at the local supermarket. The male cashier was talking to the bagger, telling her about a friend who had lied to someone (a girlfriend? wife?), and then he had to keep lying, and trying to remember all his lies to keep the story straight, when he should have just told the truth and dealt with the consequences. I asked the cashier, “So did he get caught?” The cashier got a small smile and said, yes, he did get caught. “Satisfying,” I said. “You know, justice.” His smile got wider. He said: “You gotta roll with the iron fist.”

Imagining hope, the future Somerville

(here’s the last bit of my imagining hope for the future of Somerville, from Tim Devin’s zine The History of Somerville, 2010-2100. A lot of what I imagined came from Starhawk’s futuristic fantasy, The Fifth Sacred Thing — in particular, the streets being dug up and planted, green energy, and the waterways that were asphalted over and forced underground set free again. Just so you know, The Fifth Sacred Thing is soon? to be an indie film. Click on the blue sentence to find out more.)


rebirth of the passenger pigeons

{notes from the future}

People are so laid back! Nobody walks around talking on a cell phone and clutching a commuter cup of coffee. They laze in the sun, or weed the gardens, or do Tai Chi, or dance and play music, or read, or write, or eat and drink their coffee at little tables on the sidewalk patios, or sit with their own picnics by the creeks and streams, or on benches and stones in the parks. They’re paying attention to the people they’re with, or to what they’re doing, or just watching the world go by. They make eye contact with strangers. They say hello and talk to each other. They seem to be enjoying themselves.

People are smaller than the people in my time – shorter, smaller-boned, but healthier looking – plump instead of fat, slim instead of gaunt, and a lot of in-between. They don’t all dress the same – it’s not business suits, or that other suit, jeans and a t-shirt. There’s a tall (nearly six feet is tall) person of indeterminate sex striding down Holland Street wearing floaty pink robes and headscarf, just for instance. There are people in monochrome colors, and ones in tatterdemalion; there are robes and skirts and trousers, shirts and vests and tunics; but everything is looser and more comfortable looking. Even the shoes look comfy, no toe-pinchers here, and some people are barefoot.

6a00d8341bf7f753ef00e55395884a8833-800wiI take off my own shoes to walk in the grass. The air smells sweet, and the light is different – less brown, more blue. Is that because I’m dreaming? But as the sun sets and a million stars come out, I see that the Milky Way is visible once more in the night sky, and realize, without the bird telling me, that it is lack of pollution that has changed the smell of the air and the color of the light.

The night market is opening. I stand at its entrance, on the old bike path behind the Somerville Theatre. The line of overarching trees is still here, but so tall! It seems more like an endless forest, this place, than a line of trees. The night market is lit by humming globes of light, floating in the air. They move as if they’re alive. What are they?

The bird answers in a word or series of words that is so unfamiliar I can’t hear it. I am about to ask for an explanation in plain English when I smell food and see a cart where two people are busy grilling fish and vegetables. A juice cart is close by, with heaped piles of apricots and plums and tiny strawberries. I am suddenly ravenous with hunger and parched with thirst. But what can I use for money?

It’s free tonight, the bird tells me. You can eat and drink whatever you want!

I take a step forward, wondering what to try first. That’s when I am pulled back to Now. I returned to this particular once-upon-a-time empty handed, with nothing to eat or drink, and nothing to show for my journey except these notes on paper.

Imagining hope, the future Somerville

(continuation of my hopeful imagining for Tim Devin’s zine, The History of Somerville, 2010-2100)


from A Tree Grower’s Diary, see link below

In the middle of Davis square is a giant European purple beech, about fifteen feet around. It’s a wishing tree, and it’s hung with offerings – bells and folded colored paper, tiny bottles, birdseed on sticks. Underneath the tree there is always a storyteller, and there is always a dreamspeaker. Other parts of the square are devoted to music and dancing, and moving or not meditation, and outdoor schools. Apparently all the squares in Somerville – and what used to be Boston – are like this now.

The Davis Square T station is still here, only it’s running green on a combo of wind and solar energy. There’s a monorail system overhead, zipping around as silent as a dragonfly, and following ley lines. I see horses and donkeys – Tufts field has become pastureland – and even more bicycles and bicycle-carts – the bike path that used to end at Cedar Street now runs all the way to ocean in the east, and to New-York-state-that-was in the west.

220px-Tiny_house,_PortlandMeanwhile the parking lots in Davis Square have become live-in parks, dotted at random with small to medium-sized cottages – each one different, but most have grass or flowers on the roof – that turn out to be no-income housing, for those people who used to be called homeless. Now they live among communally owned and tended orchards and gardens, in their own homes, each stamped with the personality of its owner – one is nearly invisible in the bamboo grove around it, another is painted in blue, pink, and green stripes, another seems made entirely of windows in different shapes and sizes, each one curtained in so many colors the house looks like a patchwork quilt.

There are a LOT more birds – even big ones like eagles and cranes, and is that a flock of passenger pigeons?* – and fewer people overall, but way more children out and about, playing in the grassy spaces where the traffic used to be. There isn’t anything resembling a skyscraper around here, not even downtown; my bird-guide tells me they went the way of the woolly mammoth and the meter maids. And the big nursing home on College Avenue is part-school, part elder home. Apprenticeship is once again the mode, so there’s less ‘retirement’, and then there’s always those elders who are good with kids, and kids who need them.

Across the street and up a block, the West branch library is now open 24/7, with plenty of librarians for each shift, and no shift lasting longer than 4 hours. It seems like a joke in poor taste that the library was once closed most evenings, every night, and all weekend, and understaffed besides. In this day and age it has been completely restored inside (with an elevator!), and has trees out front and flowers on the roof, like a crown.

*Somebody else was imagining hope, too. Click on the passenger pigeon link above to see how scientists are working to bring back the passenger pigeons, using DNA from corpses of the extinct birds.

On a sadder note, here’s the story of a European purple beech.

Imagining hope, the future Somerville

566647857_8918df67abHere’s my own foray into imagining hope like crazy, which was published in Tim Devin‘s zine, The History of Somerville, 2010-2100. The ‘history’ ranges from wildly idealistic (I wasn’t the only one to predict the end of fossil fuels, solar collectors on every roof, and crops growing in the streets) to dead serious (flooding from climate change, collapse of the world economy, no more harvestable seafood) to deadpan (a dog becomes mayor; the Somerville Arts Council accepts its first artificially intelligent board member, Ip/So; Hurricane Igor decimates the town), as is the way with the folk of the ville.

My own prediction was for 2148 — outside the timeline. I wasn’t that optimistic. But what the hey, hope is hope.

Notes from a time traveler. Written on plain lined paper, found in a decaying leather suitcase in a closet in West Somerville around 1999.

So I accepted the invitation to time-travel to Somerville in 2148. The invitation came from a little bird – a grey bird, like a mockingbird, only smaller. (And then, he spoke to me, in English, inside my head, so I knew he wasn’t a regular mockingbird.) He says he will be my travel guide.

As we come flying in over the city, I am dazzled by the rooftops. They are covered with solar collectors of all shapes and sizes. The ones like mobiles wink and glitter when the breeze stirs them. The rooftops that happen to be flat are green with gardens – grape arbors and climbing roses, vegetables and herbs, even trees. As we circle Davis Square, I can see that the rooftops have hanging gardens, and even open meadows of grass and wildflowers.

No one’s using fossil fuels anymore, the bird says. It’s changed everything.

He adds that there’s no advertising anymore, either – no commercials, no newsprint advertisers dumped in mailboxes, no flyers, no print catalogues, no billboards, no focus groups, no glossy magazines, no spam, no telemarketers, no pop-ups. How did that happen? All the bird will say is that the word yuppie is no longer in use, anymore than the words homeless or disadvantaged.

Many of the roads have been dug up and planted. The houses in rows are still there, but now the rows tend to curve, and from above the neighborhoods – like little tribal enclaves – are obvious, even though they run into each other. Streams knit and divide the neighborhoods – the bird says the streams are all the water that used to run free above ground, released from their long darkness, as well as irrigation creeks, running off every which way, and glinting with the quartz in them.

Highland Avenue is planted as far as I can see with spirals of corn, and tucked in next to the corn are all kinds of plants, that the bird says are vegetables and flowers. Around the spirals are greenhouses for vegetables and fruit;* but the greenhouses are in the process of being dismantled for the summer, as the orchards and gardens come in.

*Here’s a link to an organic urban farm in Detroit, MI called Earthworks. Earthworks has greenhouses as part of the farm; it’s connected to a soup kitchen, WIC programs, youth programs, etc. The farm was started in 1997, part of the movement in Detroit to reclaim and use vacant lots to grow food, in anticipation of the dearth of fossil fuels and subsequent lack of food (20% of fossil fuel use is for transporting food). Follow the links on their site for media coverage of Earthworks, as well as more on urban gardening in other cities.

Imagining hope, the mushrooms

After making the short list of books (that kept getting longer) it seemed like a good idea to keep on imagining hope. Here’s a link to an interview with Paul Stamets, mycologist, biodiversity advocate, and author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World. Stamets found that mushrooms act as a filtration system and is researching their role in undoing ecological damage such as soil and water pollution, as well as their medicinal properties. For a futuristic, fictional interpretation of what’s in Stamets’s (scientific) book, see Nancy Farmer‘s novel The Lord of Opium.


happy to be here, in Somerville, MA


left field in Foss Park

Somerville, MA: Long story short, even being back when I’m sick with something vile I picked up on the airplane is magical. The place is. I think it always was, even though at first I couldn’t take all the sarcasm (why does everyone have to be so mean?). Then I got used to it, then I realized that for someone like me, being criticized by the right person in the right way (with humor and affection but no artificial sweetening) was the only way I could take a compliment. From left field.

Also, I can swear here, without consequences. I can say ‘fuck’ twice in a sentence, meaninglessly, and no one hears it, not even me.

Then there’s the way the light hits, especially at this time of year when the trees have turned. Saw a tiny Japanese maple in someone’s front yard yesterday, all its scarlet leaves quivering when there was no wind anywhere else, like it was about to take flight.


“So we didn’t find the Nile…”* or, what I did on my summer vacation

high desert skyThe writing retreat in Mexico did not come off as planned. I didn’t write, or even try to write. I did reread my old stuff. I got some workable ideas for how to finish a decades-old fantasy novel, but I wasn’t interested in actually doing it. The most recent story idea, on the other hand, was compelling and frustrating – what happens next? Since I had no clue about what happened next, I set that one aside too. Instead of writing, I walked around. I used my senses. I was in a good place for it.

Initially I was going to San Miguel to visit my mother in her new nursing home, and animal-sit on a ranch outside of town with six dogs, a cat, a burro named Guacamole, and a pretty little mare named Maria. I was going to work away on the computer until something happened. The impetus to follow a character and discover the story (and be a writer again) would be fuelled by the isolation of the ranch and maybe even the visits to Mom, since our relationship has always been a difficult one. I was thinking the situation would force me to write. But the animal-sitting gig fell through.

I ended up staying just outside the historical center of San Miguel, in a pink adobe house where my only responsibility was to clean up after the chef – a culinary genius who used every pan in the kitchen at every meal, in this way making me feel useful and necessary as well as feeding me. Instead of wandering the high desert on the ranch (as I did one afternoon), with dogs before and behind me, and dirt as white as salt showing through the burnt grass that was all that was left at the end of the dry season, I sat on the second floor balcony of the pink house, staring at birds and sky and thinking of nothing, or I explored the narrow cobbled streets of San Miguel, all bare swept stone in the sunlight. But the rooftops had gardens, and when the cracked wooden doors of the houses stood open for a breeze you saw courtyards with fountains and the ancient thick-trunked trees that the houses had been built around.

The jardin in the center of town was bounded by trees and filled with trees – ficuses with crowns as thick as a hedge, trimmed square on the street sides. Under the trees locals and tourists sat on benches enjoying the shade, and wiry young men practiced break-dancing. Street musicians sang old Doors’ songs, and there was  a mariachi band, with musicians in short black jackets and tight black trousers, who only played for money and stood around looking picturesque between songs. Across from the jardin was the Parroquia, the main church in a town full of churches, a gothic cathedral built by an indigenous architect who copied the facade from a picture postcard.

In the covered market textiles and pottery and star-shaped tin lanterns were for sale to the tourist trade; but also roasted corn with chili pepper and lime, round prickly pear cactus for salads, zucchini and broccoli, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms, cilantro and basil, mangoes and papaya, pineapple, figs, melons, avocados, limes. The combination of smells was ambrosial, even after my companions told me that the smell was only rotting fruit. It was good rotting fruit. Like wine.

view from balcony1

Waiting for rain: the view from the balcony of the pink house; the Parroquia is on the left, hidden by a treetop; lake in the distance.

Although the pink house was up a steep hill, and the street to and from the town center unevenly paved with stones – more like a rocky beach than a street – the trip was only a ten-minute walk under the hot sun, and once you got there all was well. The pink house sat in a garden with a fish pond; it was made of adobe and situated to catch every breeze; and it had spectacular views of the city and the mountains, the plateau and the silvery lake behind the dam.

At sunset white egrets flew back to the arroyo and the spring-fed pools up on the ridge behind the house, and the hummingbirds came to the feeders on the balcony. I had seen hummingbirds only rarely before this trip, and thought of them as solitary. These hummingbirds lived in a mob in the bamboo trees, chittering insults and dive-bombing each other, fighting for space at the feeders when there was plenty of room. They were not iridescent, but small and grey with black heads, little quarreling pilgrims. If I sat very still they’d hover in front of me – who’s this here? – and then zoom off sideways if I moved even slightly.

Storm clouds also drifted by in the late afternoons and early evenings. They would loose a few raindrops, sail on out over the town, and then soak the plateau beyond. One night the whole mountain range on the eastern horizon was lit by lightning, striking the mountaintops in fiery lines over and over, with a flickering veil of heat lightning as a backdrop. It was so far away you never heard a sound, no rumble of thunder, not even a mutter.

*The title quote is from The Annunciation by Ellen Gilchrist. The protagonist Amanda, an ex-alcoholic, is about to get totally shit-faced for a reason I won’t give away. Here’s what she has to say on this occasion:

“So we didn’t find the Nile. So a few years more have flown by in our search for the elusive Black Orchid. The artist’s life, like that of the philosopher, is only in the doing…We will drink and eat. We will rest from our journey.”