GRUMPY OLD MEN PRAYING

The fraudulent election has usurped the interest of nearly all; in the woods even the deer are puzzled, for hunters neglect to stalk them. Therefore I wondered if any would show up at a meeting of an odd collection of old fossils I belong to, called a “prayer group”, the days after the election.

This group consists of a small bunch of grumps past retirement age who still work every day, but who, one day a week, find time to gather before work, (during winter, long before dawn), to drink coffee and to talk, and then to pray.

Our talk tends to move along the lines you’d expect from grumpy old men: Mostly conservative, but sprinkled with tales that are usually very funny, though sometimes poignant, about what we did when we were not so conservative. But after the coffee comes the prayer, where, man by man, each prays aloud, and I find this creates something I wish I had discovered fifty years ago.

In some ways it reminds me of something which I did discover fifty years ago: The “men’s groups” which, back then, psychologists used to create for themselves, in a cultish sort of way, with the psychologist himself ensconced as the guru.

Back then the “men’s groups” I attended basically involved young, tough, lantern-jawed guys attempting to be wimps, and to cry their precious, little eyes out, about how their feelings got hurt, (in an effort to become more “sensitive”).

Hopefully we grumpy old men aren’t ever quite so absurd as that. For one thing, there is no cult-leader-psychologist in our grumpy-old-men prayer group, unless you call God the psychologist. Second, among old men a young man’s interest in self-improvement has largely faded away, replaced by an interest in slowing the process of self-deterioration.

I like being among men who are exposing deeper parts of themselves. Not that we are always deep. Partly our prayers involve the trivial; things such as a wife’s toothache or daughter’s speeding ticket, but prayers also move on to whatever the opposite of “trivial” is.

This makes me wonder about what the opposite of “trivial” actually is. So I use a search engine (never Google) and arrive at a long list of antonyms, none of which satisfies me. But perhaps the best opposite-of-trivial is not a word, but a string-of-words which admits there is no word; namely the string-of-words, “life-and-death”.

The problem is that “life-and-death” tends to be very subjective. For example, when a toothache is at its height, it seems very important, and you might resent very much anyone telling you it was “trivial”. However should you, in your desperation, rummage about in your kitchen, locate some clove oil, and administer that burning oil to the gums around the roots of the hurting tooth, the pain might swiftly shrink and fade, until what was “life-and-death” became “trivial”.

In like manner, on a hot day in a desert, water may become a true, honest-to-God matter of “life-and-death”, but, as soon as you arrive at a well and drink deeply, you don’t think so much of water. “Life-and-death” has become “trivial.”

Also in like manner, naming no names, lust can become a thirst, and one can write ardent sonnets about how gratification is a matter of “life-and-death”, however, should gratification occur, the object of desire may no longer be so desirable, and some mighty fine sonnets may be crumpled up and thrown away.

For these reasons I think a good opposite to the word “trivial” is the word “momentous”, because too often what seems important is a fleeting thing which soon, after a “moment”, becomes unimportant.

When young I often ran into people who scorned my suggestions that what I desired was “momentous”, and who were all too eager to inform me that what I cared about was “trivial.” In the face of such sneering, belittling and bullying I developed a sort of fax-humbleness wherein I felt my concerns were too trivial, too downright petty, to bring before God in prayer. In my mind God was the only truly “momentous” thing, and all things that I myself cared about, when analyzed, were “trivial”. I didn’t want to bother God with my petty banality, and in a sense I made God become like the elders I knew, an authority full of scorn. Then I was introduced to some gospel (which means “good news”): The gospel was, “God is Love.”

The idea that One as infinite as God is could be interested in a speck of dust like myself was beyond my comprehension. It seems such an outlandish proposition that I think God Himself doesn’t ask anyone to believe such a preposterous thing. Therefore, to the sincerely curious, God seems to offer proof He is Preposterous. It is not a scientific proof that can be replicated, but rather is an intimate and usually secretive kiss: Perhaps some inconsequential event, such as a passing butterfly swerving to land on the tip of one’s nose. It is hard to scientifically replicate such an occurrence, let alone describe the way that it happens at the perfect time and place, and dissolves even a stolid individual to tears.

Of course, while a butterfly landing on the tip of their nose may have meant a great deal to the individual, it will not do for that individual to share such intimacy with scoffers. They will roll their eyes and do what they always do, which is to call what you feel is “momentous”, “trivial.”

I am perfectly willing to admit I am trivial. However I have learned that, to have any sort of civil discussion, the person I am talking with must also confess they are to some degree trivial. Scoffers can seldom do so. Sadly, the reason they scoff at others is often to boost themselves, to puff up their own already-obese egos with further flatulence. They have the odd belief that, in dismissing others as trivial, they somehow assert that they themselves matter. Apparently they are very insecure, and fear they don’t matter, and fight this fear by proving they do matter, using a bizarre technique wherein they behave as if others don’t. To wit: A bully sees a happy sissy, walks up to him, and punches him in the nose.

If there is anyone who can say they matter, and the rest of us don’t, it would be God. He is the Creator, and we are merely the scribble on the pages of a novel He is writing. He is omniscient, which means He knows the end of the novel before He begins. Time itself is His creation, an unwritten book He pulped wood to make the paper of, and bound, even before writing the first Word. He is also omnipotent, which means He is both sides of His pencil; besides creating us He can erase us, which is disconcerting to contemplate, for it emphasizes how trivial we are: Besides creating us He can rub us out.

I imagine what matters to God is that his novel arrives at the happy-ending He sees, and we can’t imagine; all we call momentous is trivial compared to the infinite Bliss He aims his creation towards. From time to time, to people as witless as sheep, God appears cruel, like a stern shepherd with a prodding, hooking crook. But God is Truth which is Love, sometimes soft as butter, but other times steel, a stern Love that must be tough: Pushing us away from bad water and poisonous herbs towards crystal streams and greener pastures may involve driving us across parched deserts.

Sometimes beautiful people enter our lives and we want them to be with us every day, but it cannot be. This seems cruel; it seems life would be so much better if it went as we wished. But perhaps in such situations God, who knows the happy-ending, needs to rub out a character who distracts us from His plot, the way Shakespeare rubs out the dazzling, scene-stealer Mercutio, when he threatens to turn “Romeo and Juliet” into a play called “Mercutio.”

(And yes, to reply to scoffers, even a tear-jerking tragedy like “Romeo and Juliet” does have a “happy-ending”, because the Montagues and Capulets come to understand the monstrous futility and stupidity of their feuding.)

Sometimes I think God snatches beautiful people from our lives to increase our thirst for beauty. If life was too pleasant we’d lose our desire to move on. Where even turtles and snails know their houses must be portable, we might stagnate, basking on some perfect Polynesian island, immobile to our dying day, unaware we were marooned. Therefore God sends us a tsunami.

This thought is emphasized by the fact that the people who tend to be most sensitive to beauty are those who have suffered loss. The wealthy like to think that it is they who create beauty, when they patronize art, but you very seldom see a wealthy man write a symphony, nor grow a single rose in their gardener’s gardens. The wealthy are incapable. In fact they all too often serve the purpose of making the misery which makes the art. The wealthy have no cause for vainglory when they look in a mirror and (perhaps) see they sometimes make the ugly wounds which make the beauty of healing possible.

It is a glorious defiance, (to the so-called logic of many wealthy men and women), to accept loss the way a starving poet accepts it. The wealthy scoff that loss is for losers. Their mindset makes them incapable of seeing beyond the material stuff they accumulate, until they are “given” to behavior which actually blinds them to the doorway to richness beyond riches. Where a poet will “pay the dues to sing the blues”, the wealthy think, “I’ll avoid the blues and pay no dues,” and the wealthy sadly then live nasal, tone-deaf lives with little music, (which may explain their sense of emptiness and thirst, which often causes a few wealthy people to patronize musicians. Such patrons tend to straddle a fence, seeking to gain the benefits of poetry without enduring the suffering.)

In the end we are all basically faced with a choice. What matters to us? Things of this world? Or things beyond this world? To try to have both is like standing with one foot in a rowboat and one on a dock. Eventually one needs to chose; otherwise one is all wet.

Sometimes the choice comes through circumstances. Beethoven lost his hearing, which was a thing of this world, without losing his music, which was otherworldly. He stated something along the lines of, “Those who understand my music are not troubled by the woes of this world.” Yet he himself had trouble enduring a woe of the world called “royalty”, a wealthy elite who felt he should consider them his “betters”, and accept their patronizing attitudes.

Too often the so-called “elite” were prone to inflating their own importance, while putting the gifts of others down, saying things such as, “Without me there would be no Beethoven,” which belittled Beethoven. It did not do for such royalty to brag; even deafness could say the same: “Without me there would be no Beethoven.”

For me the puffed egos of the elite seem absurd, for, when I look about, there is plenty to be humble about: Without farmers I’d starve; without garbage men I’d live in filth; without garment-makers working in Asian sweat-shops I’d be naked. It would take a certain sort of hutzpah for me to put on airs, and, rather than gratitude, to call myself a “better” who was “in charge”, and who deserved the credit for other’s gifts. (This is not to say “administration” is not also a gift, but it is no reason to put on airs.)

I believe God has blessed all of us with gifts, which are likely as varied as our fingerprints, and I also believe that, if we could only think, speak and act according to His will, our path towards the happy-ending of creation would be heaven on earth. Sadly, speaking only for myself, I have a problem with keeping the path smooth, due to the fact I also have a gift called “free will”, which causes me to be deaf to God’s will. I may preach that we should all appreciate each other’s gifts, but some people…….well, I have trouble appreciating them. Be this as it may be, I still believe we all have gifts, and that we should respect others even if we have no clue what the heck their gift is, and even if they appear utterly worthless.

In order to achieve a heaven-on-earth, God has given us handy rules which allow us be more harmonious and to evolve away from discord. Such laws are woven into the very tapestry of creation. We may not like such laws, but there is no way around them. I myself love freedom, and bristle at the slightest whiff of bossiness, but even I have to admit that, as much as I would like to levitate, I’m bossed by the Law Of Gravity (so far). In like manner there are all sorts of other laws concerning action and reaction, called Karma, basically stating that if you sow thistles you shouldn’t expect to reap oats. The only one independent of such law is God, who is above the law because He created it.

Therefore, because God is enthroned above the law, it follows that grumpy old men should go to God, if we find ourselves in trouble with the law, (which is trouble we mortals tend to find ourselves in, on a daily basis, as we are all imperfect). Despite the fact we are mere specks of dust, God’s omniscience allows Him to know us better than we know ourselves, and to see our path out of discord and towards harmony more clearly than we ourselves can envision. Furthermore God apparently likes seeing specks of dust turn towards Him, perhaps because it is a sign specks of His creation are moving in the right direction, to arrive at the happy-ending He has planned. (And even crooked lawyers, with sleazy flattery, have the good sense to attempt to please any judge they approach, and therefore grumpy old men should do the same.)

Yet mortals display an ambiguity when they approach God in prayer: In seeking escape from the law, they often ask for further laws. The simple question, “What should I do?” is a request for an order. We ask for a boss. Then, if we are given any sort of commandment, we mortals tend to complain worse than children do, when told to do a task, but there can be no getting around the fact we do ask.

When Jesus was asked, concerning the subject of rules and laws, what the most important rule of all was, He stated it was to love God with all your might. (Therefore approaching God in a prayerful way seems a good place to start.) But then Jesus went on. He stated the second-greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (which admittedly is not very much, in some cases.)

This steers me back to the start of this essay, when I was discussing the word “trivial”, and whatever its opposite might be. Seen in the context of the greatest and second-greatest commandments, the opposite of “trivial” seems to be the mysterious word “love”, especially when used in the context of “love thy neighbor”, which in the case of some neighbors involves “loving thy enemy.”

How important is this? Jesus stated it was the firm foundation upon which all other natural laws were built. Any lawyer’s law that strays from such a firm foundation is in essence founded on shifting sand, and is heading towards collapse.

Mortals usually want a firm foundation, and something they can count on. Even wild-eyed pirates upon pitching decks on the bounding sea count on a ship that won’t sink. Even vicious communists, while killing millions, dream of the stability of the strange utopia they never achieve.

Gentler individuals seek procedures more civil than piracy and killing, and one such group of individuals, very mortal and flawed, thought long and hard, argued long and hard, researched every example they could find in history books of how civilizations sought to create situations where neighbors loved neighbors, and discussed why such civilizations succeeded and why they failed. We call this group of individuals the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, and the documents they produced include the “Declaration of Independence”, “Constitution” and “Bill of Rights”. They themselves admitted what they were proposing was an experiment, and that they were in essence stating, “We know tyranny sucks; let’s give this other, experimental way a try.” In many ways many outsiders, onlooking, (the politically-correct “experts” of that time), were full of scorn, and quite certain the experiment would never work.

The democratic experiment the Founding Fathers came up with involved each responsible citizen having the same one vote every other responsible citizen had. (There was a lot of discussion about the definition of the word “responsible”. There always is. For example, why should a man, as head of a household, go to jail for debts; shouldn’t his wife and kids go to jail if they were responsible for the debt?) Over the years the definition of “responsible” has changed so that women and former slaves could vote, but one principle has endured: One person gets one vote. No man is deemed more responsible and more gifted than any other, to a degree where he gets ten votes to his neighbor’s one.

This is very much aligned with the second-greatest commandment of loving-thy-neighbor-as-thyself. We are not to stand in judgement of who is superior and who is inferior. Just because we are tone-deaf while Beethoven is a musical genius is no reason for him to get ten votes while we only get one. In like manner, you would not have to be very good at managing money to be superior to Beethoven; (he wrote an excellent piece called, “Rage Over A Misplaced Penny”), but just because you are gifted in a way that lets you manage money better than Beethoven, and results in you being richer where Beethoven was poorer, is no reason for you to get ten votes while Beethoven only gets one.

And this brings me to the subject of the fraudulent election.

In my view even a single fraudulent vote spits in the face of a neighbor. In negating their vote with a fake voter, it disenfranchises them. It takes away their right to vote, which is not loving your neighbor. Therefore it is also spitting on God, if He truly advises us to love our neighbors and even our enemies.

Personally, just guessing, I don’t think it is all that wise to spit on God, even if you are an Atheist. Anyway, if you are an Atheist you don’t believe in God, so what are you spitting on? If you are an Atheist it’s likely best to just not spit, just in case you’re wrong.

If Atheists are wrong, and if Jesus actually was God’s infinity taking physical form, then He has already been spat upon, as well as brutally beaten and crucified and punctured with a spear, and He is said to have arisen unharmed. I doubt God feels any need to prove his authority the same way twice. Been there; done that. Next time will be different.

It seems very clear (to me at least) the last election didn’t involve a few nasty people spitting on their neighbors by casting a few fraudulent votes, but a concerted effort to cast absurd numbers of fraudulent votes, numbers exceeding a hundred thousand in a few cities, which would change the outcome of the entire election. A landslide majority might approve of Donald Trump, but the minority that detest him would “win”.

The people behind this effort are in essence spitting on all that the United States stands for. And this includes God, and the motto “In God We Trust.” The effort is so bald-faced, and done with such a smug assurance that it cannot be stopped, that it it utterly appalls most Americans. Many are stunned stupid. It is utterly horrific, as if a Madonna’s nipple turned into a snake that ate the baby.

This brings me back to where I began, which, in case you have forgotten, was describing a group of grumpy old men gathering to drink coffee, chat, and then pray. How do old men pray, when everything they have stood for their entire lives has been befouled by cheats and thieves?

Would you believe me if I told you there were prayers for Joe and Hunter Biden? Those two are up to their necks in corruption, and dealing with corrupt people is like dealing with gangsters; chit-chat is not a nice experience; the people who grin at you may slit your pretty, little throat. (Some beer steins have glass bottoms so you can watch the pirates you drink with, for in raising the stein you expose your throat.) In such a society even to “win” is not a nice thing, and may even be a death warrant.

It is said, “Cheaters never prosper”, and, “Evil eats it’s own”, and history is full of examples: Stalin was a “comrade” to many when communists were “winners” of the Russian Revolution, but nearly every single one of Stalin’s contemporary “comrades” was “liquidated” by Stalin, within nineteen years. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and most of Stalin’s communist, “winner” “comrades” saw this was true, but did not live to tell us about it. (And in the end Stalin himself may have been poisoned.)

For some perverse reason Stalin extracted signed “confessions” from those he purged, to provide evidence for “show trials”. No one dared point out that the signed confession of one of his best generals, during a show trial, was spattered with blood. (Last I knew, that blood-spattered document still exists in Russian archives.) Such a horrible society is nothing we should wish on anyone, and we should pray to God it doesn’t happen here in the United States.

One of the saddest elements of the Russian Revolution was the bewilderment of those Russians with an entrepreneurial nature, who had worked hard to improve their lot in life and, in the process, to make Russia a better place. For example, former slaves (called “serfs”) worked hard to improve their soil’s fertility, and their little farm’s productivity, and had succeeded, to a small degree. They were called the Kulak, and Stalin despised them, as they suggested something besides central authority might be good. He accused the Kulak of “hoarding” the grain they themselves grew, and “purged” between a quarter and half million small farmers, sending them off to “reeducation” in Siberia. A suspiciously large number of the Kulak, roughly 50,000, died before they even got to the reeducation camps in Siberia.

But what is saddest to see, through the fog of history books, is how baffled such people were to be facing such wrath, when all they had ever done was to work hard. Is hard work a sin? If so, it was a sin seldom seen in the government “collectives”, the utopian state-run farms which replaced the Kulak on the land the Kulak cherished and suffered to improve. The collectives produced far less than the Kulak had, and the famine Russia then experienced was horrific, and only exceeded by the famine China experienced, when Mao “reformed” China’s farmers.

How communist leaders can do such horrible things to their people, (people they claim they love), is beyond me. As best as I can tell, they convince themselves they are removing some sort of societal “cancer” for the betterment of all. The problem is that the “betterment” never appears, except for a few people in power, and even those powerful people live degraded lives of eating pork with the grease dripping from their mustache down their jowls, lives which lacks the music Beethoven heard in his head while eating plain, black bread, while going deaf, yet which manifested (in the Ninth Symphony) as “kissing the whole world”, (words from the Ninth Symphony).

Admittedly my summation of who is happier, a hungry Beethoven or a slobbering Stalin, is subjective, and likely offensive to some. But if I am going to be offensive I might as well go the whole mile, and subjectively summarize which women are happier, those who have babies or those who have abortions.

For women the “neighbor” they should love is sometimes a unwelcome proliferation of cells in their own womb. Some women deem such cells a “cancer” which must be aborted for the “betterment” of their own life, while others call the pregnancy a gift from God, and accept all the sacrifice involved.

After fifty years of watching from afar, (as I’m male and can’t imagine the level of responsibility that femininity entails), I am very subjective when I state the women who chose personal “betterment” appear worse off, in the long run of fifty years, whereas the women who chose to “love their neighbor” and raise babies, (often as impoverished single Moms, and often seeing cute babies turn into ungrateful brats), in the end look richer. Mind you, they are not richer in terms of coins, but in terms of richness beyond riches. Why? Well, they now fondle grandchildren, whereas the women who chose personal “betterment” seem to live in plush mansions with plush carpets even in the hallways, but the carpets seem just a bit musty and spongey, and the hallways seem haunted by the voices of small ghosts who wonder, “What might I now be, if you had not decided I was better off never suffering the experience of life?”

One problem I have, when it comes to my faith in God, is that He allows our failures, (such as the extermination of innocents), to occur. Why doesn’t He step in to save the unborn babies? Why didn’t He step in to save the Kulak from Stalin? Why didn’t He step in to save six million Jews and a million Roma and millions of Slavs and others from Hitler? And will He step in to save the people of the United States from the minority now using election-fraud to bully the majority of Americans? If this God is a God who can care to a degree where He may direct a butterfly to land on your nose, why doesn’t He zap bad people with thunderbolts and leave them as a pile of ashes?

Stop. What did I just say? Did I just wish my neighbor be reduced to a heap of ashes? Hmm. Is that loving my neighbor?

Perhaps I am not as loving as God. Perhaps His love sees in ways I can’t. Where I only see six million Jews going into gas chambers, and six million corpses, he sees beyond the corpses and sees six million souls rejoicing on the streets of heaven. And perhaps He understands Karma in ways I can’t: Prior generations sowed thistles, so we must reap thorns.

OK, OK. I confess I’m not God. But the fact of the matter is I do not intend to be exiled to Siberia like the Kulak or herded into gas chambers like the Jews, just because some harebrained leftist has the crackpot desire to improve the “herd” by “culling”. And they have made it quite clear they think I should be culled: I’m a “deplorable” and a “bitter clinger”, and even this obscure blog you are now reading is (rather splendid) writing they itch to see censored.

Where I have been loving, seeing them as my neighbor, they have been nasty. In terms of “science”, I have patiently explained the science that refutes Global Warming, the Ozone Hole, the “Arctic Death Spiral”, and even the uselessness of using masks to halt the spread of coronavirus, but they refuse the pleasantries of civil discourse, as well as the goodly sharing involved in scientific debate (basically excited observers exchanging differing (and seemingly conflicting) wonders they’ve witnessed). In essence they refuse to respond, to even talk, and spurn my friendship, basically stonewalling all discussion with insults, such as calling me a “denier”. Such people are one of the main reasons that, rather than a kindly old man, I am a grumpy old man.

So what do I do with them? I pray for them, and for their enlightenment. They need not do the evil they do. Even a person committing genocide against spiritual people can be redeemed. After all, one of the worst persecutors of the first Christians, (a people who had actually seen Jesus), was Saul, a man ardent in his belief Christians were evil and that all good Jews should seek to eradicate Christians from the face of the earth, but then Saul got knocked off his high horse on the road to Damascus, and became Saint Paul, one of the most effective promoters of Christianity ever.

It is interesting to compare Saul with Stalin, considering they started on the same page, seeking to overpower those with differing views. In some ways Stalin was loyal, while Saul was a traitor to his original power-centric cause. Stalin accumulated power, while Saul renounced overpowering. People bowed and scraped, walking on eggs, around Stalin, while Saul, as Saint Paul, wrote letters wearing chains, down in the sewers of Rome (where the prisoners were kept). Stalin saw the city of Tsaritsyn renamed Stalingrad, as Saint Paul received no such honor, nor Pulitzers for his letters. If towns were to be renamed around Rome they would be named for the emperor Nero, and when Nero (who killed his own mother) decided Saint Paul should be executed, (basically for saying Someone besides Nero should be worshipped), Saint Paul had no indication his letters ( a major part of the New Testament) would be remembered, and likely felt his death would not mean much to the world and the worldly, yet, as the preacher Andy Stanley points out, ” ‘Saint Paul’s‘ is now the name of a huge cathedral in Rome, whereas ‘Nero‘ and ‘Caesar‘ are names we give to our dogs “.

And Stalingrad? Very quickly after Stalin died it became “Volgograd.”

As a person who will likely never have a city named for me, or a statue raised, or a statue later torn down, the whole business of how people remember us seems ludicrous. What a worthless sidetrack! What a fluff of ego! How did it help the citizens of Tsaritsyn to change their name to Stalingrad and then Volgograd? Did it make burdens lighter, work less hard, winter less biting, summer less hot, water less wet? Of course not. Such name-changing is the idiocy of intellectuals who would not know what actual work was if it bit them on the leg. God forbid that I ever live in a land like Russia, where such lunacy was (for a time) allowed to reign.

But my own homeland now seems willing to fall to such a disgraceful state! This past summer saw statues torn down and places renamed.

As a grumpy old man I am currently depressed, outraged, upset, angry, and in some ways terrified (which is what terrorists want), and for the life of me can’t understand why President Trump hasn’t declared a State Of Emergency. An insurrection is occurring! We need to stand up and fight back! (Good thing I’m not President, because, if I was, the battle would be begun, and there might be slaughter in the streets.) However instead President Trump has retreated into a thing he is not known for: relative Silence.

The silence is unnerving. I have the sense we are amidst a calm before a great storm. A sort of distant rumbling trembles on the horizon. The shit is about to hit the fan.

The most aggravating (to me) thing about the current situation is that grumpy old men like myself are made so powerless. Google has “disappeared” my writings about Arctic Sea-ice, which not only violates the commandment about loving your neighbor, (me), but violates the commandment about honoring grumpy old fathers. I am in essence gagged. Even my vote doesn’t matter, if hundreds of fraudulent votes are created out of thin air by evil people, to negate my voice. I feel distained, cast down, even a bit like the prophet Jerimiah must have felt when all his efforts to spare the inhabitants of Jerusalem got him thrown into a city-cistern, where he sank into the mud at the bottom, up to his armpits. He couldn’t move, and when they put the cover back on the cistern he was in complete darkness. Later he was rescued, but for a time things must have looked pretty black.

Things also looked very bleak for the United States when it was only five months old. The British had sent a huge fleet and landed a huge army, and Washington had lost battle after battle, and had been driven from New York and battered clear across New Jersey into Pennsylvania. His army of 20,000 had been reduced to barely 2,000 under his direct control, and most of these men were only enlisted for a time period which would end in a couple weeks. It was at that time Thomas Paine wrote “The Crisis”, which began,

“These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman…”

Paine was a journalist who spent time with the troops, and Washington asked that Paine’s freshly printed pamphlet “The Crisis” be read to his troops, before he himself pleaded that they commit themselves to the cause just a little longer. But there can be little doubt that, right then, prospects did not look good. Now we know about the two electrifying victories Washington won just afterwards, but at the time electricity seemed in short supply. Words were mere words, and talk is cheap.

Any words I now write are the same; mere words. In the end grumpy old men do what Washington did:

And in the current situation, we are similar to Washington’s troops, in a situation very unlike the palm trees of Polynesia.

Things do not look good, and indeed these again are times that try men’s souls. I may not be in the position to judge my homeland’s soul, or even the souls of a group of grumpy old men, but I can tell you many are praying in the desperate manner Washington prayed.

One gift I lack is the gift of prophesy. (This seems to be a shortcoming common to all who study meteorology.) For all I know I may be an American version of Russia’s Kulak, and will end up despised for being honest and for working hard. If so, I will likely wind up like one of the 50,000 Kulak who the heartless “disappeared” between the time they were torn from their farms, and the time they were scheduled to arrive in Siberia. The motto of New Hampshire is “Live free or Die”, and there is certain treatment I feel cannot be borne. Maybe fifty years ago I could have endured with the tenacious will of a Solzhenitsyn, (and, in my own way, I did), but when you get old, endurance is in short supply. Not that you are not tenacious, but some days your tenacity get used up just getting out of bed.

Though I lack the gift of prophesy, one gift I have is the ability to create tales, which can be absurd but which make people laugh. Among the grumpy old men of my “prayer group” I confess my lack of spirituality, by telling them what impossible things I daydream I might do. I tell them that if someone slapped my cheek I might fail to be spiritual, and fail to turn the other cheek. Instead I’d brawl like I was twenty, (which is absurd, when you consider carrying an armload of wood up the front steps leaves me winded). In an actual brawl I might throw one or two punches, but then swiftly sue for peace. That is reality. But my fantasies ignore reality.

Surely my fantasies qualify as delusions of grandeur. An old fossil like myself would be unwise to take on a mob ruled by Antifa, but when I see video of such a mob assaulting a elderly woman sipping a tea at a sidewalk restaurant, I’m infuriated, and my imagination seems to automatically put myself into that situation, and I see myself, an old man with a long white beard and a cane, leap to the lady’s defense. I become a super-hero, “The Ninja Fossil”, and teach those Antifa whippersnappers to mind their manners, wading into the mob with a flailing cane. I create many versions of my heroics, and all are unlikely, but speaking such a fantasy aloud does seem to have benefits; it expresses my indignation, and also makes the other grouchy old men sipping coffee with me chuckle.

In one version my trick is to dodder into a position between two big thugs, offend both, and then, just when they throw a punch, to duck, so they punch each other. Then I nimbly back out of the escalating brawl, as Antifa fights Antifa. (This is not an original delusion of grandeur. I read of it in the Old Testament, 3000 years old, which describes a time three kings brought three big armies to crush a small Jewish force, but the the night before the battle the three armies fought among themselves to such a degree that when the small Jewish force set out to do battle at dawn all they found were heaps of corpses). (God knows evil eats its own, and can arrange such events.)

Such daydreams may entertain grumpy old men, but the fact of the matter is that such a confrontations are unlikely in my old age. I am powerless, beyond the lone vote I cast. And my vote is negated by fraudulent ballots. I, and perhaps a majority of other Americans, have been “disappeared”, by evil. So we turn to prayer.

The scoffers sneer. What power has prayer?

We are about to find out.

I wonder what God will do. Despite all our mistakes and shortcomings, America is not entirely a fallen people who has chosen evil, and who deserve the tough love Jerimiah warned the Jews they’d earn, which later manifested in the destruction of their holy temple and their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Instead America consists of a people who (I believe) by a landslide chose a praying president over a party which has mocked God, but the mockers mocked fair play to such a degree that they have stolen an election from the people who believe in fair play. And now God sees the good people turn to him in prayer. Not a few good people; apparently it is millions.

I have faith God won’t stand idly by. Nor do other grumpy old men, who I listen to in my prayer groups, and also listen to on other obscure sites on the internet. There seems to be a sort of consensus that we have done all that frail mortals can do, yet evil is out to get us, and in such situations God helps the hapless, especially when they turn to him in prayer. He will manifest His might.

One way God formerly manifested His will was through free and fair elections. True democracy has God in its guts. This seems true despite the fact we, as mortals, do make mistakes, and democracy has been called, “the worst form of government, with the exception of all the others”.

The reason democracy bungles to better results than other forms of government is because flawed mortals, despite making mistakes, learn from their mistakes. And replace them. Which people in power don’t like. They don’t like being replaced.

The working people of America have created all the money politicians play with. People, as voters, have approved of their tax-dollars being sent by their elected politicians to third world countries, and to the children in inner city schools, because Americans are generous people with good hearts. But then Americans saw the results of their generosity were fat dictators in third world countries, as the third world poor remained poor, and Americans also saw fat schoolmarms in the inner city, as schoolchildren became more illiterate than ever before. Seeing such evidence, people suspected the money was not being wisely spent, which the politicians playing with the money didn’t like. Politicians were enamored with dealing with shuffling money, and with dealing with other politicians shuffling money, even if they were dictators and wicked schoolmarms, even when such dictators and schoolmarms bullied and exploited the poor. American generosity felt especially abused, when it witnessed schoolmarms send their own children to private schools as poor, inner city children went without. The generous American tax-payers knew that having politicians and schoolmarms act in this way was a form of madness, as it can only come to a very bad end.

How so? Allow me to use a baseball analogy, where the pitcher symbolizes the politician, and the manager symbolizes the voters who send the pitcher to the mound.

Now suppose it was the seventh game of the World Series, the most important baseball game of the entire year, and a pitcher was sent to the mound. It would be a great honor. But, supposing he did a bad job, the manager would want to replace the pitcher with a relief-pitcher. But suppose the pitcher refused to obey the manager, and instead insisted upon keeping the position of great honor, even though he did a bad job. Would it help his team win, or would it guarantee loss?

Perhaps it is because they want to keep receiving the tax dollars, and to continue misusing them, and also to continue hobnobbing with dictators and sending their children to private schools as inner city children are left illiterate, that some politicians corrupt a free and fair election with fraudulent votes. They are like a pitcher who so delights in being the center of attention that they tell their manager (the voters) to go to hell.

At some point such a selfish pitcher starts to notice the crowd has stopped cheering, and that even teammates have started to glower. But this only makes him increasingly desperate to retain his position, and increasingly desperate to resort to desperate deeds.

This seems to be the corner the Washington elite have painted themselves into. With increasing desperation they violate the American code of honor, a code for which they once placed their hand on the Bible for, and swore to uphold.

No good can come of this. They have already seen the backlash manifest in the votes of the American people, but now they are seeking to ignore the voters, which leaves God no alternative but to seek a different way of manifesting.

Actually, I think we have something to look forward to, in these dark days. God is not called the “Almighty” without reason, and the different way of manifesting, which he now may be forced to employ, could be an utterly amazing manifestation and knock our socks off.

The funny thing is that the scoffers, who ordinarily dismiss all I call “momentous” as being “trivial”, seem to be expecting the same thing. Not that they have renounced Atheism, but they seem to be looking over their shoulders in an odd manner, as if they are wondering, “Are we actually going to get away with this?” They think what they are “getting away with” is a small thing, “stealing an election”, and they have no idea of the magnitude of the affairs they are involved with. The unease in their hearts bothers them, for it doesn’t fit in with their idea that they are “winners”. They are like a wealthy man sitting down to a delicious dinner, assured he is a winner, who is made uneasy by a faint crunching noise he has just heard in the background, and the way the crystal chandeliers have tinkled slightly, (as he happens to be aboard the winner’s ship, called the “Titanic”). Some inner voice is whispering to him that he will not get to gratify his gluttony and finish his dinner, and instead soon will be treading water.

The Titanic is a good analogy, for the politically correct were assured in 1912 the Titanic was “unsinkable.” This pseudofact was proven by “authorities” who spoke what they called “science.” And everyone nodded and agreed. Then God stepped in, taking the unlikely form of an iceberg.

Currently we are under the oppression of those who believe they are the “authorities” who understand better than we do what they call “science”, but I fear they are about to be greatly humbled.

When envisioning God stepping in to fix the messes we have made, people tend to envision God as a warrior king abruptly manifesting in darkness and riding down from above the midnight stars on a white horse. As much as I enjoy envisioning that, I also sometimes fret such an image is the power-centric thinking of the power-mad. God is equally able to manifest in other ways, even as an iceberg.

In the current situation, I do not think God will manifest as an iceberg that will sink the United States, but rather as an iceberg that will sink those who seek to destroy the United States.

Of course, when I use the word “iceberg” I am not talking about an actual iceberg. It is a symbol of however God choses to manifest, to sink an unsinkable Titanic of evil. God is above all law, and utterly amazing in the ways He works.

Personally I feel Donald Trump was an iceberg sent by God to sink the Titanic of “The Swamp.” But this only makes Trump an instrument of God, not God. If The Swamp throws all its energy into destroying Trump, they are too occupied to notice God is uplifting another individual, another “iceburg”, which will puncture the “Titanic Swamp” from astern, as it backs away from the Trumpian iceberg dead ahead.

Also, personally, as a person who has lived among the gruff sorts who feed, clothe and shelter the effete elite, I was never all that bothered by Trump’s “political-incorrectness”, and even enjoyed his unorthodox honesty, and I think the majority of America felt the same way. It was a nasty flock of shrill swamp-harpies who attacked him non-stop, from day one. Therefore I would very much like to see God grant him the power to defeat the fraud, and somehow legally contest and win the election he in fact has already won.

However, even if Trump can’t overcome the screeching harpies, he has already forced “The Swamp” to show its true nature. Before he appeared, many still felt the harpies of “The Swamp” were fellow Americans, who carefully considered both sides of an issue. This delusion has been shattered. Trump has exposed the selfish and one-sided and downright Unamerican behavior of The Swamp’s “elite.” And, if that was what God intended, I think Trump has done his job superbly, and deserves a retirement in some safe space, free from those who smolder revenge.

But even if that were the case, I believe another Donald would promptly appear. Why? Because God opposes the proud, the elite, the “Swamp”. Why? Because He is the only One worthy of worship, and knows that worship of the Swamp is a distraction from the happy-ending He aims His creation towards. Therefore he constantly undermines the efforts of the Swamp’s elite to set themselves up as gods.

This has been a quiet and private conviction of mine for a long time. Some people are simply “cruising for a bruising”. I don’t have to supply the bruising with my knuckles, they will find it all by themselves. I don’t have to supply the bruising with my eloquent pen, though my pen is mightier than their sword. They will get the point, for those who live by the sword get the point in the end. Even if I am gagged and can’t utter a peep, I’ve got an invisible Power on my side.

Some chose selfishness over Love, lying over Truth, darkness over Light, but in the end can’t avoid a tidbit of common sense. The common sense is this: We can project a beam of light with a flashlight, but there is no such thing as a “darklight”, which can project a beam of darkness. Light can do what darkness cannot.

Therefore all darkness can do is to put up umbrellas to create shadows, so it can hide from the Light like a worm under a rock. In the shadows it spins webs of doubt, as doubt is its only defense; it has no positive arguments against the existence of Light, so it merely does a lot of doubting in the shade, digging a hole for itself deeper and deeper, seeking to herd all humanity into a bunker miles underground, where darkness could rule and feel safe from Light, but even in such a enormous cavern, filled with ultimately inky darkness, a tiny scratch could defeat darkness: The scratch of a match being struck. With the flaring of that single match the entire cavern’s darkness would be defeated. And if darkness can’t even stand up to a tiny match, how can it stand up to God?

This assuredness is something I smiled at hearing, in the prayers of other grumpy old men. Somehow they have learned over the years, through bangs and bruises in the School of Hard Knocks, that resistance to the Light is futile, and that certain behavior is “cruising for a bruising.”

Sitting about with these grumpy, old men I reminisce about how I myself suffered bruises, learning in the School of Hard Knocks. One series of tales involves a time I actually quit being fully self-employed, and instead worked for an amazing, record-setting two entire years at a Real Job. I had a wife and five kids, and bills were through the roof, so I had to sacrifice my independence, and punch a timeclock day after day, week after week, month after month. I felt I deserved a chapter in the next “Profiles In Courage.”

The pay was good as it was a Union Job. We made nails and pins and also those copper rivets you sometimes see on blue jeans. It was incredibly noisy, but I could handle that. I found it far harder to endure the strange babble you hear in union-shops, where workers consider their employer their enemy. I felt grateful my employer gave me such high pay, and was constantly overstepping the union rules, innocently and accidentally, by doing things which might help the boss, such as working too hard or innovating improvements or suggesting changes which might elevate our efficiency. When rebuked, I constantly felt like telling people to shove impossibly large objects into impossibly small orifices, but managed to bite my tongue because I had a wife and five kids, and needed the job. I had to kowtow to the Union as much as the boss. But observing silence was like salt on a wound, at times.

I found a strange ally in an old man I worked with, who was mere months away from his retirement. I had the sense he had been biting his tongue for decades. Not that he ever said a word in opposition to the younger worker’s ravings. But he did sigh, and look away at the sky out the window, when they backbit the boss. Only once did he confide to me.

It occurred before second shift one grim Monday evening, as I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and forced myself to approach the awful entrance and yet again punch in. Others were crowding in to punch in, and one hungover, young redhead was ventilating about the boss’s outrages and how revolution now simply had to happen. (I think he was offended that the stripes painted in the employee’s parking lot were too close together, and that it was Monday, and also that his wife had told him he drank too much and he’d better shape up or ship out.) What I remember is the redhead pointed east and, with great drama, stated, “Look at those purple storm clouds rising! The moment is upon us! The time is at hand!”

Due to my interest in meteorology, and the fact there was no forecast for storm, I paused to look east, as did the old man approaching retirement age, who happened to be beside me. More to myself than to the old man, I muttered, “That isn’t storm clouds. That is the earth’s shadow, rising as the sun sinks below the horizon. I think they call it the ‘twilight wedge’. Folk have seen that forever. The Romans called it ‘The girdle of Jove’ and that pink band of sky above it was called ‘The belt of Venus.'”

To my surprise the old man actually responded. He chuckled, heaved his shoulders in an exaggerated manner, and then sighed, “These young fellows! They simply will have to learn.” And then he stepped inside to punch in.

What struck me at the time was that the old man apparently felt no obligation to teach the young whippersnappers they were in error. He was perfectly willing to let them be fools and learn the hard way. Perhaps he long ago had attempted to offer advice, but was told to shut up, so now he no longer had the slightest desire to reform society. At the same time, he seemed very aware they would be reformed. The statement, “They simply will have to learn”, implies they were “cruising for a bruising”.

(As an aside, I’ll mention that young fellow did get bruised. Roughly two months later, shortly after the old man retired, when I had at long last paid off my debts and was relatively solvent, I was offered a chance to work in a non-union position at the nail-factory, but at the same time I received roughly two-years-income from my mother’s estate. After prayer and long talks with my wife, I chose to bail out from further involvement with the nail-factory, though I lost benefits and received no unemployment because I was quitting voluntarily. (I’m not certain it was a financially wise choice, for within weeks after I quit the union went on strike; even though my promotion would have meant I would have lost my union strike-benefits, I might have collected unemployment at a higher rate of pay.)

The Union went on strike because the boss had dared ask them to pay part of their health insurance, stating he could no longer afford to pay for it all. When the workers were outraged and went on strike the boss responded by closing the factory. Why run a place if you couldn’t make money? That noisy, bustling building, once a thriving part of a small community, stood silent. The derelict building still stands empty, twenty years later. That is the sort of bruising that Union cruising can get you.) (The Union did seek to find new Union jobs for its members, but in some cases the jobs were hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and some of the workers at the nail factory were “local boys” who didn’t like driving even five miles to work, let alone uprooting their family and transplanting to Texas or California, where nobody knew them.)

I think I brought this story up to my “prayer group” of grumpy old men to emphasis this point: You don’t have to be rich to fail to love your neighbor. You don’t have to drink tea in the day and champagne at night. Union beer-drinkers can manifest a hoity-toity attitude, smearing and backstabbing the best bosses, or even ordinary bosses who are not always the best, and such people are “cruising for a bruising.”

In more ordinary times we tend to learn from our mistakes. The old song sings, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till its gone.” The job at the noisy factory in your home town doesn’t look so bad, when the alternative is moving to a town with reeking air near a refinery in Louisiana. Hindsight is 20-20, and all too often we learn to love our neighbors in the small window of a rear view mirror. This happens over and over, until, when you get to be a grumpy old man, you are far less liable to denounce your boss, or employees, or anyone at all. It is for this reason old fossils like myself should be respected, even honored, for we have done the cruising and endured the bruising, and know better.

But these are not ordinary times. Creatures of “The Swamp” have not the slightest desire to know better. They already think they know better, and call better, “it all.” They imagine they have “it all” and want to keep “it all,” and even that they know “it all”.

Sadly, they have neglected to think deeply about what the “it all” they cling to actually is. Often it is an illusion, a wraith they eventually find out is mere mist, a bridge made of vapor that cannot support them when they attempt to cross it, and which always lets them down.

“It all” tends to be an illusion of power. You think you can swagger, but the carpet gets yanked out from under your feet. You may be a boss who thinks he has power over his employees, or a union which thinks it has power over the boss, but the boss discovers he is powerless when his workers all leave, and the union discovers it is powerless when the boss choses the shop.

The business of yanking the carpet from under another’s feet is prevalent among those caught up by the illusion of power, but is most definitely not an example of loving your neighbor. It is the antithesis. Sadly, too often people see “winning” as, in some way, shape or form, causing their neighbor to fall. Bosses sometimes want their employees to fall, and employees sometimes want their bosses to fall, In the end both sides discover a greater truth: “Divided we fall”, as the entire business goes belly-up.

The illusion of power is seen in its most naked form in communism, which worships power on the level of pigs. One of the saddest things to see is people seduced by such craven ignorance, renouncing religion for what will eventually turn on them like wheedling wolves do the day the leader of their pack has a limp.

This is especially sad to witness in the case of schoolmarms, who are essential to the promotion of communism, yet who history shows are among the first to be purged. If you believe in toppling statues and burning the books, can the schoolmarms be far behind? Look what happened to the educators under Stalin, or what Mao did to all teachers and professors during the “Cultural Revolution”. To free themselves of “old, outdated ideas” even teachers were sent to farms to learn “new ideas,” and many never returned. In Cambodia, Pol Pot skipped the bother of “reeducation”: If you had a writer’s callus on your middle finger you were were summarily executed.

As a young writer I collided with such schoolmarms on a regular, even daily, basis. I confess it was difficult to love my neighbor. It was even more difficult for them to love me, and some loathed me, for I would expose their ignorance, their idea they had “it all” and could keep “it all”, with innocent questions. Some would have whipped me for asking, but whipping had just gone out of fashion, and these same schoolmarms would have drugged me, but drugging children hadn’t come into fashion yet. I was spared in an eddy of time called by some “permissiveness”, but I assure you, even without whips or drugs, I caught hell just the same. For what? For asking questions.

What sort of schoolmarm would not invite the questions of an inquisitive child? Only a Leninist, or Stalinist, or Maoist, or Pol-Pot-ist. Yet what happens to children in our schools if they question Global Warming?

In like manner, what sort of public would not invite the questions asked by grumpy old men, (instead censoring obscure blogs like this one?) Only Leninists, Stalinists. Maoists, or Pol-Pot-ists. After all, grumpy old men represent no great threat, for they are declining into their second childhoods.

What is it about childhood, whether it be the first or the second, that threatens people in power? Can it be a reality hidden in the statement, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven?”

In other words, in my first childhood I could go places the schoolmarms were banned from going, and now, in my second childhood, I get to wander heavenly realms of thought the politically-correct are banned from entering. But it is not my fault I am rich and they are poor. They chose to live in the filthy slum they abide within, called by common people, “The Swamp.”

I think one of the chief delights of my life has been to gain first-hand experience that the poor are rich, and the rich are impoverished. Rather than making me get political and angry, it makes me chuckle. I may not be a kindly old man, but one reason I’m merely a grumpy old man, but not a truly nasty old man, is due to the ability to chuckle.

It is such a joke! That those who think they are so rich live in a filthy slum!

But what will happen if those in the slum wake up? Even if they don’t open their eyes they may open their nostrils. What if they suddenly understand the mire they are in stinks?

I like to think that might be the way God manifests. That might be the “iceberg” that sinks the Swamp-Titanic. People would simply get “sick of it.” Even Atheists could handle that sort of revelation.

What would be nice is that it need not involve riots and bloodshed, and all the ugliness of civil war. Listening to the prayers of grumpy old men, I note a lot of hope that slaughter and purges are averted. And behavior can be changed when people are “sick of it.” Even those who live for the adulation of others, such as Hollywood stars, change when in the eyes of others they see others are “sick of it.” So the revelation that changes mankind might not be thunder and aurora in the midnight skies, but rather a quiet and simple dawning of understanding.

I sure hope so. It beats being struck by a thunderbolt and turned to ashes!

BEN FRANKLIN SAID…

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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FULL DISCLOSURE ABOUT BEN FRANKLIN:

Yes, Franklin did own slaves. Up to seven, in fact. They were initially uneducated, which enabled Franklin to initially believe darker skinned people were more stupid than lighter skinned people, by nature, genetically.

THE REST OF THE STORY

Six of Franklin’s slaves consisted of a father, Peter, his wife, Jemima, and their four sons Othello, George, John and King. Franklin had custody of this family between 1732 and 1781. I can find no records of him breaking up the family by selling any member for profit. As a slave-owner he assumed the responsibility for the well-being of his so-called “property”. He had to “care”.

Perhaps it was due to this caring for Peter, Jemima, Othello, George, John and King that Franklin did something some find hard to do. He changed his mind. In 1758 his friend Samuel Johnson brought him to a school for black children, run by an enlightened soul named Dr. Bray. By the following year Franklin was donating money to the school, and became active in the founding of America’s movement to abolish slavery. In the final year of his life, 1790, he petitioned congress to make plans to abolish slavery.

Think of the changes the man saw and physically experienced! Franklin was living proof you can teach an old dog new tricks, and had great faith that people besides himself could change, and change for the better, while being pragmatic enough to recognize some hate the idea of others having liberty, and will repress others to enjoy a sort of liberty in their own lives (which is not true liberty).

Franklin is so crucial to the establishment of the United States it makes me wonder who his teachers were. Those teachers deserve honor and praise, and I think six of them were Peter, Jemima, Othello, George, John and King.

QUITTER’S SONNET

Death’s dark seems to be a gladdening shroud,
To be preferred to the unceasing sting
Of sly lies which goad the maddening crowd.
Old salts can’t abide such a slick peppering
Of pure truth with political speckles.
It is like watching one you love chose wrong;
A son chose disgrace. No true heart heckles
When witnessing fear cower. I must long
For courage I lack, for I flinch away
From shame on display. I just cannot stand
The lunacy. I am old and I am gray,
And death seems better than to see Truth unmanned,
Naked on the cross again, once again mocked;
But my eyes won’t close. This path must be walked.

In the winter of 1776 those standing against tyranny and the world’s greatest army had shrunk to a few thousand ragtag soldiers, cold and hungry and some bootless and leaving bloody footprints in the snow. In a few days the weary men’s enlistment would be up and they could give up on the lost cause and go home. What hope had Liberty?

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LOCAL VIEW –A Burr’s Blessing–

One gift my parents gave me was a sort of idealism that doesn’t seem like a gift. It can seem like a burr stuck in your hair, as this old world can be hard on idealists. Not only do others disappoint us, but we can disappoint ourselves. For this reason many who started out idealists become cynics; the softhearted become hardhearted; optimists become pessimists; the faithful become faithless.

To me such a response always seemed a weakness, and even a sort of sell-out. What sort of idealist quits just because the going gets tough? One should persevere, and have high hopes:

Of course, being so hopeful and optimistic, even in the face of proof such behavior is unwise, did make me a bit of a sucker and a chump. But my parents again set an example, for even when their idealism went down in flames (in the form of their intensely acrimonious divorce), the same stubborn unwillingness-to-compromise (which perhaps led to the divorce) made them stubbornly unwilling to compromise on their idealism after their divorce. Even in the smoking wreckage of a crashed marriage they stubbornly persisted with their views and insisted they were correct, which I found very embarrassing, as a teenager, but which I also respected as a powerful reality, even though I didn’t understand it. Therefore it is only logical that I would follow in their footsteps, and remain true to the dual-idealism I inherited, despite all evidence idealism was unwise.

For example, most bosses initially felt lucky, when they hired me. I possessed the so-called, “Puritan Work Ethic”, and had high standards for my self, and was an athlete and enjoyed working hard. But bosses discovered I also had high standards regarding the behavior of bosses, which made them feel less lucky and made me look less desirable. Eventually, (and quite often so swiftly my rise and fall was like a yo-yo’s), our employer-employee compromise would become untenable, and divorce (IE: Getting fired or quitting) became unavoidable. As a consequence I worked over a hundred jobs, and have great experience concerning bosses, and have acquired reams of knowledge about all quirks and foibles bosses may have. I also have no pension, for I never found a boss worth a compromise of longer than two years, let alone the soul-selling duration-of-decades required for a pension. As far as I’m concerned, any person collecting a pension is either very lucky or very weak. They are lucky, if they lucked into a worthy boss, and they are weak, if they stayed working all those years for an unworthy boss.

Eventually I discovered self-reliance mattered, and the best boss was my foolish self, and I became “self-employed.”  Of course, once you are “self-employed” you still have bosses, but they are called “customers”. So you have to add another hundred bosses to the total I have worked for. I may not have a pension, but I do know a thing or two about bossy people. In fact I know much more than the fellow collecting a pension, for he compromised and worked for the same boring boss for thirty years, whereas I have worked for two hundred bosses. I deserve some sort of master’s degree. The irony is that the fellow with no experience gets a pension, as I, with all my wisdom, get little respect and no money.

What have I gained? It is a difference traced by the poet William Blake, which led him to call a first book, “Songs Of Innocence“, and a second, “Songs Of Experience.” It is a product of the pain of a burr, like the irritation of a grain of sand in an oyster’s tender places producing a pearl. In effect, it is proof hardship has meaning, and that you are getting something deeply significant out of life’s struggles, other than filthy lucre. It suggests the meaning of life, and of spiritual progress, and of real “gain”, is not measured by money.

One sad thing I’ve seen in those who retire, (in some cases far younger than I), is that despite one [or two or even three] fat pensions, they are often dead within a year or two of retiring. There are of course many exceptions to this rule, but such deaths happen frequently enough to be concerning. It as if such retirees realize they compromised too much, and worked their entire lives for emptiness, and the disillusionment kills them.

I don’t know much about this disillusionment, because I failed to live such a compromised life longer than two years, (and loathed those two years, during which time I joined a union, and discovered I then had two bosses at the same time). However I can speak with authority about how to get fired or quit, and how to never get a pension.

This seemed a totally useless authority to speak with, and a worthless wisdom to own, when I was a not-so-young, penniless man of 37, and still unmarried, and quite lonely. Where others bragged about increases in income, I could only brag about getting by on less and less (so I did so, for a man must brag about something). Even those who liked me tended to laugh at my idealistic attitudes, deeming me a mere mad poet. Therefore they were alarmed when I abruptly announced I was about to marry, and not marry a single woman either, but rather marry a woman with three small children.

To be honest, I saw no evidence even my closest friends thought the marriage was a good idea, or would last as long as a year. To some the idea of a person like myself being even a tenth as responsible as a husband and father has to be was not laughable, because it was too painfully embarrassing to even consider. After all, if I couldn’t even work for a boss, how could I possibly work for a wife?

Fortunately I had met a woman who on some level was as idealistic as I was, and who also didn’t care about money. Not that she didn’t enjoy the good life, when it was possible, but when the good life retreated from the present tense far into the foreseeable future, she was strangely unperturbed. What did she care for more than money? She cared about children and family, and she’d been through hard times that taught her that you can have the delights of children and family without a cent to your name. Consequently money had slipped downwards, in terms of importance, on her inward “list”.

As we talked we discovered we were on the same page, in a way impossible to describe to those who measure with money. We agreed a beer sipped in love was far superior to champagne without love, and agreed about fifty other things, and all that agreeable agreement occurred during the first hour of our first date. This hour astonished me, for usually I found dates painful, and the talk so stilted and ludicrous that I usually wanted to escape the woman more than I wanted to seduce her. But this woman was different. As I recall, we talked non-stop for a solid week, every chance we could, and, rather than wanting to escape, I wanted more.

We eventually agreed that love is so important it deserves a capital “L”, and this “Love” can also be called “God”, and that, compared to God, money doesn’t matter. We also decided to marry, after only a week. But we knew people would think we were crazy for deciding so swiftly, so we didn’t tell anyone else. We waited a whole three more weeks before announcing our decision. Most people still thought we were crazy.

It is one thing to talk the talk, but another to walk the walk. I have a sense my more cynical friends, (and at this point maybe I should demote them to “acquaintances”,) were sitting back amused, awaiting my humbling, as “the shit hit the fan”. And, to be honest, I myself was afraid of the same, for I’d been through humbling and embarrassing infatuations before. But this relationship was different. We deeply disappointed the prophets of doom. Then, as if it wasn’t a big enough challenge to provide for three children, God gifted us with a fourth, and then a fifth.

At this point I should probably answer the question, “If I couldn’t even work for a boss, how could I possibly work for a wife?” The answer was that we were “Pluggers”. We just kept plugging, never sure we’d come up with the next month’s mortgage or even the cash for groceries. Always the work appeared and the money was earned, often at the last possible moment, which was what we expected, and had faith would happen.

In the eyes of some acquaintances our attitude was irresponsible.  It required a faith they lacked. They suffered from a “burr under the saddle” called “insecurity”, and felt that all responsible people should compromise greatly to be “secure”. They stayed with deplorable bosses for “the health insurance”, and for the “pension”, and for other “benefits”, but we were free of such chains and quicksand. Our security was Love with a capital “L”, and while Love may not have given us lemonade when we only needed clean water, we seldom truly suffered, and usually blithely breezed through reefs and shoals, somewhat to the annoyance of those who suffered awful jobs they longed to quit, and who dourly predicted (and perhaps even secretly desired) our certain shipwreck, because we didn’t stick to the jobs they were glued to.

This is not to say we sat back very much at all. Pluggers must plug, and that involves hard work, even when the work does not pay very well. Faith involves far more sweat than sloth does.

I think this is actually a very American attitude, perhaps derived from the experiences of settlers, who horrified the Native Americans by arriving in destitute droves to farm (and destroy) their hunting grounds. America’s “Homestead Act” merely made official a phenomenon that was ongoing.

But such settlers often failed. They were expected to live for five years on their “free” land in order for the government to officially deem their ownership “legal”, and government statistics show roughly half of such settlers could not complete the five years. One sees little material success in characters such as “Pa” in the “Little House On The Prairie” books, as they move from failed homestead to failed homestead.  What impresses me more than success is the amazing lack of security such settlers faced, uprooting themselves from former lives to face American wilderness, and conditions of extreme hardship.

American settlers had great (and often unrealistic) faith in their own ability to produce a lush, bumper crop from, in some cases, semi-arid wastelands. Their attitude was in some ways the opposite of those modern men, many of whom are meekly ensconced in the modern welfare state. Many modern men apparently trust cringing, and distrust daring. But what was this thing I call “a settler’s attitude”?

An “attitude” is often a difficult thing to intellectually describe, and this is especially true because “Pluggers” don’t tend to be intellectual. However that which you cannot say in words can sometimes speak in songs, and the spirit of American settlers echoes in their music, and in their song’s humorous attitude towards misfortune.

For example, In “So long,  It’s Been Good To Know You“, Woody Guthrie sings,

The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,
An’ that dusty old dust storm blowed so black
Preacher could not read a word of his text,
An’ he folded his specs,

an’ he took up collection,
Said:

So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.

In the older ballad “Sweet Betsy From Pike,” a verse croons,

Well they soon reached the desert where Betsy gave out 
And down in the sand she lay rollin’ about 
While Ike in great tears looked on in surprise 
Sayin’, “Betsy get up; you’ll get sand in your eyes.”

Singin’, Too-rally-too-rally-too-rally-ray… 

But one song that (to me) best encapsulates the attitude of settlers springs from the unlikely root of a priest of the Church of England, George Herbert (1593-1633). Among other things he collected proverbs from other lands (“outlandish”), and seven years after he died his collection was published, and we derive from it some sayings we still use, such as “His bark is worse than his bite.” One saying we no longer use is, “To him that will, ways are not wanting,” because it morphed into, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” which first appeared in the English publication “The New Monthly Magazine” in 1823. It was then picked up by the humorist singer-songwriter “Handsome Harry Clifton” (1832-1872) and became a song heard in English music halls in the mid 1860’s, and then crossed the Atlantic and moved with settlers out into the prairies, after the American Civil War.

This life is a difficult riddle
For how many people we see
With faces as long as a fiddle
That ought to be shining with glee.
I am sure in this world there are plenty
Of good things enough for us all
And yet there’s not one out of the twenty
But thinks that his share is too small.

Chorus:
Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

Do you ever hear tell of the spider
That tried up the wall hard to climb?
If not, just take that as a guider;
You’ll find it will serve you in time.
Nine times it tried hard to be mounting
And every time it stuck fast
But it tried hard again without counting
And of course it succeeded at last

Chorus

Do you think that by sitting and sighing
You’ll ever obtain all you want?
It’s cowards alone that are crying
And foolishly saying “I can’t”
It’s only by plodding and striving
And laboring up the steep hill
Of life that you’ll ever be thriving
Which you’ll do if you’ve only the will.

Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

Laura Ingalls Wilder  (of “Little House On The Prairie” fame), used the above song to happily conclude her most harrowing book, which described a railway-town’s near brush with starvation when blizzards and deep drifts cut the town off from trains, from January until May, during a particularly brutal Dakota winter.

But what is fascinating about the attitude Wilder describes is that it was not the typically American, Horatio Alger (1832-1899), concept of “rags to riches”, epitomized by Alger’s best-seller “Ragged Dick” (1868). Rather it was opposed to such ideals of material success, for “The Long Winter” basically describes an entire town of fugal, moral individuals reduced from riches to rags. Their reward was not a fortune, nor a pension, but merely to survive to see another spring. And what do they do in that springtime? They sing.

This Plugger’s-response resembles the “Whos of Whoville”, in Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (1904-1991) best-seller “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” (1957). After the “Grinch” had stolen every materialistic proof of Christmas, the Who’s still gathered to sing. I can remember sitting in my father’s lap on Christmas morning in 1957 and having that brand-new tale read to me. Over a decade later, as a teenager, I’d argue (only partially in jest) that Geisel (AKA “Dr. Seuss”) was a great American poet, whereas most of my fellow poets, in our snide groups at snide colleges, sucked the split lips of our artificial suffering with a moribund mentality that produced only snivel. Dr. Seuss, despite the genuine suffering of his own life (his chronically-ill wife eventually committed suicide) produced a bright, cheerful children’s poem that influenced America. Why did it have such influence? Because it described what Laura Ingalls Wilder also described in her best-selling children’s book, “The Long Winter”.

And what is that?

It is that there is something worth singing about in simply surviving to see another day. Life is beautiful and precious, in and of itself, irregardless of whether you succeed or fail. In fact the burr of suffering seems strangely beneficial, for it proves that Life persists in spite of adversity, and that Life is indomitable and unquenchable and independent.

Laura Ingalls Wilder left the third verse of Handsome Harry Clifton’s song out, when she quoted it to end “The Long Winter.” The third verse goes:

Some grumble because they’re not married,
And cannot procure a good wife;
Whilst others they wish they had tarried
And long for a bachelor’s life.
To me it is very bewild’ring,
Some grumble, (it must be in fun),
Because they have too many children,
And others because they have none.

Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

The fact of the matter is that there is always a reason to complain, if you look for it, but if you take that road you may miss many reasons to smile. On the Path one faces a choice between complaining or entertaining. In a sense it is a situation that reminds me of a Junior High School dance, (which were gruesome experiences, for me).

I would stand on one side of the gym, with lots and lots of beautiful young woman on the other side, and be miserable. Lord! If you could put this old man’s mind back in that boy’s body, I would have skipped across that gym happily and asked girl after girl to dance. Sadly, I instead found reasons to complain. In fact I was so miserable I often wondered why in the world I ever went to such events.

Usually, because I was prone towards being a one-woman-man, I ignored all sorts of opportunity, because there was a particular girl I was fixated on, and she usually was already dancing with some far taller boy who actually grew peach-fuzz on his upper lip, and had grown above five feet tall. I was four-foot-ten, which put me at a disadvantage, [except in “slow dances”, when my face would have been buried between young woman’s breasts.] [Man, Oh Man! If I could put my old man’s mind back in that boy’s body, I don’t think I would have called being-short a “disadvantage!”]

Probably I should leave this subject, before I get myself in trouble. I only bring up dances because in a way it is like looking for a job. Just as I hung back in the Junior High dances, finding reasons to complain despite the lovely girls across the gym, I found reasons, when young, to avoid even attempting to look for work.

Rather than a particular girl across a gym I was infatuated by, who made all other girls worth disdaining, there was a certain job I was infatuated by, that made all other jobs worth disdaining. And what was that job? It was “poet.”

Now the funny thing is that, when you are looking for work, you never see employers looking for a “poet” in the Want Ads. A poet wants to express himself, but that is his work, and not another’s. Others have other work, different from “self-expression.” Therefore, if a poet expects a paycheck, he had better learn to sing while washing dishes.

This was something I learned before I got married. However I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was thirty-seven before I became so wise. Earlier it was agony to push myself out and apply for a job. It was like crossing the gym and asking the most undesirable girl in the universe to dance, and to be honest I sometimes couldn’t do it. I’d rather be homeless and sleep in my car.

How odd it seems that I later found it fun to apply for jobs. I didn’t care if I got the job or not; I just found it fun to fill out the job application in a poetic way, and then watch the face of the fellow considering me as he glanced over the form, interviewing me. Even if I wasn’t the man for the job, the interviewer had fun rejecting me. We’d laugh and tell stories, and I like to think the interviewer never had so much fun rejecting an applicant, before he met me.

I learned this art the one time in my life I was on unemployment, in 1985. I’d only receive $32.00 a week, (or nine hours of pay, at minimum wage, $3.35/hour at that time), and in order to receive this paltry amount I had to provide proof, to the government of New Mexico, that I had looked for work in three places the prior week.

I never actually applied for the job of brain surgeon at the local hospital, but I did apply at other absurdly impossible places, and discovered it can be fun to ask, even if rejection is inevitable.

This was a revelation to me. It was like discovering it is good fun to cross the gym and ask a glorious girl who would never dance with a shrimp like you for a dance, and finding out, even though she will not dance, that you can talk and laugh and learn, all the same. And rarely, (but often enough to lift your spirits), the girl will decide, what the heck, she will dance, just one dance. In like manner, some employers will sometimes hire you, if only for just one day.

“Just one day of work” is not enough to satisfy a person who feels insecure without a pension and other benefits, but it is a bonanza for a drifter living hand-to-mouth. The person who wants “security” and “certainty” misses the bonanzas the insecure understand. As odd as it sounds, the people who are “secure” and “have it made” are missing bonanza after bonanza after bonanza. Blessed are the poor.

Most “Pluggers” don’t intentionally seek to live “on the edge.” They simply were born into childhoods without a silver spoon in sight, and things such as “security” and “certainty” have not been their lot in life. They may hope for the perks of the privileged, the same way many hope they will win the lottery, but such things are like an apple dangled in front of a donkey to keep it plodding forward. Most Pluggers doubt they’ll ever really reach and taste that apple, and therefore the real reason they have the strength to keep plodding on can’t be from the apple they never reach, but rather from the bonanzas they experience, which the “privileged” know little or nothing about. Blessed are the poor.

There is something counter-intuitive about the statement “Blessed are the poor”, for we tend to associate the word “blessing” with wealth, bounty, riches. Wrong.

This is difficult to say, and will sound clumsy as I write it, but it has been my experience that the poor are richer than the rich. Why? Because nothing matters more than contact with the One who blessings come from. In fact blessings themselves have no worth, compared to the One who gives them.

In other words, the Plugger has a heightened sense of what constitutes a “blessing”, due to living so close to the edge. One doesn’t truly appreciate a glass of water until one has been parched by the desert sun. Therefore a person with “security” has a dulled awareness, whereas a Plugger has his awareness heightened. Not that some Pluggers can’t become so discouraged that they become bitter people, but many experience “coincidences” and develop what the “privileged” deem superstition, but which the Plugger feels, often in an unspoken way,  is a communion with the One from whom all blessings flow.

I should probably leave this subject, before I get myself in trouble. I only bring it up to explain the difference between putting your faith in a pension, and putting your faith in something far better, something besides money, something I vaguely called “freedom”, waving my arms inarticulately to the west and pointing at a cloud.

Most Pluggers have a hard time intellectually stating their stance. After all, most are responding to circumstances beyond their control. To people who have a cushion of wealth, and the leisure to construct a stance, a Plugger seems like a person who can’t take a stand or even make a point. A Plugger points like a weather vane, constantly shifting. For a Plugger does not think man controls the climate; he responds to it. He is like the captains of the sailing ships of yore, very respectful-of and responsive-to the wind, whereas the man with money and security and a pension thinks he has a stink-pot cabin-cruiser which can plow straight upwind and ignore all weathers.

Now, if you capitalize the words “wind” and “weathers” in the above paragraph, you can perhaps glimpse how a Plugger might be responding to their Creator, in a manner which might be inarticulate and even unconscious, but which the Creator might notice. And, if you were a Creator whose nature was love, who would you respond to? The Plugger responding to You, or the wealthy with all their attention away on their portfolio, counting the stocks and bonds in their pension like a miser counts cold coins?

This is not to say Pluggers don’t long for comfort, and a life of ease, but they can sing and dance even with such gratification indefinitely postponed.

 

This brings me back to the early days days of my marriage, which I now fondly recall, but which were not so easy to struggle through, at the time. What is good to recall is the amazing faith my wife and I had that we would “get by”, and how that faith was not misplaced, for we did “get by”, (though I should perhaps use the words “squeaked by.”)

Now that I am older and wiser I look back and roll my eyes. I say rude things, like, “What the fuck were we thinking?” Yet we sailed through situations like an elderly woman on a tricycle passing through a terrible ten-car-pile-up on a major downtown intersection without a hair in her bun jarred out of place. In retrospect one cannot look at such history without mentioning unscientific things such as “guardian angels” or “the grace of God” or even, “Manifest Destiny”. However, somewhat amazingly, we each thought we were very practical, and the impractical one was our beloved spouse.

In retrospect our quarrels were delightful, (for our reconciliations created two delightful babies), but, moving on to the specifics, our quarrels were about very interesting stuff, although I don’t imagine the elite really think about such stuff. Unless you have ever faced an empty refrigerator, you cannot deem groceries a topic worth much attention, but I and my young wife had a yearly quarrel, which I will dub the “Harvest Quarrel.”

During the summer we had too much work: I, as a landscaper, and my wife, as the small town “Recreation Director” of the local playground and swimming pool. As winter approached her work vanished, as did mine, (after I made a final bundle raking leaves). We were shifting from having plenty of groceries for our three, then four, then five children, to having none. The stress of this situation resulted in the yearly “Harvest Quarrel.”

The quarrel had two fascinating steps, wherein at first my my wife displayed a flippant disregard for groceries, and then I myself displayed the flippant disregard.

The first step involved the fact that, even after working in the gardens of others all day, I always found time to have a garden of my own. Besides producing a paycheck, I produced actual food.  I would proudly dump dirty produce in my wife’s clean kitchen, and she wasn’t always appreciative. Some of my fresh produce went into delicious dinners, but a shocking (to me) amount seemed to barely pause in the house before heading out to the compost pile.

I had an old-fashioned belief that my wife should be like my mother and grandmother, who had Great-Depression-aversions to seeing even a scrap of food wasted. My grandmother was especially good at making the labor involved look easy, like something she was doing on the side with her little finger, while focused on a more interesting conversation, either with a person working with her, or on the radio. She preserved food while berating the Red Sox for losing again, her work deft yet unconscious, like a taxi driver manipulating through intense city traffic while discussing politics.

During summer’s surplus, when food was cheap, my grandmother canned vegetables in glass jars, or pickled them, or made a sugary jams of fruits. Refrigeration was not necessary. She knew all the old tricks for preserving food, such as corning beef or turning cabbage to sauerkraut, and where to store onions as opposed to where to store potatoes, and had various pantries and cellars delegated for the storage of food. By the time winter rolled around she was ready.  Children were incorporated into this bustle, and I don’t recall grumbling much about it, and at times enjoyed it. My mother might stop at a farmer’s market and score a bargain on a big basket of past-prime shell beans, and this meant I’d sit with my siblings on the back porch shelling them, separating the bad beans from the good, talking about whatever, watching the twittering chimney swifts soar overhead as summer clouds built in the sky.

If there was any grumbling involved, it was about wasting food. Woe unto the child who didn’t finish their dinner. Garbage went to the pig, (or, if you had no pig, to the pig farmer, who made money on the side picking up your garbage), and when the pig was slaughtered  “everything was used but the squeal.”

So much was this constant activity part of my grandmother’s make-up that even when she was old and my grandfather had saved enough to allow her to be a lady of leisure, she could become restless. When the herring were swimming upstream in the spring she seemed a bit offended no men brought her pails of silver fish for her to salt down in big crock-pots.

My wife was not the same. If I plunked a pail of fish down in her kitchen she did not look the slightest bit delighted. The same went for heaps of grubby carrots or dirty potatoes. Only occasionally would she make some jellies or jams, seemingly more for amusement than out of any sense of necessity, and when I brought baskets of red and green tomatoes in before the first fall freeze they sat around on just about every downstairs windowsill, ripening and sometimes rotting, on their way to salads or sauces or the compost pile, but never to canning jars.

This rubbed my fur the wrong way at times. Call it my Yankee heritage if you will, but I just felt winter was a danger we should prepare for, and always was very busy splitting and stacking wood in the fall. My wife could make me a little crazy, for she wouldn’t even rush out to shop before a major winter storm. She preferred to shop right after the storm, and the one time I accompanied her I could see her point; after a storm the store was wonderfully quiet and there were no lines at the register. I could also see her point about tomato sauce; it was much easier to pick up a jar at the market than to can it yourself. All the same, it just didn’t seem right.

I got my revenge by rubbing her fur the wrong way, in my own manner. This occurred when my landscaping was officially ended by the first fall of snow. Even if there were still leaves on lawns, they were buried by white, so I’d put my rakes away and sit by the warm fire, and gaze dreamily out the window, working on a poem about falling snow. After months of hard work it felt good to just compose, but it drove my wife crazy. We had no income, and I was just sitting there, nibbling an eraser. She’d interrupt my composing with some inane question, such as, “What about groceries?” I’d say, “I thought you just bought groceries yesterday.” She’d respond, “But what about next week?” I’d heave a deep sigh, for I knew it was time for our yearly Harvest Quarrel.

It did no good to say “calm down”, for those two words never work, and indeed often have a strangely opposite effect. It also did no good to point out that if she had canned like my grandmother she’s have no worries about groceries because she’d have months of food on the shelves, because if I said that she’d just point out that if I was like my grandfather I’d have a job that lasted through the winter. Neither did it do any good to wax spiritual and preach that we should have faith in God, because she would open her Bible to “Proverbs” and quote, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man“. Lastly, it was equally unhelpful to suggest that if I was left alone to complete my poem about falling snow the result might be a one-hit-wonder that would make us rich, for she would just say I had already written a hundred wonders, and I should be out selling them.

She gave me no peace, and became a complete burr-under-the-saddle. My Dad advised me women look better if you “make them lively”, and I was succeeding in making her lively. (She became especially lively if I used the word “harangue.”) What I actually wanted to do is write about the peace of falling snow, and find a rhyme for the word “silver”, but it was always obvious that only way I was going to get the peace and quiet necessary was if I went out into the snow and drove through it. That was always the conclusion to the Harvest Quarrel.

What then happened always amazed me. I’d very soon come clumping back into the house with snowy boots, shoot my wife a smug look, and say, “I start work at six tomorrow morning. Happy now?” Then I’d go back to the fire, pick up my uncompleted poem about falling snow, and again begin nibbling my eraser, well aware my wife was itching with curiosity.

What amazed me was the ease with which I found work. There had been other times in my life work wasn’t to be had, and I’d roll my eyes to God wondering what He expected me to do.  Other times I rolled my eyes to heaven with a different, happier expression, when I found work with amazing ease, and these were those other times: I’d look down a heartless street steeling my nerve to go to business after business, expecting to experiencing painful rejection after painful rejection, but the very first place would hire me. It happened with surprising frequency, and always felt like the part of a cartoon where someone charges a locked door, lowering their shoulder to smash it down, and just as they reach the door someone opens it.

Not that the jobs were good ones, but I’d lived on the edge so long that heights no longer bothered me. Where some fret about a pension thirty years in the future, I was more concerned about today, and more willing to let tomorrow take care of itself. Also I was less sensitive about rejection, less prone to burst into tears when a job wasn’t available (although that might be an interesting tactic), and less willing to morbidly dwell upon the offence of being refused. I was more curious about other people and midst this curiosity was more able to utterly forget myself and my own problems. Perhaps I was like a sailor who has seen his ship can come through a storm unscathed, and who no longer feels he can only sail in sunny weather.

In fact, when I looked in the mirror, I realized I had changed. When I walked into a business my demeanor was different, switched from overly sensitive and doubtful to cheerful and confident. Nor was it an act. I definitely had in some way matured, and in some ways I now got jobs too swiftly; I now liked job interviews, and, when I had been happily contemplating a couple weeks of interesting discussions with managers over coffee, it could be disappointing to only experience one interview, before getting hired.

It did puff my ego a little to be able to assuage my wife’s worry about groceries so quickly, but it was hard to be too swelled up, as the pay was usually so minuscule that it took some adroit budgeting to make it to spring. We’d have to run up a tab until April, wherever we could. Also, when I sat and thought about it, I really couldn’t take much credit for changing. The “School Of Hard Knocks” had matured me.

But who was the professor? This question seemed more interesting to contemplate than my poem about falling snow, and the page of the notebook in front of me filled with stray doodles, and the scribbled numbers of sketched budgets and altered schedules.

Such a silent guide You are that I never
Knew it was You leading me to follow
Your lead. But black sheep are not so clever
As they believe. When my heart grew hollow
I turned away, and thought I was leading
Myself, but who is really the professor
When slings and arrows leave students bleeding
In life’s School Of Hard Knocks? Yet how tender
You are; how patient, as with the pace of snails
I learned. I called my guide, “my own Free Will”,
But captains are not the ones who fill sails
Like fat bellies. I blundered on until
My free will finally learned how to dance.
Your silent love is what leads this romance.

I should probably stop there, but need to add a coda to finalize the theme about “burrs”.

I think that one thing that makes the attitude of a Plugger so much more upbeat than that of a worrier, (who frets at a threat to a pension far in the future), is a Plugger’s  simple discovery that good things come in bad packages. A Navajo friend once wrote, “Boot camp is a very good thing to have happen only once in your life,” which is an essay in only fifteen words; IE: Certain discipline may be as palatable as cod-liver-oil, but turns out to make you feel better in the end. The pains, bad tastes, foul smells, and itchy burrs are the curriculum of the School Of Hard Knocks, whether or not you believe there is a Professor in charge of how such discipline is dispensed.

Once you have been through such burrs even once, and see that you more than survived, but were actually strangely matured, then burrs in your future seem less repugnant. You are made able to face situations, which once filled you with dread, without fear, or with far less fear. Not that you don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, but if you must stay out you are singing in the rain.

When I walked into a business my demeanor was utterly different when I was forty, completely changed from an overly sensitive and doubtful 18-year-old’s. Some jobs were demeaning, such as folding and collating pages of inane pamphlets containing bosh and humbug, but I could sing in such rain. My fellow workers tended to be “temps” (short for “Temporary Contract Labor”) who worked for less than the regular workers, without benefits, and the regular workers tended to resent temps. But temps were interesting people to talk to, for they tended to be down on their luck, and usually there is a good story behind a downfall. However despite their downfall, and despite being exploited by bosses and disdained by regular workers, temps didn’t retreat in self-pity, nor expect welfare and charity, but rather were the sort who would work a rotten job to claw their way out of their poverty. They were true Pluggers, and I saw a hidden benefit in jobs that had no benefits, for I got to interrogate and interview interesting Pluggers I otherwise would have only a slight chance of ever meeting. The odd thing was some of these people had no idea anyone might find them worth interrogating and interviewing; my interest was something that lit them up; they blossomed under the feeble sunshine of my innocent, simpleton queries. Such a flowering, under the dingy light of forty watt bulbs, made me look over my shoulder, for I knew I’m not so bright, and I wondered why their faces lit up. From whence came the light? It intrigued me, yet, even as this intriguing stuff occurred, all we were doing was folding and collating pamphlets of guff.

This is not to say I didn’t yearn to be out in the falling snow like a boy yearns to escape Algebra class, but so did the other temps; you could see it in the longing light in their eyes as they passed a window. We were all in it together, and there was a sort of camaraderie reminiscent of that seen in soldiers in deplorable circumstances, which led Wilfred Owen to write, “I too have seen God through mud.”

This brings me back to what I stated earlier, which was, (in case you have forgotten), “There is something worth singing about in simply surviving to see another day. Life is beautiful and precious, in and of itself, irregardless of whether you succeed or fail. In fact the burr of suffering seems strangely beneficial, for it proves that Life persists in spite of adversity, and that Life is indomitable and unquenchable and independent.”

The problem with such a realization is that it robs you of some motivation. Once you realize you already have what is most valuable, namely Life, what more do you need? Why even get a job, let alone a pension? Beethoven proved beautiful music doesn’t even require the ability to hear. Nothing is necessary for happiness but Life.

Fortunately Life does contain burrs, which direct us. Your beloved will bring you a concern which, if you have a heart, you will respond to.

Just as my young wife brought up concerns, disturbing my content as I sat by the fire contemplating falling snow, she could disturb my content as I enjoyed folding and collating pamphlets of guff, by urging me to get a better job. Even when minimum wages were raised from $3.35/hour when we met to $4.25/hour when she was first pregnant, it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t that we were greedy; we were running-up-a-tab at the market, and on our utility bills, even with me working full-time. Running-up-a-tab was a parachute that slowed our decent, enabling us to survive until spring,  (when I’d make $10.00/hour landscaping). But if you made too little in the winter your parachute would be too small, and when you hit spring you’d be up to your neck.

Therefore I, (and indeed most “temps”), required “overtime” to get by. Once you worked over 40 hours your pay would be “time-and-a-half”, (shifting from 4.25/hour to 6.38/hour.) I freely confessed this requirement when I was first hired, during the initial job-interview, not minding much if being so demanding meant I wouldn’t be hired. Yet sometimes it was what got me hired. The boss had some job he urgently needed done in a big hurry, and he desired people who would work overtime, but his regular employees not only might be unwilling to work extra hours, but might have the “benefit” of an earned vacation coming up. In such situations “temps” stepped in to save the day, but, once the day was saved, “temps” would be promptly laid-off. Unemployment may seem a cruel reward for a job-well-done, but I could only fold and collate so long before the work got stale, and I tended to depart such jobs whistling, and looking ahead eagerly to the next chapter.

If I was in the mood to complain then looking for work would have been a burr, and getting laid-off would have been a burr, and my wife’s concern would have been a burr, and I could have been very sour. And I confess there were times I was sour, usually first thing on Monday morning. However I did notice my mood was mysteriously better by Monday’s midday, and a hundred times better at age forty than it had been at age eighteen. Furthermore, being in a better mood about burrs seemed to bring benefits hard to explain. It made sense that an employer might be more likely to hire a cheerful person than a person who radiated shyness and fear, but I seemed to sense a more amazing aspect was involved.

Call it a superstition if you wish, but I felt the “burrs” were actually the prodding of a Good Shepherd’s crook.

It is said God can be hard as steel and soft as butter. The earlier times in my life, when I couldn’t find work no matter how hard I tried, seemed a sort of hard-as-steel time of tough love, as I was educated by the School Of Hard Knocks. For some reason it didn’t make me feel angry at God, but rather utterly dependent, like a small child wearing pajamas with feet. However I also felt that was the normal state of the cruel world. I didn’t expect any soft-as-butter stuff, and was deeply mystified when I went through a time when I was hired wherever I applied.

One autumn, after my wife and I had been through our typical Autumnal Quarrel, it occurred to me, as I stomped out the front door, that it would make life easier if I got a job within walking distance of my house. Both my truck and my wife’s van were old clunkers, and it seemed likely I could save both on gas-money, and on the bother of dealing with break-downs, if I didn’t commute. The problem was that I lived in a small town with few businesses, and the economy was poor. But a friend had told me I might try one place that hired temps for the Christmas Rush. It was a New-Agey place I wouldn’t ordinarily consider, a business that bought herbs and spices in bulk quantities, and broke them down into small packets and jars to sell to retailers.

I figured I’d test my luck; if I was on a streak of getting hired the first place I applied, I might as well try a place roughly a half mile from my front door.  I walked in and filled out an application there. My luck held. I had barely walked back into my house when the phone rang, and the owner asked if I could walk back for an interview. It was a bit of a drag to have to make a U-turn and walk back when I was planning to sit by the fire, but burrs are burrs.

I got the job, of course, but the interview struck me as wonderfully bizarre. The first question I was asked was, “Did you know a mad poet from Harvard named X?”

It just so happened I did know X, and for a time had considered myself a close friend of X’s, over a quarter century in the past when I associated with such crazies, and wasn’t a responsible father of five. I had been a senior in high school and X was a senior at Harvard, and we associated with pot-smoking intellectuals and had amazing conversations about wildly speculative things that one doesn’t usually bring up, at a job interview. To be honest, the question seemed a trick question, and I became very guarded. But honesty compelled me to answer, “Yes, I knew X”.

The second question was, “Do you know what happened to him?”

X was one of those flamboyant people who you may not want to partner with, but who dares things you don’t dare, and goes places you don’t go, and therefore, even though you don’t want to join them, you want to know where their flamboyance led them. I too was very curious, (and secretly fearful X had died in the horrible AIDs epidemic of the 1980’s), but could only answer my future boss with, “I don’t know. I last saw him in 1976, and our last phone-call was in 1984. Later I heard from a friend that he had headed south to join the Sufis of Washington D.C., around 1985, but in the decade since I’ve heard nothing.”

My future boss looked very disappointed, but hired me and told me show up at nine the next morning to learn the ropes of the herbs and spice business. He arose, and I arose, and it seemed the interview was over, but then, as if to explain something, he hesitated, and then added, “X told me you were the greatest poet since Shakespeare.” Throttled by astonishment, I couldn’t think of how to reply. I’m not sure what I said. Likely it was something dismissive. Then I walked home through the snow.

That was a strange walk, in the falling snow. I mean, how many job interviews do you walk into, for some simple job such as packing herbs and spices, without any sort of recommendation, where you get an unasked-for recommendation from someone you lost contact with over a decade in the past, who might even be dead? Not that the recommendation that I was “the greatest poet since Shakespeare” had anything to do with packing herbs and spices. I’d long ago learned poetry had little to do with feeding yourself, let alone feeding a wife and five children.

I’ll confess the strange interview did stir a hope in me that our interview was one of those “chance meetings” you read about in the lives of authors and poets, wherein they are “discovered”, and rise “from rags to riches” overnight, publishing some sort of “one-hit-wonder”.  But this was not the case. We never spoke of X or of poetry again. However there was a strange, unspoken understanding: We had shared-roots in a wild past when mad poets were especially free, and didn’t need to work Real Jobs.

We did have some interesting talks, but I was far more interested in him than he was in me. I learned that when young he had a vision of learning of herbs and spices that could be wonder drugs, perhaps even finding a herb which cured cancer, and that he had labored long and hard, studying botany at Harvard and even travelling to the Amazon, seeking herbal mysteries, but that when push came to shove, and he had a wife and daughter to support, such study didn’t pay the bills. The herbs and spices that paid the bills tended to be mundane things like powdered Cinnamon and Garlic. To make a living he imported bulk quantities of things not locally grown, to sell to people who required smaller amounts.

Someday I’ll hopefully do a better job of describing what a wonderful job I lucked into, because I was too lazy to fix my limping truck and become an ordinary commuter. But for now I’ll give a couple examples of how wonderful the job was.

One of his best sellers was cinnamon. He sold several types, and four-inch-sticks and three-inch-sticks, but most people wanted the powdered stuff. It came in two-hundred pound barrels.  Most households, when they buy powdered cinnamon, want to buy one or two ounces. A restaurant will desire perhaps a pound, and a busy doughnut shop ten, and even a frantic bakery will desire at most twenty-five. No one wants to pay the price of two-hundred pounds, even though the wholesaler basically doubles the price, selling to the retailer. My job as a muscular poet was to man-handle barrels most cooks can ‘t budge, and then break-down the contents to smaller packages.

The second example is bay leaves. All cooks understand the positive effect a leaf or two of bay can have on a soup or stew. However bay does not arrive from Turkey a leaf or two at a time. It arrives in huge, fragrant bales, weighing at least fifty pounds.

My first job, my first day of work, was to manhandle a huge bale of bay-leaves, and then break it down, and amidst the sweet, rustling aroma of this occupation I did not think of the customer, who would receive tiny packets, but rather I was transported to Turkey. Perhaps it was only because I, as a landscaper and farmer, was aware a lot of hard work went into picking and drying and baling and exporting the leaves, but the scent as I worked was evocative of a landscape I had never seen and of people I had never met. Images drifted through my imagination. It was much better than folding and collating pamphlets.

My family approved when I came home smelling of bay, but I was less popular when I had to deal with enormous amounts of garlic powder. For the most part my work involved around twenty everyday herbs, which likely produced around ninety-five percent of the business’s profit. But besides those twenty barrels of herbs there were perhaps a hundred others, holding mysterious herbs I had never heard of. When I filled orders I was swift to learn where to go to find Cinnamon, but sometimes at the bottom of the order there would be an item I had never heard of. Then I would have to search through the barrels in the back of the warehouse for a pound of some such thing as, “Saint John’s Wort”.

My boss’s wife was a bit scornful of such items, because “turnover” was so slow. If you bought a bale of some obscure herb it might be five or even ten years before it was sold, but my boss would not listen to his wife, and would reorder. He seemed to like being an herb-and-spice-place that had the items other places lacked. Also his insistence seemed to be like my own poetry; a thing he did even if it wasn’t profitable; a thing connected to his original reason for focusing on herbs and spices.

I could sense, my first day on the job, that I should be careful when bringing up a question such as, “What is Saint Johns Wort good for”? My boss’s wife would snap, “Absolutely nothing,”  and my boss would look meek, and button his lip. It was obvious she was a burr to him, just as my wife was a burr to me when I wrote poems about falling snow rather than looking for work. And he was a burr to her, by insisting on restocking, just as I was a burr to my wife by insisting on writing poems.

I think it was during the first week that I discovered that, among the obscure items he had in the barrels in the back of his warehouse, he had burrs. Or not the burrs, but the root of the plant that made the burrs, called “Burdock”.

As a landscaper I tended to see Burdock as a rank and obnoxious weed. This was not only because, when my daughters happened to get burrs in their hair, tears resulted, but also because the plant could spring up with amazing vigor, with a tap root which made carrots seem small, and leaves nearly as fat and wide as Rhubarb’s. Here is a Burdock jumping up between my garden’s Rhubarb and Asparagus:

It is hard to be fond of such a rank and persistent weed. My Asparagus and Rhubarb have strong roots which are perennial; there are cases where grandchildren have fed off the plants their grandfather planted fifty years earlier, but burdock is a plant that can invade such a long-standing patch and, with roots equally vigorous, weaken the desired crop. It is hard to see such a burr as desirable.

Yet my new boss was making a small profit selling such roots. This of course piqued my interest, but unfortunately I asked my question when his wife was in earshot, and heard the brusque reply, “Absolutely nothing is good about Burdock.”

I already had concluded that, but was trying to escape my prejudice. My escape occurred soon, due to the fact the warehouse had a tiny “retail shop” in the front of the warehouse. It produced less than 1% of the business’s profit, but I had the feeling my new boss liked talking to people about herbs and spices, and the “retail shop” was more of an excuse to talk than it was a way to make money. However he was out, and I happened to be the only person available, so I had to deal with a customer though I knew next to nothing about herbs and spices.

The customer was a lady from Japan, where burdock root is often used in their cuisine. However she was not looking for fresh and tender roots, suitable for cuisine, but dried roots, for a tea that she claimed had amazing benefits. I became her student, as she praised burdock, but I became her professor, when I told her it didn’t need to be imported from Japan.  After I sold her a pound of the dried root, we stepped outside and I pointed out a few examples of the invasive weed.

Some businessmen might think this a bad policy, for she would have no need to buy dried roots, if she knew she might harvest them from her own yard. All I can say is she did return, from time to time, over the next five years. For that is how long I lasted at this job as a “temp.” It was not a steady job, but one I could count on being steady before Christmas.

As I stated before, it would take another post to tell the tales of this on-again-off-again job. But this post is about the benefits of burrs.

Now it is twenty-four years later, and I am running a Childcare, and part of our haphazard curriculum is a course on “the benefits of Burdock”. Usually I am not officially on duty when this class is taught, but kids find the sight of an old man working in the garden more interesting than what my staff has planned, and they often come drifting over to pester me.  Because my hard-working staff can use a break, I often involve the children in my work, (at times having them cheerfully make mincemeat of child-labor-laws, for example when I have to move a hundred bricks). Other times, for example when I am weeding, I weed less, and create a spontaneous curriculum involving what weeds are very poisonous, such as buttercups, and what weeds are edible, such as chickweed. At some point I always seem to involve them in digging burdock from the garden, and saving the roots.

These roots must be washed:

And then, (after trouble which always occurs when small boys have control of a hose), I show the children how to remove the bitter outer bark of burdock root from the slightly-sweet inner root:

Then they munch. I have a rule, regarding wild foods, which states that they are allowed to spit out anything they don’t like, which is a freedom they seem to enjoy. (Also I become very stern, and put on my most ferocious glower, regarding eating any wild thing without first asking me if it is edible.)

I’ve learned there is no accounting for children’s taste. The most fussy eater may demonstrate a peculiar fondness for some odd plant like Burdock, while the most voracious child may detest the same plant. Also a child who initially spits out a plant may, after watching his small peers munch away and ask me for second helpings, be seen surreptitiously picking up the root he cast away and giving it another chance, or, if he can’t find it, may whine to me for a second helping. Lastly I’ve discovered a sure-fire way to get kids interested is to tell them they won’t like the plant, because “only grown-ups like it.”

I don’t talk much about the medicinal benefits of a plant like Burdock, that I first heard about from the lady from Japan. For one thing, our society seems too focused on pharmaceuticals, and for another thing, the ownership of such knowledge seems a gift to me, and I am not particularly gifted in that regard.

I’ve known people who have an uncanny and often unconscious ability to prepare salads and stews that make people feel better, and cause the recipients to state “you are a natural chef” or “you put love in your cooking”, without thinking the cook is an herbalist or some sort of witch-doctor. But I sense a gift in such people. I think the gift likely has ancient origins, dating from when we were a nomadic people living off the land. Unfortunately the gift, like all gifts, can be misused, (in which case it may be withdrawn), and there are also fraudsters who lack the gift but are gifted in selling snake-oil. During the time I was involved with selling herbs and spices I met some New Age types who managed to make the entire topic of herbs repellent and downright disgusting, because their poorly-hidden desires seemed to be all about orgasms and hallucinations. Just as I like poetry yet avoid poet-societies, I’m interested in herbs but generally avoid herbalists.

Because I lack the true gift, I tend to be more pedantic and scientific, and conduct secret experiments, involving only myself. For example, my son might visit, and notice a glass of greenish sludge by my coffee cup at my computer. Wrinkling his brow, he’ll ask me, “What the heck is that stuff, Dad?” A bit evasively I’ll reply, “boiled Burdock root.” A bit of a smile will cross his face, and he’ll be unable to resist asking, “And?”

There’s no way around it, and I have to confess the secret: While wandering the web and reading about Burdock root I chanced upon a claim it “stimulates the hair follicles of the scalp.” My old follicles could use some stimulation, in my humble opinion, so I decided to conduct an experiment, keeping it secret because I don’t want people to know I am vain. I told my son that so far I had noticed nothing, which is a good thing, because such experiments can backfire and cause immediate baldness. He chuckled and walked away shaking his head slightly.

I sat back and contemplated the blessing of burrs. Even if my thin, gray hair doesn’t start to explosively grow, (making me look like a large dandelion gone to silver seed), it seems the weeds of my life later are revealed to have actually been herbs, and the burrs that made me uncomfortable moved me to my benefit.

Life is far more complicated than our puny minds can grasp, even when we attempt to control it and to guarantee ourselves fat pensions. Repercussions cause repercussion’s repercussions, with events clicking like complicated shots in a game of billiards, with complications clicking onward even years later. When I talked with the mad Harvard poet X at age sixteen, who could foresee it would land me a job at age forty, or that the job would result in me teaching little children about Burdock root, at age sixty-six?

As I thought about it, it seemed those who fixate upon control miss a lot. They miss bonanza after bonanza after bonanza. It seemed better to be a Plugger, leaving control in the hands of the only Mind that sees all repercussions.

As for me, I just do what comes next, and what came next was to start writing something titled, “A Burr’s Blessing.”

Might Want To Stock Up On Foodstuffs.

Some disconcerting statistics are starting to crop up (pun) in the graphs that farmers and people who invest in the “futures markets” attend to. The cold spring, and more importantly the wet spring, has delayed a lot of planting, in some cases to an “unprecedented” degree.

The problem with getting off to a late start is that it makes the planter susceptible to an early frost. In northern lands a growing-season is a limited window-of-opportunity, and there are many crops which are basically useless even if they are 95% grown.

Corn, beans, and squash were basic Native American foodstuffs, and all required warm summers. The point at which summers became too short and too cool was the dividing line between the agricultural Indians that grew the “three sisters”, and the hunter-gatherer Indians to their north. Here in New England there was, when the first Europeans arrived, a noticeable difference between northern and southern tribes, largely revolving around the most practical way to avoid the bother of hunger, called in extreme cases “starvation” or “famine”.

Modern Americans are some of the most spoiled people on earth, when it comes to worrying at all about food. In America the poor and uneducated are strikingly fat, which leads to jokes about the sanity of Americans. People from other lands know what it is like to walk into a grocery store and see no food on the shelves. Americans cannot envision such a state of affairs, and many haven’t a clue where their food even comes from.

This is an amazing downfall from the situation in my grandfather’s childhood in the 1890’s, when over half of all Americans were farmers, and all had to deal with horses because the automobile hadn’t been invented. Americans have been orphaned from Mother Nature, first by entering the indoor reality of the mills and factories, and now by living life gazing into the screens of TV’s and computers.

Fortunately, perhaps because of the agricultural foundations of America, many Americans resist the movement into the indoors, and have a somewhat idealist drive to be outdoors-men, (even when it is obvious they are pretenders.) The original idea of a suburb, (which is in some ways the antithesis of a true farming community), was sold to gullible Americans because people wanted to escape the city and get “back to nature”. Then, when the children of the suburbs realized suburbs were nothing like farms, the children became Hippies who wanted to form “communes” and get “back to nature” in a more genuine manner. Such Hippies tended to bail out from their ideal communes, once they realized how much hard work was involved, and sought a better-paying life in a bank or making a new thing called “computers”. Once they got some of this better-pay, what did they want to do with the money? Move out a bit farther from the city, outside of the sterilized suburbs, and create a little, toy farm and get “back to nature”.

Every ten years America has a census, and one thing the census attempts to determine is people’s “occupation”. The census-taker asks you to fit yourself into a list of categories.  One category was always “farmer”. But the category “farmer” will not even exist in the 2020 census. Farmers in some ways no longer matter, they are such a tiny minority. Is it any wonder that, if you bring up Jefferson’s ideas about “Yeoman Farmers”, many respond with a look of complete incomprehension?

This incomprehension strikes me as a bad thing. It is a form of ignorance, and ignorance isn’t good. In my small way I fight against such ignorance by running a Farm-Childcare where children can see what my grandfather took for granted. After ten years of dealing with modern youth I no longer am surprised when children, with innocent honesty, ask questions such as, “Why do you dig carrots from the dirty dirt rather than get clean carrots from the store?” or “Why do you get eggs from that hen’s stinky butt when the supermarket’s eggs are clean?”

My grandfather would have never asked such questions, as a child. He was not divorced from the outdoors to the degree we have achieved.

To some degree we have achieved a good thing, for we are not as cold nor as hungry, but in another way we have become stupid, because we do not have the same desire to work hard to avoid being cold or hungry. Many only experience hunger on purpose, when they diet.

We think food is a given. It most certainly is not. We think we have escaped Mother Nature. Again, we have not.

Even though the American census will no longer ask if people’s occupation is “farmer”, a surprising number of Americans still farm. They may not list it as their “occupation” on the census, but they devote time and money to their “hobby”. They produce tiny crops and sell at local farmer’s markets, yet people will pay double for what they produce.

Why? Because it tastes better. How much better? Well, when you can get eggs for $2.00 a dozen at a supermarket, some will pay $4.00 a dozen for “free range” eggs at a farmer’s market. That is how much better the eggs taste. The yolks are yellower and bulge up from the frying pan, rather than sagging flat, and the whites of each egg are of two consistencies, (thin and watery, and jelly-like), rather than the single, slimy substance which egg-whites turn into, when they sit in commercialized refrigerators for weeks and even months. But most importantly, they taste better. When people taste free range eggs they say, “Oh yes, this is what eggs taste like; I had forgotten.”

This is no big deal, if it is just one fellow selling an extra dozen eggs his six hens lay which he himself can’t eat, a few times a week. But, if it is thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of small fellows selling eggs, it adds up, and threatens a part of American Agribusiness called “Big Chicken”. Like “Big Oil”, they have a lobby in Washington, and seek to to protect their multi-million-dollar investments in non-free-range chickens by concocting complex legislation and thick sheaves of regulations that makes it a total headache for an ordinary bloke to simply sell a dozen eggs.

I personally have yet to deal with Big Chicken, but did experience the threat of Big Milk. Back when I was milking my goats I sold the raw milk (and some cheese we made of that milk), to people who wanted such produce. Then I learned such industry was highly illegal. In California the Federal Government had spent considerable dollars to arrange agents to come down hard on a store selling raw milk, as if they were selling drugs, or involved in child-prostitution. The hippies in a small store in San Francisco were flabbergasted when a veritable SWAT team charged into their New Age shop from all sides with drawn guns.

What was the crime? Apparently, in the entire United States, raw milk had caused seven cases of some serious illness. This was the excuse used to make a farmer selling his own raw milk illegal.  Not wishing to face a SWAT team, I then looked into making my industry legal, and discovered regulations involved having hot and cold water taps in three separate rooms with tables and all pails made of stainless steel. I decided the investment, (a year’s income for a poor fellow like me), was not worth selling a little milk, and also decided the children at my Childcare would not benefit from seeing Federal agents (who ought be dealing with drug smugglers) swoop in and lead me off in handcuffs, so I stopped milking my goats, which was exactly what the Big Milk Lobby wanted. Apparently their slim profits were threatened by dangerous outlaws like me.

Jefferson likely was rolling in his grave. It was a perfect example of Big Government (AKA “The Swamp”) oppressing the Yeoman Farmer, which Jefferson detested. But taking things a step further, in terms of Americans feeding fellow Americans, it was suicidal.

You see, there is a thing that doesn’t care a hoot for government regulations, called “The Weather”. And it can reduce a crop to zero, and no lobby in Washington an stop it.

Currently agribusiness is deeply concerned because President Trump is increasing tariffs to China, and China might get mad and retaliate by refusing to buy our soybeans. This would be a sad situation for agribusiness’s soybean-producers, if they actually had any soybeans to sell.

They might not. If you look back to the graph I started this post with, and understand corn can’t be planted because the weather is bad, you should understand soybeans also can’t be planted, if the fields remain a sea of mud in pouring rain. In other words, we might have a very low production of soybeans this year.

In such a case the crafty politician-capitalists of China, thinking they might “leverage” a deal to get lower soybean prices, might be flabbergasted to discover there was no deal to be had, because America had no soybeans to sell.

Just as China assumes American agribusiness is so brilliant it will always produce a huge surplus of soybeans, the American people assume agribusiness will always produce full shelves in  supermarkets. But Mother Nature can step in and turn millions of square-miles of farmland into swamps. This is what happened in Europe, when the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the Little Ice Age, and a terrible famine was the result.

However many young Americans are not only divorced from the dirt-poor farms their forefathers worked hard to farm, (and propelled their nation to greatness through farming), and not only do young Americans also fail to study history and see how the plenty of good times can be followed by the poverty of bad times, but they also don’t even know enough to store up extra food in their kitchen shelves for the next day, let alone for a serious famine. Many hardly use their kitchens at all, preferring to buy prepared food.

My grandmother behaved as if famine was right around the corner. She was always canning and pickling and salting the plenty of the present tense, because she knew the plenty of the present might fail. And she actually once saw plenty fail, when the stock market crashed in 1929. My Grandfather had to work without pay to keep his boss’s business from failing, but my Grandmother kept producing dinner on the table, because she had so much canned and salted and pickled.

Sad to say, modern wives are not so prepared. Some live such a day-to-day existence that, in their kitchens, they have not even a can of beans for tomorrow.

My advice is to stock up. It will not cost much. I’m not talking beef in freezers. I’m talking dry stuff, like flour and beans, cornmeal and dried lentils, rice and dried peas.

Throw in a few cans of tuna or chicken, and maybe some tomato sauce and salsa, and it just might be that you are sitting pretty as other Americans riot out on the streets.

And if you have an actual garden, and grow actual food, you may be in for a battle, if this summer continues cold and wet. But fight the good fight. Your small harvest may be far better than that of agribusiness, which I fear has forgotten the reality of honest dirt in favor of the swamp called politics.

I hope my forecast is wrong. But, if one is going to be an Alarmist, it is far cheaper to store up some food in your pantry, than to derange the entire economy by banning fossil fuels and erecting a wind turbine in your pasture and solar panels on your barn. You can’t eat good intentions.

NOT LOCAL –Eden’s Apple–

NYC 1 IMG_7246

I’m nervous I’m going to have to deal
With that Big Apple. I prefer to avoid
The fruit that felled Adam. I want to heal,
And for me that involves forests destroyed
By expanding cities: The rural green
Where a bumpkin like me can just be a bump.
You see, I don’t want what I’ve seen
Is a deserter: Fame and Wealth are a dump
Where rats scuttle. I far prefer what lasts
And that is Love…I know many will scorn
That statement, for they wear concrete casts.
Love broke them so bad…But pain’s just the thorn
Of a rose, and the rose tells us this:
“Thorns never stopped heroes from seeking sweet bliss.”

Arrived in NYC for my youngest son’s birthday and we strolled around town (9.1 miles, 31 staircases) talking about (among other things) the impossible job “city planners” face.  It’s unlikely anyone can herd 8.5 million cats.

I don’t think the Founding Fathers really wanted to herd the cats. They were more concerned with herding the cat-herders.  When Washington was inaugurated as the first president of a new experiment in government in 1789, New York’s population was only around 33,000.

NYC 6 IMG_7301  At that point the concept of laying out the streets of New York in an orderly manner was a quarter century away, (The “gridiron” Commissioners’ Plan was not published until 1811.) There was no socialist zeal to force order upon people, but this did not mean people disliked the idea of order. New York was only the national capital until 1795, as people dreamed of laying out a new capital to the south. But who was the dictator? How could order be, without a despot? Who would rule? Who could trust a dim silhouette in the distance?

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Some distrust the idea of allowing people to be free. They cannot believe anything but chaos will result without a committee. Yet individuals with liberty, seeking to improve upon a set design, created beauty, whether building boats or bridges.

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Which is not to say things don’t become chaotic, and confused,

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However humanity’s hubbub is the true builder of cities, while those who think they control are just a facade.

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One generation’s power struts and builds skyscrapers, but the glut is fleeting, and a generation later is faded, leaving a building as a historical site as final issues are printed from a warehouse.

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As we headed home at midnight the subway shuddered to a halt on the bridge over to Brooklyn, and we saw how the best system cannot plan for all screw ups.  Somehow a metal trashcan wound up on the rails, and then crunched under the train. Midnight on a Saturday night, and tired people just want to get home, some after work and some after drinking,  but the trolley is stuck and blocking a major bridge. How’d you like to be the bureaucrat in charge? (You can bet the boss was home in bed.) Some of the herded cats squeezed out between cars and vanished into the dark walking, with the officials wailing it was illegal, as the rest more obediently trooped car to car to the rear of the train, and then into a “rescue train”, which then slowly backed over the bridge to a station some had left an hour before. At which point we turned to transportation none saw coming even a decade ago: Uber.

Leave it to Liberty and answers will come.