The pretty good books of Susan Larson

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My Lawn

“Do you want us to dig out those violets and dandelions and…other stuff?” said the landscaper.

“No, I don’t,” I said firmly. “I like them.”

The man took this in while examining my lawn more closely, his inner turmoil showing in his face as he grappled with the sacrilegious concept of letting flowers live in the lawn.

I live in the leafy suburbs, a place where the all-green velvety, pool-table-like lawn is worshipped and served as a god. Where a stray bugleweed or a lamb’s quarter  would be ruthlessly hunted down and murdered, where visions of  dandelion fluff blowing in from elsewhere haunt the dreams of the grass-obsessed home-owner. Where the big bucks are spent for International Harvester-sized sit-upon mowers,  herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, all to groom, feed, water, and maintain the monoculture of grass. Grass. Grass is not a plant. It is an animal. It is a cash cow.

I have no grass. Or little grass. It is true that my spouse re-seeds the lawn with grass when the mood takes him in September;  and grass emerges, tender and lusciously green. By the next summer there is no longer any grass. Or little grass. There is crabgrass and violets and clover and bugleweed and dandelions and God knows what-all else. It is green sprinkled with white and blue and yellow and purple in May.  You can tread on it. You can mow it. It is my lawn.

Grass lawns are good in Great Britain. It is cooler there, and it rains a lot more. Big British Lawns are populated by sheep, who keep them trimmed down. Grass lawns are not good in New England. It is too hot. Grass lawns want to go dormant and brown in the summer.  Eternal vigilance and loads of toxic chemicals keep grass from being crowded out by plants that love living in New England. Those plants who have displaced the grass in my lawn are real plants; they survive on their own, with sunshine and water and dirt being the only contribution from me.

I do have to mow it. I always wondered why those grass breeders have never come up with a dwarf species that stops growing at three inches, and holds its own against crabgrass. I am sure that will never happen, because the lawn-care and lawnmower industries would quietly assassinate anybody who threatened their cash cow.

Think of all the great things suburbanites could do if they kicked the grass habit. Vegetable and flower gardens, wildflower meadows with mowed pathways, astroturf,  Japanese sand and rock gardens.  But no. We have drunk the Kool-Ade;  the all-grass lawn is a sign of respectability, financial success, and the Puritan Ethic. It is a  a holy grail to be struggled for and worried over day and night. Labor-intensive though it may be, costly though it may be, crazy though it may be, stupid though it may be, we pour cash and labor (our own or the labor of those nice guys from Guatemala) into our grass lawns. We resent and silently curse the neighbors who have violets and dandelions spangling their lawns. That would be my lawn…mylawn


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How to Charm the Birds out of the Trees

Yesterday I got about a dozen hits; the gang showed up all at once, yelling and swearing and threatening each other. Today, they ignore me. I stand for thirty minutes in the backyard, motionless as a post, whistling softly and looking modestly at the ground. Nada.

Then there is a rattle of feathers, and tiny claws grip my thumb. A chickadee swipes a piece of peanut off my palm, squeaks, and takes off. A titmouse takes his place, eats a peanut and nips my hand to see if it might be tasty. She grabs another nut, flips her wings, and heads for the woods to dine on it in private, or stash it for later.

I am totally, helplessly enchanted. The birds have decided I am good people.

“My” backyard birds have always been pretty casual around me, eating at the feeder as I puttered in the garden or read in the Adirondack chair. But of course, like all biophiliacs, I wanted to touch them, or at least I wanted them to touch me. So I decided to make the effort to lure them onto my hand.

There are a number of ways bird-lovers accomplish this trick, but the principles remain the same. Put some birdie treats, something extra good like pecans or peanuts, on your feeder and stand around at a discreet distance.

Wear sunglasses (no wild animal likes to be stared at, it’s very threatening, and if you roll your naked eyes to look at them the scream EEEEEK and fly away). Wear comfy shoes. This takes a while.

Even though they figure out pretty quickly that you and the goodies arrive together, eating in your company is a big step for a little bird. Shorten the distance between you tactfully, retreating if necessary. When they are happily fluttering around your head, take the treats off the feeder, put them in your hand, arrange your hand so it touches the feeder and wait for the bravest bird- a chickadee probably- to take the plunge. Last step, remove the feeder and offer the goodies.

You will hear the birds vocalizing and figure out what they are saying. There is the general alarm-call, “chicka-deedeedeedeedee.” Five ‘dees’ indicate your high dangerousness quotient, and will lesson in number as the bird decides you are harmless, until you rate only a “chick” as the bird weighs and risks and benefits giving itself encouragement to hop onto your palm.

In my imagination, the bird working himself up to do it is saying “shit, shit, shit!”

The little squeak they make when they have actually done it means “Yippee!” And the angry chickadee ‘gargle’ is a curse flung at other birds: “My turn, bitch, back off!”

I just love being fought over…

Nuthatches alight on my hand also, making their nasal mutterings, “meh, meh, meh.” I am hoping that I will get woodpeckers, who make a sound like a sneeze. Perhaps I can entice some other birds too, although the resident cardinals and finches are very shy. My idea of heaven is a Carolina Wren- that tiny russet-colored droplet of pure energy- taking peanuts from my hand. But anybird will do; it’s a thrill to have them sit on me, and an honor to be their pet.

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Poverty Bites

“The Poor,” as Jesus remarked a good while ago, “you will always have with you.”
As promised, The Poor have not gone away. Throughout history the more fortunate have dealt with them charitably, mercifully, or brutally as the mood takes us. In our success-crazed American society, the condition of poverty is kind of OK, but only if you rise out of it. If you insist on remaining stuck in poverty, there are names you get called.

Lazy, shiftless, amoral, irresponsible, moochers, ‘takers,’ The 47 Per Cent, people who expect Free Stuff, Welfare Cheats, Welfare Queens, those people who actually own washing machines and TVs, but who are eternally lining up to buy T-bone steaks and prawns with their food stamps, Drains on the Economy, producing nothing but kids out of wedlock, drinking their paychecks away, addicts, criminals, and trailer trash.

Well, I have my own definition of The Poor. The Poor are people who can’t get their teeth fixed.

I am one of the more fortunate, at least for the moment. I have however, inherited my ancestor’s crumbly soft teeth; I have had a bunch of dental abscesses, which start out as a mild temperature sensitivity and then develop into a roaring, throbbing agony that spreads to my whole head and then to my body. When this happens I call Dr. Levine’s office and groan into the phone, and the nice lady says to me “Can you come in right away?” So I do, and Dr. Levine performs a root canal and I go on my way rejoicing and praising God.

If you are The Poor neither the dentist nor the nice lady will see you right away. They will quote you a price, not for a root canal but for an extraction; then tell you they cannot pull a tooth while it is infected. The anesthetic doesn’t work if it’s infected. They may give you a scrip for antibiotics.
So you score some Doxycycline, and maybe some weed to kill the pain, or you chew on a tea-bag, or take three Ibuprofen and a Tylenol in one go, or you turn to the universal analgesic of the poor, alcohol. If the antibiotics don’t kick in right away, you can also, as I have just learned, just rinse your mouth with vanilla extract. Or gasoline.

They only let you work part-time on the register of the big food chain that hired you. That’s so they won’t have to give you health insurance or other benefits. Your little house is underwater and the mortgage is too high, but you still make your payments conscientiously, as you do all your other bills.
But last year your good hardworking live-in gentleman friend, who never slaps you around like your husband used to, broke both arms in an accident on a construction job, and you were strapped for cash. That’s when you got involved with a sleazy loan company that charged you usurious rates of interest, compounded each week. It took some time before you realized you were only paying to service the interest, not the principal, and that the payments would never, ever end.

And now your entire mouth, jaw, head, throat and body are pounding in unspeakable agony; and either the infection or the antibiotics is making you nauseous, exhausted and unable to eat. You may have waited too long to seek help, so the infection might spread to, say, your brain, your jawbone or your bloodstream and heart, at which point you have bacterial endocarditis and you can go to the E.R.
In spite of not feeling quite up to par, you go to work and you do your hours, and you start looking around for some other way to make some cash; maybe cleaning houses, which you used to do when you were young. You can’t imagine doing all that bending and stooping work feeling like you do. And of course, no benefits come with that job either.

And maybe some friend or the people from church, seeing how sick and terrified you look, may help you pay off your debt to the predatory loan company, and maybe somebody knows somebody who is looking for domestic help, and maybe the Doxy will get rid of the infection if it hasn’t gone too far, and you can scrounge the cash to get the tooth pulled.

But there are a dozen teeth, more or less, that you still have in your head. Each one is a time bomb.
The Teeth– you will always have with you.

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Does it Matter if Your Horse is in Pain?

Nine Kinds of Pain

I used to love dressage. Dressage is the French Word for ‘training,’ and its goal is, or was, physically and mentally conditioning a horse to the point where she can move with her native pride and grace while carrying a human burden on her back. This would be something like training a ballerina to dance Swan Lake wearing a book-bag. Not so easy. The ideal result of this training should be a centaur: human and horse becoming a harmonious lyrical whole.

My grade companion horses could do basic low-level dressage, which meant: smooth starts, stops, backing up, turning in circles or in place, switching easily from one gait to another, and carrying a rider in a balanced way without discomfort or pain. More than that I never asked, because I was not really good enough to ask.

I admired the great dressage horses and their wonderful riders of the past. I had a crush on the great Olympian horse Rembrandt and his rider Nicole Uphoff, who made dressage look like a dance they were just making up for fun; so expressive of power, beauty and joy.

Lately when I see dressage clips on you-tube, it does not look like fun. One clip I happened upon showed a lady (I won’t name her) in full show kit on a beautiful dark bay horse, doing high level dressage airs in an arena. The animal’s head was tucked in almost to his neck, and his mouth was open in his efforts to evade the bit. His back was hollow and his hind feet, instead of working under his body to help carry the rider, were trailing out stiffly behind. Every time he was asked to turn, he lashed his tail angrily from side to side.

This animal was also extremely expressive. What he was expressing was pain.

And this is the video she put up of herself! Merrily floating along while her horse is desperately trying to tell her w that it damned well hurts!

If I had any hope of being heeded by this ‘expert’ dressage rider I would tell her get off, turn her horse out into a pasture to graze and play with his friends, and after a few months when the pain finally stops, she might want lend him to a twelve-year-old kid and tell them to go trail riding on a loose rein for a year or so. Maybe with no bit in the horse’s mouth.

What kind of narcissistic ego trip, or big-money trip, or prestige trip, is the competitive dressage world on, that they do not notice their own expensive and ‘pampered’ animals expressing pain? Are they so focused on extracting what they– or the show world– desire from their horses that they don’t see? Or care? Maybe PETA should have a look at this sadistic perversion of dressage. I used to like it. Now it makes me sick.

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“Sam (a pastoral)” now distributed by Overdrive

samdencoverTo all lovers of animals and humans: My book “Sam (a pastoral)” is now distributed as an e-book by Overdrive to your library. You can request “Sam” and read it any your tablet, phone or laptop.

“Sam” is the story of two misfits who fall in love and stick by each other even when the world turns against them.

For young (and older) adults. Positive themes include nature, farming, family, friendship, forgiveness and reconciliation. Potentially disturbing themes include bullying, parental abandonment, animal abuse and depression.

Not a bad read! Please share this around if you like!

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Tir Na NOg

tirnanogTir Na NOg:
Musings while locked in a garage

Peaceful here. Dark. Dry. Feeling all that pressure slowly going down. Just hanging on the wall. No worries.

Where is she, I wonder. It’s been a while.

The last time we went out, September I think. Rolling hills, a few big-bitch steep ones. One stretch of fresh-laid asphalt still soft, it kicked up a lot of icky. We got around all the potholes and cornersand, the damn broken glass on the shoulder.

She and I hardly ever clash; no clunking gears, no crisscrosses, no dropped chains. We get along good.

She gave me a bath after that ride, and a wax job. She worked some lube into those parts I like. She shampooed the icky off my power train, using that cute gizmo that kind of tickles, then lubed and wiped it clean. Ahhh, feels so good after.

She hoisted me up on the wall, made sure I was settled.

“Tir Na NOg,” she said to me. “Tir Na Fuckin NOg.”

She hasn’t been back since.

It’s autumn now. Acorns. Slimy leaves and slick pine needles gathering at the corners. But still the best time to be going. Into the hill country, the apple country. It’s spinning fast and easy, no noise but whooshing wheels and, on the big bitches, she does some groaning and panting.

I help her be Tir Na NOg because I am really energy efficient and she is not. Though we are both made largely of carbon, my design is perfect and she has structural flaws. She is a much older model. But together we slip along like a silverfish.

Maybe her frame is cracked. Cables corroded. Or she just needs to be trued up. I’m good with that. I pass the winter here, remembering the fine summer we had, even though no autumn. Maybe we will get pumped up again for Spring. In Spring it will be Tir Na NOg again. Tir Na NOg, always.

Dang, I miss her.