Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dylan vs. Beethoven

DYLAN VS. BEETHOVEN: A Lesson in Family Communication

[This is an edited chapter of a book I’ve been working on for some time, which consists of stories from childhood, approximately age 4 through 14.]

One Saturday, with no warning, Paul Martinez engaged my father in the relative value of pop vs. classical music.  This was probably around 1964 when Bob Dylan was the king of pop, and seemed to be the messenger of the “secret messages” to the younger generation.  All my older brothers could fairly accurately be called Dylan fans, if not Dylan worshippers.  We all seemed to regard listening to Dylan as a more meaningful spiritual experience than sitting through Mass at Saint Elizabeth’s.
No one remembers how it began, but it was a legendary conversation that lasted for hours.  My father’s argument was that the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan were of no lasting value and the young people were simply too ignorant to realize it yet.  Frank, my father, said that Dylan would be forgotten in a few years.  He compared Dylan to Beethoven and Bach, and other classical musicians, and explained that Dylan was not in any way at the level of the classical composers.  Paul wholeheartedly disagreed.
Their conversation began in the living room where Frank would sit in his easy reclining chair and watch TV.  Paul sat near him on the couch.  Everyone in the household only became aware of their conversation when we realized they were still at it after about an hour.  As the conversation’s volume level would rise from time to time, we could all hear what they were saying:  “Of course you can put Dylan in Beethoven’s category,” said Paul in his deep and sincere voice. “Have you actually ever listened to what he’s saying in his songs?”
            “He just cackles,” said Frank, “and you really can’t even make out his words most of the time.  And I’m not even talking about the words.  And it’s only important, as you call it, if you take an hour to explain it all to me.  I don’t need any explanation to know that Bach’s music really is good,” said Frank as Paul patiently waited his turn in this lively exchange.
            “Well, I’m not saying that Dylan and Bach and the other classicals can be compared directly. Obviously, they can’t,” said Paul, giving some ground to Frank. “But there is obviously something that millions of people are responding to that you aren’t seeing – or hearing.  Dylan is not just music;  he is also the message.  So we’ve got to examine some of the words and see what he’s really saying.”
            This went on, back and forth, quiet and loud, for another hour.  They opened up the record player and began playing select songs for the other to listen to.
             We prepared the usual Saturday night dinner – something like hotdogs and baked beans and salad and some other vegetables.  We took a plate into Frank and Paul, and we didn’t expect them to come into the kitchen as their debate entered the third hour.
            We heard silence and then the lyrics of Dylan.  Sad Eyed Lady of the Low lands.  Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.  Blowing in the Wind.  The Times They Are A Changing.    After each short selection, there would be a brief silence, presumably as Paul removed the needle, and then they would talk about it.  We couldn’t hear all the details. Then there would be a round of some of the classical musicians’ work, a silence, and commentary by Frank. 
            We cleared the table and washed the dishes, and I set up the chess board and began a game with a neighbor who dropped by.  Our game lasted nearly an hour, and Robert won. The Dylan-Classical debate continued.
            And then, all of a sudden, Frank and Paul were standing in the kitchen doorway, shaking hands as Paul had to depart.  My brother David hadn’t said much the whole night, but he never did.  
            It was late and Paul had to go home and so it was over.  A stalemate, we presumed.  No clear winner, each side having done their best to promote their own arguments to win over the other.  But both Paul and Frank were unbudgeable and they each stuck to their guns.
            For the rest of us, the conversation about the conversation had just begun. 
            “Why doesn’t he ever have meaningful conversations with us,” David asked to no one in particular.  “He engaged with Paul when Paul challenged, but shouldn’t he take it upon himself to engage us,” asked David.  No one really cared, but it was clear in the conversation about the conversation that David didn’t really care about whose music was best.  To David, the conversation was an example of a father that didn’t take adequate interest in his own children, but would take extra time and supreme effort in a very engaging discussion – but not with David. 
            I inwardly agreed with David, but I didn’t say anything.  In some very primal way, I am sure that I longed to have a father who took an interest in me, who talked to me, who taught me things, who engaged me in his activities for our mutual benefit.  I am sure that David had a good point that Frank should do these sorts of things, but I was not bitter about the fact that he did not do so.
            The rest of us had probably long ago accepted Frank for what and who he was.  To me, Frank was neither good nor bad, right nor wrong – he simply was my father, doing what he did in his patterns of somewhat predictable behavior. But to David, Frank’s conversation was like a slap in the face, saying that he can take the time with a friend of the family, but would not take the time with his own children.  At least that’s how I took David’s reaction.
            Depending on who you asked during the various conversations about the conversation in the weeks and months that followed, the entire event was amusing, meaningless, interesting, a waste of time, insightful, and/or demonstrated that Frank was capable of in-depth abstract thought and could maintain an intellectual conversation and hold his own for hours. 
Though I generally disagreed with Frank’s premise, his performance definitely boosted my image of him.  And likewise my image of Paul was greatly enlarged.  Here was a peer of my brother who could debate with intensity and authority, and try to convince my father of a point of view which I held, but felt totally unable to communicate in any meaningful way. 

Survival Pack followup

On the Dirttime Forum, we had a discussion about "bug out bags" and what to carry if you ever had to evacuate your home.  This topic resulted in many comments, and some controversy.  Please check out the Forum at www.Dirttime.com, and also look at the commentary under Web Articles.

Again, everything you need is at home.  Why wander the streets?  BUT, if there is no choice, then you should carry what you know you'll need.  But what do you need?  There is no one answer, since your situation, location, time of year, and many other factors all come into play.

See what others say on the Dirttime Forum, and let me know if you have questions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What if you had to evacuate?

During one of my Pasadena City College survival classes, a student asked me to list the items that should be carried in an evacuation bag, also known as the “bugout bag.”  In other words, if she had to immediately leave her home for some reason, what should her survival bag contain.  Of course, this led to a big portion of that evening’s discussion.

“First,” I responded, “what scenario are we talking about?” The student was thinking of a serious emergency where even a car wouldn’t be useful, where you’d have to evacuate on foot.

So my first order was to convey the fact that one would rarely choose to leave one’s home – where everything is familiar and where you know everyone in the neighborhood – unless you absolutely had no other choice. 

“You would rarely want to choose to leave your home and randomly wander the streets after an emergency,” I replied, “because you are now entering into the chaos and randomness of street mobs and possible violence.”  I tried to impress upon the class how dangerous it often is to wander on foot in the aftermath of a major disaster – whether it be an earthquake, or the results of war, or flooding.

And though the effects of nature can be devastating, the fear and chaos that will possess other people could be your greatest threat.

OK, we established that wandering around may not be your best choice but if you have no choice, then what should you carry?

Before I tried to answer that question, I asked all the students, “If there was an emergency tonight after you get home and you had to evacuate, where would you go?  And why would you go there?”  Most had no idea where to do, and in all probability, would follow crowds to some likely safe place, or would simply follow the orders of whomever happened to be giving orders. 

I urged each student to obtain topographical maps of their local area and to begin to learn about their local environment.  Find out where there are sources of water, reservoirs, pools, train lines, etc.  In a disaster, your knowledge is far more important than your stuff.  Next, I urged each student to get involved in their local Neighborhood Watch, and to do the CERT trainings, and Red Cross emergency first aid.  In other words, we need to realize the fact that other people in our community, and our relationships with them, is a far greater “survival tool” than merely having a pack with some knick-knacks in it.

Most people would be surprised to learn the level of preparedness that already occurs in most cities, and within various agencies such as the Red Cross, Police and Sheriff departments, and City Hall.  It is to each of our advantage to get to know what has already been planned in our own towns.

Everyone was getting the picture.  Get to know your town, your geography, and get to know who’s who in your town, and learn about systems that have already been established in the event of emergencies. Of course you must still do your own home preparedness, but just don’t do it in a vacuum.

But the student persisted.  She still wanted to know what to carry. So I polled the students who’d already been in my class for several weeks. What should one carry in a survival pack?   Someone said a knife. Yes, I wrote that on the board.  You should carry some sort of useful knife that you’re comfortable with, like a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman, and so on. Someone suggested that a bow and drill be carried for fire making. No, I said. We learn how to make fire with those primitive methods so we can do it when there is nothing else.  You must have fire, but keep it simple. Carry a Bic or a magnesium fire starter. Water.  Yes, you need it, and should carry at least a quart container and a water purifier. And you need to know where to find water.  And we continued this way – first aid kit, small flash light, etc. It was more important to get people to consider their individual needs than it was for me to list things that someone else thinks are important.

Survival can be deadly serious, but it can be a very enjoyable pursuit along the way.  Learn what you can little by little, but apply your knowledge as you go. That way, your skills are useful and your confidence level is increased.  It is never sufficient to say “I saw that on YouTube” and think that you know what it’s all about.

For some idea of what you might carry, look at Francisco Loaiza’s blog spot, where he describes 30 essential items that he recommends to his Boy Scouts.

For more ideas of what to consider in a kit, you should check out John McCann’s “Build the Perfect Survival Kit,” as well as my own “How to Survive Anywhere.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Useful Landscaping

One of the themes of our “Extreme Simplicity” book was that anyone on any suburban plot of land can be a producer, producing not just some food, medicine, and energy, but also producing a good and uplifting atmosphere for people and wildlife.  This theme of grow-what-you-need was also continued in my more-recent “Self-Sufficient Home” book. We are seeing that more and more people are getting this message as they are removing lawns and putting in gardens, herbs, and native plants instead.

We recently did a Dirttime video on the subject of useful trees and bushes in your backyard. 
(If you’re unfamiliar with Dirttime, go to www.Dirttime.com and check out our forum and videos.)

In one of the recent videos, Alan Halcon and I discussed the fact that anyone with a landscaped yard is spending time, water, and money to keep alive a variety of plants.  Our position is that each of us should be a part of the solution to our planetary woes, and one way to do that is to grow some of the things we need. 

During the recent Dirttime-Youtube video, we shared several plants that grow in my yard.  Each one is drought tolerant, useful in some way, requires very little care, and is attractive as a landscaping plant.

Pineapple guava are already frequently planted as ornamentals, though most of the fruit is just left to rot. These flowers attract bees, and the granular fruits are great eaten as-is. The plants require very little care.  I have seen them in old homesteads in the Angeles National Forest where they have not been tended for over 60 years.

A loquat is not a citrus.  It has a large leaf, and is one of the first fruit trees to produce.  The fruit is golden colored with a large brown seed.  They are very easy to grow with a seed, and again requires no maintenance.

Lemon verbena is a drought-tolerant perennial herb which produces fragrant elongated leaves.  Though not a food, it can be used to season fish and other foods, and to make “lemonade.”
The California bay tree is a native that grows along streams in the wild.  It is easy grown from a seed, and is an easy-to-care-for evergreen tree. The leaves are used for tea and seasoning in Italian cooking.  The leaves are also put into cupboards to repel bugs.  The nuts in the fall are also edible, once roasted.  Additionally, the long branches of bay can be cut and made into bows.  It is one of the preferred local woods for bows.

My mother grew geraniums because they required no care, were drought-tolerant, and produced colorful flowers. Get the fragrant varieties that can be made into teas.

Society garlic has become very popular in urban landscaping. I’ve seen it around the Rose Bowl and in the little strips around strip malls.  It looks like a flat-leaved onion, and produces a lavendar flower.  It grows easily and spreads quickly.  I have grown them for years, and our family often added the leaves to soups, stews, salads, and egg dishes.

Aloe vera is another drought tolerant plant that is all-too-easy to grow.  Plant one and soon you’ll have a dozen.  They are great for cactus bed or borders, and they produce a flower spike once a year.  The fresh gel of the aloe is excellent for poison oak rashes, burns, cuts, sunburns, and many skin conditions.  

These are just a few examples of how we can all be producers and provide some of our daily needs with the flora just outside the door.