LOCAL VIEW –First Frost–

We have had a summery fall, with a few summer-like waves of refreshing Canadian air, welcome because they push out the heat and humidity, but the southern warmth quickly pushed back north, hot and muggy but usually dry, until at long last a southern surge  brought us some rain, which our parched landscape accepted with a deep sigh of gratitude.

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That single band of warm rain, bececting the southern border of New Hampshire, gave us more rain than we’d received in the entire month before. It was slightly less than three inches. So parched was our landscape that the brooks didn’t even rise. The land sucked it up like a sponge. The drought wasn’t ended. But at least the woods didn’t crisply crunch as I walked through them, after that extended torrent (between 4:00 and 8:00 AM), and I wasn’t searching the historical records for evidence of state-wide forest fires any more. Instead I worried southwards, about hurricanes. (Notice, in the map below, the ex-tropical storm off the Carolina coast.)

20160919-satsfc As the welcome wall of moisture swept north, a flimsy, poor-excuse-for-a-cold-front basically faded away over us, as we sank back into a tropical flow from the south. Up in that flow came a poor-excuse-for-a-hurricane. It had no rain, and no wind, but wonderfully strange skies. They were hurricane skies, without the hurricane.

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When it really became obvious the skies were different was when the skies gave way to a hurricane sunset. When I was young, old-timers warned me to be wary of sunsets that were not just red in the west, but crimson wall-to-wall, from west all the way overhead and down to the east, especially at the time of the “line storm” (when the sun crosses the equator).  “Red at night, sailor’s delight” was not true for the “blood sun”.

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In a sense it was as if a atmospheric gap passed over us with a sign on it, “This Space Is Reserved For A Hurricane”, but no hurricane chose to utilize its reservation.  I found it odd. It seemed especially odd because several tropical storms have milled about over warm waters without showing the slightest inclination towards the explosive development that sailors once dreaded. In like manner fronts have approached New England this summer, and had signs on them, “This Space Reserved For Severe Thunderstorms”, and we got not even a sprinkle nor a grumble.

Only a true Alarmist would gnaw their nails about no hurricanes and no severe thunderstorms. It is a blessing, (though we could have used a little more light rain). However I thought it was wonderful that, even though we did not get a “line storm” right at the solstice, (the time the terrible 1938 Hurricane passed though New England, completely changing the landscape in three hours), a sort of Space-reserved-for-hurricane passed over at the right time, with a hurricane sunset. It made the old-timers I once listened to seem less out-dated.

When I was knee high to a grasshopper, the old-timers I annoyed were all born in the 1800’s, and could remember when sailing ships were still common. Right up into the Great Depression men in New England made decent money shipping cargo up and down the coast on schooners. They lived lives Insurance Companies would now frown upon, and endured the whims of the weather, and therefore knew things about what the winds do that we have forgotten, now that we use satellites in outer space to tell us which ways the winds blow, and seldom step outside and wet a finger.

Now I’m the old-timer, but even though I’ve lived much more of my life outdoors than most modern people do, I’m not as smart as those old sailors were. Also, when it comes to satellites, I’m not as smart as the young. At times I think I epitomize the worst of both worlds. However perhaps I am a bridge between the two worlds.

One thing the old-timers knew about, back when more than half of all Americans lived on farms,  was that when the nights get longer the Canadian air-masses, so welcome during the summer, when the nights are too short to do damage, gain power. It is the power of longer nights, leading to frost. Frost does great damage to the productivity of a garden, and the old-timers would anxiously sniff the air on cool nights, even in August. By September they expected frost, and this was especially true when conditions were dry, (because moister and lusher foliage has a power to resist frost which drier foliage lacks.) Around here the first frost was expected around the solstice, and any extension of the growing season was deemed good luck.

However the modern forecasters, parked indoors by their computer screens, were completely blind-sided by our first frost this year, on September 26. This sort of surprised me, because usually those fellows will use the slightest excuse to puff their self-importance, setting off wailing warnings on weather-radios, and many’s the time I’ve been awoken at three AM by my weather-radio warning of the slight possibility of frost in mountains fifty miles north of here. This year there was no warning. Low temperatures were predicted to be around 40°F (+4.4°C).

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If people with gardens actually depended on the government, they might be pissed off, because with adequate warning a sprinkler can be set out in the garden, and a slight spray of water can extend the growing season. (Not that things grow much more, as the sun gets lower and weaker. One year, close to the water on the coast of Maine, I managed to protect my garden nearly to Thanksgiving in November, and what amazed me was how stunted the growth was. It was nice to have things fresh from the garden, but I recall the Swiss Chard grew short, squat leaves, like triangles.)

The small scale farmers around here don’t need the government to tell them to expect frost in late September. Either they protected their tomatoes,  or else they said, “the heck with it.” When the frost came without an official warning, the really angry people, I expect, were the little old ladies who had their hot-house plants out on the patio, and saw them killed, because the weathermen didn’t warn them. And it is such ladies, and not farmers, that the weathermen should kowtow to, for such ladies have the big bucks and donate to PBS and the meteorology departments of colleges.

Me? I wasn’t angry. I expected frost. It happens. Heck if a change of government will change the date of the first frost. It happens. It really seems primitive and savage to me that some think anyone but the Creator controls the weather. I see little difference between savages who think throwing a virgin into a volcano can control nature, and those who think buying curly light-bulbs and separating green bottles from brown bottles can control nature.

I mean, if you believe in such stuff, shouldn’t you just go to the Creator, and say, “Begging your pardon, Creator, but could you please make it snow this Christmas, after folk have finished their shopping?” Isn’t it a little bit insulting to the Creator to think you can control Him? “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased curly light bulbs, and henceforth You will do as I say!”

I was part of a generation that felt it could boss the Creator absurdly. “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased a tablet of LSD, and henceforth you will expand my consciousness as I say!” (What a fiasco!) Therefore, now that I am an old-timer, I am less inclined to tell the Creator how to run the universe.

I am more inclined to attempt to emulate Abraham Lincoln. When asked if he wanted the Creator to be on “our side”, his polite, considerate (and, by modern standards, politically incorrect,) response was, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

In order to be like that, one has to be humble. One has to be able to confess they are not in control of all things. In such a situation one should heed little children, because they have no control whatsoever. Call it Karma or whatever-you-will, they have no control of the situation they are born into.

There actually was a Child-care philosophy that was all the rage, a while back,  that focused on giving children more of a sense they were “in control.” Rather than saying, “Get in the car”, you were suppose to say, “Would you like to get in the car?” The aim was to stimulate a child’s creativity (as if they needed any help with that!) The fear was that, by bossing children around, you were crushing their talents. What was discovered was that too much freedom made children feel abandoned. Walls were not seen by the child as being like a prison’s, but instead walls sponsored a cozy sense of safety. A child did not want the deep responsibility of being in control of everything. They wanted to trust those details to the grown-ups.  

The trust of children is quite amazing to witness, in cases where the parents have serious problems, and you might think a child would prefer foster care. Even when parents are heroin addicts and both are in jail, a little child will prefer them to  saintly foster care. Parents are a “given”, just as weather is a “given”.  Just as we don’t control the weather, children don’t control their fate, yet they are a heck of a lot more optimistic and cheerful than most adults. Like the captains of old schooners, they sail through situations that would turn an insurance adjuster a deathly shade of green. Therefore I watch children carefully, to see how they respond to a first frost.

 

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Is that young man cursing Big Oil, or Big Green? Is he cursing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Or is he not cursing anyone at all, and instead just filled with wonder?

As I get older I get younger. Maybe it is because I have to deal with kids so much, or perhaps senility is creeping in. Increasingly, cursing seems stupid. Increasingly, wonder seems wise.

When I think back to the old-timers I knew in my youth, it seems they were less troubled by not being in control. Just think how anguished a modern insurance agent would be about a cargo vessel with no engine, dependent on the whims of the wind. Yet the old-timers simply accepted the whims of the wind as a given, and worked like mad responding. In like manner, a first frost got everyone working like crazy to save what they could from the garden.

Perhaps it is working with computers so much that makes people think they are in control. People have the sense that they only need to rewrite the program, and any glitch will be fixed. Before you know it people are attempting to create a reality that is “risk free”.

That is not how the Creator made the world. A “risk free” environment is a bed you can hide beneath, and even there you are mortal, and, after hiding for seventy years, you die.  At some point one wants to come out, and face the sky, and maybe even sail.

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Now stand back, all you bankers of men’s hearts,
For I am going to stay the wheels of time
And command leaves stay green, when first frost starts
To spill paints across the hills. I’ll climb
The clouds and yank the slumping sun back north.
My hair will turn dark again, without dye.
I’ll again gush ardor, (whatever that’s worth),
And make fall’s maudlin poems be a lie.
I’m tired of autumn songs being so weepy
So I’ll derange the seasons with tulips
And wake poor bears just when they’re sleepy.
The only frost will involve my mint juleps.
And then, when asked why I’ve altered Creation,
I’ll just explain it’s my standing ovation.

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LOCAL VIEW –Sidekickery–

The weather map is blind to what went on in New Hampshire today (May 19). Or, well, they do put two orange dashes on the map, to show something or another was passing through.

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Radar is not much better, just showing disorganized showers drifting from the west to the east.

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However here on the ground you could feel a relenting of the bone-dry, greatly modified arctic air, and a hint of summer move in. The fronts may be “ghost fronts”,  but between the first and second line of showers (faintly seen in the above radar) was the memory of some sort of warm sector. It felt as sweet as forgiveness.

The sprinkles of rain were barely enough to settle the dust, but it felt like a different sort of drought was ending. The air wasn’t just warmer, it was moister. It didn’t chap your eyeballs any more. My stiff, old joints felt looser, and I pottered about the garden at twice the speed I usually potter. That may not be very fast, in the eyes of the young, but by my standards I was really flying.

Things quicken in May, and already asparagus is popping up, and rhubarb is ready to pick. Kids at my Farm-childcare pester me to pick them a stem of rhubarb, which around 75% of the kids find appealing, and which they munch like very sour celery. Around 95% of the kids find the poisonous leaf appealing.  Not that they eat it. Rather it serves as a hat.

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You would not believe how the kids fight over these hats. They do not cost me a penny. Any parent who ever feels guilty for not not buying the latest Disney Toy for their child should rest assured children will whine and weep just as much over toys that Disney does not make a cent from.

In fact the boy in the yellow raincoat (who wishes to remain anonymous) does not have a rhubarb hat (though he munched that entire stalk of rhubarb in his right  hand.)  I came up one rhubarb leaf short, when picking. The lad then made such a fuss about how his sister (also anonymous) got a hat and he didn’t that I picked him a burdock leaf, and told him rhubarb was for fairy princesses, but tough gremlins wore burdock. The boy in the middle then began contemplating whether he really wanted a sissy, fairy hat, or whether the situation was unfair, and he should demand justice, and whine that that he wanted a gremlin hat, too.

All the whining and complaining I face is likely very much like the whining and complaining parents face in stores, but on a farm it costs nothing, whereas in a store it costs part of a parent’s paycheck. As far as I am concerned parents should draw the line. At most they should buy one toy a year from a store, and no more. It is a well known fact children often derive more joy from the cardboard box the toy came in, than the toy itself. Children will not be deprived if the parents saves money. They most certainly will not be deprived of chances to whine and complain, for children find ways to fill that need without the parents needing to spend a fortune. Parents will have ample opportunity to deal with that need. Parents should bankrupt Disney by buying no toys, and giving their child rhubarb and burdock leaf-hats instead. Parents will wind up richer, and need to work less, and then they can bankrupt me, by caring for their own kids, which will make them richer still.

Until parents catch on, I’ll continue to have the sheer audacity of charging them for the joy of spending time with their kids, and teaching children joyous nonsense, such as that burdock leaves are gremlin hats.

I actually shouldn’t have any burdock leaves in stock in my toy store, for I have tried to eradicate burdock on my farm, because when autumn comes children have a way of being mischievous with the burrs, by  flinging them into another child’s hair. This may even be what spreads the seeds all over the farm. I even caught one malevolent little girl advising another, younger girl that it was “stylish” to put roughly a hundred burrs in her hair. The agony of removing all those burrs was something I hope to never endure again. Therefore, every spring, we dig up burdock and peel the bark off the roots to eat the tasty inner core.

I should mention that people into herbal medicine claim burdock has all sorts of healing benefits. I don’t know about that. I only know the plant is awfully bitter, except the inner part of the root. The outer part of the root is awful. My pigs won’t touch it, and they root up most everything.  Also children won’t touch it, except for the inner part of the root. So that is as far as I go.

I have great respect for people who study herbal medicine, but I think the real herbalists own a sort of uncanny gift I recognize, but don’t have.  I could study herbs until the cows come home, but it would lack some crucial “knowing”.  Lots of New-Age hippies have never really understood this,  and do study herbs until the cows come home,  but definitely lack the gift.  In fact, to be blunt, some even make the subject of herbs dirty. How they can make such a beautiful subject filthy amazes me. I suppose it has something to do with a focus on sex and drugs, rather than on nourishment and healing, but at times they make me ashamed of my own generation, and at other times, when you see me leaning on my hoe and looking at the clouds, such thinking leads me far away from my garden.

Often I am brought back to earth by the voice of a small child at my side, wanting to know “whatcha doing?” Usually it is obvious what  I am doing, so I usually answer them, “Making a pizza.” They then grin and exclaim, “You are not!  You are hoeing the potatoes!” (or whatever.) In fact my answer, “making a pizza” has become a tradition, but one nice thing about four-year-old’s is that jokes don’t get old with them. You’d think they’d learn, but they still always ask me, “Whatcha doing?”, which has convinced me it is just their way  of starting a conversation.

Often a child is sent to me, even when I am off duty,  because they are having a bad day and disrupting the activity of the group. I suppose getting sent to me is like being sent to the principle or headmaster, at a school, but they are too young to really deserve any punishment. My wife is of the opinion it is asking too much of a small child to expect them to fit the regimes of organized activity from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and many times they simply need a break. To that I would add that sometimes they just need to have a good cry.

In any case, I suddenly find myself with a small sidekick, and this has led me to think about the subject of sidekickery. It seems a very American thing, and different from Europe, where there seems to be more stress on knowing your place, on class, on  who is “royal” and who is “common”. I have never been big on that, which may be why some say I lack class.

I don’t really like being a leader, but also don’t like being a follower. I’d rather be a sidekick, and I’ve gotten rather good at it over the years. I think it was a skill I developed back in the days when hitchhiking was a common way to get around. It seemed a matter of courtesy, and an expression of gratitude: To be entertaining and make intelligent conversation and/or be a good listener while sitting beside people, whether the ride was five miles or five hundred. At first I was usually  the passenger, but later I  was the driver. Then, as I worked a wide variety of jobs, I found the skill useful when I was “the new kid” at a workplace, and also useful because conversation often was the only way to keep the sheer monotony of some of the jobs from driving me crazy (and sometimes it didn’t work, and then I’d be part of crazy conversations.)

One of the most important, and most American, aspects of being a sidekick involves a recognition that the person beside you is an equal. They might be richer or poorer, smarter or more stupid, taller or shorter, but the ordinary senses of inferiority and superiority are held in abeyance,  and, with egotism out of the way, higher things can become apparent, as one sees it be self-evident that God created all men equal.

This is not to say we are not different. When my sidekick is a four-year-old girl the differences are obvious and enormous. But if I put the child at ease, they walk beside me chatting away as if we’d been friends for twenty years.

This is not to say I don’t have authority and keep control. (Hitchhikers don’t grab the steering wheel.)

And most importantly this is not to say that I have the same gifts. Gifts are one of the most interesting things about small  children, because they all have them, yet are blissfully unaware of the given. When a small child is gifted with perfect pitch and a beautiful voice they take it for granted, and are unaware there is anything special about their singing, unless told. Often they will be perfectly happy singing with the tone deaf (though the next day they may demand the other child be quiet).

Some gifts are obvious. A small Mozart impresses everyone, for music is something we accept as a reality, even if we are not gifted. Other gifts are less obvious, and, if we ourselves don’t have that particular gift, we are quite likely to disbelieve it even exists. If we have a Man-from-Missouri attitude, and demand others “prove it”, we may in fact be asking the impossible. Can a color-blind person demand others prove color exists?

One of the best examples of this involves dowsers. I lack that gift, and was convinced the ability to dowse was sheer humbug. Then, at a small country fair, a dowser was displaying his ability, and I was rolling my eyes in my usual manner and deeming the fellow a skilled con artist, when, while the dowser wasn’t looking,  my three-year-old son picked up the man’s dowsing rod, (actually a couple of stiff, L-shaped wires), and wandered over to the place where the dowser said there was water, and the rods responded. I felt my son had succumbed to the powers of suggestion, and made my small boy walk this way and that, and the rod kept responding at the same place. It was spooky.

Then I saw the dowser looking at me with a knowing sort of smile. He asked me if I was the child’s father, and I said I was. He asked me if I had the gift of dowsing and I stated I definitely didn’t. To prove it I took the dowsing rods and walked about and absolutely nothing happened. Then the man asked my son to touch my elbow as I walked, and to my great consternation the two L-shaped rods suddenly swung and crossed as I walked over the certain spot where water was. Double spooky.

I demanded an explanation. The dowser couldn’t explain it. It was just something he had noticed: When a person with the gift of dowsing touches his father, his father temporarily has the gift, even if he doesn’t believe the gift exists.

It was a very humbling experience,  because I tend to see myself as being a person with an open mind, and scorn people who believe with blinders. I ask for evidence and proof, whereas some believe with blind faith (whether it be in a religion or in Global Warming), and I had plopped “dowsers” into the “blind faith” category.  Now the tables were turned. I was suddenly the dullard Horatio, and a Hamlet was telling me, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” It was obvious my mind wasn’t so open, after all.

Be that as it may, I am what I am, and must base my decisions on what I know. I will never say I know water is located where a dowser says it is located, because I do not know it. That is not my gift.

But I will have a smidgen more respect for people who are different than I am. I will allow them the benefit of the doubt. And this is especially true when they are four years old.

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I have been very busy, and four days have passed without this post being finalized. I should have just posted it as it was, but something was unsaid, and stirring about in the back of my brains.

 Although I don’t have the gift a true herbalist has, I have been weeding gardens since I was a small boy. In fact my first way of making a bit of extra money as a boy was to weed for neighbors. I suppose you can’t do that for over a half century without knowing which weeds are a nibble, which make a meal, and which cause a rash or are poisonous.

Some things I learned from my father, who “stalked the wild asparagus” before Euell Gibbons wrote the book. My father read “Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America”, and liked to impress people by producing a dinner from their woods or from their beach, if he was visiting their summer house. Euell Gibbons liked to do the same thing, which he called “a wild party”.

Hippies like to take credit for the “back to nature movement”, but actually such fads have occurred often thoughout history, and Euell Gibbon’s book was a best seller in 1962, during a pre-hippy surge of interest. At that same time my father had heard of a young woman who wanted to work on her master’s degree by going to the Amazon and studying the herbs that natives used, to see if their primitive medicine involved any drugs modern medicine might utilize. She was being discouraged, but my father used his influence to encourage her and make the journey possible. (This was one of the many things he did that I never heard about, until after he died.)

My father had more respect for “witch doctors” than some might expect in a surgeon, and I often noticed he had an uncanny ability to work the subject around to local cures and old-wive’s-tales, when talking with patients, or even while chatting with a stranger he bought a newspaper from. He had a skill at putting his patients at ease, when they were very nervous about facing surgery, and if their native language wasn’t English he knew how to say, “Does it hurt here? How about here?” in an amazing number of other languages.  I learned a lot about being skilled at sidekickery from him, besides learning about wild foods.

This put me ahead of the curve, when hippies wanted to “go back to nature” in the late 1960’s, and were starting communes, to some degree very much like their homesteading American ancestors. Most communes didn’t last very long, once youth found how much hard work was involved, but there was a general sense the world was going to face a huge disaster of some sort, especially after the first “Earth Day” in 1970, when Paul Ehrlich predicted, “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

I recall reading a National Geographic back then that had graphs and charts that showed we would run out of oil by 1980. Therefore I suppose it was only common sense that I should study edible wild plants further. I  wanted to be able to eat when the supermarkets were empty. Then, as the years past, the worry seemed a bit silly, and Paul Ehrlich looked like a man who profited off fear and foolishness. (This may be why I have always had caution, regarding Global Warming claims.)

In any case, I am now an old man who tends to munch the weeds in his garden, and of course the kids at the Farm-childcare are curious, and ask a lot of questions. I am amazed by how often I don’t know the answer. I have to be careful, because I’d be in deep trouble if a child ate a poisonous plant, and on one occasion I did have to hurry to the web after a child ate a partridge berry,  which I myself avoided because I had a vauge knowledge they were “medicinal.” (Partridge berries turned out to be a mild tranquilizer, apparently used by rural woman during childbirth.) Now children at my Childcare delight in showing their parents the way to tell a checker berry from a partridge berry.

One plant I discovered I didn’t know the name for was locally called “witch grass”, but didn’t match the “witch grass” that appeared on the screen of my computer. It was one of the first grasses that appeared in the spring, and I noticed not only cows, horses and goats, but dogs, foxes and cats would eat it as soon as it appeared. So did I, as a boy. Apparently it is a “spring tonic”, and makes up for a chronic vitamin deficiency that grows during the winter, when there are no berries, and green vegetables aren’t available.  I had no idea that was what I was doing, as a boy; I just liked the flavor, and also the loud, clarinet noise you could make by holding a flat blade between your thumbs and blowing. Later I liked it because I made silver dimes and quarters weeding it from people’s gardens. Locally everyone called it “witch grass”.

I assumed it was called “witch grass” because it was bad like a witch, to have it in your garden. It spreads underground with rhizomes, and if you rotor-till it you basically break up the rhizomes and turn one plant into fifty. I developed a knack for following the rhizomes underground, and was a good kid to have in the neighborhood, if you hated the weed and also hated weeding. However one day I told my father it was called “witch grass” because it was evil, and this seemed to rub the man’s fur the wrong way, because I received quite a long-winded history lesson in return.

I think there may be a certain shame in New England about the Salem Witch Trials, and a certain inherited cautiousness about leaping to conclusions. I know my father was more hostile towards judgmental priests than towards old ladies who knew their herbs. He explained to me that a “witch” was the same thing as a “doctor”, in the old days, but priests didn’t like sick people getting better outside of their church. They especially didn’t like people getting better whom their church hadn’t been able to cure. They got jealous.

Priests felt they held a monopoly on healing, because Jesus was the Great Physician, and priests didn’t understand that the Creator created herbs for a reason. Often an old lady could get in trouble simply by serving a person who showed signs of vitamin C deficiency a rose-hip tea loaded with vitamin C. The priests felt “God should get the glory” but actually wanted the glory themselves, and did inglorious things, such as burning elderly healers at the stake.

Apparently the roots for the word “witch” was a word that meant “holy” in ancient times, and “wih” meant “holy” in old German. In Germany “wih” was pronounced “Vih”, (Gestapo: “ve vill be vatching you”), and therefore a person burned at the stake was a “victim”. Basically the word “witch” wasn’t originally as bad as it became. This is true for other words as well. (The words “divine” and “devil” have the same root). Something strange must have happened back in the mists of time, which we only remember as the legend of Satan falling from heaven with half of the angels. For some unknown reason it became necessary to make a distinction where before there had been unity.

Later on, during the Little Ice Age, when times were bad and crops failed, priests had a bad habit of abusing this distinction, and looking around for someone to blame for the fact prayers went unanswered, needing a scapegoat they could punish. Towards the end of this horrible abuse of Truth the Salem Witch Trials occurred, and became a warning to all, of the dangers of mass hysteria.

The little I heard of this history as a boy impressed me greatly. Not all the lessons were good:  For example, “A bunch of screaming girls can overpower the logic of adults.”

Much made no sense. For example, it was said that a person “owned by the devil” could not recite the Lord’s Prayer. On the steps of the gallow Pastor George Burroughs spoke his final sermon, ending with the Lord’s Prayer, and onlookers were in tears, but his accusers only needed to say that the “black man” was telling him what to say, and he was hung.

Another insanity denies the scripture, “If we confess our sins He (Jesus) is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Salem to confess your sin got you hung, (and in many cases what was confessed was what we would call a “shortcoming”).

But the guy who grabbed my attention when I was young was an 81-year-old man named Giles Cory, who refused to confess. He refused to plead innocent as well, for he knew that if he “plead” everything he owned would be taken by the government, and the people named in his will would get nothing. When accused of being a witch he refused to plead innocent, and refused to plead guilty.

In such cases, when a person “refused to plead”, they were stripped naked, laid on their back in a pit with boards on top of them, and heavy rocks were put on the boards, until the person either plead innocent or guilty. It didn’t work with Giles Corey. All he would say is “More weight.”  (Legend has it that the sheriff actually  stood on the rocks and looked down at the poor old man, whose tongue was protruding from his mouth, and, after pushing the tongue back into Giles’s mouth with his toe, asked Giles if he was ready to plead, and Giles only responded, “More weight, and curse all Sheriffs of Salem.”  Then he died. This is trivia, but that sheriff, and all following sheriffs of Salem, suffered from, and died of, heart ailments, until the sheriff’s office was moved to another town.)

As a youth I thought Giles Corey was totally cool. Rather than confessing my sins like a good Christian, I wanted to be like Giles. This was especially true when my Math teacher asked me if I’d done my homework.

With this horrible example of humanity in my homeland’s history, you might think people in New England would avoid witch-hunts ever afterwards, and to some degree we have. I can recall as a small child how a man in our neighborhood, who had attended communist meetings as a student, was attacked by anticommunists, and how proud my parents were that the entire neighborhood stood up to defend the man from the “witch hunt”. But the simple fact that the witch hunt could even happen showed humanity is reluctant to learn.

My Dad was sensitive to the problem of slow-learners,  because when Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. first suggested invisible germs might be the cause of puerperal fever in 1843, he faced a backlash.  Holmes lived until 1894, and was the mentor of my father’s mentor, who lived until 1946, and therefore the backlash against the idea of “germs” was something my father knew a lot about.

One word Oliver Wendell Holmes coined was “anesthesia”,  for it was a new idea at that time that it might be good to reduce a patient’s pain. Some doctors opposed dulling the pain of childbirth, and the famous obstetrician Dr. Charles Delucena Meigs warned against the morally “doubtful nature of any process that the physicians set up to contravene the operations of those natural and physiological forces that the Divinity has ordained us to enjoy or to suffer“. In other words, God wants women to suffer and doctors shouldn’t get in His way. It was a case of a young and hopeful idealist coming up against a so-called “conservative Christian.”

Not that my father believed in any hippy pseudoscience regarding herbs. He believed doctors should stick to scientifically provable facts, and had a fierce dislike for any sort of psychology that was based on theory alone, especially when there was no sign of improvement in the patients. However he did have respect for old ladies that noticed when their family was healthy after being served certain foods or teas. He felt such grandmothers had powers of observation that were quite scientific, even if they seemed uncanny to others, and a “gift”.

I suppose he was right. I just feel that at times our ability to be “scientific” happens so fast that it seems to occur unscientifically.  For example, students of music can point out the music of Bach obeys fabulous rules of harmony, but Bach wrote the music so swiftly it is impossible that he was referring to any rule-book; he simply knew the rules by heart, in a way we describe as being “a gift”. Likewise, when any musician is improvising, and at their best, they are obeying rules more swiftly than a super-computer, and relaxing as they do it. It is a gift.

In like manner, some people simply have a gift, concerning herbs. Usually it is women, but perhaps that is because women are often the cooks. All I am certain of is that I don’t have that gift. All my knowledge of herbs is more along the lines of trivia, boyishly gathered over the years, and still being gathered. For example, just yesterday I learned the real name for “witch grass.”

It took me a long time. Do you have any idea how many kinds of grass there are? I gave up, but then later decided to google “the worst weeds”. Bingo. Found it.  “Elytrigia repens”, also known as “quackgrass”.Weeds 2 IMG_3010

It should be obvious that my gift isn’t in recognizing the value of herbs. In fact the above, wandering prose shows you how how long it takes me to get from “what is that weed called?’ to the answer, “Quackgrass.” In truth, my gift lies in Sidekickery. I am the sort of hitchhiker a fellow with many boring miles to cross was glad to pick up, because I could take a simple subject like “a common weed” and turn it into a long tale, and the miles would fly past.

The other day, however, a four-year-old girl became my sidekick, and she was not the slightest bit interested in my gift. I knew she was going to wind up with me, for one of my best employees responds to a child’e misbehavior with a booming, joyous laugh, and I heard that laugh a lot from afar, as I was off-duty in my garden, gathering a wheelbarrow of small stones to dump into an annoying pothole in the driveway. My mind was focusing on the many uses for stones, and I was thinking of writing a post on the subject, when I heard the wonderful, booming laugh from nearby, and waved in a certain way that means, “Send the kid to me.”

Mind you, this girl had been completely unable to obey any rules all morning. Wrestling is forbidden, but she kept jumping on the boys and happily tussling. The group is suppose to “stay on the path” but she would dart into the underbrush. When children run ahead they are suppose to “wait at the gate”, but she wouldn’t. And so on. She had absolutely no ability to “stay focused,” and surely would be diagnosed as having some sort of “attention deficit”, until she joined me. Then, abruptly, she had a one track mind.

She kept asking me, over and over, “Mr Shaw? Can you eat this?” nor would she allow me to be garrulous, as I answered.

I was a bit wounded, for I did want to be garrulous, and wanted to talk about what I was doing: Picking up stones. I wanted to talk about stonewalls in New England, and the various types, and the block and tackle used for moving huge boulders, and the poem by Robert Frost, but she would have none of it. Therefore, using my skill in sidekickery, I shifted to her subject, but even then I was too long winded. As I gathered stones and tossed them into the barrow, our conversation went like this:

“Mr. Shaw, can you eat this?”

“Sure. That’s mint. But is isn’t a meal. It’s a spice. Nobody eats mint as a vegetable. Cow’s won’t touch it, and goats only nibble a bit. This is the case with many…”

“I don’t like it much. How about this?”

“No, that is goldenrod. It has a pretty flower, and Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison a Model  T with tires made from rubber from goldenrod, but…”

“How about this?”

“That is yellow dock. It’s OK. Tastes of lemon and makes your mouth dry, but loaded with potassium, and herbalists say…”

“Ptui!  I don’t like it. How about this?”

“That is dandilion. It is called a lion because it is the king of herbs and cures more than you can shake a stick…”

“It tastes like lettuce.”

“Yes, bitter lettuce, and it gets more bitter as the summer passes…”

Weeds 3 IMG_3011

“What about this?”

“That’s wild mustard. It’s a member of the cabbage family, and…”

“Peppery!”

“Yes. Try the flowers of that one over there. Its seeds are interesting because they are flat and heart shaped rather than…”

Weeds 4 IMG_3012

“Mmm! Like sweet brocolli! How about this?”

“I don’t know what that is. And what is the rule when we don’t know?”

“Don’t eat it. But what about this one?”

“That is chickweed. It makes a good salad, but…hey! Don’t take such big mouthfuls!”

“I like it! It’s good!”

Weeds 1 IMG_3008

“Yes, but it is fibrous. You should chop it up or you’ll wind up with a cud like a cow.”

“I like that. It’s like chewing gum.”

“Well, if you don’t mind….and those weeds sure are doing well this year. Chickweed seems to like a cold spring with just a mist of…”

“And what is this?”

And so it went. The girl took full advantage of my gift of sidekickery, as I marveled over how focused she was, and wondered if she might have a gift, regarding herbs.

I also wondered how teachers can ever think that, just because a child does not want to attend to the subject they want to teach, the child has a “disorder”.  The child has a gift, but the teacher is not teaching anything that pertains to the gift. If a disorder is involved, might it not be TAD, “Teacher’s Attention Disorder?”

Other teachers may refuse to admit they suffer from TAD, but I sure do. I never get to teach what I really want to, and instead must be a sidekick. Perhaps that is why scripture says we should “suffer” the little children. But I don’t even do that right, because even when they interrupt my garrulous utterances, their innocent lack-of-wisdom is a lot more interesting than all I know.  There is some suffering, but it is outweighed by joy.

LOCAL VIEW –Reptiles Rule, Almost–

Every spring is different, and what has made this one unique has been the after-effects of a warm spell at the end of March followed by a deep freeze the first week of April. Certain flowering shrubs and trees, such as forsythia and black cherry, were right on the verge of blooming, and then seemed to put on the brakes. When the cold passed I waited for them to resume their budding and blooming, but the buds were blasted. The leaves came out, but there were simply no flowers this year.

I can’t tell you how much I missed the forsythia. It is such a happy bloom. It’s suppose to look like this amidst the late winter gray.Forsythia x intermedia Lynwood

Instead of that happy splash of color there were just stark stems, gradually leafing out with green. The cherry trees also just gradually leafed out. You could kiss your haiku sayonara.

Ordinarily the blooms, and especially the yellows, of spring evoke a sort of rollicking response in me. When I was a teenager, (after a winter that seemed particularly tragic to me, because a certain girl refused to smile),  even the yellowing of the branches of weeping willows defeated depression and prompted this joy:

Is that there a willow tree
In the winter’s gray?
Clowning yellows happily
And laughing in its play:
“Spring will come some day!”

Can it be a hidden grin
Is bursting out aloud?
A boatless sailors porpoise fin?
I see you’re in
Beneath your shroud.

But that was yesterday, and yesterdays’s gone.

Actually those two fellows are far too happy, singing that song. They fail to be morose in the proper manner. (Perhaps I should have linked to them singing, “Willow weep for me”.)

To live through a spring without the initial blooms is a sobering experience. After all, black cherries feed a lot of birds and critters, and it looks like there won’t be any, this year. Birds will be forced to seek alternative sources of nourishment, such as my vegetable garden.

The weather has gradually warmed in a desultory sort of way, and even the cold-blooded reptiles are stirring. Of course, snapping turtles are not welcome at my Farm-childcare, as their bite can take a child’s finger off. Yet one made an appearance today, though it was camera shy:

Snapping turtle IMG_2938

The males never leave the water, and tend to be draped by festoons of slimy algae, but the females can lumber quite amazing distances from their ponds to lay their eggs. Sometimes they travel five miles.  I think they don’t much want to share their ponds with their own children, or perhaps they don’t want the tiny offspring to be lunch for the grouchy fathers. The children are about the size of the lens in an average pair of spectacles, while the female in the above picture had a shell 18 inches (46 cm) from front to back. You shouldn’t be fooled by their lovely, friendly faces

Snapping turtle snapperhead

Photo credit http://mentalfloss.com/article/68505/10-biting-facts-about-snapping-turtles

Because they have very long necks

Snapping 3 common-snapping-turtle-breathing-at-surface-of-the-water (1)

Photo Credit  http://www.arkive.org/common-snapping-turtle/chelydra-serpentina/image-G136674.html

And they can bite you when you think you are at a safe distance.

Lastly, small children at a Childcare are not known for following orders. In some ways a farm is a good way to teach children to listen to elders; especially the older boys who are more rebellious. I once derived a certain smug and silent satisfaction when I witnessed a young know-it-all fleeing the rooster, setting a record for the hundred yard dash across the pasture, with the rooster a close second. I had repetitively warned the lad, “Stay away from that rooster”, but he wouldn’t listen. After the dash I didn’t have to say a word; the rooster had done the teaching.

On another occasion, after repeatedly telling a nine-year-old boy not to tease a particular goat we called “The Mean Queen”, I watched as that goat singled him out and, ignoring all the other children, stalked him like a cat does an unwary mouse, and gave him a good clout, pinning him against a tree. (The goat was hornless). The boy shot me a startled glace as he wriggled away from the goat, but I only shrugged and spread my palms in a way that was sign language for, “I told you so, but you didn’t listen, did you?”

However having a child lose a finger seems like going a wee bit too far, in my policy of letting children learn, from mistakes, that elders are doing more than ruining the fun, when they give orders.

We get many small children who arrive at our Childcare without any self discipline; wee tots turned into tyrants by permissive parents; and it takes me a while to teach them I am a fierce old grouch, a force to be reckoned with, as my “no” means “no” even if they tantrum until they are blue in the face.  (I might get faster results if corporal punishment was allowed, but it isn’t.) Progress is very slow in some cases, and I can’t take chances with a four-year-old “testing his boundaries” when I tell him to avoid a snapping turtle. Therefore I tend to get rid of snapping turtles at our Farm-childcare, when I can.

There shouldn’t be any uproar about turtle-removal, for snapping turtles are not endangered species in these parts, and about the only good they do is reduce the population of invasive Canada Geese by nabbing the cute goslings as they swim behind their parents. (Every golf course should import snapping turtles into their water hazards, to rid the fairways of Canada Geese.) Therefore there should be no uproar if we get rid of a turtle in the most natural and efficient way, which is to eat them.

We did eat a big old male, once, (and I have never chewed a tougher and more rubbery meat; I must have prepared it incorrectly.  I stewed it, and no amount of boiling would soften the meat.) However I have since learned modern mothers have soft hearts about most everything.  They are very spiritual, believe the lion should lay down with the lamb, and likely have never seen five cute goslings swimming behind a mother goose abruptly become four cute goslings behind a mother goose.  If they saw that their opinions might change, but as it is they are so softhearted they can make me feel guilty about putting a worm on a fishhook. The long version of this education involved a time I showed the kids how to make woodchuck stew, and if you have the time you can read about my education here:

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/groundhog-stew/

The short version is that I’ve learned it is safest to either make sure parents sign a permission slip, or look over both shoulders surreptitiously, before I so much as bait a hook.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate being educated by mothers younger than my daughters, and I may become a Buddhist yet, as I contemplate the feelings of worms as I hook them. (If not a Buddhist, I may become a fly fisherman). However it does seem odd young mothers want to control me, when they can’t control their darling toddler Adolf.

In any case, a snapping turtle on the Childcare property does present me with a bit of a problem.

This snapper would not even give me a decent picture. (That is why I had to use the pictures of others, and supply photo credits). I like taking my own pictures, but this female only poked her long neck up like a periscope once, and then, seeing I hadn’t left (and before I could aim my camera), ducked back down. She nestled more deeply into the leaves , and occasionally heaved a sigh, but didn’t poke her head up a second time, (which would have made a great picture.)

I waited and waited. I was so silent I could hear the grass grow, which reminded me of the job I was doing, when I first saw her, (mowing the grass.) Grass sometimes seems it is the only thing that is growing, this stunted spring. It’s a blasted nuisance. I’d rather watch a turtle than make a racket with a mower. But sometimes a man’s just got to do what a man’s got to do.

I use up lots of gas. It’s how I earn my pay:
Cutting lots of grass but never making hay.
Hay could feed some sheep which could feed and cloth the poor.
It makes me want to weep. Just who am I mowing for?

I’m a lawn-mowing man! I make the noise pollution!
I just do what I can, and await a revolution.

I kept checking on the turtle as I mowed, but she just stayed there, until I decided she must be laying eggs. This got me thinking. Turtle eggs make good eating, though they have some odd qualities. The whites never turn white, even if you boil them an hour, and therefore you need to fry them, or get over your dislike of uncooked whites. In either case, cooking turtle eggs would be yet another activity that makes my Childcare different from other Childcares.  At the very least, thinking about it kept mowing-the-grass from boring me to death.

It takes longer, but one thing I insist upon as I mow is bagging all the clippings and using them to mulch the garden. It cuts back on weeding, (which I like only slightly more than mowing), and also it makes mowing seem less pointless and useless. I mean, if people are going to worry about Global Warming, and yet use up umpteen gallons of fossil fuel cutting grass, and never use the grass for anything useful, then they will never dare criticize me, for I actually utilize what I cut. Right?

Wrong. I’ll save the details for some other night, but there are some folk who just hate farmers. No matter what you do they see it as some sort of rape of the environment.

It all seemed to conspire in a way that soured my sense of spring. Just as the forsythia has no happy yellow blooms, the next generation sometimes seems like a bunch of soured mothers with soured children. Grumph. Grumph. Grumph. And just then the next reptile gave me a shock, as I brought grass clippings to the garden.

Snake 1 FullSizeRender

It was a harmless and common garter snake, but snakes always make me jump at first. This one slithered into weeds and was being as uncooperative as the snapping turtle, when it came to being photogenic. However I was sick and tired of being patient with others when others are not always patient with me, so I poked it and forced it out into the sun.

Even the above photo seemed pretty dull, and unlikely to attract people to my website, and the snake wouldn’t sit still and be photogenic, and therefore, to make this post more interesting, I stepped on the end of the snake’s tail.

Snake 2 IMG_2965

Much more photogenic! What’s more, I noticed the snake’s tongue darted in and out much more often, when it was trapped. The tongues of snakes dart so quickly I’ve never gotten a good picture of one with its tongue out, but this seemed my chance.  I nearly exhausted my cell phone, but finally\ managed to catch this shot.

Snake 3 FullSizeRender

I was so pleased with the picture that I smugly decided there was a slight likelihood that the photo could go viral, and appear all over the web as an illustration for various blogs. But was the snake grateful for the possibility of fame?

Snake 4 FullSizeRender

Talk about unappreciative! But that’s how things have been going, this spring. You get no flowers. But I decided that, if the stupid snake didn’t want to be famous, he could go crawl about on his belly for all I cared. I would go see if the snapping turtle was more interested.

The snapping turtle had vanished. Furthermore, she left me no eggs. Apparently she only hunkered down in the leaves because she doesn’t like pictures, and deemed me the paparazzi. The nerve! Who does she think she is? Some Hollywood star?

As I rolled my eyes to heaven I noticed something. A branch of high-bush blueberry was loaded with blooms. Rather than finishing the lawn I investigated further into the brush. It was amazing, for every blueberry bush was covered with more blooms than I’d ever seen before.

Blueberries 1 IMG_2981

So maybe I did get some flowers after all. I just had to look for them.

Not that I expect any berries. This is likely just the Creator’s way of making up for the fact there will be few black cherries this year. Once birds realize there are few cherries, every bird in town will be chowing down in by blueberry patch.

My brief elation over blooms gave way to a gloom over an imagined lack of berries, and I trudged back to finish mowing the lawn.

That might make a good end to this post, but there was more, for the wind was picking up, purple clouds came hurrying over, and by the time I finished the lawn the gusts were chilly, and a driving mist was hinting at April. I rushed home to check the weather radar on my computer, and could see a cold front was ramming through, and that May snows were falling back in the Great Lakes, behind the front.

The way this spring has been going, the blueberry blooms will also get burned by frost, and they’ll wind up being worse than “for the birds”. They will be blasted, and there will be no berries for the birds. It will be, in the end, a sullen spring, a spring without flowers.

As I sat slumped at the computer, thinking how sad it is this spring gives me no bouquets, my wife, (who does not like it when I hurry to the computer to hunch over a radar screen without even saying “hello”), asked me if I’d completed a particular chore. Fortunately I had actually done it, though how I found the time only God knows. After all, as my faithful readers know, when I mow a lawn it involves a lot more than cutting the grass. It involves turtles. It involves snakes. It involves mulching the garden. It involves the blueberry crop, and the well-being of birds. It involves scanning the sky for frost in May. It involves important stuff, significant stuff,  like Global Warming. It involves the price of eggs in Africa.

Some days I envy robots. When they mow the grass, that is all they do. Some days I take my gloom a step farther, and think my wife would be happier with a robot. My daughters are not. They insist on bringing boys home that make even me look sensible. These young men do know about snapping turtles, but only because apparently there is a snapping turtle in some video game. Many do not know how to mow a non-virtual lawn.

The last video game I played was called “centipede”, a quarter century ago. Since then I’ve been too busy in the non-virtual reality to even watch ordinary TV shows. The only reason I go on-line is to study meteorology. The only reason I am involved in politics is because “Global Warming” dragged me into it, when all I originally wanted to do was avoid talking about unsafe stuff like religion and politics, and talk about “safe” stuff like the weather.

Be that as it may, I am now neck deep in serious stuff, significant stuff,  involving the hot topic of Global Warming. So far there is no reward. It is the epitome of a spring without flowers. In fact it is proof gloom is wise. To delve into the internet in this respect makes me live in a sort of basement.

Gloom IMG_2909

There is no forsythia in the above picture.  No happy spring. I can search the web all I want and my wisdom just gets darker. The politics of Global Warming isn’t warm, and proves cold-blooded reptiles rule, almost.

Almost, but not quite, due to an occupational hazard you face, if you run a Childcare. When you deal with children you may be older and wiser, and understand the logic of reptiles, but children know something reptiles don’t, and can be forsythia even when forsythia can’t.Gloom 2 IMG_2920

You can have been working a solid week to nurse a good gloom into life, but then a child will ruin it in five seconds. So I guess I’ll be gloomy about that.

I am bemused by my self, and conclude
I was made on a day the Creator
Mixed up pots of stuff that held nothing rude
And made good men, but when done, still had more.
In the artist pot, there was not enough
To make one; in the engineer pot,
Not enough; and so on, but such stuff
Should not be wasted, and so He took the lot
And mixed all together, curious
About what the mix might turn out to be.
I think that I ought to be furious
For the mix that he made turned out to be me.
I’m a Jack-of-all-trades who can do nothing well,
But if you make the Lord smile, you won’t go to hell.

LOCAL VIEW –Daring the Frost–

I should be a sort of poster-child farmer for Global Warming this spring, for I’ve never had my peas up so early. Usually you “plant peas on Patriots Day” (April 19) but this year mine were up and growing by then. (Don’t complain that the rows are not straight. When you run a Farm-childcare, rows are never straight.)

Peas Up IMG_2761

Having my peas up this early (for this far north; I’m sure people in Virginia are laughing at my vanity),  doesn’t actually mean I’m smart. I’ve just been lucky. I got them in and they likely had sprouted roots, but had not stuck their heads up above the soil, when we got this:

AS4 IMG_2312

What’s more, we got temperatures down in the single digits, (below -12.2° Celsius), and if my peas had emerged, they would not have just been discouraged. Though peas are tough, they’d be dead, dead, dead. All my work would have been wasted, and I’d have to start over from scratch. I’d be singing the blues, but that didn’t happen, so instead I’m smug, smug, smug.

Actually I threaded the needle, and the timing of planting those peas was timed perfectly. In truth you can either say I was lucky, or “to God goes the glory”,  but I so seldom have a chance to swagger that I prefer to think I did it all myself. After years of bungling and doing everything wrong, I have been so trained by misfortune that I’ve started doing things right, as a sort of intuitive reflex (which gets me off the hook of having to intellectually explain my success to scientists.)

Like a gambler “on a roll” I’ve decided to go with my instinct, and am planting other things a little early. I had to look hard to get my onions in, as they hadn’t even appeared in some stores, and in like manner I also got carrots, bulb-fennel, beets, turnips and lettuce planted this weekend.  (I might have planted potatoes, but at the hardware store they hadn’t brought them up to the showroom from the back warehouse.)

This could all be a complete disaster. This far north we can get frosts right into May. In fact, (to discredit Global Warming), we even had a frost on May 29 last spring. However I know how to handle such calamities. You wet everything down in the evening, (as it is harder to freeze wet things), (due to latent heat involved in the phase change, for you scientists), and then you put all your grass from mowing the lawn over the plants, but in a fluffy and thin manner (because the heat generated by wet hay can kill plants, if it is too thick).

The old-timers couldn’t be bothered planting early. They might plant a few things like peas on Patriots Day, but then they kicked back and waited until Memorial Day (May 31) to plant most everything else. Even though beets and carrots and turnips are hardy, and can stand a slight frost, old-timers had seen a few, late killing frosts. It wasn’t worth all the effort of planting a second time, or else rushing about wetting things down and fluffing grass over them. Why? because if you plant on April 24 your carrots take forever to sprout and then grow very slowly. Quite often, though you planted them five weeks ahead of Memorial Day, they have grown only to a height that plants planted after Memorial Day achieve in ten days. By July you can hardly tell the rows apart.  So why bother?

I suppose I bother because I seems to get slower as I get older. My garden is pretty big, and I can’t put the whole thing in on Memorial Day any more. So I pace myself, and do the same amount of work planting over weeks. In other words, I’m just as lazy as the old-timers.

Also, when you get to my age there’s not much you can do that is all that exciting. (Let’s skip the subject of sex.) (Also my finances.) Maybe I’ll drive forty when the speed limit is thirty-five, but the police officer just yawns as I speed by in my old, puttering pickup truck. Where’s the fun in that?

Therefore living-on-the-edge, for me, is to plant too early, but to get away with it.

Wisdom’s just a chance to show you’ve learned
From all you’re bungling, and to demonstrate
Old dogs aren’t dumb. Oh sure, we still get burned,
But flinch less. We’ve seen it’s never too late
To get things right. Although all of the clocks
Say time’s running out, we drive more slowly
Than frantic youngsters. The school of hard knocks
Has shown us speed kills, but the dawdler sees
The sunrises and smells the sweet bacon.
Do old dogs waste their time chasing their tails?
No, for they once bit their tail. Forsaking
The truth they learned would mean old dogs lie.
They don’t. So, if you’ve got things to fix,
Heed the old dogs. Don’t teach them new tricks.

P.S. (For Young Poets)

Yes, it is most definitely true that the young know more about computers and cell phones, but one big solar flare might set all that technology back on its heels, and make it difficult to even start a car. At that point an old geezer with a garden might suddenly seem to have values that are more lasting.

Not that it is wrong for young poets to spend time chasing their tails. It seems to be part of the process.

One way I chased-my-tail when in my late twenties was to be so determined to write that I did so even when I should have been living life, (and thus learning things worth writing about). My writing seemed to just get worse and worse. The worse it got the harder I tried, until I recall being on my knees and pounding the floor, shouting “I will write!  I will write!”

Then, exhausted, I made a liar of myself, for rather than writing I read, and what I happened to be reading was Huxley’s novel, “Antic Hay”, and I happened to get to the part where he has a character acting very much as I just had, pounding the carpet and fiercely insisting he would write.

This made me feel I wasn’t all that special, and was behaving like a character in a comic novel. So I got a job. It didn’t last, so I got another. And another. And another.

I’ve never sat down and counted the number of different jobs I’ve held, but it is over a hundred. Often they felt like they would ruin my ability to write. They never did. They enhanced it.

Eventually you wind up an old dog who knows lots of tricks. Keep the faith.

 

 

LOCAL VIEW –Blighted Spring–

It’s been a drudging sort of week, full of duties one doesn’t plan for. Not much is blooming, but perhaps clouds of pollen from southern lands blew north, and everyone began sneezing. Or perhaps it was the common cold passing through town. In any case, who plans for that? It complicates things, and makes you make mistakes. Who plans for that? In your hurry you leave your key in the ignition, on the “on” position, as you are only hurrying inside for five minutes. But five minutes becomes two hours with phone-calls and other stuff, and when you hurry back to your car with an armload of other stuff, and are ready to rocket off, the battery is dead. Who plans for that?

We got by. Yesterday my battery was dead, but I wasn’t late to open the Farm-childcare as I got a quick jump from my wife’s car. Today her battery was dead at the Childcare, but she got a jump from me. To me it seemed very symbolic of how we get by, when we are not at our best.

Personally, I blame the delayed spring. Not that I wasn’t expecting it. Why? I think it was a queer mix of science and intuition and memory. I just noticed how a band of colder weather gave colder winters to places like Mexico and Syria and Thailand, even as places further north got a warmer winter, and I figured that band of colder weather would retreat north and get us. Meanwhile I recalled warm early springs in my past that got clobbered by May snowstorms, the worst being in 1977. Lastly, when you live as far north as New Hampshire, among Finns who immigrated here from much further north, you own a certain caution about warmth in March. Call it pragmatism or call it cynicism, I planted peas earlier than ever, but wasn’t surprised when snows followed, with record-setting cold.

But it needs to be said that such flip-flopping of weather is cruel. I am not being a selfish human, as I say this. It is not merely humans who get blighted. I can offer photographic evidence of the day-lily leaves with brown points, and the daffodils broken by frost.

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Of course these are imported species, (as are Finns and even Yankees like myself), but what really impressed me was a local swamp maple that seemed to get fooled. It formed a purple misted tree, in the post I did about frogs singing early, back in March. Currently it looks like it isn’t even going to start budding. I may do a post about what happens with that tree, but I’ll have to wait and see.

In any case, though spring seemed ready to bust out in March, here it is a month later and the treeline looks pretty leafless.

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However though the spring can be delayed, it cannot be denied. On the blighted lawn purple splashes.

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And a few daffodil were more cautious, and now stand proud for being cowards.

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And the grey fur of the pussy willow suddenly is yellow with pollen.

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And the wiser, more cowardly swamp maples now venture to bloom.

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And these tiny flowers, softening the treeline with a haze of reddish purple, always are worth a closer look.

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However, though my heart is softened by the loveliness, I will not be a sucker and a chump. I remember snows in May. So I look to the black cherry trees. In Washington DC their cherries may be fools, and come out only to be blasted by frost, but I like to think our northern cherries are smarter. And even this late they are only budding.

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So here I stand, betwixt and between. Spring will not be denied, but will not be a dunce.

The trees are distrustful; the very buds
Are reluctant; yet sneaking through the brush
Is a quickening of all creature’s bloods;
A hope that makes the grayest banker blush.

Who are you? Elf or zephyr or angel;
Invisible dancer swirling dead leaves;
You put us all through a long, slow, strange hell
Where the more one doubts the more one believes.

Logic dictates we distrust, and yet you
Seduce us with memories of past times
When you beat back that logic. Can you do
It again? In the face of this world’s crimes
Can you undo the loss of virginity?
Do that, and Oh! What a spring it would be!

LOCAL VIEW –Details, details…–

Spring can get to be an overwhelming time on even a toy farm like mine. You can’t ask anything or anyone to wait. The Time to Plant is the Time to Plant, and you can’t tell it to wait.

Even if you do plant on time, there are all sorts of things that can mess up your plans. Late frosts, hail, plauges of locusts, fat groundhogs, annoying environmentalists and the EPA may descend and cut down your seedlings. However you will not even have seedlings to be cut down, if you tell the Time to Plant to wait.

You have a chance, and you had better not blow it.

Of course, as a writer, I am always begging for mercy. It may be Time to Plant, but please, please, please give me Time to Write.

There is such a beauty in the Time to Plant, that someone should write about it. Someone should sing a song of praise. Someone should pen a sonnet. Someone should shout thanks up to the top of the blue sky. However it has been my experience that, if you actually do take the time to pen poems, you wind up forgetting to actually plant, because you are too busy thinking up rhymes for “forsythia”.  Next thing you know, it is another time.  It is Time To Pay The Bill Collector. He wants your harvest, and he seldom accepts payment in poems. If you haven’t gotten around to planting anything, then facing the bill collector becomes one of life’s darkest moments.

“But surely”, you naively ask me, “If you sing a psalm like King David, you are offering flowers to your Creator, and His benefit must be clear.”  Alas, I tell you, offering flowers doesn’t always make one a hit.

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Therefore, as I am old and wise, I have learned I had better damn well take care of God’s business before getting around to praising God. I’m sure this seems a very pedantic and pragmatic thing for a poet to say, but, if the Time to Plant is worthy of praise, it is also worthy of enacting.

For, if you really want to see the beauty of planting, and really want to be remotely considered an authority on the subject, shouldn’t you actually plant?

And, if that means you have less time to write, so be it. It will make you a better singer and poet, in the long run.

Not that I don’t pity my fellow poets. We are not appreciated and helped, in a materialistic society.  And there surely will come times that it is true that

Every poet always wishes
That his muses did the dishes

However it is the poets that wind up dishwashers, doing lots of dishes that are not their own. It is part of the process. You need to get down and dirty and plant. In order to write poetry you need to know “you got to pay the dues if you want to sing the blues”, and you cannot harvest without facing a Time to Plant.

 

Therefore I will have little time for posting. If I was more pragmatic than I am, I’d close down this site for a couple months. However, as I own an impractical side that bill collectors don’t like, I think I’ll opt for very short posts.

Today’s post would be, “Planted some onion and garlic sets. The peas are already sprouting, though most years they wouldn’t yet be planted.”

Then there would be a bit of Haiku, and perhaps a photo of onion and garlic sets.

However, because this is a longer post, I’ll post a longer sonnet.

It is strange how some demand I prove
What only happens once. They cry, “Replicate!”
I bow to their science. And I remove
Once-in-a-lifetime love, and then I wait.

You see, the Red Sea parted only once.
To replicate that is asking too much.
By asking too much some wind up the Dunce,
And rather than wise they wind up out of touch.

What is touching? What has moved your heart?
What honeymoon made the child that you spoil?
Can you replicate that? Can you even start
To explain the illogic which science will foil?

Science wants logic. Does it want hate?
Or does it want love? I still sit and wait.

LOCAL VIEW –Rejoicing Over Wrinkles–

While looking at the ravages time carved onto the face of Robert Frost I decided plastic surgery is for fools.  I suppose some, who are maimed, might require such surgery, to avoid repulsing people with an unpleasant superficiality, but most of us are strangely improved by the battering of our features time gifts us with. This seems especially true of people who retain their sense of humor, and of beauty, despite hardship. Crafted into each wrinkle of their face is a hint that God is real, and death is not.

Robert Frost knew much about desperation, despair and darkness. He outlived his wife and four of six children, and had witnessed those dark landscapes made of a pain far worse than physical pain, misnamed “mental illness”, even experiencing a son’s suicide. How he got through it all is his secret and his triumph, and is written in his face more clearly than in any poem.

The best and most beautiful poem is but an attempt to express the self that already exists. I have no idea why it feels so sublimely satisfying to do this, for it is merely to copy. In fact I was always scolded for copying, when in school. However there are few things so fulfilling as speaking your heart, in a sense tracing what already exists with a tracing paper called “poetry”. Later, when the tracing paper is removed from the Truth you attempted to copy, you see all the imperfections. However when you first are focused on what the Creator has already created, it is completely absorbing, and you forget all your problems, even when you are tracing a problem called a heartache. That is why there is such a rhapsody in singing the blues.

An old face is no different from any other old object; it has a sort of patina that gives it value, as an antique.  A young face is sort of raw, in comparison. It lacks something very beautiful the old have earned.

I was looking at my face critically the other day, noting how amazingly aged a couple of hard winters have made me, and I started to stretch my skin smooth, making the face in the mirror look like those bizarre old people, quite common in Florida, who have paid money that might have fed the poor to make themselves look weird.  I burst out laughing. And when I laughed all the wrinkles gathered and made my face have far more character than I had when I was young, and was little more than a pretty boy poet.

Call it sour grapes if you will, but I suddenly felt sorry for the young, and glad to be wrinkled. Usually I cut off my beard when the weather warms, and a free scarf is no longer necessary, but this year I may keep my scruff, for a gray beard makes me look even older, and age is no disgrace. It is a badge of honor, given by the Creator. If nothing else, this attitude will save me a lot of money, and my boycott may put plastic surgeons in the position where they will have to save lives rather than egos.

One reason my attitude towards wrinkles has changed is due to sitting my granddaughter in my lap, and seeing her attitude toward wrinkles. I gather you have to become older than she is to be scared by age, for she finds wrinkles fascinating, and her observant eyes search my face as her little fingers poke. In a sense she reminds me of a student probing a poem, searching for the meaning in the lines.

Another reason may be that spring is absurdly early this year. I’m not fooled, for I’ve seen many a warm March give way to April snows, but one seed that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked is peas. Usually we plant them on Patriots Day, April 19, and I’ve often planted them in snow, but this year I thought I’d see if it was possible to kill even a tough plant like peas, by planting them more than a month early, on March 16.

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Of course there is something about spring and planting seeds that seems alien to wrinkles. Maybe it reminds the old of sex, when they were young, and tempts them to gobble that plastic surgery of the penis, Viagra, popping some Prozac as well to plasticize the brain.  However here too I burst into laughter, which was what Abraham and Sarah named the child they made in their old age. That is the only real reason for sex: Procreation. All the other reasons people give are proof they are using sex as a poor excuse for genuine poetry. If you really want the sublime self-forgetfulness of creation, make a child if you are young, but write a poem if you are old.

I never really wanted to be worldly.
I wanted to space out, and be away
From schooling that abused me, and then hurled me
Out onto a world of greedy gray.
My teachers had no clue of how men make a buck.
They dwelled in ivory classrooms, stuffed with must
And never dared depart from muck, when stuck,
And clung to coins that hoped, “In God we trust.”
Me? I roamed a world which didn’t pity me
And toiled with bleeding hands and bleeding heart
Facing worldly responsibility
Though I disliked this world right from the start
Until now, life ebbs, and laughter stings
For I’ve become a man of worldly things.