Memorial Day

My dad and my father-in-law were veterans of the Korean War. They were among the 5.8 million Americans who served in the military during the conflict.  The U.S. and South Korea were joined by 15 other countries that provided troops and five countries that provided medical support.

From 1950 to 1953, more than 36,000 Americans died in the Korean War.  During the same time period, the total U.S. military death toll (worldwide) was more than 54,000, and the number of war dead for United Nations countries was more than 628,000.

My son and I went to the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this year.  Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force members are depicted in 19 stainless steel statues, all of the troops wearing ponchos over their backpacks and weapons. The statues stand amid juniper bushes and strips of polished granite which represent rice paddies in the Korean war zone.

The dedication stone at the Korean War Memorial bears this inscription:

Our nation honors her sons and daughters
who answered the call to defend a country
they never knew and a people they never met

Earth Day 2017

Saturday was Earth Day, with special meaning for our family because it’s the day our daughter was born, premature by one season. We celebrated her Earth Day birthday with a gift of art (el tecolote) and lunch of tacos, burritos, enchiladas and margaritas in Hartford. At a bus stop near Bushnell Park and the CT state capitol we met a retired science teacher with white beard and  knee-length tie-dyed coat sporting buttons of political and philosophical messaging. He’d just come from Hartford’s version of the March for Science in Washington DC. We’d just read in the Boston Globe a petition from hundreds of social scientists to President Trump, expressing dismay at his falsehoods and cavalier, blatant disregard for social scientific evidence.

Back at home the vegetable garden is fertile, the Franciscan friar finally free of flurries. All snow has melted away, maple trees are budding, birds chirping, grass is green, tulips and azaleas in full bloom. I planted peas on Easter Sunday and if we get some sunny afternoons expect to see the sprouts of rain-delayed germination on about the tenth day.

My fave anthem about Mother Earth: Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), by Marvin Gaye, 1971.

My fave prayer/poem/hymn about Mother Earth: The Canticle of Brother Sun, by St. Francis, c. 1224. Shoutouts to Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, and Sister Bodily Death.

Saints Patrick and Francis

March Madness underway. Cabbages the size of basketballs, tournament-worthy, obviously not from the Northeast region. Accompaniment to corned beef for the feast of San Patricio. Tuesday’s blizzard gifted about 12-inches of sloppy wet snow, followed by an overnight freeze and temps in the twenties. Any plans for spring gardening were nipped in the bud. Our sixteenth winter in New England. Weather wise, not the worst. 2015 holds that distinction, Boston relentlessly hammered with storms that yielded a seasonal snow total close to 110 inches. As previously described, planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day is a personal ritual I acquired or created a few years after landing in these parts from Southern California. It’s a rite rife with longing for longer days, hankering for hot summer nights, yearning to replace snow shovel with garden spade. Alas, 17th March in 2017 was not a day in the garden. Our vegetable plot and statue of Saint Francis remain under a frozen blanket. His sandaled feet still shrouded by inches of snow, Francisco has been through this ritual before. Pea planting will be delayed until further notice.


Great Buddha at Kamakura

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The seated Buddha, Amidai Nyorai, also known as the Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha), is a national treasure of Japan. Construction of the colossal bronze statue was begun in 1252 A.D. and continued for ten years, according to historical documents. It is more than 13 meters or 43 feet in height, and throughout the centuries has survived earthquake and tidal wave. A popular field trip location for Japanese schoolchildren and destination for visitors from around the world, the Kamakura Daibutsu is the principle deity of Kotoku-in temple.

My father took our family to see the Buddha at Kamakura when I was boy aged six or seven. To return to this sacred place was a powerful and spiritual experience.

A welcome sign outside the Kotuku-in Monastery gives this notice: “Stranger whosever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the temple of Bhudda and the gods of the Eternal and should therefore be entered with reverence. By order of the Prior.”

Martha Stewart Cage Match

Planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day in New England has become a perennial tradition since my own uprooting from the Southwest fifteen calendars ago. Even a mild Massachusetts winter leaves me with a hankerin’ to dig in the dirt by the time Daylight Saving Time rolls around.

The transplanted Californian once received this vegetable-growing advice from a crusty Connecticut neighbor who knew her way around the garden: Peas are the earliest crop to plant outdoors, and March 17 is the earliest date to plant ‘em. That’s because peas can withstand a frost, whereas other vegetables won’t survive the last blasts of wintry weather. As I write this, a Nor’easter is forecast to grace greater Boston this weekend with 4 to 8 inches of snow.

Like a harbinger of spring, I spent Sunday afternoon building a raised bed from recycled 2 X 4’s for this year’s vegetable garden. Tilled the muddy earth, added a couple sacks of organic compost and set off in pursuit of peas to plant.

It was a surprise to find not one but two lines of USDA-certified organic peas in the seed section of Home Depot’s garden department.

Martha Stewart vs. Burpee

The packets of peas I purchased are both of the Oregon Sugar Pod variety. One is a product of the Burpee Seed Company and the other is from Martha Stewart Living.

Before the seeds even made it home, the idea had been hatched to stage a friendly horticultural competition. Martha vs. Burpee. A cage match for two American ag icons. Inside the deer fence of our vegetable garden.

My March Madness. At dusk on St. Patrick’s Day, I proudly planted two rows of peas. One inch below the earth. Two evenly-matched contestants, given the same soil conditions and exposure to sunlight. Game on.

In the northern hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox occurs this Sunday afternoon. About the same time we’re expecting that Nor’easter. Let’s see whose snow peas are the heartiest this spring. The Martha’s or the Burpees.

Boston by Bike

Looking for convenient and affordable transportation in Boston last weekend, I found the Hubway. It’s a bicycle sharing system that offers hundreds of rental bikes for quick trips throughout the city.

I rode about 10 miles around the Waterfront, Fanueil Hall and Boston Common and the Public Garden. With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, a huge Irish flag was displayed at Rowes Wharf. Pleasure boats on the harbor were still shrink-wrapped for protection from the winter, but on the last day of Eastern Standard Time, people were soaking up the sunshine in the parks and on the harbor.

Boston Common, dating back to 1634, was created as America’s first public park. Public Garden, founded in 1837, was the first public botanical garden in America. Bicycling is prohibited in Public Garden, but there are pathways around it.

Hubway offers a 24-hour pass for $6, good for unlimited trips of up to 30 minutes. You have to turn in the bike at any Hubway station, lock it into the automatic docking system and use an electronic code to unlock another bike for your next ride. They charge extra fees if you keep the same bike for longer than 30 minutes. Using a credit card, it’s a simple self-service network with a mobile app listing all the bike stations throughout the city. They also offer 72-hour passes and monthly and annual memberships.

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