It has been nice to get out of Nevada County and find a worthy distraction to adjust my head space. Portland is a worthy distraction. Portland is outer-space.

For Portland, as for any victim of stereotyping and sketch comedy, there is a grain of truth that makes the prejudices rude and the sketches funny. Portland is a place filled with art, ideas and front-yard vegetable gardens. It is a place where people stock there their fridges with passion fruit flavored beer and go out to tiki-themed bars and order rum drinks with kitsch names like “Navy Grog” and “Zombie Punch.” It is a place of flagrant whimsy.

Yet, there is no garbage in Portland. Within the city limits, there is only compost and recycling and, if you think you have found garbage, it is because you have disrupted the somber chi of our Holy Mother Earth or because you lack the creativity to find a reasonable excuse for salvage. Portland accepts no garbage. I have been in Portland a mere thirteen hours and I know this to be true.

I walked about a mile this morning to find coffee. I moseyed along, passing judgment on each house’s garden and expecting to see more cyclists or find a closer coffee shop. The rain in Oregon makes Portland egregiously lush. Each yard has at least five varieties of fancy foliage in perfect condition. Daphnes, dahlias, rhododendron, Japanese maples, poppies, peonies and so much more. It’s as though there is a city ordinance that declares that all residents must possess a green thumb.

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I am traveling with friends to a farming conference in Tacoma and Portland is a stop in transit. We got in last night to rest before making the last leg into Washington. We stayed at the home of a Nevada County ex-patriot and her partner, and were greeted with warm smiles and the pleasant glow of holiday lighting.  In June.

Entering their home was like stumbling into an art gallery. The living room and dining area were painted in shades of turquoise, making the wood floors look like a beach and the rugs like colorful beach towels. Orange curtains dressed the windows and no wall or shelf was spared from art. There were ledges filled with sentimental knickknackery, potted house plants and books on obscure subjects. The fireplace mantle was decorated with ships and mermaids. After walking down the lime green hall, into the sunrise-colored kitchen stocked with jars with home-canned foods, all my mental representations about Portland were solidified.

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 I love Portland, Oregon.  The place is awesome.


GMOs, Food Security and War

I have been thinking about something I posted on facebook yesterday. I shared an article that reported that Putin, of Russia, stated to the US that the GMO issue will lead to World War. That is very scary. My first thought was, “Is Russia going to bomb our corn? Should we call Iowa?”


For those that are new to the issue, GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms.” GMOs are found in our food and other crops. Many of us are eating GMOs and very few of us know because GMOs aren’t labeled. There are GMOs in most cereals. There are GMOs in what most of our cows are fed. There are GMOs in our clothes. There are GMOs in Girl Scout Cookies. There are companies that own patents for genetic modification to things like corn, wheat, sugar beets, soy beans and cotton. American farmers, that have gone against the proliferation of GMOs, have been met with terrible consequences. There are too many examples to name.


Corporations have used biological technology to change the DNA of seeds and plants, and to manufacture seeds that grow with resistance to certain circumstances and certain chemicals. They have gotten patents on their “inventions.” They own those patents.


It sounds very American. It sounds like entrepreneurship. It sounds good on the surface. It really does. Initially, the GMO patents were heralded as the answer to world hunger. We were going to save the world. But since their proliferation, GMOs, and the resulting fall-out, have made many countries ban these modifications because they do more harm than good. Many countries have banned GMOs.


We aren’t talking strictly obscure countries. We are talking about countries that that folks from the USA can find on a map. We are talking France, Germany and Italy. Even our neighbor Mexico has banned GMOs in certain circumstances. Even Switzerland, known for its obscure neutrality in WWII, won’t plant GMO crops. We have some real girth in politics fighting against genetic modification in crops.


In the US, there have been many efforts to label GMOs but those efforts have failed. They have failed at the state level and they have failed in Congress. The corporate lobby has proved too powerful.


California, my state, the state where I am from, recently tried to pass a ballot initiative to label GMOs. It was called Prop 37. It failed because companies like Monsanto and Dupont put out ads that said that, because the new law wouldn’t label pet food, we shouldn’t bother with labels. People bought it. And the people lost. (That is my over-simplification but most Californians will probably agree that it’s accurate.)


The recent Russian outrage against GMOs shouldn’t come as a surprise. If any political entity should comment on food security (or lack thereof), it’s the Russian federation. They know, from USSR first-hand experience, what it is like to lose an entire region’s wheat crop. They know what the consequences are. The country knows what happens when its people starve. They know how unstable a country and power becomes when it is hungry. I’m not being vague. There is no more USSR.


The headline of the article about Putin’s comment on GMOs made it seem like, if America doesn’t stop the proliferation of GMOs, Russia will drop a bomb on us. It sounded pretty threatening.


After pondering for a night, I don’t think that Russia was giving the USA a war threat. I think that Putin was speaking only from an historic, academic experience, not from a political platform. I think he was trying to help.


Before we get carried away. Let me be clear: I’m not with Putin or Russia politically on almost any issue. I’m a gay. So Russia and I pretty much vehemently disagree on most issues.


But, on the the GMO issue, we may find some common ground.


I think Putin actually meant well. I don’t think that he was posturing for war. I think that he was simply explaining history.


Historically, empires fall when they are hungry. This is not conjecture. This is fact. Google it or read “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. Study the northern block of present-day Africa. Or ask someone who lived through the 1980s in present-day Ukraine or Belarus. Hunger sucks. And nationally, it creates instability.


GMOs have proven to be a threat to farmers, a threat to food security, and therefore, a threat to national security.


Because GMOs create a farming vacuum by instilling fear in farmers about crop proliferation, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. Because a small few own the right to GMO crops, which spread their seed through pollination to other plots of land, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. Because our government and our court system has recently historically sided with large corporations on the GMO issue, GMOs create an inherent prelude to food insecurity. When the people have no control over their food and their access to food, it creates an inherent prelude to food insecurity.


Food insecurity has caused a great many empires to fall. GMOs further food insecurity by stealing seeds, by hindering farmers, and by making it more difficult to grow crops. The GMO empire has put family farmers on their knees and has left family gardeners with questions. GMOs, and politics surrounding GMOs, have hurt those that feed us. Farmers are afraid.


When when farmers are afraid, food goes unplanted. And when food goes unplanted, people go unfed. And when people go unfed, countries go hungry. And when countries go hungry, political instability takes over. And when political instability takes over, war is the result.


I don’t think Putin’s warnings were out of of line. I think they were completely accurate.



Beautiful Day

To help pay for college, I worked for a high-end coffee company for six years. It was my first job out of high school. I was good at my job. My co-workers and my customers liked me. It wasn’t a tall order. Being a barista is like being a 5-minute bartender. I had to be nice, make small talk, and maintain respectable hygiene. I could remember the regular customers’ drinks and would pick up their stories from where they left off. I got on just fine.


(This is not to say that customer service isn’t brutal. It is. People are assholes. Especially before coffee.)

As with most jobs, I looked forward to my days off. I dragged at the beginning of my week. Even if my work week started on a Thursday, I would occasionally come down with “a case of the Mondays”. I looked forward to Fridays because, even if I didn’t have a regular weekend, there was always a party.

One spring morning, I woke up in my sky-blue bedroom to piles of light and dust motes dancing around me. I was twenty-something. My roommates were elsewhere. It had rained the week before and the trees were pink. I had satin sheets. I had butterflies painted on the walls. I had six bookshelves and organized my books by color. It was wonderful.

I was scheduled to work that afternoon. But it wasn’t going to happen.

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I had worked out my lie and practiced my best possible scratchy-voice before picking up the phone. My boss answered and, when I opened my mouth, I said, with clear sing-song, “I can’t come in. It’s a beautiful day.” I wasn’t expecting to tell the truth but there it was.

I was astounded by my honesty. I think he was too. So much so that his next words weren’t, “You’re fired.” He instead said, “Okay. I’ll give you an hour. Get your shift covered.”

I got my shift covered. One of my co-workers wanted to go to Mexico the next month and wanted the money.

I don’t remember what I did that day. I probably sat in my back yard drinking wine. Maybe reading. Maybe gardening. Definitely enjoying myself.

I worked for the company for two more years. My boss and I are still friends…ten years later.