UNLESS YOU BECOME AS A CHILD

I’m getting old. I think I may even be starting to show symptoms of “second childhood”. Despite a return to cold and wet weather I failed to muster the proper attitude of dour, sardonic sarcasm, and instead continued to potter about the Childcare’s garden quite contentedly. Lots went wrong, but it failed to piss me off. Children ran through freshly seeded plots, and I shrugged it off. The radio reported politicians behaving like idiots, and I chuckled rather than raved. What was wrong with me?

When the United States sent an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf, and Iran sneered it could take the carrier out with missiles, and I didn’t immediately thrash about in agony over my failures to be prepared for Armageddon, I checked my pulse. I wasn’t dead, so then I wondered if someone drugged my coffee. It just wasn’t like me to remain calm.

You see, according to my original script, by now my Farm-childcare was suppose to be more developed than it is. Using the extra income I’d make from either a best-seller or a hit-song, I’d be able to afford restoring the land to the productivity it achieved around 1860, when it produced enough to feed perhaps a hundred people (and make just enough money to raise a family). That may not be enough to profitably compete with modern agribusiness, but it would be a boon to my community in a wartime situation, when food supplies from far away might be cut off. It is a complete failure on my part that, even after years of effort, the farm at best could feed two or three. Ninety-seven neighbors might starve, because I failed to write a hit song.

Shame. Shame on me. How dare I potter about whistling? I should be cursing my weakness, and the failure of my society to pay me millions for my poems. I should be pacing like a tiger in it’s cage, not happily running like a hamster in its wheel.

What ponders the hamster, watching its wheel
And wondering if it should go for a spin?
It knows spin goes nowhere; sees that the deal
Is non-profit. Does it grin a small grin
All the same? And how about my labors?
My poems unpublished? My soil’s hilled beans?
My good deeds done for nobody-neighbors?
I grin a small grin when I think how it means
So little compared to what’s Eternity’s,
Then think how God may be pleased if I spin
My wheel right. Solomon’s futilities
Be damned. It simply isn’t a sin
To stretch my old limbs in the wheel and get sore
When my dance is for God, and not to gain more.

Perhaps part of second childhood is having a decrease of motivating hormones. There are ads on the radio stating “erectile dysfunction” is some sort of serious problem I should seek help for, like a drug addict seeking detox and rehab, (though, looking back, it seems “erectile function” got me in far more trouble than “dysfunction” ever did.) Hormones seemed to fuel desire, and then lots of frustration when desire wasn’t fulfilled, (and some joy but also a strange dissatisfaction when I got what I wanted), yet both sides of that desire-coin can be avoided when you skip the desire altogether. Not that I sought desirelessness like some Yogi in the Himalayas. It just happens when you get older, to some a curse but to others a blessing.

I happened to be in a state of mind where second childhood felt like a blessing even in the rain, and then the sun came out.

With the sun as high as it is in early August, the delayed spring exploded, with buds bursting to unfolding leaves. If you have ever dealt with farmers when “June is busting out all over” you know they enter a state of manic frenzy.  But I just couldn’t quite do it. I continued to potter, and failed at farmer-frenzy.

Formerly failure stung like a whip, and like a whip it spurred greater effort, but after fifty years that gets old. A man does his best with his gifts, and beyond that he can do no more.

What I just wrote is more profound than it looks, and young artists should take heed: If you are fated to be a Norman Rockwell then fate will supply you with help, and a Saturday Evening Post will appear to make giving your gift easier. Study the lives of artists who achieved fame and success and you’ll see none made it alone. The coincidental meetings and “lucky breaks” are astounding, and may make young artists jealous that they see no “lucky breaks”, yet such jealousy only occurs because they don’t see fame and success can be a pathway to misery, nor see that it can be very good luck to avoid all that, and instead lead a quiet life with a good spouse, unnoticed and untroubled, and blessed with far more tranquility than fame ever offers.

It has started to occur to me that it is lucky I never became a one-hit-wonder and gained the cash that would allow me to demonstrate how productive my “failed” farm (and hundreds of thousands of other “failed” farms) might be. Such success sounds like ceaseless work of the restless sort, when I prefer work of the pottering, restful sort. I understand I am blessed, (though some might call my luck a blessing in disguise, a sort of silver lining in the gloomy clouds of failure).

One failure many farmers face is that cute, lovable chicks become horrible beasts called “pullets”. They are basically dinosaurs hiding their reptilian nature with feathers. They neither cluck nor lay eggs like hens, and instead are the annoying adolescents of the chicken world.  They make the innocent and adorable peeping of chicks into a peeping so annoying you want to kick them. Therefore all the people who were so eager to help me when the birds were cute chicks lose interest when they become gawky, demanding pullets. Therefore you’d think pullets would like me, their only loyal and true friend. But no, the word “thank you” is not in their vocabulary, and if I am at all late they rush to the door of their pen hurling peeping insults at me, crowd about my feet and never thank me for not stepping on them, and then dig into their food without a look backwards in gratitude. (Even dogs at least wag their tails at you while gulping down their dinner.)

Some farmer’s wives, through prolonged patience and kindness, can can eventually civilize these dinosaur pullets to a degree where, as hens, they strut into a farmhouse and hop up into the kind woman’s lap to be petted as she watches TV in the evening. However, as pullets, they are all far from such civilization, and few farmers have the patience and kindness necessary to generate warm and fuzzy feelings towards a dinosaur. Yet something about getting old and gray allows me to like the birds even when they only pause from fighting each other over food to give a glare with all the beaming warmth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

If I can feel pleased by even a pullet’s glare, then I can be pleased by other things, more easy and favorable, and less reptilian.

For example, I neglected some things last year, such as my patches of Rhubarb and Asparagus, and therefore I should be punished this year with failed crops. However Rhubarb and Asparagus do not forget the wheelbarrows of manure they were fed in prior years, an overcame the competition of last summer’s weeds, and grew even more prosperous, with root systems becoming even more vigorous. In fact this spring, for every shoot of asparagus I cut, three more spring up.

Here’s another example of how my weakness (being old and lazy) strangely blesses me:

I’ve sadly faced the fact I can’t weed like I once did. Nor can I hire the young and strong to sweat in the sun like I once did, (because I haven’t sold my hit song yet). Therefore I decided to buy a fabric that rich people use around the base of their their roses, to prevent weeds. It costs a pretty penny, but with hourly wages rising the fabric costs much less than a human. Also in theory the fabric is less work; you sweat under the sun laying it but then get to sit back, where old-style weeding was a constant battle. Then I discovered it had a further benefit, besides blocking the growth of weeds. Because it was black, it absorbed the sunlight. Even on a cloudy day (because the sun rides as high as early August) enough radiance penetrated clouds to make the fabric slightly warm, even when rain mixed with sleet, and therefore, because the soil beneath the fabric was made warmer, my peas germinated more swiftly, and are two weeks ahead of friends who planted at the same time without black fabric. Who would believe being lazy could have such a benefit?

In conclusion, the decrepitude of old age is turning out to be more pleasurable than I expected.  Who would think failure could be such fun? It makes me stop and think, for it is so contrary to logic. How can an old geezer’s impotency have such potency? How can becoming desireless give me what I desire?

I don’t claim to fathom what I’m glimpsing. But it does seem my second childhood has some of the qualities of the first, and, because I run a Childcare, I have ample opportunity to study children as they get utterly stoned on the narcotic called “Spring”, and then to think about how Jesus stated we must become like such irresponsible little individuals, if we are to ever taste bliss.

How to regain joys barefoot boys heft
When they’re walking whistling down summer’s road
Freed from school’s failures, from “F” after “F”
And all that shame? They have shed such a load
Of ignominy. They are free, free, free of it.
The final school bell ends a fifteen round fight
And they’re the loser, but they don’t care a whit
About such unforgiving displays of might,
And find forgiveness in summer sunshine.
How can they be so certain they’re embraced?
They’ve achieved nothing, and yet a divine
Compassion is their fate. Surely they’re placed
On the level of angels. Their whistling
Is praises to God, who smiles, listening.

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LOCAL VIEW –Planting Potatoes–

We’ve had a few glory days, when the sun bursts out and the world is so abruptly beautiful that you want to skip and sing, but for the most part our spring has been cold and wet. It might even be snowing when I get up tomorrow morning, with temperatures down around 36ºF. And it’s May 14th!

Just because the weather is drab, it doesn’t mean we can’t keep busy. The little fuzz balls that were chicks have graduated and looks like hens, and are too smelly to keep inside, though it’s still too cold at night to completely wean them from the heat lamp inside. So in the morning we move them out to their new pen, and in the evening have to move them back. Ever herd hens? It keeps you busy.

The chickens are at the stage where they are learning to scratch and peck. This becomes their job, once the garden is established and the plants are growing. They prowl about, scratching the soil and pecking, scratching the soil and pecking, occasionally pausing to scrutinize a leaf, cocking their head half-sideways to examine a caterpillar who is desperately attempting to look like something besides a caterpillar, and then deftly jabbing it and wolfing it down. They do a good job of keeping pests at bay, and also discourage some weeds by eating their seeds and cultivating the soil with their incessant scratching and pecking, scratching and pecking.

Now, however, such scratching and pecking is less welcome, as it would break off the tender shoots of sprouting seeds. This is especially true of potatoes. Chickens can’t be allowed in the potato patch until the shoots are around six inches tall. Then they abruptly go from being a foe of potatoes to being a friend, because they hunt potato beetles.

Last year I had no chickens, and because I failed to hunt and squash potato beetles on a daily basis, my crop was poor. You can just leave town for a few days, and a few bunches of innocuous-looking, orange eggs, each egg about the size of a fat period on a page, on the underside of a leaf:

turns into a hundred disgusting, slimey larvae, which grow with amazing speed and can completely defoliate a plant by the time you return to town.

Then these larvae turn into the more attractive adults, which lay lots more eggs. 

A generation of beetles takes about a week or two to go through its life cycle, and a few beetles can become a major infestation with surprising speed. I witnessed this last summer. Then, because your crop underground depends a lot on how lush the foliage is above the ground, you shouldn’t expect much when you dig.

The trick with potatoes is to feed them a lot, and make sure they don’t get dry in the days when the sun bakes in July. They are heavy feeders and thirsty plants. For the most part you get most of your potatoes by the seed-potato that you plant, though I have had a little success getting some extra potatoes by hilling them early, and deeply. If you keep them moist and add lots of manure and wood-ash to the soil they grow so quickly they don’t get “scabs” on their sides. (“Scabs” are worst when the soil gets too dry, but one very rainy year the soil basically turned to mud, and my potatoes turned to slime, so I  suppose it is also possible to over-water.)

I used to cut up my potatoes, with an eye on each piece, and then dust them with sulfur or fungicide and let the wound dry in bright sunshine, before planting, but more recently I seek the smallest seed potatoes in the bin where I buy them, and skip the bother of cutting them. (I have a theory cutting in some way traumatizes the tubor, and makes bacterial infection more likely, but the truth may be I am more lazy as I get older.) I look for potatoes about the size of an egg. Just because you plant a small potato it doesn’t mean the potatoes you harvest will be small. The potato’s eventual size seems to involve how well fed and watered they are, and how few potato beetles eat the leaves.

As a rule-of-thumb each eye will produce one shoot, and each shoot will produce three potatoes, so a small potato with three eyes can produce nine fat potatoes, if you put in the time and effort. I prefer to sit back and watch my chickens put in the time and effort.

Over the years I have learned small kids at our Childcare are fascinated by planting and later harvesting potatoes. Something about digging them in the late summer and fall is completely engrossing, and the “older” children of four and five spoke with great authority to the younger ones aged three about the massive crop we would harvest in ten weeks (blithely unaware last year’s crop was pathetic,) as we planted them in the cold drizzle.

Perhaps the best thing was that we forgot it was cold, and rainy, and that it had been days since we’d seen the sun.

LOCAL VIEW –Pampering Chickens–

Put down your coffee before you read on, for I am about to say something astounding, and I wouldn’t want your coffee to come out of your nose or spray the computer screen.

Sometimes, even though I am the air-headed poet, I am the only pragmatic and efficient person around. This is very stressful. Poets should not be exposed to such seriousness and gravity. Poets are suppose to skip and traipse, but perhaps it is part of the suffering of a poet to occasionally have to trudge and plod; to occasionally have to be the practical, efficient and boring person in a situation.

Partly this is due to mixing farming with poetry. I wanted to be like Robert Frost. Though he did have the misfortune to get incarcerated at an University later in life, some of his best poems were written when he was younger and got his hands dirty:

                  MENDING WALL
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Robert Frost; (1874-1963) Published 1914

My wife would strongly disagree that I am ever the practical one, being of the belief I need to be inspected before I go out into the world, to be certain my shirt is right-side-out and I remembered to put my teeth in. Sometimes she seems to remind me not to forget things no man has ever forgotten in recorded history. It used to exasperate me, but I have come to see it as caring. What exasperates me is the insinuation that she is never the impractical one, and in need of caring, due to her own sort of poetry.

My wife’s poetry involves a tendency to see a reason for celebration in somewhat mundane events. I probably would limit holidays to Christmas and Fourth of July, to avoid all the bother of cleaning the house, but my wife has a joyous streak, and finds a reason to party to a degree where she sometimes resembles a burn-out. For example, I present to the court the following evidence:

My youngest grandchild just turned one. This may be a sentimental day for my daughter, as the boy is her first child, but I figure the child is at an age where he won’t remember the event, and is more interested in tearing wrapping paper than in what is underneath. It seems to me that one should limit the time and energy put into such an event, especially when we need to plant the potatoes. But does my wife put on the brakes?

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It is around this time I become the pragmatic old grump. I mean, do we really have time to blow up 200 balloons? And what are you going to do with 200 balloons when the party is over?

And should the children at our Farm-childcare be running about joyously playing-with and popping 200 balloons? What, pray tell, does this have to do with farming? With using the brief sunshine of a rainy spring to work out in the muck that is the garden?

I mean, as much as I’d like to dress in a white linen suit with a black-ribbon-tie like Colonel Sanders, and drink mint juleps on a plantation porch as others do the work, I haven’t sold a hit song yet, and until I make my million I must be practical.

One thing we did to make our Farm-childcare more interesting, in the constant rain, was to buy some cute, fuzzy chicks. But they grow with amazing speed, and as their cuteness shrinks their reek increases. Someone must build a coop away from the main building. Being the only practical poet around here, the job fell on me.

 The long, rectangular structure is fronted by thick, hardware-cloth of strong wire, which will allow the chickens to sleep without being nabbed by foxes or weasels or coyotes or raccoons. (A bear would be another matter.) The chickens learn to walk to the coop and roost in there even before the sun sets, (as they have very poor night-vision, and are all but blind in twilight). I then shut and latch the door, making their pillbox impenetrable. In the morning I will let them out, and they will be “free range” chickens in my garden, eating various bugs, until around the time tomatoes get red. Chickens are attracted to red, and peck holes in ripe tomatoes, so I built a pen to coop them in August, roofed with mesh to protect them from a chicken-hawk that lives nearby. (Chickens have what seems to be an instinct to keep an eye to the sky, and free-range birds hurry for cover, if anything large,even a vulture, passes over.)
The structure is simple and pragmatic, but I soon noticed peculiar additions. Why are those branches tied to the side? And do chickens really require swings?
And what’s that thing down at the bottom of the post?

A xylophone!? A flipping xylophone!? Are these chickens going to be as musical as thrushes?

And do chickens really require a bench with gnomes? A hummingbird feeder at the top of a post? How do you know chickens even like hummingbirds? Did anyone ask the chickens? The hummingbirds? And hey! That’s my grandfather’s old wooden step-ladder! Did anyone ask, before turning it into an elaborate perch!?

I’m not sure I approve of what kids are learning at my Childcare. I’m not sure I approve of what the chickens are learning, either. But I will confess that it does the soul of an old air-head good to, once in a while, be the sensible one.

As the clouds rolled back in I did make progress in the garden.

 

LOCAL VIEW –Gloom’s Glee–

I am feeling a need to redefine the word “dour”, a word which which tends to fail to include a sort of gallows-humor I often notice in dour people, and instead dismissively defines the dour as “relentlessly severe”.

The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t all sunshine, especially in northern lands. In fact just a few days ago I was texting with my youngest son, and it was 76ºF in New York City, where he was, while it was 32ºF just a five-hour-drive north, where I was, in New Hampshire. Now I ask you, is that fair?

Life isn’t fair. This is especially true if you are from the north and have blond hair and blue eyes. Certain racists blame us northerners for all the world’s problems. Believe me, we don’t need such gloom. The weather up north is gloomy enough without additional politics. We couldn’t survive, without a sort of gallows humor. Here is a dour sonnet:

The gloom returned, just as I expected.
New Hampshire’s not known for it’s sunshine,
Especially in April. One is led
To believe we’re deceived. A pet peeve of mine
Is that, ‘round here, a true “bolt from the blue”
Is the sun itself, ‘specially in April.
Sunshine’s not expected. Therefore it’s true
That people move here, and then like to thrill
About our Autumn foliage, but by
April they’re fed up. Good-bye ‘n’ good riddance.
If you can’t abide gloom, don’t even try
To live in the north. Instead have some sense
And seek some place full of camels and sand.
You’ve got to be dour to live in this land.

Yesterday we got a “bolt from the blue”, which was a sunny day in April. This usually has nothing to do with south winds. Dry winds come from the cold northwest, yet so powerful is the sun (as high in April as it is in August) that even though thawing ponds refreeze overnight, by noon you take off your coat under the hot sun. The problem is that the dry wind then swings around to the moist southwest, and clouds increase, and that hot sun vanishes. It is then that warm air gets as far north as New York City, but all we get is the chilling clouds.

A further problem is that the single sunny day with bright sunshine makes people crazy, especially if they are not acquainted with the dour truth of northern gloom.

I once worked as a landscaper for a wealthy woman from Virginia, and she became frantic in early April because the weather became downright hot, and we had no tomatoes planted. It took every iota of diplomacy I owned to calm the lady down, and to inform her that to plant tomatoes in early April is a bad idea, in New Hampshire. A week later, as I pruned budless roses in her garden in a snowstorm, she called me in to her warm, glassed-in porch and, with Virginia hospitality which I, as a dirty gardener,  was not accustomed to, served me tea and a delicious “five bean salad”, and also informed me, with a glance out at the falling snow, “You were right about the tomatoes”.

There was something about the begrudging way the good lady said “You were right about the tomatoes” that was very dour, but also makes me want to redefine the word “dour” to include humor. There was something very northern in her glance, as she looked out through her greenhouse’s glass to a world turning white. An extreme irony.

If truth must be known. the moment this gracious lady’s starchy, northern husband died, she vamoosed back to Virginia. Southern Hospitality does not feel at home in the north. But maybe I did teach her a bit about Northern Hospitality, which includes telling people not to plant tomatoes just because a single day in April is sunny.

This is not to say that I myself can’t be infected by April sunshine and be made insanely manic. Just a couple days ago I was guilty of buying a flock of peeping chicks for the children at my Childcare, but then discovering that, when I went out to dig post-holes for their coop, that a rock-hard semi-permafrost made digging difficult, only ten inches down in the dirt.

Who is going to help me, (and those poor chickens), by slamming through permafrost with a bladed crowbar that weighs forty pounds? I’m getting too old for such nonsense. I became dour, as I contemplated my predicament, huffing and puffing.

Life isn’t fair. When that gracious lady from Virginia became manic she had a young, blond man appear to help her out, (me), but, now that I’m as old and gray as she was back then, what do I get when I become manic? I get blamed for all the world’s problems because my skin is too white.

No sooner did that grouchy thought pass through my mind when a very blond boy appeared to help me. (It is hard to blame him for all the world’s problems, as he is only five years old). (Also his ancestors came from Finland, which didn’t enslave anyone that I know about.)

LOCAL VIEW –New Chicks–

April in New Hampshire can make a man sardonic. It tends to be a cruel flirt, like a beautiful woman toying with an ugly and old man. A bit battered by winter, we do our best to make ready for spring, but mercy never comes until May.

This year I went out in the cold and skun my knuckles fixing the drive belt of the rototiller, planning to plant the peas, and cold rain promptly made the soil a swamp too miry to till, and so wet it would rot the seed. Not satisfied with that, April then changed the rain to falling slush not even the children at my Childcare much enjoy.

What is a poor old man to do? Well, to start, he should write a sonnet:

This old farm needs some chicks. Not for profit,
For I’ll be damned if the eggs that we get
Will cost less than a store’s. In fact, my wit
Jokes we may get no eggs; it’s a good bet
We will only feed the foxes. Be realistic,
But still we need chicks, for their sweet peeping
Somehow makes an old grouch optimistic.
It sure beats twiddling thumbs. Though sleeping
Through summer has its appeal, and though fluff
Too soon grows feathers, and what was once cute
Grows gawky, and the reek of a pullet
Is a stink few like, such points are all moot.
I’ll get hammer and nails, bite the bullet,
And go out in the rain to build a hutch,
For the peeping of chicks puts hoping in touch.

I must say that, on a cold wet day in April, it makes a difference to children to have some new chicks to watch, under the cherry light of an infrared lamp.

ARCTIC SEA ICE —The Shadows Lengthen—Updated 5 times—

I saw a child on a playground troubled
By his shadow. He cried and he backed off
But the shadow, unrelenting, doubled
The child’s alarm, for it never slacked off
And hounded the child’s feet, until the child backed
To the ladder of a slide. The shadow
Couldn’t follow up the ladder, and blacked
The ground below, as the child felt joy grow,
And jeered down, and looked up, and forgot the dark.

In the same way, I’m an old man troubled
By lengthening shadows, and seek a spark
Like the child’s ladder, though odds seemed doubled.

Faith is a ladder towards lights that strengthen
As winter comes closer and shadows all lengthen.

You’ll have to forgive me for waxing poetic to start this post, but I got off into an interesting tangent of thought during the sermon at church last Sunday. This often happens to me. Just as I forgot to pay attention to my teachers at school, and my mind went sailing out windows to clouds blooming in the sky, in church some idea in a sermon sends my eyes to the windows, which are stained glass lit by morning sunshine.

(I think that, if they really expected people to heed the entire sermon, the windows would be painted black. The fact they are stained glass encourages independent thought.)

Among other things, the sermon suggested a “saint” isn’t some person with a long white beard and a halo of shimmering gold, but is just an ordinary person who happens to believe that Truth is a good thing. I sort of like this idea, because it suggests that even a cantankerous anachronism like me could be a “saint”. However I didn’t like the next part of the sermon, which suggested being honest invited persecution. I have enough troubles without “inviting” any.

However, as my mind went drifting off from the sermon into the colors of the stained glass, I had to admit that simply stating the truth about arctic sea-ice has earned me a lot of grief. People I greatly respect, members of my own family and church, have used that silly word “denier” on me, when I simply state a mundane fact about banal stuff called “sea-ice”.  It seems more like a knee-jerk reaction on their part, than a deed involving one iota of actual thought.

As I gazed off into the colors of the stained glass it occurred to me that perhaps civilization has made some progress over the last two or three thousand years. Back in the day, the authorities, and especially the Romans, physically tortured people who spoke Truth. Now the authorities only psychologically torture people who speak the Truth.

Hey, it may not be pretty, but it is progress.

If you study Roman times, the brutality of Roman authority stands out. When the Romans marched in, there was no talk about political correctness, it was a case of, “My way or the highway.” They thought nothing of slaughtering all the elders of a town, or all the professors of an university, or all the leaders of a government. In fact they made their slaughter a spectator sport, feeding people to lions at the Colosseum. Physical cruelty was everyday, and Jesus Christ on the cross was no exception.

Nowadays the cruelty is psychological. A modern Christ would be crucified on some sort of  psychological cross. Or so I found my mind thinking, as my thinking wandered through the lights of stained glass lit by Sunday morning sunshine. However the next question is, “What would a psychological cross look like?”

The answer that leaped into my my head was, “To begin with, rather than throwing you to the lions, they throw you to the morons.” That made me chuckle aloud, at which point I figured I had better stop daydreaming, and pay attention to the sermon.

Later, however, the thought came back to me, and I found myself wondering what makes a person a moron. I’m not talking about the fellow with an IQ of 60, who maybe drools a little. I’m talking about an otherwise intelligent person, with an IQ well over 100, who feels they somehow deserve the right to be indignant about a subject they have never studied and know nothing about.

As a boy I was a moron, concerning the subject of New York, because I was a Red Sox fan after Ted Williams retired in 1960 and before Carl Yastremski led the Impossible Dream Team in 1967. Every year New York won the pennant and every year the Red Sox came in next-to-last, (which was ninth place back then), and I developed a foaming hatred towards New York. If anyone said anything good about New York I became quite indignant. I was actually surprised I wasn’t immediately mugged when I first visited the city, and astonished that I actually met kind and helpful people.  The scales fell from my eyes, and I stopped being such a moron.  I also dropped the right to be indignant, which was no great loss, for when I thought about it, being indignant doesn’t feel all that good.

However it seems to me some people really like the feeling. They must, for why else would they spend so much time being indignant about this and indignant about that?  And most especially, why would they bother to feel indignant about things they know nothing about? I mean, as a boy I might feel indignant of anyone who said anything nice about New York, though I had never visited the city and my knowledge of New York (beyond the Yankees) was nil, but I was just a boy and didn’t know any better. As you grow up you are suppose to know better.

Some don’t know any better. They simply like to feel offended, I suppose, and I do my best to steer clear of them, the same way I steer clear of my rooster when his neck feathers stick out and he looks at me in an indignant manner.

Fortunately, at this site, we don’t deal with big issues, such as the definition of marriage, or the point at which aborting life becomes murder. All we are concerned with is whether we are moving towards the next Little Ice Age, or the next Medieval Warm Period. Furthermore we have retreated far from the maddening crowd, to a landscape devoid of mankind, or even signs of mankind, except for a stray contrail in the sky, and perhaps a buoy, every five hundred miles.

However I am sad to inform newcomers that, even when you retreat to a point this far from civilization, you may still find yourself a “saint”  for simply stating what you see, and may even suffer a sort of psychological crucifixion for being accurate.  All you need to do is state a Truth; for example: “The so-called ‘Death Spiral’ did not manifest during the summer of 2015”, and people may become extremely indignant.

They remind me of my rooster, who always is extremely indignant when I come into the stables to get buckets of grain for my pigs and goats. It doesn’t seem to matter that the rooster has a record of 0-524, in his battles with me. He is a bird-brain, which is like a moron. He comes up to strike at me with his spurs, and I have to lower the lid of the grain barrel as a round shield, and there is a loud “plink” as he strikes the metal, and then he gets shoved backwards by the shield, and loses the battle. (In case you are wondering, if a rooster ever successfully strikes you with his spurs it feels like a solid tap on your shin, and you bleed a little trickle, but the next day you are hobbled, as he has penetrated right to the bone and given you a bone bruise. Needless to say, I don’t allow this particular rooster to ever succeed.)

I don’t know why this particular rooster gets so indignant when I enter the stable, especially when you consider the fact I’m the guy who gives him grain and water. However I forgive him because, after all, he has a brain about the size of an aspirin.

It is very painful to me to see my fellow mankind behave as if they have brains the size of aspirins, and to watch them become absurdly indignant about subjects they know next to nothing about. Even worse is the fact many get such a strange joy out of being indignant that they don’t want to learn more about the subject they know next to nothing about. When you attempt to patiently explain things, they sort of go, “La-la-la I’m not listening.” And that is the modern, psychological crucifixion of people who simply speak the Truth. They get thrown to the morons.

I’m sorry to spend so much time explaining this phenomenon, on a site which for the most part is dedicated to simply watching ice melt, and then watching water freeze. However, if we are going to study the state of affairs, concerning sea-ice, it is important to know you will meet maddening, indignant roosters, for they are included in the state of affairs, concerning sea-ice, and they are also one of the shadows lengthening across our social landscape.

In other matters, the shadows are lengthening, as are the nights, across the Pole. The times of daylight are shorter, and also farther and farther from the Pole, as the Pole itself has already started its six-month-long night (though some always insist on calling it “twilight”). (Some even insist on calculating the microscopic amount of heat that comes from twilight, after the sun has set.)

It remains worth watching, even as the views become fewer and farther between, because you can occationally see some interesting events. One thing I have discussed is how leads can open up and expose open water even when temperatures are well below the melting point of salt water. We saw this happen at O-buoy 8-b. I mentioned that such open leads can also slam shut, and rather than an open lead you see a pressure-ridge. We saw this happen at O-buoy 8-b over the weekend, giving us a picture of how an area of open water or thin ice can become extra-thick ice (as we remember 9/10th of a pressure ridge is under water, as is the case with all bergs.) In a sense we have been privileged to see what usually is hidden by winter darkness, and have a sequence of pictures that would teach well on a textbook.Obuoy 8 0923B webcamObuoy 8 0924 webcamObuoy 8 0924C webcamObuoy 8 0925B webcamObuoy 8 0927 webcam

Of course, having such splendid leads and pressure ridges so close to the camera is a bit like living right next to the San Andreas fault. The camera is at risk.

Today’s picture from O-buoy 8-b indicates some milder air is moving in, but is lifted by the cold air at the surface. Wet, sticky snow is falling, though temperatures remain low, down at -10°C.Obuoy 8 0928C temperature-1weekObuoy 8 0928 webcam

The invasion of mild air is much more dramatic over at O-buoy 9 at the north entrance of Fram Strait. Obuoy 9 0928 temperature-1weekHere we are seeing winds of 25-30 mph bringing a flood of Atlantic moisture and mildness north. Also the sea-ice is being pushed back north in Fram Strait, which is unusual this late in the season. Fram Strait is the major exporter of sea-ice from the Arctic Sea, and such export is a major part of low levels of sea-ice.

Now, if you are an Alarmist, and have a major emotional investment in seeing there be less arctic sea-ice, it is hard to know whether the current southerly gales in Fram Strait are good news or bad news. The ice being pushed back to the north is bad news, as it keeps the Arctic Sea loaded with last year’s ice. However the mild temperatures must be good news…or are they? Mildness and moisture makes more snow fall, on the ice, which would be “good” if conditions were calm, for the snow would insulate the ice and keep the ice from freezing. However, as conditions are not likely to be calm, the snow is likely to be blown from the ice into wind-created leads, forming slush which increases the amounts of ice, which is “bad”.

I find it wiser to avoid the value-judgement of calling what happens “good” or “bad”.  Whatever will be will be. Furthermore, it is the Truth, and Truth is a good teacher.

They say history repeats itself, but I can never recall seeing such a wrong-way gale in Fram Strait after the solstice. This is a new one, for me, and I think it is wise to sit back and learn.

Someone said that Harry Truman once stated, “The only thing new under the sun is the history you haven’t read.”  However we don’t have all that much history to read, concerning the arctic. We are newcomers. And when you have no  history book to read, you need to sit back and watch the present tense make history.

Also I doubt Harry Truman ever said that, because he had to handle the atomic bomb, and there was no history book about that topic. When I researched the above quote, it seemed some reporter was putting those words in Harry’s mouth, when Harry might have been talking about Mark Twain, who had a more cynical view about how we are revisionists, concerning history, and may have said something along the lines of, ” The only new thing mew under the sun is the history you haven’t invented.”

While I do believe history repeats itself, and that meteorologists who search the past for analogs can do wonders, I also believe no two snowflakes or fingerprints are alike, and there is something eternally fresh and new in every sunrise and in every weather map. Therefore I watch the current surge in Fram Strait with great interest, fully expecting to see something I’ve never seen before. The view from O-buoy 9, at the moment, is rather dull, gray, and even slushy.Obuoy 9 0928 webcam

Further north, at Faboo (my name for the North Pole Camera), the surge of mild air has arrived, and melted the hoarfrost off the lens after days of blindness. They haven’t figured out the problems they’ve been having transmitting the official data, so I have had to rely on unofficial data from a co-located Mass Balance Buoy (which lacks a time stamp). The surge was rather dramatic, as we saw temperatures shift from -16.98°C to -0.76°C. We also saw Faboo get as far south as 84.69° latitude, and then be jolted back north to 84.84° latitude. Somewhere the ice must be buckling, but no buckling is apparent in our views (which I am very glad to again have.)NP3 1 0928 2015cam1_3 NP3 1 0928B 2015cam1_2 NP3 1 0928C 2015cam1_1

I notice “Lake Faboo” is buried under the new snow, but as is usually the case in the arctic, the snows are not all that deep. In the few places where records are kept, I notice now is the most snowy time of year, but the snow amounts are only an inch or two. At other times the monthly amount is barely a half inch, or even less. The arctic is a desert, in terms of precipitation. When you talk of a half inch of snow per month it is like talking about five hundredth of an inch of rain in an entire month.

You will hear a lot of talk, from various people, about how snow insulates the ice and the water under the ice. It is important to remember we are not talking about snow that you wade hip-deep through, but rather ankle-deep stuff. When the winds howl, often the ice is blown clear of snow.

In order for winds to howl what is called a “meridional flow” is needed. What is called a “zonal flow” is more neat and tidy, and more according to textbooks. Textbooks like to talk about the “Polar Cell”, and place a high pressure at the Pole, with well-behaved lows rotating around it, with the air rising in the lows and sinking in the high pressure centered on the Pole.

Polar Cell atmospherecirculation

This is elegant and tidy, but a meridional flow makes a total mess of it. Floods of warm air surge right up to the Pole, and fuel low pressure right where the textbook states we should have high pressure, and air rises right where the textbook states it should be descending. We are likely to see a splendid example of this, the next week.

When a zonal flow places high pressure over the Pole, conditions tend to be quiet, as calm often occurs under a center of high pressure. However a meridional flow creates storms, and winds smash and crash the sea-ice. Rather than ice and snow sheltering the water, ice splits and leads, sometimes ten or twenty miles across, open up, and the sea is exposed to bitter winds. Not only is the water chilled more, but more ice forms on that open water than would be formed if the water was protected by a yard or two of ice. Air temperatures may be higher, as the open water loses heat to the air, but that heat can only be lost to outer space in 24-hour nighttime. All in all, IMHO, a meridional flow is far more conducive to building the volume of sea-ice.

So let us sit back and watch as the atmosphere does its dance.

In the maps below we see the feature ESib1 has been flung from Bering Strait across northern Alaska to the east side of Hudson Bay, as its Fujiwhara-dance partner FG4 got left behind and whirls north of East Siberia.  I should be paying more attention to that, but only have so many brain cells.

What grabs my attention is the ridge of high pressure sliding east across the Atlantic and the low forming off northeast Greenland, which I’ll call “FG5”.  Between them is the remarkable “wrong way” flow in Fram Strait, and the warm flood toward the Pole. As that warm air hits the cold air it is bound to fuel a frammerjammer, and the flow in Fram Strait could swing right around for a while. “FG5” looks like it might be an interesting storm, and briefly be king of the mountain, riding high atop the entire planet Earth.

DMI2 0927B mslp_latest.big DMI2 0927B temp_latest.bigDMI2 0928 mslp_latest.big DMI2 0928 temp_latest.bigDMI2 0928B mslp_latest.big DMI2 0928B temp_latest.big

TUESDAY MORNING DMI MAPS

DMI2 0929 mslp_latest.big DMI2 0929 temp_latest.big

TUESDAY MORNING PICTURE FROM O-BUOY 9 IN FRAM STRAIT

Obuoy 9 0929 webcam

O-BUOY 13 DEPLOYED 

The buoiy is roughly  at 78.5° N, 141° W, which is south and west of O-buoy 9 in the Arctic Basin. (I’ll call it a Beaufort Buoy because that so obviously irks nitpickers.) Temperatures are around -5°C and winds fairly strong around 25-23 mph. Obuoy 13 0929B webcam

TUESDAY NIGHT DMI MAPS  -A surprise-

The gale exploding south of Svalbard isn’t suppose to be there. Of course, I haven’t been paying proper attention to maps, (as I have to attend to six-year-olds), but the last I knew the development was suppose to occur around that weak low north of Greenland. I did notice it got abruptly colder at O-buoy 9, suggesting that weak low had a cold front, and apparently the gale blew up along that front. It is more like a true North Atlantic gale than a frammerjammer, but I’ll call it “FG5son.”

DMI2 0929B mslp_latest.big DMI2 0929B temp_latest.big

Considering there was little sign of that gale this morning, the above example is a fine example of what happens when you mix warm and juicy south winds from the Atlantic with bitter cold from the arctic. The isobats suggest the winds are really howling off the coast of Norway, but haven’t picked up in Fram Strait.  However this map is actually from noon, and by afternoon the north-moving ice was lurching back to the south, which is more normal for this time of year.

Across the Pole ESib1 is a decent low, adding to the fact that uplift is occurring over much of the arctic, which sure makes a mess of the textbook defination of “The Polar Cell”, as an area of decending air. Yet all this uplift must go somewhere, and the powers-that-be can’t send the air further north as a Ferrel Cell does, as there is no such thing as further north at the North Pole.  It is a test to our ordinary thinking, which tends to be zonal, and see weather systems parading around the globe from west to east. At the Pole, I sometimes think, the weather simply goes up and down like a yoyo. When all the uplift has no place to go it just comes crashing back down, turning low pressure into high pressure. And before you laugh at this idea, check out the computer models, and notice that where FG5son is a sub-960 mb low tomorrow the maps show it swiftly  fading, and being replaced by a 1040 mb high pressure system. It will be interesting to watch, as will be what happens to the temperatures.  Currently it is much milder than it has been. DMI2 0929B meanT_2015

O-BUOY 9’S FRAM STRAIT REPORT

O-buoy 9 saw the mild temperatures abruptly crash, as the winds slacked off, veered 180°, and increased to the 25-33 mph range of a true gale, which makes for a nasty wind-chill and a swift halt to any thawing that might have been going on.Obuoy 9 0929 temperature-1weekThe buoy stopped the wrong-way movement north and lurched south.Obuoy 9 0929 latitude-1weekThere is little to see, as the nights are getting long up there, but so far the ice hasn’t broken up despite the strong and shifting winds. (Remember that a month ago O-buoy 9 often drifted in seas relatively free of ice, and much of the ice we look at is new “baby ice” between thicker bergs. It doesn’t take all that much to smash up such baby ice.)Obuoy 9 0929C webcam

FABOO REPORTS IN

On September 25 Faboo drifted 4.35 miles south east in very light winds to 84.728°N, 8.772°W and saw temperatures fall steadily, crashing to the low of -17.4°C at 1800Z, before rebounding to the period’s high of -10.8°C at 2100Z.

On September 26 Faboo sped up as winds picked to around 10 mph, covering 6.93 miles southeast to 84.683°N, 7.798°W. Temperatures rose to the high of -7.2°C at 1500Z, before falling back to -13.3°C at 2100Z,

On September 27 Faboo reached its most southerly point at 0300Z, at 84.678°N, and its most easterly point at noon, at 7.510°W, before deversing back to the north and west and finishing the day at 84.752°N, 7.542°W, which was 5.03 miles the “wrong way”.  Temperatures fell to a low of -18.2°C at 0600Z before recovering to -9.4°C at the end of the period. The breezes grew stronger, up to 15-20 mph range.

On September 28 Faboo again returned to moving east, but continued north to finish at 84.876°N, 6.452°W, which was another 15.76 miles the “wrong way”. Temperatures rose from -9.3°C at midnight to a balmy +1.0°C at 0900Z. After dipping to -1.8°C at 1500Z, a second thaw was experienced at the end of the period, with temperatures at +0.5°C. Winds peaked early, with a steady blow of 27 mph, before slacking off to 15 mph.

Unofficial reports showed we continued north for a while today, but then headed south, as temperatures fell. Unfortunately freezing rain was involved. It is my experience that this stuff is hard to melt from the camera’s lens.NP3 1 0929 2015cam1_2

O-BUOY 8   WIDE LEAD OPENS ON DISTANT HORIZON TO THE LEFTObuoy 8 0929C webcam

NEW O-BUOY 13   –COLD WITH DRIFTING SNOW—

Obuoy 13 0929D webcam

O-BUOY 15  —WINS PICTURES-OF-THE-DAY AWARD FOR BEAUTY—

Obuoy 15 0929 webcam Obuoy 15 0929B webcam Obuoy 15 0929C webcam Obuoy 15 0929D webcam

WEDNESDAY MORNING DMI MAPS

DMI2 0930 mslp_latest.big DMI2 0930 temp_latest.big

WEDNESDAY EVENING MAPS

DMI2 0930B mslp_latest.bigDMI2 0930B temp_latest.big

THURSDAY EVENING MAPS

DMI2 1001B mslp_latest.big DMI2 1001B temp_latest.big

I’ll try to play catch-up later. It is hard to run a decent blog when pulling double shifts.

*******

It is also hard to focus on sea-ice when a hurricane is milling about to your south.

FABOO’S WHIPLASH

On September 29 Faboo  continued northeast as far as 84.904°N at 0600Z before a 180° wind shrift hit, dropping temperatures from +0.5°C to -7.0°C at the next report at 0900Z. Winds picked up from 11 to 17 mph as temperatures fell to -13.2°C as Faboo moved 3.49 miles southeast to finish the period at 84.826°N, 6.363°W.

Yesterday temperatures slowly rose from -13.2°C to -10.2°C as winds climbed to a steady gale-force blasting of 36 mph, grinding the ice 17.6 miles SSE to 84.574°N, 5.923°W.

It is difficult to get your mind around tons upon tons upon tons of ice, covering hundreds of square miles, all moving north twenty miles and then all being snapped back south twenty miles, especially as the shift from north-movement to south-movement does not effect all areas equally at the same time, but rather is a radical change along a front. Somewhere the ice has to buckle and build pressure ridges, while somewhere else it must crack open and expose leads of open water. The frustrating thing is the camera’s lens if frozen over, and we are unlikely to see much more than this:NP3 1 1001 2015cam1_2

FRIDAY MORNING DMI MAPS

DMI2 1002 mslp_latest.big DMI2 1002 temp_latest.big

Quite a mild stream of air has been pulled east over the Siberian Side, as the cold is reduced to a pool north of Canada and Greenland. I expect the cold to expand as the gale weakens and fills.

O-BOUY 9 SHOWS COLD AND WEAKENING WINDS

Temperatures are at -10°C and winds at 4-7 mph. If the recent gale didn’t smash this ice up, nothing will, until it gets further south.

Obuoy 9 1002 webcam

DMI FRIDAY AFTERNOON MAPS

DMI2 1002B mslp_latest.big DMI2 1002B temp_latest.big

SATURDAY’S DMI MAPS (To be repeated to start the next post)

.DMI2 1003 mslp_latest.big DMI2 1003 temp_latest.big

DMI2 1003B mslp_latest.big DMI2 1003B temp_latest.big

I apologize for being unable to properly withdraw from life and enjoy the pleasures of escape to the arctic. Sometimes life won’t let you escape.

Time and tide and arctic sea-ice wait for no man, and a lots been going on I haven’t had time to talk about. A veritable flood of milder air came north with low pressure and made the Pole an area of uplift, which drew more air north at the surface.  A lot of this “air” was water vapor, which went from taking up a lot of space as vapor to taking up very little space as a drop of water or an ice crystal.  Therefore there does not need to be as much outflow aloft as one might expect, with all the inflow.

The vapor also released a lot of heat as it went through the phase changes of gas to liquid and liquid to solid. (There is a phase change the other way when precipitation evaporates of sublimates when falling, but for the most part the recent storm has been releasing more heat than it has been sucking up.)

They say what goes up must come down, but this is not true of the Pole. Water vapor goes up there and does not return, and heat goes up there and is lost to outer space. Once the sun sets the Pole is like a chimney for the planet, and what we have just  seen is stuff heading up the chimney.

That being said, when a mild surge heads north for the Pole I often look for an south-bound arctic outbreak somewhere else,  and indeed  there were two decend surges of cold into eastern and western Siberia, as well as a snowy spell in Alaska that drew notice.

Even as milder air floods the Pole, snow-cover is building on the tundra in Siberia, Alaska and Canada.  This will assist the creation of cold air through radiational cooling, and result in the Arctic ocean being frozen by south winds from the tundra.

Snowcover Oct 3 ims2015276_alaska

However one interesting feature is that swath of snow northwest of Hudson Bay, as much of it is well south of the actual coast of the Arctic Sea. This tendency also shows up in a Dr. Ryan Maue map posted on Joseph D’Aleo’s excellent blog, of the the deepening snow in Western Siberia. Much of the snow is well south of the actual coast.Snowcover Oct 3 ecmwf_snowdepth_russia_41(1)

This of course makes one wonder about the maps which show the arctic coasts as well above normal, in terms of water temperature:  

(I point out elsewhere that these maps can show water as red even when it is full of floating ice, as was the case in Hudson Bay last summer, which does make one suspect they are estimating on the warm side.)

In conclusion, we have a situation where we have a cold circle of ice atop the globe, surrounded by a larger circle of milder coastal waters, surrounded by an even larger circle of cold tundra. Until the coastal water freezes, the situation is wonderfully unstable.

The current temperature graph for areas north of 80° shows the current surge of mild air past its peak, and about to begin what I suspect will be a steep plunge.DMI2 1003B meanT_2015

The ice “extent” graph shows the mild surge did slow the refreeze, but couldn’t halt it.DMI2 1003B icecover_current_new

Most of our surviving buoys did show the milder air reaching across the Pole to Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and the pacific side of the Central Arctic Basin, as the Atlantic and Siberian side haven’t experience the early season cold as much, and continue fairly mild. Yet the temperatures only briefly could thaw, in only a few places, and rather than thawing there was falling snow and freezing rain. Most of the slow-down in the refreeze was due to bottom-melt having a chance to occur without much upper-freezing,  and also gale force winds smashing up the new baby-ice.

It is unfortunate that O-buoy 10 got crushed (or perhaps retrieved by an icebreaker) as we have no eye down in the Beaufort Sea “Slot”. The NRL concentration map suggests the southern “reef” of the “lagoon” got dispersed by the gales, though we cannot tell if the water still has ice and slush in it once everything gets wet, as it doesn’t show up well to satellite sensors.  If the reef reappears during the refreeze we will know it wasn’t fully dispersed.Concentration  20151003 arcticicennowcast

I’ll download some pictures from cameras, and catch up on Faboo’s doings, in the morning.

LOCAL VIEW –Animal Crackers 1A–

The high pressure has passed out to sea, and the wind is swinging around from north to south, but staying from the west, which keeps us dry. Sometimes, as the winds swing around from north to south, the difference between the cold eastern side of a high pressure cell and the warm western side of a high  pressure cell is marked by a nice, neat warm front. That didn’t happen today. Even as I felt the air grow more kindly, the sky remained more or less cloudless. Perhaps, if I had really taken the time to study the sky, I might have noticed a warm front was trying to form, or starting to form, or existed in some sort of protofrontal state, but I was otherwise occupied. Also the weather map shows no warm front, even as the air warms.

20150524 satsfc

The above map shows the warm front forming well to our west, and the yellow evidence of high clouds to the north of the front, and extending east past the end of the front right over where I live in New Hampshire. When I step outside I see a night sky gone starless. Does this mean the warm front is rapidly extending eastwards? Is there a hope of rain?

During the day the democratic sunshine falls equally, but is employed unequally, and creates all sorts of chaotic local variances that messes up the flow from the south,  but at night all that chaos ceases. A southerly flow gets more of a chance to do its thing in an organized manner, and one of its things is called, “warm air advection,” which can create a lovely mass of nighttime thunderstorms that wake you at dawn with morning thunder and the delicious sound of your garden getting watered for free.

So I eagerly look to the radar, to seek signs of showers in the southerly flow.

20150524 rad_ec_640x480 Blast. Not a shower in sight, east of Michigan.

It looks like the drought is going to continue, as yet again the warming occurs without much of a front. The best I can hope for all the upcoming week is that the southerly flow creates some afternoon thunderstorms, which tend to be hit-or-miss in nature, but tend to hit some areas more than my area, which tends to be missed more often than hit, (unless winds swing around to just east of due south, in which case we can get clobbered by our loudest thunder.)

The drought means someone has to stand about with a hose watering the poor plants in the parched garden. Fortunately, as a writer, I can afford to be a gentleman farmer, and hire a staff of three gardeners. Unfortunately my writing never sells because I can’t be bothered to brown-nose, and this means my staff-of-three in the garden consists of three 62-year-old complainers who work for free, called “Me”, “Myself” and “I”. (I suffer from triplophrenia, you see.)

As we stood about watering the plants today we had pretty much decided that the entire idea of farming is a losing proposition, especially if you are 62-years-old.  If you are young and suffering from an excess of hormones, farming is a great way to get exhausted and sleep well without doing the exhausting stuff that winds you up in jail. However by age 62 we are suppose to know better. So, why the -bleep- do we farm?

After discussing this question we decided we didn’t want to go there. The question is one that a fool psychologist would ask, and expect you to pay him for supplying him with an answer. This never has made sense to us. If he doesn’t know, he should be paying us for answering his questions.

Then the psychologist would pretend he knew it all along, which would be ridiculous, because the answer he would come up with would be nuts. He would want to charge us more for making up some name for us. Maybe it would be DADAD, which would stand for “Digging A-lot-of Dirt-with Affection Disorder.” Then he would try to charge us even more money for some drug that would make us bland and uninteresting, and likely unable to dig dirt and garden. Isn’t it ridiculous? The three of us decided we should call him a FAFAS, which stands for….never mind. (If I told you what FAFAS stands for, psychologists might sue, which also makes no sense. How can they call other folk names, and expect other folk to pay for being disparaged, and yet  then expect other folk to pay them even more for “defamation of a professional’s character”, when the other folk get irate over being disparaged and call psychologists names back?)

We three have some mighty interesting discussions, as we water the carrots.

By the time we got to watering the broccoli we had pretty much decided we weren’t going to pay to become bland and uninteresting, but rather would figure out how to charge other people for answering their questions about how it is we have wound up the opposite of bland and uninteresting.

One idea we floated was to write a book about one of the benefits of farming that can’t be measured with money; namely: How enchanting it is to be so closely associated with animals.

Vegans and Animal Rights Activists think they care about animals, but tend to live too far away from the eat-or-be-eaten reality of a farm to truly understand both what is beastly about beasts and what is beautiful about beasts. Often, when they lecture farmers, they come across like spinsters lecturing mothers about motherhood.

We decided the best animal-character to use, to underscore the eat-or-be-eaten aspect of our farm, would be “Victory” the fox. Of course, we don’t raise foxes on our farm, but this vixen has spared me the bother of raising chickens by defeating all my fences, and over and over taking all my chickens to feed her cubs with. (Victory has repaid me by raising two litters of pups where the children of my Farm-Childcare can sneak up, peer through underbrush, and watch baby foxes play outside of a hole in the hillside.  Considering I myself never saw this, even when I discovered where vixens lived, until I was over sixty, I know the kids at my Childcare are lucky, and that my Childcare is special.)

Victory got her name because she always won. Even when my free-range chickens were reduced to being limited-range chickens, and finally demoted to penned-up concentration-camp chickens, Victory laughed at my fences. However this year things are different, due to one of my goats named “Muffler.”

(How Muffler got her name is a story for another evening, but I will mention her brother’s name was “Tailgate.”)

Even when Victory ate all our chickens, we kept being given more. People would purchase cute and fluffy Easter chicks for their children, and then be horrified that the cute creatures lost their fluff and became the thinly-feathered and gawky creatures called “pullets”. After dealing with ugly, stinky pullets for a week or two they became all too eager to get the smell from their homes. Therefore, even though I would be glad to be done with chickens for once and for all, over and over I would wind up stuck with more of them. Then they promptly thrive on our farm. Even if they have been complete failures, as egg-layers, they abruptly start laying left and right, which I find a bit of a nuisance. After all, they are suppose to be a business expense. They are not suppose to be productive. That will only get me in trouble with the IRS, which will demand a full account of all the blasted eggs these free-range-hens are laying all over the place.

Suppose I found an egg and ate it. Have you any idea how this would complicate my taxes? There is a whole formula involving “home use”, and I don’t want to open that can of worms. It is obvious to me that, if I ate an egg, it would bankrupt me, because farm-fresh eggs taste a hundred times better than store-bought eggs, and therefore, if store-bought eggs cost $3.00 a dozen, I should charge myself a hundred times as much, or $300.00 a dozen, for farm fresh eggs.

You may think I am exaggerating, but I recently bought a store bought egg, and was amazed how it failed to behave like an egg, when I broke it in the pan. Where a fresh egg has two whites, (a watery white that spreads out, and a jelly that clings to the yoke,) this egg had only one, slimy white that wasn’t clear, but sort of cloudy.  Also, where a fresh yoke stands up from the pan like a half moon, the store-bought yoke lay as flat as the white did. Lastly, where a fresh yoke is vibrantly yellow, even verging on orange, the store-bought yoke was an insipid yellow, like the color of a manila folder. There was no way I wanted to put that store-bought crud in my mouth after I fried it. It didn’t even smell right, but in the interests of science I tasted it, and it didn’t even taste like an egg. Mostly it tasted like 90 days in a refrigerator, but behind that stale freezer-burn flavor was the blank-eyed derangement of assembly-line-chickens, kept in cramped darkness by people who do not share my belief that part of farming is to be closely associated with animals.

Because store bought-eggs taste like blended freezer-burn and abscess-existence, the IRS would obviously expect me to get $300.00 a dozen for each dozen of my delicious, farm-fresh eggs, and my chickens lay dozens upon dozens. I’d have a hard time accounting correctly, in a manner up to IRS standards, because the truth is: I have a hard time even finding where the cotton-picking free-range chickens have laid the blame things. But I know the IRS would doubt me, if I gave them that excuse. They think people have nothing better to do than to hunt hidden eggs and keep careful accounts.

Therefore I have nothing to do with the eggs. I will not touch them with a ten foot pole. I leave the work of collecting eggs to Myself and Me, and it is those two who will have to go to jail, for eating several thousand dollars worth of scrumptious eggs, and not even declaring it on their taxes.  (Come to think of it, I don’t think those two even bother with taxes. If the IRS ever catches on, they will be in big trouble. Likely I’ll be in trouble as well, because the IRS will figure out I don’t pay those guys anything close to minimum wage, and don’t withhold their taxes.)

It would make my life a lot simpler if Victory would just eat my chickens, and be done with it, but this year Muffler has decided to become a defender of chickens, and every time Victory advances across the pasture Muffler goes trotting out to meet the vixen, lowering her horns. Victory sits down and cocks her head inquisitively, refusing the indignity of backing off from a mere goat, and when Muffler then paws the dry pasture and advances further, Victory trots away to to the left as if she always intended to go that way, and was only pulling over at a rest stop to enjoy the view. for a moment.

The chickens were quick to catch on, and now, as soon as they spot Victory, they hustle to get behind Muffler.

I’d have no hope anything would rid me of my blasted chickens, however a clumsy hawk has recently appeared, who I call “Lurker.” Either Lurker is very young or very old, but whatever she or he is, he or she is a lousy hunter. She swoops down on squirrels, but her talons grab at the turf three feet short of where the oblivious squirrel is busy. The stupid squirrel deserves to be dead, knocked into the next world without knowing what hit him, but instead it is totally scared out of its wits, and does a jump which holds several twists and back-flips. (You can almost imagine a row of Olympic judges holding up cards reading, 9.7; 9.9; 9.8; 9.7.) The shock is so huge that I think all our red squirrels have been turned into gray squirrels. Then the squirrel escapes, streaking off flat-out at top speed, as Lurker dusts himself off and laboriously flaps slowly back up to the tree tops.

Lurker decided my chickens looked like more easy prey, and began frowning down from trees near their coop, but just before he could do me the favor of relieving me of the tax burden of chickens, a gang of local crows noticed him, and harangued him with swooping choruses of cries, until he fled away under the canopy of trees.

I see all this stuff, as I stand there watering my radishes in a drought. Watering radishes would be a pretty boring job, and fairly unprofitable, considering the price of radishes, but there is this benefit which I, (and also Me and Myself), derive from watching foxes and crows and goats and hawks and chickens.

Vegans and Animal Rights activists may think this story is charming because my chickens are still alive. They apparently don’t care for the hungry hawk’s rumbling stomach, or Victory’s hungry cubs. However today I was in the mood to personally strangle those chickens for doing something even Vegans would find deplorable.

Vegans would like the part of my garden dedicated to organic spinach and lettuce. I water the greens a lot in the drought, as they love water, and to keep them from being parched by the water-sucking weeds I’ve made sure to heavily much between the rows.

But then my free-range chickens decided to rearrange things. They should be called “free-arrangers”,  because they discovered there were no bugs in the exposed, sun-baked soil, but there were a few bugs under the mulch. Therefore the hens went and, in a most meticulous manner, hopped scratching down the rows, removing all the mulch from between the rows, and heaping it on top my tiny, tender lettuce and spinach seedlings. In other words, they created a situation that was more favorable to water-sucking weeds than my spinach and lettuce. In fact, as I went down the rows, putting mulch back where mulch belonged, I saw some lettuce and spinach plants couldn’t withstand the abrupt shift between bright, hot, dry sunshine, and the the cloying crush of mulch’s mushroom-house humidity. Beneath the mulch they had swiftly gotten moldy and died.

Vegans may be spiritual about a lot of things, however everyone has their breaking point, and I think that, if they were faced with the prospect of having no lettuce and no spinach, they might be at odds with Animal Rights Activists, and shout, “This free-range chicken business has simply gone too far!

In which case they are coming down to earth with a thump, and entering the down-to-earth reality of a farmer. Often it takes losing what you care most about to ground you.

The fact of the matter is that many who think they care about nature have little idea nature is a eat or be eaten reality. They live upon scaffolds built upon scaffolds built upon scaffolds, up in an Ivory Tower created by Academics, Economists, Bureaucrats and others who don’t have to farm, and can eat without having any idea what life in the dirt entails.

Me, Myself and I think it might be helpful to such people if we described the world of sharing space with eat-or-be-eaten animals, with a series of “Local Views” called “Animal Crackers”.  After ten or so episodes we’ll publish an eBook and make a large amount of money. Then, at long last, we’ll be able to sit in the shade, sip mint juleps wearing the gray suits of a plantation-owner, and watch others water our garden.

We won’t give up on gardening or go indoors. If we did that we’d miss the animal’s antics and lose the enchantment of farming. In fact the hard part of writing the best seller will be going indoors to write. I don’t think I can handle such deprivation, and Myself agrees, but Me says we can get a laptop and do our writing outside.

(And, if there is one thing sure to make it rain and end our drought, I’m fairly certain leaving a laptop out on a table by the garden will do it.)