LOCAL VIEW –Sixty Longest Days–

I always am struck by the abruptly early daybreaks of May in a slightly absurd way. I feel I am seeing it for the first time. This is absurd because I am sixty-six years old, and logic tells me I have seen it many times before. But perhaps it is made wonderful because northern winters are so lasting, and their nights are so long, and their sunrises are so late, that one especially appreciates the sun so suddenly arising so early. At northern latitudes days get longer with astonishing speed; one week you are driving to work with your headlights on, and a week later you don’t need to turn them on. The transformation is so abrupt that it is hard to be jaded about it. Even an old codger like myself displays a little bit of the wonder children have every day all year.

If your livelihood has anything to do with vegetation, (formerly this involved farming, but now it tends to involve being a “landscaper” and cutting grass), then, hand in hand with the wonder of the abruptly longer days, one is hit by a frenzy, because the same frenzy is felt by vegetation.

Northern plants are very wise, considering they lack brains. They know the growing season is short, and their growth is explosive. Even a non-native plant, transplanted north, demonstrates explosive growth. I once knew a oil worker who had the whim to grow cabbage on the north slope of Alaska. He scraped together a small square of thawed muck from a section of permafrost, planted some cabbage seeds, and then was astounded by how swiftly he had full heads of cabbages. Cabbage is not native to Alaska, but it apparently does well when the sun shines 24 hours a day.

Northern people who deal with plants are made frenetic because they have to deal with frenetic plants. I call it “Farmers Frenzy”, though I have seen it in rich ladies who want to grow roses. It is a state of mind between ordinary ambition and total panic. The northern sunshine seems to state, “Plant now, or forever hold your peace.”

Back in my days as a drifter I once met a fellow-drifter, an old Kansas farmer who, most of the year, was a garrulous old coot who told great tales but preferred the retirement of being a bum to the hard work of farming.

The old farmer deserves more than this synopsis, and I hope to someday write a longer version of this brief biography: He was a fellow who had paid his dues. He had done so in two ways. First, he grew up during the Dust Bowl, part of a tough, tenacious farming-family that refused to let the bank foreclose on their land. Then, as his brothers all gained glory by going off to fight in World War Two, he got stuck back on the farm in Kansas, growing the food that fed the nation. Somewhat accidentally, he made a fortune, but I think he was a little ashamed of making money as his brothers fought fascism. In any case, once his six children were raised, he lost interest in growing wheat, and became a drifter. Likely he was a cause of concern to his family, but he was a blessing to me, because he told the truth about what the Dust Bowl was like. (The media, in calling our current times “the hottest ever”, obviously never took the time to interview such farmers, or to study the temperature records of the 1930’s.)

I knew the fellow for roughly 40 months, and for the most part he was very disinterested in farming, beyond farming being a subject for his reminiscences. In the present tense, he was interested in his retirement. But I did witness him during three springs, and each spring, against his will (it seemed to me) he was hit by Farmer Frenzy. In a situation where, as a drifter, he had no tractor, no seed, and no land, he paced and fretted midst a peculiar urgency, his eyes roaming over the landscape in a hungering way.

For example, on one occasion I saw the old coot, about five-foot-five, take a bunch of far larger Navajo to task. Quite out of the blue he berated their sloth, like a sergeant jawing privates, and stated they should get off their butts and start plowing up some nearby desert sand and plant wheat. The Navajo laughed at him, stating the sand was so dry it couldn’t grow cactus, but he stated the sand was wetter than the dust his family had raised wheat upon in Kansas, during the Dust Bowl, and he then went on to state some rude things about the industry of the Navajo. I cringed, and judged the Kansas fellow’s life-expectancy would be swiftly shortened, but rather than killing the old farmer, the Navajo found him entertaining.

What I took from this experience is that “Farmer Frenzy” is a very real thing, but a thing which one needs to take pains to tame.

On the other hand, “Farmer Frenzy” can be a good thing. It produced the wheat, during World War Two, that defeated Hitler. Yes, guns were important, and troops were important, but if those troops were not fed the guns would have been useless. Kansas farmers deserve credit. Maybe even a monument.

Now I am the age that old farmer was, when I met him on the roadside in 1985, and I remember him as I see myself now experiencing a touch of Farmer Frenzy.

 

       DOUBLE-SONNET: LONGEST DAYS

The sixty longest days are like treasure
Slipping through my fingers. My greed can’t grip
These mercies no man’s muscles can measure
With his farming, though he resolves to whip
Every bean and radish to suck up sunshine,
To command corn to bask in every ray,
Demand bumpers make reaping a fun time,
And stays awake all hours of each long day,
And scorns vacations, snubs all thought of leisure,
Sternly seeks to seize the moment’s value;
To with miser-fingers fondle treasure;
To tell the summer, “I’ll corral you”,
Too soon it passes, like lovely lasses
Getting old, and makes us wind up asses.

But this year I’ll be different. I’ll work
As hard in the hot summer days, but I’ll
Not be such a crab, nor be such a jerk,
And I’ll greet every ache with a smile.
I’ll not care so much about the weighed results
Nor rue the way time goes scooting by.
Even if my harvest is but insults
I’ll give my new philosophy a try.
You see, it seems to me I’ve been too prone
To seeing harvest as a sort of cement.
I wished to freeze joy, make her be my own,
But then I groaned and wondered where joy went.
Now I’m content to watch summer slip by.
My days too grow short. Where joy goes, go I.

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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.

Might Want To Stock Up On Foodstuffs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOCAL VIEW –How Humid Was It?–

Certain comedians train their audiences  to respond to a statement such as, “Lord, was it ever hot!” with a chorus of voices that all chime in with, “How hot was it?” Then they say something very funny.

But this is serious, man, serious! I have never seen humidity like this, up here in New Hampshire. And, Oh yes, folk down south will call me a wimp. I did live in South Carolina for a summer. But up here we are not accustomed to dew points over 70°. We hardly bother with air conditioners. Usually a dew point of 70º at sunset results in a heavy fog or even drenching drizzle by dawn, as our nighttime temperatures attempt to sink past the dew point to our typical, comfortable 60º. But this year?

I never saw this coming, because the summer began bone dry. Every drop of rain was wrung from clouds by mountains to our west. I was a bit snidely pleased, for even though stuff in the garden was stunted, so were the weeds. (I have no time for weeding.)

But then the pattern shifted, and rather than moisture being wrung out by higher hills to our west, we ourselves are the higher hills, wringing moisture  from the flatlands to our south. The forecast would be for scattered clouds, but we’d see this:

Humid 2 IMG_7118

And then see this:

Humid 3 IMG_7119

The lightning flickering about in the clouds makes these raindrops rich in nitrogen, which is a royal pain. For every inch it makes my vegetables grow it makes the weeds grow a foot. And I have no time for weeding, for all the rain means I have to mow the grass. I also have to attend to the pool, which the nitrogen-rich rain turns a vivid green.

How humid is it? It’s so humid it’s stupid,  for it seems stupid to me that it is more important to add algeacide to a pool than to weed my own garden. But our Childcare needs the pool to cool the kids, in hot, muggy weather. And it is the Childcare, not the farm, that brings home the bacon.

The irony burns a bit. The USA was initially a nation of farmers, but now nobody can afford to farm. (Not that many want to.) Something other than the garden provides the food.

As a man who is basically a survivalist, and has very little confidence in the government’s ability to handle finances, who foresees a day when there will be no way for taxpayers to pay all the welfare dependents and pensioners the government has  promised to pay, (whereupon there will either be no checks issued or rampant inflation), I suspect a day will come when food might be in short supply.

My view of history suggests there tends to be a breakdown of the infrastructure that mass-produces food on mega-farms and delivers it to cities, when a crisis occurs. Even if bread is available no one can afford it when hyper inflation makes it cost $100,000,000.00 a loaf.  Then the government tends to step in, thinking it can organize, and history demonstrates what occurs is a loss of initiative: The Soviet Union’s “collective” farms saw potatoes rotting in piles as shortages existed in cities, but also saw a tiny segment of the population that was allowed to have small, “private” gardens produce a disproportionate amount of the food; as I recall the figures were something like 5% of the farmland, in small lots, was producing 25% of the food. I also heard an old Hungarian tell me that during the bad times of Hitler and Stalin “the cows wore golden chains”. Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa until the government stepped in to make farms “fair”, whereupon there was famine.  Venezuela was well-fed before the government sought equity for all. And in these cases tiny farms step forward to do what the giants bungle.

Maybe I just have a puffed-up sense of my own importance, but I have decided I have to keep my tiny farm going even though I’m physically incapable of the labor.  My plan is to commercialize my writing so I can hire two hands next summer.  This year will be written off as “the year the weeds won.”

In any case, I’m trying to focus on writing more (and also a possible redesign of this website), and the last thing I want is rain making the grass grow fast, so I have to cut it more. Then I also faced quite a job trying to find bits of sunshine, so I could dry all the tarps and tents and canvas folding-chairs and sleeping bags from our deluge-camping. (I was paying for the vacation after it was over.)

All I really want is to sit back and nibble an eraser contemplatively,  but after camping my wife hits the ground running. She feels a vacation has involved far too much sitting-around, and has a whirlwind of social activity planned, and then I hear a shriek from the dining room. I stopped nibbling my eraser. Why?  Well, this you have just got to see:

Humid 1 IMG_7117

How humid is it? It’s so humid the chairs get moldy. And rather than writing a great article, I find myself wiping down all the wooden furniture with a cloth dampened with vinegar, before the company arrives. I tell you, it’s rough, being a writer.

How humid is it? Well, we typically get a thundering downpour or two in the summer, with perhaps an inch or two of rain falling in a hurry, and the gutters are all full for an hour or so afterwards.  But usually that is that. However downpour has followed downpour, and a few places in the hills are approaching 24 inches of rain in just a couple of weeks.

Of course, this gets certain cats yowling about Global Warming, because everything, no matter what, is caused by that, in their world view. California mudslides? Global Warming. California wildfires? Global warming.

What I do is just try to look at the maps and see what actually occurring, avoiding the bias you get sucked into taking if you take a “side”. There are always places warmer than normal, and places colder than normal, and if you “take a side” you’ll focus on one and not the other. But let’s try to avoid that, and look at both. As most of the planet’s heat is locked up in the oceans, let’s start with the SST (Sea Surface Temperatures), and see whether they are above, or below, normal.

Humid 5 anomnight.8.16.2018

You may notice a red area off San Diego. The media has made a great deal about “record warm Pacific waters” there. But just south of it is a blue blob off Baja California. Any headlines about “record cold Pacific waters?” Or just crickets? Do you see how foolish this bias can appear?

Also notice the tropical Atlantic between Cuba and West Africa is all light yellow. Just a few weeks ago it was all light blue. Does this represent dramatic warming? No. In some cases it can represent a tiny change from .01 below normal to .01 above normal. But what caused the warming? Was it trace amounts of CO2? No, it was enormous amounts of Saharan dust, swept by the Azores High off Africa, and all the way to Texas, and even from there north and then east to Ohio and then to here in New Hampshire (in trace amounts.) This dust, combined with slightly cooler SST, suppressed the formation of hurricanes and tropical storms. And what does that mean? More sunshine, warming the water and raising the SST as little as .01 degree, and changing the map’s hue from chilly blue to warm yellow. (I can understand that, but don’t understand what engineered the cooling of those waters, earlier.)

What is most important to our humid summer is the warm water off Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. I’m surprised the media hasn’t gone nuts about it yet, but perhaps they are distracted by the fact mild waters (and tasty seals) have lured Great White Sharks north to Cape Cod Beaches. (The media lately has seemed easily distracted by anything involving the word “white”.) I doubt they will be focused enough to see warm water off New England is actually a sign of “cold”, when it is surrounded by a horseshoe of colder water, called the “cold AMO” (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.) The AMO cycle is not due to turn “cold” for another five years, but is hovering close to that change already.

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Though they didn’t have the word “AMO” (which appeared around 1990) New England fishermen have long known dramatic swings in Atlantic conditions could cause populations of fish (and gulls) to shift dramatically north or south, once or twice in an average lifetime.  In order to be aware of it you needed to respect and heed grandfathers who respected and heeded their grandfathers. The modern media, which has an attention span of around four minutes, is likely unaware of the AMO and will be taken totally by surprise by the switch, and will likely become apoplectic.

Not that we don’t all become careless, when things only happen every thirty years, or every sixty years.  Humans have the tendency to farm the rich soil on the side of a volcano, and then be astonished when they blow.

Here in New England the best route up a steep hill is the route taken by a little brook, which has an uncanny way of finding the shallowest incline.  Road-building is assisted by the fact these little brooks have far more cobblestones than they could possibly need. The brook is moved to the side, and the cobblestones are used as the foundation for the road up the hill. And for thirty years everything is fine. Perhaps even for sixty years everything is hunky-dory.  Even the torrential rains of a summer thunderstorm stay in the brook at the side. But then….(ominous drum-roll, please)….there comes the summer that is so humid. How humid is it?  Thunderstorm follows thunderstorm, and the road winds up looking like this:

You see, the little brook didn’t have far more cobblestones than it could possibly need. It needed those cobblestones, once every sixty years.

I’m telling you this because I have a suspicion young whippersnappers in the media will look at the above picture and blame Global Warming. They will subscribe to the idea the solution to the above problem is to ban things and raise taxes to fund other things that do everything you can imagine, except fix the road.

Around these parts old-timers puff out their cheeks and shake their heads, for they know their taxes will have to go up, but it’s to fix the road, for another sixty years.

LOCAL VIEW –Leafstrippers and Eagles–

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The storm is up in Canada now, and the winds have died down, but the trees were not so pretty at daybreak today.

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Notice the shutter hanging from the neighbor’s house. We got blasted by a leafstripper.  We moved from summer to winter in a roar.

Friday the wind was mild and southerly,  and the storm was brewing up over the Great Lakes, and for a time it seemed the heavier showers on its east side would move south to north to our west, over Vermont, and never progress east. I went to watch a grandson play a high-school soccer game, and a misty rain ended just before it started and then the entire game was played in various sorts of mild fog, ranging from thick and deep purple, as if thunder was coming, to light and colored like honey, as if the sun was about to break out. I was thinking a storm had to be coming, or else I was coming down with something, as my old bones were aching like crazy. It was foolish to stay out in the damp, but the game was well worth watching, especially as my grandson’s team won 2-1, with a heart-stopping shot by the opponents, in the final seconds, that squirted past our goalie and was dribbling towards the open goal before a frantically dashing defense-man  booted it away inches short of the goal line.

After all that excitement I just wanted to warm up by the fire, and sip some beer, and focus on writing, but the beer didn’t sit well in my stomach, which is not a good sign. I was starting to suspect my aching muscles might not merely indicate storm, though the Friday night sky filled with more pink lightning and sky-thunder than we got all summer. “So maybe it is the weather…” I suggested to my suggestible mind, trying to talk myself into being better.

I was incredibly stiff and sore Saturday morning, but it was my turn to cook at the Church’s men’s breakfast, so I dutifully trudged off and likely infected everyone there. I had no appetite, so I can’t have infected myself. Then I dutifully did dishes and dutifully trudged back home with one thing in mind: Going back to bed. However as I trudged up the stairs my wife’s lilting voice cheerfully reminded me, “We have to go to our CPR and First Aid re-certification class in half an hour. Goodness! I see no need for such language!”

Seldom have I been so dutiful and downright noble as I was, going back out into the rain to go to that class. Especially noble were my smiles at people as I entered the classroom. (Hopefully they weren’t too skullish). Then the minutes seemed like hours as I dragged through learning the same old stuff once again. The only amusement I find is noting where they change things. For example, tourniquets are back in style, after being frowned at for a bit. I suppose they figured the risk of choking off blood to an extremity was worth it, if the person didn’t bleed to death. Also teaching people CPR has been somewhat successful. When people collapsed of a heart attack, 98% of them used to die, but now only 85% do. Heart attack remains our leading cause if death.

The idea one should stop chest thrusts, and breath two puffs into the mouth of the victim, during CPR, is fading, as apparently people were getting brain damage from too much oxygen. This was learned from compating the results in cases where good Samaritans out on the the streets did the formal CPR, with cases where good Samaritans only did the chest thrusts because the idea of meeting lips with the patient seemed too yukky.

Instead in today’s classes  you pound the chest of the dummy twice as fast as you were suppose to in the old days. In the old days you were suppose to do it to the timing of “Another one bites the dust” (but never saying the words aloud) but now you are suppose to pound the chest 120 times a minute, pushing down two inches, which can break ribs, but only makes a little clicker click in the dummy, and also makes an old coot like me feel about ready to keel over, after 360 chest-thrusts or so. I wondered if maybe they’d have to practice CPR on a genuine specimen. All I can conclude is, if anyone’s heart ever quits on my watch, they had better revive in five minutes or we are both goners. However if you do the pounding that fast there is no need to breath into the mouth of someone who may have ingested poison,  as the commotion apparently stirs the air in the lungs enough to keep the blood oxygenated, even if no one in the class can pronounce the word “oxygenated”.

I didn’t get out until after 1:30, and by then the rain was cold and starting to drive. I was cold and wet by the time I got to the car, and as we drove home my wife didn’t much want to hear my opinion about bleepity-bleep state officials in nice warm offices, who never have to perform CPR, mandating others risk pneumonia by going out on a rainy Saturday when they ought to be in bed.

When I got home I couldn’t stop shivering, even under a warm blanket in a warm room, and I didn’t need a thermometer to know I’d got a fever spiking, despite gobbled aspirin. All I could do was set my jaw and prepared myself for the ride, which is never fun for me, as fever causes despairing to dominate my brain. Despite the wet weather, crimson leaves were swirling by my bedroom window and sticking to the glass.

In church we’ve been focusing on how those of faith will soar on new pinions like eagles. It seems a sort of Biblical version of the Phoenix, the mythical bird born again from its own ashes, but I was of so little faith I could only think I was getting the burning-up part right, but not the rest. After all, one of these days we will get sick and go down for the count, and when you are shivering and feeling worse and worse, and there is no improvement in sight, you hope for the best, but maybe part of you prepares for the worst. In any case, if I had to compare myself to a bird right then, it likely would not have been to a soaring eagle, but to a dead duck, blasted from the sky by a hunter.

I kept being woken from strange dreams by leaves spatting the window, and was confused it was daylight, and unsure what day it was…still today or already tomorrow? A long list of Saturday chores was being neglected. Out the window read and orange leaves kept blowing sideways, first one way and then the other, which let me understand the storm was growing into a leafstripper, and also brought Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem “The Last Leaf In the Tree” traipsing through my head. I memorized it long ago, and now it wouldn’t quit:

I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.

They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
“They are gone!”

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said–
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago–
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;

But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

Pretty sad stuff, and the violins of my self-pity might have nursed a few tears down my cheeks, but if I was going to going to cry about anything it was about my goats needing to be fed. That was one chore I couldn’t skip. But one joy of farming is that you get to go outside when others stay in, so I went out into the bluster and saw a few lava-like cracks in cloud-cover to the west, and also put up with a lot of nagging by seven goats who do not approve of late meals. Then I headed home to some hot soup, which I didn’t much feel like eating, and a granddaughter, who I didn’t much feel like watching (and who may have given me the ‘flu), and a movie about a pig I didn’t much feel like watching either, “Babe”. However as I sat I begrudged that I liked the movie, especially as the hero is an odd, old farmer who, in the end, is victorious, soaring on new pinions like eagles, albeit in a rather low-key and nonchalant way.

I was starting to shiver again and knew it was time for more aspirin and more bed, and so I handed off the sleepy granddaughter and took a dive in my pillow. Next thing I knew it was ten hours later. (I never sleep like that.)

I felt a bit better, so I took a long, hot shower and then tottered off to my duties as an elder at a tiny church, (listening with a certain, less-than-faithful cynicism to the stuff in the sermon about soaring on new pinions like eagles), and then tottered home and again dove into my pillow. I knew I had a long list of Saturday chores to catch up on, but if I am a eagle I am a recuperating eagle. Anyway, Sunday is suppose to be a day of rest. I concluded that actually I was spiritual to loaf, as I listened to the wind roar and the leaves, now drying, hush and scour by the window. I knew I’d have to eventually feed the goats, but drifted through dreams about last leaves on the tree, and people of my generation who are leaves who have already left the tree, and other morbid stuff, until I wondered if my life was passing before my eyes, and also was getting a tad fed up. I should be getting better by now. I should be soaring like an eagle by now.

By the time I finally budged I knew I’d get more nagging from my goats, but before I could leave the house my wife mentioned the stove was on the fritz and the oven didn’t work. Another chore. Then, as I headed to the farm I clicked on the radio, and was annoyed that I had forgotten all about the football game. I must be sick or something, to forget that! And even more aggravating was the fact the Patriots were ahead 14-0 when I turned the radio on, but the tide of the game shifted and it was soon 14-7, and then, as I listened at the farm with the heater on and the engine running, it became 14-10. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, I couldn’t even listen to the game in the privacy of my truck without a bunch of goats looking at me indignantly through the glass and nagging at the top of their lungs, until I replied, “All right all right all right ALL RIGHT”. (Animal Rights Activists please note: I did not use a single bad word.)

As I got out and looked around the farm seemed a shambles. Bags of trash were still in their bags, but the entire bags had been lifted clear across the yard and plopped in odd places.  Plywood was flung about and lawn furniture rearranged, but I just didn’t want to deal with that. Feeding the goats was enough for now. If I just rested a little more  I could surely show up for work early on Monday, and face the mountain of chores. As I drove home the Patriots lead shrank to 14-13.

When I was a boy I was ridiculously superstitious about my power to influence sporting events through my actions. My older brothers could drive me wild by switching the Red Sox  game from the AM station to the FM station, and then holding me back from the radio and forcing me to listen to the Red Sox blow another lead and again lose. (They nearly always lost, back then.) I was convinced the Red Sox would have been a first place team, (they always came in 8th or 9th), were it not for my brothers listening on FM.

I blame the fever, but some sort of echo of that nature returned as I shut off the radio in disgust and shivered. I just felt I must be doing something wrong, when nothing went right. I felt this way even though I know the reasonable and mature outlook is to see we live in a time of immediate gratifications, and if people look at the cards they are dealt, and don’t see a royal flush, they tend feel fate is cruel and God is unkind and to start up their violins, and that behavior is downright infantile. However, though I can think mature thoughts, I confess I still have an immature heart.

In any case I hunched out of my truck and went slogging through a profound gloom, stomping up the the front steps dejectedly, and then took a deep breath and prepared a fake smile. At the door I was met by a laughing daughter with a funny tale, a granddaughter hugging a better tackle than the Patriots were doing, a jealous, wagging dog that wanted equal attention, and the sight and smell of a roast chicken. I asked my wife, “How can you roast a chicken with no oven?” She explained her craftiness as we sat down to eat.

I have heard chicken is very good for sick people. It seems to have worked on me. I went back to bed, (after turning on the radio and learning the Patriots did manage to win,) and again slept like a log. But there no way around facing the music of Monday morning, and the fact that one chore I didn’t do was take down the summer awning at the front of the Childcare. 

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The awning was pivoted completely around on one leg, despite the legs being anchored by pins and bags of stones. One bag of stones was thrown ten feet away. Now that’s some gust!

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It gave me something to do, and an excuse to avoid going indoors and perhaps spreading residual germs to children. I chased down some missing lawn furniture and tidied up, and then the small boys came out and wanted to throw a football around. (Among six year old’s I’m still a star athlete.) I was huffing and puffing pretty quickly, but the fresh air likely did me good. Then the bus came, nine trooped off into it, and I drove a smaller bunch to kindergarten, marveling at how the wind had changed the landscape.

Fully half the leaves are gone in a single blow, but there’s still some left, and I seemed to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, and even to see there were some views I couldn’t see before, that were revealed, now that there were fewer leaves in the way. As I drove back from the kindergarten one view stopped me in my tracks, and I got out of the van to click a quick picture.

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And then, only because I was out of the van, I saw the big bird powerfully surging along the ridge-line. I was so awed I nearly missed my chance to take a picture.

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It was a bald eagle. Not an old one, with silver hair like mine, but a young one, brown-headed, and strong like no other bird. Their wings are straight out when they soar (Vultures hang from their wings in a “V”) and when they power with their wings they can cut through a gale. I never saw one in New England, until five years ago, and still get a thrill each time I see they are coming back.

Maybe I’m too old to believe in omens, but you have to admit it was a rather nice coincidence to see an eagle, just then.

In any case, I’m back. Did two simple jobs today that gained great kudos. Fixed a plugged toilet at the Childcare, and replaced a fuse that got the oven working at home. I like the jobs that are done in five minutes and gain you acclaim.  But…our world is held together by those who work long and hard unnoticed. They are the true eagles on whose backs the rest of us fly.

 

SNOWS IN TROPICAL ZIMBABWE, AFRICA

This caught my interest because I have been watching the southern hemisphere to see if they have any signs of the meridienal  meridional flow that afflicted the northern hemisphere during our most recent winter.

First, I should say it is early in their winter. June 1 in the southern hemisphere is the equivalent of December 1 in the northern hemisphere. Second, I should state we are talking about a part of Africa north of the Tropic of Capricorn, which is like talking about land south of the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere.

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In other words, we are talking about snows south of Florida, similar to the snows by Mexico City or in Vietnam or Saudi Arabia,  last winter.

To be a bit more specific , we are talking about Zimbabwe.

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Now, when you first hear reports of a foot of snow in the land of elephants and giraffes and rhino, the first thing that crosses your skeptic mind is that it must be one of those internet hoaxes. And perhaps cynicism is increased because Zimbabwe is currently a warped place, home of the hundred-trillion dollar bill.

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Now, compared to a hundred trillion, two hundred thousand is next to nothing. As a comparison, it is like comparing a hundred dollar bill to a tiny coin worth a fifty-thousandth of a penny. Therefore, even if you have a load of two-hundred-thousand bills, it may be what you send a child to the market with, to buy a loaf of bread.

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(This is what you get, when you print money you don’t have. This is what the USA is headed for, though the Teacher’s Union thinks it has a secure pension by supporting fools who print money they don’t have.) (Their entire pension will be worth a single bill in the above little boy’s arms.)

(Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of Africa, but was ruled by a white minority. Now it faces starvation, due to political correctness. Rather than a white minority it is ruled by a black despot. Thanks a lot, all you do-gooder outsiders.)

(I could launch off into a long rave at this point, but let it suffice to say that I am highly skeptical of any news from Zimbabwe.  Gosh, “news from Zimbabwe” is nearly as ridiculous as the bogus prattling from “The New York Times!”)

However I was alerted to the fact the news of snow in Zimbabwe might be real when I heard that the Zimbabwe government said it was a hoax. Sad to say, what some governments say is, isn’t, and what they say isn’t, is.

Also the web has become so all-pervasive that even in fourth-world situations people “tweet” and “Facebook.” Images began to appear on the web, just as they did from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last January. (Even the most strict government censorship hasn’t yet stopped the posting of images of local landscapes.)

Now, in the tropics so-called “snow” is rarely the fluffy stuff we know in the north. In fact it is usually hail. However a tropical thunderstorm’s hail is common enough to attract little notice, and usually is melted away in an hour or two. What attracts notice, and is called “snow”, is more like we would call “sleet”,  and usually falls in a narrow band associated with a thunderstorm, (a quarter mile wide or so). In Zimbabwe the band was miles across, and, as was the case in Kuwait last winter, had not been seen before in the living memory of the oldest resident. It was what Alarmists like to call “unprecedented.”

Out at the edge of the band we see tweets of people snapping pictures with cell phone of slightly whitened patches of ground. Zim 2 snow4Then, as we move towards the middle of the band, the accumulation gets thick enough to scoop up handfuls. It was thick enough to remove some leaves from some trees.

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Towards the middle of the band the snow-sleet-hail was a foot thick, and travel was difficult, even as it all melted to slush in the tropical heat.

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Trees were stripped of leaves, rabbits died in the open, as did birds, and the farmers faced hardship that was real. The government, rather than helping, accused farmers of a Facebook fraud.

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I may be reading too much into the above picture, but judging from the faces of the women, I would not like to be in the shoes of the Zimbabwe government. AK-47’s can intimidate a people only so far, and then bullying runs out of gas. (As an aside I should note that the government was alarmed enough by discontent in this area (southern Zimbabwe) to allocate several million (real American, not Zimbabwean,) dollars to string electricity to this area, but all the money went to the politically correct, and not a cent to stringing wires.)

I may be reading too much into my world view, but I think the politically correct are in the wrong shoes. It is not just in the USA that the (slightly) different Donald Trump is shaking the foundations of political correctness. Far away, in ancient Persia, the home of the modern Islamic Revolution, the government’s politically-correct secret police are reporting that over a million people are involved in an illegal activity punishable by death, called “converting-to-Christianity”.

I may be reading too much into climate science, but increasing numbers are converting to skepticism, even if it is politically incorrect. A foot of sleet in Zimbabwe doesn’t help matters, even if it is merely a meridienal meridional pattern.

I may be reading too much into human nature, but I feel you can fool some of the general public some of the time, and you can fool the politically correct all of the time, but you cannot fool all of humanity all of the time.

(Sort Of) LOCAL VIEW –Grumpy Farmers–

Perhaps it is not spiritual to get too attached to worldly things, but farmers can’t help but get attached to their dirt. The smaller the farm, the greater the farmer’s love is for their soil, and the older they get the deeper their love roots. A day will come when they will have to give it all up, and let go of their hold on their small holding, but I honestly feel the land remembers them. Not to get all mystical on you, but the love of ones homeland runs deep, and whispers in the wind.

It is quite a different thing to have a purely political view of land ownership, without any actual investment in sweat in an actual plot of sod. Some environmentalists are all theory without experience. It is like saying you are in love with someone you never really lived with. They swear they care for nature, but in fact they seem scared of nature. Many things farmers do seem too rough and gruff, and some feel compelled to tell farmers how to be more gentle with the land. This does not go over well with farmers. They then feel farmers are ignorant and stupid.

Here we have a picture of two famous ladies ignoring a stupid farmer’s legal posting on his gate, which forbids them from trespassing on his land. They are climbing over the middle of the gate, which is very bad for the gate’s hinges, and shows they don’t know anything about good manners in the country.

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The famous ladies are attending an event where they are protesting “Frakking”, supporting Greenpeace,  and holding a sort of bake-muffins demonstration on the farmer’s land, with lots of TV cameras. The cameras recorded what happened next.

It is somewhat amusing that a voice in the background exclaims they should call the police, when they are the ones breaking the law. In any case, the muffins were less appealing as the farmer went about his business of fertilizing his fields. And the protesters did make the news.

This all seems very democratic to me, for manure has always gone hand in hand with politics.

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