Earthy stuff

(Two attempts)


Farming, the way it is done almost everywhere in the U.S., requires tons of fertilizer every time a field is replanted. With every hard rain, quite a bit of that same fertilizer washes off, running into nearby waterways and polluting them. When the crop ripens, machines or hands harvest it, and later the soil is ripped up and plowed under, so that all the plant stubble is buried, the dirt turned, and less fertile earth is nearest the top. Therefore we need to start over again with the fertilizer — not to mention weedkiller and pesticide — for the next planted crop.

Here and there you can find a farmer practicing a different method of commercial farming. It requires little or no fertilizer, because the ground is not plowed and left bare when it’s time to plant the next seeds.

If you look at a meadow, forest, or even your yard, you can see wild unchecked growth. Everything gets greener and more lush as time goes on. The old grass and plant life stays right there and the new growth starts on top of the old, which provides nutrients and fertilizer because it rots or composts. A different way of farming would be to let the new crop feed on the old crop’s stubble, just as things happen in a yard or meadow.

The alternate method of farming is simply to crush the old plant stubble flat with a roller instead of plowing the ground. Last year’s plants make a nice lush layer that feeds the new seeds as it decomposes. The farmer punches holes in this layer to put the new seeds in. Some farmers might find it practical to put a cover over the ground with openings for the new crop. Strips of carpet with holes cut in them are one such cover. Covering the ground speeds up the decomposition of the plant layer, holds moisture in better, and even keeps weeds down.

Additional tricks help farmers avoid weeds. They add specific plants which are known to keep away specific insects or weeds, and grow these in the same field, alongside the crop. These provide more  nutrients to the field as they grow and get rolled flat after harvest.



When they mention us, the humans of Earth, in some celestial video, displayed in thin air in the living rooms of a wiser race we never met, or when they write about us in an alien gazette in some remote quadrant of space we never saw, what will they say?

What will they know? All they might find of us could be our old TV signals, slight waves scattering in all directions on an eternal journey without us. We lived and thrived a long time ago.

I can imagine these beings in their living rooms watching our lifetime channel. They would love the first views. In our wildlife shows, they would see hale and hearty polar bears running and hunting in white arctic zones. The aliens would widen their rainbow eyes in appreciation. How beautiful! so fast and big, they’d tell each other. They’d see whales even more enormous, smooth-sided, as gray as the sea, and this would strain their imaginations further. Such mysterious sounds, they’d murmur. They would get to see fantastic landscapes ranging from blue and white ice to stark black sands, more green and more water than any star-being could imagine, ebbing and flowing with regular motion as if the sea were the planet’s heartbeat, and all the multicolored people, herds, and groups of living things scattered everywhere. More images would come. A thin and starving polar bear, dead land, then herds of dying whales with collapsed sides lying on beaches… causing the aliens to draw back from their screens in shock, wondering what had happened.

They would see the crimes.

What will they think when they finally learn how we ran our farms, how we raised eating-beasts in such numbers the beasts changed the air, and heated the atmosphere; how we burned away enough greenery so the land became a mirror, blasting heat back all round, even penetrating the oceans, where the rising temperature killed off the very plankton the whales needed to eat?

Our television news would show too much: We turned away when the slow water around the shores choked up with green unwholesome slime, a useless muck we couldn’t eat or burn for fuel. We scarcely spoke of the growths people picked up swimming in ever-warmer lakes, but it ate their flesh. And then later, the terrifying loss of life from uncheckable, unpredictable storms brought about by the myriad convections of the oven we’d made of our planet… this, I think this would turn them to stone.

If aliens stayed to see it, they’d stop speaking of us at all. No one would want to know exactly how we died.

Through the Eyes of a Child

What do these things have in common? Running water, electricity, tennis shoes, grocery stores, and zoos. Sounds like a strange group, right? All of these things were regarded as modern conveniences at one time. However, they are all now considered normal parts of our everyday lives.

Sometimes we take things for granted. We don’t take them for granted on purpose; we just get used to having them around us. When is the last time that you really stopped to think about why we have zoos?

Have a child. Plain and simple. They restore the pure innocence that we all need.

We were having a family day at the zoo when our young son asked, “Where did that elephant and his Mom come from?” The short answer was, “Africa” but of course each short answer is followed with “Why?”

A zoo is a big house for animals. Each animal has a friend with him that looks just like him. There are houses at the zoo for all different types of animals from around the world. The zoo tries very hard to make the animals feel like they are at home. When they are at home, they are happy and relaxed. If it wasn’t for the zoo, most of us would never get to see these beautiful animals in person . Without zoos, we would only get to look at most animals in pictures and on TV. Zoos not only let us look all the animals; they let the people at the zoo learn about them and help keep them safe.
A satisfactory explanation for our son which earned us a smile.

Off to see the penguins!

Take a few moments each day and look at things through the eyes of a child. They look different, and give you a new appreciation. And always guaranteed to produce a smile.

Cards Night

“Like taking candy from a baby,” Mrs. Tabling said, pulling a card from my hand. That hurt. I was terrible at cards, but this old lady had been making a target of me all night, despite the game changing from gin to Go Fish to whatever we were playing now.

The old lady stopped smiling and looked sad all of a sudden. “Nobody actually takes candy from a baby, though,” she said. “Bad people always give candy to little ones, that’s the problem. Been doing it for ages.” Sarah, a tall girl sitting opposite, giggled. I worked in the same office building as Sarah. I didn’t know her well but she did impressions of all the supervisors, which were pretty funny.

“Game switch,” Jane announced, whose house it was. “What’ll it be, gin again? Or poker?” Groans went around the table as players slapped down their now-useless hands. Mrs. Tabling frowned and scraped her cards together with her reddened, bony hands. Her knuckles were huge. She saw me looking at them and shoved her cards towards me to gather up, and turned away.

“How about Old Maid?” I suggested. Jane made a face that told me I was an idiot. “If you play draw poker again I’ll just watch and sit out,” I said, and got up to stretch and get a drink. A few of the other women were also heading towards the kitchen. On the counter there were little sandwiches, pretzels, and a plate of marshmallow Santas left over from the holidays, so I reached for those. My hand smacked into Mrs. Tabling’s, who was also reaching; she gasped in pain. “I’m really sorry!” I said immediately. She actually hissed. At this behavior, all I could think to do was pick up a couple of Santas and offer them to her. She accepted them.

I scurried back to the living room and sat down with some iced tea. Jane told everyone to take a break, so we sat in the comfy chairs away from the card table. Sarah plopped down beside me. “You gave candy to a biddy,” she whispered. “Does that make you bad?”

Mrs. Tabling was looking down but I think she heard. “When I was a child, I was frequently accosted by old women and offered candy,” she said. “Not just a piece but a handful or a bag, and the woman would sometimes be very insistent. Once the woman had pieces in a paper napkin and put this in my hands, and it fell open, and she twisted it together and told me, ‘There, hold it so you can’t see it.’ I knew there was something wrong.”

“Why did they all offer candy?” Jane demanded. “What were they up to?”

Mrs.Tabling (whose first name was Susanna, but no one was comfortable using it) looked at Jane. “These offers all happened when I was alone. My parents were still inside a store and I had stepped outside, waiting for them. It was deliberate. When my mother returned, she’d seize the candy and fling it in the first bin she saw. I’m not sure what the idea was, exactly,” she puzzled. “Maybe it was poisoned. They never tried to make me go with them… it was just the candy.”

“Weirdos,” Sarah said.

“Crazy people,” I said.

“And once I remember ringing doorbells for candy on Halloween, and at one house — belonging to some very dubious people —  the owners seemed to be having a party and one of their guests answered the door. She was pretty but looked mean somehow. Had on a striped top, tight black slacks, and I held out my Halloween bag and said, ‘Trick or treat,’ and she held out two cupped hands with something in them I couldn’t see, and put it straight into my bag. I said ‘Thank you,’ and started to leave. She burst out laughing and said, ‘Wait, that was rocks,’ and she got me some candy bars.”

Mrs. Tabling-Susanna met my eyes. “I think that was different. Just young people making fun of kids. The others, the old ladies with candy, that had a purpose.”

I gave a helpless look at Jane and Sarah. Why were we suddenly getting these weird confidences from Mrs. Tabling tonight? We all played cards regularly and our evenings were unremarkable; we’d never sought more than some not-in-depth friendly exchanges with her. She had a husband who needed care most of the time, and our card nights gave her a chance to get out for a change; I think that was why Jane started inviting her, in fact. She seemed a lonely person; that was about all we knew, except she was sometimes rude to me.

I suddenly wished I were in the habit of calling her by her first name.

“Why do you think —“ Sarah started to ask her, but was interrupted.

“Sometimes I wish I had had children,” Mrs. Tabling said, over her. Her eyes flickered up at us. “I’m so much older than all you girls, you’re actually younger than a daughter would be. You probably get fussed having me here.”

Everyone said no, no, all at once. “You’re our neighbor, we want you here,” Sarah said. Jane jumped up and got everyone her special hot-chocolate-with-whisky mugs which usually capped off the night. This seemed to help. We sat and had a second one each, and more snacks. The stars were now out, I could see at the window. Everyone chattered for a while, no cards were played; then it got quiet again.

Everybody was hiding a yawn now and then, so we went to put dishes in the sink and get our coats. At the closet, Mrs. Tabling took my elbow. She pushed something into my hands. “Please take this,” she said in a low voice. “I don’t want to have it.” I opened it and yes — it was a plastic bag of mixed candy. Good stuff, too, chocolate wrapped truffles, bars, packs of gum, all kinds.

“What is this?” I whispered. It was unreal. Was I now the child being handed the candy, she the pernicious old lady with an agenda? And I wondered: Was it poisoned?

She blinked some tears out of her eyes, quickly. “Please take it so I’m not tempted any more. I suddenly had this urge to buy something nice for a small child, something he or she would like, so they’d be happy to receive it and, and, be pleased with me. Something like that. I just wanted to make a small child happy. Please get it away from me. I’m so upset,” she said.

I took it and put it deep in my coat pocket.

“Just look at me,” she said. “Isn’t it crazy.”

Hey Grandma

Hi, Grandma!!

So hello!! How are you? Here I am finally at school, thank you for all your help to get me here.

What you did for me is fantastic and I will never forget it, I hope you know.

Well, the first few weeks here have been just crazy!  I have three roommates, and we sleep in 2 bunk beds and they are colorful but friendly characters.  They are from all over the country and are different kinds of engineers. Two have joined a fraternity and are asking me if I have interest.

Classes?  Ahah, well I go to them and take notes but the assignments are quite complicated and not well explained.  I do them in the library and try not to be too distracted. This for sure is not like high school.

And of course there is a girl I like, a girl from France named Lili, yeah, like a pretty flower but with blonde hair and green eyes.  She wears sweaters tied over her shoulders always and is a bit short but I get lost in her eyes and her freckles! She is studying Design and I visit her sometimes and help with her projects ( more interesting than Engineering! )

Well I will see you during school break in a few months, so take care.

I know you believe in me and have been there for me more than anyone else so if for anything, I do this for you.

Missing your chicken noodle soup – badly,

Love, Alex


My Purpose in Life

My name is John, I have never been married and have no children but don’t feel bad for me, I am extremely happy with the paths that I have taken in my life. I have worked hard at my job and have become the head groundskeeper at a very prestigious country club and golf resort. It is just outside of Savannah and I take pride in telling people about my work.

I was put in charge at early age and crafted a beautiful place in which to be proud.

One of the benefits of working outside is that it has been easy to stay in shape. I am actually considered middle age. What is that anyway? Half way to the grave?

I feel that I am stronger now than most of the young ones that the club has attempted to employ now that I am getting older.

The guys around here kid with me all the time about how old and rickety I am, and that my voice always sounds tired and raspy. They call out “Hey John, You should retire and live the good life, they are looking to replace you with a newer model” 

What do they know. I am living the good life. This is the job that I was born to do.

Where would I retire to anyway… The tractor graveyard?

John Deere


The traffic light, like most downtown lights, was taking an eternity but I stared at it feeling certain I could will it to change if I just concentrated hard enough. It refused to budge off red, and I sighed. The buildings downtown were shimmering from the heat, reflections from windows were making my eyes hurt. I was almost sure I’d just seen a gargoyle moving around on a rooftop. Leaning towards the windshield, I peered up to the sky-high ledges up there; yes, there he was. An olive green, sort of liony gargoyle was pacing back and forth on top of the Federal Building. It was hard to tell at this distance, but from his body language he looked anxious.

I heard the passenger door beside me click open, and an enormous pink face poked into the car. “Hello!” Fred shouted gaily. He jumped into the car, rather adroitly for a pig, I noticed, and just then I heard both rear doors opening as well — Marmalade, Peggy, and Jasper hopped into the back seat, rocking the entire car as they wiggled in and adjusted themselves. The car sank at least six inches.

Jeez, I thought. I’ve got a car full of swine again. I had no idea how they kept finding me.

Fred was talking. “So I knew this would interest you, it’s a cosmic environmental gleaning conference for all Democratic Socialists — or for anyone vitally interested or slightly curious about socialism — in fact if you’ve so much as heard of socialism or the environment, you’re exactly the audience they’re hoping to attract,” he said, then stopped to breathe. His ears flapped a bit. “You’ll be so excited to go! There will be a roundtable discussion, an auditorium gathering for questions, two brainstorming sessions, several excursions for canvassing opinions, and a pon-farr in the hotel lobby.”

My teeth made a sound like a crack as I ground them together. “That not only sounds ridiculous, I want nothing to do with you or your friends again. You already led me once to a political meeting where I thought I was going to listen to a speech, but it turned out I was supposed to give one! I was utterly unprepared and looked like a fool. Get out of my car, your girlfriends in back smell like Love’s Baby Soft perfume.” My hands had begun to shake, I was that mad.

Fred said gently, “Snacks are guaranteed.” The three in back nodded and made mm-hmming noises, and one of them hiccupped.

I turned to face him. “Do you know where I was last week?” I asked. “I spent three hours in a psychiatrist’s office lying on a leather or maybe leatherette couch telling every detail of my recent encounters with you and how you drive me insane. I told her how long you’ve been visiting me, making me go do stupid things or giving you lifts to stupid places and making me meet stupid people. This psychiatrist wrote in a notebook for an hour, then finally stopped and just looked at me and told me to keep talking. I think she was recording it and is going to use it to have me institutionalized.”

“We will never let them take you! We will defend you to the death, we’ll free you from any asylum — any prison — ford any stream, we will climb any … um, slight rise, and spirit you away to freedom!” This, from Jasper and Peggy.

I kept driving, and they kept chattering. Soon there would likely be singing. The car seats were sure to be covered in smears of white baby powder and lotion whenever they would finally get out. I hate pigs. They’re so — clean, it’s repulsive.



That was the beginning of the script I showed my parents, so they could get an idea of the sort of podcasts I wrote, developed, and had started to sell. Some were for children’s shows, others for grownup audiences. They still didn’t get it. My father, chewing on his lip, nodded as my mother told me very clearly they expected me to report to the nursing school the following week. I was to attend those wooden classes, where every measurement had to be exactly the right number of significant digits and if you didn’t have a plan to get your patient to toe the line and cooperate in his care, you were in trouble.

I couldn’t focus to do those things, because I just didn’t see how anyone on earth could. How can you keep thinking about making someone behave in “adaptive ways” when the best things in life was to subvert and do the unexpected? Of course that isn’t “adaptive” behavior, but I thought if I had to go in that hospital or those deadly classes again my face was going to turn to granite and pieces would start falling off. Now that would scare patients, so clearly the best thing was to make sure someone like me was made to go far away. Yes, I was willing to go. Far away.

My parents argued a bit more — we never had long arguments — and my mother ended it with, “So that’s settled. We are NOT having you run off and ignore a solid and practical educational opportunity.” My father (who hadn’t actually spoken) made an mm-hmming noise; it was clear they thought with one mind.

I listened, but was trying to remember the bus schedules to get across town the next morning, to the film institute where I could submit a video essay. There was a contest. It would be fun. At the very least I’d get a writeup that I could show prospective clients.

Years later, my parents, Fred and Peg, finally had a nurse in the family in my younger sister and they’d forgotten their ambitions for me.





45 Seconds

When the buzzer sounded, June realized she had about 45 seconds to take action before her marriage was over. And despite being thoroughly bored, she felt too emotionally lazy to start over. Life was NOT great but it was comfortable and despite Henry, her husband, being utterly boring and always doing the same routine over and over with sex, eating,  going out – just EVERYTHING,  June was not ready to change her life status from “Predictable” to “Unknown” so abruptly.

“Sam” she half-shouted, “Get the F Up and out!  My husband is downstairs!, take the stairs upstairs! Come down and out in 5 minutes”.

Sam, her somewhat-new lover, grunted assent, rolled his eyes and grimaced but moved quickly,  a quality she admired in him. He left the apartment quietly and quickly, heading upstairs.

June smoothed the bed covers, and looked for evidence that could betray her before checking herself in the mirror, and briefly scanning the room and bathroom, preparing for Henry.

The apartment door banged open and Henry thudded in, looking confused and disheveled, his suit bunched up. No tie! WTF!??

“What is going on, Henry?  Why are you home early?  And were you drinking?  You look awful!”

Henry collapsed on the bed and put his face deep into the pillow and put his hands on each side of his head as if to block out the world.

Henry gave a long sigh before mumbling “A bad day, June, A bad, bad day”.

“What happened, Henry?”, June said. “What is Bad, bad, and bad?”

Henry turned and looked her with red eyes, and focused. Maybe he HAD been drinking, or maybe from crying, she thought.

Henry continued. “Baby. Downsized! Zip, Zam, Pow.  Almost Everyone.  The Office, Gone”.

June sat stunned, wondering whether her avoidance of change made any difference. Change had come anyway – Big Time. Henry was not so bold, nor innovative, nor even industrious, she thought, this will not end well.

“Henry baby, we will survive, don’t worry.” Jane told Henry.

How big was Sam’s apartment, she wondered.












Henry June Sam

Henry is concerned

Henry is concerned. He watches his wife of eight years head off to work and he stays at home with their son.

He is concerned because the scene has happened many times in the past, only he was the one heading out. And he knows the patterns, all too well.

Nothing is particularly obvious at first but things have changed between them. She denies it but something is, you know, off.

Things began to change when the firm that Henry work for went through a corporate restructuring and he lost his job. With the pressure of the finances looming, Kelly went back to work. Henry did a good job taking care of their son, keeping up with the house and yard work.

Things were ok, at first, but as time went by a bit of depression set in. Depression caused by the feeling that Kelly was becoming more distant, less physical and emotional, not only toward him but her son as well. Henry started to lose focus, put on weight and procrastination started to be the new catch phrase of the day 

She stared going in early and getting home late, more often. When asked there was either some lame excuse or no excuse at all. 

It all came to a head when Henry received a call from the police that there had been an accident that involved his wife and her boss. They were in a roadside motel room, when a car lost control and turned the light on that fact that she was having and affair.   

In his days as a young man, Henry ran like a rabbit without a care in the world. He never thought of the pain that he caused other people, He in fact, had affairs with married women, he cheated on his own girlfriend. Henry is concerned. What is he going to do now.

Content Marathon No. 1, Memory from Childhood

I’ve now lived longer than my mother did, but still feel less experienced, stupider than she; somehow the stability of the past and the kind of structured life she lived seem better teachers than I had. I am old enough to remember 5-cent candy bars, 29-cents-a-gallon gasoline, and a doctor making a house call (I had pneumonia). He gave me an injection and then as a present let me keep the empty syringe, which was made of glass. I don’t think anyone gives glass things to five-year-olds anymore.

My first school had those wooden desks that stood on cast-iron bases so the whole thing looked like a tiny sleigh. There were no maps available for my grade, except of the Holy Land. The teacher was a young Catholic nun who could have been in a TV show, because she played guitar, sang to us and also told us stories about monsters, gruesome stories which involved killing. The school was very old, like a museum, dark on the lower floors like someone’s slick throat. We were required to move about the building in pairs holding hands, sometimes arranged in order of height. The classes were at least 50 children or more, but still no one spoke if the teacher left the room. It wasn’t because of strict discipline; my nun-teacher was always kind — funny and nice. I think we were quiet because of a fear of the high ceilings above us, the sawdust, the echoes and dark corridors here. We were somewhere in God’s mouth.

That was the long ago. A year or so later my family packed up and moved to another, larger city and the new school was not ancient, had no nuns or sleighs. Instead, the girls wore neon-bright printed clothing and everyone talked out loud right in class. The kids used maps and globes and knew what the world looked like. I also discovered that Jews, a people I believed existed only in the time of Jesus, were still around today and doing okay; my old religion books had given no hint of this. It was culture shock. 

I feel, to this day, still like a neophyte and often naive. I don’t mind it. It means, at least, that I’m still capable of being surprised. Sometime I will probably hear of another ancient race of people popping back into existence, and all I can do is try to imagine what amazing things they’ve probably seen, wherever they were all this time.

Donating Blood in these Confusing Times

I came across a perplexing situation today. The company where my wife works was conducting a blood drive, and we both decided to volunteer.

We both think that it is a great cause and we allowed our seven year old son to be a part. 

Everything was going along as I thought it should;  providing identification, normal tests and answering a lot of questions. I then was asked a question that took me by surprise.

“What is your gender?”  I am sure that a strange look came over me and I asked “seriously?” I am in my 50’s, six foot two, 300 pounds. Now, I know that outward appearances do not really mean a lot, so I answered the question and moved through the rest of the procedure.

On the way home I asked my wife if she found the question funny, and to my surprise, she was not asked the same thing. She said that the interviewer had her license and was getting most of the information from it. Well, my license was also submitted.

I could have just let it go but I got home and hit the computer. I found lots of information about the journey that donated blood travels. There are a dozen tests performed for type and diseases.

However, I found very little on whether gender plays any role.  So why the question? Gender apparently can be determined though a smear but this is not even a test. Also, they were just believing that I answered the question truthfully. Which I did. I hope someone, somewhere will benefit.