LOCAL VIEW —The Forthright of July—

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978),

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “The Gossips,” 1948. Painting for “The Saturday Evening Post” cover, March 6, 1948. Oil on canvas. Private collection. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

I haven’t posted many “Local Views” recently, because they are suppose to have the charm of a Norman Rockwell painting, which can take the everyday and reveal something exalted. Such an aim may be brimming with idealism, but it isn’t always realistic. Norman Rockwell himself, in a typically self-depreciating mood, dismissed his paintings as “Pictures of how we wish life was.”

In actual fact God is in everyone and everything, and there is absolutely nothing that is not exalted, seen in the correct Light. My failure to see this beauty lies in my human inability and blindness. God’s beauty is right in front of me, as plain as the nose on my face. But I ask myself this: Have I ever really seen the nose on my face? (And I’m not talking about some second-hand photo or mirror image.)

Because I can’t see something as plain as the nose on my face, I ignore it and instead speak of “being realistic”. I miss the beauty and poetry all around me, even in those nearest and dearest to me, and I call this ignorance “sensible.”

What I admired about Norman Rockwell was that he really never attacked the status quo of “sensible” behavior. Rather he simply showed that status quo in such a way that a feeling was prompted that was not sensible: Pragmatism crumbled, and one laughed and felt affection for neighbors, despite their bad behavior.

Nothing in my recent life was making me feel that way, initially. Now I can laugh, but it took me a while to get the joke. And, during the time it takes me to get the joke, I find it is usually wisest to be quiet. (Not always, but usually).

The joke this time involved the simple fact I’m not as strong as I used to be, and need to downsize the vegetable garden. However last April people got enthusiastic, and there was a lot of talk about assistance. So, rather than putting in a smaller garden, I put in a big one. Then, when it came time for the assistance to manifest, guess what happened?

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The failure of assistance to materialize doesn’t occur all at once, like Lucy snatching away the football. Rather it happens by slow stages and degrees, for the road to a weedy garden is paved with good intentions. As it happens I work harder and harder, trying to make up for the failure of man-hours to manifest, but eventually I have to face the fact I just can’t do it alone. This year I couldn’t even keep up with the watering, during the early-spring drought, and couldn’t keep up with the planting schedule. And when the rains came and the weeds exploded, as they always do, I sadly gazed out over a garden that had gone the wrong sort of green.

I think in April people go mad. That’s why we have April Fool’s Day, so you can get it out of your system, but people never do. Instead it manifests as mad ambition, and in terms of a vegetable garden, people become enchanted by a picture Norman Rockwell never painted, (that I know of). It is a picture of people all working happily together under the hot summer sun, in a tidy garden without a weed, and baskets of bounty being canned and frozen by smiling folk who just love the job.

It is what the old timers called a “bee”, but what people forget is that a bee took a job that basically sucked, and made it be fun. Few women really liked to sew, and if they had to do it alone they likely would be cursing quietly beneath their breath, but when it became a “sewing bee” it was far more fun.  In like manner picking the meat from crabs was a tedious job that sucked, but I saw women up in Maine turn it into a crab-picking-bee, and it truly was a time of laughter and a joyous social event. However the thing of it was that these jobs were jobs that had to be done. Nowadays no one really needs to sew, so why bother? In the old days the farm garden kept you from starving, so you had better darn well make sure it was weeded. Now it is just a sort of appendage to your yard, and perhaps a way to get fresher food, but definitely not a matter of life and death.

I personally enjoy the exercise, because it does produce something that is far better than the stuff you get at a supermarket, and anyway, going to a gym always seemed a waste of time and money to me. A garden produces food, but a gym only produces vanity, and a salve for the fear of getting fat, unattractive and dying of a heart attack. A gym is all about the ego, but a garden is about other things, and you can forget yourself there.

I could go on at length on this topic, but I’ve already gone there and done that: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/contemplating-crabgrass/

Now I am contemplating the fact that people may have a dream of working in the hot sun like a happy, healthy peasant, but when push comes to shove, no one (except, apparently, me), actually wants to be a peasant. In fact when I think of Norman Rockwell’s paintings they seem to be more about playing hooky.

Norman Rockwell Fishing had4680 I do take the children at our Farm-childcare fishing, but it is nothing like the Norman Rockwell view of fishing.Norman Rockwell fishing 2 il_fullxfull.221025553 When I take seven small boys fishing I basically spend hours untangling lines and trying to teach them to untangle their own lines, and baiting hooks and trying to teach them to bait their own hooks, and trying to keep hooks from flesh and especially eyeballs, and if we catch a fish it is a wonder. (A boy did catch a five pound bass last week, but that miracle deserves a post of its own.) The boys are aged three to seven, and I’ve learned a whole new definition regarding “the patience of a fisherman.” I explain things as elementary as the fact you cannot catch a fish unless you keep your hook in the water, and find my joys in the fact boys are boys. For example, it used to make me mad when, right after I said splashing would scare the fish, a boy made a splash. Now I simply ask, “Didn’t I say throwing rocks would scare the fish?” Then I watch, and await the inevitable answer. “It wasn’t a rock. It was a boulder.”

When I get back from these adventures I’m completely exhausted, (and usually carrying all the poles), (which are all hopelessly tangled), and the last thing I want to see is that the garden is crying out for care. The beans can barely be seen, and wave their topmost leaves like drowning swimmers. “Help us! Help us!”

What I really need is a patron who will donate a vast sum so I can hire a weeder. Fat chance of that happening around here. People around here won’t even donate much for widows and orphans, (let alone for poets who seem to goof off for a living), and yet these same impoverished people seem to have all sorts of extra money to have go up in smoke, when July fourth rolls around.

I suppose I should be understanding. When young I used to go through considerable risk to buy illegal fireworks in a back alley of Boston’s tiny Chinatown, but my views have changed since then. Physical fireworks are lame, compared to poetry. Heck, even LSD now seems like a slum, compared to really being high. However others, who have not a nickle to spare for charity, will pay two hundred for beer and a thousand for fireworks.

However I have little patience with people who haven’t grown up while I have. When I was young the daylight on July fourth never seemed to end, as I agonized waiting for fireworks. Now, after fishing with seven boys, and feeding goats, pigs, chickens and a rabbit, and even doing a small amount of desultory weeding, all I want on the evening of July 4 is a shower and my pillow. However before I turned in I did warn my middle son, who is younger and more energetic and had four college buddies dropping by, that he should not set off fireworks anywhere near our goats, because our goats are not patriotic.

Just as my head was nestling down into my pillow the cellphone call came from somewhere in the woods, from my son. The neighbor had set off a shell measuring several megatons that barely cleared the treetops.  The goats had totally freaked out, and behaved like cartoon characters who leave a hole of their size and shape, running through a wall, only the goats ran through a fence.

I caught up to my son halfway to Greenville,  and he told me he’d managed to herd the goats half the way back when the neighbor set of an even bigger display. He hadn’t yet caught up to the goats a second time, but we figured they must have veered away from Greenville, because an even bigger and more raucous display was going off in that direction, and they now likely were heading for the town of Temple.

I wondered about a lot of things, as the mad full moon rose orange midst the fireworks flashes of the night.  I wondered over the fact that only twenty years ago I would have been walking in woods, but now was in a transplanted Waltham, a hundred new houses.  I wondered over the odds of my being arrested for wandering through people’s backyards yelling, “Here Goats!  Here Goats!” I wondered why people moved to the country when they lacked the courtesy to avoid terrifying livestock. I wondered if this was God’s way of declaring my independence from goats, from farming, and of freeing my time for poetry. I wondered if the local bear would relish a good goat dinner.

I gave up when the fireworks were quieting only a little, at 10:30, (when they legally are suppose to stop). I recalled I was “deacon-on-duty” at church, in the morning, and it would not be proper to show up red-eyed and incoherent. Also the goats had headed into a swamp full of thirsty mosquitoes, and I have only so much blood. Enough was enough, and I went back to bed.

I was back at the barn in the twilight of dawn, yawning but dutifully ready to hunt down the goats, but the goats beat me back, and were waiting for me. They were not cut very much from their wild, panicky run through darkness, but very hungry, and as the day progressed they seemed to get sore and to limp a little, though not as much as I did.

When I got back from tending to the goats, still before sunrise and church, my wife showed me a couple Facebook exchanges she thought might interest me. The first involved people who had moved to the country to have horses, who were irate about how the fireworks had freaked out their horses, and who were rebutted by many, many Facebook pundits who said if they didn’t like freedom and fireworks they should move back to the city, and take their snobby horses with them.  The second exchange involved a photo of a black bear walking by the entrance to our church, close to the sign that says “All are welcome.”  I said we should add, “except bears”.

I find it odd that, even as people destroy the country by wanting to move out into it, they live such an indoorsy lives, tweeting and facebooking, that the wildlife is moving back into the suburbs. Even down near Boston deer, moose, coyote, beaver, ermine, fisher-cats, wildcat and black bear, (practically extinct in my boyhood), are now chowing down at backyard bird-feeders.

At my farm-daycare I am constantly asked by audacious children questions that point to a fantastic disconnect between man and nature. The children ask, wrinkling their noses, “Why do you get your carrots from the dirty dirt?”

Even more fantastic is the fact the parents are not much wiser. Where I was raised by the woods, they were raised by TV sets. Where my parents told me to get out and not to bug them until dinner time, their parents plunked them in front of a TV and told them not to bug them until dinner time. (Perhaps I am resorting to hyperbole, but there is a huge difference between generations.)

Now I have become an anachronism, an old Yankee who really doesn’t fit in. Strangely, despite my being a misfit, we have a long waiting list at our Farm-childcare. I suppose we are what the TV calls “green”, and are therefore desirable, though I am a conservationist and heartily despise all that environmentalists claim is “green” and “natural”.

It is difficult to describe the difference between a conservationist and an environmentalist, but I think Norman Rockwell could paint a picture of what conservationists represent. But try to imagine, if you can, a Saturday Evening Post cover portraying what environmentalists represent, in a manner that would make you smile and glad to be a member of the human race.

I doubt you can.  At best you would have a Pravda characterization of humanity, a propaganda poster, white-teethed and bronze-skinned Kens and Barbies marching on to the dictator’s utopia. Compare such unreal faces to the Rockwell faces in this post, and tell me which are closer to nature.

Considering my society is playing hooky from so much that is natural, and veering towards such unnatural madness, I hope I can be forgiven if, by the time Monday rolled around, I said the heck with weeding, and decided to play a little hooky myself. (Well, actually,  I couldn’t totally give up on the weeding, but rather than getting down on my knees and doing a good job, I just ran the rototiller up and down between the rows a little), and then…

Going to the beach on a hot July
Mid-morning with the stain of brass heat draped
On every bough and street, and in my eye
Even shadows hazed gold, nothing escaped
The heat…but I am. Like a boy
Playing hooky, the consequences fade
In the face of surging, giggling joy.

While it may be true we’ll sleep in beds unmade,
Face stern principles, grip hungover foreheads,
That’s all far away. Now we’re on our way
To the beach, and like flowering dawn sheds
The dark dreads of night, joy drives gloom away.

We’re all going to die, but boys playing hooky
Have light in their eye, and life’s their cookie.

LOCAL VIEW —Parched—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

LOCAL VIEW —RED FLAG—

Red Flag Warning user293-1397043735-media1

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(Note new, dry high pressure over New England, and potential Hurricane Ana off Florida)

It has been another breezy day of warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and humidity down around 20 %. Perfect conditions for having a brush fire explode, though perhaps nothing like the conditions they experience out west. Out west it can be dry from the lowest root to the tip top of tall pines, and once a fire gets going entire trees explode into flame. Our drought is only at the lowest level, and doesn’t reach far underground, however our woods are messier than I can ever remember, and there is enough dead wood laying about the average forest floor these days to make a fire more than just burning leaves. However there were no nearby fires today: Just a beautiful day with the trees rapidly greening, and rapidly screening the view through trees with a green mist.

Yesterday branches were silver and bare
And I could watch a flicker wing its way
Through the trees to a far maple, and there
Land and look back sharply, as if to say,
“Mind your own business, you nosy human.”

Today a green fog is growing from twigs.
Golden green mist is swirling, blooming
From branches, hiding the birds that do jigs
and can-can along limbs, happy to be hid.
I spy on their antics with my radar.

If they wished privacy, they’d put a lid
On their joy, but that isn’t how spring birds are.

Are we the same? And is it so wrong
That when no one’s watching we burst into song?

There is something intoxicating about the whole world going golden green under glorious sunshine. It gets under your eyelids and drives the winter darkness from your brain. The only thing that keeps the glory of this time of year from rivaling the glory of peak foliage in October is that the singing birds must be fed, and this involves swarms of biting black flies.

BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the sun is golden
But I ain’t goin’ out of doors today.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But inside is the place I’m goin’ t’stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Til those pesky black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found this thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and looked him in the eye.
He said, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love you head down to your toes.
They also love the inside of your nose.
They even love your armpits
And not too many folk are fond of those.
They’re part of God’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that tree swallow singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
The bitter flies among the sweet.
You can’t have half and own ecology.

Outside the sun is golden.
I guess I’ll budge my butt and face the swarm.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I know clouds of black flies make a storm.
If this world was too comfortable
The next world wouldn’t tempt us to reform.

I did get out midst the swarms, to face various messes made by my trying to avoid the bitter and enjoy the sweet. One mess I made involves burning last year’s weeds in the garden even though there was a red flag warning. (It’s no use trying to get a permit, for the idiot bureaucrats will tell you to wait for a rain, when rain makes weeds too wet to burn)

Farmers have burned weeds for at least 250 years around here, as it kills a lot of bugs and bacteria and viruses that can hide out in dead stalks and infect this year’s plants, and also because the ashes fertilize the soil, and lastly because burning is a lot faster and easier than laboriously removing all the old, dead stalks by hand. And I was smart enough to keep the fire from spreading. However it was amazing how swiftly it burned, how hot it burned, and how busy I was kept rushing about keeping things under control. I was so busy I failed to notice that hidden under the weeds were some important garden hoses, until several were melted just enough to be useless.

Oh well, they were very old hoses, and had sprung leaks anyway, so I went and got new hoses. But I also decided to splurge on a “soaker” hose, because that seemed smarter than standing out in a swarm of black flies, watering by hand. And indeed it was wiser, and freed me up for other tasks, and other swarms of black flies, which annoyed me so much I hurried home at the end of the day, glad to get indoors, and forgot to turn off the “soaker” hose. That in turn resulted in just enough of my parched, drought-dried garden being turned into a mud-bog that my rotor tiller got stuck in the mud today, which involved extra effort midst an especially hungry swarm of black flies.

And so it goes. I seek the sweet, but can’t avoid the bitter. I suppose it is “The Law of Unintended Consequences.”  It seems to permeate so much of life that at times progress seems impossible, and I wonder how it is mankind has progressed at all. One gets so discouraged that, at my age, one can become an old grouch and frown at any suggestion of change. Fortunately progress is possible, but only if you face the bitter.

Nothing tastes quite so bitter as confessing a mistake. Engineers know all about mistakes, which may be why they invented “Murphy’s Law.”  Even the most beautiful bridge may turn into a “Galloping Gertie”.

Rather than a red flag going up when we seek an improvement, (because we expect failure),  the red flag should go up when we fail to confess our mistakes. How are we to learn from our mistakes if we don’t dare confess they exist? Engineers actually go out of their way to have their mistakes pointed out, because they’d rather see a mistake before they build, than see the mistake after they build, in the form of a structural collapse. However in other areas of life people are not so wise.

When was the last time you heard a politician confess he made mistakes?  Likely never. Instead he will spend millions on smear advertisements sneering at an opponents mistakes, as if mistakes were degrading rather than human, and worth damnation rather than often being laughable and even lovable.

Today I got to avoid the black flies by being something that likely has made my mother sit up in her grave. I am now officially “Chairman of the Diaconate” of a church. It is a peculiar twist of fate I never expected, and which all who knew me as a young bohemian artist would have said was utterly impossible. It only happened because our church has crumbled from 200 members in 1999 to roughly 40 members today, and no one else wanted to touch the job with a ten foot pole.

In some ways our church has been a “Galloping Gertie,” but no one has wanted to be a true engineer and simply be honest about confessing. Way back when the red flags of the first schism first flew, I was a voice in the wilderness when I said we should have what I called a “forum”.  I was frustrated by a lot of arguments which stated it wasn’t “Christian” to be blunt, open and honest.

Partly it was because the pastor is expected to “honor confidentiality”, as if he followed the pseudoscience of psychiatry and social workers. Partly it was because Christians feel it is wrong to gossip, and when gossip occurs they “turn the other cheek”, and either refuse to listen or, if they listen, refuse to respond in any way other than a very cold shoulder.

None of this furthered communication, in my eyes, but heck, what do I know? I haven’t been to divinity school, and, even though I read the Bible with interest, I am lousy when it comes to memorizing in that way that lets you quote chapter and verse, and it is important to quote chapter and verse when dealing with many Christians. It is no good to say, “Someone said something somewhere, and the gist of it is…”

In any case, despite a lot of efforts to reform, involving various classes about “how to mend the broken” and “how to heal the hurting,” I watched my church continue to crumble like a Galloping Gertie. Our efforts at correction were about as successful as correctional institute’s efforts to reform hardened criminals. It was frustrating and also embarrassing, because Christians are suppose to be good at healing, and aren’t suppose to resemble hardened criminals.

It was especially frustrating to our pastors, who did all this by-the-book stuff that failed to work. Our final pastor, perhaps hurt and bitter, told me just before he resigned, “If I go you will find no other pastor willing to come to this church, because you have such a record of un-Christian quarreling and pastor-smearing, and, without me stopping all you quarreling, the few people still part of this church will be at each other’s throats, and the church will be dead within six months.”

Not the most auspicious benediction, you must admit. And I confess things looked very bleak, as we could no longer afford a pastor to lead us out of the hole we were in. We barely could even afford to heat the church, last winter. Furthermore, much of the deaconate resigned when the pastor did, which left me and another guy in charge of the “spiritual well-being” of the church. Neither of us really wanted to be the “chairman”, so we flipped a coin, and I lost, and became the chairman.

I had no desire to pretend I was a pastor, so I simply said we did have a pastor, and our pastor was the Lord. I figured that was the Truth, but I confess it also got me off the hook, in terms of being responsible.  Then I said what I had been saying all along, which was that we should have a “forum”.

If nothing else, this sparked a lot of discussion about whether forums were Christian, or some heathen Roman concept.   During these discussions I wasn’t able to quote anything chapter and verse, but fortunately my wife is good at that stuff, and could tug at my sleeve and supply me with chapters and verses, (which is sort of like ammunition.)  Also, when I asked her, “Where does someone say something like…” she was able to give me references, and sometimes multiple references.

One thing I remembered the church doing from long ago, which had sort of faded away over the years, was something called “The confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” It turned out this was from 1 John 8-9, and, very loosely translated, says that modern politicians have it totally backwards when they say they are without sin, and then smear their opponents. The actual quote goes, ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I liked the part about being “purified from all unrighteousness”, even if it did seem highly unlikely a church as rowdy, disobedient and fallen as ours could be fixed. So I suggested we give the confession-business a try.

I have been flabbergasted by how things that never worked abruptly began working. Despite my hopes regarding a “forum”, I feared honesty might enflame people and make things worse, but rather than muddying the waters, a clarity descended. I can’t really explain it, but will, at the risk of sounding like a psychologist promoting pseudo-science, describe some stages I’ve seen things go through.

Stage one involves person A saying something to person B that makes B feel troubled. Honesty does little good at this point, because the red flag is only a “feeling”, and even if B is honest with A and says, “Something about what you say troubles me”, he cannot give any specifics.

Stage two involves person B going to what amounts to a support-group. He does not seek out people liable to disagree, finding that prospect disagreeable, but instead seeks people who tend to agree, finding that agreeable. This support-group allows B to explore the feeling and develop an idea, which is often unfavorable towards A.

Stage three-X involves B afraid to confess the idea to A, as it seems rude, and a smear. However A does learn of the idea because someone in the support-group talks to C who talks to D who talks to E who tells A. By then the idea has been embellished and twisted by the game of “telephone”, and A is hurt, and then resentful, and a schism develops.

Stage three-Y involves confession. B is not afraid to go to A and confess the idea, whereupon A may be taken aback, but at least has the chance to respond directly to the idea.

What I saw then happen (and hadn’t happened in years) was something I hoped for, but still it amazed me.

First, as B spoke the idea a sense of humbleness appeared, and to some degree the idea seemed a bit lame. Without the support of the support-group it became more frail and vulnerable to questioning, (like an engineer putting a plan out for peer-review).

Second, as A responded it quite often turned out some degree of misunderstanding was involved, and was cleared up. (This is like an engineer getting his plan corrected by peer review.)

Third, sometimes A experienced a revelation, as they saw something they would never have thought of on their own, and rather than resenting B they thanked B.

That is a very clumsy explanation of what I have seen starting to happen in my devastated and humbled church. I wouldn’t say we are “purified from all unrighteousness”,  but some sort of purity is definitely within the clarity that has mysteriously decended.

The thing that is clear to me is that the red flags our hearts feel are not repressed and ignored. The initial feeling is a red flag, the support-group clarifies the red flag, and then the courage B demonstrates when he goes back to A and confesses brings the red flag to A’s attention. In this manner the bitterness of mistakes are not buried, and instead mistakes are learned from.

For the benefit to manifest, you have to prefer the bitter to the sweet, for a support group is sweet, but having to leave the support group is not so sweet.

I suppose it only works when you bring the red flag in a spirit of confession, rather than a spirit of righteous indignation and accusation. There has to trust. If your red flag turns out to be a false alarm, you need to feel trust that you are not shamed for your honesty, but rather are better off for being honest. If your red flag turns out to be on the mark, the person receiving it must feel benefited, helped, cared for, loved.

In any case, I find it somewhat astonishing to see peace, clarity, trust and even laughter returning to a church that seemed so down and out. Even if we are still a dying church, it is at least a death with dignity.

So that is what I did for a while today.  I preferred the bitter to the sweet, but the result was a sweeter sweetness.  And talking with old friends was definitely sweeter than thinking about what wasn’t spoken, midst a swarm of black flies.

Lastly the above explains why, though I dug the trench for the potatoes today, I won’t get the potatoes actually planted until tomorrow.

LOCAL VIEW —Sudden Summer—

Battered and bleary, my winterized flesh
Walked out into riotous, rollicking,
Unreserved song, staleness made strangely fresh
Because dawdling Spring took so long to wing
Its way north. Out into delayed dawn
I walked, out from a night that was too long.
Where birds sing, I open my mouth to yawn,
And where they fly, I limp, and don’t feel strong
Though I do feel young. I walk on in pain
I flinch from, over the drive’s dewy gravel,
As young as the songbird’s ancient refrain
And heedless of convention’s hard gavel,
For birdsong is honey, but it also is sweet
To be an old man walking with bare feet.

Considering there was frost on my truck’s windshield during yesterday morning’s pre-dawn, and today I walked out to my truck in bare feet before the sun rose, you can tell there has been a major “flip” to the weather pattern. It is something I’ve been expected since before my taxes were done, around April 12, and is one of the rare cases where Joe Bastardi didn’t quite nail a forecast….or didn’t nail it for my neck of the woods.  He did say he was “worried” about the northeast and possible back-door fronts, but I don’t think anyone guessed how reluctant the spring would be to creep this far north. Nor do most people realize what a close call we just had: all that was needed was a bit of a tweak to the weather map here, and little twist there, and the little gale slipping east off the Carolina coast would have come north and given us the sort of cold rain that turns to May snows.

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(My revenge on Mr. Bastardi will be to steal his words for the title of this post. I think he’s the originator of the phrase “a suddenly-summer weather pattern”.)

The storm sliding out to sea is yet another chance of rain we have missed, and I’m wondering if this could be a summer of drought. I look back fifty to sixty years to see a pattern with attributes like the current pattern, and can remember how low the reservoirs I illegally fished from got, especially in the early 1960’s. (The worst fires in recent New England’s history occurred in 1947, but that spring was wet.)

The drought has been a blessing in some ways, as we had four feet of snow laying about in March, and a couple of heavy, warm rains could have caused floods and made a total gloppy mess of things. I was half-expecting a spring like the spring of 1972, which turned the farm to a swamp and severely dented my ambition to be a farmer. (The mud-season usually ends when summery sunshine dries things out, but 1972 brought an extended mud-season, and the final straw came when the rains from former Hurricane Agnes wandered north in mid June, at which point I threw up my hands and decided wading about in muck was not the life for me, and began planning to make a fortune writing a novel and also to hitchhike up to see the total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia on July 10.) (And yes, I do think Carly Simon’s song is about me, though she was writing about the Nova Scotia eclipse of March 7, 1970.)

In any case, spring will be busting out all over, as we get a solid week of sudden-summer, and, as all the trees slurp up water, the levels of the brooks will visibly drop an inch or two. (The level rises again when leaves come off in the fall.) The trees suck up an amazing amount of water, and change the humidity of the air, and the very feel of the forest is altered as a thing called “shade” is resurrected. Right now the forest is mercilessly hot, and you have the brief sense you are walking about in the devastation after a nuclear blast.

Not that I’ll have much time to walk about the woods, or sit here musing about droughts and eclipses that happened a half century ago. Everything will be growing like gangbusters in the garden, especially the weeds, and if you slack off, you pay. I suspect my posts will be written after dark or before dawn, and will be brief.

As a side note, “The black flies are out, but aren’t biting yet.” They like a wet spring, for, unlike mosquitoes, they breed in flowing water. A dry spring is less buggy, and gives me less reason to flee indoors and write posts.

LOCAL VIEW –For Missus and For Sythia–

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Photo Credit:  http://www.instesre.org/TemperateClimate/TemperateClimate.htm

This past week has seen a reversion to wintry weather, with frost on the windshields and ice in the puddles. The budding trees have hit the brakes, and the ponds have gone nearly silent.

Back when the weather was more kindly, on April 16, I heard the first frogs, which are not the spring peepers but another small frog I’ve heard called “banjo frogs” (perhaps because they make a “Twank” sound,  a bit like a breaking banjo string). (The Australian frog with the same name actually sounds more like a banjo.) I call them “spring quackers” because they also sound a bit like ducks. They are lower and quieter than peepers, and always seem to beat the peepers by a day or two, when it comes to announcing the ponds are coming back to life. They are far less obvious than the peepers are. Where the peepers peep is piercing and shrill, the quackers are more of a low muttering, almost subliminal.

At our childcare I asked a small girl, around age three, if she could hear them, and at first she shook her head. Then her eyes changed, and she tilted her head, and looked off curiously through the trees. I asked her if she’d like to sneak closer, and she nodded. (Most kids like to sneak.) Then we crept through the pines, and it was wonderful to watch the child’s face fill with wonder as we drew closer and the plaintive “twanking” became more obvious. However then my idiot dog came lunging through the underbrush, plunging along the side of the pond to see what we were up to, and the frogs immediately became silent and the water ahead was dimpled with rings of ripples. I told the girl my dog wasn’t very good at sneaking, and she nodded.

By the next day the peepers had started their shrieking, and all the subtlety was lost.  They demand attention, which doesn’t seem a very good survival strategy, until you sneak up on them and understand they confuse predators by being both numerous and deafening. It is hard to locate a single frog by its peep, with so many other peeps coming at you from all angles. And they also become immediately silent, if you move too fast. I find them amazingly difficult to locate. They are also amazingly loud, once you see how small they are.

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(Photo credit: Mike Marchand.)

They also can stand being frozen solid, due to some sort of antifreeze in their blood. This was a good thing, as the promise of spring seemingly became a lie.

Just as the first frogs are tiny, so are the first blooms on the swamp maples, which are the first tree to bud out. The lowlands go from being silvery thickets to being touched by a raspberry mist I have yet to see captured by a photograph, but you have to poke your nose close to see how lovely the individual flowers are.

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(Photo credit: https://piedmontgardener.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/maple-flowers-and-buds.jpg )

Ours are a bit more purple than the the flowers pictured above, and they look a lot worse after they’ve been blasted by frost. I’m going to watch, to see if they make many seeds this year.  We got into a northwest flow on Tuesday that wouldn’t quit, and were still in it on Friday.

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A few flakes were in the roaring wind on Wednesday, and Thursday’s purple clouds kept pelting us with white, Dr. Seuss pompoms of  fluffy hail called “graupel”, and Friday morning began with a whirling flurry that briefly made the view look like January, though it never stuck to the ground. It was not weather conducive to ambition, in the garden, which turned out to be a good thing, for my  wife had other ambitions.

I wound up repairing the fence in front of the house, as the winter’s plows trashed what little was left of the old one. I fear I spend so much time over at the farm that I neglect my home, and the lack of care shows, and annoys my wife. The Memorial Day parade comes down Main Street and passes right in front of our house, and my wife doesn’t believe me when I say all eyes are on the parade and not our house. Consequently I spend time every spring at home, sprucing the place up, right when I feel I should be gardening.

There actually was a parade this morning, but as usual I always forget it, and get a shock. At the start of the baseball season the children are marched from the fire station to the ball field with blaring fire engines and police cars, and every year I think it is a terrorist attack.

After watching my grandson in his first game my ambition was to nap, but my middle son has the ambition to grow pear trees and see if he can start a microbrewery making a sort of pear cider called “perry”.  This is a long-term project, but in the short term involves planting four trees at the childcare, and also involves controlling my goats, so they don’t eat his saplings. This in turn involved repairing the electric fence, so that is what I wound up doing rather than snoozing.  Rather than rested I wound up feeling as you’d expect, after fighting with cold wire in a cold wind.

My ambition is now to simply survive until noon Monday. Sunday will not be a day of rest for me, as I am giving the sermon at our church. We have dwindled to a size so small that, fort the first time in 265 years, we can’t afford a pastor or interim pastor, and instead have “guest speakers” which includes our selves, (as we are cheapest) (IE free). We don’t call our sermons sermons, but rather call them “messages”, but mine will be a sermon all right.

My “message” is liable to be grouchy, as I have to fast on clear fluids, and then later in the day flush out my system and spend a lot of my time on the toilet, as my doctor wants to have a look inside my colon first thing Monday morning. It is hard to be happy about this prospect. A man of my advanced years expects to be treated with more dignity than that, especially right after giving a sermon at church.

It is also hard to see much prospect of Spring busting out.  We need south winds, as we are surrounded by cold in other directions. The Great Lakes still have ice, and there is still an amazing four feet of snow not all that far to our north. (The purple areas in the Dr Ryan Maue map below, from Joseph D’Aleo’s site at Weatherbell.)

Snowdepth to north April 22 ecmwf_snowdepth_conus2_1(1)

It is hard to see much hope in the current map, with the warm rains suppressed so far to the south.

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 However with the sun as high as it is in mid-August, spring is only seemingly denied. This morning, even with a skim of ice on puddles, when a beam of sun pooled in the east-facing shallows of the pond, a single peeper let out a solitary yelp. And I remind myself the ice was still thick enough to walk upon, on April first. Things have melted; spring isn’t denied.

The buds only seem on hold. Trees are very smart, for a being without brains, and they know when to bust out all over. The forsythia is yellower every day, even without blooming, and, even as I stood sulking by my garden yesterday, a bluebird landed on a fence-post nearby. It’s hard to argue with that.

POSTSCRIPT

The “spring quackers” are officially called “wood frogs”, and sound like this:

LOCAL VIEW –Daffodils Drenched–(updated)

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( Photo credit: http://awaytogarden.com/bulb-growing-basics-a-springtime-recap/ )

Glancing through google images I couldn’t find a single picture, among hundreds of daffodils, of one drooping in the rain., so then I plugged in “drooping daffodils” and did a bit better.

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I suppose people are simply less inclined to take pictures of flowers in the rain, when the flowers are getting pounded down. People equate spring with blue skies. However every spring daffodils are in a hurry to spring up before the trees can shade them with leaves, and every year they get drubbed by downpours, and then droop downcast in the drizzle.

We did get drenched by a fairly vigorous southwest flow ahead of a sprawling storm over the Great Lakes, which has kicked a secondary low up the coast. Once again thunder made it north to Boston, but not up to our hills. It never seems quite spring to me until we get a roll of thunder, and the rain did begin as sleet yesterday (and is still sleeting in Northern Maine).

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(I’ll add more later, but have to run to work right now.)

*******

I found out there was thunder last night, but I slept through it.

I also noticed I myself was drooping like the daffodils. Partly it is a continuation of the post-taxes hang-over. It is a sort of “what’s the use of trying” mentality, born of the government’s greed, and its desire to take money and liberty away.

However, when I thought about it, it was an older feeling as well, a feeling I could recall from my youth, though usually it didn’t hit me until May. At first I’d be hit by wild ambition, and only later would the “what’s the use of trying” discouragement set in.

The first stanza of a poem I wrote in 1975 came bouncing through my head, and made me smile, and I added three more stanzas.

In the spring there’s more to do
Than the clock allows you to.
There’s a thousand different things you want to plant.
Although lazy with spring fever
You try working like a beaver
And attempt to keep a schedule you can’t.

Though your garden plans are brilliant
You will wonder where your will went
Once you leave your golden castles in the air.
All too soon your mind’s accosted
By your body’s, “I’m exhausted!”
What you’re growing is depression and despair.

Therefore interrupt your planning.
Cross out freezing. Cross out canning.
Cross out many months of toil for which you’re wishing.
While the garden soil you’re turning
Stoop and pluck the worms there squirming
And plop them in a can and plan some fishing.

Once you plan for some relaxing
You will quit the overtaxing
That can make the crop you grow a bitter harvest.
To avoid the groans you’ve grown
You must plant not bread alone
But also plant the songs and poems that are best.

That is some advice for myself. Now we shall see if I can practice what I preach, and follow my own advice.

LOCAL VIEW –Awaiting the Wet–

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We have a flood watch this morning, which seems slightly absurd as it is so dry I’ve have to risk arrest to burn the dead weeds in my garden. (The trick is to burn small patches, so by the time anyone smells smoke the quick blaze is out, and you are whistling innocently and planting seeds.)

I got 40 feet of spinach planted yesterday. Actually it is 80 feet, as I plant a double row, with the rows around six inches apart. Once the seeds come up I thin the plants so they are four to six inches apart, (using the thinnings in a salad). Then the trick is to make sure the spinach gets lots of water, and lots of nitrogen. I have a nice pile of rotted manure, (which the old-timers called “brown gold”), and top-dress the plants away from the stalks. (If the manure is placed too close to the plants they get overfed and turn yellow.)  What you want is the plants to grow at top speed, before the weather gets hot and they bolt.

After spending around fifty years thinking spinach was loaded with iron, and was good for me, I recently learned it also is loaded with oxalate, which binds with the iron and makes it so your body can’t use it. Therefore I’m simply growing it because I like it.

Anyway, half of the time, when you learn of a new scientific study that shows some nourishing thing isn’t nourishing, you later learn that scientific study was done by someone who benefits if sales of that nourishing thing slump.  Both eggs and milk have spent time on the not-good-for-you list, only to be removed later. It wouldn’t surprise me if the study showing Spinach didn’t supply as much iron as previously thought was done by the Broccoli Growers Association.

One thing that is fairly certain is that the fresher a food is, the more nutritious it is.  You don’t want to pick spinach and leave it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. If possible you want to pick it just before dinner.

I’m also trying to grow some Onions from seed, which I’ve never tried before. Usually I plant little bulbs. I have ten feet of sweet onions and fifteen feet of Spanish onions involved in this experiment.

Usually the soil is muddy in April, but not yesterday. A bit of rain wouldn’t be a bad thing.

One reason for the flood watch is that the rivers and streams are fairly high, despite the drought. This is partly due to the snow-melt, but is also due to something I noticed happens during very cold winters. The level of lakes rises five inches. This occurs simply because the ice gets to be 50 inches thick, and a tenth of an iceberg floats above water, and that lifts the level of the lake a tenth of 50 inches, which is 5 inches. The “top of the water” can be five inches above the level of the outlet, yet not a drop can flow out, as the water is all frozen. As recently as April 1 we were walking on very solid ice on the ponds, but now it has vanished, under sunshine which beats down from the same point in the sky the sun is at in the middle of August. It’s amazing how quickly the ice just fades away, and then the extra five inches of water in the ponds can flow out the outlets, and the creeks and streams and rivers all rise even in a drought.

The snow is gone here, but there is likely more snow left to the north, and up on higher hills, and the weather service wants to cover its butt, when it issues the current flood watch, at a time the soil is getting dry and my seeds could use a bit of rain.