LOCAL VIEW –Thirst Speaks–

Weather is unfair. Some get rain and some don’t. There is nothing particularly evil about this unfairness. It is just how the Creator made creation. Sometimes you get a bumper crop, and sometimes you are lucky to get a single turnip. The politicians in Washington can legislate all they want, but they aren’t going to alter the fall of raindrops from the clouds. Prayer might work, but legislation doesn’t.

One interesting thing about droughts is that they tend to perpetuate themselves. The dryness creates hotter temperatures which deflect moisture around the periphery of the core. This is quite obvious when the drought is gigantic, as the Dust Bowl was in 1936, but even in the cases of smaller and more local droughts rain has a strange propensity to snub those who need it most.

A current drought afflicts southern Vermont and New Hampshire, along their borders with Massachusetts, and today it was uncanny how the thunderstorms, moving east to west, avoided the lands that thirsted most. There were flash flood warnings blaring from the weather radio, as we dealt with dust. Here is a radar map of rain from this afternoon.

The impressive storms south of Boston and Albany and over Springfield were moving west to east, as were the string of lesser showers to the north approaching Concord. But most irksome to me was the storm right on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, approaching the coast. It was a cluster that had looked hopeful as it entered Vermont in the morning, but “dried up” and vanished from the radar as it crossed over me, and only reappeared and blew up to a big thunderstorm as it neared Portsmouth on the coast. Is that fair?

I know, even as I grouse about the extra work I must do watering my plants, that it is fair. The actions and reactions of nature are not only fair, they are beautiful. They are incredible harmony, and the only reason we complain is because we are not in harmony with the harmony. We have our own specific desires that are blind. For example, I transplanted some wet, cucumber seedlings into dusty soil, and failed to immediately water them, and the next day it was too late; they had withered and watering didn’t revive them. Never in my experience have cucumber seedlings needed to be watered so immediately; this June is “A First”. However I didn’t blame the drought; I blamed my inability to adapt to the “sumptuous variety of New England weather”. The weather itself is fair; what is unfair is our responses to it.

Sunday is suppose to be a Day Of Rest, and therefore I suppose working in my garden makes me a sinner, but I tried to lessen the eventual penalty I must pay by making my work into a sort of worship. Rather than cursing the drought I was praising the Creator for the amazing variety that makes my fingerprints different from all others, and also makes every summer unique. Not that I didn’t hope for rain. I hunched my eyebrows to the west, seeking the cumulus that was building.

Storms can build up from innocent-looking cumulus with surprising speed. In fact the vast expenditure needed to create the Doppler Radar produced images which shocked the indoors meteorologists who lobbied for it, which leads me to a bit of a sidetrack.

Back in those days congress didn’t just print money when they needed it, and they told the indoors meteorologists they needed to cut their budget in some areas before they would fund the expensive Doppler Radar. So what the indoor meteorologists did was to fire hundreds of outdoors weather-observers. They figured it was worth it, for they figured Doppler Radar would allow them to track individual thunderstorms in the manner that individual hurricanes were tracked. But what the Doppler Radar revealed was that there is no such thing as “an individual thunderstorm”. A storm was a “complex” of updrafts and down-bursts, forming “cells” of various types, sometimes fighting each other and sometimes assisting each other. The Doppler Radar revealed that, rather than a swirl like a hurricane that could be tracked, a thunder storm was a pulsating blob that made dividing amoebas look dull: breaking in two or into three, or becoming mega-cells, or vanishing, in a manner which was basically impossible to predict, from indoors. What was needed was outdoors observers, but those good people had been fired to save money. It was sort of funny to watch how the indoors meteorologists tried to save face. They made it sound like they were doing the public a favor by enlisting them as “volunteer” observers, called “spotters”. A job taxpayers once payed for is now done for free, but you get what you pay for. Around here a “spotter” caused complete chaos in early June by thinking a shred of cloud was a tornado. I’d take an old-fashioned outdoors observer any day, as some had decades of experience.

A further disrespect towards the old outdoors observers involves indoors meteorologists “correcting” the records they kept. Dr. James Hanson was notorious for such fudging of facts. I think it was done to make modern “Global Warming” look worse than the murderous heat and drought of 1936, but that gets us into politics, and it is unwise to go there.

I’d do the job, if only the indoors meteorologists would get off their high horses and confess Doppler Radar only proved they were ignorant. They closed hundreds of valuable stations, run by valuable outdoor observers, to get a gadget that basically tells you a thunderstorm is bad after it already is bad. An outdoor observer can do the same. But hell if I’ll do it if the people I do the favor for behave as if they are doing me the favor. The fact of the matter is they are not God, they have no control of the weather, and it is far better to be humble in such a situation than puff your ego on a high horse.

Not that I blame them for liking Doppler Radar. It is a cool gadget. Another cool gadget tells you just when lightning bolts hit, and even when you can expect to hear the thunder. I actually like this particular gadget more than Doppler Radar, for it will inform you the moment a ordinary shower becomes a thunder shower. You can even set it to make an audible click, the moment a nearby cloud first makes a bolt. This gadget produced the map below, as the Doppler Radar produced the map above.

This is a wonderful gadget, because, when you focus in on your local area, it not only shows you where the flash you just saw, arriving in your eyes at the speed-of-light, hit he ground, but also shows you a slowly enlarging circle, expanding at the-speed-of-sound, to tell you when to expect to hear the thunder. However even this gadget has its weakness. As an outdoors observer, engrossed with worshipful weeding of my garden on Sunday, I noticed I was hearing thunder this gadget didn’t admit existed.

The reason I could hear such thunder was obvious to me, although I am no Sherlock Holmes. Not all lightning hits the ground, but such lightning makes thunder. A storm can shoot bolts cloud to cloud, ten or even twenty miles from it’s core. Soft, cloud-to-cloud thunder can be heard by outside observers like me, even when gadgets are deaf.

I was in some ways glad it didn’t rain, as I had to weed the beans, and you can’t weed beans in a wet situation because doing so causes problems with a virus attacking the bean’s leaves. (No, it is not the Corona Virus and no, you don’t need to wear a mask. You simply weed when the leaves are dry).

Although drought may be good for beans when you weed them, after weeding they thirst for water. I had to water some flats of seedlings I intend to soon transplant, even as soft thunder muttered from both the north and south. The carrots and tomatoes were crying out for weeding, but I had to water first. It isn’t fair, but is just is how things are. And I eventually did weed some carrots and all the tomatoes, and also the peppers, as daylight faded and you actually could see the lightning to the north and the lightning to the south, which went along with the soft sky thunder. Yet still we remained dry.

As the late day June sun settled and the mosquitoes came out I decided enough worship was enough, and headed to my front stoop to relax with a worshipful beer. And it was then I felt I became a most blessed outdoors observer. I was witnessing stuff Doppler Radar misses.

Some storm to the south was a little closer than the others. The thunder was still soft, but a few flashes of lightning seemed brighter. And then I noticed, against slow moving higher clouds, speeding scud.

There was hardly a draft down where I sat, but the outflow of distant storms produced a wind, around a thousand feet up, of marvelous speed. (I can’t recall ever seeing scud moving so fast, outside of hurricanes). With an imagination like mine it was easy to see an angel on a speeding horse.

What this outflow did was to uplift a local cloud just enough to make it shower. At first it was just a few big drops, platting here or there, but then it became a soft roar in the crisp June foliage of parched trees, at first far away like a whisper, but then edging and sidling closer, until a brief down-burst hit the stoop I hearkened from.

In India they celebrate a monsoon’s first rain. The evening chorus of songbirds hushed at the approach of a downpour in a drought. It began as a sigh on the very edge of hearing, but became an approaching roar. All became giddy in a way only drought knows. My wife came out and stood beside me as the flooding baptism approached, and then began splatting fat, warm droplets down in a way that raised tiny clouds of the dust it pelted. And then all too soon the sigh faded away through the darkening trees. I looked up through parting clouds and saw the high heavens feathered with sunset’s crimson cirrus.

Through parched trees comes the sigh of marching rain,
And even evening birds bow heads, made mute
With gratitude. The drenched do not complain
For it’s been so dry that sunbeams refute
Green growing, and, as first fat drops pelt
The dirt, small puffs of dust are arising,
And now the sigh surrounds. I once felt
This way when a kiss brought a surprising
End to loneliness. But this shower’s brief
And already the soft sigh slides away
Through dimming evening; sweet mercy’s relief
Fades to memory’s grief, and dripping leaves pray
The way men pray when they confess they lack:
“Oh Lord, come back. Come back. Come back.”

************

P.S.

On Monday we got a mini-monsoon. The heat encouraged a general updraft to form a weak low over southern Maine, which sucked cool and moist maritime air inland and then south towards us, where it clashed with muggy air. At first the showers continued to dry up, as radar showed them approaching, but thunder thumped all around, and finally we got a few more showers. Around sixty miles to our south one locale got four inches and suffered wash-outs, but for the most part we dripped in a delightful summer drizzle. Who would ever think I could delight in drizzle?

LOCAL VIEW –Coffee, Aspirin and Planting–

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 in
this 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…

LOCAL VIEW: THE PENT-UP EXPLODE

I watch faces through windshields. I suppose it is a habit I picked up back in the 1960’s, when hitchhiking was a form of public transport. I’d scrutinize faces within approaching cars to see if they showed any sign of mercy. Sometimes I could achieve a split second of eye-contact, and felt that made the difference between a car stopping or passing me by. Now I do it to see if a person is waving, in which case I wave back, even if I’m not sure who it is. (I live in a small town, and kids I coached in little league a quarter century ago now have graying temples, and I can’t recognize them), (beyond returning a wave.)

The last three months, since the “corona virus crisis” began, I’ve seen a change in the faces in passing cars.

At first people largely looked excited: At first I witnessed some worried, but most looked as if they were enjoying a “snow day” and enjoying a break from hard work. Then only something like ten people in town actually caught the virus, and nobody died (that I heard of, though some may have had elders in far-away old-age-homes pass away.) After that reality set in, then faces gradually began to change. Last week I told my wife, “I get the feeling people aren’t going to put up with this bullshit much longer.”

At first I think people felt they were doing something noble by staying home, for it kept the hospitals from being overwhelmed. That succeeded, for the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed, and then people felt we could get back to normal. When petty politicians refused to relinquish their power as tin-pot dictators, and things didn’t revert to normal, people’s faces began to change.

There were also murmurings at the local market, but I couldn’t attend to various conspiracy-theories as much as I’d like. I am always busy at my Farm-Childcare in the spring, both with planting and with rambunctious, spring-fevered children, and this spring’s derangement of the local economy made things harder. At first we had too much staff as children were kept home, and then we had too many children as some staff stayed home even though all the kids came back. However I did hear some local-market-theorists propose that the very reality of the virus as a National Danger was “Fake News” which fooled even President Trump, and the virus was actually quite ordinary, but used as part of a nefarious plot to destroy the economy and keep President Trump from being reelected.

If it was such a plot, it proved we are a nation of kind people willing to sacrifice. The danger of such conspiracy-theories is that they tend to blame people for natural disasters; in the middle ages they blamed Jews for the Bubonic plague.

I was then glad I wasn’t young, for I wouldn’t have handled being pent up in “self isolation” well. Spring used to make me more deranged than it now does. In fact my “senior summer” was one of the wildest times of my life, (and I thank God I survived). However the teenagers in my town, this year, did not seem unusually disturbed, perhaps because they lived in the country. They could “socially distance” hiking and fishing and roaming the fields. They didn’t have to play hooky from school to blow off steam rambling (as I once did). Also they faced less stress in school, facing “finals”, for they were able to take such tests under less pressure “on line”. They conducted their senior year vandalism (painting their names on the streets) with humor and some art, and I was glad to see it. (Indeed such graffiti has become such a town-tradition that it is only still illegal because making it legal would spoil the fun, for both the teenagers and the police.) Instead, it was the older people who looked increasingly stressed and even angry, as I peered through windshields as they drove by.

I am sure it was not so easy for other teenagers, in far away cities and suburbs, who had sand dumped into their skateboard parks, and the hoops taken down in their basketball courts, in the name of “social distancing”. I had a sort of sense a bomb was going to go off, which was why I made my comment to my wife.

Therefore I was not surprised when things exploded. I could go on at length, but received a link to a piece by a conservative called John Nolte, who sardonically and bitterly expresses what politicians have done to our young, far better than I could:

https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/06/01/nolte-with-endless-and-unnecessary-lockdowns-you-get-riots/

Meanwhile, among the murmurers at the local market, there is talk that the riots were orchestrated to bring down President Trump. I can’t entirely scoff, (for so much “Fake News” has had exactly that aim), and also I receive links to proof of odd “coincidences”, (such as pallets of bricks delivered to city sidewalks where no construction was going on, just before the riots began).

https://www.rt.com/usa/490444-bricks-appear-mysteriously-cities-riots/

The local-market-murmurers mutter the “Swamp” of “Washington Elite” is getting desperate, because FBI big-shots are facing repercussions, regarding the “Russian Hoax”, and the threat posed by such investigations endanger the secure livelihoods of many wealthy “Swamp Creatures”, and therefore they are willing to bring the nation to the brink of Civil War to keep President Trump from “Draining The Swamp.”

I instinctively veer away from such conspiracy theories, if only because I doubt politicians are capable of such coordination. (Whatever they attempt seems to wind up utterly screwed up.) However I have to confess I haven’t felt this way since the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democrat convention. Now, as then, “The Whole World Is Watching.”

Authority took too much control with the virus, but authority is afraid to take control with the rioters. In Proverbs, the authoritarian King Salomon states,

“When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
    but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.”

But what can an old geezer like me do? I wear no crown nor badge. I run a Farm-Childcare, and the only rioters I control are four-years-old.

I do what I’ve always done, which is to enact the survivalist strategy of planning for the markets be empty next fall. I attempt to grow enough food to keep myself and my wife alive, and cut enough firewood to keep us warm next winter. Usually folk laugh at me, and deem me an old crank who has been preparing for The End Of The World every spring for going on fifty years.

Funny thing is, this year fewer laugh at me, and I’ve had a hard time finding baby chicks for my Farm-Childcare. I even had a hard time finding seeds for butternut squash. Apparently more people are gardening. Perhaps it is only only because the virus-restrictions allow people time to garden, but perhaps I’m not the only one worried that the shelves in the market may be empty of more than toilet paper, come next autumn.

In the end, should we stumble into the monstrous stupidity of Civil War, all that a small person can do it be on the side of Love. Be a peaceful demonstrator and not a violent one. Love neighbors and don’t hate. Give, and don’t loot. Sustain justice, rather than enact injustice. Even if, in the short term, you lose, in the longer term you please God, and in the end that is best.

LOCAL VIEW –Out-Plotting Plotters–

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.

Sennacherib’s version of history

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.

Hezekiah’s “Siloam Tunnel” which brought water into Jerusalem

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.

Lions licking the wounds of St. Euphemia as she dies after being brutally tortured for not worshiping the politically-correct god Aries.

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:

Dustin Hoffman removing painting from apartment next to bomb blast

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 healthcare and 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.

LOCAL VIEW –Carrot Crop–

Sometimes my Childcare work is actually fun, to a degree where I feel a bit guilty for charging people to do it. Such was the case with the carrot crop, this year.

Carrots, like parsnips, are a biennial, and put their energy into forming a big root the first year. If you leave the root in the ground then the second year the carrot puts all the energy stored in the root into producing a beautiful flower (shaped like it’s close cousin, Queen Anne’s lace), and then produces so many carrot seeds that they can become a weed, in certain situations.

Because they are a biennial they handle freezes well, and I tend to harvest them last, for two reasons.

The first is that I have a tendency to procrastinate whenever possible, not because I am particularly lazy, but rather because life is so full of fun things to do that I always over-schedule. Usually I am busy doing one thing, but even when I am busy with one task I am procrastinating in terms of ten or twenty other tasks. This tends to get me in trouble, but also makes me highly skilled when it comes to inventing excuses for procrastinating. The best excuses are those which disguise the procrastination as part of a “plan.” And this brings me to the second reason for harvesting carrots last.

One year, as I was procrastinating in my usual way, I continued my usual habit of pulling a few carrots every day for my wife’s needs, and noticed that as the carrot greens finally browned (and they are one of the final things in the garden to give up on greenness in the autumn) that the carrot roots beneath the greens abruptly grew substantially larger. I suppose the carrot pulls all energy from those greens down into it’s roots. This was a great thing to discover. No longer was I procrastinating, but instead I was being a wise farmer and “ensuring my carrots achieved their optimum size.”

This year I nearly paid the price for this procrastination. The first hard, carrot-browning freeze of winter was not a “Squaw Winter” followed by an “Indian Summer”. (Yes, I know such terms are now politically-incorrect, but it is also politically-incorrect to criticize the traditions of an indigenous people, and, as the Yankee have been squatting here stewards of New England for 399 years, I figure we deserve to be called “indigenous”), (especially by globalists who have no culture nor traditions whatsoever.)

This year the cold came with unusual ferocity, and the first blast was followed in short order by a second, and then a third. The autumn began to remind me of the start to the winter of 1976-1977, where the “Squaw Winter” came without an “Indian Summer”, and turned out to be “Real Winter” and froze our socks off all the way into February.

Usually our temperatures drop steadily through November; our lows bottom out around freezing at the start of the month and sink to around 24° (-4.4° Celsius) by the end of the month. But this November, during the three savage, arctic blasts that hit us, the high temperature was 24°, and the lows set records, around 12° (-11° Celsius) even back at the start of the month.

This led to a problem, when I took the children out to the “carrot harvest” at our Farm-childcare. The ground was frozen hard as iron, and the carrots were stuck in it like rivets. At first I thought I’d need a jackhammer to dig them out, but I managed to jump on my shovel with such zeal I broke through to the unfrozen earth, and then could pry up slabs and plates of brown, frozen earth, roughly three inches thick, with the tapered ends of orange carrots protruding from the bottom. By whacking and smashing these plates the plates could be broken into chunks, and the carrots wrenched free (and they tasted just as good when thawed) but to me it seemed like an awful lot of work, per carrot.

Of course, when you are dealing with children two, three and four years old, they have no idea that this is not how things are always done. Also they find it sort of fun to smash plates, and not get in trouble for it. Prying up the plates had me huffing and puffing, and I would have given the job up, but the kids were having such a blast I continued to pry up frozen slabs of earth even after I was too weary to break them up, and they kept up their smashing and prying-carrots-loose until we had filled a grain bag with some forty pounds, and they also all had small bags holding their “favorite carrots” to bring home with them.

I could not, in good conscience, allow them to think this was a usual carrot-harvest. We had done less than half of the twenty-four foot double-row in twice the time it would usually take to complete the entire harvest. I attempted to get across the idea I had procrastinated too long, but they’d had too much fun to understand Aesop’s fable about The Grasshopper and the Ant, and so I abandoned my moralizing and just told them I was going to try to “soften the soil”, to make the rest of the harvest easier.

Then I found an old, black tarp to cover the rest of the carrots with. I figured the black would absorb sunshine and might even thaw the soil. Most of the children were not the slightest bit interested, but this year I have one small boy who tags along with me and has an owlish interest in everything I do. He even reached out with his small hand and felt the black tarp along with me, noticing the slight warmth it gathered from the low November noon. He then owlishly listened as I reminisced, (like the garrulous old coot I am), about the winter of 1976-1977. There may not have been an Indian Summer that November, but I seemed to recollect the blasts did relent to a degree where temperatures were normal for a while, edging above freezing every noon. Perhaps the soil around our carrots could thaw.

I seem to get a small sidekick like this owlish boy every few years. They are precociously articulate, and what is especially nice is that they are deeply concerned about my well-being. They seem very aware I am hapless and need help, but they own this awareness in a manner that is amazingly respectful. For example, when I am rummaging through the staff’s packs for a missing flashlight (which we need for November’s early-evening darkness), this particular boy will first inquire what I am looking for, and, second, point out a flashlight I’d never notice at the back of a counter on the far side of the room.

If the sidekick is a female, it is like I have the secretary I’ve long yearned-for but could never afford, in the form of a four or five-year old girl. This small boy is like having a butler. He is unnaturally interested in my interests, and unnaturally helpful.

Where the other children forgot all about carrots under the onslaught of other interests, this young fellow popped up the next day, smiling and helpful, and querulously wondering in a piping voice if the soil had started to thaw under the tarp. This was helpful to me, for, under the onslaught of other concerns, I might have forgotten all about carrots myself. We checked the soil daily.

In any case, we lucked out. An Aleutian Low crashed east into Alaska, interrupting the southward delivery of arctic air and allowing us just enough sunshine and thaw to soften the soil under the tarp. (And if you don’t believe me, ask my small butler. Though born in 2014, he will inform you, “This may have happened in 1976 as well,”) (because he asked me.)

Because the soil under the tarp did thaw, the rest of the carrot-harvest was much easier, though at first the other children were less than eager. If you look at the picture at the start of the post, you’ll notice only two children are working, and the rest are standing around. Perhaps they were a bit desultory because there were no “plates” to break, but they soon got over that, which is why there are no further pictures. I was soon too busy “providing child care” to take pictures.

The first problem involved breaking up fights about who would get the shovel next, and be the next to get to dig carrots. I attempted to teach them about “taking turns” and “sharing”, but they were too impatient for that. They skipped off in all directions and returned with more shovels than I knew our Childcare possessed, including tiny shovels ordinarily seen when building sand castles on a beach. One girl couldn’t be bothered with a shovel, and scooped with her hands in a manner that puts badgers to shame.

The second problem was that dirt was flying in all directions, and I had to instruct the young in ditch-digger-protocol, and teach them how to dig without flinging a face-full of dirt at a neighbor. Despite my instructions, I had to pause to attend to eyes weeping muddy tears, but even that tearful, offended face swiftly became riveted on the next carrot.

No two carrots are alike. This seemed to intrigue the small children and make them dig faster. They were constantly exclaiming over how a carrot was especially fat or long or round or small or crooked, and would dissolve into gales of laughter over a carrot that forked like two legs (which made me cringe slightly, for, in prior years, a small, tertiary fork between the two “legs” has resulted in child-like hilarity and frank discussions, which can present problems to child care providers.)

I hardly dug at all, so busy was I with other issues, but I instructed the children to place the gold they dug up in a single pile. The pile looks small, in the picture at the start of this post, but it grew and grew. When I put all the carrots in a second grain bag it amounted to a second forty pounds (minus carrots children took home.)

Forgive me for being a bit smug, but I can’t help myself. We had a great time. Not a child whined all morning that they were bored or that they wanted to go home. Nor did my staff or myself need to concoct a “plan” or belabor a “curriculum”. The “curriculum” was “dig carrots”.

And what did this “curriculum” teach? At the very least it taught where carrots come from. (The first year my wife and I opened our Farm-childcare a small child asked me, “Why do you dig dirty carrots when you could get clean ones in plastic bags at the store?”)

Good things come from dirt. I don’t know why this is such a revelation. But a mother did give me a disapproving look, as she picked up her daughter after our carrot-harvest. She had just washed her daughter’s play pants, and already the knees were brown.

WEEDER WARS (Parts 1-4)

It doesn’t matter if you don’t call yourself a “farmer”, for even if you merely raise a lone tomato or cucumber on a patio or porch, there will come a day your idyll is interrupted by aphids, or a ravenous tomato-hornworm-caterpillar, and on that day you will understand farming isn’t peace. It is war.

To a certain degree this is life as usual. It doesn’t matter if you are starting a garden or engineering a bridge, “Murphy’s Law” will state “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong”, and you will have to deal with unexpected foul-ups and unintended consequences. In moderation, this is fun, much like the stress of solving a crossword puzzle. Many assume gardening will involve moderation and be fun: There will be weeds but they will be weeded in a leisurely way, with dignity. Nope. Sooner or later it is war; total war.

One aspect of warfare is that not every attack results in victory. More ordinary is for an attack to result in resistance.

In terms of gardening, what this means is that when you pull some weeds, it is seldom a rout, with weeds fleeing in panic. In fact weeds often counter-attack. They think they have every bit as much a right to fertile soil as your tomato. Just who do you think you are, depriving ragweed?

In like manner, just because you put up chicken-wire, it is seldom a discouragement to predators. Just who do you think you are, depriving a mother fox food for her kits? In fact farmers have a wry saying, “If you want to know if there is wildlife in your neighborhood, get some chickens.”

In fact a farm is a lot like a fifteen round fight; you can’t expect to win every round. The problem is that some novices find it appalling, when they are knocked back on their heels and it is fairly obvious they are losing a round. It doesn’t fit their idyllic preconceptions of how gardening should be. A single sweltering day, or single swarm of midges, is enough, for some, and turns their confident advance into a panicky retreat. It is for this reason many gardens that look lovely in April become a thick and luscious bed of weeds by July. The gardener has lost the war.

Back when half of all Americans farmed, people were more reluctant to throw in the towel in the first or second round of the fight, because the consequences of losing were grave. There were no food-stamps, and poor people were not fat. Even if the bank took your farm you didn’t escape farming, for you had to go live on the “poor farm”. Often what you grew was all you had to eat, and people would struggle on despite much adversity, for a few small potatoes was better than none. As hard as such farming was, people were seemingly grounded in basic realities which the modern Socialist has forgotten. Where the Socialist promises to tax the rich and give the poor lots of free stuff, the old-time farmers knew nothing was free. The old-timers knew you “reap what you sow”, and that even such reaping didn’t happen unless you spent month after month fighting round after round.

My early life knew some amazing adventures which some would call “hardship”, and somewhere along the line I stopped taking anything for granted. Certain people I counted upon failed to keep the trust, so I became unwilling to rely on anyone but my foolish self, and God. For the most part my foolish self-reliance generated fiascoes, yet I always seemed to emerge from the rubble older and wiser, and for that God gets the glory.

To some degree my old age and (so-called) wisdom has involved a retreat into a sort of fall-back position. I am more inclined to adopt the attitudes of my great-grandparents than anything modern. In this manner I am like many New-Age idealists (and like Hippies of 1969, dreaming of idyllic communes), but the difference is that I don’t expect an idyll. I expect a fifteen-round brawl.

In dealing with this battle farmers have come up with various sprays: Pesticides and herbicides and fungicides, but what is really needed is a “socialisticide”. Socialists can be pests, when you put the rights of your chickens ahead of foxes, for they complain you are neglecting foxes, (when they aren’t clamoring for greater rights for your chickens.) How is it a people who have never farmed can assume they have authority over people who do? I’d like to spray them all down with “socialisticide”, when I’m in a grumpy mood.

I am saved from this grumpiness by my wife. Somewhat to my own astonishment I recently recognized my beloved is a socialist. But it is for all the right, non-materialistic reasons, based upon the “Book of Acts” in the Bible. Where politicians get insanely rich “helping” the poor, my wife’s brand of socialism sees our marriage’s skinny wallet gets skinnier. To some degree some of her charity is selfish, for “charity begins at home”, and she is big on “family values”. I am often asked to ignore an important farm-job, such as weeding, to attend an event that “supports the family”, such as a grandchild’s birthday.

I am reluctant to procrastinate, when it comes to weeding, for a weed which you can pinch from the soil with ease on Monday swiftly develops a root system by Friday that requires eye-popping effort to remove. My wife fails to understand this, for she rarely weeds. She also fails to understand my panic, when weeds are growing and ignored, and accuses me of caring more for weeds than grandchildren. (Such shots-to-the-heart are typical of Socialists.)

Like most good husbands I chose my battles, and the rest of the time I meekly say, “Yes Dear.” However I felt my tolerance getting stretched to the limit when I was asked to ignore farm matters for “good business practices.” My wife was staging a Socialist event called “A Preschool Graduation” at our Farm-childcare.

Absurd. Of what use is a diploma to a five-year-oId? And how can it compete with weeding the broccoli? Weeding produces a crop, whereas a five-year-old’s diploma produces nothing. (Sadly often a twenty-five-year-old’s diploma produces the same nothing.) However my wife stated diplomas produced “satisfied customers”, and that customers, and not my broccoli, was what truly fed us. I muttered we were teaching five-year-olds to value the wrong things, (in an inaudible manner), and said, “Yes dear” more loudly. My wife didn’t much like my tone.

I was then expected to “spruce up the place”, which involved making the productive farm look like an unproductive suburb. Rather than the important work of weeding , I had to “groom” the farm. I did a fine job, mowing and “weed-whacking ” edges and planting non-edible flowers and clearing trails of fallen trees and putting up balloons and banners, but the entire time my broccoli was screaming, “Help us! Save us!”

Finally the Socialism was done with, the children performed songs and parents were enthralled and diplomas were handed out and people ate a fine meal and the satisfied customers trailed off into the sunset, and I could at long last get down to the real work of catching up with my weeding. Immediately it rained.

Now it just so happens I can’t weed in the rain, because it spreads bacteria and fungus and diseases (especially with beans). Also I had to undergo oral surgery and have the roots of five teeth extracted from my upper jaw, and there were complications, and I was reduced to a diet of soft boiled eggs and gruel, which likely weakened my resistance to a summer cold passing through the Childcare. As my fever spiked at 101 degrees I was glad it was raining, for it gave me a good excuse to set a record for the number of naps a old man can take in a single day. But then my fever dropped and the forecast promised a single sunny day in a very rainy spring. I prepared to leap from bed and attack those weeds.

It turned out a side effect of this particular summer cold is that ones lungs are made hyper-sensitive to pollen, for a while. A number of local folk I spoke with complained about how they could not shake the congestion and hacking cough. I concur, but think they were too stoic and modest in describing how crippling the pulmonary inflammation was. I’ve never had asthma, but felt like I was having attacks. My nose streamed mucus in a way highly annoying to my wife, as she feels a dripping mustache does not lead to “satisfied customers.” My coughing fits can only be described as fits of hysteria; the coughs were so rapid they sounded like a machine gun, and one time, driving twenty miles an hour on a country lane, I nearly went off the road.

But I was not going to let some dumb cough slow me down. I muttered the old motto, “When the going gets tough the tough get going”, and figured some energetic exercise would clear my lungs. After I “hucked a looey” or two of phlegm, I’d be fine. The bell rang, and I headed out to fight the next round.

It was a bit like I walked into an uppercut to my jaw, though in fact it was a wall of pollen. Rather than clearing my lungs, exercise gagged me. My coughing was unproductive, and also embarrassing, for it was a senile “ih-ih-ih-ih-ih-ih”, yet so prolonged I couldn’t inhale. When a fit dropped me to one knee, I imagined a referee began counting, “One…two…three…four…”, and also a sardonic voice in the back of my mind stated, “Well, you are always telling people you want to die with your boots on.”

Fortunately I was saved by the bell and retreated to my corner, which was a shady place out of the sun. And when you are in the shade you can see things you can’t see out in the sun. I could see the air was filled with dust, fine yellow dust, streaming in the wind. Looking down at puddles from recent rains I noted each puddle was rimmed with yellow. Even as they shrank in the sunshine their little coasts were made golden by pollen. The scientist in me concluded that plants that have no use for bees, and pollinate using wind, have evolved some sort of self-restraint. They know better than to release pollen in the rain, when it will be beaten down, and withhold the release until the sun shines. And, when it has rained a solid week, this means an amazing amount of pollen gets released when the sun finally shines. The coach in my corner concluded we would be wise to avoid breathing, so I fought the next round sitting on my rider mower, catching up on cutting-the-grass.

Of course, as I sat on my duff on the puttering mower, I could look over at the garden and hear the broccoli weeping, “Help us! Save us!”, and I eventually heard the coach in my corner propose weeding in a pinkie-raised way that required no hacking hoe and heavy breathing. And we did a little of that, as the sun dimmed in streamers of cirrus overhead, and the west darkened with the rising purple of approaching thunder. But what really stuck in my head was the moment I sat in the shade, and looked out to sunshine, and suddenly understood how thick the pollen truly was. I said to myself, “There’s a sonnet in this”.

Midst my misery; my sneezing summer
Cold; my snuffling self-pity; weaker
Than a kitten; glum and getting glummer,
My heart required humor be it’s speaker:
“If we’ve got to die, let’s have our killer
Be pine pollen, streaking yellow in the wind.
These swaying trees aren’t like the miller
Grinding flour steadily, but have grinned,
Held back ammo all a rainy week, and then
Let pollen go like a cavalcade of gold
Dust in the wind. Why gripe you’re choked, when
Sun-stirred breezes make twigs prance uncontrolled?
The green-gold pine pollen’s such a wonder,
Golden against rising purple thunder.”

Part 2

At this point I adopted a new attitude. It was: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” In my war against weeds, I think it won me a round.

In terms of the original American family farmer, (now seen as a “third world phenomenon”), to fight when all is lost makes good sense, because a few potatoes is better than none, and hunger is better than starvation. However in the eyes of certain modern mentalities such forlorn struggling makes no sense, for only winning matters. If you don’t win every round, you sulk, and the loser demands a “participation trophy” as big as the trophy the winner gets. But gardens own no such Socialist sensitivity. If you don’t weed the broccoli, your trophy is not as big as a winner’s, and sometimes you get no trophy at all.

I think I picked up this old-fashioned earthiness from my elders when young, from the toughness of the people who in many cases lost everything in the Great Depression, but refused to roll over and die. In like manner, my father lost a great deal when, as a young surgeon, he was crippled during the last polio epidemic in 1954, and had to fight back. But one thing that impressed me most, as a small boy, was strangely derived from the attitude of the Boston Red Sox sports fans, (called the “Fenway Faithful”), who supported a losing team, at that time.

How I, as a seven-year-old, became infatuated by baseball is a bit of a mystery to me. My father had played as a boy, but didn’t like to bring up the subject because he now couldn’t play, due to polio. Perhaps to forget his handicap he became deeply engrossed in his work. Being engrossed, in fact, seemed a family trait. My mother, would could care less about baseball, was often absorbed in reading, as were my three older siblings, only one of whom played baseball. That particular brother vanished from time to time with a bat and glove, but I never went to any of his games, and he was downright secretive about what occurred while he was away.

Outside of lively discussions at the dinner table, my family usually was deeply absorbed in their private occupations. The noisy chirping of a curious seven-year-old like myself was not appreciated. My eldest brother tended to see my interest as an interruption, and also he sometimes was doing something he didn’t want people to know about, (such as making nitroglycerin). My mother could be so deeply engrossed in an Agatha Christi novel she didn’t notice loud explosions in the backyard. Some evenings the entire family might be reading, but I had no idea what any of the books were about. This made me want to write books, (so they might pay attention to me), but it also gave me plenty of scope to wander about unattended and discover baseball on my own terms, which included some early stages where I entertained some odd ideas about what the sport entailed.

The person most passionate about baseball was my grandmother. We lived about four miles away from her kitchen. Once we were not actually living with her and my grandfather (after 1954-55, when my entire family had polio, to different degrees, and we collapsed into my grandparent’s household), visits became formal and not all that often (to give them some well-deserved peace). When we visited they both sat in their armchairs in the living-room, as was their custom with guests. But even then, during the summer, in the background in the kitchen, I sometimes could hear a baseball broadcast, and occasionally my grandmother would cock her head and then vent some spleen about the “Red Flops”, which made me initially unsure of the team’s actual name.

Her sneering was odd, considering she knew the names and trivial details about every ballplayer on the team, and her eyes could moisten talking about them, but I think it was symptomatic of tougher times, when people’s lives were ruined by polio and measles and mumps; many families had lost members in World War Two and the Korean War; and few had made it through the Great Depression without experiencing need and want. Such sneering would most definitely be politically-incorrect now, fifty years later, but back then it was what you got instead of a “participation trophy”. When my older brothers poked into my non-stop scribbling and discovered I spelled “Red Sox” as “Red Socks”, I could expect sneering, but it wasn’t without goodhearted humor, and did alert me to my mistakes. Not that I would concede to asking them for a correct spelling. Come to think of it, one reason for the fact my family was so uncommunicative, when engrossed, might have been because they didn’t want to face a lot of sneering for their rough drafts. When things were discussed at the dinner table they tended to be completed events in the past tense; either a story of a success, or a funny tale of how an effort had crashed and burned. There was not much discussion about events “in process”.

In any case one thing I did, when my home was silent and I was left to my own devises, was to wander into the Victorian house’s big library and poke through my parent’s books, or an out-dated version of Encyclopedia Britannica, or go “fishing” on the old radio, which had AM, FM, and Short Wave bands. I’d chance upon strange music and languages. I recall one foreign music that fascinated me was a long drone of syllables in C, with the final two syllables descending through B-flat to G. It took me some time before I realized it was a local Catholic Mass, with the priest intoning in Latin.

Baseball made about as much sense to me as a Latin Mass, at first. I recognized it was in English, but the jargon was gobbledygook to me. I primarily was interested in the background noises, the man shouting “Hot Dogs!” and another shouting “Ice Cold Beer”, and the occasional voice shouting something rude, which I’d get in trouble for shouting, if I ever dared shout it.

The Red Sox had become a bad team and the crowd was so sparse at Fenway Park that individual fan’s voices could be quite distinct, over the radio. But I seldom listened long, as there were more interesting channels to search through. However there were an amazing number of affiliates in the “Red Sox Network”, back then, so I kept running into the same game on different AM stations, some far away and staticy, and some near and loud. I even could run into games on the FM band. There was no escaping gradually attempting to make sense of the nonsense.

One September afternoon I came home after a bad day at school. My Third Grade Teacher was a cross old lady, and I already had the strong feeling it was going to be a bad year. It was going to be a bad year on the bus as well, for the elder brothers who once defended me from sixth-grade-bullies had moved up to Junior High and took a different bus, and my sister preferred to pretend she didn’t know me. When I came trudging into my home after my bad day I could hear my mother busy upstairs with her afterthought babies, a brother aged two and a sister aged six months. My job then was to be quiet, and not keep the babies from napping, so I tiptoed off to the Library to quietly zone-out “fishing” on the old radio, with the sound turned down very low. I noticed the end of an afternoon Red Sox game was on, but something seemed very different. The announcers, who usually had somewhat robotic “newsreel” voices, seemed ever so slightly emotional. Not that a modern Socialist could hear a hint of emotion in their stern voices, but, to a 1950’s boy like myself, accustomed to the stoic machismo of that time, they were all but blubbering, and it made me so uncomfortable I changed the station.

But I kept running into the same blubbering announcers on other stations, and eventually curiosity kicked in. What was so special? Even the crowd sounded larger and very different. Once I focused my seven-year-old brains, I learned a lot in a hurry. Not necessarily about baseball, but rather about how “it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

As my seven-year-old brain attempted to assimilate the data, I came to understand the Red Sox were losers, who were finishing 32 “games behind” (whatever that meant). They were “next to last”, in terms of some thing called “the standings”, but the first-place team, called the “Tankies” or some such thing, apparently quaked in their boots when facing the Red Sox, according to the announcer. Even though the Red Sox could only spend a dime for every hundred dollars the Tankies could spend, there was no other team that had won more games against the Tankies. The Red Sox had won seven games, and only lost four, against the Tankies, which was better than better teams did, so who was actually better?

(Now that I’m old and cynical I suspect the highly-payed Yankees perhaps did not take lowly teams like Boston and Kansas-City seriously, and stayed up too late and drank too much beer the night before, which explains why they got their butts kicked so often by cellar-dwelling teams. But at age seven I lacked such cynicism.)

As I listened to the announcer I came to understand it was the last home game of the year, and that even though the Tankies had won 94 games and the Red Sox only 65, the Red Sox were better than the Tankies. This made no sense, so I switched the station.

Immediately coming across the same game on another station, I learned more. Apparently the reason the Red Sox were better than the Tankies was because they had a great player named Fred Millions, or some such thing. However not only was it the Red Sox last home game of the season, it was the last home game of Fred’s 21-year-career, and, because it was the eighth inning, it might be Fred’s last time at bat at Fenway Park. The half-empty ballpark held more than thrice as many fans as the poor team usually drew, and they were making more noise than usual as he walked up to home plate to bat.

The announcer was droning statistics, going on about how Fred might have hit as many home-runs as someone called something like Gabe Tooth, but Fred left baseball to serve as a fighter pilot in World War Two and again as a jet pilot in the Korean War, missing five years “in his prime”, whatever that was. Even so he’d hit 520 home-runs, third most of all players in world history, and was the last player to “bat over four-hundred”, and, if you included all the times he was walked by pitchers scared to give him a good pitch, his “on-base-percentage” was the highest of any player who had ever lived.

None of this gobbledygook made much sense to me, so I switched down the dial and listened to the end of a lively polka. When an announcer then began speaking Polish, I searched on and blundered across the Red Sox game again, and was startled by the difference.

Fred Millions had hit a home run his last time at bat, and the cheering went on and on. The cheering continued when the inning was over, and Fred went out to play left field, and then the manager, named “Pinkie” (which seemed strange), sent out a young substitute and the crowd roared louder as Fred jogged in, and began chanting “We want Ted” when he disappeared into the dugout, (which alerted me to the fact his name was “Ted” and not “Fred”). But what seemed most interesting to me was a conversation between the announcer and some other guy. They were wondering whether Ted would “doff his cap” or not. I was unsure what “doffing” was, but the other guy said Ted would never do it. He listed a long string of reasons, going back 21 years.

Apparently my grandmother wasn’t the only one who called the team the “Red Flops”, and Ted got tired of fan’s fickle sneering, and the way they would boo the same day they would cheer. But worst were some people called “Ports Retorters”, who had called him a “draft dodger” (whatever that was) when he was actually a “war hero”, and also called him lots of other bad things. Ted, after spitting in the direction of the press when young and hot-blooded, decided to just be a great hitter and skip doffing, and he didn’t doff no matter how the crowd cheered or booed. (Note: As an old man in 1999 Ted Williams eventually did “doff” a cap he brought out onto the field, saluting the “Fenway Faithful”, 39 years later, during a ceremony to honor him, during an All Star Game.)

I turned the radio off, moved by deep emotion (for a seven-year-old). I too wanted to have everyone cheer me, and to not doff. I wanted everyone to be good and sorry they had sneered at me. I wanted my crabby old teacher to be sorry she crabbed, the bullies on the bus to be sorry they bullied, and my older brothers to be sorry they teased and jeered, but to not to care a hoot about their dumb, old apologies. They didn’t matter. What mattered was “how you played the game”.

My embryonic seven-year-old’s toughness was actually quite spiritual, when I think about it. The Truth remains the Truth whether one receives adulation or the lack of it. One should focus on the job at hand, irregardless if they are cheered or booed, encouraged or discouraged, in first place or last, rich or poor, or whether they win elections or lose them.

Of course, no man is an island, and we do tend to be influenced by others, irregardless of their connection to the Truth, and their status as “good influences” or “bad influences”. I confess to being swayed by flattery and discouraged by rejection, even when I recognized the people influencing me were idiots. However deep down every man has a lodestone called a “conscience”, and this criterion, and not some silly “participation trophy”, is what tells us if we are on track or not.

One thing that I shake my head about, concerning modern Socialists, is their tendency to be driven wild by the most innocuous events and statements. They become imbalanced by the blow of a feather. To a gruff old-timer like myself, they seem the epitome of “snowflake” wimpiness, and even an opposite of stoicism quite different from epicureanism, for at least epicureans can hope for hedonistic pleasure, whereas Socialist whining calls misery its beloved company, and cultivates caterwauling.

If Socialists had been in Fenway Park on September 28,1960, I imagine they would have quickly become furious with Ted Williams for not doffing his cap, and their cheers would have swiftly devolved to the rot of booing, if not a riot. I’m glad I was formed in a different time, when the “Fenway Faithful” could not only cheer an amazing career, but even cheer the simple fact the star would not doff his cap. They did not need his praise any more than he needed theirs. What mattered was deeper.

What has this to do with farming?

In farming there is an odd tendency to keep fighting even when you have lost the first fourteen rounds. Where in boxing there is at least the chance of a fifteenth-round-knock-out, whereupon the loser becomes a winner, in farming one can be in the position of the 1960 Red Sox, more than thirty “games behind” the Yankees. There is no chance of being champion, but one still fights on, and, like Ted Williams, seeks to hit a home run their final time at bat.

Farming is like baseball because in April all hope to “win the pennant”, which in farming terms is called “harvesting a bumper crop.” If your harvest is big you might make a profit and then be able to invest the money on improvements. However, just as few teams are champions, in baseball, few farmers harvest bumper crops, in farming. As the summer proceeds one starts to understand they may not “win the pennant”, but they keep playing the game. They pay no heed to booing or cheap shots from the peanut gallery, and instead plod on.

Some poets call this toughness a sign of a “desensitized” man, and like to preen before mirrors and think their emotional responses prove they are more sensitive, when often their hysteria only proves they are fickle and irrational. After all, the same crowd that cheered Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem jeered and demanded he be crucified only days later, and I see nothing particularly sensitive about that.

Lord, how they sneered and mocked You and Your word,
Yet You asked that they still be forgiven.
That doesn’t mean that You thanked them. It’s absurd
To think You should thank cruel, ungrateful men
For their misdeeds. Our tardy gratitude
Seems too little too late…
……………………………………….When his at-bat
At the very finish astounded the rude
Boston fans with William’s final home run, his hat
He would not doff. Why thank fans who sneered
For twenty years, and saw flaws in great deeds?
His hat stayed firm, as home plate neared.
Odd how our sneering reveals our hid needs.
Some were quite hurt Ted did not doff his cap.
We’ll all feel the same when Christ points out our crap.

Midst thriving weeds I plug onward, knowing
Earth is not heaven, and my sweat and strain
Won’t make me rich. Perhaps what I am growing
Is character, more than material grain.
Perhaps in the fall I’ll reap a small crop
Which is better than none, but it’s also true
That my own green season, called “life”, must stop
And then I’ll see “You can’t take it with you.”
While in this world we gather and then store
In pantries the foods to feed us through the snows,
To death we go naked. What life calls “more”
Is left behind, and the gardener then knows
What he grows is not rolled off in a cart
But is blooming that hints at a truly changed heart.

Part 3

The original farmers of the United States were different from modern “agribusiness”, in that they were not in the business of farming to get rich as much as they were in it for a quite different reason, (basically to live free, and raise a family, which involved raising the crops that would feed that family). Farming was way of life, a deed men did without thinking deeply about why they did it, just as we get dressed in the morning without thinking deeply about why we wear clothes. What’s more, they didn’t have the time to think about it. Physically they worked more than twice as hard as we do. This is shown by the fact they ingested more than 4000 calories a day and didn’t get fat, while some us can get fat on less than 2000. In many ways they were a very different people.

It is hard for modern psyches to grasp the fact more than half of all Americans could feed (often large) families without working for any boss other than themselves. Not only did they feed themselves, but they also were forced to be artisans: They spun wool and cured leather and clothed themselves, built their own cabins and sheltered themselves, burned tallow candles for light and burned wood for heat, and had absolutely no need for government welfare or food stamps. They were the “Yeoman Farmer” Thomas Jefferson admired and called crucial to democracy, and were the “Kulak” Stalin despised, and sought to “purge” from Russia, even if millions starved in the process.

Because I in some ways see myself as a “Kulak”, I can’t help but notice that nothing irks a Socialist more than an individual who is self-reliant, for he is proof we do not need bureaucrats (who make a living off telling us how to live our lives). In many cases such independence on our part threatens a bureaucrat’s very livelihood. For example, if you are a social worker, and families are self-reliant and happy, of what use are you? In such a case it is the social worker who needs food-stamps and welfare, and not the people he or she imagines is dependent on him or her.

Not that the original American farmers had an easy life. I could go in great detail about the conflicts between an immigrant people who could feed a family with 60 acres (New England) or 250 acres (Prairie States) and a native people who wanted to feed their families utilizing 100,000 or 1,000,000 acres. But let me simplify matters by mentioning conflicts between farmers and a grasshopper called Melanoplus spretus.

Melanoplus spretus was North America’s locust. A locust is a grasshopper which has the ability to undergo a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. For years, even decades, it can hop around like an innocent grasshopper, but some sort of trigger can cause it to amazingly change, whereupon it looks physically different and it reproduces differently as well. The innocent grasshopper becomes a voracious swarm, darkening the sky and not only eating all your crops, but the wool off the backs of your sheep, and even the leather of your shoes. Although Melanoplus spretus lived in the Rocky Mountains, when triggered by drought or over-population into its locust form, huge swarms traveled east all the way to the farms in my homeland of New England.

It is difficult to imagine how gigantic and devastating these swarms were. The largest could cover an area the size of California and number over ten trillion insects. In a matter of hours, months of a farmer’s hard work vanished. Using my boxing analogy, it was as if, in the tenth round, one’s opponent abruptly morphed into King Kong. And then?

Then farmers fought like hell, as if their lives depended on it, because their lives did. The tales of how they fought back are amazing, but the fighting seemed basically useless. Worst was the fact that, at the end of the summer, these huge swarms would hunker down and lay trillions upon trillions of eggs.

This was hugely depressing to farming families. As the locusts ate everything above ground, farmers knew they might eek by on the incompletely-formed crops that grew below ground: Undersized potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, sweet potatoes and rutabagas might help a family struggle through a hungry winter, but the following spring they would not be able to even plant such root crops, for the soil was infested with locust eggs, and they’d hatch in the spring and eat the first sprouts of every crop you planted. Then, when they had eaten everything in sight, the swarm would arise en-mass and head east, always east. Melanoplus spretus never returned home to the west with trophies of conquest, but continued east until the Atlantic Ocean proved an absolute end to a swarm, and fishes got fat.

It is difficult to see what ecological advantage Melanoplus spretus derived from these banzai charges to the east. As they left the arid west they increasingly moved into lands they were not suited for. Early Mormon history speaks of farmers falling to their knees in prayer when a swarm threatened their crops, and how their prayers were answered by a huge flock of voracious gulls. Also, even when Melanoplus spretus laid trillions of eggs, a very wet spring with standing puddles in the fields could kill every egg. Therefore not every swarm made it to the Atlantic. No colony was ever established in the east, and the swarming seems a sort of extravagant waste, on the part of Mother Nature.

Melanoplus spretus was but one form of ruin faced by the early American homesteaders. They also faced droughts, floods, hail, and the simple fact their eastern farming-practices were not suited for the naturally-arid western lands. They faced stampedes of buffalo, and the arrows of a native population who did not much like squatters who killed their buffalo.

Lastly they faced misinformation from callous people who sought to financially gain from the migration of millions of basically ignorant farmers. These dishonest people included those investing in railways and farm equipment, and the banking institutions that financed such endeavors. What such profiteers tended to do was make farming look like an idyll, and to fail to mention it is a war. The advertisements in the eastern newspapers of that time look comical, in the way they describe a paradise out west.

One concept that seems strangely modern was the idea of Climate Change. What homesteaders imagined would change their arid 250-acres was not virtue-signaling by buying curly candles or riding electric horses, (or throwing a virgin into a volcano), but rather was through their sweat, as they busted the thick sod, and also planted an acre of trees on their 250-acre-farm. The “climate scientists” of that time, with pompous authority, stated “farming brought rain”, and the more naive farmers believed them, and planted the required acre of trees in an arid landscape. Optimism abounded during the wet years, but then the climate did what it always does, and there came drought and ruin and, with the dryness, Melanoplus spretus.

It is easy for us to look back and smugly criticize, for the farmers made many mistakes. (Remember many were gutsy fathers fleeing sweat-shop factories in cities, seeking a better life for their children, and some had little experience of farming outside of what they read in pamphlets.) Before we are too scornful of them we should understand that some day people will look back at us, and smugly criticize us for all the dunderhead things we do in the name of “Climate Change.” But what amazes me is how the farmers fought, against daunting odds, and how they became an unrecognized and vital (and very necessary) “part of a process”, which did profoundly change the world, in a way we all benefit greatly from.

It is easy to criticize the changes as being ruinous to the ecology of the prairie, and to the indigenous people dependent on that ecology. The slaughter of the buffalo was appalling, and the fury of the Sioux understandable, but that is because we are able to sit in ivory towers, blessed by our ability to indulge in a leisurely appraisal. We forget the people of that time were within the fog of war. Even the Sioux were a culture going through radical changes, for they had formerly hunted buffalo on foot, but now were an amazing, new people on horseback.

To the farmers in the fog of war there was little time for leisurely appraisal, for they had children to feed, and often the situation was desperate enough in a mere drought, even before Melanoplus spretus appeared. When the trillions of grasshoppers then descended the way farmers fought insects, back before pesticides, is both laughable and courageous. They built fires and created thick clouds of smoke, and hammered together gadgets that knocked flying grasshoppers into trays of kerosene, which they pulled through their stripped fields with their horses. To kill the grasshopper’s eggs they would churn the soil with plows, even plowing soil they had no intention to plant.

When they turned to the government for help, moronic politicians wrote a law that punished farmers with a fine, if they didn’t devote two days a year to killing grasshoppers. (I wonder who spied on the farmers, and who collected the fines.) The government also offered a bounty for every bushel (35 liters) of dead grasshoppers the farmers turned in. In March, when the baby grasshoppers were small, a farmer might make a dollar a bushel, but by June, when the grasshoppers got big and fat, the bounty shrank to a dime. But even a slender, silver dime was better than zero, when you had a family to feed. To feed their families desperate farmers fished for the smallest horn-pout, and hunted rat-like prairie dogs, and even fried the grasshoppers themselves.

The most effective help came from fellow farmers, via churches. Farmers in areas outside the reach of a swarm sent food and fodder to those afflicted. Often the favor was returned in only a few years. When the climate swung from dry to wet the grasshoppers vanished, and the empty fields abruptly held bumper crops even as farmers to the east suffered floods, and then the farmers who had been helped became the generous helpers.

One way or another the farmers got by. It is easy to scorn and sneer at them, for they knew little about soil erosion, or that, by busting the sod, they were creating the loose soil that would blow as enormous clouds in the Dust Bowl. During the Dust Bowl over a million farmers lost everything and became refugees, and we can now sit back in our ivory towers and say “tsk tsk” about their ignorance, but perhaps we display a certain ignorance by forgetting that much we know about soil erosion came through mistakes they made. They were the ones actually learning from their mistakes, and actually suffering in the fog of war.

Some of the things they learned had benefits of a magnitude they likely could never imagine. For example, when dealing with Melanoplus spretus some farmers hit upon the idea of planting crops that matured in the spring, when the grasshoppers hadn’t hatched or were still small. Refugees from Russia then remembered stuff they planted in the late summer in Siberia they could harvest the next spring, called “winter wheat”. It would form a turf in the late fall, and in the spring swiftly send up fruiting shoots. Tiny, baby grasshopper might stunt this fruition, but they couldn’t stop it. This Kulak idea took off, spreading from farmer to farmer until, even when the grasshoppers were around and the crop was lessened, enough was salvaged so that people had, at least, a little bread.

Environmentalists and Sociologists do like to repeat “tsk tsk” about the mistakes made by those farmers. The buffalo very nearly did become extinct, but through the Grace of God and the alertness of early environmentalists, they were saved. The Sioux nearly became extinct as a people, but through the Grace of God and their own innate toughness, they survived. Prairie sod nearly became extinct, and only remains in scattered parks. A type of grouse farmers called “the prairie chicken” did become extinct, which was sad even for those farmers, who liked to hunt and eat them, but that extinction is now is used as a reason to say, “tsk tsk”. Yet I almost never hear ecologists mention another extinction.

As the year 1900 approached there was a drought, and farmers anxiously looked west for the skies darkening with Melanoplus spretus, but the grasshoppers didn’t come. Farmers were too busy with drought and hail and bankers to pay much heed to this good fortune, but up in the mountain valleys a few looked around, and could see no Melanoplus spretus. Perhaps due to cattle being driven up mountain river floodplains and changing the habitat, the grasshoppers had not merely become scarce. They vanished from the face of the earth. The last one was seen in Canada in 1902.

The extinction of Melanoplus spretus likely contributed to a new and unexpected disaster that hit those struggling farmers, which was the phenomenon of bumper crops. So much wheat was produced that, due to the economic principle of “supply and demand”, the price of wheat fell so low that farmers couldn’t make any money selling it. Of course, even with prices at rock bottom, some profiteering people got rich. (Don’t get me started on the moral decrepitude of such people. They like to claim they “fulfill a need”, but whores “fulfill a need”, and it doesn’t make them one bit moral.) In any case, railways stood to make money by holding a monopoly on the shipments of grain, and commodity markets made money even as prices crashed, and sellers of farming equipment made money repossessing equipment, and bankers made money repossessing farms. At times it seemed the only ones who didn’t get fat off off the bumper crop was the farmers who actually created the plenty.

The farmer is the man.
The farmer is the man;
Lives off his credit ‘til the fall,
Then they take him by the hand
And they lead him from the land
And the banker is the one who gets it all,
Yet the farmer is the man.
The farmer is the man.
Some people disagree
But its obvious to me
That the farmer is the one who feeds us all.

(Song from “Farm Aid” concert, circa 1976)

Farmers are the salt of the earth, for without them we all starve, but as a rule they barely subsist, in materialistic terms. On the great American plains they came and went like dust in the wind. (And I am not talking about a few, but rather millions of families.)

One reason Abraham Lincoln was elected (with less than 40% of the popular vote) was because he offered poor people “free land” via the “Homestead Act”. This act offered any man, from any slum or eastern, hardscrabble farm, 250 acres out west, for not a penny down. All a man needed to do was head west, make his claim for a particular plot, and live there for five years. A no-brainer, right? Millions of families with little to lose ripped up what roots they had, and headed west to lay claim to 250 acres for free.

We can still look at the records kept by those long-ago bureaucrats, and one appalling thing is that roughly half of the families couldn’t even fulfill the stipulation that they live on the land for for five years. Therefore, right off the bat, we have over a million families defeated by the fog of farming’s war. What became of all those families?

Continue on, through disaster after disaster, to the Dust Bowl, when more than a million more farming families were driven from the land. The 250-acre-farm largely became a thing of the past, and entire communities became ghost towns. And one wonders, “Who in their right mind would ever want to be a farmer?”

What this fails to measure is intangible to Socialists, (and also many Capitalists), who measure all in terms of status and money.

Millions of American families came to the prairies, and millions left, and almost none saw a long-term material profit, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some farmers were so amazingly tough that not even the Dust Bowl’s temperatures of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit could defeat them. These survivors were unbelievable.

Back in my drifting days I had the good fortune to be befriended by a retired farmer from Garden City, Kansas, who liked to sip beers and become garrulous, and regale me with tales of how his family survived the Dust Bowl.

His father was a Polish refugee who was too smart to ever enter an agreement that would allow a bank to take his farm, or to ever buy equipment on an installment plan that would allow his equipment to be repossessed. Perhaps he didn’t modernize as swiftly as other farmers, but he completely avoided debt. Even when he experienced complete crop failure, he didn’t owe anyone anything.

The gruff man’s practicality is perhaps best shown by the fact that, when he became aware he had contracted tuberculosis and likely would soon die, he moved to a barn so his children would not be exposed to the bacteria. However he was too ornery to die, and from the barn he commanded his family with the discipline of Captain Bligh. Between dust and tuberculosis he could barely breathe, but neither man nor beast wanted to see him emerge from the barn in a rage, for he was ruthless with his whip. Modern “animal rights” people would likely sue him, and he’d also likely be in jail for “child abuse” for how tough he was on his many sons, but he got his family through the Dust Bowl, to the blessed day the rains returned. (My friend told me that, because the heat and drought had been so chronic in the 1930’s, his childhood created the impression that Dust Bowl conditions simply were how the world was, and that, when the rains returned, it then seemed downright bizarre to look around in the spring and see all the Kansas fields be green.)

When the rains returned the farm, which had somehow managed to survive without an income, suddenly had an income. At this point the father seemed to feel he had won his private war, and passed away, but his strapping sons were not happy, having an income. As best as I can tell, life was too easy. After a decade fighting for survival, bumper crops were like a life without battle for a Viking, or life without football for a linebacker. After Pearl Harbor all the brothers rushed off to fight Japan and Germany. Only one son, my friend, remained to run the farm with his mother, because he was too young to enlist and also because the American government basically ordered him to stay.

My friend was a bit ashamed that he, the “baby”, stayed at home and didn’t fight Hitler, but I pointed out someone had to “feed the fighters”. I said he was the “hero” who fed the “war effort”, both the soldiers and the workers toiling in munitions-factories, but my flattery fell flat. He said he was uncomfortable because he had made enormous profits during the war. He could handle poverty, and even derive joy from such a life, but wealth made him strangely miserable.

Something about this tough farmer’s attitude seems utterly beyond the capacity of most socialists, (and also many capitalists), to comprehend. They cannot conceive of people who are not enthralled by money and status, and who live for something else.

When I asked him what he did with all his money, he laughed. He said that when the rains returned, and Kansas farmers got rich, they traded-in their beat up, old Model-A Fords and drove Cadillacs. Then, when the ground was frozen in the winter, they would go roaring across the wheat fields around Garden City in their fancy cars. Sometimes they’d tie the hood of an old truck to a long rope, upside down, as a sort of sled they pulled behind their Cadillacs, and would drag bunches of gleeful children behind them. When I asked the old wheat-farmer if any children got hurt, he shook his head, and stated the experience educated children about the importance of holding on for dear life.

When I asked if farmers did economically sensible things, such as reinvest their money, he looked bored, and said “Yes”. So many farmers had lost their farms in the Dust Bowl that there were lots of 250-acre-farms to buy dirt cheap, especially if they abutted your farm, but such successful expansion seemed to bore him. He could fluently discuss a mini-Dust-Bowl drought in the 1950’s, and high prices during the Korean War, but he always seemed ready to yawn as I pestered him with such pragmatic questions.

Instead what seemed to really animate him was the subject of his children. When I asked if any of his children became farmers, he sat forward and eagerly told me they were too smart to become farmers, and then began to tick off the colleges they had attended, proudly stating how much smarter they were than he was. After college they all had gone on to prestigious corporations and big businesses he could brag about. It seemed all had become very successful, but to me it seemed his children’s success was due to the “character” inherited from the farming life, even among children who desired to leave farming far behind. Yet I confess that, when I first looked at the old man, I didn’t suspect there was any iron under the rust; he appeared to be an old Yahoo; one might suspect he was a character without suspecting he had any.

Just as I gave this old farmer credit for “defeating Hitler”, even though he stayed “home with his Mommy”, and only produced the huge crops that fed the troops, it also seems to me that the millions of farmers from families who lost their farms in the Dust Bowl also deserve a degree of deference.

Why? Because even as they became homeless they saved millions in Africa, Asia and Europe. They were “part of a process” that turned an obscure Siberian wheat into a huge American surplus, shipped far and wide in fifty or hundred pound sacks, labeled “USA”, often for free as “foreign aid”. As much as ecologists gripe about the diminished ecosystem of the buffalo, there are many people alive in Africa, Asia and post-World-War-Two Europe who might never have been born, had not American “winter wheat” arrived to prevent their grandparents from dying of famine.

Hopefully a few Sioux see that the crazy flood of American farmers onto the Great Plains, as a crazy pale-faced people who basically wrecked the Sioux’s ecosystem and way of life, and then largely vanished over the horizon, was “part of a process”. The suffering of the Sioux is at least in part made bearable because millions in Asia, Africa, and Europe were benefited. (It is also made bearable because in some areas, where the Sioux once became a minority, they now have regained the majority, because they persisted as the farmers fled).

But what did the farmers themselves get out of their struggle?

“Character”. A wonderful classiness, immeasurable by those who seek mere money and status, and who are therefore not much different from old-fashioned Hindu enslaved by their ancient caste-system, where some are deemed “Brahman” and some “Untouchable”.

Socialists often fall prey to such typecasting, and can be as enslaved to class as the most ardent royalist, though Socialists usually seek to make the royal (and the successful) the “bad guy”, who unjustly “oppresses the poor”. Socialists see the solution to such injustice as being to crush the upper class (the “bourgeoisie”) and the middle class (the “petite bourgeois”) (and this includes Yeoman farmers), and to make the poor (the “proletariat”) a sort of new upper class. Yet such socialists only perpetuate the caste-system, though they howl they oppose it. They resemble a person opposed to promiscuous sex, who cannot get his mind off the topic. They cannot escape the trap of dividing people into categories, nor grasp the liberating concept of, “All Men Are Created Equal”.

One of the best tales about the tough times the farming families endured is John Steinbeck’s “Grapes Of Wrath”, which I was required to read in school in 1968. I particularly remember Steinbeck’s amazing, vicious description of the man buying broke farmer’s cars, profiteering from their misfortune. The description was so brilliantly effective that it caused me to become hugely bigoted towards used-car-salesmen for decades, (until I actually befriended one). However Steinbeck ends his tale failing to mention what happened next. He leaves one with the sense that the poor Dust Bowl “Okies” were forever ruined.

Indeed they did suffer a downfall, from a people with middle-class houses and 250 acre farms and state-of-the-art tractors and other farm equipment, to being homeless migrant farm-workers, picking grapes, (before Mexicans with green-cards picked the grapes), and living in rented shacks. But that was not the end, because, though disdained and called “Okies”, they were people with “character”, who raised fine children and grandchildren who changed the world in a way absolutely nobody saw coming. Their children and grandchildren now make far more money than they could ever have made, back on the farm, working on things called “computers” in a place called “Silicon Valley”. Steinbeck never foresaw this, and instead seemed prone towards Socialist solutions. Yet what raised the ruined farmers called “Okies” to plush suites in Silicon Valley was not socialist food-stamps, but rather was “character”.

This “character” seems to be a thing that can be lost, if you become too divorced from the farming life that brought it about in the first place. It does not seem to matter if you are rich or poor. It happens to the rich grandchildren of Okies in Silicon Valley, and to the impoverished grandchildren of sharecroppers in America’s inner cities. Once this difficult-to-define “character” is lost, then even a beautiful, golden state like California, richest in the nation with the best educational system, can crash in flames to one of the poorest and most ill-educated, with an entire new group of “Okies” homeless on its streets.

Certain kind people take pity on children in slums, and their charity allows such youths to spend a summer on a rural farm. The host-farm is usually not an agribusiness, but a more old-fashioned farm. I have even read of inner-city youth being sent to Indian Reservations in the Pacific Northwest, where they learned to harvest salmon from rivers and abalone from the sea. In nearly all such cases the children are permanently, positively changed.

Not that they change in the manner some desire: They don’t abruptly wear suits and attend church, if Christians sponsored their escape from slums, and in fact they may go right back to the gangs and drugs they briefly escaped, but they are different; they are changed; they own the odd thing called “character”. People who study such things things have discovered, through “follow-up-studies”, that more than a decade later many of the now-mature recipients of such experiences still claim a brief vacation on a farm was “the most influential experience of their life.” But what was the influence?

As the owner of a back-to-nature Farm-Childcare I am into my eleventh year of dealing with clueless children. Not that such such children, even at age three, are not far smarter than I am, when it comes to the subject of how to operate a computer or a cellphone. However they haven’t a clue where food comes from. They are amazed (and delighted) to learn carrots and potatoes come from “dirty dirt”. They are amazed (and delighted) to discover eggs come from a chicken’s “stinky butt”. Sometimes, to the horror of their parents (and requiring amazing diplomacy on the part of my wife), these children are delighted (and amazed) to see that meat involves “killing”.

Although parents are vaguely troubled by a political-incorrectness inherent in “dirty dirt” and “stinky butts” and “killing”, in the end the parents thank me. Why? Because they have seen a undeniable blossoming in their child. But I try to tell them I am not the cause. I did not invent the fact carrots come from “dirty dirt”. I did not invent the fact that eggs come from a “stinky butt”. I did not invent the fact all meat comes from “killing”. I am not the Creator; I am just showing what He has already done.

I did not create the pines, and I did not create the wind, but when I take a frenetic kid out and he gets dreamy and far calmer, looking up and listening to the wind in the pines, parents treat me like I changed the child. It actually was something far greater than I. All I do is show children what already is.

But it is not merely the children in slums, and the children of overworked parents who use a computer for a babysitter, who stand to gain from being reintroduced to the farm and the outdoors. It is also the grandchildren of Okies who work in Silicon Valley. They are as deprived as the ghetto-abiding grandchildren of sharecroppers who have never plowed or planted, and who see only asphalt. But, sadly, the deprived of Silicon Valley are blind to their deprivation, and actually scorn the heartland’s earthy citizens as “Deplorables.”

Many in Silicon Valley embrace socialism, some with the fervor of Mao’s “Red Guard”. They have either forgotten, or never studied, their own Socialist history.

When Mao felt the Red Guard had outlived their usefulness, what did he do with their youthful zeal? He had the army round them up and shipped them off to rural areas to be “reeducated.” (In essence the result of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” was that China became a police state.) There is a delicious irony in the way Mao praised the benefits of “life on the farm”, though he disliked the Yeoman Farmer as much as Stalin did, and strove to replace the self-reliant farmers and artisans, whom Jefferson admired, with the “collective”.

Sometimes I like to play the devil’s advocate, and to ask how my Farm-Childcare is any different from a Gulag. Am I not snatching children from the video games they desire? Initially many children loudly express their dislike of the outdoors and announce an unwillingness to walk even fifty yards. Am I not a sort of brutal Mao to urge them onward, and isn’t my “reeducating” a sort of brainwashing? I can only answer that the children seem to quickly adapt, and that they wear smiles, and sometimes they don’t even want to go home, which isn’t observed too often in Gulags.

When I think more deeply I enter debatable territory, but will throw a few ideas out to be mulled over. One idea is that I allow far more freedom than a Gulag, and in fact freedom is at the root of what I attempt. While children seem made nervous by a complete lack of boundaries, they like freedom within certain limits; IE: They don’t want to be left alone to meet a bear or coyote in the woods, but they like being left alone to build their own forts.

Children like having a rough idea of the rules under which a sport is played, but also like having the freedom to spend half their time arguing about the rules (which is how I played baseball as a boy.) Rather than “organized” sports, my Childcare has “disorganized” sports. While I do oversee the sports, to prevent bloodshed, I try to stand back as I oversee freedom. And, as I stand back and watch, it seems to me that one important quality of freedom is that it involves experiencing and playing-with limits and limitations.

It is quite fascinating to watch children play with limits and limitations, (even when the limit they are testing is me.) Sometimes, for example when building a fort, they are dealing with a physical limitation and are young engineers, attempting a Tower of Babel, and then bursting into tears when it falls down and they are confronted with “Murphy’s Law”. Other times they are dealing with social limitations, for example when determining the ownership of a stick which looks perfectly ordinary to me, and certainly not worth arguing about. Sometimes they ask for help and sometimes they want to “do it themselves”, but always they are “part of a process”, involving a subject and an object.

As I stand back and watch I notice a difference between the children who “get along” and those who “don’t get along”. It seems to involve the difference between a willingness to be “part of a process”, and a craving to “control the process”, and this often seems to involve whether the child’s faith has been nourished or shattered. (Unfortunately we have a severe drug-problem in New Hampshire, and some small children have witnessed parents become unconscious or even die, and these unfortunate tykes are raised by grandparents who send them to my Childcare.)

Of course as soon as I broach the topic of “faith” I risk provoking broadsides from both Atheists and Believers, but I must say that a child who has had their faith nourished tends to be cheerful and to trust others, while a child who has had their faith shattered tends to be a bit of a bully, (in several different, manipulative ways), and to chronically distrust others. The first tends to trust being “part of the process”, whereas the second is suspicious and wants to “control the process”. The first has “character” which the second lacks. Lastly I should stress that the “faith” does not seem to be encouraged by constant flattery and “participation trophies”, but rather by the actual experience of ups and downs, accompanied by the security of knowing they are watched over by people who will help if asked.

At this point I likely should come completely out of the closet and return to the point I made earlier, when I stated I am not the Creator; I am just showing what He has already done. Furthermore He is not done; He is still doing, and will help if asked.

While it may be politically incorrect in the minds of some to say so, I’ll conclude by stating this: Children are very small and helpless, playing under a Sky that is giant and can be merciless, yet they often play as if with a close friend, whom they trust more than any mortal. As a “Child Care Professional”, I often just stand back and watch “the process” in awe.

Sadly, though I offer a beautiful witness, Silicon Valley does not want to hear me. Google has in some ways “disappeared” me from its search engine. Likely their action is due to my past “Sea-ice” posts, which dare to point out certain Alarmist “proofs”, (that Global Warming is a threat), are failing to manifest in the predicted manner. This makes me a “denier”, and Google apparently feels this justifies their basically enacting a childish censorship, tantamount to the children at my Childcare shouting, “La-la-la! I’m not listening!”

This is sad because Google was formerly the best search engine, but now they are choosing to make their engine malfunction. They soon will be surpassed by another, for even a competitor slow as a turtle can pass a rabbit, if the rabbit lays down on the job.

I am not particularly hurt by Google’s disdain. I’ve been an obscure poet all my life, so obscurity is a landscape I’m familiar with. I don’t feel “marginalized”, for I’ve experienced margins are important and “part of the process”. Even if Google seeks to bully me with the power of a trillion grasshoppers, I am not a victim. I am a beneficiary. Why? Because I am in touch with the Thing that made Okies great, while Google, (the Okies who became great), have lost their grip, and may well be like a trillion grasshoppers soon to become extinct.

What has this to do with gardening?

Despite the fact nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong, for a while last spring, I found myself possessing a peculiar confidence. I think I may have had symptoms of what some Christians call “Blessed Assurance”. Rather than throwing up my hands and quitting the garden, I went out to weed and salvage what I could. The results were remarkable.

In material terms the weeds may have won, in certain areas, but in the areas I salvaged, the cold and wet and muck and mud, which was bad for warmth-loving corn and squash and beans, produced a superabundance of other crops: Spinach and lettuce and two types of peas, as the potatoes grew twice as tall as last year. The actual statistics will wait for another post, but children were able to munch edible-podded peas to their heart’s content, and collect sandwich bags more to take home and munch with parents, which helps my Childcare look different from (and perhaps superior to) other Childcares.

In spiritual terms I simply became a far better weeder, for rather than being discouraged and quitting, I kept weeding. My attitude was adjusted. It is difficult to say why. It was as if it occurred to me that, if parents would pay good money to see their kids go back-to-nature, then maybe I should go back-to-nature as well. If it benefits the kids, it should benefit me. And yes, it did. Even before the material superabundance began to manifest, I was reaping a crop of tranquility.

There is something about this tranquility that utterly eludes the mindset of the socialist, and also the small brains of the more greed-centered capitalist. It involves the awareness that a farmer is basically an ant, compared to the Creator who actually controls. Rather than control farmers are to some degree resigned to being “part of a process”. Where some like to think they are in control of power, and money, and even the climate, this tranquility concedes we actually have all the power of a three-year-old child walking a summer evening’s lawn wearing pajamas with feet.

Once again summer holiday’s big sky
Presses down warmth with joys I sought to take
Prisoner, when as a boy I would fly
Out classroom windows and into an ache
Made of pearling clouds. What a sweet wonder
It was to no longer see teacher’s scold
And instead see schools locked. What sweet thunder
Spoke from clouds, as birdsong made me bold
With cascading choruses, as with arms
Swinging I walked fleet and, daily taking
Cliff-climbing chances, hunted bee-drone charms
That beamed from big sky to heal heart’s aching.
It mattered not to young fishers like me
That I was the prisoner in love to be free.

Part 4

Once I adopted my “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” attitude, I was astonished by the way my garden improved. If you demand perfection you become so upset by the lack of it that you throw up your hands in despair and stop weeding, but if you are resigned to failure, and only weed because you feel closer to God in a garden, you keep weeding. Very soon the perfectionist’s garden is choked by weeds, while the failure’s garden starts to look much better.

Also getting out and weeding seemed better for my health than staying home and ventilating the frustrations of a perfectionist, by raving on my blog. Although I was initially weakened by my summer cold, and so sensitive to pollen I weeded with a third of the speed of a grandmother, my lungs improved, my health returned, and I got a good tan, (which enabled me to avoid feeling defensive about “white privilege”, and thus likely increased my psychological sense of well-being). Although I posted nothing, (and suppose caused some at Google deep concern by giving them nothing to censor), I began putting on weight for the first time in over a year, as I learned how to use my new, fake teeth.

I felt I had stumbled upon an answer. Because I was less focused on results, the results were far better. The difference was this: Formerly, when I focused on weeding a long row of potatoes, I gritted my teeth and endured the job in a stoic manner, and at the end of the row was basically exhausted, but gained the small satisfaction of a check-on-my-list. But when I did not focus on the end of the row, and just weeded for the joy of being outdoors and in the sun, I did not grit my teeth, and wasn’t stoic, and needed no check-on-my-list. Consequently I weeded far more with less effort, and was much happier, at first because I was deriving joy from the process and not the results, and secondly because unexpectedly the results were obviously better.

Admittedly some of the ways I de-emphasized my results did reduced my production, and were largely motivated by the fact I initially disliked weeding. I doubt my ancestors approved. But they had ten children and were allowed to whip them if they didn’t weed. Lacking such advantages, one thing I did was to plant my rows far apart, so I could just run my rotor-tiller between the rows. The land might have produced more if I had my rows closer together, but that would have involved more hand-weeding. I still had to hand-weed around individual plants, but it was wonderfully satisfying to have long brown strips of weedless soil between my rows, looking like I’d hand-weeded for hours, when in fact I’d merely walked behind my puttering rotor-tiller fifteen minutes.

I also didn’t need to hand-weed around individual plants so much because, after I initially tilled he soil, I unrolled long, black strips of stuff I call “weeder-fabric”, and then cut little notches or slices in it to plant my seeds. The stuff was expensive, but so is hiring people to weed. The fabric lets the rain through, and you don’t have to whip it to make it work.

Between these two examples of my laziness as a weeder, and the fact I was finding far more joy in weeding when I weeded, the weeding-war became quite surprisingly serene. I was even considering changing the title of this post. The peak of this serenity involved a comment from my wife.

At this point I should mention I was so in love with my wife, when we first met, that I neglected to get her to sign a prenuptial agreement involving weeding. Nor can I whip her, for it turned out she knows karate. Therefore she never weeds. Somehow she still has, occasionally, the nerve to suggest that a weedy garden reflects badly on our Childcare, the same way she suggests an unmown lawn reflects badly on our Childcare (though she never mows). Consequently I tend to be touchy about the entire subject of weeds.

I can be content in my garden, communing with God, but when I see her approach I abruptly bristle with defensiveness. A man must chose his battles, and even if he says “yes dear” to his wife 90% of the time, there comes a time a husband must stand his ground, even if his wife wife knows karate. But a month ago my wife blind-sided me by saying something I never expected. With a look of disbelief and even confusion she gazed over my garden and murmured, “Your garden actually looks good.”

So of course I immediately became hugely cocky, which is something you should never do, with a farm. One must never forget they are involved in a war. But such a sense of serenity decended upon me that I did what in Kansas they call “slack off.” I forgot I am not in control, and felt I had things “under control”, and became, in my own small way, a “socialist”.

Three social events that have nothing to do with weeding occurred simultaneously. First was a family event called “Strawberry Weekend”, which among some family members seems to be as important as Christmas. The second was a reunion with my older siblings. And third was my middle son’s wife going into labor with her first child, two weeks before her due-date.

I am aware my excellent use of foreshadowing has made you aware that the coyotes were lurking in the woods, eyeing my chickens and just waiting for me to drop my guard. However please indulge an old man, and allow me a moment of weakness. Though I am well aware there is no such thing as “vacation” for a farmer in the summer, I agreed to have our staff cover for me at our Childcare and to feed my goats and chickens, as I spent a day and an overnight reminiscing with my siblings at a motel on the coast. My Puritan ancestors likely all rolled in their graves. Even though, as good Christians, they may not have weeded on The Day Of Rest, I am fairly certain they came home from church and sat on their porches, watching the corn grow with their shotguns across their knees.

I first became aware things were not going to go as planned when my wife, who ordinarily is far more businesslike than I am, vanished from the Childcare. I received a slightly garbled text on my cell-phone, attempting to be businesslike about rescheduling so she could drive to Maine. My daughter-in-law was in labor.

While my wife insists I was very helpful, when I was present as my second two sons were born, in all honesty I confess I have never felt so helpless. Responsible, yes. Helpful, no. In any case I had no desire to again be a cheerleader, and remained behind to hold the fort at the Childcare. In theory. In fact I was distracted and did a lot of nervous pacing. My staff did a great job covering for me, and even the children seemed understanding. The older children remembered my daughter-in-law from when she worked for us one summer, and I think they explained things to the littler ones. Even midst my distraction I noted a lot of whispering going on. This left me free to seek outlets for my nervous energy.

One thing I did was get down on my knees, which seemed a good place to be when one you care for is in labor. And then I weeded. It’s amazing how much weeding you can get done when full of nervous energy. As my granddaughter was born countless weeds died terrible deaths.

It likely seems unsentimental to say so, but it seemed to me that, if one insists upon being a nervous wreck, one might as well put the energy to good use and get some weeding done. And as I thought my pragmatic thought I imagined all my Puritan ancestors in heaven were nodding.

Glancing around, I noticed the final children were leaving and my staff was wrapping things up. My cellphone had alerted me to the fact all had gone well. I stood up and stretched, and contemplated what sane, sensible and pragmatic deed I might do next. Then I got in my car and drove through rush-hour traffic up to Portland, Maine, to spend not much more than fifteen minutes admiring the mother and child and new father, and then drove empty roads far more swiftly back down to New Hampshire, arriving home a little after midnight

It was time well spent. For one thing, it was great to step into the bubble of joy eminating from a young couple becoming a family. Though my son spoke of the awesome responsibility he felt, his eyes were soft and dreamy. His wife was exalted by the relief from pain, and the escape from danger, and the triumph, and the wonder of the new life she held in her arms.

Not that I’d particularly care to be in their shoes. Youth thirsts to climb mountains I feel no need to climb. But as I entered their bubble I remembered childbirth is like an island of joy in a sea of troubles.

I became very serene as I drove home through one of the longest and latest twilights of the year. I was thinking I was towards the end of a journey my son is just beginning. In some senses I’m handing the baton on to a new generation who will continue the race. Though the labor of childbirth is over, a new labor is just beginning for my son, but perhaps is ending for me, and perhaps I am upon an island of joy all my own.

For some reason my son asked me to dredge up the words to a song I used to strum on the back porch after long work-days, when he was just a boy. As I drove the words came back to me, and I began singing it:

Somewhere high above this little
Valley where I earn my living
Is a world that’s so forgiving,
But I cannot go.
I have a row to hoe.

How I wish I could go up there.
Climb that mountain. Breathe that air.
Hear those angels make their music
But I cannot go.
I have a row to hoe.

I have children; they need raising;
Some days scolding; some days praising;
Although I’d rather be lazing
Where I cannot go
Until my children grow.

How I wish I could go up there
Climb that mountain. Breathe that air.
Hear those angels make their music
But I cannot go
Until my children grow.

Years will pass. It’s no use countin’.
Some day all must climb that mountain.
Stand where love is like a fountain
That forever flows
Fragrant as a rose.

Then at last we’ll all be up there
On that mountain. Breathe that air.
Hear those angels make that music
That forever flows
Fragrant as a rose. (circa 1996)

My sense of humor began to kick in as I left the highway and drove the summer streets close to home, where the stray cats always look surprised to see anyone out driving so late. My own serenity amused me, for, while I suppose I could drop dead tomorrow, if I really felt I was at the end I wouldn’t have planted a garden last spring. All the same, I did not complain about the peace I felt. As I got out of my car at home home and paused to heed the distant coyotes yipping and caterwauling (more clever foreshadowing) I decided islands of joy in seas of trouble were good things, for otherwise how should we ever cross the seas?

I lack the lust and yearning ambition
I once had, yet now hear peace’s sweetness.
Not that I sit in my armchair wishing
To never arise, but a completeness
Blesses my life. I watch the young hurry
To start families; see woman wince in labor
And then sigh with babe in arms; then worry
With husbands at bills; debate a neighbor
About fences or a salesman over price,
And I have no yearning to again start
Such projects. Sometimes it just plain feels nice
To be done, and own a quiet heart.
This sunrise seems to be one of those days.
My lone desire’s to hum my Lord praise.

WEEDER WARS –Part 1–

It doesn’t matter if you don’t call yourself a “farmer”, for even if you merely raise a lone tomato or cucumber on a patio or porch, there will come a day your idyll is interrupted by aphids, or a ravenous tomato-hornworm-caterpillar, and on that day you will understand farming isn’t peace. It is war.

To a certain degree this is life as usual. It doesn’t matter if you are starting a garden or engineering a bridge, “Murphy’s Law” will state “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong”, and you will have to deal with unexpected foul-ups and unintended consequences. In moderation, this is fun, much like the stress of solving a crossword puzzle. Many assume gardening will involve moderation and be fun: There will be weeds but they will be weeded in a leisurely way, with dignity. Nope. Sooner or later it is war; total war.

One aspect of warfare is that not every attack results in victory. More ordinary is for an attack to result in resistance.

In terms of gardening, what this means is that when you pull some weeds, it is seldom a rout, with weeds fleeing in panic. In fact weeds often counter-attack. They think they have every bit as much a right to fertile soil as your tomato. Just who do you think you are, depriving ragweed?

In like manner, just because you put up chicken-wire, it is seldom a discouragement to predators. Just who do you think you are, depriving a mother fox food for her kits? In fact farmers have a wry saying, “If you want to know if there is wildlife in your neighborhood, get some chickens.”

In fact a farm is a lot like a fifteen round fight; you can’t expect to win every round. The problem is that some novices find it appalling, when they are knocked back on their heels and it is fairly obvious they are losing a round. It doesn’t fit their idyllic preconceptions of how gardening should be. A single sweltering day, or single swarm of midges, is enough, for some, and turns their confident advance into a panicky retreat. It is for this reason many gardens that look lovely in April become a thick and luscious bed of weeds by July. The gardener has lost the war.

Back when half of all Americans farmed, people were more reluctant to throw in the towel in the first or second round of the fight, because the consequences of losing were grave. There were no food-stamps, and poor people were not fat. Even if the bank took your farm you didn’t escape farming, for you had to go live on the “poor farm”. Often what you grew was all you had to eat, and people would struggle on despite much adversity, for a few small potatoes was better than none. As hard as such farming was, people were seemingly grounded in basic realities which the modern Socialist has forgotten. Where the Socialist promises to tax the rich and give the poor lots of free stuff, the old-time farmers knew nothing was free. The old-timers knew you “reap what you sow”, and that even such reaping didn’t happen unless you spent month after month fighting round after round.

My early life knew some amazing adventures which some would call “hardship”, and somewhere along the line I stopped taking anything for granted. Certain people I counted upon failed to keep the trust, so I became unwilling to rely on anyone but my foolish self, and God. For the most part my foolish self-reliance generated fiascoes, yet I always seemed to emerge from the rubble older and wiser, and for that God gets the glory.

To some degree my old age and (so-called) wisdom has involved a retreat into a sort of fall-back position. I am more inclined to adopt the attitudes of my great-grandparents than anything modern. In this manner I am like many New-Age idealists (and like Hippies of 1969, dreaming of idyllic communes), but the difference is that I don’t expect an idyll. I expect a fifteen-round brawl.

In dealing with this battle farmers have come up with various sprays: Pesticides and herbicides and fungicides, but what is really needed is a “socialisticide”. Socialists can be pests, when you put the rights of your chickens ahead of foxes, for they complain you are neglecting foxes, (when they aren’t clamoring for greater rights for your chickens.) How is it a people who have never farmed can assume they have authority over people who do? I’d like to spray them all down with “socialisticide”, when I’m in a grumpy mood.

I am saved from this grumpiness by my wife. Somewhat to my own astonishment I recently recognized my beloved is a socialist. But it is for all the right, non-materialistic reasons, based upon the “Book of Acts” in the Bible. Where politicians get insanely rich “helping” the poor, my wife’s brand of socialism sees our marriage’s skinny wallet gets skinnier. To some degree some of her charity is selfish, for “charity begins at home”, and she is big on “family values”. I am often asked to ignore an important farm-job, such as weeding, to attend an event that “supports the family”, such as a grandchild’s birthday.

I am reluctant to procrastinate, when it comes to weeding, for a weed which you can pinch from the soil with ease on Monday swiftly develops a root system by Friday that requires eye-popping effort to remove. My wife fails to understand this, for she rarely weeds. She also fails to understand my panic, when weeds are growing and ignored, and accuses me of caring more for weeds than grandchildren. (Such shots-to-the-heart are typical of Socialists.)

Like most good husbands I chose my battles, and the rest of the time I meekly say, “Yes Dear.” However I felt my tolerance getting stretched to the limit when I was asked to ignore farm matters for “good business practices.” My wife was staging a Socialist event called “A Preschool Graduation” at our Farm-childcare.

Absurd. Of what use is a diploma to a five-year-oId? And how can it compete with weeding the broccoli? Weeding produces a crop, whereas a five-year-old’s diploma produces nothing. (Sadly often a twenty-five-year-old’s diploma produces the same nothing.) However my wife stated diplomas produced “satisfied customers”, and that customers, and not my broccoli, was what truly fed us. I muttered we were teaching five-year-olds to value the wrong things, (in an inaudible manner), and said, “Yes dear” more loudly. My wife didn’t much like my tone.

I was then expected to “spruce up the place”, which involved making the productive farm look like an unproductive suburb. Rather than the important work of weeding , I had to “groom” the farm. I did a fine job, mowing and “weed-whacking ” edges and planting non-edible flowers and clearing trails of fallen trees and putting up balloons and banners, but the entire time my broccoli was screaming, “Help us! Save us!”

Finally the Socialism was done with, the children performed songs and parents were enthralled and diplomas were handed out and people ate a fine meal and the satisfied customers trailed off into the sunset, and I could at long last get down to the real work of catching up with my weeding. Immediately it rained.

Now it just so happens I can’t weed in the rain, because it spreads bacteria and fungus and diseases (especially with beans). Also I had to undergo oral surgery and have the roots of five teeth extracted from my upper jaw, and there were complications, and I was reduced to a diet of soft boiled eggs and gruel, which likely weakened my resistance to a summer cold passing through the Childcare. As my fever spiked at 101 degrees I was glad it was raining, for it gave me a good excuse to set a record for the number of naps a old man can take in a single day. But then my fever dropped and the forecast promised a single sunny day in a very rainy spring. I prepared to leap from bed and attack those weeds.

It turned out a side effect of this particular summer cold is that ones lungs are made hyper-sensitive to pollen, for a while. A number of local folk I spoke with complained about how they could not shake the congestion and hacking cough. I concur, but think they were too stoic and modest in describing how crippling the pulmonary inflammation was. I’ve never had asthma, but felt like I was having attacks. My nose streamed mucus in a way highly annoying to my wife, as she feels a dripping mustache does not lead to “satisfied customers.” My coughing fits can only be described as fits of hysteria; the coughs were so rapid they sounded like a machine gun, and one time, driving twenty miles an hour on a country lane, I nearly went off the road.

But I was not going to let some dumb cough slow me down. I muttered the old motto, “When the going gets tough the tough get going”, and figured some energetic exercise would clear my lungs. After I “hucked a looey” or two of phlegm, I’d be fine. The bell rang, and I headed out to fight the next round.

It was a bit like I walked into an uppercut to my jaw, though in fact it was a wall of pollen. Rather than clearing my lungs, exercise gagged me. My coughing was unproductive, and also embarrassing, for it was a senile “ih-ih-ih-ih-ih-ih”, yet so prolonged I couldn’t inhale. When a fit dropped me to one knee, I imagined a referee began counting, “One…two…three…four…”, and also a sardonic voice in the back of my mind stated, “Well, you are always telling people you want to die with your boots on.”

Fortunately I was saved by the bell and retreated to my corner, which was a shady place out of the sun. And when you are in the shade you can see things you can’t see out in the sun. I could see the air was filled with dust, fine yellow dust, streaming in the wind. Looking down at puddles from recent rains I noted each puddle was rimmed with yellow. Even as they shrank in the sunshine their little coasts were made golden by pollen. The scientist in me concluded that plants that have no use for bees, and pollinate using wind, have evolved some sort of self-restraint. They know better than to release pollen in the rain, when it will be beat down, and withhold the release until the sun shines. And, when it has rained a solid week, this means an amazing amount of pollen gets released when the sun finally shines. The coach in my corner concluded we would be wise to avoid breathing, so I fought the next round sitting on my rider mower, catching up on cutting-the-grass.

Of course, as I sat on my duff on the puttering mower, I could look over at the garden and hear the broccoli weeping, “Help us! Save us!”, and I eventually heard the coach in my corner propose weeding in a pinkie-raised way that required no hacking hoe and heavy breathing. And we did a little of that, as the sun dimmed in streamers of cirrus overhead, and the west darkened with the rising purple of approaching thunder. But what really stuck in my head was the moment I sat in the shade, and looked out to sunshine, and suddenly understood how thick the pollen truly was. I said to myself, “There’s a sonnet in this”.

Midst my misery; my sneezing summer
Cold; my snuffling self-pity; weaker
Than a kitten; glum and getting glummer,
My heart required humor be it’s speaker:
“If we’ve got to die, let’s have our killer
Be pine pollen, streaking yellow in the wind.
These swaying trees aren’t like the miller
Grinding flour steadily, but have grinned,
Held back ammo all a rainy week, and then
Let pollen go like a cavalcade of gold
Dust in the wind. Why gripe you’re choked, when
Sun-stirred breezes make twigs prance uncontrolled?
The green-gold pine pollen’s such a wonder,
Golden against rising purple thunder.”

LOCAL VIEW –A Burr’s Blessing–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

an’ he took up collection,
Said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus

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

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

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

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

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

And what is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These roots must be washed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOCAL VIEW –Dawn’s First Bird–

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said something along the lines of, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you simply don’t sit down.” I’ve been enjoying the Memorial Day weekend adopting that philosophy. I can’t work with the manly, maniacal ferocity I once could muster, but I sure can potter.

Of course I have to be civil, and attend family barbecues, but even when laughing at a fine story, half my mind is back in the dirt, planning my next pottering.  I’m stiff and sore, but can’t remember ever enjoying my garden the way I’m enjoying it this year.

I’ve adjusted my attitude, (or, to give credit where credit is due, God adjusted my attitude for me), and I simply am not so fired-up and focused on results. Ambiguously, the results are better.

It is difficult to explain. I’ve known for years how desire can spoil things; when young I would meet a nice woman and enjoy engaging conversations, but then desire would creep in, and I soon was not enjoying much of anything.  Noon seemed dark as midnight, which seems a bit foolish now, as one woman I anguished over now has only three teeth left and weighs over three hundred pounds.

God knew best. I have pretty much led a life out of control, buffeted this way and that by circumstances, which tends to make you pray more than you pray when things are in control, and also may be a sign God is in control, for spirituality is more about being freed from desires than it is about getting what you desire. Often it is easier to be free from a desire by not getting it, though not getting-what-we-want does tend to make us sulk.

Back when I was devoted to chain-smoking, I never much liked it when I was especially poor and couldn’t afford cigarettes, but I had to admit my health improved. (Also, it is amazing what you can accomplish, if you crave a cigarette. An old commercial once stated, “I’ll walk a mile for a Camel (brand of cigarette)”, but I’d go farther; I’d spread hot asphalt in a desert under a blazing sun all day for the money to buy some, yet it occurred to me that I was doing all these amazing deeds without a cigarette, which suggested I really didn’t “need” them.)

Just as not-getting what you desire can be a good thing, getting what you desire can cause troubles. I don’t suppose I need to give examples; people can usually think up their own. And we all have met people who “have it made” who are miserable, and who make those around them miserable as well. Although many see God as a great Santa who responds to our Wish List, there are times we wish for the wrong things, and if we put such things up on a pedestal we are creating a “false god” and are probably going to get what we deserve. In some cases we are “given to our sin”, which basically means we stew in our own juices and suffer long and hard, and in other cases we experience a swift and surgical removal of what we desire, which is traumatic but often better, because it is over so swiftly.

I’m sure this idea strikes some as if spirituality is an ultimate spoilsport, lurking about to catch us desiring something, and then snatching it away. (At times my life felt that way, and for a while my motto was, “The right thing is never the rewarding thing.”) However Divinity is described as a “Good Shepherd”, and a shepherd doesn’t want miserable sheep, parched and starved and with moth-eaten wool with with bald patches. Rather God wants his sheep led to greener pastures, or, as Jesus stated, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

In theory we should desire, but desire what God desires, as that will not wind us up hip-deep in the troubles our own more-ignorant desires often land us in. Of course, I haven’t yet heard a deep voice commanding me, “plant turnips; not rutabaga,” Instead I simply roll with the punches better. When I have a seed-bed nicely tilled and raked-up and ready-to-plant, and then a small stampede of children at my Childcare cross the seedbed and pack it as hard as brick, I no longer bulge eyes and burst blood vessels; I just shrug and say, “Well, I’ll be gummed.” And when, as I transplant seedlings in a neat row, I hear a soft noise behind me and turn to see one of my goats eating seedlings in a neat row, I no longer seek to embed a trowel between its eyes as it cavorts away from my screaming onrush, prancing and kicking its heels. Instead I again simply shrug and say, “Well, I’ll be gummed.”

If nothing else, my blood pressure is lower.

Because the results are no longer so screamingly important, I seem to have better results. I’ve heard that meditation makes one more efficient, but I never was big at sitting cross-legged and chanting, “Aumm”.  But my current attitude seems to have roughly the same effect, in that I work smarter, not harder. I may even write a book about it. If President Trump could write, “The Art Of The Deal“, then maybe I can write “The Art Of The Potter-Around“.

One thing I have noticed is that, because I spend less time grousing, there is far more time to notice little things, and appreciate them. Where I used to fill silence with a lot of noise, switching my radio from station to station, I now enjoy a quiet garden, with only the wind and the occasional twitter of a bird. I’ve even started to enjoy just laying in bed with insomnia:

The last breeze stirred night’s spring leaves, departing.
Then a soft summer silence descended:
Frogs gone silent in the cool; crickets not starting.
Silence was dark, draped velvet, once rended
By the yap of a far fox noting the waning
Moon was rising late, but swiftly mended
By smooth stitchings of peace. Life was gaining
Summer strength in the healing dark. Ended
For a time was all bustle and battle;
But then, so early it sometimes seems
A sort of miracle, before men first rattle
And bang, stirring and starting to chase dreams
With machinery, in their sleep they’ve heard
The glad announcement of dawn’s first bird.

Besides asparagus and rhubarb produced from big roots I planted long ago, this year’s garden has only produced stones and witch-grass, piled at the edge.

As a boy I assumed witch grass got its name because it was a curse in a garden. It sends out long roots, and any broken-off piece of root left behind will shoot up a vigorous new stem of grass. One of the first money-making jobs I ever had as a small boy was to remove witch-grass from a neighbor’s garden, and I recall being appalled how swiftly the work grew tedious, and how long it took an hour to pass so I could collect my 25¢. If anyone had ever suggested I’d ever get pleasure from weeding it I would have called them out of their cotton-pickin’ minds.

Yet I recall only around five-years later, when I was eleven, I started a small garden in the back yard, and our cook-maid-nanny came out to see what I was up to. She was a tough, chain-smoking woman of around forty from a farm up on Prince Edward’s Island, and when she saw me struggling to shake the dirt from a thick turf by hand she abruptly stated, “Here; let me show you how to do that.” I was slightly offended that some mere cook should think she knew more about gardening than my awesome self, but I had to admit it was interesting to watch her. She never touched the turf, instead using a spading fork to toss it about in the air, swiftly reducing it to a dirtless tangle of roots, which she tossed aside. It was obvious she had a lot of practice, in her past. She made quite a vision, wearing an apron and with a cigarette drooping from her lips, but what was most interesting to me was the enjoyment in her eyes. In three or four minutes she’d done the amount of work I’d done in the past hour, at which point she was huffing and puffing. “Guess I’m getting old,” she commented, handing me the fork, “But try it my way. It’s faster.”

What I really learned from her was that one could do such work with enjoyment in their eyes. It was amazing how often I’d remember her, as a gardener dealing with witch-grass over the next fifty years. It turned out there was good money in knowing how to remove witch-grass from a flower bed, as most ladies are not as skilled as that cook was, and the only enjoyment in the eyes of my employers was derived from watching me do the job.

As time passed I learned the weed is called witch-grass because in the past “witch” was the name given to a herbalist. The church often didn’t approve much of people who believed plants could heal, as priests felt God deserved the glory, and there were some bad times when herbalists could be in grave danger (although the danger to herbalists was not as bad as some now describe it, and the real medieval danger-of-execution tended to involve politics, such as being Pro-Catholic or Pro-Protestant.) There were some herbalists who perhaps got too interested in sex and drugs, focusing on herbs that were aphrodisiacs and hallucinogens, and these people may have contributed to the idea of a “wicked witch.” But I honestly believe there were other “white witches” who simply had a God-given gift, when it came to recognizing what plants had what God-given positive effects. (For example, all the benefits of what we call “aspirin” originally came from willow bark.)

And even as a boy I did notice there was something attractive about witch-grass in the spring. Without thinking, we boys would chew it. Also dogs and cats ate it.

Pullets like it as well. When I release the young hens from the fox-proof bunker I’ve constructed for them, first thing in the morning, they charge to the pile of witch-grass I’ve tossed in their pen even before eating their grain.

So, for a pottering fellow like me, I have found a use for the first crop the garden produces. But what to do with the second crop; the piles of stones?

It turns out they are perfect for filling potholes in the Childcare driveway. Of course, I may have to endure a bit of scorn from my oldest son. He thinks it is easier to arrive with an entire dump truck or two of  “hard-pack”, and spread it out with a front-end-loader. But if I did that, what would I do with all my stones? Anyway, pottering involves wheelbarrows and rakes, not dump-trucks and front-end-loaders.

Today’s pottering involved moving a big sheet of black plastic I found wadded up in a corner of the barn from one place in the garden, where I spread it last summer, to another place, where I’m spreading it this year. I have the hunch that the black plastic absorbs so much heat from the summer sun that it cooks the weed-seeds in the soil beneath. There was no sign of life in the soil I exposed, (in the foreground in the picture below.)  (The plastic sheet is moved to the background.)

The problem with weeds is that they have a crafty strategy, regarding their seeds. Not all seeds sprout the first, second or even third year. Therefore they keep coming up, even if you have done a perfect job weeding for one, two or three years. I myself have never been a perfect weeder for even a week, let alone a year. But I never liked the idea of using a herbicide such as “Roundup”, even before the recent worries about it causing lymphoma surfaced. Therefore I have always utilized various sorts of mulching, hot-water-sprays, and lots of elbow grease.  This year I am experimenting with various black “fabrics” that let the rain and air through, but give weeds no light, and also this old sheet of black plastic.

Of course, it may well turn out plastic also has some bad stuff involved, some trace-gas out-vented or some such thing. All sorts of fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides and fungicides have been banned since my family first had a vegetable garden in 1956, (at the time of the Suez Crisis and Hungarian Revolution, when it seemed Atomic War might make food scarce.) The average American is likely loaded with more toxins than you can shake a stick at, and the wonder is we haven’t all grown extra ears and noses. But I figure the cancers started by one toxin are killed off by the cancers started by the next, and through sheer luck we stay in a sort of balance. However it is likely best to grow your own vegetables, and grow them as organically as possible.

After all, Moms have always told us vegetables are good for us, even when they aren’t herbalists. I’ve started looking on line to see what benefits certain plants have, Asparagus surprised me. It turned out it didn’t have one benefit; it had seventeen!

17 Impressive Benefits of Asparagus

 

 

OK. Now time to head off and potter.