31 July 2019

On a hot summer's evening we meet friends. A long table has been set in the garden. A pot luck dinner. Children and dogs are jumping on a trampoline.
Some of the guests that evening work for the UNFCC, one of several international employers in our city. We talk about the future, about the lives of our children, we try to keep it light. Someone mentions Greta Thunberg. Of course someone mentions Greta Thunberg.

The big mistake, someone says, is that people are expecting her to have answers, solutions. While all she does is tell the truth. But here we are, we sit back and say, great, she is great, and somehow we think that's enough. She's doing something. At last.
Aren't the young people great, they are going to change it all for the better. 
(As if none of us clever fuckers ever knew what to do until now.)

Today, he calls us. We talk about Greta Thunberg's plans to sail across the Atlantic, to spend a year on the American continent. We are excited about the boat, a zero emissions racing boat and we speculate on the cramped conditions, the length of the journey, the seasickness.  
Actually, he adds, I am afraid for her, afraid for her life. All of us at UNFCC are.

And we know he is not taking about the sea or the weather.

27 July 2019

the mind is baffled and happy in small ways

flooded La Digue road

The temperatures have dropped somewhat, all day there was heavy cloud cover, but apart from a meagre 500 drops which evaporated midair, no rain. And that despite multiple warnings, from the house insurance (they're always the first), the local authorities and media, the federal office of civil protection (they are usually late), neighbours and my father over the phone (400 km away). No hail storms, no flooding, no nothing.

Morne Seychellois

Three days ago, after another of my adventures into the make believe world of being fit and healthy, cycling for an hour under the midday sun without helmet or any other head covering, I eventually keeled over.
It was quite embarrassing. Not only because I should have known better but also because I am a well documented braggart about my heat tolerance. Well, I reached my limit and according to dr google and based on five of eight symptoms - none of them pleasant and all requiring lying low in a darkened room - R diagnosed a mild heatstroke. He also delivered a brief albeit unwanted lecture on the different types of sun rays and their effects on the cerebral membrane. There is a lesson in everything.

I am slowly picking myself up, moving towards a vertical position. According to dr google, recovery should be imminent as suffering is restricted to two days max. Also, remember, R identified only five of eight symptoms, so I could just be normal sick. The way I am most days after doing something stupid, like pushing myself despite being an old woman with a chronic illness and a carload of side-effects. My instincts are all over the place, replaced by a general sense of what the heck, just do it, you can crash afterwards.

And like the icing on the cake I am going to bake when I have established a more stable stance, it has started to rain. Nothing dramatic but fairly steady from the sounds of it.
Three days ago was also R's birthday. Hence the cake. Overdue. Chocolate and coconut something or other.

Meanwhile, I need to unload a couple of quotes I have picked up here and there.

Nationalism teaches you to be proud of things you have not done and to hate people you do not know.
from a social worker (locally)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.  
 Wendell Berry

That is what happens. You put it away for a little while, and now and again you look in the closet for something else and you remember, and you think, soon. Then it becomes something that is just there, in the closet, and other things get crowded in front of it and on top of it and finally you don't think about it at all.
The thing that was your brightest treasure. You don't think about it.  And now it becomes something you can barely remember.
 Alice Munro

. . . everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we're likely to get a rough time, and to end up making 'no contact'. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that amour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It's an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It's been protected by the efficient amour, it's never participated in life, it's never been exposed to living and to managing the person's affairs, it's never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it's never properly lived. That's how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the amour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person's childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It's their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can't understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That's the carrier of all the living qualities. It's the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.
Ted Hughes (writing to his son)

In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
Edith Wharton

I know a cure for everything: salt water . . . in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.
Karen Blixen

There are a hundred thousand species of love , separately invented, each more ingenious than the last; and every one of them keeps making things.
Richard Powers

24 July 2019

My phone bleeps with weather warnings, extreme heat, and the long lists of what to do (drink water).

We are sitting inside our cool cocoon of a house - still cool without air conditioning but I wonder what would happen if this heat were to continue for a month. Stepping outside is like walking into an oven. It just climbed above 40°C.

This morning I cycled to work early and the forest smelled of dry pine and dust. Cycling home after lunch was another story I don't really wish to repeat.

It's officially a drought now. Or a threatening drought. A period of drought.
People talk about rain like a long lost friend, the sound of soft rain at night, the smell of rain on a summer lawn, the steam rising from the tarmac after a downpour.

after the rain from Mt. Brulee

When we lived in paradise, 3° south of the equator, it rained often, almost several times daily, mostly sudden thrilling showers.  For a moment, an orchestra of drumming raindrops on the tin roof, sheets of water gushing down all around the house, the ground covered in mirrors of water, dripping breadfruit trees and angry bird call.
Is this the rainy season, I asked one of my neighbours. He just laughed politely, no no Sabine, the rains come much later, after the xmas, and skipped elegantly over the puddles.
The daily rain made everything look immaculate. Shiny and moist and brand new and promising.
The rainy season could involve almost a whole day of steady rain, occasionally a landslide, flooding, the mangroves waist high in deep red water down by the estuary. The very stylish and careful would wear a long-sleeved garment for a brief period, looking like aliens.
after the rain down by the river

On a rainy season Sunday, we would sit on the plastic tiles by the open door, playing rounds of scrabble, listening to the Dexter Gordon tape, S outside, barefoot and dripping, splashing, a gang of shouting children.

21 July 2019

We must focus on what we can do. Not what we can’t do.

With more than 7 billion people on the planet, we need to cooperate. I don’t believe we are continuing to ruin the biosphere because we are evil. I am convinced we are doing it because we are not fully informed of the consequences of our actions. And this is very hopeful to me, because I believe that once we know we will change.
The problem is not the people. It is what we do. But of course it is more difficult to live sustainably with more people on the planet. But these solutions can never be discussed on a personal level – it must be handled on a global level. If we are to control the number of people on Earth then I guess we must start with the high emitters. This debate would take decades and leave no space to solve other problems. It’s simply too big for us individuals. In my experience, the “we are too many people” argument is used as an excuse for not taking action ourselves.

Greta Thunberg 

18 July 2019


I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
 Langston Hughes

15 July 2019

mostly lilies

day lilies
A few cool days. But no rain. The garden looks shaggy, I pick up dry stalks, pull out plants that didn't make it. Others don't seem to mind the lack of water. We need to make changes. Smaller leaves, deeper roots. Two days ago, I furiously watered the lot, it took ages. Too late for some anyway.

white agapanthus a friend brought from Madeira
My father talks about the dry summer and I can hear the concern in his voice. Something he rarely shows and never about people. But land, dairy farms, rivers, aquifers, forests, even after 30 years of retirement, all that matters so much to him. We also talked about the tennis and the soccer worldcup or rather, he did because what would I know about that anyway.

tiger lilies

After much deliberation and a couple of angry painful nights, I increased my medication last week without consulting the expert. Today I lost my nerve and called in to my GP and she waved all my concerns away with a brisk smile and a couple of reassurances and, don't worry, it's still a low dose and why don't I give you a sick cert. Which I declined and she shook her head in sorrow.

purple heart lilies

Let's face it, I'll never be rid of cortisone - no matter how careful I am tapering the stuff - and my digestive system will never fully recover.

happy tansy

I have been eating comforting bland porridge, crunchy plain toast and delicious alphabet soup (from a packet) for the last couple of days, topped with probiotics, and just one slightly milky cup of coffee. Surely, something good will come of it.

queen feijoa
But hey, I can move my hands, fingers and feet with considerably less pain, sleep without colics waking me at all hours and the mouth ulcers are in the single digits again. This is the life!

I intend cycling to work by Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.

trumpet vine

07 July 2019

Last night, we went to hear Joan Baez sing on a small island in the river. A scenic location.
Sometime two days ago virus no. 125 or maybe 525 had caught up with me and consequently, yesterday was pretty gruesome but by early evening I took one of the forbidden ibuprofen and told R told me to get a move on.
I have never been a true fan of Joan Baez and folk music gets kind of tedious after a while but I was hoping for encouragement, some kind of message on endurance and hope from a 78 year old artist and veteran civil rights activist.
Instead, I felt melancholia, nostalgia, loneliness even, sitting there in the crowd on our 3000 small chairs on the lawn by the river, like good children at assembly. There was a high wind rustling in the poplar trees and occasionally, the tuktuktuk of a passing river barge. Of course, she was a commanding presence but I felt such loss and when as a second encore, she sang "Where have all the flowers gone" (in German), I wanted to leave, I felt so sad. Walking across the bridge with the sky darkening so beautifully above the river, her last song ("Imagine") felt like a bad spell following us and I wanted to shout, this is getting us nowhere, enough.
I hadn't eaten since lunch, that plus the virus, who knows.

Early this morning it rained, gently. Like a whisper and then it was over and the birds, reinvigorated no doubt, began their show in earnest and at full volume. From an open window down the road I could hear my neighbour calling for help as she does every morning. She still looks as stunning as she did when we moved here so many years ago, the short Jean Seberg haircut and the stripy Breton shirt, tanned legs and elegant long arms. But her posture is that of a small bent woman, Alzheimer's disease does that to a person, and she barely looks up when someone from her devoted family brings her for a walk.

I listened to her for a while, trying to send her my best wishes, and made my mental list for the day, my list of all the tricks I intend to pull out of the bag to ignore my aching hands and feet, to play the game of being energetic and full of purpose. A game I play entirely for myself. There's no fooling R who carries the breakfast tray out to the patio table while I trudge along with the breadbasket.

The heat wave is over for now and today was a perfect summer's day. I slowly worked my way through my list, cleaning the bathroom, hanging out laundry, making the peach and star anise tart from the Chetna Makan book and watching R digging up carrots and potatoes. After lunch, we sat outside under the big umbrella looking through the family tree he has been working on with his older sister, reading about  James and Patrick and Theresa and another James and another and several more Patricks and the many Desmonds and Peters and Marys and so on. Stories of emigration, foreign and domestic careers, dead infants, death during childbirth, poverty and riches. At times, we laughed but mostly we sat there thinking of these lives, these losses, the hardship, the courage.

And now, the ibu has delivered the expected results in my digestive system (whereby system is an euphemism, let's call it chaos, or hell) and has sent me to lie down with a hot water bottle, reading and thinking.

We carry our burdens on our backs, in our stomachs, in our hearts. We carry the burdens of those who hurt us, those for whom we are responsible, those we’ve lost.
(from a beautiful essay by Amy Scheiner)

06 July 2019

breakfast with a teacher

It so happens that R is not only my gardener and my cook but also a science teacher. Last month was our 37th wedding anniversary, BTW,  and that makes him my personal science teacher. Never mind that he is officially retired because, once a teacher always a teacher. There are moments when for me, this translates into once a stroppy student always a stroppy student, but as a lifelong proponent of positive affirmation, he just ignores my antics.

Anyway, breakfast. Outside under the pear tree.
Out of the blue, he tests my knowledge about genotype and phenotype and I bullshit along, mumble something about genotype + environment = phenotype* and so on for a while, waiting for the punch line - knowing full well that he is onto something but wants me to figure it out (see above: once a teacher . . .).  OK, he lectures on in his benign teaching voice, so what do you know about the extended phenotype?
I am in deep water here because biology is not my forte and bullshitting only gets you that far. But I remember something he mentioned a while ago and I reply, oh you mean that stuff about the brainwashed ants climbing trees for the fungus? Yep, he says, that's an excellent example.
 **Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus (. . .) infects a carpenter ant, (. . . ) grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn. (more here)
I didn't quite use all these clever words, but I passed the exam.

But let's take this a step further. Consider the Earth. We humans have been identified as a virus and so, quite naturally, the earth is producing antibodies and stimulating a fever to rid itself of the disease. 
Humans are like any other organism, e.g bacteria, with access to an almost abundant energy source — in our case, fossil fuels. 
By the time we run out of energy and resources to exploit, our population will crash back to something manageable or die off completely. We are the zombie ants.

How stupid is that compared to the clever fungus. And I don't mean we should enslave ants but good grief, what are we thinking!? Where is the extended phenotype when you need it?

Our problem is the fact that we continue to convince ourselves that since we have all sorts of meaningless gadgets we are special and above such natural processes and that describing our violent and cruel ways of trampling around on this planet with the word 'civilisation' means we are onto some sort of noble path. 
We call it progress and think it's normal to be able to buy foods from all over the world when we fancy them and then throw them away when I forget to eat them, to (insert your favourite non-sustainable activity here).

And we all know that this cannot last forever. We pretend we don't, But We Do. Don't tell me you don't. We are skilled in creating delusional thoughts. Anything to stave off the forecast of a much poorer and more vulnerable way of life, while (just look!) nearly every other human’s life on Earth, now and throughout history, has been poorer and more vulnerable than ours. 

The hardest part of this is, really, that we know, WE KNOW, how to solve this. 

(Remember: 1. It's warming. 2. It's us. 3. We're sure. 4. It's bad. 5. We can fix it.)

* https://pged.org/what-is-genotype-what-is-phenotype/

01 July 2019

Chinese trumpet - incarvillea
The temperature has dropped a teeny weeny bit today and we had approx. 200 drops of rain this morning which rapidly evaporated on impact.

Yesterday evening just before sunset we headed out on our bicycles to see the river and collect large amounts of sweat everywhere on our bodies. It was nice, the sky turned pink and everybody was down there, dipping their feet in (it's too dangerous to swim in it) and watching the boats go by. On our way home we tsk tsk tsk at the guys watering their front lawns because we felt smug. Back home I tipped a couple of buckets at the berries and a few select vegetables and flowering plants but told the trees to dig deeper with their roots because, tough.

When we bought this house 20+ years ago, we were basically broke but managed to persuade the mortgage bank to include finances to cover costs to install thermal and pv solar power on the roof and a rain water collection system.
The two slim thermal solar panels (6sqm) produce all our hot water from April to October and some of it for the rest of the year, the pv panels (12sqm) produce most to all our electricity when the sun is up (yes, even when it's cold and cloudy) and we feed the surplus into the grid and get paid for it. In the early days I would stand in front of the meter thinking what fools we had been waiting and dithering endlessly discussing costs while all the time the sun has been there providing free electricity.
Endless. Free. Electricity.

We collect all rain water from the roof of the house into a tank that sits below our lawn and that is connected to a small pump and filter system that feeds our toilets cisterns. If there isn't enough rain, the usual water supply takes over - you have no idea how many of our visitors are worried about that aspect.
That was a big headache with rules and regulations and water fees and we had to install meters which we regularly forget to read and I think we are in the bad books because of it but the city officially is all for sustainability so we have escape fines for now.

Next tasks - and believe me R is working on it because he basically will not shut up about it and serious guys with clipboards and tablets have been calling - include storage of the surplus energy for the night, feeding the radiators in winter with thermal solar energy and dancing for more rain.