Mennonno Sapiens

One Giant Leap For Mankind

Notes on A Change of Seasons

I was just listening to Colin Hay’s surprisingly wonderful “Beautiful World,” which came out a few years ago, apparently, but is new to me. (Should I admit that I am now tuned into Cat Stevens Radio on Pandora? Is that naff? Of course it is.)

If you’re somewhere around my age, you probably don’t recognize Hay by name, but if I said “Vegemite sandwich”? And you’d recognize his voice immediately, too. He was the lead singer of the Australian band Men At Work, of course, the one with the vaguely disturbing wandering eye (but then wandering eyes always are vaguely disturbing, aren’t they?), whose greatest achievement may actually have been introducing Vegemite to America back in 1982.

Well, not Vegemite, but the word Vegemite, which is strangely evocative, for some reason. Of what, I don’t know. Not of Vegemite. More of Men at Work. Vegemite never really caught on here. It’s made of old, leftover brewer’s yeast, you know. You can spread it on bread (thus the “Vegemite sandwich” of eighties legend), but it’s also the filling in something intriguingly and enchantingly called a “cheesymite scroll.” I don’t think we have anything with such a delightful name in the U.S. Not anything you’d eat, anyway.

An old roommate of mine had a jar of Marmite, Vegemite’s older cousin from the British Isles, that he’d been carrying with him for about fifteen years, for some odd reason. Waiting for the right moment, I guess. Or maybe that was his glass slipper. He’d know when the right girl came along because she’d wolf down that old brewer’s yeast without a second thought. In fact, if I recall, there was once a crisis when his girlfriend came over and the jar of Marmite had gone missing. I was like, don’t look at me.

I will never understand those crazy heterosexuals. And I’ll never have one for a pet again. They track in too much mud, and they shed on the furniture, and you have to keep Marmite in the cupboard at all times.

So I forgot all about Men at Work until Hay showed up on Scrubs, singing “Overkill,” which I took for granted in eighties, but which, it turns out, is a pretty good song, and even better unplugged. And now Hays is like, a protest singer, almost. I mean, check out these lyrics to “Beautiful World”:

My my my it’s a beautiful world
I like swimming in the sea
I like to go out beyond the white breakers
Where a man can still be free (or a woman if you are one)
I like swimming in the sea.

My my my it’s a beautiful world
I like drinking Irish tea
With a little bit of lapsang souchong
I like making my own tea.

My my my it’s a beautiful world
I like driving in my car
Roll the top down sometimes I travel quite far
Drive to the ocean stare up at the stars
I like driving in my car

All around is anger automatic guns
It’s death in large numbers no respect for women or our little ones
I tried talking to Jesus but He just put me on hold
Said He’d been swamped by calls this week
And He couldn’t shake His cold

And still this emptiness persists
Perhaps this is as good as it gets
When you’ve given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes
Now I leave the party early at least with no regrets
I watch the sun as it comes up I watch it as it sets
Yeah this is as good as it gets.

My my my it’s a beautiful world
I like sleeping with Marie
She is one sexy girl full of mystery
She says she doesn’t love me but she likes my company
For now that’s good enough for me

I mean that could be Richard Thompson.

I was at the Fens earlier today for the last big group clean-up. As a member of the Fenway Garden Society you have to put in some time during the year sprucing up the grounds with your fellow gardeners. These group days are always nice. You see gardeners you might not normally get to see. It’s usually a low-key, mildly festive thing. Donuts and coffee, shovels and hoes. Lots of hoes. Did I mention Tony was there today?

The agenda was picking up litter, planting bulbs, and turning the compost. Now, turning the compost sounds easy enough, but when you consider how much compost you can generate over several months when you’ve got seven acres and five hundred plots to work with, it’s some serious compost.

One of the great achievements of the current leadership of the Fenway Garden Society has been getting grants for the design and construction of composting stations in the Fens that really work on that scale…

Spring 2007
It doesn’t look like much, but I think it’s pure genius in its simplicity, and there are two more just like it in other sections of the garden. The problem in the old days was that compostable waste was just tossed in a single big pile, and never got composted. We called it compost, but it really wasn’t. And a couple times a year, we paid to have someone come and take it to the dump.

Now the way it works is, you’ve got several aisles, and you dump your compost in the appropriate aisle (separating out woody matter is still an issue, just like with recycling, asking people to separate glass, paper and plastic discourages many from recycling at all)–each aisle of compost has an empty aisle next to it. The stuff on the bottom starts cooking, and when it’s cooked enough you come along, and turn it by tossing it top-to-bottom now, into the empty aisle next to it, so that the top layer gets cooked now, too.

Turning the compost is no easy task. There were seven or eight of us doing it this morning, and it took about an hour and a half. But when you see that rich soil at the bottom of the piles you’re turning, and smell the smell of that rich, organic rot–nothing like it.

We got to talking about the Sox while we were working. One of the guys, Ron, said he hoped they’d lose tonight, and I think he’s not alone. Sox Nation would rather it was a tight contest, but so far it’s been a cake walk. Plus, Ron was saying, if they lose a little, that’ll bring them back to the Fenway to finish off the Rockies, which is where it makes sense for them to be.

He said he thought maybe The Sox would “let Colorado win a couple.” But that’s more the way things are done in the NBA. Although it would be good for business. I mean, all around. Another day in Denver, and maybe two more in Boston, and then the Sox slaughter them at home. Colorado gets to save face (a little). Everybody makes a killing.

But I have a feeling we’re going to see the “clincher scenario,” as they’re calling it, played out. And even though the Sox won’t be here, the city’s still going to lock down the Fenway, so that Sox Nation can go there and spaz out without innocent bystanders getting hurt.

Back at the compost pile, our activities were causing a good deal of dislocation and creating a whole class of field mouse-, rat- and vole-refugees, who had settled in, raised families, and made a little life there for themselves. And a good little life by the looks of them.

But nature is fickle. You can never get too comfortable. Because just when you do, along comes a Cat-5 hurricane, or an apocalyptic wildfire. Remember that tornado in Brooklyn last summer?

Or your ball team starts actually winning with some regularity, after eighty-six years of almost.

Hmm. All the sudden things are different. What to do?

Go back.

That’s our first instinct, innit? Go back to what you knew.  Where you felt safe.  That’s what those rats and voles were going to do. As soon as the dust settles, they’ll venture back to the compost heap they once called home.

But guess who’ll be waiting for them there?

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