The Weekly Tea: water creates the conditions under which everything flourishes.
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Rou Gui
from Old Ways Tea
The weekly Tea: WATER
This week’s tea is tian geng zizai rou gui (天庚自在肉桂), which Old Ways Tea company, the source of this tea, has translated as “Comfortable ZY Rou Gui.” (This doesn’t seem to me to be the actual translation of the characters? But I’ll go with what they call it in English I guess.) This is what’s known as a rock oolong, or a yancha.
I’ve had oolong teas before, but the first time I had rock oolong was early in 2022. It was perhaps one of the most magical tea experiences that I’ve ever had in my life, and one of the first times I’ve experienced the state known as being “tea drunk.”
One of the astonishing things for me about tea is how much the beverage changes depending on how it’s produced: how old the bushes are, where the bushes are, when the leaves are picked, how they’re picked, and we haven’t even gotten to questions of fermentation or oxidation.
Rock oolong, like all oolongs, is a semi-oxidated tea (this lands it between green tea and what Westerners call black tea). Rock oolong is produced in rocky grounds in mountainous areas. The tea absorbs water not just through roots, but from the air: from low clouds or waterfalls. Mineral-rich soil and limestone cliffs give the tea an earthy bite that mellows into sweetness once you get to the fifth steep or so.
Some teas are fairly constant from steep to steep; others change dramatically. The highly mineral nature of rock oolong means that it’s different with each successive steep, and it’s not remotely subtle about it.
One of the best parts of tea: taking time between steeps to experience the tea leaves: how have they unfolded? What do they smell like? 
Tea is one of the things that makes me think about how much more powerful nature is than humans. The Wuyi region in China, where rock oolong comes from, is not replaceable by any degree of engineering. Even if we discount the effect of old-arbor tea bushes, some of which are older than the country where I live, the climate, the method of watering, the geology… All of these play in to the taste of the tea so much that even tea from two valleys over will taste different. 
The beverage I am drinking has a home. It has a place. It has a microclimate, and even from year to year, how its watered—if there’s a drought or if there’s too much water, if the clouds are water heavy or if the rain has washed minerals into the stream that feeds the waterfall nearby—changes how it tastes.
It’s the exact opposite of a thing that you can produce in a factory.
Some tea leaves unfurl into big open leaves after multiple steeps. I love how rock oolong ends up  looking like  long, curling dragons.
Native Plants
& fun times with ADHD
We recently made the decision to rip out all the grass in our front lawn and replace it with native plants.
Confession: by we, I mean “me” and then I told my husband we should do it and then he said “all at once?” And I merrily said “it’s so much more efficient that way.”  For months before this drastic decision, my bedtime reading consisted of books with exciting names like Xeriscape Colorado. I took a class at the Denver Botanic Gardens on landscaping with native plants. My ADHD hyperfocus was fixated on the 17 separate diagrams of our front yard and also on the plant spreadsheet with bloom times and light requirements.
In late May, when we had all the grass ripped out, I cheerily told our next door neighbor that we should have everything done in a week. Maybe a week and a half.
It turns out that planting in clay soil is hard, and also, the plan required quite a bit more topographical changes and attention to rainwater runoff than our current yard (flat, very flat). Plus soil amendment, which did not go as easily as I thought. Finally, once we started getting plants in soil, I ran into the problem of watering.
We had people scheduled to come out to install drip irrigation at the end of June. We started putting plants in at the beginning of June, and we had weeks of 90 to 100 degree weather between. Once established, these plants are not supposed to need watering except during times of drought, and then only once every two weeks.
But right now, they’re babies. They need time to build complex root systems to coax water out of the depths of the soil. So in those hot intervening weeks, we had to water them by hand.
I knew this was going to happen, but somehow, I imagined that watering hundreds of plants by hand would just…um…magically not be difficult or something. Whoops. It turns out that it in fact takes a long time to water plants. Ideally, you don’t want to water when it’s too hot out, or most of the water evaporates. My normal bedtime routine was supplanted by a half an hour of watering. As more plants went in, an hour. Even more plants went in, and then it was still an hour but with increasingly less thorough watering.
Watering by hose is also not the equivalent of drip irrigation, which allows the water to slowly absorb into the soil under a layer of mulch, where less of it evaporates, and it has time to penetrate inches, even feet deep. Unless I wanted to spend many more hours watering, most of what I was doing was applying enough superficial water that the plants (mostly) didn’t die. Certainly it wasn’t enough to encourage that deep root structure that would establish them and make them heat and drought tolerant.
We probably lost about 5% of the plants we put in before irrigation, and I’m guessing that the stress on the rest in those weeks might mean that another 3-5% won’t make it, even now that the irrigation is in.
The irrigation is amazing though. Yes, the programming is goofy and for some reason, zone 2 refuses to run automatically (or rather, it runs automatically for zero minutes and every time I set it to longer it will run once and then reset itself to zero. Why.) It is still 1000% easier than watering by hand. 
Now, hopefully, the plants will be able to thrive and develop real roots, and our front yard of tiny plant hopefuls blossoms into a microhabitat for birds, bees, and butterflies.
Plants: very small, mostly Colorado natives
The rabbits have even started to build new homes.
I’ve had this book on my TBR since it came out earlier this year. The subtitle is: “A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution,” and the first three pages had me laughing until I choked. Rage laughing, I guess. (Those of you who aren’t in the US, the rest of this email is going to be embarrassingly US-centric.)
The first sentence is: “Our Constitution is not good,” and if you want to read a book about that, this is an excellent book that goes into the history of many Constitutional provisions, discusses why they are not good, and then explains how we could read those provisions in a way consistent with justice except we do not.
The last few weeks have signaled the end of Supreme Court term (the term runs from October to June-ish, with a long vacation in July and August where the new clerks learn the ropes and start producing pool memos, and the justices go teach weeklong classes in Europe and get close to thirty grand for their paid almost vacation).
We’ve seen a lot of cases that seem to fill me with despair, and this book was both a sharp criticism of the current system, but also a reminder that things have often been extremely horrible, and that’s no excuse to stop working.
There are things we can do. I’m sure some people hope we will give up, and I’m equally sure that I will be delighted to disappoint them.
“Tell me again why I should care which rights these vicious assholes happened to think women had.”
–Elie Mystal
Get Allow Me to Retort here:
(Note: The Apple link goes to the audiobook on Apple because I cannot seem to find the ebook there. I don’t know why!)
where are you carrying water?
One of the reasons I write historical romance is that history feels like a safer place to let some of my current worries play out. When you’re writing about a woman who is fighting for the right to vote, I know that eventually her hopes will come to fruition, even if she doesn’t. It reminds me that history is not a monolith, and that even in dark times, good people have struggled to fix monstrous wrongs being done by those who have power. We have managed to win despite everything.
Here’s something I wrote several years ago (edited down) that I had to reread this week to remind myself why I don’t despair…and what to do next.
“You’re pitting yourself against an institution that is older than our country, Miss Marshall. It’s so old that we rarely even need speak of it. Rage all you want, but you’ll have more success emptying the Thames with a thimble.”
“You’re right,” Free said, shutting her eyes. “You’re right about all of that.”
His eyes crinkled in confusion.
“Do you think I don’t know that the only tool I have is my thimble? I’m the one wielding it. I know. There are days I stare out at the Thames and wish I could stop bailing.” Her voice dropped. “My arms are tired, and there’s so much water that I’m afraid it’ll pull me under. But do you know why I keep going?”
He reached out and touched her chin. “That’s the one thing I can’t figure out. You don’t seem stupid before; why do you persist?”
She lifted her face to his. “Because I’m not trying to empty the Thames. You see a river rushing by without end. You see a sad collection of women with thimbles, all dipping out an inconsequential amount.”
He didn’t say anything.
“But we’re not trying to empty the Thames,” she told him. “Look at what we’re doing with the water we remove. It doesn’t go to waste. We’re using it to water our gardens, sprout by sprout. We’re growing bluebells and clovers where once there was a desert. All you see is the river, but I care about the roses.” 
—Courtney Milan
I’m not surprised by the latest Supreme Court ruling. Even before the draft opinion was leaked, I knew it was coming. The Court had been signaling long and hard that they weren’t going to affirm the constitutional right to an abortion, and I had been steeling myself for it.
This is a subtle point, but I’m not going to say here that the Supreme Court took away our right to bodily autonomy. Our right to choose what we do with our body is inherent. Six members of the Supreme Court chose not to recognize that right, because they’re trash and like trash rulings, but their trash ruling does not change what rightfully should belong to us.*
Laws that let us exercise our rights are the irrigation of the world. They make everything easy. Birth control? Much easier to access if you have a recognized right. Abortion? Much easier to access if you have a recognized right. And so on and so on. This is what we’ve lost: the irrigation that allows these rights to flow freely to us. We desperately need laws in place that recognize the right to control our bodies and our futures. For that to happen, we need to vote, we need to campaign, and we need to protest.
But that is not the end of the matter. 
Our right to bodily autonomy doesn’t go away because Samuel Alito yelled at us while inhabiting the persona of a centuries’ old dude who literally burned witches. It doesn’t go away because of state trigger laws. Every person has the right to bodily autonomy and medical privacy, and while our governments don’t always believe that, we can believe it. Abortion funds already exist, and they are mobilizing to help people everywhere get the care they need. They’re doing it person by person. 
They are the hand watering we need now that SCOTUS took a hammer to the irrigation.
I can’t pretend that hand-watering is going to be as good as irrigation. It’s not as thorough or as fair and it takes a heck of a lot more time. People are going to be left behind, and I mourn for them. Every one.
But every person we can help is a person whose life will be changed. That person matters. Their right matters. What we do now will make a long-term difference in people’s lives: whether they can leave an abuser, whether they can graduate with a degree, whether they survive, whether they can simply choose for themselves the course of their own life.
If you can, donate money and donate time. Listen to the people who have already been doing the work. If you ask to volunteer and you don’t hear back, recognize that they’re swamped right now, and offer again in a few months.

Here’s a link to a Google document that lists local abortion funds. 
This is especially useful if you’re looking for a place where you can volunteer.
If you can afford it, a monthly donation helps a lot.
Finally, if you’re not sure what to say, here’s the email 
I sent to a local group offering my assistance.
Hello ____,
I’d like to offer my services as a volunteer wherever you think you most need me.
Here are the skills that I have:  
  • skill one
  • skill two
  • I even have third skill! Fancy!
I am able to volunteer for [insert time period during a week].
I know you must be absolutely slammed right now with offers, and so I understand if you’re not able to get back to me right away.
Thank you!

* Here’s my lengthy ranting footnote on this: The Constitutional right to an abortion is protected by the Ninth and the Fourteenth Amendments. The Ninth amendment was inserted by the founders who were explicitly afraid that enumerating rights would make weirdos say 200 years in the future, “oh, that right’s not expressly listed in the Constitution, so you don’t have it.” Centuries later and now the weirdos saying “it’s not expressly listed, you don’t have it” are the ones who simultaneously claim they cares about the original meaning of the document.
Anyone who pays attention to the history of marginalized people—this clause expressly excludes Samuel Alito and anyone who voted with him–knows that we used and accessed abortion repeatedly throughout history, a thing that is so well-known that an abortion recipe is listed on page 44 of a book by Benjamin Franklin written before the founding of this country. The idea that fundamental freedoms do not include the ability to make choices about our own bodies is absurd.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides for equal protection, and was passed particularly in light of the freedoms that were denied to enslaved people. One of the primary protections denied to enslaved peoples was the right to make their own reproductive choices—something that was often denied through horrific, repeated, regular violence. Any proper reading of the Fourteenth Amendment would of course say that forced birth was now off the table.
As a person who cares about history, I am infuriated by a reading of history that involves doing a database search in legal texts written by white men who had no freaking clue what people were doing and how they lived their lives. Scalia’s form of originalism, textualism, famously and repeatedly said that the point was not what the drafters thought, but how historical people would understand it. Funny how they’re never really willing to think about contemporaneous people who aren’t white men.
I also think that originalism is a bogus form of Constitutional interpretation, but it’s telling that they can’t even apply it properly and get the results they want. They not only have to cast their minds back to the past to come up with the answer that matches their current political preferences, they have to falsify what they see.

SEE YOU next week.
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