People who want to garden for pleasure should make certain to keep their gardens small. The smaller the better. I recommend a single planter. Otherwise gardening is more like jogging five miles in the morning: When you face the hill at Mile-Three you question your own sanity.
There will be, of course, the exultation. That is what runners call a “second wind”, but, before that “second wind” comes, one sees their mind fill up with quarreling, as if a buck private was screaming back at the screaming sergeant at boot camp, or even like a patient picking up a knife to defend himself from a surgeon approaching with a scalpel. It is such a mental ruckus that its occurrence mystifies all those who have idealized ideas about gardening.
In fact many who begin “gardening for pleasure” in April abandon the enterprise as a bad idea by June, and by July they are getting nagged by bureaucrats on the local zoning board for their patch of towering weeds. Be forewarned.
To me the actual pleasure of a big garden involves a more fundamental and ancient joy, called “avoiding starvation”. It has been 400 years since my first European ancestors stepped onto these shores, and the first 300 years saw most Americans rooted to the soil, living lives that made it very obvious that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. There was no real escape; if you went broke you didn’t receive welfare; you went to the “poor farm” and went on working.
Currently our society is going through a period of confusion wherein many think they can, like ticks and leeches, suck off the lifeblood of others. Not merely the poor man on the dole; but the wealthy politician profiting from other’s taxes; the slippery investor on Wall Street; and even the retiree collecting an oversized pension, may be attempting to reap more than they sowed. This is bound to create resentment among those who reap less than they sow. The spectacle of a bloated Union Boss driving a fancy car and wearing pinkie rings, as the worker on the factory floor he represents pays dues and wears pants with frayed cuffs, does not inspire confidence, or even the desire to work harder. If anything it suggests laziness pays, and inspires sloth.
It is good to escape this confusion into the more real world of a vegetable garden. It is a reality which persists even when it is easier and cheaper to buy food at a market. And, if the societal breakdown ever collapses to a degree wherein the shelves are empty in the markets, perhaps the connection to the ancient joy of survival will be less of a mere concept, and more real. Money is worthless if the markets are empty, whereas dirt has value when it holds potatoes.
However, in the rush to finish spring planting in June, the “joy” is most definitely unapparent. It is then one is most like a jogger approaching a steep hill, muttering to himself, “Why do I do this? Jogging is STUPID!”
Perhaps the most difficult moment is arising from bed in the morning. The physical work involved in small-scale gardening made me achy even as a young man, and as I approach age seventy the pain seems more constant; I never seem able to “get in shape”. Also I seem to work in slow motion. I spend far more time leaning on my hoe than actually using it. Not that anyone is going to want to hear the violins of my self pity. They’ll just affirm the voice in my own head: “Why do you garden? Gardening is STUPID”.
Rather than whine to others, I turn to the blues, and try to make sonnets of my grouching:
. FIRST COFFEE SONNET
Who knows if songbirds are ambivalent When they first awake? Who fathoms bird brains? Perhaps they need some bird-equivalent Of coffee, before cascading refrains Of music fill our forests. Perhaps…perhaps… I hate to think of birds as superior To a poet, yet dawn’s a complete collapse Of my morale, and I’m inferior To birds, before my first cup of coffee. I glower at pert birds; call each a twit; Resent their singing. They seem to scoff me As I drag to the pot with zero wit And the only thing I’m able to praise Is the coffee inthis cup I now raise.
. FIRST ASPIRIN SONNET
All I get from gardening is my lame grunts As I rise in the morning. Pathetic! I feel I won’t survive the few hot months Before harvest. Reward? Others will get it. My harvest’s to limp to, (before coffee), My aspirin bottle…and guilt, as before Coffee and pills God should look down and see Me at prayer. I guess, with my limbs sore, I could pray for a morning that’s pain-free; For mercy, and miraculous healings, And dirt with no big rocks as I spade it; Yet I suppose that might hurt God’s feelings. I should thank Him life’s just how He made it: Old men plant saplings, although they won’t see The apples that some day will hang from the tree.
This is not to say that, after aspirin and coffee, old gardeners can’t find joy in new gardens. There is the joy of old efforts from prior years; the rhubarb and asparagus that spring up without my raising a finger, from old roots. And there is the first handful of flat snow peas, small servings at dinner twice as delectable as any store’s, and all the more delectable because I beat other local gardeners by two weeks, and harvested first. And then there’s the faithful old standby, so good for children as it can be harvested in a mere twenty days, the radish.
What could be fresh and new about a radish? Glad you asked. I can recall growing radishes as a rugrat back in the 1950’s, yet in all these years I never knew you could eat the greens. Last night I had a mess of delicious radish greens fried up in olive oil with garlic, which goes to show you every spring hold’s something new, and also that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
For example, strips of black plastic make for less weeding between potatoes during July heatwaves. Black plastic may be ugly, newfangled stuff, and likely screws up the ecology of soil chemistry in some unforeseen way, but old men are allowed to resort to cheap tricks to avoid bending their creaky backs….I think…
For years I have had a Survivalist tendency, which regularly embarrasses me. There are few things more humbling than to predict the end of the world, and have the world keep right on going.
To be blunt, I just don’t see how the world does it. I try to be generous, and see the good side of people, but the fact of the matter is that people aren’t perfect, and when push comes to shove all people, (including myself), can have their imperfections make them be fools. When I was young I felt the grown-ups were fools, and when older I felt my peers were fools, and now that I at long last have grown gray, I deem young whippersnappers fools. During elections I feel I’m voting for the lesser of two foolishnesses. Fools always are running the show, and it seems no good could possibly come of it, but the show goes on.
It occurs to me that there is no possible way such fools could be responsible for the fact humanity hasn’t destroyed itself, and therefore someone else must be running the show.
And No, the “someone else” isn’t big-shot fools with piles of money who think they can avoid public scrutiny by pulling strings behind-the-scenes. Why not? Because such blowhards are more blatant than they think; they think others are fools and they are wise, but even fools see through their craft; they are transparent to even the slow-witted, given time; their duplicity catches up with them, which has given rise to statement’s such as Sir Walter Scott’s,
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”
And Abraham Lincoln’s,
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
In other words, the people who may think they are “running the show” are perhaps the greatest of fools. They think they are “in control” but in the end they discover they are not, which proves they are fools.
The Assyrian king Sennacherib was certain he was “in control” when he marched on Jerusalem with perhaps 185,000 troops, but for some reason Jerusalem is the one city he never captured. Sennacherib didn’t like to admit there was anything he didn’t control, and later he bragged he had caged the king of Jerusalem like a bird.
Of course the Jew’s had a different version. As Isaiah tells the tale, Sennacherib got too cocky, and said no city’s gods had been able to save any city’s citizens from his armies, and Jerusalem’s god Yahweh was no different, whereupon Yahweh killed his army in their sleep overnight, sending Sennacherib home like a dog with his tail between its legs, where he was later assassinated by his own son.
Many secular people dislike giving God any glory, and seek scientific explanations. They pooh-pooh the idea of some hocus-pocus bringing an authority “in control” to a screeching halt, and search for a scientific explanation. One idea is that the king of Jerusalem, Hezekiah, had diverted all the clean water through tunnels into Jerusalem, and the Assyrians were forced to drink dirty water and contracted Cholera.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judea remained an island of independence midst the vastness of the Assyrian Empire (and, in the end, Sennacherib indeed was murdered by his own son). So history demonstrates we are not the first people who have seen our confident plans derailed by some invisible germ. Nor does such derailing need a germ like the Corona Virus; (a tsunami will do, if you are the king of Atlantis).
The 1954 Polio Epidemic was the invisible germ which derailed my father’s confident expectations. He was a surgeon who had developed his dexterity to an amazing, almost ridiculous, degree. When he stitched a severed artery together he sewed twenty tiny stitches, tying each knot with one hand. It’s a pity there is no film of his fingers at work. It’s also a pity some mindless germ could come along and paralyze such fingers.
Events like that tend to test our faith. We lose faith in ourselves when we see we are weak, and we lose faith in the world when the world hits us with cruel fate. So what is left to have faith in?
It is at this point there is a great divide. Some say there is nothing but the world to have faith in, and some say there is an Other-worldly Creator.
Those given to worldly desires are prone to slipping into a might-makes-right mentality, a survival-of-the-fittest which sees brutality as acceptable, as it gets you what you want, whereas kindness gets you nothing but kicked, and is seen as weakness. This brutality becomes a test of faith in and of itself, as the brutal mock those who differ, and torture those who believe in a loving Creator, in a sense attempting prove creation isn’t loving, with hate.
It must have been a bit disconcerting to the might-makes-right mentality when they threw St. Euphemia to the lions, and rather than mauling her the lions tended to her wounds, however, because eventually she did die, as far as might-makes-right was concerned they had proven their point. They saw no angels nor “other side”, and death was a finality to them, and in a sense was what they were (and are) ruled by, and what they have faith in. In the long run they may be wrong, but they see things in terms of the short term.
One has to admit that it is a bit of a drag to have to die to see there is something other than might-makes-right, which is worthy of faith. One prefers to see evidence without needing to be a martyr. I suppose that is why we like movies where the good guys win. And the poet-king David did assert that if you live long enough, and can survive a great deal of betrayal and hardship, you will see the Creator’s kindness this side of heaven. In Psalm 31 he sings,
…The wicked plot against the righteous And gnash their teeth at them; But the Lord laughs at the wicked For he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword And bend the bow To bring down the poor and needy, To slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, And their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have Than the wealth of many wicked…
And later in the same psalm David reassures,
…I was young and now am old Yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken Or their children begging bread. They are generous and lend freely, Their children will be blessed…
This seems an extraordinary thing for David to assert, considering he went through the agony of seeing his son Absalom attempt to usurp his throne in much the same manner that Sennacherib’s son attempted. David definitely paid his dues to sing his blues. The testing of one’s faith is no child’s play, but once one is “tried and true” there seems to be a powerful assurance given to one that a Loving Creator watches over them; an assurance which appears to be nonsense to believers in might-makes-right.
In the eyes of might-makes-right any faith in a Loving Creator is a sort of con artistry. They roll their eyes when they see a priest waving belching incense-holders and speaking Latin, impressing the ignorant with their mambo-jumbo. In fact priests raising communion crackers, and stating “Hoc Est Corpus”, may be the derivation of “Hocus Pocus”, which in turn may be the derivation of “Hoax.” In the eyes of might-makes-right, religion seems purely an act, to trick suckers with.
Such sophist cynics feel the common man is ignorant and superstitious, nothing but “Deplorables” and “Useful Idiots” and “Bitter Clingers”, mere fools who are easily swayed by glitter and stampeded by fear, which may be why they create their own hoaxes involving Global Warming and the Global Pandemic. However the people see through such hoaxes, given time, and the creators of the hoaxes then become desperate, and make their hoax a sort of requirement, a false god such as the politically-correct worship of Aries which St. Euphima was martyred for not kowtowing to. Some things never seem to change. The politically-correct of our times become equally furious at those who do not kowtow to their modern politically-correct hoaxes. They feel they have the might and it gives them the right. However they are not truly the ones “in control”, though they may think they are.
A hoax cannot exist independently; it depends upon a Real Thing it is pretending to be. In some ways it is a copy, an imitation, and even a flattery of the Real Thing, up to and until the moment it attempts to replace the Real Thing. From that moment on it suffers in comparison, and people cannot be stopped from comparing.
This brings me back to where I started, looking around myself and seeing the lunatics are running the asylum. It has looked that way to me for decades. Of course, I am a fool to be calling everyone else a fool. But at least I’m not pretending I’m in control. I acknowledge that, though I may be creative, I am not the Creator. I feel I am walking about in the pages of a magnificent epic written by an Author who was there before page one, and will be there after the last page. If anyone is “in control”, it is the Author who wrote the plot.
Lastly, I feel this Author is compassionate. The point of his epic is not that “might makes right”, but rather the point is a beautiful mystery called “Love”. Also, because the Author sees ahead, death has not the sting to Him it has to us who live in the moment. We live in this world, and are horrified by the fact six million Jews were led into gas chambers. The Author is less horrified because he sees six million Jews walking out on the other side.
Even so, one wonders what is so compassionate about allowing a might-makes-right madman to kill six million, and the answer seems to be that the Author feels freedom is a beautiful thing. He allows fools to be foolish, (up to a point). He wants the characters in his epic to figure things out for themselves, and this involves “free will”. If He wants absolute obedience he has his angels. However we mere mortals are apparently made to be more than robots to God’s majestic will (which is what His beautiful angels are), and this involves the freedom to disobey. Because we are fools, our freedom blunders into various forms of addiction and slavery, and bogs us down in the evil tendencies of might-makes-right, including even mass murder, until our foolishness finally wises us up, and we come to understand true freedom involves love, respecting the dignity of all, caring for the unfortunate and freeing others from all forms of slavery, until at long last we figure out that true freedom is obeying God’s majestic will, like the angels do, only we don’t do it like robots; rather we freely do it because we’ve learned to want it, as it merges us with the absolute freedom and independence of the Author, and we perhaps even cease our wandering in the pages of His creation’s plot, and vanish outside the epic’s covers.
I’ll flatter myself by stating the ideas in the above paragraph are somewhat profound, but I know from years of experience they are sheer foolishness to the politically-correct might-makes-right crowd. To them it is just another one of my lame poems. I’ve wasted years intimating to the overbearing, attempting to hint control may be in Hands more capable than theirs, and I am all too familiar with the jeering push-back of the politically-correct. And this again brings me back to where I began, which is my perception that those who think they are “in control” are fools.
While I am no prophetic historian-poet like Isaiah, I can relate to what he describes in the sixth chapter of his book. Eager to bring God’s message to his people, he learns God’s message to his people is basically, “You are too deaf to hear the message.” Then, when Isaiah wants to know when the people of Israel will stop being so deaf, he learns it will only be after the land has been reduced to a wasteland.
I thought about this event, which occurred roughly 2750 years ago, when I walked into the market around two months ago and saw there was abruptly no toilet paper. There was really no reason for such a shortage in a land as wealthy as the United States, but the corona-virus-panic was making people behave like fools. I confess I felt a certain nervousness, for I wondered, like Isaiah, how long my homeland would persist with such foolishness. I wondered if my homeland might even become a wasteland.
I’ve been wondering that for a half century. That is how long it has been since I felt the general public moved from sanity to foolishness. Back in 1969 a sort of revival occurred, which some called “The Summer Of Love,” and it seemed people briefly saw how beautiful life might be, and behaved as if such a sanity was already here. I felt a very real hope at that time, but since then my faith has been tested by foolishness after foolishness.
What did I see back then? Well, people spoke of “Truth, Love and Understanding”, and it wasn’t insincerely. People really seemed to believe it, and what’s more to live it, albeit briefly. Only later did hypocrisy set in with a vengeance. “Truth, Love and Understanding” were cheapened.
Not that “Truth, Love and Understanding” are any less beautiful, but they also can be mere words, words which have been used by people to sell breakfast cereal, or to seduce another person’s spouse, or to gain votes, until the true meaning of the words have been adulterated by low lusts and greedy desires and blind hate, to a point where they have lost their real meaning, as words. They have shrunken to hoaxes, pretending to be The Real.
That which is beneficial to the human spirit has been dirtied by the corrupt. To deprive the human spirit in such a manner is a prescription for a poverty worse than physical poverty (which can be a blessing), for it is a spiritual poverty, and can even be a worship of death and a hatred of life and of life’s true “Truth, Love and Understanding.” Such changing-of-the-meaning-of-words is called, “perversion.”
To “pervert” is, “to cause to turn away from what is right, proper, or good”. But what is it that causes people to turn away? Many weaknesses, but largely it is fear of losing stuff, or losing the position which enables one to get stuff. With the fear comes a sort of blindness, the mindless behavior seen when shoppers get out of hand at a department store’s sale, and fight each other over flimsy garments ( or the infamous “Cabbage Patch Dolls”), which they don’t really need. Dignity is disheveled into frothing foolishness which cares more for worldly rubbish than the One who made this world possible. And they call this behavior, “political correctness.”
No good can come from such nonsense, which is why I’ve been confidently predicting the end of the world any day now, for fifty years. It is a good thing I never became rich, for if had I the money I would have built a bunker in the hills, and only come out once a year like the ground-hog to be spooked by my shadow. It is also a good thing I’m not an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah, for the punishment for false prophesy back then was to be led to the edge of town and stoned to death. By now I’d have been stoned to death around fifty times. The only ones worse at forecasting the future have been the weathermen.
Coincidentally “Weathermen” was the name we used for a radical group during my youth, a fringe of the leftist SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) officially named “The Weather Underground”. Disgusted with the world’s foolishness, especially the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, they decided the appropriate response was to blow up the “establishment” with bombs. The only people they managed to kill were themselves, when a bomb they were constructing blew up, but their activity did make people uneasy, especially if you happened to live next door to the bomb factory, like the young actor Dustin Hoffman:
The foolishness of thinking blowing things up solves problems was likely a consequence of a sort of despair my generation felt, facing the problems of our time. (This despair may have been in part due to the fact marijuana doesn’t solve problems.) I thought the group “Ten Years After” captured the despair well with their song, “I’d Love To Change The World.”
The more extreme radicals were not willing to take Ten Years After’s advice, “I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.” They wanted to take power into their own hands, and “gain control”. Out of this foolishness came professor Saul Lewinsky’s teaching, distilling the need for control into eight basic areas:
1) Healthcare– Control healthcareand you control the people
2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.
3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.
4) Gun Control– Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state.
5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income)
6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.
7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools
8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.
What I see in such a foolish and destructive desire to control others is a distrust of others approaching paranoid derangement. The sense others are fools is not extended to the self; there is no true sense of brotherhood. For example, while Stalin may have called many “comrade” before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the definition of “comrade” became narrower and narrower, as the definition of “enemies of the state” became broader and broader, until by his death he had “liquidated” nearly every person his own age who he had originally called “comrade”. When he “reorganized” agriculture it was not aimed at feeding Russia and in fact millions starved; it was all about control. Food must not be produced by independent farmers, but by the “collective”, which was a disaster.
In fact a couple of attributes of the paranoid mindset that must “control” others is its failure to produce, and its amazing inefficiency. The less freedom is allowed the less people have. It is all well and good to propose a “five year plan” that sets goals, but the goals are seldom achieved, and often the consequences of “control” are poverty and famine, such as has recently (2019) been seen in Venezuela. Society as a whole becomes poorer. This explains the question mark in the lyrics of the Ten Years After song I referred to earlier:
Tax the rich, feed the poor Till there are no rich no more?
Much of the inefficiency is due to people without experience writing the rules and regulations which “order” the people who have actual experience. Bureaucrats who have never run a business order about businessmen, spinsters who have never raised a child order about mothers, men who have never had dirt beneath their nails order about farmers. It is a recipe for disaster. The inherent distrust and paranoia which distrusts others is a self-fulfilling fear; if you distrust the ability of fellow fools to produce, production plummets.
It is amazing how different things become when you allow fellow fools freedom. Rather than merely calling them “comrade” you treat them like they actually are comrades. It involves true brotherhood and true sisterhood, the awareness that although we are all imperfect, God is in everyone. It gives up control to a higher ideal, a Power beyond our scope. It puts faith in the motto on the coins of the United States, “In God We Trust.”
That is the reason for number seven, in Saul Lewinsky’s eight areas necessary for complete control of a culture: Abolish God.
Faith in God and in fellow man results in astonishing productiveness, which goes against number two in Lewinsky’s madness, which deems poverty necessary for control.
Number five, which demands “control of welfare”, includes control of food, and jumped out at me because of the shortages I saw, not merely of toilet paper, but also of some food supplies, which occurred as the Corona Virus Panic swept my homeland, followed by demands by some that the government immediately seize control of food supplies.
I have studied the famines that occurred in both Russia and China when the might-makes-right mentality sought to “improve” food production and food distribution, and it is blatant that the “old fashioned” people, experienced at farming and marketing food, did a far better job than eager bureaucrats and the new-and-improved farming of collectives. (In the final days of the Soviet Union some freedom to farm outside of the “collective” was again permitted, even though such farmers farmed for “selfish gain”, and, despite the inherent selfishness, 5% of the farmers promptly produced 50% of Russia’s food.)
As I looked around during the so-called “pandemic” it seemed, to this old fool, that I was witnessing a naked grab for power by some who operate by the Saul Lewinsky playbook. They have been frustrated in their efforts to steer the United States to the “left”, for Americans want to be “straight”. Having seen a non-leftist elected by the people, the “left” sought to seize power in other undemocratic ways, utilizing falsehoods promoted by a blatantly biased media to attempt to impeach President Trump, and then, when that failed, attempting to use fear to panic people with an ordinary virus, into giving up their Liberty. As I watched this occur I found myself rapidly become just as paranoid as the might-makes-right mindset. The question then became, could I be a fool who behave differently than the might-makes-right fools, or would I be a fool dragged down to their level?
I thought , first, I should be honest. The “left” isn’t, preferring propaganda. Much of any “panic” is due to a sort of blindness induced by fear, with the fear aided and abetted by a sort of intellectual slight-of-hand which isn’t honest. In my years of combating the Global Warming Panic I’ve seen honesty is the best policy, and like to say, “Stand by the Truth and the Truth will stand by you.” While it may be true that “A lie will travel around the world as Truth is just putting on it’s pants”, Truth is like the turtle in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, whereas lies are as flighty as a rabbit, (and while the life expectancy of a rabbit is short, turtles endure.) Aesop was quite correct, 2600 years ago, “Slow and steady wins the race”. Hoaxes will wilt like shadows, under the light of Truth.
Second, I should be brave. While honesty compels me to confess I do fear, one need not run like a rabbit and hide in a hole. Nor should one be shamed by mindless political-correctness into cowardly retreats. Once it became obvious the virus wasn’t going to overwhelm the hospitals, the reason for the quarantine of healthy people vanished, and healthy people have every legal and constitutional right to resume going about their ordinary business, which includes the risk of catching a cold every day of their lives. So I have gone back to work. If people want to make new laws, the laws need to be be legislated in a constitutional manner. We need to be brave enough to tell certain power-mad governors and mayors that they are the ones breaking the constitutional law, and they are the ones who need to obey. Have courage.
Third, I should be kind. It is hard to be kind to might-makes-right people who deem me a fool, and who are full of hateful, paranoid distrust. But they are pitiable, for they are basically frightened fools. Talk to them, and ask questions, and get them to confess who and what they are afraid of, and reassure them that there are civil ways of defeating feared consequences.
Fourth, I should keep the faith. I may not have control, but I am not in control of the seasons and they still function wonderfully. I can’t build a bird’s nest, but the birds build wonderful nests and still have time to sing. Do not dwell on despair when there are as many reasons for hope; do not take the worm’s view when the robin feeds its young. Faith takes some effort, so be disciplined, and go out of your way to see the beauty. Joy is not illegal.
Lastly, control that which is given to you to control. While I believe the final control lies in the hands of the Creator who created us, and while I don’t believe I need to control others and that they deserve the liberty they are given, I too have been given my realm to govern. I need to garden my personal plot of earth, whether it be a physical garden, or the plot of a story I’m writing.
One thing about the might-makes-right mentality is that they crave to plot. In some ways, to me, “plot” is the sound manure makes as it falls from the rear of livestock. But manure is good stuff, (called “brown gold” by some farmers), and I work it into the soil of my plot to grow potatoes. And that is my personal counter-revolution, and my counter-control. As an old fool and survivalist, I counter any leftist plot to control food supplies with my plot of potatoes. If all goes well, I’ll harvest more than I can eat, and it won’t matter if the markets have empty shelves.
Of course, all might not go well. Bugs and blights and droughts and hail might happen. But that is one good thing about having a garden. It is a constant reminder that though we attempt to control what we can, complete control is not ours, so we keep an eye to the Sky.
We’ve had a few glory days, when the sun bursts out and the world is so abruptly beautiful that you want to skip and sing, but for the most part our spring has been cold and wet. It might even be snowing when I get up tomorrow morning, with temperatures down around 36ºF. And it’s May 14th!
Just because the weather is drab, it doesn’t mean we can’t keep busy. The little fuzz balls that were chicks have graduated and looks like hens, and are too smelly to keep inside, though it’s still too cold at night to completely wean them from the heat lamp inside. So in the morning we move them out to their new pen, and in the evening have to move them back. Ever herd hens? It keeps you busy.
The chickens are at the stage where they are learning to scratch and peck. This becomes their job, once the garden is established and the plants are growing. They prowl about, scratching the soil and pecking, scratching the soil and pecking, occasionally pausing to scrutinize a leaf, cocking their head half-sideways to examine a caterpillar who is desperately attempting to look like something besides a caterpillar, and then deftly jabbing it and wolfing it down. They do a good job of keeping pests at bay, and also discourage some weeds by eating their seeds and cultivating the soil with their incessant scratching and pecking, scratching and pecking.
Now, however, such scratching and pecking is less welcome, as it would break off the tender shoots of sprouting seeds. This is especially true of potatoes. Chickens can’t be allowed in the potato patch until the shoots are around six inches tall. Then they abruptly go from being a foe of potatoes to being a friend, because they hunt potato beetles.
Last year I had no chickens, and because I failed to hunt and squash potato beetles on a daily basis, my crop was poor. You can just leave town for a few days, and a few bunches of innocuous-looking, orange eggs, each egg about the size of a fat period on a page, on the underside of a leaf:
turns into a hundred disgusting, slimey larvae, which grow with amazing speed and can completely defoliate a plant by the time you return to town.
Then these larvae turn into the more attractive adults, which lay lots more eggs.
A generation of beetles takes about a week or two to go through its life cycle, and a few beetles can become a major infestation with surprising speed. I witnessed this last summer. Then, because your crop underground depends a lot on how lush the foliage is above the ground, you shouldn’t expect much when you dig.
The trick with potatoes is to feed them a lot, and make sure they don’t get dry in the days when the sun bakes in July. They are heavy feeders and thirsty plants. For the most part you get most of your potatoes by the seed-potato that you plant, though I have had a little success getting some extra potatoes by hilling them early, and deeply. If you keep them moist and add lots of manure and wood-ash to the soil they grow so quickly they don’t get “scabs” on their sides. (“Scabs” are worst when the soil gets too dry, but one very rainy year the soil basically turned to mud, and my potatoes turned to slime, so I suppose it is also possible to over-water.)
I used to cut up my potatoes, with an eye on each piece, and then dust them with sulfur or fungicide and let the wound dry in bright sunshine, before planting, but more recently I seek the smallest seed potatoes in the bin where I buy them, and skip the bother of cutting them. (I have a theory cutting in some way traumatizes the tubor, and makes bacterial infection more likely, but the truth may be I am more lazy as I get older.) I look for potatoes about the size of an egg. Just because you plant a small potato it doesn’t mean the potatoes you harvest will be small. The potato’s eventual size seems to involve how well fed and watered they are, and how few potato beetles eat the leaves.
As a rule-of-thumb each eye will produce one shoot, and each shoot will produce three potatoes, so a small potato with three eyes can produce nine fat potatoes, if you put in the time and effort. I prefer to sit back and watch my chickens put in the time and effort.
Over the years I have learned small kids at our Childcare are fascinated by planting and later harvesting potatoes. Something about digging them in the late summer and fall is completely engrossing, and the “older” children of four and five spoke with great authority to the younger ones aged three about the massive crop we would harvest in ten weeks (blithely unaware last year’s crop was pathetic,) as we planted them in the cold drizzle.
Perhaps the best thing was that we forgot it was cold, and rainy, and that it had been days since we’d seen the sun.
April has continued wetter than normal. I’ve planted the peas despite the risk of rot, (due to the garden being more mud and mire than dirt). I’ve also got the onions in, with each small bulb planted in a hole poked in “weed fabric” I’m experimenting with, (as the less time I have to weed the more time I have to write). Because the fabric is black it absorbs sunshine even when the visible light is largely hidden by clouds; (yes, you can get a tan on a cloudy day.) The soil under the fabric is warm, and each onion is planted in a small pool of warm, brown water. It’s sort of a gamble, but then, farming is always a gamble.
The rain can depress your mood. The mind has a habit of expecting the worst at times. I find myself thinking of the Little Ice Age, when it rained all summer and crops rotted and famine was so prevalent that the average height of Europeans (judging from skeletons) shrank by three inches. Yet if you get too depressed you don’t even try, in which case the chance of famine becomes a certainty. Therefore I try to keep plugging on, and to teach children at my Childcare there is reason to hope, despite mud (which they actually enjoy.)
Though I am cheerful on the outside, I can be crying on the inside. A selfish voice in me grumbles, “But what about me. Why do I always have to be the one cheering everyone else up? When is someone else going to cheer me up?”
Yesterday was a bit like that. Sunday should have sun, but the brief gleam at daybreak had already clouded over and sprinkles of cold rain fell, even as I walked out of church. The sermon had been excellent, but the real world seemed very different from the sanctuary. The time had come to practice what I preached (or had heard preached).
I took a nap. After all, Sunday’s suppose to be a day of rest. But I still had to feed the goats, in the cold rain, late in the afternoon, and they looked glum and pessimistic. Where they like to hang out under the barn, when it’s raining, is largely now a mire, and they perched on drier rocks and shot me annoyed looks, as if the mud was all my fault.
That’s gratitude for you. Not a single thank-you for coming out in the rain. I scolded them and told them that if they didn’t wise up I’d turn them all into chops and steaks. But then I noticed they weren’t listening. They were looking out from under the barn with what seemed to be hope. A silence announced the pattering of rain had ceased, and they then ignored the grain I was feeding them, and hurried out to sample spring’s first, lush, green grasses. To the west a single beam of sunset escaped the lid of clouds, and the entire scene was changed. (Sonnet time.)
The cold April Wet had me walking brave But then the rain stopped. I stopped. How the heck Am I suppose to be serious and grave Without the rain? My head swiveled. My neck Craned. All around clouds blazed with sunset. I thought, “Red skies at night; sailor’s delight”, And a strange beaming brought play to eyes I met. A single ray of sun displayed a might So great it defeats a whole day drenched so wet The garden became ooze. A single ray Makes all the difference. In the blackest cave A mile underground dark is chased away By a single candle. Though men may rave, All their rage and all their crazy blindness Can be defeated by a single kindness.
Seize the moment. Today’s sun may be the only sun forecast for the entire week, but I’ll get the potatoes in, once the sun comes up.
We get one day of glorious sunshine, and everyone walks about with silly smiles pasted across their faces, and then we get six days of cold rain, whereupon there is a lot of sulking. In other words, it’s your typical New Hampshire Spring, culminating with the appearance of the most affectionate creature known to man: black flies. They absolutely adore humans. Humans are mean, and do not return the love. Or perhaps we are more spiritual, and love what cannot be seen: Namely the wind. (Because the wind blows the blasted black flies away.)
The effect of this is to make people manic-depressive. Oops. Sorry. I forgot that scientific studies have refuted the psuedoscience, and proven there is no such thing as manic-depressive.
The effect of this is to make people bipolar. (Scientific studies of bipolarism are not yet finalized).
Even ancient people understood this, with celebrations beginning with April Fools Day and culminating with traipsing about a May Pole. Of course, now we are more modern and wise, so instead we have military parades celebrating the mass murder of people who work hard, succeed, and become rich, and we throw confetti for communists. (We’ve become so much wiser).
To celebrate this madcap moodiness I was going to write a poem starting, “Spring is like a yo-yo…”
Indeed children at our childcare bounce up and down like kangaroos, only they also bounce off walls, which kangaroos avoid as a rule, and therefore I get hopping to move them outside, even if it is pouring. And it has rained a lot. You might think I’d get scolded for cruelty to children, but my wife fortunately subscribes to the old Swedish motto, “There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing”, so I don’t even get in trouble for getting kids out in the mud.
A couple days ago, while watching the human-kangaroos jump dead center into every mud puddle they could find, I began to think the manic moodiness has a reason: It was getting a lot of accumulated poison out of their systems. Likely winter builds up all sorts of crud in bodies, and a good work-out flushes it out of the system. Even the goats, despite their age, were gamboling in the pasture like lambs, and eating lots of greens, which also cleanses the system.
The smaller boys do not gambol; they attack me from every angle, slugging and tackling and head-butting. Or perhaps this too is a gamble, because one of these days I might punch them back, (as a way of enraging the state inspectors and watch-dogs, and consequently getting retired from my childcare business), (Yippie!) but for the time being I just prissily say, “No, no. Naughty, naughty. It is not politically correct to maim your teacher.” I say this to them as they lie looking up at me, stretched-out flat in a puddle. They are in that position because, through there may be laws against belting children, they have not yet made a law against my ducking and dodging, and, when children attack from all angles, I make a Spanish Matador look like a clod. Meanwhile I am thinking of ways to put all their energy to good use.
I had just hit upon the idea of digging a ditch and planting potatoes, and likely was looking up and thanking God for the stroke of genius, which explains why I wasn’t looking down, and got hit by the charging child. The small monster head-butted me at roughly twenty miles an hour just to the left of my solar plexus, (over my operation scar), and I thought it might flush a lot out of my system in a hurry.
But such is spring. Even the flooding creeks, streams and rivers are flushing refuse downstream. I looked at the boy and said nothing, so I can’t be arrested or charged, but the child did look worried, as I decided “Spring is like a yo-yo…” simply wouldn’t do for my poem, and decided upon, “Spring is like a colonoscopy…”
You will be thrilled to learn I never got around to writing that poem. I was too exhausted from planting potatoes. I thought we’d only manage to plant three or four, and then the kids would all start whining, “Can’t we stop?”, but they really got into a groove, (or trench). They wanted to dig, dig, dig, and I had to break up fights over who would next hack with the hoe. They were tireless. We planted all the Pontiac Reds (that ripen early for summer potato salads), the Yukon Golds, Kennebecs and Katahdens (for late summer and autumn mashed potatoes), the Burbank Russets (for winter baking), and the Peruvian Purples (for weirdness). By the end I was whining, “Can’t we stop?” but the merciless slave-drivers shouted, “No! Onward! Onward you lazy wimp!”
I tried to take a break by pointing out meal-worms and millipedes and mites, but the only thing that slowed some them was a bright crimson mite, and even that was merely for a moment.
Then the other mites drove me on.
So that explains why I am hunched over holding my back in a manner befitting a man of my advanced years. My shuffling manner of walking, on the other hand, involves a hike. I thought hiking with the older children might be safer, as they tend to dawdle. I was wrong.
We headed off to look at a tree the beavers had nearly-but-not-quite gnawed down last summer. It was amazing that the tree didn’t fall over. But perhaps our beavers are under achievers.
I wanted to see if winter winds had knocked the tree down. When we arrived we saw a snapped-off hemlock’s top had not only flattened the tree, but buried it.
Now, the hemlock may not have been a big hemlock for the west coast, but it was big for the east; I couldn’t get my arms more than halfway around it, yet it was chopped down by little carpenter ants and by a woodpecker who was after those ants.
Now by now you are probably rolling your eyes, and think I must be pulling your leg about beavers that can’t cut down trees, and woodpeckers that can, but I tell you in our neck of the woods our woodpeckers are not those cute little birds that go “tippity-tip-tap” like Broadway dancers. They are a foot and a half tall with wings nearly three feet across, and give a crazy yell like a jungle monkey, “Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook!” If you happen to be climbing a tree and one comes around the trunk and you are eye to eye with it, you arrive at a swift judgement: “This dude is crazy. He has the eyes of someone who hit his head into a tree sixty thousand times.”
I tell you our woodpeckers are much tougher than your woodpeckers, and if you don’t believe me take a look at this tree:
I was getting a bit tired and figured I could scare the kids into heading back if I told them any woodpecker that could do this sort of damage was likely nine feet tall and ate small children instead of ants. The kids were terrified.
Obviously I needed a different strategy, so I whined, “Can’t we go back?” But no, they insisted, “No! Onward! Onward you lazy wimp!”
I tried to discourage them by saying we were going beyond the point where kids from the Childcare had ever ventured before. It didn’t work. There is something about the spring that awakes the Danial Boone in people, and rather than discouraging them I only challenged them. Pioneering became abruptly attractive, even to kids who ordinarily whine about walking six feet to hang up a coat. Without asking permission they went plunging off into the puckerbrush, and I had to follow, because I’m paid to keep an eye on them, but I did have misgivings, because a couple of the kids ordinarily go “eek” at a mouse and “ick” at a mudpuddle, (and Danial Boone hardly ever did that). I knew they might change their minds.
Also we were venturing into a landscape not even many adults venture into any more, (though in the old days a few might seek native trout in the swampy thickets.) It is a flat area filled in by glacial sand that around nine little brooks brought down steep slopes from a small mountain, in an area where all nine brooks come together like the fingers of a nine-fingered hand. Beavers then built a most amazing series of curving and branching dams, in an attempt to control nine brooks, and dug canals to connect the brooks, and, over the ten-thousand or so year since the glaciers retreated, they collected a deep layer of mud behind their dams. Occasionally the beavers had to leave, after they ate every tree in sight, but the first trees that grew back were the birch and alder and aspen they like, so they’d move back and rebuild their dams. Currently the area is largely abandoned, with only a couple beavers around, and the water level is lower in most places and trees are starting to grow back. Even though the dams are rotting away they still form walkways through the canals and areas of mire, and the kids had a fine time exploring deeper and deeper into the swamp….
….but then the rain started to get heavier, and one girl didn’t like it. The other four didn’t mind the rain, but commiserated with their friend, and all turned on me with accusing eyes. “This is all your fault!” they stated.
“My fault!?” I exclaimed. “I wanted to go back! You were the ones who wanted to go out into this quagmire!”
“Yes, but we are young and irresponsible. You are suppose to know better!”
“Ok! Ok! We’ll head back.”
“Then why are we heading forward?”
“Because forward is the shortest way back.”
“But we want to go backwards! Backwards the way back!”
“No, forward is the way back”
“You are talking nonsense! You are trying to drown us all!”
“Look, you are going to have to trust me on this. You just said that you are young and irresponsible, and I know better.”
“Well obviously we were wrong! Help! Mr Shaw is trying to drown us all!”
“Stop yelling! Unless you want to be rescued by a helicopter.”
“Ooooh! That would be fun! Let’s keep yelling! Help! Help!”
I was starting to feel a little embarrassed, imagining what a person outside the swamp might think, hearing the girls scream. Four of the girls were joking, but I was a bit worried about the one who didn’t look like she was joking. Meanwhile the three boys were completely indifferent, and deaf to the girls, seemingly adopting insensitivity as the best policy for dealing with the opposite sex.
The path got tricky towards the edge of the swamp, as the spring floods had washed away most of the old dams. I had to pick my way carefully to find a path that kept water from getting over the tops of their boots. Two boys helped me by plunging ahead and finding the deep places, but they didn’t mind the water in their boots. The smallest boy, aged five, followed me and carefully put his feet where I said, and crossed with his feet dry. All five girls failed to follow instructions, and when water poured into their boots they seemed to have a very good time screaming, and right up until we were three feet from the dry land kept shrieking it was better to head back. (I am convinced some girls simply like to scream for the joy of it.)
Then we had a brief contest, emptying water from boots and declaring the winner of the most-water-in-a-boot contest. Then we left the woods and took a safe road back to the Childcare, with me glancing anxiously at houses abutting the swamp, to see if faces scowled out windows at me. Even now I’m a little amazed no one overheard, and no one dialed 911.
Later parents told me they heard from their children they had been on a wonderful adventure. So it looks like I won’t be reported for child abuse. My retirement is delayed. But not denied. One of these days I’ll get reported, and then, “Free at last! Free at Last! Great God Almighty! Free at last!”
Spring also cannot be denied. During the dark, dank, drizzly spell the woods refused to pause like blooms in a florist’s refrigerator, and a haze of yellow sugar maple blooms spread through the twigs.
Slowly the grip of cold, dank mist weakened, And though low cloud oppressed, just as dark, It was as if a lightness was wakened or a bright spirit indented its mark, Not on couch cushions like a creepy ghost, But in every heart, as a sense of ease.
Light airs swung south, as, from some southern coast, Kind angels came cruising on a merciful breeze And every heart lifted, without sun to see, And clenched buds loosened lacy greenery Despite dark skies. Smiling invisibly Fortune changed, and was so kind to me I laughed aloud, and raised up my eyes And felt warm glances pierce the cloudy skies.
The goats busted out and ate the tattered Brussels sprouts and kale, as they have keen eyes and go for the last green things in sight, but that is fairly normal for my farm. It is so normal that my wife made sure to pick all the kale except for tufts at the tops, and my middle son and his girlfriend stripped all the sprouts larger than a pea from the Brussels sprouts, which is one reason they looked so tattered. I myself like to leave the sprouts and kale out a bit longer, as frost improves the flavor, but the family knows my goats. The goats are a reason the family doesn’t know how much frost improves the flavor. It is a flavor that I alone know about, and never have been able to share.
There’s still around 25 pounds of potatoes to dig, still in the earth, saved underground because the children at the Childcare get such obvious joy from digging them up, plus there’s also perhaps ten pounds of parsnips underground, which the goats can’t get to because they haven’t learned how to dig…yet. (I once had a dog who would sneak into the garden to dig up a carrot, and then trot off to surreptitiously eat it.) (The pigs are off being smoked, or they’d be out there digging them up.) For the most part the garden is finished for another year, and its weedy earth stretches out as a forlorn mockery of my aspirations, and of a dream I wanted to share.
The dead weeds, which are plentiful and in some places tower six feet tall, are especially galling, as they remind me I’m older and couldn’t work, last summer, the way I once delighted in. (I was a strange young man, I suppose, because I got pleasure from toil. I suppose toil was for me something like jogging is for other folk, though jogging was an activity that almost always seemed a complete waste of time, to me. Why jog when you could get as much exercise and more from hoeing? Why work out in a gym when you could toil in a garden, producing stuff you could eat, which tasted better than anything from any grocery store? If you toil, you should reap a benefit, either a crop, if the garden is your own, or a paycheck, if you garden for another. I can’t imagine paying a gym. It makes no sense to toil, and then pay others for the honor of doing so.)
Even more galling is the fact it is November, and I’m suppose to be counting my blessings and be brimming with Thanksgiving spirit. It is the time of harvest, and we should be grateful no hailstorms hit, nor clouds of locusts, and there is something to harvest. Not much, in the case of my garden, but a little is better than nothing. Instead I seem be harvesting a strong sense of irony.
I know I’m older and should cut back, and last spring I really meant to only have a little, modest garden, that a doddering old guy could easily manage, but the enthusiasm of others tricked me into the usual insanity of spring. There is a reason for April Fool’s Day.
The days were getting longer so fast everyone went nuts. They were filled with wild-eyed aspirations and a manic nature that convinced me that they meant what they said, and would help with the weeding and more. So I went and rototilled the usual quarter acre, and planted like crazy, and then, around the end of May when the weather got hot, I looked around and wondered, “What happened to the weeders?” After spring fever ebbs people come to their senses and go home, but someone must face the consequences. In my case the consequences happened to be one mother of a garden I couldn’t possibly keep up with.
My harvest is towering weeds, and I am suppose to be thankful? Unlikely. There is a reason for Halloween’s morbid ghosts and goblins. The days are getting shorter so fast that everyone goes nuts. Gloom and doom invade and infect the psyche, and thankfulness is work, and an exercise of vigorous spirituality. I’m not there yet. (This may explain why Thanksgiving occurs weeks after Halloween. It takes time to muster thankfulness)
At this time I am in the autumn of my life, and am reaping what I sowed, and, to be frank, on some rainy mornings it looks like towering weeds. I gripe to my Creator for making me the way he made me. Why did he make me the sort of guy who stands up to a corrupted boss and tells him to go to hell? That is no way to last the decades it takes to collect a pension. In my experience, it was a way to be immediately fired.
I really do marvel at my peers who managed to put up with abysmal jobs for atrociously long periods of time, and now can sit back and collect pensions as I work. Of course, some died before they collected, and some died amazingly quickly after they retired, and some seem…and I do not know how to put this politely…stunted.
For example, imagine being a schoolmarm over the past thirty years. It just seems to me that there have been numerous things, which honorable people would object to, that they have meekly turned a blind eye to, because making waves might threaten their pension. Drugging small children might be one example, and teaching the scientific falsehood of Global Warming might be another. Now they get their pension, which is a god they have worshiped more than standing up for the Truth. They fully expect to benefit for behavior I find revolting. They expect taxpayers like myself to make their old age cushy. They will be extremely upset if they reap what they sow in another manner, and the economy collapses, and hyperinflation means their pension check supplies them with enough money to buy only a single biscuit, even as the students they drugged at age six threaten them, as drugged adults aged thirty-six. Schoolmarms would call such a fate utterly unjust, which to me suggests that they lived intellectual lives that never looked too deeply into the long-term consequences of their actions, which just might indicate that, for the sake of a pension, they allowed their psyches to become stunted.
Of course, they are the ones now getting pensions as I work my fingers to the bone and likely will die with my boots on, so perhaps all my talk is just a bad case of sour grapes.
So what have I got to be thankful for? Over forty-five years ago my generation set out to radically improve the world, to make it a planet of “Truth, Love and Understanding”, but the way things have turned out it has seemed those who worship filthy lucre (and that includes pensions) have done far better than those who have been willing to sacrifice prosperity, promotions, and even pensions, for Truth.
In a symbolic sense it is as if back in 1969, during the so-called “summer of love”, I set out to make a fabulous garden of social reform, and now I am confronted by towering weeds, dead and brittle in the November winds. So what does a farmer do? He adds fertilizing ash to the soil of his garden, by burning the weeds.
In the above example the weeds grew over six feet tall after the six foot tall edible podded peas were for the most part harvested. My excuse for not weeding was that peas have shallow roots, and weeding harms the pea’s roots more than it helps them (but the truth is I am old, tire quickly, and when tired I gain strength by writing about arctic sea ice, rather than weeding.) We got a fine harvest of peas in June and July, but the weeds had all August to climb the chicken wire and at their highest towered seven feet tall. They looked big and tough, but a single match swiftly reduced them to ash, which is better for next year’s crop than their seeds. It was a heck of a lot easier than pulling all those weeds up, and disentangling them from the chicken-wire, and lugging all the dead stuff to a compost pile. The flash-fire even sterilized the chicken-wire.
However, outside of my little garden, in the larger, symbolic example I have highlighted above, it is frightening to think of supplying such a match. This world has already seen such conflagrations. Anger towards schoolmarms manifested during China’s “Cultural Revolution”, when China got rid if all its teachers. They destroyed to such a degree that, once they got over their madness, no teachers could be found to teach the next generation. They had to seek out the undergrads who had managed to survive the madness, (perhaps by being part of the madness), and promote them to the position of professors in colleges. And in Cambodia under Pol Pat the madness was even worse, for it was not only the schoolmarms who were eradicated, but the students like myself who butted heads with schoolmarms. All you needed, to deserve death, was to have a writer’s callous on the middle finger of your writing hand. That would have included me.
Obviously I don’t want to promote any madness that kills me. I don’t want to wind up like Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who opposed the death penalty, yet got his head chopped off by the devise he promoted as a more humane form of execution, during the time madness overtook France.
Therefore the match that burns weeds should be simple Truth.
Back in 1965 I was the youngest and smallest boy in my eighth grade class, yet had to confront a towering, grey-haired schoolmarm with her incorrectness. The “correct” answer in our textbooks and in her tests, concerning what built mountain ranges, was that the Earth was cooling, and cooling caused contraction, and therefore the skin of the earth buckled like the skin of a withering apple. However my older brother had given me a book about a new idea called “continental drift”. I had neither the power of Mao nor Pol Pot. All I could do was speak the Truth to an elderly woman who taught by the book. I still can recall the lost look in her eyes, when a little punk like me asked her to rethink the curriculum she’d been teaching for years.
Now, somewhat amazingly, fifty years have passed, and I still don’t have the power of Mao or Pol Pot, and yet still speak the Truth to schoolmarms who do things by the politically correct book. Or, at least, I think I do. From time to time I have to stop and take a hard look at myself. Perhaps I am now the old, tradition-bound elder resisting new ideas. Perhaps the new ideas are to drug small boys and promote Global Warming, and I am just an old dog who can’t learn new tricks. But I always conclude that the very fact I am taking a hard look at myself is proof I am not hidebound, and am not stuck in some out-of-date textbook.
For Truth itself never gets old and never changes. It is a lodestone with which you test your ideas for their iron. It is only when your ideas become a curriculum you do by rote, year after year, never testing it, that we drift from truth into sterile traditions.
The politically-correct tend to sneer at scriptures as being merely musty traditions, and to feel they are following some sort of new and improved version of Truth, a sort of newer New Testament and glossier gospel. However if they actually opened their dusty,old Bibles and examined the ancient scriptures they might see their behavior described. They might read the suggestion that bad things happen to those who focus more on smart-sounding, politically-correct political alliances than on being honest to Truth. The prophet Isaiah warned the Northern Kingdom not count on crafty alliances, but they didn’t listen, and the Assyrians led them off to captivity, and in the same manner Isaiah warned the Southern Kingdom, and they didn’t listen, and wound up led to captivity to Babylon. In those cases political correctness and smart-seeming alliances didn’t pay off. However King David was utterly different, and likely looked nuts to those who promoted sacrificing Truth for political purposes and crafty alliances, for he put Truth first. In Psalm 118 the poet David states, (and I substitute the word “Truth” for the word “Lord”):
“It is better to trust in the Truth Than to trust in man. It is better to trust in Truth Than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me But in the name of the Truth I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side But in the name of the Truth I cut them off. They swarmed about me like bees But died as quickly as burning thorns; In the name of the Truth I cut them off.
I was pushed back and about to fall But the Truth helped me. The Truth is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
It is likely that David would appear to be a complete whack-job to today’s politically correct elite: A man prone to lust, rage, self-pity and black depressions. However David was a poet who was a king, and led his small nation to greatness against all odds. In like manner America’s founding fathers likely appeared to be whack-jobs to the politically correct royalty of Europe, for rather than accepting the Byzantine corruption of how things were done, they attempted to construct a constitution more closely allied with Truth, and in doing so they led a little string of colonies along a coastline to greatness, against all odds.
Truth seems to have the power to defy all odds, and to completely ignore political correctness. The next, great world power always seems to spring up from the most unlikely places. In 1480 Spain was two obscure kingdoms at the very edge of Europe. Great Britain was some offshore islands. If anyone had suggested, back then, that a pope would give Spain legal rights to half the planet, or the sun would never set on a future British Empire, the political experts would have scoffed. It would have been tantamount to telling modern experts that the Navajo Reservation would be a future world power.
Truth doesn’t care about the opinions of experts. Truth sees the truth, and if your establishment has become a field of dead weeds rattling in November’s wind, Truth supplies the match. There is no need for us mortals to raise the blood-stained hands of Pol Pot or Mao, for Truth can take care of itself. There is no need to plot the death of billions in the name of population control. Truth can take care of itself. Where mortals make a mess and a field of weeds, Truth enriches the soil with ashes.
And this applies to me as well. Should I become an old weed, I accept the match Truth shall light. I actually rather like the image of going out in a blaze of glory, and dying with my boots on rather than collecting a pension, and thinking how Dylan Thomas wrote,
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
(Note new, dry high pressure over New England, and potential Hurricane Ana off Florida)
It has been another breezy day of warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and humidity down around 20 %. Perfect conditions for having a brush fire explode, though perhaps nothing like the conditions they experience out west. Out west it can be dry from the lowest root to the tip top of tall pines, and once a fire gets going entire trees explode into flame. Our drought is only at the lowest level, and doesn’t reach far underground, however our woods are messier than I can ever remember, and there is enough dead wood laying about the average forest floor these days to make a fire more than just burning leaves. However there were no nearby fires today: Just a beautiful day with the trees rapidly greening, and rapidly screening the view through trees with a green mist.
Yesterday branches were silver and bare And I could watch a flicker wing its way Through the trees to a far maple, and there Land and look back sharply, as if to say, “Mind your own business, you nosy human.”
Today a green fog is growing from twigs. Golden green mist is swirling, blooming From branches, hiding the birds that do jigs and can-can along limbs, happy to be hid. I spy on their antics with my radar.
If they wished privacy, they’d put a lid On their joy, but that isn’t how spring birds are.
Are we the same? And is it so wrong That when no one’s watching we burst into song?
There is something intoxicating about the whole world going golden green under glorious sunshine. It gets under your eyelids and drives the winter darkness from your brain. The only thing that keeps the glory of this time of year from rivaling the glory of peak foliage in October is that the singing birds must be fed, and this involves swarms of biting black flies.
BLACK FLY BLUES
Outside the sun is golden But I ain’t goin’ out of doors today. Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous But inside is the place I’m goin’ t’stay. I’ll be a couch potato Til those pesky black flies go away.
I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything Even in that pesky little fly. I found this thought impossible, So I grabbed one, and looked him in the eye. He said, “Hey man! I love you!” He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.
They love you head down to your toes. They also love the inside of your nose. They even love your armpits And not too many folk are fond of those. They’re part of God’s creation Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.
See that flycatcher winging? He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see. Hear that tree swallow singing? Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody. The bitter flies among the sweet. You can’t have half and own ecology.
Outside the sun is golden. I guess I’ll budge my butt and face the swarm. Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous But I know clouds of black flies make a storm. If this world was too comfortable The next world wouldn’t tempt us to reform.
I did get out midst the swarms, to face various messes made by my trying to avoid the bitter and enjoy the sweet. One mess I made involves burning last year’s weeds in the garden even though there was a red flag warning. (It’s no use trying to get a permit, for the idiot bureaucrats will tell you to wait for a rain, when rain makes weeds too wet to burn)
Farmers have burned weeds for at least 250 years around here, as it kills a lot of bugs and bacteria and viruses that can hide out in dead stalks and infect this year’s plants, and also because the ashes fertilize the soil, and lastly because burning is a lot faster and easier than laboriously removing all the old, dead stalks by hand. And I was smart enough to keep the fire from spreading. However it was amazing how swiftly it burned, how hot it burned, and how busy I was kept rushing about keeping things under control. I was so busy I failed to notice that hidden under the weeds were some important garden hoses, until several were melted just enough to be useless.
Oh well, they were very old hoses, and had sprung leaks anyway, so I went and got new hoses. But I also decided to splurge on a “soaker” hose, because that seemed smarter than standing out in a swarm of black flies, watering by hand. And indeed it was wiser, and freed me up for other tasks, and other swarms of black flies, which annoyed me so much I hurried home at the end of the day, glad to get indoors, and forgot to turn off the “soaker” hose. That in turn resulted in just enough of my parched, drought-dried garden being turned into a mud-bog that my rotor tiller got stuck in the mud today, which involved extra effort midst an especially hungry swarm of black flies.
And so it goes. I seek the sweet, but can’t avoid the bitter. I suppose it is “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” It seems to permeate so much of life that at times progress seems impossible, and I wonder how it is mankind has progressed at all. One gets so discouraged that, at my age, one can become an old grouch and frown at any suggestion of change. Fortunately progress is possible, but only if you face the bitter.
Nothing tastes quite so bitter as confessing a mistake. Engineers know all about mistakes, which may be why they invented “Murphy’s Law.” Even the most beautiful bridge may turn into a “Galloping Gertie”.
Rather than a red flag going up when we seek an improvement, (because we expect failure), the red flag should go up when we fail to confess our mistakes. How are we to learn from our mistakes if we don’t dare confess they exist? Engineers actually go out of their way to have their mistakes pointed out, because they’d rather see a mistake before they build, than see the mistake after they build, in the form of a structural collapse. However in other areas of life people are not so wise.
When was the last time you heard a politician confess he made mistakes? Likely never. Instead he will spend millions on smear advertisements sneering at an opponents mistakes, as if mistakes were degrading rather than human, and worth damnation rather than often being laughable and even lovable.
Today I got to avoid the black flies by being something that likely has made my mother sit up in her grave. I am now officially “Chairman of the Diaconate” of a church. It is a peculiar twist of fate I never expected, and which all who knew me as a young bohemian artist would have said was utterly impossible. It only happened because our church has crumbled from 200 members in 1999 to roughly 40 members today, and no one else wanted to touch the job with a ten foot pole.
In some ways our church has been a “Galloping Gertie,” but no one has wanted to be a true engineer and simply be honest about confessing. Way back when the red flags of the first schism first flew, I was a voice in the wilderness when I said we should have what I called a “forum”. I was frustrated by a lot of arguments which stated it wasn’t “Christian” to be blunt, open and honest.
Partly it was because the pastor is expected to “honor confidentiality”, as if he followed the pseudoscience of psychiatry and social workers. Partly it was because Christians feel it is wrong to gossip, and when gossip occurs they “turn the other cheek”, and either refuse to listen or, if they listen, refuse to respond in any way other than a very cold shoulder.
None of this furthered communication, in my eyes, but heck, what do I know? I haven’t been to divinity school, and, even though I read the Bible with interest, I am lousy when it comes to memorizing in that way that lets you quote chapter and verse, and it is important to quote chapter and verse when dealing with many Christians. It is no good to say, “Someone said something somewhere, and the gist of it is…”
In any case, despite a lot of efforts to reform, involving various classes about “how to mend the broken” and “how to heal the hurting,” I watched my church continue to crumble like a Galloping Gertie. Our efforts at correction were about as successful as correctional institute’s efforts to reform hardened criminals. It was frustrating and also embarrassing, because Christians are suppose to be good at healing, and aren’t suppose to resemble hardened criminals.
It was especially frustrating to our pastors, who did all this by-the-book stuff that failed to work. Our final pastor, perhaps hurt and bitter, told me just before he resigned, “If I go you will find no other pastor willing to come to this church, because you have such a record of un-Christian quarreling and pastor-smearing, and, without me stopping all you quarreling, the few people still part of this church will be at each other’s throats, and the church will be dead within six months.”
Not the most auspicious benediction, you must admit. And I confess things looked very bleak, as we could no longer afford a pastor to lead us out of the hole we were in. We barely could even afford to heat the church, last winter. Furthermore, much of the deaconate resigned when the pastor did, which left me and another guy in charge of the “spiritual well-being” of the church. Neither of us really wanted to be the “chairman”, so we flipped a coin, and I lost, and became the chairman.
I had no desire to pretend I was a pastor, so I simply said we did have a pastor, and our pastor was the Lord. I figured that was the Truth, but I confess it also got me off the hook, in terms of being responsible. Then I said what I had been saying all along, which was that we should have a “forum”.
If nothing else, this sparked a lot of discussion about whether forums were Christian, or some heathen Roman concept. During these discussions I wasn’t able to quote anything chapter and verse, but fortunately my wife is good at that stuff, and could tug at my sleeve and supply me with chapters and verses, (which is sort of like ammunition.) Also, when I asked her, “Where does someone say something like…” she was able to give me references, and sometimes multiple references.
One thing I remembered the church doing from long ago, which had sort of faded away over the years, was something called “The confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” It turned out this was from 1 John 8-9, and, very loosely translated, says that modern politicians have it totally backwards when they say they are without sin, and then smear their opponents. The actual quote goes, ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I liked the part about being “purified from all unrighteousness”, even if it did seem highly unlikely a church as rowdy, disobedient and fallen as ours could be fixed. So I suggested we give the confession-business a try.
I have been flabbergasted by how things that never worked abruptly began working. Despite my hopes regarding a “forum”, I feared honesty might enflame people and make things worse, but rather than muddying the waters, a clarity descended. I can’t really explain it, but will, at the risk of sounding like a psychologist promoting pseudo-science, describe some stages I’ve seen things go through.
Stage one involves person A saying something to person B that makes B feel troubled. Honesty does little good at this point, because the red flag is only a “feeling”, and even if B is honest with A and says, “Something about what you say troubles me”, he cannot give any specifics.
Stage two involves person B going to what amounts to a support-group. He does not seek out people liable to disagree, finding that prospect disagreeable, but instead seeks people who tend to agree, finding that agreeable. This support-group allows B to explore the feeling and develop an idea, which is often unfavorable towards A.
Stage three-X involves B afraid to confess the idea to A, as it seems rude, and a smear. However A does learn of the idea because someone in the support-group talks to C who talks to D who talks to E who tells A. By then the idea has been embellished and twisted by the game of “telephone”, and A is hurt, and then resentful, and a schism develops.
Stage three-Y involves confession. B is not afraid to go to A and confess the idea, whereupon A may be taken aback, but at least has the chance to respond directly to the idea.
What I saw then happen (and hadn’t happened in years) was something I hoped for, but still it amazed me.
First, as B spoke the idea a sense of humbleness appeared, and to some degree the idea seemed a bit lame. Without the support of the support-group it became more frail and vulnerable to questioning, (like an engineer putting a plan out for peer-review).
Second, as A responded it quite often turned out some degree of misunderstanding was involved, and was cleared up. (This is like an engineer getting his plan corrected by peer review.)
Third, sometimes A experienced a revelation, as they saw something they would never have thought of on their own, and rather than resenting B they thanked B.
That is a very clumsy explanation of what I have seen starting to happen in my devastated and humbled church. I wouldn’t say we are “purified from all unrighteousness”, but some sort of purity is definitely within the clarity that has mysteriously decended.
The thing that is clear to me is that the red flags our hearts feel are not repressed and ignored. The initial feeling is a red flag, the support-group clarifies the red flag, and then the courage B demonstrates when he goes back to A and confesses brings the red flag to A’s attention. In this manner the bitterness of mistakes are not buried, and instead mistakes are learned from.
For the benefit to manifest, you have to prefer the bitter to the sweet, for a support group is sweet, but having to leave the support group is not so sweet.
I suppose it only works when you bring the red flag in a spirit of confession, rather than a spirit of righteous indignation and accusation. There has to trust. If your red flag turns out to be a false alarm, you need to feel trust that you are not shamed for your honesty, but rather are better off for being honest. If your red flag turns out to be on the mark, the person receiving it must feel benefited, helped, cared for, loved.
In any case, I find it somewhat astonishing to see peace, clarity, trust and even laughter returning to a church that seemed so down and out. Even if we are still a dying church, it is at least a death with dignity.
So that is what I did for a while today. I preferred the bitter to the sweet, but the result was a sweeter sweetness. And talking with old friends was definitely sweeter than thinking about what wasn’t spoken, midst a swarm of black flies.
Lastly the above explains why, though I dug the trench for the potatoes today, I won’t get the potatoes actually planted until tomorrow.
This morning’s map shows the weak storm #3 has passed to our north. The window shows the first hint of orange dawn to the clear east, with temperatures at 21 (-6 Celsius) despite a lack of snow cover to assist radiational cooling.
The hope in the map is the warm front towards the Canadian Rockies. A Chinook has made it across the Divide, and may interrupt the arctic flow from the north. However we are still in the arctic air.
The orange dashed line extending back west from Low #3 to the Great Lakes is a trough, created in part by those relatively warm lakes dimpling the high pressure with rising air and low pressure at the surface. That rising air creates the “Lake Effect Snow” which is making the news. Though the snow is in narrow bands, where it falls it has approached record 24-hour snowfall totals of near six feet.
Imagine one day you have only a little snow in your yard, and the next morning you look out and see this:
At your workplace 20 miles away there is no snow. Will your boss believe you? Probably not. He will demand you show up for work. So you open your front door and see this:
It looks like it will be quite a job to get to your job. It is enough to make a weak willed person despair. However fortunately there is something strong deep within the heart of men that refuses to despair, or…well…maybe it despairs for a while, but then gets bored with despairing. Humor comes bubbling up. One refuses to be beat by mere little bitty snowflakes. One grabs their shovel, again opens the door, and:
Sometimes the way people respond to calamity makes me happy to be included as a member of the human race. (These pictures are from Roy Spencer’s site at: http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/11/that-epic-fickle-shovel-off-to-buffalo-snow-an-all-time-u-s-record/ )
Those bands of snow dried out, as they moved east from the lakes to here, but we did get a few light flurries last night, that made it all the way here.
It is still looking like we will get a thaw over the weekend, which will allow us to either dig out from under feet of snow, over by the Great Lakes, or perhaps get some last minute chores done, before winter sets in for keeps around here.
The weather was cold but much more bearable at the Childcare yesterday, because the winds grew lighter. In the afternoon we built a fire to roast potatoes in, and had to break through and lift a crust of two to three inches of frozen dirt to reach the potatoes. It was like lifting a lid, and seeing potatoes beneath.
Here is a satellite picture of the clouds blooming up on the upwind side of the Great Lakes, and snowing out on the downwind side. This should be ending today, but we’ve already had a few flurries from scattered, low, windblown cumulus, which makes 4 days with at least flakes in the air (though none on the ground). That’s all we get from “lake effect snow,” in terms of precipitation, here 500 miles to the east. In terms of temperature, the air is warmed considerably by its passage over the lakes.
(This picture is from Dr. Ryan Maue’s blog at the Weatherbell site. He only posts occasionally there, but he posts many times a day on Twitter.)
Dr. Maue also noted that the upper Mississippi River is closed due to ice up by Minneapolis and St. Paul. This is the earliest closure of those locks since records started to be kept in 1969. Prior to this closure, the earliest closing was November 24, back in 1989.
At this time of year there are great surges and counter-surges of air from north to south and south to north, and we are currently in a counter-surge from the south. People appreciate the mildness much more, after a shot of cruel cold.
With the clocks switched an hour backwards, it is now dark when the parents pick up their children at our childcare after work. We had our first evening fire last night out in the pasture, with some of the children roasting small cubes of pork on pointed sticks, and others roasting potatoes on the hot coals. The parents tell me it makes quite a scene, as they drive in.
This morning found me grumpy, as the Democrats won here in New Hampshire, and that means more paperwork and bureaucracy for a small business owner like myself. I wanted to sit and sulk, but two young boys were full of energy, and bouncing off the walls indoors, so I took them out for a walk. The boys are only at our Childcare for an hour, until the bus comes, but an hour can be an eternity, not only for boys, but for my staff. Sometimes it spares everyone to just go outside, especially when the morning is mild.
We headed off to the nearby flood-control reservoir next to the farm. I was trying to teach them to walk quietly so we might see some wildlife, but they were so exuberant and loud that it is likely that even hibernating woodchucks stirred in their sleep, underground, a mile away. In my grumpy mood I decided to teach the boys a lesson.
I didn’t actually lie. When we came to the edge of a clearing, and I told them to pause and peer before moving out into the open, and instead the boys utterly ignored me and walked right out chattering away like a flock of grackles, I pointed off to the distance and said, “Did you see the deer over there?”
This wasn’t a lie, because it was a question. I didn’t say I saw a deer. (And I actually did see a deer “over there” years ago.) I then added a deer will slip into the woods as soon as it sees you, so you only have a moment to see it, before it is gone. That isn’t a lie either.
To the boys it may have sounded like I was saying a deer had been there in the present tense, and that the deer swiftly vanished in the present tense, but I didn’t actually say that. (Obviously I have been studying politicians too much.)
My deception did have the effect of making the boys become quieter. They were disappointed about missing the sight of a deer, and more somber, as we approached the dam. I told them to walk up the slope slowly and quietly, and to only poke their heads gradually over the top of the rise, and then demonstrated by holding my hands flat, like the brim of a hat, up by my forehead, and then gradually lowering my hands to my nose, like I was looking over the top of a fence, and then owlishly looking left and right.
My expression must have been too exaggerated, for both of the boys nearly fell down laughing. Then they proceeded to exaggerate their stealth, by crawling up the slope like a couple of Apache approaching an encampment of the US Cavalry. I didn’t mind. At least they were quiet.
Then we were unexpectedly rewarded. The boys had been so noisy that I didn’t think a creature would be in sight, and at first the waters looked still and deserted. I was trying to think of some way to make the effort seem worthwhile, and was quietly saying, in an ominous tone of voice, that it might be a sign of a bad winter that the ducks were heading south without stopping this year. (I figured saying this might make seeing nothing more interesting.) However even as I spoke I saw a motion on the shore of a small peninsula that juts out into the middle of the reservoir. I pointed towards the ripples expanding from the that shore, and then we watched a mother otter and her two nearly-grown young swim out and away from us. They kept lifting their heads like periscopes to see us better, and then diving: Long, sleek and shiny.
The boys thought it was interesting, but their attitudes were matter-of-fact. They had no idea how special the event was. I didn’t mind. At least they had seen that it pays to be quiet when exploring the woods and fields and shores, and that is not easy to teach. In fact that behavior is nearly impossible to teach, because even when you manage to keeps kids relatively quiet for a relatively long period of time (like 45 seconds) you usually see nothing, and therefore cannot prove silence is worth it. This time we had proof, and that seemed like a gift to me.
I guess it goes to show me: Maybe the side I want to win doesn’t always win elections, but I can still occasionally win in other areas of life.
But now I must endure five tedious hours of “adult education”, ordered by a bureaucracy that wouldn’t know an otter if it bit them. So I don’t always win, either.