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Just saw on the news that a ton of dead fish, frogs, bugs, and a few dead ducks were found in Pennypack Creek, which runs through Northeast Philadelphia. Nearby residents said they’ve smelled something toxic near the water for a couple of days. Another nasty spill, looks like.

Have you ever heard of The Foxfire Book? I hadn’t until a few months ago, when I saw a new copy of the updated repinted version that had been sent to the newspaper office where I sometimes go to work. It looked interesting to me then but I didn’t spend much time with it. Then just a couple of weeks ago I was at one of my beloved garage sales. It’s the season for those again and I couldn’t be happier. In amongst a pile of old books was a faded, slightly grubby paperback copy of the original one, published in 1972. The person who’d owned this one wrote his name, Brian, neatly in red ink, with the year 1973 underneath it.

Foxfire was a project undertaken by a high school teacher and his students in the Appalachian Mountains during the 60s. They were rowdy and wouldn’t settle down long enough to learn anything so he suggested they start a magazine instead of using their stupid boring textbook. The people in this part of the country were living then as they had always lived, but their kids, these high school students, were losing the old ways. This teacher, who wasn’t from the area, was curious about some of their habits, such as the way they used the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon to know how to plant their vegetables, but the kids didn’t know the answers. So they went home and interviewed their parents and grandparents, who turned out to be an incredible wealth of knowledge of all kinds of things: home remedies, religion, making clothes, making soap, preparing for winter. Simple plain living in sometimes difficult, bare circumstances. They made their magazine out of these interviews and eventually turned it into a book, which as you might imagine was popular with the people of the mainstream culture in the 70s who were trying to figure out how to live more simply themselves.

Some of the stories just make for interesting reading, especially because they use so many direct quotes and an effort was made to transcribe the language the way the people actually sounded. Some of it is fairly arcane but plenty of it could be adopted by us modern city living people. Not slaughtering and dressing a hog, maybe, but preserving vegetables and fruit, learning to understand the signs the weather gives us, and making soap and sewing quilts. I know from my own experience how satisfying it is to make something yourself—books, zines, embroidered pictures, knitted clothing—and this is something many modern people can’t relate to. It’s bad for your soul to have an entirely passive existence: being carted through the streets on various conveyances, letting machines help you do your work, then sitting in front of a TV or a computer for hours for entertainment and “relaxation,” which is also passive. You don’t have to go bananas and go live off the grid to rectify this. If you shuffle a few simple things into the mix of your life, and take a few of the unsimple ones away, you’ll start to feel happier. I promise this is true.

batonophobia=fear of plants
melissophobia=fear of bees
rupophobia=fear of dirt

I live in an apartment, which has its pleasures. Living in a house is nice too and different, because you have a porch. My mother has a front porch and a small back porch on her house. For many years now birds have built their nests in the eaves of these porches every spring. This year there’s a bumper crop: a long mourning dove with long tail feathers and a black marble for an eye who’s shaped like a smoking pipe when she sits on her eggs, sparrows on the other side, and purple finches out back. A pair of purple finches has made a nest on her back porch every spring for as long as my mom can remember. The mother birds have to get used to us coming and going from the house, of the shhhhh-WAP of the back door and the gunshot of the heavy front one being slammed. Once they do, and realize we mean them no harm, they’ve got a plumb spot, tucked up under our house and out of the sight of predator birds who would eat their eggs before they’re hatched. Once they do hatch it rains baby birds every time we open the door. Within a couple more weeks from now I’d say they’ll all be gone.

A few naturey things to blog about today.

First, it’s a full moon. The second full moon of the month of May, which is a phenomenon we call a “blue moon.” May’s full moon is called the Full Flower Moon. Coming up in June is the Full Strawberry Moon. It’s a draw which name is lovelier, I think.

It was blazing hot and humid here today but I had to run a few errands and since I don’t drive that meant I had to do some walking. After I hit up the library and the post office I dragged my sweaty carcass back to my apartment building. When I stepped into the courtyard what did I see but a rabbit lying in the grass on its belly with its front feet straight out in front of him and his back feet behind him. Like a housepet. He didn’t even look especially terrified to see me so near to him. Beginning last spring I starting seeing tons of rabbits near here and I occasionally saw them acting like this—totally relaxed, seeming to feel very safe. I wonder if they don’t really have many predators here. In the cool grass in the shade this one looked very sweet, and cooler than I felt.

The third thing is this. I saw my sister today, and she told me that the arboretum where she is a gardener got a phone call this morning. It was from a woman in the area who had found a tiny fuzzy baby owl on its own on her front lawn when she left her house to go to work. Why did she call an arboretum? Guess she didn’t know what else to do, and as my sister’s boss figured, she thought owls–>trees–>arboretum. Anyway, they called the
TriState Bird Rescue and Refuge who came to get him. TriState is awesome. They do a lot of good work on a small scale like with this baby owl and on a much larger scale, whenever there is an oil spill or other disaster that has injured birds or destroyed their homes. They also run an adoption program which allows you to give a little money to support either a species or a resident bird that lives at the refuge because they were unable to be released back to the wild. I have given this to my mom for Christmas for the last few years; she’s been the “proud parent” of peregrine falcons and brown pelicans in addition to me and my sister.