LOCAL VIEW –The Drumbeats Of Drought In New Hampshire–(With Postscript)

In the past I have posted about (or perhaps bragged) about how people in New England do not know what a drought is, nowadays, because, when I was a boy, we had a drought that went on year after year, until Boston was talking about the need for a second reservoir to supplement Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts, because Quabbin was nearly dry, and vanished towns had reappeared on its dry edges. (I’ll skip repeating tales from my boyhood, of illegally fishing and swimming in the Stony Brook Reservoir, except to say they are fond memories.)

I may have to eat my words, for this summer’s drought is becoming the worst single-year drought I can remember, here in Southern New Hampshire. Even the hurricane milling about to our south last week only gave us east winds with a mist in it, and when a front came through and dropped the temperature from 82°F to 72°F with only the slightest sprinkle of rain, I began to wonder if this might be an autumn of fires. They are rare in New England, but have happened.

New England is a fairly wet place, and there are not that many species that are adapted to fires, as there are out west. However I have noticed even the larger lakes are lower. Here is a picture of the shore of Lake Massabesic, which supplies the City of Manchester its water.drought2-6-img_3824

That is about an hour east of my Farm-childcare. Twenty minutes west in Peterborough is Noone Falls on the Contoocook River, with a bare trickle flowing over it.

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At the Weatherbell Site Joseph D’Aleo has been keeping an eye on the drought, and I lifted these maps from two of his posts.

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In actual fact I think there should be a small spot of red further west on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border to mark my Farm-childcare, because it seems every passing shower has missed us. I have a customer with a rain gauge, and though he only lives a mile and a half away, on several occasions he has received a half inch from a thunder shower, as I got only a trace. This is a bit unusual, as I’m on the east slopes of a hill, and usually get more.

As a consequence a mountain stream that tumbles down from the hill has been reduced to a tiny trickle. I have never seen the likes of it. Here is the amount of water flowing from the flood-control reservoir that blocks that stream. drought2-5-img_3825

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(The sticks at the bottom right of the picture are cut by beavers, who are at war with the State Of New Hampshire and constantly attempt to block the pipe.  A man from the State constantly clears it.  My tax dollars at work.)

I worry about the native brook trout that live in the stream. There cannot be much oxygen in the water, with such a slight trickle flowing, and the water is likely getting warm, in the few remaining pools.

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What impresses me most is the farm pond, which was bulldozed eight feet deep in clay back in 1967 (before laws about wetlands) so my stepmother’s cows could get their own water even when the hand-dug well went dry. It is spring-fed, and even on dry summers, when the intermittent stream that feeds into the pond goes dry, there usually is a trickle flowing out. The water was clear and clean, and we swum in it. Not this year. drought2-8-img_3925

A heron has grown fat, stalking around the shore, for the frogs have no place to hide.  But now children can see what became of their fish hooks, when they ignored me and cast out on the east side. (Those trees came down in the 2008 ice storm, which doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but was before they were born.) (Water usually completely covers the snags.)

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This drought has been going on a long time, locally. It even showed in last winter’s precipitation maps. One month the rain would be north of us, and the next south of us. Or east of us, and then west of us. The lawns have gotten crunchy, and last week’s mist only nourished the crabgrass, which sucked up the surface damp and already is dry.

When I scuff through the crispy woods I wonder if this might be the year we see what people in New England saw in 1947, when entire towns burned in southern Maine.

http://www.pressherald.com/2012/10/07/the-week-that-maine-burned_2012-10-07/

POSTSCRIPT:

I should have mentioned there is one thing that is relishing the drought. It is a small sort of ant that builds nests in impractical places (even the handlebars of bikes) and likely loses a lot of colonies each time it rains, due to floods. This year they have thrived, and last week sudden swarms appeared in all sorts of unlikely places, as some unknown trigger, perhaps the length of the day, brought them out to perform their mating flights.

They have absurdly oversized wings, three times as long as their small bodies, and are rather lousy fliers. It seems to me that rather than attempting to avoid preditors their strategy is to overwhelm with their sheer numbers. They seem to float about, rather than fly, and I can’t say having a cloud of them in your face makes a drought any better. Within an hour or two they are all gone, with only some anthills of dirt remaining to show they were more than an odd dream.

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(The last two ant pictures by Marlowe Gautreau).

                 DROUGHT SONNET

Flowers turn their faces from their old friend
And bluest skies seem soured by broken trust.
Balmy breezes fail to heal; What’s mild won’t mend
And even crabgrass yellows in the dust.

The dewless dawn comes begging for a cloud
But once again what’s fair does not seem fair.
What swelled our pride no longer seems so proud
And carefree sunbeams stress our noons with care.

And so it seems all things upon our earth:
Our wealth; our fame; our friends; and our powers
Are dry, and soon are deemed of little worth
If You don’t spill Your mercy on our flowers.

Only the busy ants buzz, and don’t complain,
So come again to thirsty earth, and reign.

LOCAL VIEW –June Graduations’s Long Light–

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There is a strange irony in the fact that, on the very first day of summer, the days start getting shorter. It is a reminder. It as if people grieve the end from the start. It is like crying at a wedding, even when you have a sense the marriage is a good one and could last sixty years.

To me this has always seemed a bit stupid. It is like sulking when flowers bloom, because you know they will someday wither.

Don’t get me wrong. There is some wisdom in being detached, like some Yogi on a mountain peak, and in droning out a mantra of “This too will pass.”.  Nothing on this planet was designed to be permanent, including our physical lives. However that doesn’t keep things from being beautiful, and admirable, and worth emulating.

In terms of romance, I always wanted to emulate my Grandfather. He was of a Puritan, Mayflower, upper-class, Brahmin family, and in 1896, when he was eight years old, he came trotting home from school and announced he had met the girl he was going to marry. The elders found the lad amusing, for the girl was from the wrong side of the tracks. However the childhood friendship endured and they did marry, and still were best friends an amazing eighty years later. It was a most beautiful marriage, but like all things on earth it had to end, and a day finally came when my Grandfather awoke alone.

For some reason my Grandfather’s grief struck me very hard, as a poet aged twenty-five, and I fell into a wallow of morbid gloom, seriously thinking about how pointless life was, and how empty all deeds are, when the results of even the most beautiful love-story is death. I wrote a mournful poem about how our good deeds lose their goodness when they cannot keep Love close. One image in that poem has always remained in my mind as an good example of a good deed that looks foolish in the face of death. It was the image of a man climbing the steps of the gallows, brushing his teeth. (You may borrow it, if you chose.)

However at that age my mood was simply too buoyant to remain morbid very long. I might vow to be serious, and never sing again, but as soon as I stepped into the shower I’d find myself singing like a deranged skylark.

June is like stepping into a shower of light, washing the filth of a dark winter away. How can you not sing?

I’m a lot older now, and much less inclined to be buoyant. I’m bitter, because that’s what life does to you, but I’ve the brains to twist that bitterness towards a wry sense of humor, and make it be a breakfast many don’t mind. After all, grapefruit is bitter, is it not?

But when June comes rolling around it is hard for even an old coot like myself to be properly cantankerous. For one thing, in June everyone makes the end of long friendships, and the shattering of communities, into a celebration. They call it “graduation”. It is a time you are kissing good-bye to friends you have known, and it is often a boot from the community you grew up in, (especially if you graduate in a wealthy town and are not fated to be wealthy). Graduation is actually a sort of death, but everyone acts as if dying is wonderful. The young girls at least have the good sense to cry, but the young men are such boobs they think they have escaped schoolmarms, and are free, free, free at last….until the party is over and they face this gruesome thing called, “Getting a job.” Then they see that freedom isn’t free. Years pass, until they wind up an old coot like me, who knows the glory of graduation is akin to a funeral.

Still, the celebrations of “The End” get to my sentimental side. Perhaps it is because kids do not merely graduate from high-school and college, these days. They graduate from junior high, from grade-school, from kindergarten, and my wife even has a sweet event to celebrate the graduation of rug rats from our Daycare. And mothers cry at all these events. And when I see them get teary, I have to turn away, because my own eyes want to begrudge a bit of sympathetic moisture.

A more pragmatic side of myself thinks it is a bunch of fuss and bother. What a waste of time! People should be growing food, hoeing the corn, chopping the wood, getting ready for next winter.

But the detached yogi in me sits back on his mountain peak and contemplates the significance of all these graduations.  Each is an end, and therefore a sort of funeral, but it is also a celebration, because each assumes the after-life will be better. Each graduation is like the funerals that first-century Christians were purported to be: Joyous events, because early Christians were so sure the continuation of life after death was like escaping schoolmarms, and becoming even freer than a teenaged boy on a night he won’t remember.

I walked into the local market a few days ago with my mood uplifted by June and six graduations. I wasn’t singing like I do in the shower, but had been singing in the car on my way to the store. I was happy, but the store’s mood immediately wiped the smile from my face. Everyone in the store was so grim. Not a person wore a smile, except the girl at the register, who was bravely attempting to be cheerful, but losing the battle. As I got my six-pack and waited in line I glanced at the headlines on the papers. (Sometimes a terrorist attack has this sort of sobering effect.) No new atrocity greeted my eye. I figured I’d check the internet when I got home, and then noted people were looking at me with disapproving looks. This seemed odd, so I put on my best disarming smile, but even the poor girl at the register gave me a “I-don’t-know-you” look when I was the only customer who smiled at her and was pleasant. “What the heck?” I thought to myself, as I drove home.

During my ride home I glanced in the rear view mirror and understood one reason people had been regarding me oddly.

During the final hour at the Childcare, when we are basically just waiting for parents to show up, I was showing the children the June-art of making daisy chains. Unbeknownst to me the little girls crowding around to watch had adorned my tough, Aussie, crocodile-hunter hat with a ridiculous bouquet. Flowers were sticking every which ways. However ordinarily that would have been a reason for smiles, if not joshing, at the market. Some other thing was affecting people.

I checked the internet first thing, but there was no fresh terrorist atrocity. Then I checked a weeks worth of snail-mail, (I’ve been out of town), and then dawn abruptly broke on Marblehead.

Many poor folk around here work construction during the summer, and, if they are lucky, work for ski-slopes in the winter, and, because some winters are not all that snowy, they typically fall behind in their bills in the winter, and then catch up in the spring. This is so typical that there is actually a New Hampshire law that keeps the electric companies from cutting off people’s power in the winter, though they can cut off your power if you don’t pay off the bill by the end of April. However recently the old electrical company (PSNH) was taken over by a money-grubber company called “Eversourse”, and they lobbied and were successful, and the politicians had the old law tweaked. Anyone who had ever fallen behind in their bill during the winter would now have to pay a “deposit”, or their power would be turned off. In my case the deposit was $800.00, (combining both the Childcare and my home). For me that is roughly two month’s worth of electricity in the dead of winter. In essence, rather than helping people out by allowing people to fall behind in the winter, Eversourse now wanted that money up front, ahead of time, as a deposit.

I likely sound a bit quaint, but that simply isn’t how things are done in the world of bumpkins. People help each other out when times are rough, and I myself would never have been able to raise five kids if I wasn’t allowed to run up a tab at times. It wasn’t just the local market that saw my tab get alarmingly large, but the doctor and dentist and telephone and propane and electricity saw me running up a tab. However I was honor-bound to pay, and always did pay the tabs, once times got better in the spring. I was grateful to all who had patience, and became a faithful customer to the businesses that treated me so kindly. But perhaps such honor is old-fashioned,  and perhaps Eversourse has run up against people who do not pay their tabs. Or perhaps they are just greedy. In any case, the letter they sent was not what you’d expect, from people who you have faithfully paid your bills to for over 26 years.  They basically gave me 14 days to come up with $800.00 or they would shut off my power. Since I’d been out of town, most of the time had already passed, with their threatening mail sitting in a pile on my desk.  I had to come up with $800.00 in one day, or the power would be shut off at my place of business. (I don’t know about you, but I am self-employed and have to fund my own vacations, so I was not exactly rolling in the dough after five days off.)

Now, I’m sure the stockholders of Eversource want plump dividends, and feel it was very expedient on the part of Eversource to stop allowing poor people to run up tabs during the winter. After all, Eversource only collected 12% interest on that loan. (1% a month). Surely rich fat cats can get better dividends than that, even as poor people get next to nothing on a savings account.

I called up Eversource to raise some hell, but got some sweet girl on the phone who likely is paid $8.00/hour to face the public’s rage, as the fat-cats hide like the cowards they are. I decided to dump all my spleen in the scuppers, and just be polite, as if I was spiritual and not hopping mad and thinking very unspiritual thoughts. It worked. She was so glad to talk with a nice, polite person she became very nice in return, and we has a good talk.

When I said I was baffled by how I was being treated she said Eversourse only wanted to bully people into automatic payments. In fact the only way to avoid having my power cut off, (besides coming up with $800.00 I don’t have),  was to agree to have my electricity bill automatically removed from my bank account. This was Eversource’s way of making sure they got paid on time, next winter. Never mind that I might not have much money when the sun gets low. They came first. The doctor, dentist, market, propane and telephone could all wait.

I agreed to have my bills deducted from my business account. But I sure don’t feel like a valued customer. And I intend to be petty, and get even. If push comes to shove I will simply instruct the bank to stop the automatic payments next November. By law, they still cannot shut off my power until April. And then, when they ask me for a huge deposit next April, I will be shifting to a new supplier. (There are actually other electric companies that use the same wires, and are slightly cheaper.) (They have been pestering me to switch for years, but I was a loyal customer…of PSNH, I suppose; definitely not Eversource…any more.)

In fact I’d switch today, but someone told me Eversource doesn’t really want to have residential customers, and actually wants to alienate them, and force them to switch, so they can focus on the big factories and corporations. That is where the money is, and that is where those ruled by greed (and not community and family values) go, like pigs to their sty. Therefore I will not switch today, because a nonspiritual side of me wants to declare war, and be petty, (and I promise you I will derive great pleasure from being uncooperative).

Judging from the faces in the line at the local market, I am not the only disgruntled bumpkin. It is not anything spoken, but rather is a hardness in faces. A lot of dawning is going on upon a lot of Marbleheads. A lot of people feel treated like trash, and want to graduate from that class. The stock-holders in Eversource need to ponder whether slightly larger dividends are worth stirring up a hornet’s nest.

I’ve talked with people who think local folk are rubes, because they only care for their neighbors, while “Internationalists” care for everyone. However that is just big talk, like a roaring drunk claiming he loves everyone, when he has abandoned his wife and children for a bender. He will talk differently in the morning, and so will the so-called “Internationalists.” It will be a bit of hangover for them to realize they cared most for dividends, and not the neighbors rubes care for. Charity begins at home.

America was made, and remains full of, people who want to graduate. They do not want to remain in the class they are. If the rich should decide they want to “keep people in their place” they will be  preventing graduation, and I fear there will be hell to pay.

However that is gloomy talk for June, and likely due to the fact I own a part of myself that is bitter and old. It is constantly at war with a part of myself that never gets old, and enthuses in June, even though it knows sunshine has its price.

When I was young the sun shone much more than it does now. This is not merely the rose-colored spectacles of age looking backwards. It is a meteorological fact, and shows up in the degree of drought we faced. The 1960’s saw year after year of drought.

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I could tell some good tales about growing up in that drought, about how low the reservoir I illegally fished in got, and about the roaring brush fire I started at age twelve.  In fact, I may do so, some night in the near future, for we currently in a drought that reminds me of my boyhood.

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However the drought of my boyhood was back in down-to-earth times, when white-collar people could relate to poor blue-collar folk just trying to get by. Back then Americans stood united as basically ordinary people all trying to graduate together. Then times changed. A so-called “1%” decided their income mattered more. They decided it was good to profit by impoverishing the poor. They only wanted sunshine, but it created a drought.

This bothers me. The other night I was kept from sleep, thinking about the drought of compassion, and was still awake after midnight, when I started to notice the flicker of lightning.  Then, as I barely dozed, I began to hear the faint drum of distant thunder.  Then I dipped more deeply, and was abruptly awoken by a loud crash. Then I listened to the delicious sound of drought-relieving rains slowly approaching through the summer leaves.

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In my sleepy state I wondered if the drought caused by the 1% hogging sunshine for themselves might also be ended by thunder.

“What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

November 13, 1787   Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith

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.

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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.)

LOCAL VIEW –New England Drought Continues–

Despite the hopes in the long-range forecast last weekend, another week has passed with all the fronts producing far less rain than expected.  A big high pressure is settling over us, giving us chilly winds this morning, and amazingly dry air.

20150523 satsfcConcord, New Hampshire, to our northeast, has only had 0,04 inches of rain all May, where it usually has 2.52 inches by the end of May 22. When I was out digging holes for some new asparagus roots yesterday, away from where I water, the top four inches of the dirt (exposed to full sun) were bone dry. The polar air over us was dry to begin with, and as the high sun warms it 30 degrees today, the dryness will become relatively drier, until humidity drop below 20%.  With the winds gusty, any fires that get going in the woods grow “explosively”, and spread “uncontrollably”, so there are Red Flag Warnings out. My middle son has gone camping with his friends, and I’m wondering if he will be allowed to have a campfire. (I can’t imagine camping without a campfire.) (Where’s the romance?)

(Of course, In “Roughing It”, Mark Twain describes how his campfire got out of control on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and burned over a couple mountain ranges. That may not be exactly “romantic”, but it does make for good reading.)

We are finally starting to show up in the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought 1 20150519_northeast_trd

This is a great honor, and once you are recognized it is not an honor easily lost. For example, a couple years ago Tesas, Oklahoma and Nebraska were suffering what was dubbed the “Permadrought”, as it was expected to last decades, and they can’t seem to rain their way out of drought status.

Drought 2 screenhunter_160-may-22-21-10

“Steve Goddard,” driving back to Colorado from Maryland, reports flood waters two feet shy of flooding Interstate 80 in Nebraska, with their “drought” still on the map.

Drought 3 screenhunter_161-may-22-21-15

Hmm. Maybe those maps aren’t so reliable, after all. Fortunately Dr. Ryan Maue produces wonderful maps over at the Weatherbell site, and Joseph D’Aleo used the map below to show just how little rain we have had in our area over the past 60 days.

Drought 4 cpc_anom_60_eastusa_1

(click to clarify and enlarge)

This shows us four inches below normal over the past 60 days, but fails to stress the fact that over the past 25 days we’ve had barely enough to settle the dust. Things will get drier as the polar high over us settles southeast and merges with the Bermuda High. Then winds will swing from northwest to south west, and temperatures will start to climb. They will likely get a little hotter than forecast, with little water in the soil to cool through  evaporation. (I’m not sure the computer models take this into account.)  We could be touching 90° (32.2° Celsius) by midweek. The hot air will get more humid, but the first chance of showers and thunderstorms looks like it will not come before Friday, by which point we will all be getting a bit crispy.

 

LOCAL VIEW —Parched—

This is just a quick update of local conditions, as I am involved in the rush of getting the garden planted, and in watering the stuff already planted in the somewhat amazingly bone-dry soil.

I gambled, putting my tomato plants in before Memorial Day, which the old-timers avoided, as they had seen a late May frost too often spoil efforts to “get ahead”. So far I’ve lucked out, though we did have a big polar high drop down and give us frost in the hollows. (Click maps to clarify and enlarge.)

20150515 satsfc

Behind the high pressure the winds shifted to the south, and we had some hope of moisture coming north.

20150516 satsfc 20150516 rad_ec_640x480

We did get a few showers of cold rain as the milder air first started to approach, but it was only enough to settle the dust. Or perhaps I should say “pollen”. It is somewhat amazing how the yellow dust is settling on the landscape. It is most noticeable on cars, and on patio tables on porches, but in the showers on Saturday morning I noticed the wipers on my car were removing a sort of yellow sludge from the windshield.

After the warm front passed it became a bit muggy, and mostly cloudy, and felt like thunder might happen, but the radar showed all the heavier showers squeezed southeast and crossing Connecticut and Rhode Island,  as New Hampshire remained dry. Then the weak cold frost dried the air, without so much as a sprinkle of rain marking its passage, (except up in Northern Maine).

20150517 satsfc 20150517 rad_ec_640x480

 

The top couple inches of soil are so dry that, at first, the little onion bulbs I planted acted as if they were still in storage, and which the chickens annoyed me by scratching the bulbs out of the soil, they hadn’t even started to root,  and were easy to replant. At that point I started to spend more time watering, and the onions are now sending up their greens.

It reminds me a little of gardening out west. (The Navajo found me amusing because I planted my corn only an inch down, as is done in the east, whereas they planted their corn at least six inches deep in the dry sand.  I had to water far more than they did.) However the soil is still fairly moist, remembering the deep winter snows, once you get down three inches.

The thing of it is, with the days getting so long and the sun getting so high, we are entering a time when evaporation often exceeds rainfall. Without a good, drenching rain, things just get drier and drier, and usually our landscape is at its driest in August.

The only good thing is that the grass needs less cutting than usual. Many Mays have seen me battling to stay ahead of the growing grass, and sometimes being forced to cut even when the grass is wet.

I can’t afford to spend too much time standing and watering by hand, (which I actually like doing, as it is a lazy man’s job), so I purchased a “soaker hose”.  I think I over-did it in some places, and rotted some seeds.

However I have carrots, beets, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, and kohl rabi sprouting and gasping for drinks. I’ve transplanted 18 tomatoes, 4 giant cabbages, 6 giant kale, 6 brussel sprouts, 6 brocolli, and 8 celery plants in.

Lettuce and Spinach require a lot of water, and I fear they’ll be stunted this year, even with watering.