The Summer of Displacement, Duckweed/Watermeal, God/Harley Overload and My Long-gone Childhood and the Futility in Trying to Recall ItBy Kip Tobin
September 18, 2006
After three hellish summers in Madrid, I decided to do something different.
I went back home.
Home is Phillipsburg; Ohio, a suburb of a suburb of Dayton, which is famous for the birthplace of aviation (the Wright brothers grew up here), the Dayton Peace Accords (Serb-Croat conflict) and Guided by Voices.
Other than that, the place is basically the post-industrial plains.
After a ten year absence, it didn’t take long to become reacquainted with the demographic.
Though not everyone, it seemed like the average Daytonian likes trucks, Bud Light, shit-kickers, Cornhole, fast cars, Nascars, air conditioning, chain restaurants, George Bush, Wal Mart/Sam’s Club and Harley Davidson.
Oh yeah, we can’t forget God.
Dayton is lined with over 10 enormous religious buildings, representing the Christian, Judaic, Islamic and Bahá’í faiths—all of which can be seen from the highway.
My first weekend there I commuted to Columbus to see some friends.
Along the way I saw this sign.
Just after, I saw a member of Heaven’s Angels.
(I had to slow down to 55 mph in the fast lane, drive the car with my knee, get the camera on the passenger’s seat, turn it on, turn off the flash and balance it while snapping a photo of this angel cruising and touting his grey-painted cross with the crown of barbed-wire in its center, behind him.)
This was only an hour drive.
Parts of Ohio are pretty significant notches on the belt.
Concurring with my visit was my parents getting ready to sell their house, the one I grew up in.
Nearly all my childhood is located there.
My parents live on five acres that has two barns, an unused football-sized field, ample front and back yards and a modest pond.
As much as I tried to retrieve sacred memories of my childhood in my five weeks there, they simply didn’t come.
There was no windfall of nostalgic innocence or blissful memories.
Nothing stopped me and said, “This is where you came from and this is where you’ll found out where you need to go.”
Overall, all I was able to think of was this place in its own moment, which was in the hellish humidity of August in a warming globe.
Strangely, much of the time I was freezing.
With the humidity averaging 80-90% and the temperature in the mid 90s, I found myself shivering when I sat down to eat a meal in a restaurant, trembling at the grocery store and frigid if I went to a movie.
Due to this, I found a startling conclusion after a little investigation.
The largest source of greenhouse gases is electric power generation.
Air conditioners use around 1/6th of the electricity in the US and on doggishly hot summer days, they can use up to 43% of the peak power load.
So as the environment gets hotter, we’re going to need a lot more air conditioners to keep the indoors cool.
This will, in turn, make the outdoors even hotter.
Most people I know there, my parents included, still don’t seem to think global warming is happening, or at least it isn’t as serious as the worldwide scientific consensus seems to lean toward.
I used to find this a staggering statement of blanket ignorance.
Anymore I just don’t care.
I’ve huffed and warned and whined for years about it and they just shake their heads.
They’ll have “none of it”.
Many of these people still think invadingIraq was a good idea.
But anyway, I didn’t go there to freeze my ass off while indoors.
I went there to get away from the stifling, dry-hell of the Madrileño summer I’d already determined I hated.
I came to get away from being landlocked and breathing stagnant, polluted air.
I came to feel the thunder and watch the lightening crack the horizon during summer storms.
I came to hear bullfrogs crooning and crickets fiddling their constant bows at night, near the pond.
I came to see how the homeland was doing amidst its polarized national psyche and to see how fearful the day-to-day was.
I guess I also came back to see if there was some reason, besides my family and friends, to move back.
But mainly, I came back to help my parents get their house, my childhood, ready to sell.
I power-washed the decks and patios and water-sealed them, mowed lawns, trimmed branches, cut down hundreds of two-inch trees with a brush-cutter, weeded gardens and threw away hundreds of items that my parents were holding onto to see if we want to keep as mementos.
The most difficult task was the pond.
It was covered with duckweed and watermeal.
I had never heard of duckweed and watermeal until August of 06.
Apparently it’s something indigenous to climates common in the Midwest.
Basically, it covers the entire surface of the pond with these little green, seed-like beads.
The environmental irony is that it is actually a sign of an overly fertile pond that, in some ways, is too healthy for its own good.
It does cause problems though.
It can kill fish because it effectively consumes most of the oxygen in the water, rendering it uninhabitable for some aquatic life.
More importantly, it leaves it very aesthetically unappealing for prospective home buyers.
Here I am ingeniously trying to power-wash the surface in order to move the duckweed and watermeal onto the shore where it’s easier to shovel and remove.
(This failed miserably.)
The only way to remove it is by hand, with nets.
Scoop and throw onto the shore.
After that becomes tiring, get out and shovel it into a wheelbarrow and run it around to a compost heap.
The kicker is that when you return with the wheelbarrow, the displacement of what you remove is immediately replaced by the duckweed and watermeal that is in the rest of the pond, which is very plentiful.
It looks like you’ve done nothing.
The über-kicker is that it flowers daily, but only in the months of July and August.
This happened to be the only time that I was there this summer.
So if you spend 30 minutes removing it, it probably reproduces the same amount by the time you do it the next day.
If you are able to remove it—something that would take a crew of people two full days—then you must put in about 30 Chinese Koi fish to keep it clean because duckweed and watermeal is crack to Koi.
I did this for two weeks.
And for two weeks, it looked like it did on day one.
I call it the pond of Sisyphus.