Category Archives: Green Stuff


I was expecting a little more from these Red Norlands. Oh well.

Updated: So I ate those potatoes, and now their picture has mysteriously disappeared off the server. (Shrug)

Dirt Day 2010

I have just gotten around to reading Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which is probably part of any self-respecting “doomer”‘s library, along with other books I’ve found worthwhile, such as Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov or the seminal classic The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter. Except, I’m not a doomer (and I hate that term anyway). I’m just someone interested in thinking about our times in different ways.

There doesn’t seem to be any cause for feelings of doom when you read the paper today and see that CNY’ers (the real CNY’ers) are genuinely green in their outlook and behavior. The sample for this survey is small and perhaps too much is being made of it, but it’s heartening to see CNYers understanding that “greenwashing” (cloaking corporate interests in green costume) can be a big problem too. This question makes me take the survey a little more seriously. But mainly what I see in this survey is that the less affluent a place is, the more serious-minded they may be about changing the way they live and giving back to the earth. Perhaps this is similar to the way poorer people tend to be the most generous in giving to charity.

Then again, we’re still not thinking entirely clearly. There are some “No to Wastebed 13” signs on my street now. This is because some of my former neighbors now live in Golden Meadows, the subdivision that was built near the old wastebed where Honeywell and the state propose to store Onondaga Lake sediments. I’m still trying to find out why I knew about Wastebed 13 before homeowners there apparently did. I’m not exactly an environmental activist, and I knew. I read the paper, and was following along with the lake cleanup mainly because of my concern/interest in the Onondaga LRA. I feel badly for the Golden Meadows homeowners, particularly my former neighbors, and wonder how the Onondaga Nation’s recent vision statement for Onondaga Lake speaks to them. (Are we speaking to one another?)

The anti-wastebed signs are bright yellow; you can’t miss them. Coming home from work, I noticed a little yellow flag fluttering in the grass in the yard next door to one of the signs. Someone had their lawn freshly pesticided for spring. Toxic waste is not okay for landfills and lakes, but still okay for lawns, I guess. That’s the right sort of poison for our homes and children! Until we get over this willful blindness, we’re going to keep running into dilemmas like Wastebed 13.

But back to the dirt. I thought I would be more interested by The World Without Us for its description of how suburban homes and mighty cities decay, but I actually found myself fascinated by the chapter on dirt and what sticks around in it. The story of the long-term soil experiments at an English research farm reminded me a lot of agricultural writings by and about George Geddes and Fairmount in the 19th century. I was not so interested in this stuff when I was doing the start of my Fairmount research, but now as I’m trying to ease into learning gardening, I am. What’s in my dirt?

Aspiring gardeners in Fairmount don’t know how good they have it: the provenance of their dirt is surprisingly well documented, thanks to old George. While I’m fairly sure that the land my house sits on was either not actually Geddes family land, or was not actually farmed (too many large stones present – although it could have been grazing land for his sheep), I’m confident that it probably wasn’t greatly disturbed in the early years of the 20th century either. It probably wasn’t sprayed with fertilizer. The biggest mystery therefore is how the homebuilders messed with it in the mid-1950s. My mother believes, from her childhood memories, that the homebuilders did not truck in much new dirt. I can also quiz her what the original homeowners (my grandparents) put on it in the way of pesticides and lawn fertilizer back in the beginning.

It would be nice to get soil samples tested – not, as one usually might do, to determine the best spot for gardening, but to try and find a spot that might be the least transformed from the time before the house was built. This would be in the back yard, away from the road and the house. I also want to sample the soil in the front yard (which I expect will be more contaminated) and a sample from my sister’s house in the city. I have a feeling that doing the sort of testing I’m interested in would be very expensive, though, so I’ll have to find out if it’s really feasible to do.

From Copake to Camillus, we’re all indigenous now

Last week there was a particularly disturbing news story out of the hamlet of Copake, in Columbia County east of the Hudson. A despondent dairy farmer committed suicide, shooting dead 51 of his cows before killing himself. Although the scope of this private tragedy caught the collective breath of nationwide news consumers (for an hour or two), there is of course nothing new about the desperate struggles of the family farmer, particularly dairy farmers in our own state. Northview Diary has more.

Andy Arthur (your expert blogger on the rural issues of eastern New York) has a thoughtful post up today about the physical, economic and social landscape where this sad event occurred. He points out that Copake is on the very front line between Upstate New York’s economic struggles and a rising tide of affluence coming ultimately from New York City (and Wall Street). It’s a line that used to lay much farther south. This is an on-the-ground situation which is still only abstract to us in other parts of Upstate, although became somewhat less abstract to more people during the regional anti-NYRI protests. Here’s a story about a “farm” (also in Copake, and on the same road as the farm with the 51 cows) that is not really a farm, but apparently a construction-debris dumping ground. With the advance of development-crazy newcomers, Columbia County farms are bearing some strange fruit.

Speaking of dumping — and closer to home — residents of the Town of Camillus’ Golden Meadows subdivision (a homedebtors farm?) are only just realizing how Honeywell has successfully managed to turn the Onondaga Lake sludge-dumping cleanup plan into a fait accompli. This is the same plan that the Onondaga Nation and other local activists have been vocally opposing for several years, but the residents of Golden Meadows seem not to have heard about it. I lost some nice neighbors a couple years ago to the lure of Golden Meadows, and I’m guessing they’re feeling like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them; they probably didn’t think the waste beds would ever see use again, or were not warned. The sad thing is that if only the Nation, the local activist friends of the Nation, and the residents of the Town of Camillus had connected with each other a few years ago, they could have made a much more effective bloc to demand a better examination of the cleanup issues.

“Divide and conquer” still works, however. It works particularly well here, because some people don’t want to consider that while they may be in different boats, they are still riding down the same river. Simply put, the Camillus situation illustrates perfectly something I’ve been trying to imperfectly express for years: we here in Upstate New York are all “indigenous” now in the eyes of certain other people. We are seen as being as exploitable and disposable as the other natural resources on the land we occupy, whether it is over in Copake or over in Camillus. We’re becoming invisible. The people from the corporations, and maybe the second-home owners too (who are probably more intimately bound up with the interests of corporations than those who can’t afford second homes), tend not to consider “the locals” to be people, any more than the land speculators of the 18th and 19th centuries thought that the Haudenosaunee were people. No, they’re not evil, but they are losing their sight. All natives of this region, regardless of cultural background or skin color (but particularly those with brown skin, and also people of any color with farming or working-class backgrounds), are “removable.” How did this change in identity happen? I don’t know. But I do know that our historical ignorance and pride keeps us from acknowledging this new reality.

I’m not a second-home-owner who works for a Wall Street corporation (although I currently serve them) and I have never been able to think like they do. They see things differently. We’re not all the same people. But the even more ironic thing is that the second-home-owners are desperately seeking authenticity by (usually unconsciously) sweeping away the actual authentic culture (the indigenous peoples of all kinds, from the native nations to the farmers to the factory workers) and building artificial, pretend versions in their place. Yet their desire for cultural authenticity never seems to be sated, and they use their affluence to travel the world seeking it, creating “ideal communities” Upstate, or clearing out cities for gentrification, or buying dead factories to make shrines for art that strives to get them back in touch with the “authentic.” They’re always chasing the indigenous peoples away — but in the end, they’re always chasing after them.

What an absurd cycle. Does it have to be this way? And does there have to be conflict? The Two Row Wampum says no. It seems to me the indigenous peoples of today’s upstate regions, and the “new people” from elsewhere (I mean the affluent, not the immigrant), ought to work out a new agreement. But such an agreement won’t happen if we don’t have any good local leaders to articulate and respond to what is actually happening.

Middle of everywhere


This past weekend I took a camping trip down to Bowman Lake, a remote state park in the middle of Chenango County. There really isn’t much to see at Bowman Lake, which makes it the perfect place to relax and do nothing. Nowhere is usually a challenge to get to, however, and Bowman is the epitome of “you can’t get there from here” (and even more so when you are stuck behind a slow-moving manure truck). Even if you take the more direct route out, toward Route 12 (rather than 81), you are still going through an awful lot of “nothing.”

Stopped on top of a big hill outside of a small, lonely cemetery on a foggy morn, it really struck me how nature has us surrounded everywhere, even though we may assume otherwise. Even our bigger cities and towns in relatively civilized Upstate NY are merely smallish island outposts surrounded by vast fields of chirping crickets, nodding wildflowers, and untended shrubbery. And you will get very wet, dirty and itchy very fast if you venture even a few yards away from the pavement.

All of it going on day and night, year after year, not caring one bit about anything good or bad that goes on in Syracuse, Albany or even way far away in powerful New York City.