Category Archives: Odes

Fall Begins Tonight with a Big Harvest Moon

The Autumnal Equinox will occur overnight tonight at 3:09 Universal Time (7:09 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 10:09 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time), officially ushering in Fall. In a rare occurrence, a big, full Harvest Moon will be in the sky to greet it.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune: Typically, the Harvest Moon arrives within days or weeks of the Autumnal Equinox, but rarely does it align within hours. There hasn’t been a comparable coincidence since Sept. 23, 1991. Such an alignment won’t happen again until 2029.

As I wrote last year, the Harvest Moon is quite a magnificent, miraculously timed occurrence. It traditionally shines its all-night beacon at precisely the time farmers are gathering their crops. Because it’s close to the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere, October’s full moon is also particularly large and bright — quite helpful in the days before electricity, and perhaps even now.

Here is a good explanation of the how the September Equinox works.

Happy Fall!

You might also enjoy:

The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall
Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest
Fall Foliage at its Peak
Enjoy October’s Full Harvest Moon
Celebrate May’s Full Moon

Photos: Mattias Kobel, Susan Sachs Lipman

From Treehugger: Frugal Green Living Posters

Canning, victory gardening, carpooling, conserving resources, living frugally — There are a lot of parallels between a whole swath of trends and activities today and those from the 1940s. In both periods, outside forces (war, the economy, the environment) have caused a lot of us to take stock and change some of our homefront habits. In the process, many of us discovered or rediscovered some relatively lost arts on the way to using less.

The always-relevant Treehugger has offered a terrific blog post, Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement, which features a collection of 1940s posters that, while making statements urging people to reconsider wasteful habits, are also themselves wonderful examples of message-oriented graphic design at its mid-century zenith.

I love these for their bold graphics and nostalgic style and marvel that they are fairly relevant today – except for the last one, of course. Though Treehugger makes the point that cooking fat is now collected for biodiesel fuel, rather than to make explosives. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Posters: Minneapolis Public Library

Slow News: Discover the Act of Line-Drying Laundry

A couple of weekends ago, my family and I were wandering around the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, when I caught sight of this laundry blowing on a line in the breeze. I found it quite pleasant and mesmerizing to watch, and it got me thinking about the act of line-drying laundry.

Lots of people are re-discovering line drying as a way to use less electricity for the task of drying their clothes. For others, it takes them back to a time when outdoor clotheslines were more common and summers included the sweet, fresh smell of laundry drying  (and, in my husband’s case, the sound of his mom’s wooden clothespins plunking into her metal bucket, as she released her laundry from its line.)

This site offers lots of tips to get the most out of line drying. I like to use a drying rack, to reduce both my electric use and the wear-and-tear on my clothes. Another site, Urban Clothesline, features lots of great drying racks, lines, and other solutions that can be used in a variety of settings, from backyards to apartment bathrooms.

The Project Laundry List site has a wealth of information about the economic and energy savings associated with line drying. It also covers programs, trends and issues, such as the role of homeowner’s association rules concerning practices like outdoor laundry drying. There’s even a laundry history. As much as I like line drying, I am thankful for the invention of the washing machine nearly every time I use mine.

Lastly, if you seek lovely, uniquely scented soap for your wash, Maylee’s Garden offers natural vegan and eco-friendly soap in a variety of great fragrances like Lavender and Cedar, Bergamot and Lemon, and many more.

All Aboard for National Train Day

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. My daughter and I boarded about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. I stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

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In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

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Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

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I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, last summer I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

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Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (I’ve since booked a family sleeping car, which is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

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Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the nearly 200 cities celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at their train stations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history,

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train sounds: dieselairhorns.com/sounds.

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Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Spring Inspiration

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Saturday, March 20, at 17:32 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 1:30 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, and 10:30 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox,  the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

In my neck of the woods, the sun has begun to shine warmly and flowers have shot up above ground. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As always, at times of seasonal change, I turn to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Mom’s Gifts of Nature

Today would have been my mom, Bunnie’s, 77th birthday. She died four years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for Children & Nature Network a couple of months ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.

The gift of walking. My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and me to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. We ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.

It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets that feature neighbor-serving businesses and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school. I only recall a couple of rides to school ever, and those would have been early mornings in high school, when my dad would take me before he and Mom went to work.

I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.

The gift of splashing in puddles. We didn’t have snow in Southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” and I adapted it in junior high when I secretly looked down on my peers for using umbrellas. This seems a bit guerrilla now, but the spirit holds. To little kids, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not avoided. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.

The gift of summer camp. My mom was a Brooklyn, N.Y., girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; there were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.

I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended by sitting by group in an amphitheater made of logs, singing folk songs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings and the glorious smell of sycamore trees.) We cared for goats and made lanyards and macaroni-and-paint-covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.

Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most classic, outdoor-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and three years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.

The gift of independent exploration. There is no doubt some personality trait involved, but I got on that camp bus by myself at age 4, and it wasn’t even an issue. I also, from about age 5, I regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire. That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they took place in a neighborhood of suburban apartment buildings, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere a bit more close-by and mundane. I like to have a map and resources, to consult if need be, but I’ll also let curiosity take me someplace if I’m pretty certain I can find my way back. (Warning: This does not always fit others’ comfort levels.)

The gift of quiet and observation in nature. I believe I inherited my mom’s mix of gregariousness and solitude. On the solitude end of the scale, she loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. (A camera case is visible in the above picture of her, which was taken among cherry blossoms in Japan.) She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. The photography was a fun activity, as well as a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.

The gift of appreciation of nature. My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in her photos, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases. Here, I believe I have her eye but lack some of her patience.

I do especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Appearing each year, as a fresh surprise, wildflowers embody so many of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, wonder and delight, rejuvenation, quiet enjoyment, and sheer beauty of form.

For all these gifts of and in nature, Thank You, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!


Inspired by Grass Stain Guru: The Joys of Being a Free Range Kid

One of my favorite bloggers, Bethe Almeras, the Grass Stain Guru, has a consistent and wonderful gift for capturing the joys of childhood and the outdoors. She has posted often about simple pleasures, outdoor creatures, and all kinds of activities and play.

Recently she posted a short reminiscence called Free Range Guru about her childhood in which she enjoyed the freedom to wander, explore and play in nature. She also regularly accessed her imagination — so much so that she actually talked to sticks. It’s a lovely post and it sparked the memories of readers, including me.

What it brought up for me was this:

“I also talked to sticks! And ants and bees and rocks and marguerite daisies and tiny flowers that grew on bushes in Southern CA that had a distinctly wonderful smell. I lived in an apartment until age 9 and, while I loved moving into a house with a big backyard and a perfect climbing tree, the apartment neighborhood also offered wonderful opportunities for exploration.

I lived in walking distance of two lovely parks and my walking mom took advantage of them. But I also found plenty to observe in the (sometimes green) spaces between and around buildings, and at 6 or 7 I would announce that I was taking an adventure walk and would do just that. People of all generations (well, mostly seniors and kids) seemed to be around and, except for crossing streets, which I was allowed to do one by one, it was not particularly exceptional to do this.

I also had media and school and activities, but there did seem to be a space for exploration and imagination that many kids don’t have today. I know I have a certain sense of the natural world, of neighborhood and community, as well as a delight in being by myself, as a result of these childhood experiences.”

Does this sound like a child you might know today? Perhaps, but more likely not. They don’t often find the same stretches of time available for play, the same parental spirit that lets a child  — in age-appropriate fashion — wander a bit. As a result, children miss out on opportunities for play, as well as development, friendships, and the ability to order and navigate their surroundings. As witnessed by Bethe, me, and so many others (including Lenore Skenazy, who writes the Free Range Kids blog), these skills and experiences can color our whole lives.

I also use my own experience to note that one needn’t grow up in a rural area to experience nearby nature. Nature and its value can be found in a park, or any wild or green space, even a small one and even one between apartment buildings.

I’m very excited about the work the Children and Nature Network is doing to inspire and educate people about ways to connect children to nature. So much so that I host their discussion forum. You might want to come along!

Following is a sample of the nearby nature where I grew up. As a kid, even the smallest (the better for secrets?), local, and not always particularly special looking, spaces fed imagination and play.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Groundhog Day: Punxatawney Phil says six more weeks of winter

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folk lore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Ground-Hog Day!

In an early morning ceremony today, groundhog Punxatawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that the shadow he saw foretold six more weeks of winter. According to this excellent Groundhog Day almanac, Phil sees his shadow 6-7 times more than he doesn’t. The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of a continuing winter.

According to the Groundhog Day site and others, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festival, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. (This has always been counter-intuitive to me, but I am not agrarian nor Medieval Christian, nor even from a wintry climate.) The shadow of the sun on February 2nd? Six more weeks of winter.

** Breaking news. This site explains that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. A lifelong mystery is solved.

I found English and Scottish sayings, to this effect:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

— English saying

Punxatawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies, none is nearly as famous as Punxataney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxatawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Winter Inspiration

Solitary Crow ...
Companioning
My progress
Over snowy fields
-- Senna
To celebrate New Year's
We feast
Newly-opened eyes on
Snowy Fujiama
-- Sokan

Photos from the season of going inward — when not playing outside. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

More are available on the Slow Family Online Facebook Page.

Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest

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The peak of the harvest, at once miraculous and commonplace, calls for nothing less than an ode by one of America’s most enthusiastic and passionate chroniclers of the everyday, Walt Whitman. Whitman lived through most of the 19th century, in eastern and midwestern America, and his walks and observations survive through a series of moving and life-affirming poems.

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As I turned to the Japanese haiku masters to help honor the turning of summer to fall, I turn now to Walt Whitman to give voice to the harvest and those who work tirelessly, often against time and weather, to glean it.

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This Whitman poem is called The Return of the Heroes — fittingly, I think, as those who work the soil and care for animals to provide food for themselves and others are often humble heroes. The poem is accompanied by photos I took over the last couple of weeks in the vineyards of Napa Valley, CA, as the wineries prepare for their harvest, or crush.

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The Return of the Heroes

(also known as A Carol of Harvest)

For the lands and for these passionate days and for myself,
Now I awhile retire to thee O soil of Autumn fields,
Reclining on thy breast, giving myself to thee,
Answering the pulses of thy sane and equable heart,
Tuning a verse for thee.

O earth that hast no voice, confide to me a voice,
O harvest of my lands — O boundless summer growths,
O lavish brown parturient earth — O infinite teeming womb,
A song to narrate thee.

All gather and all harvest ..

Harvest the wheat of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, every barbed spear under thee,
Harvest the maize of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, each ear in its light-green sheath,
Gather the hay to myriad mows in the odorous tranquil barns,
Oats to their bins, the white potato, the buckwheat of Michigan, to theirs;
Gather the cotton in Mississippi or Alabama, dig and hoard
The golden sweet potato of Georgia and the Carolinas,
Clip the wool of California or Pennsylvania,
Cut the flax in the Middle States, or hemp or tobacco in the Borders,
Pick the pea and the bean, or pull apples from the trees or bunches of grapes from the vines,
Or aught that ripens in all these States or North or South,
Under the beaming sun and under thee.

— Walt Whitman

From Leaves of Grass

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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