WARNINIG: some political content
I can’t say I’m exactly a devotee of the Ruth Stout method of gardening, but as with lots of other methods, I’ve picked bits I like.
Briefly, her method consists of putting a lot of mulch on the garden all of the time. She claimed 8 inches was a good place to start. Stout used “spoiled hay,” which was apparently abundant around her, but claims just about anything will work. She argued that the mulch would compost, block weeds and conserve moisture all at the same time. The gardener would never need to weed or turn the soil. She called this “no work” gardening.
I do use a lot of mulch, but I also like to add compost. Truthfully, I like the work of the garden. Weeding and fussing about the plants is meditative and satisfying. It doesn’t feel like work. This is why the boss considers it “goofing off.”
Unfortunately I have a bit of an unusual problem for a New England home owner: I don’t get nearly enough leaves.This means I don’t have enough mulch. Sometimes I can convince others to give me leaves, but too often I’m forced to go in search of leaves and grass clippings. There are a couple of rich open-pit grass mines along some of the bike trails. To access these I usually have to scurry up a little hill or into a ditch in my flourescent jersey. Passery's by look down to see a fluorescent man covered in greass clippings, discarded leaves and other detritus. Mothers hurry their children along, "don't stare dear."
So I finally decided to buy some straw. I was unable to find a source of spoiled hay so joined the herd of gardeners buying mulch straw right after Memorial Day. At seven bucks a bale, it can get pricey quick. I didn’t even manage to cover half my garden for just shy of thirty dollars. I’m going to have to look for some more leaf piles in neighbor’s yards.
When I asked the hay purveyor whether straw bales had a sales tax attached I was treated to a bit of a civics lesson on taxation. I don’t enjoy paying taxes, but I certainly understand their necessity. The good woman selling me grass, though, seemed to feel overly burdened by taxes. In particular she was upset about that bugaboo of the right: the “double-dip tax.” That is, she believed that one gets taxed twice for the same item. Her example was a tractor. When you purchase a tractor you pay sales tax. When you then trade in that tractor for a new tractor, you get a break on the price of the new tractor but do not get a break on the sales tax. To her way of thinking, then, you are being taxed for the tractor twice. The concept relies on a false premise: you are not being taxed for the tractor, you are being taxed on the transaction. Many of our taxes are this way.
Why she thought I would be sympathetic to this sort of right-wing claptrap is beyond me. I rode up on a bicycle to buy straw bales. I was pretty much the picture of the northeast liberal elite.
It reminded me, though, of the purpose of small talk. I mumbled something along the lines of “you gotta pay for roads somehow.” Then I looked up and commented on the weather. Not the climate, the weather. It is unfortunate that climate change is slowly adding a new topic to the list of no-goes in small talk (sex, religion and politics).
I seldom want to argue politics anymore. As a youth I enjoyed arguing, but the pleasure has ebbed. I think I met my match in my father-in-law. He really enjoys arguing and will pretty much take any side of an issue just so he can engage. He also never gets upset. That’s key. If you get upset, you lose.
The taxation discussion gets me upset. It really seems that people believe we deserve to live in a peaceful country with plenty of food, clean water and breathable air and that this should come at little cost to us. The way we live is new to the planet. It’s also not entirely common right now. A functioning government makes it possible, and it takes money to run a government. Somalia’s government doesn’t have a high tax rate and doesn’t regulate their industries. Somehow that doesn’t strike me as a very good model.
We can conduct our business and exchange money for goods because the government works. The fact that they ask for a cut of most transactions seems reasonable. It’s how all business works. Bain capital helped build (or often destroy) companies, and asked for a cut of the profits. When an advertising rep for a newspaper sells ads, he or she gets a cut.
In order to cotinue enjoying our indulgent lifestyle, you've got to put in a little of your money. Some of your wages (labor) go to the common good (or to fight needless wars).
Oddly this brings me back to Ruth Stout and the garden. There is no “no work” garden. If you want healthy plants and good food, it’s going to take some work. You have to give the plants a good place to live and do their business. In return you eat them. Just like the government. Remember, soylent green is people.