Why, Detroit is Lovely



What’s all this talk about Detroit in decay? My daughter and son-in-law took me there for my birthday last year and it was lovely. First we went to an elegant restaurant, Mario’s. David drove right to the door and a nice young man parked our car for us. When it was time for the opera, a van transported us directly from the restaurant door to the Opera House entrance. The van met us at the conclusion of the opera and returned us to Mario’s where, after desert and dancing, the nice young man brought us our car.  No poverty, no abandoned neighborhoods, nothing dirty or distressing. Detroit was beautiful. Delicious food served elegantly. Good French wine. A delightful performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Opera House with crystal chandeliers and gilded ceilings. Live Motown for dancing. So why are people concerned about Detroit conditions? All you need is valet parking, tickets to the opera, money for a fine restaurant—and blinders to wear as you drive in and out of the city.

th-12                               Fine Musicmario-s

th-10Fine Restaurants and Beautiful Parks






th-15Shining skyline













From goldenrod blossoms to political rage

I’m trying to learn how to send posts consisting of text and photo put together in an Evernote note to my blog in WordPress. Have attached a picture of goldenrod I took last summer on one of the rare days when the temperature wasn’t impossibly hot and I could enjoy a walk. The side of the two-rut road past the third limerock pit at my place was dense with blooms, probably in response to recent rain. The drought was supposedly past, but the water level in the pits was about as low as I’d ever seen it. Now, after six months more of decent rainfall, the water level has dropped even more.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, fondly known as “Swiftmud,” does not publish aquifer levels on its website, but does provide information to the US Geological Survey for 2008, which publishes it. Since no other years are shown, residents in my part of Levy County can’t know what’s happening to the water under our feet without making calls to Tampa and being put on hold.

The Suwannee River Water Management District does give maps for three years, 2002, 2005, and 2009, that indicate no change in the waterflow region where I live. This limited data hardly shows historical trends and the most recent, 2009, is four and a half years old.

How can residents participate in any kind of democratic decision-making without information?

Damnation! This post was intended only as a test of a software function. Now I’m mad at the agencies that are supposed to be taking care of our water. Now I’m really determined to learn how to do this blogging business effectively so I can help get out the information. If you know of easily accessible information on aquifer levels, please leave a comment.

Sent from Evernote

Support local farmers

Only a thimblefull.
Only a thimblefull

I thought I could support local farmers by making myself a gin and tonic this evening. Then I read the tiny label on the lime. “Grown in Mexico.” Thanks, NAFTA. Guess I’ll have to return to Manhattans. My favorite Tennessee Sipping Whiskey might be bottled in Indiana, but it’s still brewed in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. From Tennessee-grown corn?

Giant sweet potato, puny profits, at Williston Farmers Market

According to the most recent figures available from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer services, Florida has 47,500 commercial farms. It ranks second in the value of vegetable production and first in cash receipts for oranges, grapefruit, fresh snap beans, sweet corn, watermelons, fresh cucumbers, squash and sugarcane. (Williston, Florida used to be first in cucumbers.) The Sunshine State is second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products. Florida accounts for 65 percent of total U.S. citrus production.

The motto is “Fresh From Florida.” But Floridians rarely buy it fresh.

In 2004, the Williston, Florida’s  development agency pushed the City Council to approve and partially fund a farmers market. Our dream was make fresh, affordable produce available to local residents of low income Levy County, to encourage small scale farming/market gardening, and to bring people to the center of town.

We failed. The City Council was less than enthusiastic. The idea, they thought, was weird. “It’s not the way we’ve always done it.” They forgot that most Americans once shopped in farmers markets

We have short memories. They’re limited to what is familiar. Anything else is historical, exotic, foreign. And what is familiar, normal, today is defined by the global corporate economy. Winn-Dixie’s produce bins are filled with cucumbers from Mexico, not Williston, although it was once our major market crop. Our grandparents might have thought farmers markets were the “way we always did it,” but  Winn-Dixie and Bi Lo, which bought W-D this spring, operate 690 stores in eight southeastern states and ship in products from around the world. They are our normal.

The farmers market failure was way back in 2004, but if you ask a Williston City Council member today what he (yes, they are all he) thinks about solar power, the answer will still be “that’s not the way we’ve always done it.” That means Progress Energy, and a nuclear power plant in Levy County. Never mind the plant right down the beach in Crystal River has been closed since 2009 because of fissures in its containment dome. Never mind the planned site is a tourist and fishing mecca. Never mind Progress Energy expects repairs at Crystal River to exceed $2.5 billion and customers are paying $500 million a year in fuel costs. Never mind this is the Sunshine State where, once we build the panels, storage and lines, the energy is free.

Of course City Council opposition wasn’t the only reason the Farmers’ Market failed. We couldn’t find a market manager. There weren’t enough vendors to satisfy the hopes of shoppers. There wasn’t the critical mass needed to sustain the market long enough to encourage local gardeners to plant an extra row to take to market.

But the big reason it failed, most likely, was that too many of us operate with a “It’s not the way we’ve always done it” way of thinking. Not just the men on City Council. If there had been a groundswell of enthusiasm for the project, it might have survived, maybe even prospered.

If only we were free to think outside the box built by corporations around our heads….

John Moran photography captures Florida magic

In order to get a head start on knowing my way around north central Florida, I subscribed to the Gainesville Sun about a year before I moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Williston, Florida. On the front page of one issue was a photograph that portrayed the threat of development to Florida better than than anything I’ve ever seen or read.

The photo was a close-up of a gopher tortoise, looking up, dismayed, at the overpowering blade of a bulldozer. It was by a Gainesville Sun photographer, John Moran. That was about 23 years ago. I’ve never been able to find that picture, but I’ve never forgotten it either. Maybe some day I’ll be bold enough to write him and ask for a copy.

Moran left the Sun several years ago to devote himself entirely to capturing the quickly disappearing Florida landscape on film. He is one of a number of photographers–albeit the most prominent–who spend their days and nights sloshing through swamps, diving springs and hiking through dense hammock to sit, watch, wait till the sun is just right or the heron moves just so. if Florida is saved from developers and the politicians who work for them, we can thank these photographers for their efforts at bringing the glories of the land and water to the public’s attention.

Please take a look at some of John Moran’s photographs. Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to insert links, but you can copy this URL to your browser.

Wanting To Believe In Florida Magic

Today was the big changeover day on Facebook, the day everyone is forced by the geeks up on a cloud to change our “profiles” to “timelines.” So, like millions of others, I went scrambling through photo albums looking for that one perfect picture that would say just who I am. Didn’t have much to choose from, since I never have organized my photos and haven’t bothered to figure out how to get pictures from iPhoto to Facebook, except as albums. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about.

What struck me as I sorted photos, was that the keep list was all Florida landscape. Never mind I’ve lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the last five years. Never mind I was born and bred a North Carolina Tar Heel. Never mind Cambridge, Massachusetts was the very best place in all the history of the world to live and if I could afford it I’d go back.

So why identify with Florida? When I know that when I stood there snapping photos I was being attacked by mosquitoes? When I knew that the pretty fluffy cloud overhead would turn black and spit fire any moment? That the nuclear power plant across the water, closed down because potential leaks, was about to be reopened and MY County Commissioners wanted to build another one almost where I was standing? That the dead palms on the little island in front of me had not died of old age, but of salt water intrusion, a consequence of rising sea levels and global warming, while MY city council members backed drilling for oil right there, right where they boasted about catching giant red fish?

And today I learned the St. John’s Water Management District board is considering giving a permit for a cattle finishing ranch just southeast of my place, down in Marion County. A “ranch” where cattle are fattened and slaughtered, a very intensive use of the land because they don’t want the animals moving around and burning off fat. Intensive use of water. High concentrations of nitrates from fertilizer and urine, that will flow unfiltered by the sandy soil, into the aquifer. Into Silver Springs, all the other springs, and our wells. (To read more and sign a petition to stop the pollution, go to Just more Florida stupidity and greed, destroying such a beautiful place and thinking that somehow it will always be there.

Like magic.

Perhaps that’s what is so appealing about its landscape, why I so identify with it. I want to believe in magic.

Here are a few of the photos. Do you feel the spell?

Even the pepper is obese

Do you remember Fiesta dinnerware? It was introduced by Laughlin China in 1936, during the Great Depression, simple design, inexpensive and in a variety of gay, solid colors. Like Ritz Crackers, the idea was to brighten your day even though your life was gray.

The manufacturer discontinued it in 1973. By then we were out of the Depression, we’d defeated the Axis, recovered from McCarthy and shut our eyes to defeat in Viet Nam. We thought everything was getting better and better every day in every way. We no longer needed glazes to brighten out spirits.

We were wrong.  So the other day—after I again adjusted my budget downwards, the Republicans again walked out on negotiations to keep our economy solvent, and the predicted high was again in the nineties—I decided that what I needed was to eat my breakfast from a cheerful yellow plate. So I pulled out my parents’ remaining pieces of Fiesta and filled the salt and pepper shakers to spice up my eggs. That’s when I was struck with a curious little change since 1939, the year my parents bought them. The holes in the pepper shaker were too small for twenty-first century pepper. Our pepper grounds, like our hamburgers, houses and highways, had swollen during sixty years of gluttony. It’s now too fat to fit through the holes.

In 1986, in the middle of a huge economic boon, the Laughlin China realized it could cash in on the new craze for collectible Fiesta and began producing it again, with the signature three circles on each piece. But now the colors were subdued, “tasteful,” and the pieces about one-third again the size of the originals, to match the then current style and appetite.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have inherited original Fiesta. So I hope the company will   go back to the earlier colors and sizes. We all need a happy-faced plate to cheer up our breakfasts and moderated appetites to restore our health.

Hello, Ann Arbor

You really think this is the Cambridge of the Midwest? So where are the three-deckers? Back porches? Clothes lines? The candy factories and machine shops? How come you never hear Portuguese from Cape Verde, Spanish from Puerto Rico or English from the Bahamas on Ann Arbor streets?

You have Cambridge confused with Harvard Yard. Just like you have Earth confused with Academia. But Harvard University, like Academia International, could not exist without the working people of East Cambridge and East Earth. It there were no poor people around the world to make every damn thing you own, where would you get all your stuff? If there were no people to create the profits and pay the taxes, where would corporations, foundations and governments get the money to give you grants?

No, Ann Arbor is not a replica of Cambridge, but an imitation of one thin slice of that real city, an upper crust that couldn’t survive without the support of working people.

So, if Ann Arborites are so smart, why don’t they understand that?

My explanation for their ignorance: Ann Arbor homes have no back porches, therefore no clotheslines, therefore no way to do laundry. So everyone has to go around with their noses in the air and they don’t see the rest of the world.