Rain in July

Posted July 19, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the first things I learned about the San Diego climate was that simply didn’t rain in the summer. Once April is done you won’t see rain until November. But this weekend it came down in buckets.

It started with some stray drops around 10 am and you don’t think anything will come from it. But by noon the houses across the street and were in the white filter of a downpour. The streets were simmering with millions of drops. Even more rare, it was a thunderstorm.

At Sophie’s prompting, she and I began to count after I saw a flash out the window from the corner of my eye, to guess how far away the lightning was. One was real close. It was a blinding white light immediately followed by the explosive clap.

What we were seeing were the remnants of tropical storm Dolores. The storm brought humid air in its wake that was sometimes stirred by the winds but mostly it held us like a heavy robe and made the temps in the 80’s feel a lot warmer. Am I living in the tropics? Will I hear frogs croaking in the trees?

Folks around here get excited when it rains, especially now that we’ve still got a long ways to go to recovered from a four-year drought. The plants in this desert cling to life and life just got easier, thanks to the blessing of rain in July.

When All Things Seem Wonderful

Posted June 25, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

We forget that life is precious when trials and responsibilities wear us down. But there is a state of mind that makes us face the fact without force or obligation. In fact, it comes to us with such stealth that we don’t realize it until much later.

Years ago I traveled to Italy with my wife to visit friends, and I tasted a Suave wine in an outdoor restaurant in Bergamo. It was the most wonderful white wine I’d ever had. When I returned home to Minnesota, the taste was so memorable that I had to find a case of it. After lots of searching I was able to find a half case, which a local wine seller said he’s hold for me if I’d come by soon.

I bought the bottles. I took them home, opened one and a poured a glass. I now see myself holding the wine in my mouth after expecting it to overcome me, just like it did before. It tasted plain. Not bad, but plain. It was a glass of white wine that tasted like lots of others I’d had before.

I lay in bed that night thinking about it and realized what was wrong. There was no sunny terrace, dotted with tables. There was no old city of Bergamo below the hilltop. I tasted the wine on a holiday when I was carefree in the company of friends. That magic was what made the Suave taste so good.

I thought of this when I was reading “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens a couple of days ago. The named character tells how he fell in love with a girl. They were only children when they shared a home for two weeks on the English seaside. Years later, David Copperfield wrote of it:

“It seems to me, at this hour, that I have never seen such sunlight as on those bright April afternoons; that I have never beheld such sky, such water, such glorified ships sailing away into the golden air.”


Posted June 17, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Merriam-Webster defines a weed as a plant that is “not valued where it is growing.” This is good to remember when you see plants taking root in your garden that were not part of your calculation. They’re only weeds if you wish they weren’t there.

Mexican Evening Primrose in my Garden

Mexican Evening Primrose

Every spring and early summer a plant called Mexican Evening Primrose emerges in my yard. My backyard is large, because it backs onto a canyon. I never planted the primrose or planned for them. They simply appeared. But they have delicate pink flowers that paint the land with dabs of color that combine in waves that break just short of the fence.

When wild plants are desirable I call them volunteers, not weeds. Aside from the Mexican primrose, there is the tomato plant that came out even though I had decided I wasn’t going to plant a vegetable garden to spare water in a drought..

There is the Wandering Jew, a pretty plant with deep green leaves and tiny blue flowers. It’s fast growing and its stems stab roots into the ground as it walks across it. To keep it in check I tear off some parts and feed them to the chickens, never killing the whole thing.

Even dandelions are not entirely unwelcome because they’re happily eaten by the livestock. Same goes for the oxalis, a wild plant that looks like clover and runs mad in a San Diego winter. It’s a pest, I suppose, but it looks like a green blanket tumbled over the ground with tall yellow flowers. When I finally lose patience and tear them out, they don’t go to waste because there are the hens to feed.

Over the fence my yard gives way to a canyon that’s wild, in a sense, but like all of nature it’s touched by our presence with exotic trees and shrubs that were never seen two centuries ago. Humans have dominion over the plants and animals just like it says in the good book but it’s always slipping away. I’ll lose my grip on my plot of land as long as they’re not bunch of goddamn weeds.

Looking back on a distant past

Posted May 31, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

My work and my family are things that intersect every day that I try to keep at a comfortable distance from each other. Maybe that’s the way it is for a man. Working women come home and talk about work. And if you’re a husband with an ounce of intelligence you listen and understand this is part of your job.

But when I’m asked about my day at work I say, “It was fine.” That’s all. I might say “Same old shit.” But that would  be complaining.

My family includes my parents who also live in San Diego and are nearing the end of life. They have a nexus with my work life since I work for an NPR station and they are long-time listeners to public radio. If I appear on the air and they manage to hear it, they call me and tell me so.

Jim Fudge in Southhampton, UK during WWII.

Jim Fudge in Southhampton, UK during WWII.

Last week my father actually became part of my work. I was planning to fill in for a talk show called Midday Edition and we were approaching Memorial Day. In daily journalism it’s one of those days when you’re never quite sure what to talk about. You’re half-staffed because a lot of people have the day off. Government isn’t in business and you’re typically reduced to covering the same old ceremonies you did last year.

But since the day is about the armed forces, and it’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, I jokingly suggested I could interview my dad. It turned out not to be a joke. My dad served in the Navy in WWII. He was at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

So the Friday before Memorial Day he walked with his cane into the Midday studio and sat down in front of a microphone to talk with his son about his war years.

His spoke at a halting pace and his stories were littered with stammers and um’s & ah’s. The magic of audio editing cleared a lot of that away and the version that aired was better, but still him.

When I listen to it I hear his history and the history of my lifetime, spent listening to those stories. He told just one story on the air that I’d never heard. It was of the time his mother made him promise, before he left for the war, never to smoke or drink alcohol. They were promises he immediately broke.

I inherited my father’s voice and in the past they have been so similar that I was mistaken for him by people calling our family home. But now my dad has the voice of an old man.

Two years ago, on Memorial Day, I remember going with my Dad on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. with a lot of other vets his age. Today, WWII is an experience that binds us and separates us. When he is gone, World War II will start to seem like a distant past. But I’ll still have a recording of him talking about it.



The State of Marriage

Posted May 28, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The Supreme Court has just heard arguments in a case of gay marriage that will be ruled on in 2015. This time, I hear, there will be no dodging the issue by ruling on technicalities, like they did in the California “Proposition 8″ case two years ago. The court will decide whether or not states can restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

I stated my views about gay marriage in a post I wrote in this blog five years ago, and they are the same today. Though today I’m more or less resigned to the fact that marriage has become a contract between two adults that doesn’t really have anything to do with kids.

My past opposition to same-sex marriage has been based on the fact that the institution of marriage has changed over hundreds and thousands of years, generally for the better. But it has always been a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of having children and creating new families.

Today, most people I know feel no obligation to replace themselves on earth. Marriage, in their minds, is about finding an intimate partner to share time and expenses with. The plummeting birth rate in developed nations should be proof enough that this adult pairing has become an end in itself. And if having kids isn’t what it’s all about, then same-sex, opposite-sex; what’s the difference?

Back in the days when marriage was about having children, we had a problem of overpopulation, which caused suffering and war. Reduction in birth rates is a move in the right direction.

Even so, the situation we’re now seeing in developed countries will be a problem, if it isn’t already. Countries like Germany and Italy are halving there native populations with every generation by having only one child per woman. Can they afford that? Are they really willing to accept the rates of immigration they’ll need to keep their populations sustainable? I doubt it.

Getting back to the U.S. situation… while I still believe in marriage as a pact between a man and a woman, I also believe in democracy. And if most Americans think gay marriage is the way to go, who am I? I’m just one vote. And yes, I would tell the Supreme Court to let the voters decide. The law is allowed to discriminate between partnerships, in whom the state has different levels of interest. The state is very interested in the state of a relationship, which gives rise to children who must be cared for. Couples without kids? They just aren’t that big a deal.

So Supreme Court, leave it up to the states. If public opinion is trending so strongly toward gay marriage, then gay marriage will prevail. It will be the choice of a democratic society, and I will make my peace with it. In fact, I already have.

Time to Walk the Chicken

Posted April 19, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Retail markets are based on cultural assumptions. And you assume a person walking into a pet store probably has a dog or a cat. If it’s a dog you take it for walks.

Chicken HalterBut what are pet stores supposed to make of the urban chicken movement? People in urban areas these days are keeping chickens for the eggs and the meat. Or so I thought. Is it possible these urban hens are not livestock but pets, just like the dog and the cat.

A co-worker of mine was in a pet store and spotted a product I’d never heard of. They were called chicken harnesses and, knowing I kept hens, she sent me a photo, thinking I might be interested. I was, though not because I wanted to buy one.

Let’s say you had one of these chicken harnesses. You put a chicken in it and fastened a leash to it, as shown in the promotional picture. What would you do next?

There’s no point in putting a hen in a harness if you just keep it in the coop. The chicken wire already prevents escape. So they must suppose you would take the chicken out on the sidewalk and walk it, like a dog.

I’ve always thought the mainline pet store retailers would eventually take aim at the urban chicken market. But I thought they would do it by selling, you know, chicken food. Instead, they’re selling something you can use to take your chicken for a walk.

Suburbia has always been a mix of rural life and city life. It’s city life in a professional sense but it’s rural in the amount of land it takes up. Until now, that land has been dominated by a monoculture of grass, mown by dad. But that is slowly starting to change as chickens and edible landscapes take hold.

Pet stores will get it. But it’ll take some time.

Environmental Puritanism Revisited

Posted April 6, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I was reminded of something this week that I observed a few years ago, which is the kindred connection between modern environmentalists and old fashioned Puritans. I wrote about that in this blog back in 2009. In the April 6th edition of the New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen mentions it in an article called Carbon Capture.

Cotton Mather

He describes the connection between environmentalism and New England Puritanism by saying:

Both belief systems are haunted by the feeling that simply to be human is to be guilty….And now climate change has given us an eschatology for reckoning with our guilt: coming soon, some hellishly overheated tomorrow, is Judgement Day. Unless we repent and mend our ways, we’ll all be sinners in the hands of an angry Earth. 

I had to look up eschatology. But you see where he’s going. Whether it’s the killing off of megafauna in the new world, deforestation or global warming, it’s all our fault. But put the “guilty human” argument to your average world citizen he says he’s just trying to live a decent life. Don’t we have that right?

Economists see human life as a business of taking the greatest advantage of goods and resources that exist. Capitalism convinces us that satisfying our wants is the meaning of life. But consider the possibility that materialism is killing our environment and our happiness.

Environmentalists can’t give in to Puritanism. It’s a fringe way of thinking that leads to hypocrisy and cold heartedness. The only route is to promote happiness. Being happy means living in God’s grace. It means being healthy. Being happy means not having a long, nerve-wracking commute. Moderation is a virtue. When it’s hot, slow down.

The Puritans are right that we’re all sinners, but to be human also means to accept forgiveness. We can also look at our lives and know that things can change, and maybe we’ll be happier if they do.




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