Earth maintained an important garrison on Asteroid Y-3. Now suddenly it was imperiled with a biological impossibility—men becoming plants!
“WELL, Corporal Westerburg,” Doctor Henry Harris said gently, “just why do you think you’re a plant?”
As he spoke, Harris glanced down again at the card on his desk. It was from the Base Commander himself, made out in Cox’s heavy scrawl: Doc, this is the lad I told you about. Talk to him and try to find out how he got this delusion. He’s from the new Garrison, the new check-station on Asteroid Y-3, and we don’t want anything to go wrong there. Especially a silly damn thing like this!
Harris pushed the card aside and stared back up at the youth across the desk from him. The young man seemed ill at ease and appeared to be avoiding answering the question Harris had put to him. Harris frowned. Westerburg was a good-looking chap, actually handsome in his Patrol uniform, a shock of blond hair over one eye. He was tall, almost six feet, a fine healthy lad, just two years out of Training, according to the card. Born in Detroit. Had measles when he was nine. Interested in jet engines, tennis, and girls. Twenty-six years old.
“Well, Corporal Westerburg,” Doctor Harris said again. “Why do you think you’re a plant?”
The Corporal looked up shyly. He cleared his throat. “Sir, I am a plant, I don’t just think so. I’ve been a plant for several days, now.”
“I see.” The Doctor nodded. “You mean that you weren’t always a plant?”
“No, sir. I just became a plant recently.”
“And what were you before you became a plant?”
“Well, sir, I was just like the rest of you.”
I had to move it from its old spot on the bookcase because it was getting too big. We also had no more room for books. For reference, at the last tree house update two months ago our little tree was 62 cm, and it’s now 71 cm, plus its foliage is quite a lot wider and the trunk is turning into a real trunk. I think we’re going to need a bigger pot.
On to one of my favorite subjects: robots. I read an article in The Atlantic the other day, “The Robots Are Coming, but Are They Really Taking Our Jobs?” and it made me think of something I read in the Faber Book of Utopias a while ago. File this under One Man’s Utopia is Kate’s Personal Hell:
Plastic-Wood Paradise (pp. 228-230)
In 1833 a German living in Pittsburg, John Adolphus Etzler, published A Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, Without Labor, By Powers of Nature and Machinery. Printed in the same volume were letters addressed to congress and to President Jackson, urging them to adopt his plan which would, he prophesied, transform the then wild and sparsely populated United States into a heaven-on-earth, attract millions of immigrants from Europe, and ensure America’s ‘unparalleled glory and dominion over the world.’
I promise to show the means for creating a paradise within ten years, where everything desirable for human life may be had for every man in superabundance, without labor, without pay; where the whole face of nature is changed into the most beautiful form of which it is capable; where man may live in the most magnificent palaces, in all imaginable refinement of luxury, in the most delightful gardens; where he may accomplish, without his labour, in one year, more than hitherto could be done in thousands of years; he may level mountains, sink valley, create lakes, drain lakes and swamps, intersect everywhere the land with beautiful canals, with roads for transporting heavy loads of many thousand tons and and travelling 1,000 miles in 24 hours; he may cover the ocean with floating islands moveable in any desired direction with immense power and celerity, in perfect security and in all comfort and luxury, bearing gardens, palaces, with thousands of families, provided with rivulets of sweet water; he may explore the interior of the globe, travel from pole to pole in a fortnight; he may provide himself with means, unheard of yet, for increasing his knowledge of the world, and so his intelligence; he may lead a life of continual happiness, of enjoyments unknown yet; he may free himself from almost all the evils that afflict mankind, except death, and even put death far beyond the common period of human life, and finally render it less afflicting; mankind may thus live in and enjoy a new world, far superior to our present, and raise themselves to a far higher scale of beings.
1. From The Atlantic, “In 1858, People Said the Telegraph Was ‘Too Fast for the Truth‘”
Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?
2. Also from The Atlantic: “The Health Benefits of Trees”
I’m teaching another class at Trade School Geneva tonight, this time on canning jam. We’re going to make Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam, which was my second choice after my plans for Cherry Preserves with Honey and Rosemary fell through — I had to nix that after I went to the store and found that we are officially past cherry season. Perhaps it’s for the best. I think if I put the students to work pitting 3 kilos of cherries I would have a mutiny on my hands. Peeling peaches is less risky for group leaders.
I found those two recipes in a search for jam made with a sweetener other than sugar, because I haven’t yet found a locally produced sugar and every time I’ve made jam with the mass market kind coming from who knows where a little part of me cries, “This is not right!” Pouring imported sugar over local apricots, something does not sit well with me there. (Granted there’s vanilla bean in the peach jam recipe, but I already had some in the pantry that I wasn’t using. And it’s organic and fair trade. That solves all ethical dilemmas, right?)
I haven’t yet gotten past the sugar thing in my jam making, but I will for tonight’s class. Convention might dictate that I should use a recipe I’ve made many times before and have mastered, but where’s the fun in that? Plus one of the beautiful things about TSG is that the teachers are not expected to be experts so I’m taking advantage of the environment to try something new.
In preparation for the class I’m also learning a lot of things I never knew before, reading up on all sorts of Science so I can explain with a modicum of authority why we do what we do when we can jam. It’s Botulism Appreciation Day here and tonight I’ll be sharing the knowledge.
Art is one of the better ways to show this cultural diversity that at the same time is intimately related to the natural world, which for us now means also the production and designing of “bio-artifacts”. Corn is a bio-artifact. But we have to learn to see degrees, nuances and be more specific in the kind of analysis that we make when we draw a border between the natural and the artificial.
It can be said that there is no problem with transgenic food, but there is no consensus in the scientific community about this. And this should be enough to have more precaution. But I insist, what is at stake is not only the way in which we produce food and what for, but also how we dwell in this world, and what cultural diversity are we willing to preserve and respect.
One sunny morning last autumn I went to the farmers’ market for pumpkins, eggs, and whatever vegetables were still available at this, the final market of the season. One of the more prominent booths, Magic Garden, featured friendly elderly ladies offering produce, dried herbs, and a dozen different types of relishes and sauces in home-canning jars.
“We can do this now,” one of them said brightly while passing her arm above the display, “thanks to that new law.”
The law to which the vendor referred was Oregon HB 2336, signed in 2011 and implemented in January 2012, which allows farmers to process their own produce in a limited number of ways, and then sell directly to consumers in a farmers’ market setting. Previously, the canning would have been required to occur in a licensed commercial kitchen.
- How to plant a tree, Milkwood style
- 10 shocking photos that will change how you see consumption and waste
- Down to Earth: Small Farm Issues in a Big Farm World (documentary — via Shawndra Miller)
- What if everything you knew about grains was wrong? (via Root Simple)
- a blade of grass: socially engaged art
and I discovered this publishing house today (like I need any more books): Permanent Publications
** PLANT UPDATE **
When I was three years old we went to go visit my mom’s uncle Mark and aunt Mary on their farm in Kentucky. My only memory of the trip was coming upon a litter of newborn kittens in the barn, but I’m told that I also “helped” Mark plant pumpkins, and for the rest of the week-long visit kept pestering him as to when they would be ready to pick. I kind of feel like that still. (PS The punchline of the farm story is that come October we received a gigantic package in the mail — my dad had to go out to the mail truck to help the postman carry it inside. It was addressed to me, and we opened it up to find a hundred-pound pumpkin inside. There’s Uncle Mark for you.)
Luckily, with adulthood comes patience (sometimes). The germination corner of the dining room table has been steadily turning green, and some of its contents will be ready for planting in about a month.
Eggplant (finally — I’d all but given up hope because the seeds were pretty old):
And in the other room, my intrepid little avocado tree: