Looking back at 2011, two trends jump out right away: 1) Things are getting worse. 2) Things are getting better. The economy doesn’t seem to be able to rebound to pre-2008 levels. (But maybe we need to rethink capitalism anyway.) Our political leaders can’t agree on much of anything, from whether and how to increase our debt burden to how we might reduce it. (Meanwhile, out in streets, the 99 percent are inventing new approaches to decision-making.)
If you stare too long into the bright sun of the media, you’ll go blind with indifference. As it ever was, it is still people who make the change, one pepper-sprayed person in Zuccotti Park or UC Davis at a time. In 2011, Chronogram was full of stories about passionate people grappling with how to live: how to change the world, how to accept what we cannot change, how to be good, how to act with integrity, how to be healthy, how to be funny, how to work and how to play, and always attempting to explain the central organizing existential question: Why do we live in the Hudson Valley?
Below are some highlights from our coverage in 2011 that attempt to answer that query, albeit in roundabout ways.
In 2010, Jaimy Gordon’s novel of the racetrack, Lord of Misrule, was the long shot winner of the National Book Award. Gordon beat out authors with more familiar names from publishing houses like Knopf and Norton. Her publisher? Kingston-based McPherson & Company, a one-man operation run by Bruce McPherson, a guy who publishes physically beautiful books by little-known authors that he totally believes in. McPherson is living his idiosyncratic dream, though as Books editor Nina Shengold captured in her January profile, it’s not all champagne and glitzy book launches: “There are hundreds more cartons [of books] on the back porch and stacked like cordwood under heavy weight tarps in the back yard. ‘This will dispel all illusions,’ McPherson says.”
For Pete’s Sake
Of course, with Pete Seeger—profiled by Music editor Peter Aaron in February—it’s never for his sake, always someone, or something else: a cause, a movement, an idea. Seeger’s music and environmental activism are textbook examples of how change is effected in the world, one moment of integrity after another after another. (In 2011, Peter Aaron also bagged some other big-name musical game in the Hudson Valley, penning pieces on jazz elder statesman Sonny Rollins and Kate Pierson of the B-52s.
Also in February, I interviewed Helena Norbert-Hodge, whose film The Economics of Happiness explores the social and psychological costs of our globalization-driven consumer culture. When asked how she thought globalization might change course if the leaders are profiting from the perpetuation of the system, Norbert-Hodge made a remarkably prescient remark, given the Occupy Wall Street protest to come: “I don’t think we’ll be able to persuade the political leaders and CEOs. We need to talk with the 99 percent. The 99 percent have the power if they choose to exercise it.”
Where’s the Beef?
From factory farming, overfishing, and a dubious ethical distinction between animals as pets and animals as food, consuming animal flesh has become increasingly problematized (as the semiotics majors say) in recent years. Americans are becoming vegetarians in ever greater numbers. Though a relatively small number—four percent (though probably much higher in the Hudson Valley)—vegetarian cooking techniques influence a wide swath of chefs in the region.Karin Ursula Edmondson ate her way through many veggie dishes for our vegetarian dining guide in the March issue.
In May, food editor Peter Barrett wrote a piece we caught some flak for with vegetarians. “The Pig Dies at Noon” chronicled how one four-legged cretaure was transformed from being to nonbeing, animal to food. It’s not a pretty process, and there’s no way to glorify it, no matter how many trend pieces the New York Times writes about punk butchers. But anyone who eats meat should square himself with an animal’s destruction every time they tuck in to bacon and eggs.
Department of Unintended Consequences
In my Editor’s Note in April, I mused on where my taxes went, and calculated that my lifetime share of federal taxes probably amounted to what it would cost to purchase one Tomahawk missile. In what I intended to be a transparently sarcastic aside I wrote: “While education gets only three percent of the federal budget, I have no doubt that it is probably going mostly to overpaid administrators and underworked teachers who summer by the pool as the rest of us toil ceaselessly to get this economy back on track.” As we’ve seen this year, anti-teacher and anti-union sentiment is strong in this country. I received half a dozen notes of support for my teacher bashing, people praising me for “telling it like it is,” though I don’t actually think it is that way.
Let’s Get Small
We relaunched our dwellings coverage in the March issue, with house profiles, gardening tips, Q&As with experts on various domicile-related dilemmas, and interviews with craftspeople. June was the month we hit our stride, with a timely piece by Jennifer Farley on Jonathan Korn’s Kingston townhouse. Korn had traded in his 4,000-square-foot home in Margaretville for a 1,000-square-foot place in the Rondout. Korn intentionally simplified his life, from divesting himself of many unnecessary possessions to choosing to live in a walkable neighborhood.
Just a Little Patience
A century ago, an incline railway brought revelers to the top of Mount Beacon, where an amusement park and dance hall once stood. All that remains today are the rusted innards of the railway's powerhouse and some overgrown concrete slabs. (The Mount Beacon Incline Railway Society is currently fundraising to restore the funicular to its former glory.) Akiko Busch wrote about a hike up that hill in her book Patience: Taking Time in an Age of Acceleration, examining the parallels between patience and distraction, or play. We were privileged to publish an excerpt in our June issue.
Writer Jana Martin and photographer Roy Gumpel teamed up for a piece in August on the Northern Catskills Pigeon Racing Club, a group of 15 men, mostly 50 to 70, who raise and race pigeons. They are as passionate about their birds as a horse breeder is about thoroughbreds, and spend inordinate amounts of time and money on their racers. The piece required multiple photography shoots; Roy traveled up to Watkins Glen for the start of one race, capturing what's called "the release"—when 100 birds simultaneously shoot out from a trailer in an explosion of feathers and kinetic avian energy.