Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Old Barn

You can make friends with an old barn. This one was built in 1906 by John Basye's great-grandfather on Beaver Marsh Road in the Skagit Valley, out in the flats where the wind is blowing and the soil is fertile.

You need to watch the video, which is only 90 seconds long, to get a picture of it. This Old Barn.

They're harvesting wheat right now -- farmers loving this hot, dry weather, good for harvesting wheat. Drought in Russia makes wheat scarcer, raises the price. They were looking at $4 a bushel, and some farmers sold their wheat this spring on the futures market at $4 a bushel -- often a smart move -- but not this year. It's gone up to $7 a bushel on the spot market because of the drought in Russia, causing a trading frenzy at the wheat pits in Chicago.

Our Skagit farmers grow wheat as a rotation crop, it's not how you make a living, like potatoes, or seed crops, or berries, but you grow wheat because you cannot grow potatoes every year. And this year at $7 a bushel, it doesn't hurt.

John Basye's barn is getting a new roof. He tore the old cedar shingles off and they can't be replaced. All the cedar has been logged in this territory, and good cedar for roofs would come from Canada at a very high price. Instead, the new roof will gleam with metal, which is a long-lasting material and has reflective qualities, brightening the sunshine and bouncing the rays back into the sky.

Metal roofs ping-ping the rain. It will be a different winter this year with a new metal roof. It will be louder.

Right now, the roof is off and the rafters are exposed to the weather -- for the first time in 100 years, seeing the sky, breathing and drying out in the heat of summer. You can hear the beams groan like arthritic grandfathers.

But this essay is not an exercise in nostalgia, not some hearkening back to the old days when the big trees were logged, and the stumps were blasted out with shovels and dynamite.

No, "This Old Barn" is about the future. You put a new roof on your barn because you're betting on the future. You're betting on one hundred more years of farming in the Skagit Valley, growing food for our children's children's children on broad, flat and fertile acres.

One hundred years from now we will need this barn. Of course, you never know, it's a flood plain. A big enough flood could float this barn away. And there's fire -- the old barn is built of wood. And it gets windy in the flats -- a really strong wind might damage the barn beyond repair.

But you bet on the future when you put on a new roof. There's no sure thing and where else can you put your money?

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will they celebrate Gay Marriage at the Ground Zero Mosque?

Will they celebrate Gay Marriage at the Ground Zero Mosque?

I'm getting the issues confused.

But if New Yorkers can tolerate a mosque at Ground Zero, shouldn't it be a highly tolerant mosque?

Back to gay marriage. I've thought about it for about ten years, and I've decided it's a good thing. It really bothered me that judges were interfering with my own thinking on this question, because it is not a matter for the courts to decide.

Marriage is customary, legal, and moral. They all go together and the nature of marriage ought to be determined by the legislature, and failing that, by referendum.

The courts are the very worst place to decide questions like this, and that judge in California is doing no one a favor by ruling in favor of gay marriage -- or against it. He is a usurper against my own voice and I resent it.

It would be much better if people are persuaded, as they can be. Proponents of gay marriage have full access to the political process and can take their case to the people. I expect they will win if they take that course.

But if they keep going to court, the question will remain unsettled for decades. Keep the lawyers out of this, please.

Going to court is always the very, very last option in any dispute.

The Mosque. I was married to a Moslem woman for seven years. She was from Africa. Her ancestral village was in the mountains of Malawi. We visited this village shortly after we were married in 1997. Chembe village it was called, with a small mud brick mosque in the village square, and an ancient bearded imam in a blue robe.

The imam had several tattered copies of the Koran. He sang the call to prayers each morning before dawn -- no loudspeaker and no electricity in this village -- only the haunting call to prayer.

Five or six men would come to the mosque in response to the imam's call.

There were no dogs in Chembe village I liked that, because there was no barking in the night and it was quiet.

There was no alcohol -- not exactly, more of a low key kind of thing. In the evening the women gathered in the cooking hut down the hill. The village chief would invite me to join him at his place where we sat in chairs -- probably the only two chairs in the village.

He would bring out a bottle of rum and we had a drink together. It was fine. We treated each other as equals. I was proud of my life and my American heritage and education. He was proud of his village. I was married into his family and was welcomed in that way.

After some conversation, we would go to the women's cooking hut -- they had a fire going and it was warm in there, and we sat around the fire on mats and talked.

That's really all I know about Islam from personal experience. I think the villagers took their religion very lightly, and I wish we were all like that.

Having said that, the Ground Zero Mosque -- actually I don't know what to think. Legally it's a slam dunk -- they can build it wherever zoning ordinances permit a house of worship.

Otherwise, it's entirely up to the people of Manhattan, who are not likely to notice it amid the roar of commerce and culture

But if they do build it, this mosque should be the center of a mission to Islamic countries, which often forbid the construction or even the repair of churches and synagogues in their lands.

If the mosque is built, it should be a shining example and we should seek reciprocal treatment in Moslem countries. "Allow the free interchange of ideas, welcome our preachers as we welcome yours. Respectful argument is a good thing. We can challenge each other."

I was married to the African woman for seven years, but other than going to Chembe village to visit the graves of her ancestors, we had no more exposure to Islam. She claimed it as an identity, but only that. She had no knowledge or practice of Islam, but was more familiar with Christianity and indigenous spiritual practices -- in the way that Africa people can mix these things all together.

I have learned and thought about Islam since then -- from reading books and newspapers, from knowing about the attacks of September 11, 2001, and our military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and reading about the endlessly complicated disputes between Palestinians and Israelis -- but I will not let those images intrude on what I actually experienced first hand -- I think I will cherish and remember the evenings with Chief Chembe in his village, a man just like me, except he had two wives.

So we end. And we realize that the Mosque and the question of Marriage are actually related.

And there is a lot to talk about -- if we can keep it out of court.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, August 06, 2010

A long, long time ago I picked flowers for my mother. I picked violets and lily of the valley. They grew in the wild area on the north side of our home. I gave the the flowers to my mother and she put them in a vase on the table. She was happy and I felt like a good boy.

The yard was mowed and fenced except for this wild area. The grass wouldn't grow on the north side, so it was left and the flowers just grew all by themselves. I could go out there in the summer and lie down and have my own dreams.

We lived in a white stucco house in the suburbs of Chicago, under the shade of very tall oak trees and elm trees. The high-dappled shade is the best because the air flows smoothly on hot summer days. A white wooden fence ran around the back yard. We played baseball and badminton and left bare spots in the lawn from playing all summer long. Mother grew peonies and roses in the back of the yard, just a small garden, but it was pretty.

In the winter, when the ground was frozen, she had me cover the roses and peonies with oak leaves to protect them through the coldest days. That was an easy chore and I was glad to do it -- only once a year, and then in the spring I would take the leaves away. It was something special I did for her.

Outside the fence, between the fence and the alley, the tiger lilies grew thickly -- day lilies, but we called them tiger lilies because of their bright orange color. They grew wild, all by themselves.

One of my regular chores was taking out the trash, out to the alley. I put the trash bags in a wire basket and lit a match and set the trash on fire. I liked standing in the alley, all by myself, outside the fence, watching the flames in the wire basket -- bright orange flames, but green and blue muted flames from the coated pages of magazines and the wrappers on tin cans.

I liked being out in the alley, outside the fence with the tiger lilies and the unpaved alley way with gravel and mud puddles, where I could have my own dreams. I think this is what made me how I am today.

I hated Little League baseball. I didn't like Lilttle League. They had rules and uniforms and grown ups bossing us around -- they called it "coaching" but I didn't like any of them. I liked playground ball much better. We were kids -- we chose up teams and made up our own rules. We had huge arguments too.

"He was out."

"No, he was safe, I saw him touch the base."

"You liar, he was out by a mile."

So, we had our own arguments, but we didn't need a bunch of stupid grownups hanging around to show us how to play baseball. Geez.

Skateboarding. Kids don't play ball like we used to, they want to be skateboarding. But it's like playground ball --- it's not officially sanctioned with umpires and coaches and stupid grownups. The kids can do it all by themselves on skateboards and create their own form of play.

A few of the skaters in LaConner are known to be ill-behaved. I was told that one of them cursed at the librarian. I could ask the librarian if that was true, but it's bad enough that rumors go around like this. How are the kids going to get a skateboard park this way?

What they should do, the kids that are serious, is have a talk with the smart alecks who cursed at the librarian -- and then beat the crap out of them, because they're messing it up for everybody else.

Just my opinion. These kids want to skate without a lot of adult interference. I know the feeling. I can hardly stand grownups myself. But then you have to make your own rules and enforce them.

I don't tolerate too much attitude in children, but then, looking it at from another perspective, if the worst thing they did is curse at the librarian and leave some trash in the parking lot at the grocery story -- how bad is that? You know, how does cursing at the librarian compare to a drive-by shooting? Pretty light weight stuff.

Unless you're the librarian, who I happen to know and like.

Now, to change the subject:

You Can't Write. This message is for all the new writers who are planning to self-publish their memoirs. You can't write. I know what you heard on the Oprah Winfrey show about how you should express yourself and why your story is valid and strong and worthwhile. It is your story and a true one. That d't mean anybody else wants to hear it.

In the old days you kept a diary and kept it private -- as it should be. Writing, that is writing something of value to a larger group, is a skill and not everyone has it -- like being a carpenter or a farmer. It takes years to get good at it, and not every one can succeed.

So this message is for you, my friend. You are surely very good at something, but it might not be writing.

Let me explain it another way. It's like the difference between gardening and farming. I can garden. I can grow a pretty good garden, but there's no way I can farm. Farming is when you can grow enough food to sell it and make a living at it. But gardening is a past time.

So maybe my few words are put before you to re-establish a boundary between writing as a past time and writing as a profession -- a friendly, but meaningful distinction.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257