The War on Holidays

We only have so many holidays that are still considered special, the kind of holidays that were at one time meaningful enough to warrant a day off for most of us. Thanksgiving and Christmas as far as I have been concerned were the untouchable holidays, unless you happened to work in a hospital or convenience store you just expected to have the big holidays off… That is about to change…

The local news channels have been running a story about how Wal-Mart is going to stay open on Thanksgiving this year, and not only stay open, but they will be having their biggest sale of the year starting at 8pm. I don’t know about you, but at 8pm on Thanksgiving I am usually in an alcohol and turkey induced coma. The last place on planet earth that I want to be on Thanksgiving is Wal-Mart, imagine if you had to work their.

Every human being deserves time off, and we all need time to de-compress… Even our prisoners get time to relax in the yard… Art has taught me that the empty space in a piece of artwork is just as important as the filled space, occasionally it is more important. If we were to step back and take a look at our life like it was a painting, and the painted sections represent the time we spend working, and the empty space represents relaxation… The painting should have some empty space… Shouldn’t it?

It is important to remember that the blank space in artwork does not always represent “nothing”, sometimes it represents everything… In life it represents the future… The art we have yet to create… The stories we will paint in the future… We not only deserve this “free” time in our lives, we require it… Blank space is not only a part of art, it is an important part of life…

Now I am not stupid… And although i was apparently born yesterday… It sure as shit wasn’t last night… I am aware that me posting this won’t stop Wal-Mart from having this sale, and all too many Wal-Mart employees can’t afford to lose their jobs… People have families… And any employees that do protest and quit will quickly be replaced… They may not have the choice to work, but we have the choice to shop.

This kind of protest will only happen if the consumers are on board, employees are replaceable… but we the consumers… we my friends, are irreplaceable… Ask the people who brought you “pink slime” about that one… Sometimes we have to stand up for the things we believe in, even though this does not affect you now… This kind of thing just starts at a company like Wal-Mart, and then spreads through all the other companies. Sooner or later Thanksgiving will just be another Thursday, we will all work like it is just any other day.

So here is what I am proposing… Stay away from Wal-Mart or any other “Black Friday” sale until “Black Friday”, If we financially support this “war” on our holidays then we will lose them all. The people who are making this call will not be working Thanksgiving, they will be home with their families enjoying the festivities… while our friends, family and neighbors work away preparing for the grotesque display of consumerism that “we” the consumer created, and that only “we” the consumer have the power to stop!

What about Christmas? What will happen when they have a giant sale Christmas morning? What about a 7 day work week while we are at it… Vacations, who needs them… I’ll tell you who needs them… We do…

fight for the right to be human – chriscondello

I am interested to hear what you think, do you think holidays should be sacred? Are you a black friday shopper? Do you care about this at all, or is it just another day like any other?

I am not sure who to give credit for the painting… If you know please tell me so I can properly credit them…

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500 Words Till Dawn

100_1930

There’s something magical about being awake before the sun has a chance to wash the stars out of the sky, the air is so still it’s like you can set it in motion just by the act of moving. This particular morning is a rather chilly morning for November, I actually had to fight the frost in order to find a place to sit and drink my coffee. I find it interesting that most people would not relate the winters cold to warm feelings, but for me, winter conjures up memories of the fires we used to have in our fireplace back home… To me… That is a warm memory… It’s not Summer that I think of as warm… Summer is a different kind of warm…

Today I have so many layers on I can barely move, I would be willing to bet that I actually look pretty ridiculous. Dressing for the cold has become a game for me, a game that I have gotten very good at now that style is not as important to me as it used to be. I now only feel the cold on my face, which is exactly the feeling that I love… In the numbness of my past the feeling of being “alive” was not one I really ever stopped to enjoy, now this feeling is one that I treasure… It is a feeling that makes it worth waking up long before the rest of the world… It is a feeling that will never get old… The feeling of another day and another beginning.

100_1879I’m pretty sure I am not alone on this particular morning though, I am being carefully watched from the roof across the street by an invisible creature. A creature that happens to be parked on the peak of the abandoned houses roof, a creature that I am now sure is a racoon.  I was never really sure where this animal was watching me from… I could always hear it… And I could always feel it… But I haven’t seen it in a long time… But thanks to the thirty degree air… I can see its breath rise above the roof lit in the orange glow of the street lights that protect the parking lot behind it… I have a feeling it is laughing about all of the garbage cans it knocked over on my street this morning… It has watched me clean them up many times before… I guess it will watch me clean them up one more time.

Off in the distance I can hear the hustle and bustle of vehicles carrying people to work on the parkway, one of the few sounds that is audible this early in the morning. As the sky slowly begins to brighten, I bear witness to one of natures colorful displays, a display that runs the entire spectrum of blue light starting from black, and steadily increasing in brightness until it peaks in the color we affectionately refer to as sky blue… I really love my mornings… I would trade every night of my life for just a few more mornings…

good morning – chriscondello

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Mambo King and the Steps to Nowhere

Mambo King and the Steps to Nowhere

An ode to the stupid things I used to do

Freezing my ass off without a care in the world… Sitting on the steps to nowhere… The funny thing about this particular set of stairs is… I have never been to the bottom… And I’m not allowed to go to the top… As far as my visit is concerned… I only have clearance to sit right here… Waiting for a stranger in black… A stranger who will bring me a king… But not just any king… The “Mambo King”!

Time means nothing on these stairs… Fuck your time… Time just gets in the way… The mambo king knows no time… He waits for no man… But this man… This man apparently waits for something that’s not even a man… Because the mambo king is no man… He is a king… A relentless king who is so talented in the art of killing… He makes it look like suicide each and every time…

So I will just sit here… Waiting… Hoping… Freezing… Wondering when you will come… Wondering whats at the top of these infinite stairs… I can see the outlines of bricks in the orange glow of the street lights… The sign says it’s a village… But it must be a castle… Because there is no way that someone as powerful as the mambo king… Lives in a little old village… Yes… It is a castle… One that is protected by police… And the simple sight of a “commoner” like me… Is enough to warrant arrest… Just like the officer said last time… I have no “business” being here… Yet here I am again…

Normally I would have dressed for the occasion… It’s not every day you get to meet a king… But this king couldn’t give a damn about what I look like… He sees no class… And he sees no color…  All that he asks for is complete and total devotion… Which happens to be something I am apparently willing to bring to the bargaining table…

As the rush of finally being here wears off… And I realize that my dress is by no means appropriate for the winter cold… I hear that familiar sound… The sound of someone climbing a fence… Followed by the sound of feet hitting the leaf covered ground… It’s a stranger in black… And I’ll bet he’s bringing me a king… I’ll bet he’s bringing me… The mambo king…

peace – chriscondello

First of all let me say that “ALL IS WELL”… To my family and anyone else who may read this–I am all good…

With that said… I do remember crazy things in great details… Some of them I may write about… Sorry if it offends anyone… But this is how it was… And right now this is the stuff that I feel like writing about…

I think I am going to change the name of this blog to “Art as Religion”, What do you think?

Now to go freeze my ass off at work… And think about writing… Yay Life!

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So this is normal?

So this is it… This is the feeling that I have been mentally longing for… A feeling that not to long ago was just a dream to me… This is what they promised me I would one day feel again… You have got to be fucking kidding me!

If someone would have told me that my list of normal feelings included anxiety, nervousness, pain and social awkwardness… I never would have signed up for this shit… Who would have thought that the problems I had before my addiction… would still be present… And not only present… But magnified by a thousand times… And people wonder how drug users rationalize the decision to use…

I can’t even begin to describe how these feelings affect me on a day-to-day basis… But dammit… I am going to try… You see I have a few people in my life that I feel comfortable talking to… I do not feel that they are judging me with their eyes and I tend to get a sense of calming from them… Although this is a short list… It is a list that I am realizing I need to absolutely treasure… In my current world… This is a feeling I seldom feel…

I apparently am now an idiot when it comes to expressing feelings… Even answering comments on my blog seems so foreign to me that the fear of saying something wrong paralyzes me… I have a neighbor that I can’t even make eye contact with… *And yes I am talking about you* *And yes I am currently hiding behind the blogosphere* I am stupefyingly terrified… Not of them… But of me… And what I could say… The healing process has already begun… And I no longer have any bad feelings towards this person… I am just terrified that as always… I will ultimately “fuck up” another rare chance at friendship…

The world is a funny place when one of your fears is social interaction… When my phone rings it puts a knot in my stomach… My hands shake and I question even looking at it… You see for quite some time I had no friends… And even my friends were not so much thought of as friends… But as resources… if you get my drift… When my phone rang it was bad news… I was in trouble or worse… I still can’t get used to the fact that when my phone rings now… I no longer have to create a dissonant symphony of lies… In order to cover my endless pursuit of a feeling that only really existed once in my perilous and misguided journey…

Now many moments of my life are spent analyzing every word of every conversation I have ever had… The more I think about it… The less I want to do it… Words used to come out of my mouth in the same manner poop comes out of a horses ass… I don’t even think I realized I was speaking most of the time… Now I “analyze” myself so much that what was once a carefully planned out introduction is edited down to simply “hello”… I am only realizing as I write this right now that “hello” is an appropriate greeting… All the other stuff I write into my greeting is bullshit… All it takes is a simple “hello”…

I love how much this blog teaches me… Sometimes this thing writes itself… I need to trust myself more… And not over analyze things… I’m not used to being mentally in control of myself… As I realize that my “sober” self is not an idiot… And I develop a little faith in myself… I will maybe let more of you in… Unless you read my blog… Then you probably know more about me than I would probably want you to… Crazy how I feel comfort in writing my deepest emotions on a blog for the world to see… Yet when it comes to talking to my neighbors… I am terrified of even the thought of possibly having a constructive conversation…

In the past when I have forced issues I have failed… I am attempting to no longer do that… An issue that is not an emergency can wait for the right moment… I need to trust my gut sometimes… Now that I am not poisoning him… He has some good things to say… And he is telling me that although things are rough right now… Great things are about to happen… I just have to be ready and willing… Watch out people… I am about to come alive…

No wound heals overnight, especially the ones we do to ourselves – chriscondello

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How blogging is teaching me to write

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would enjoy writing, ask anyone that knows me and I’m sure that they will agree. I would describe it as a happy accident, an accident that has blossomed into something that is now always on my mind. Lately it has felt like a game of tetris with words, I am always mentally experimenting with combinations of words to see which ones harmoniously and understandably fit together like the pieces in a puzzle.

I did rather poorly in high school, so poorly in fact I wasn’t even sure I actually graduated until I had the diploma in my hand. I managed to attended two days of community college, but only made it to a handful of classes. I only recently started considering the idea of going back to school, but it seems so fucking far out of my reach that I sometimes feel intimidated to the point of stupidity.

I started writing my blog on a website that had an open blogging format that would allow anyone to keep a blog, the interesting thing for me looking back on the old posts is how shitty of a writer I was… I am not only learning how to write as I go, but spell as well… I still can’t believe that I enjoy this and have done it for over a year… Heres to many more!

I have found learning to write an extremely humbling experience, since I never paid attention in high school this blog is my only real experience writing anything… Imagine having to make all of the mistakes I am assuming you made while learning to write, on a public forum with a few of your friends reading!

Check out my first few posts ever here – My first three blog posts ever.- I started writing in July of 2011 on Transition Pittsburgh.

I was recently asked why I do not use capitals or put a space in my name, as far as writing is concerned I don’t feel that I have earned them yet… I may never feel that I have earned them. There are a lot of incredible writers who spent time and money going to school to learn to write, I just don’t feel that I have paid my dues yet.

peace – chriscondello

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Mother Nature, Thou Art a Cruel and Heartless Bitch!

When a fly lands on a horse it uses its tail to swat the fly off, when it rains you use the windshield wipers in your car, but when the earth has a problem… all hell can break loose!

I believe that the earth is a sentient being capable of taking drastic and sometimes violent steps in order to heal itself, it is only when humans are in the path of these destructive forces that we label the event as a disaster. What about the events that led up to the disaster, and much more importantly… why did the disaster happen…

All natural events happen for a reason, the earth does not play games and it surely doesn’t joke around, when it needs something it will take it without asking. I hope to explain the theory behind many of these events, I want people to realize that our so-called “natural disasters” are not so much disasters, they are the earth curing its hangover.

  • Floods – The idea of flooding being a natural disaster is in most cases our fault explicitly, I mean we already know where they will occur… it’s called a flood plain for a reason people. We often build our towns and cities near the water, some of the most expensive land you can buy is often in a flood plain. In the past flooding was considered a blessing because of the nutrient rich silts that were deposited in the flood plain, these floods that occur periodically were at one time the backbone of our agriculture. Although the farmers placed their fields in the flood plain, the farmers were smart enough to build their houses above the flood line.
  • Wind – I remember earlier this Summer I was standing on the sidewalk on a windy day with the three-year old from my street, when the wind would blow she would grab my hand, stand on her tippy toes with her eyes closed and laugh away as the wind blew dust in our faces. As we stood their enjoying nature a massive branch snapped in a tree and came crashing to the ground with such force that it broke every other branch that was below it on the tree, all of these branches happened to be the ones that I had marked to be pruned. This was what led me to the realization that although pruning a tree is not exactly necessary, if we don’t prune the tree in a controlled and safe manner, nature will prune the tree for us in a violent and often destructive manner… The tree had developed a problem that was ultimately solved by mother nature who has been known to occasionally be a cruel and heartless bitch… Reminds me of someone I live with… Though she never cut me down… Just pruned the diseased and infested branches from my crown…
  • Fire – Fire is one of the most mis-understood natural disasters, yet it is so absolutely necessary to the survival of the earth. Many trees and plants have developed root systems that grow deep into the ground, there are many reasons for this but the one I want to touch on is to prevent the roots from being damaged by the fire. Native americans used to use controlled burns to clean up the ground below their nut trees, the fire would prune the lower branches and when timed properly could also be used to eliminate pests. Many nut trees develop problems with pests laying eggs in their young fruit, this fruit will often drop off the tree prematurely so the insect larvae can crawl into the ground and pupate until it is ready to re-start its life cycle. A properly timed burn can eliminate these infected nuts on the ground before the larvae has a chance to bore into the ground, this is my kind of integrated pest management.

The earth is not always destructive when it is solving a problem, many of its methods are actually quite beautiful events. Many of these events go un-noticed due to the fact that they have little to no immediate effects on human life.

  • Algae blooms – A byproduct of human life happens to be CO2, in the case of industry massive amounts of CO2 are pumped into our atmosphere. Plants are natures way of handling build-ups of CO2 in our atmosphere, over water this occurs as massive and sometimes colorful algae blooms that are a direct result, and solution to the high levels of CO2 present in our atmosphere. Although these blooms occur in nature, they are beginning to occur often enough to disrupt life in our oceans that in turn throws off all of the eco-systems present around it.
  • Global Warming – Although this has the ability to be extremely destructive, the immediate effects are almost pleasant if you are not looking at the big picture… You see I believe that global warming will lead to global cooling and will ultimately send us into the next ice age. Let me explain… The gulf stream is a constant movement of water in our oceans that encompasses the earth, it is responsible for climates around the world. Warm water is moved into cooler regions and the cool water is moved into warmer regions balancing the earths climates, if the earth really is warming and our polar ice caps melting than we will eventually experience a massive ice cap melt off that will essentially turn our oceans into “ice-water”. I am not scared of the warming part because I would love to be able to grow plants not suitable for my climate, it’s that pesky ice-age that could be looming around the corner that really gets me worried.
  • Over-population – This my friends… Is the truly scary one… If a horse has the ability to swat a fly off of its back… Imagine what the earth has the ability to do… Think of the events in recent memory that were considered “mass casualty” events, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods all happen for a reason, imagine if that reason was actually “us”! If we become a big enough of a “fly” on the earths back it will eventually lash out in rage and “correct” the problem, maybe then we will finally learn the hard way that we have been given a gift… a gift that essentially comes with no warranty… and a mountain of liability!

As far as I am concerned the most important “weapon” the environmental movement has in its arsenal is the very thing we are fighting to protect, mother nature will do the work for us if we just give her time… we are just attempting to avoid speeding up the inevitable “extinction event” that we will someday experience… Evidence to me that “true species sustainability” is not possible. I believe that although the earth probably does have an expiration date that is un-avoidable, I think it best to not swim in our own shit until the end.

My intention with this post is not to scare, but to educate people on the theory that these natural disasters are less disaster and more like the creation of scar tissue over a wound. The flood is not the problem, the fact that we built-in a place that obviously floods is the problem… Though I say that if you can live with the fact that you may lose everything including your life to be able to live by a stream or lake – a long list that will include me someday… More power to yah! I will have to do a post on the “key-points” of slopes someday as I find building locations on hillsides fascinating…

Respect the things that bite back – chriscondello, sob

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Gay by association

I got the tattoo in the photo this summer, needless to say it was called “gay” a few times and that got me thinking…

Let me start this off by saying that though I am not homosexual, I have been called gay a million times. In high school this bothered me to the point of questioning it, it didn’t take much time to realize that was simply not even worth questioning. After I graduated high school I realized that a few of my friends were gay and was once again back to asking questions, I came to the conclusion that I still was not gay, but it was at this point that I realized I saw no difference.

I should explain that while my parents have always made it very clear that “Condellos” accepted everyone, the school and church we attended had very different views. We attended a pentecostal church and a small private school that was part of the church, they taught creation exclusively and took a harsh stand against homosexuality. The funny thing is looking back on it now I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything, religions like this are the reason I find it necessary to question everything and everyone I encounter in life.

So back to my point… Though I don’t get to talk to him anymore and I haven’t seen him in a year, one of my best friends in the world happens to be gay. As I sit here typing this morning thinking about how many people I know that are gay… I mean some of the coolest people I have ever met… Artists… I mean incredible artists… The kind that do work that will just blow your mind! Gardeners that have created dream spaces in their backyards that make me so jealous I see stars… I don’t even see them as gay anymore, the notion of a difference between us just doesn’t seem to register anymore… It seems silly to me…

They are my neighbors, friends and family, and I don’t know what I would do if I did not have them to draw inspiration from. People including me used to say “that’s gay” as a way of saying something is “not cool”, I think people are just now starting to realize how wrong of a statement that is.

I guess the moral of this post is that I am proud of the fact that I have matured to a point where I no longer sub-consciously ask the question “is this person gay?” anytime I meet someone new, I don’t even care because it makes absolutely no difference to me. Guilty by association is a term that’s been used in my life a few times… I find it funny because in this case it would make me gay by association, but the more I thought about it I realized how proud of myself I am to be comfortable enough to say to the thirty or so people who read my blog, that I am proud to be “gay by association”!

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The true yield of trees

The other day I was having a conversation with some new friends at one of the great Wilkinsburg community gardens, the topic of the conversation was yield. You see… Community gardens are often plots of land with very few perennials, shrubs or trees… Recently some of the community gardens in my area have begun planting fruit trees. The issue we are running into is the fact that people want to plant things that will produce food “NOW”, they don’t want to wait 3 or 4 years, most of the time they don’t even know if they will still be living in the neighborhood in 4 years. Some grants will even specify the size of the trees that can be purchased and planted using their money, the idea is to get trees planted that are as close to fruiting as humanly possible… Once again we are being told to plant something for the sole aspect of creating food quickly, and the trees wants and needs are completely overlooked…

Physical

Obviously people expect a fruit tree to yield, well… fruit. Because of this the other qualities of the tree are overlooked, trees also produce wood for fuel and building materials. The leaves create a protective mulch in winter, and in the spring break down into nutrients that are not only taken back up by the tree, but also benefit all of the plants in the general vicinity. Trees with deep root systems have the ability to mine nutrients that would otherwise be too deep to benefit shallow surface roots, these nutrients are then released into the soil surface when the leaves fall and break down… kind of give a little, get a little system that continuously repeats itself until the tree dies… starting another life system…

A single tree has the ability to create a micro climate, many trees have the power to change climates. Once you travel in from the coast, forests comprise the majority of the surface water available, inland rainfall contains no traces of the ocean… It’s actually composed mainly of water from the trees… A forest can be thought of like a giant inland lake… Because of this trees, especially forests, can increase rainfall by as much as 40%.

Trees also filter dust and pollutants from the air, the simple act of a tree slowing the speed of the wind down is enough to allow it to deposit the heavier sediments it is carrying. Often at the edge of a forest you will find highly fertile small mounds located a few feet inside the tree line, this is a direct result of the wind being slowed down by the trees and depositing its payload. It is partly because of this phenomenon, trees on the edge of a forest are taller and stronger than the trees located within.

Mental

I can honestly say without a doubt, I have learned something before, during or after every tree I have ever planted. The simple act of planting a tree is an educational opportunity spanning all aspects of modern academia, everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees. Think about it for a second… Math, literature, science, history, they all relate to planting trees in one form or another. If you are reading a book to your class and a specific type of tree is planted, plant that type of tree (whenever possible) and I promise your class will never forget it.

Spiritual

Trees lift people’s spirits, an old tree can bring back fond memories of the past. I find planting a tree to be a highly spiritual act, it takes a bit of faith to plant something to benefit future generations… not just yourself. In my own personal “tree planting” experiences, I have noticed that when I am in good spirits, the tree or plant tends to do better. But when I am not feeling good, the trees and plants that I plant do not do nearly as good as they would have had I been in good spirit.

In my neighborhood when we plant perennials or trees it becomes a neighborhood event, people come out of their houses with their chairs and we all get together and garden. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a spirit lifter this activity is for the whole neighborhood, not only do we get a physical and mental yield, we also get a spiritual yield that most people don’t get to see, many of the yields I am speaking about may not be apparent at the immediate time of planting, consider them long-term yields… I still have people come up to me and tell me how good it makes them feel to walk past a garden or tree that we planted as a neighborhood… after hearing comments like this more times than I can count, the spiritual aspect of tree planting has become my current primary focus, with food closely behind it. My “focus” has a tendency to evolve over time, I like to embrace the evolution.

I used to consider myself a “food farmer” exclusively, when I built an urban farm all I was interested in was food. I was only interested in the physical yields that my plants could produce, it wasn’t until years later that I began to spiritually feel the power that a tree or plant can yield. I would like to see all gardeners recognize the true yield potential of a plant or tree, to look beyond the physical and begin looking at the meta-physical yields. We have a unique opportunity as gardeners to sculpt and shape the landscapes of our future, we are after all, installation artists.

Although I am a gardener and farmer, I am also an artist… the land is my canvas and plants and trees are my medium. I do not just create my artwork for the physical yield I receive, I do it for the mental and spiritual yield I receive from it… and that is one of the things that will set me apart from the rest… one day at least… I hope… being a starving artist is not easy… well I guess I can’t say “starving” artist!

If there’s a new way… I’ll be the first in line… But it better work this time… – Dave Mustaine

Everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees! ~ chriscondello

Originally posted to http://www.transitionpgh.org

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Sometimes boys just want to poke a dead animal with a stick

This morning on my ride to work I came across a rotting groundhog carcass, the smell made me laugh so hard I had to stop riding for a minute. I know dead animals are normally not very funny to a grown adult, but to adolescent males it is one of the great “curiosities” of childhood. The smell not only reminded me of my own childhood, but also of the children in my neighborhood, especially Brandon.

Recently I was enjoying a little bit of a Sunday morning sleep when I was awoken by a bunch of knocks, I went to the window to find Brandon jumping up and down on my lawn with a huge grin on his face. I answered the door to find Brandon sitting in a chair staring at me, as cool and calmly as he could be asked me if I wanted to go “see a dead animal”. I wish I could say this has only happened once, but it hasn’t… it’s probably my fault as I almost always go with him. Curiosity can get the best of even adults, and if I don’t go, who will answer his questions?

These “experiments in biology” as I am going to rationalize it as right now, usually require a relatively short walk to one of the abandoned house yards. Except for the occasional rat, we are usually experimenting on groundhogs, Brandon keeps a special “poking stick” on the side of his house for just such occasions. I should mention that while this is absolutely gross, this is something he is going to do no matter what I tell him, at least with me around, he isn’t touching anything.

I have a feeling people are going to think this is wrong so I want to give an idea of why I do this, I want to support his interests no matter how “gross” they may seem. Sure it looks like a few dudes sitting around poking a dead animal, but in the process I am able to teach the kid a whole lot about animals, nature, spirituality and life in general. Kids are usually curious and want to share the things they see and learn, the worst thing we can do is stifle whatever method of learning works for them. As far as I am concerned dead animals could be the thing that turns Brandon on to a life of science, or even medicine in one form or another.

I would say in Brandon’s case (as with mine) standardized education is absolutely going to fail him, he does not learn from a book, he learns from experiences and most importantly mistakes. Standardized education only allows for so many mistakes before it labels a student as a failure, some of us need a few more mistakes than others in order to learn.

Everything I needed to know in life, I learned while poking a dead animal with a stick ~ Chris

Amir Criswell, Brandon Scott and Sam Criswell working the Farm Stand in front of one of ten abandoned houses on my street…  This is what happens when the kids from my neighborhood ask me for “candy-money” every day, they planted, cared, harvested and ultimately sold the plants they grew… Success!

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Guerilla Gardening Safety

I like to think that I write about experience, and experience tells me I need to write about safety! Most people probably don’t consider gardening a dangerous hobby, and it normally isn’t in the safety of your own property. Technically speaking, the moment you step on to property that isn’t yours you are guilty of trespassing, alter the property in any way and now it’s vandalism, remove anything… and it’s burglary… Which is a felony in PA! Most of the time what you are doing will be seen as a good thing and you will find support from the neighbors, but occasionally your presence will not be accepted and it’s time to do some serious soul-searching. As with any “wild” areas like a severely blighted urban community, you will encounter hazards that will need to be dealt with. This post is to relate some of the safety lessons I have learned while gardening in random places.

I would like to mention that while a lot of people believe guerilla gardening is a new thing, it has been around for a long time. Contrary to popular belief guerilla gardening roots have nothing to do with food, and everything to do with drugs. The first “guerilla gardeners” were pot farmers, the term was coined by them for the obvious “renegade” aspect of what they were doing. Wikipedia claims it was coined in New York in 1973, the term was used much earlier than that though.

I think the most important rule that I could possibly write about is “know your surroundings”, I seriously can’t stress this enough. When you are doing “anything” in a sketchy area be aware of everything, and everyone around you. If you are about to walk through an area that you think is suspect, it doesn’t hurt to be preparing a mental plan on what you would do if something goes wrong. I have been in several situations where I was obviously being followed for whatever reason, I don’t carry cash and only had garden tools on me. After identifying the situation I immediately made myself as visible as possible by walking in the street and heading for the closest, most occupied area I could. I know at least a few people on every street and was able to make it a friend’s house, the guy walked past the house and waited on the corner for me to leave. I was able to wait him out but this could have been so much worse, I am lucky to know someone in at least 50% of the neighborhoods in Wilkinsburg.

I think “keeping a low profile” is a logical rule, but just in case I’m going to cover it. Blending in with your surroundings can save your life, if you walk around looking like you have money… well… people will think you have money. Just the simple fact of looking “normal” can be the difference, skip the straw farmers hat! A great secret is to figure out what color shirts your local DPW wear, then buy several shirts in that color, makes you look a little more “official”. Sometimes the situation will put you in regular contact with people, always say hello and speak if spoken to… remember that they are now your neighbors, and will play a huge part in the success or failure of your garden.

Sometimes it is acceptable to garden in plain sight, in the case of food production you should consider hiding it. I have found that allowing people to freely pick is not always a good thing, people damage plants and often take unripe, or way more than they could possibly personally use. Now when I have non-gardeners on my sites I always spend time educating on the “harvesting” aspect of gardening. Gardens used as a protest, memorial or beautification should obviously be visible, public guerilla gardening efforts have issues as well.

Peace Garden AfterI pride myself on my ability to completely zone out while I garden, this was a tough one to break. If you have the ability to work as a team I would recommend a spotter, someone to have your back. Guerilla gardening requires you to be aware of everything around you, even while you work you should be aware of everything. I was taught this lesson by an 11-year-old boy, he was always trying to find me and sneak up on me. He got close enough to reach out and touch me on several occasions, one time I almost punched him in the face, this was a huge wake up call. If someone can get close enough to touch you while you are gardening, then they are close enough to rob you. When you do get approached by a stranger, stand up immediately, face them head on and NEVER get caught with your pants down. Consider a 6′ perimeter around yourself “personal space” and do not let them in it, if they do break that perimeter let them know you want “personal space”, they will normally understand, if they don’t “SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT”, act accordingly!

Things you may find can harm you as well, caution should be taken with anything that you come in contact with. Guns should always be considered loaded and lethal, age weakens components and can make it very dangerous. If you ever find a gun leave it as you found it and immediately call the police, they will respond quickly. Drug dealers don’t keep their drugs and guns at home with them, they often stash them nearby in a vacant house or yard. If you ever find one of these stashes, “DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING!!!” 9 out of 10 times you ARE BEING WATCHED, they do not stray far from the stash. Your best chance of leaving this situation with your life is to walk away like you saw nothing, I would forget I ever saw it and if anything tell someone else what you saw and let them call the police. Basically I am saying if you ever find yourself in this situation the most important thing is to get as far away, as quickly as possible. What you do from that point forward is on you, but your physical safety should be considered.

GrapesAnimals can also be a serious problem with dogs being the most common, and often the most dangerous. I have always had an unexplainable thing with animals and rarely have problems, but it does happen. Dogs are almost always curious animals that don’t want to hurt you, extreme home environments are the problem. Starvation, neglect, fighting, abuse and torture of dogs does happen, this can turn an otherwise friendly dog into a killing machine. If you encounter an animal in this condition after you secure your own life you need to report it to the police, they can handle it. Mace can be a good dog deterrent, and is rather effective on humans as well. I was planting pumpkins in the backyard of the house across the street, I heard the barking before I even saw it. The biggest, scariest pit bull I have ever seen was hauling ass right towards me, I spent the next two hours chain-smoking cigarettes locked in the kitchen of an abandoned house.

Hypodermic needles can also be commonplace, with blight comes pain. Never ever touch a used needle, if you have to wear protection, talk to a doctor or hospital and acquire a used needle box with a safety lid. Paramedics and police will respond when called about a dirty needle, they have the equipment needed to recover used needles. Basically the safest thing you can do is dial “911”, they would rather pick up a needle than pick you up after stabbing yourself.

In closing I just want to stress how important being aware of your surroundings at all times is, this WILL save your life. The boy scouts have a motto “Always Be Prepared” that I think applies nicely here, keep your head up.

By any means necessary ~ chriscondello

Bulbs are one of my absolute favorite guerilla gardening weapons, I call them green land mines! You can hide them under the grass when you plant them in the fall, only to surprise everyone when they unexpectedly come up in the spring…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.