our cherry trees, I find myself experiencing the aforesaid wonder of a child. I watch the bees buzz from blossom to blossom. I listen to the squirrels dash across the fence. I breathe in the wet scent of the earth. I feel the refreshing touch of the wind upon my skin. In the garden, I lose sight of the world, its troubles and my own.
The Brainery is a fascinating place. Most nights, and sometimes twice per night, the Brainery offers classes and lectures for a low cost. The subjects range from the erudite to the outright obscure. Interested in home-brewing? There might be a class. Interested in contemporary Australian parliamentary politics? There might be a class. Interested in iconic perfume bottles? There might be class.
At first blush, the Brainery seems to offer the over-educated, creative denizens of New York something new and quirky; however, the model is old and tested. Lectures were a popular mainstay of intellectual and public life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably the Chautauqua movement. Aspiring citizens from all educational and economic segments of society attended such events to expand their minds, build an understanding of the arts, and learn about the world beyond their own tiny corners of America. Education and cultural enrichment were valued. A grasp of current affairs, scientific discoveries, and literature stood as a sign that one seriously embraced his (or her) role as a responsible, respectable citizen of the republic. How much our society has changed. Continue reading