LOCAL VIEW –Pondering Puckerbrush–

Week follows week, and I never seem to have time to write. Last week I was harassed by overdue taxes, and this week, $10,000 poorer, I look ahead to my younger daughter getting married, next Saturday.

My life will be in turmoil this coming week. I have not been advised much about the preparations, but there is a good reason, for I am something of an old grouch, and don’t see why people can’t just get married and be done with it. Yet I also know such sentiments are blasphemy to females who like to fuss, and I have no desire to be beheaded. So I’m merely keeping my head down, doing what I’m told, and counting the days until next Sunday.

The problem is that the preparations are complete chaos. I can see the potential for a hilarious debacle, but I won’t be allowed to laugh. For example, the groom’s parent’s are flying up from Brazil, don’t speak a word of English, and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese.  His mother wants to cook elaborate dishes, and the oven in the kitchen is broken. You better not dare allow the corners of your mouth to twitch up.  This situation is serious, I tell you, serious!

Beyond all the agony is a simple fact: A wedding is a beautiful thing. All our efforts to ruin it cannot hide that fact. In like manner, life creates all sorts of clouds of dust which can be used as an excuse for not-writing, but the poetry is always there.

In ancient Persia poets were pampered
And given palaces to ponder in,
But modern men are constantly hampered
When their mind’s in the mood for wandering.
Still, the mind cannot always be denied.
As widgets hurry down assembly lines
Mistakes occur, for eyes wander aside
To beauty in a blond, for the High Devine
Does not shun low places. No disgrace’s
In doggeral. Christ had his dusty feet
Washed by a whore’s tears, as fussy faces
Lifted noses and sniffed. That which is most sweet
Is not buried by life’s bustle and noise.
God’s everywhere, and so are His joys.

To keep a semblance of sanity during this crazy week I will  post pictures of hikes I took the children of my Childcare on last summer. Those hikes tended to get crazy, but with twenty-twenty hindsight I can see the poetry, even if I didn’t see it at the time.

One hike was down an abandoned road called “Whirlpool Road”. In 1750 it led down to an elbow in the Soughegan River where the water swirled in a whirlpool. By the year 1800 the whirlpool was gone, as the river had been dammed for a textile mill downstream. By 1900 many mills had moved south to escape northern labor unions, (and be closer to southern cotton), and wool prices were crashing, so the farmland began to be abandoned.   As the land began to grow over, the locals described the underbrush as “puckerbrush”.  (Because it made your face pucker as you walked through it.) Then, as a century passed, trees grew tall, and Whirlpool Road passed through shaded glades. By 2000 the trees were worth harvesting, and the logs were dragged out by growling machines called “skidders”,  which would have awed the farmers of old, who hauled logs with a team of two horses.  Skidders also tended to knock down the stone walls the farmers had labored so hard to raise. Lastly, though trees were left behind to reseed the forest, the skidders drove too close to the roots of some, and the roots died on that side, and the trees were vulnerable to gales.

This brings us to last summer, when we were drawn down that road. I was drawn by history. The children sought a different attraction.

 

Less attractive were the ticks, which were especially abundant, due to the fact whitetail deer like such over-gown lands.

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Then, of course, it rained. The youth made it quite clear they were not having much fun, but then we came to a fallen tree. I never know what will redeem a hike, and change me from a child-abuser to a hero.

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Blueberries were forgotten. The children delighted in the tree for over an hour. All I needed to do was referee king-of-the-mountain fights, and keep them from breaking each others necks. (I like this sort of fallen tree for it lets me study the subsoil of old pastures, and also there is the slight chance of finding an ancient artifact.)

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Eventually we moved on to the blueberries, and ran into our next adventure. But that’s another story and another sonnet.

(Photo credits; blueberry pictures; Marlowe Gauteau)

 

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LOCAL VIEW –Drenching’s Lesson–

There is an old “weather-saw” that states, rather cynically,

When the sky is crystal blue
Rain or snow in a day or two.

(Actually the original version of this saw did not use the word “crystal”, but rather used an old and local word which would require explaining and defining, and that I begin this post with a sidetrack, and, as I was taught back in school to never begin with a sidetrack, and instead to launch directly to the point, I’ll skip telling you what the old and more effective word was.)

(Oh, all right, if you insist, the word was “fectless”. Now, may I get on to my point?)

(What do you mean, there is no such word?  Just because it didn’t make your dictionary doesn’t mean it didn’t make the Yankee weather-saws, that old Yankee farmers used back when I was young.)

(OK, OK, if you insist, I’ll explain the word to you, as I understand it. But I warned you, it will be a sidetrack.)

(Take the second syllable of the word “effect” and you have a new word, which I think was coined by the Scots, which is synonymous with power. If you were a shaper and mover then you were a fellow with “fect.”  [Of course, some dictionaries say there is no noun “shaper”, [for “a person or machine that shapes”], so how can they have the noun “fect”?]  But, to return to the subject, a fellow with “fect” was a person who had an effect, a real doer, and conversely a real do-nothing was a “fectless” person.

Therefore the word “fectless” was different from the word “feckless”, for “feckless” involves a moral judgement. The word “feckless” implies irresponsibility and a lack of character, and avoiding feckless behavior was preached by fellows who didn’t work, but instead pontificated from the pulpit with no calluses on their hands. The fellows who did work and who had hardened palms could care less about moralistic blabber. All they cared about was your production. If you worked and produced you had “fect”, [and if you were creative and inventive as you did so, and could swiftly learn without a teacher, you were “thefty”], [but if you whined a lot you “girned”,] and if you produced nothing you were “fectless.”

Therefore a sky that produced nothing was “fectless.”  It may not be a particularly poetic word for a blue sky, but it isn’t judgmental either. It is a rather matter-of-fact observation, and, like most elements of the “Puritan Work Ethic”, was surprisingly non-judgmental, (unlike most who comment about Puritans and the Puritan Work Ethic, who tend to look at bygone Puritans and to judge like crazy.) (In truth the Calvinist Puritans, if they judged, judged judgement was God’s business.) Anyway and in conclusion, a blue sky was nothing to wax poetic about or to rhapsodize about, but rather was a sky that produced nothing, and therefore the word “fectless” was a superb word to chose, for a practical weather-saw, utilized by practical Yankee farmers.

Sheesh! Do you see how dangerous it is to get me off onto a sidetrack? (And I didn’t even start about how the word “saw” in “weather-saw” is related to the Viking word “saga”.)

Let me start over. Monday the sky was not “crystal blue”, but “fectless blue”, so, allow me to correct myself and be historically accurate, and to put down the proper poem:

When the sky is fectless blue
Rain or snow in a day or two.

The sky was spotless and superb, in its vivid blueness, which immediately put me on guard, due to the old weather-saw. (There are other weather-saws having to do with how slowly the clear weather develops, which foretells how slowly clear weather will depart.) I knew the clarity had come on quickly, and more modern meteorological ideas told me the high pressure was not the sort that was going to stay. At this latitude, and at this time of year, things can move swiftly.

It is a bit odd to look up at a beautiful sky and scowl about it, so I didn’t. I just looked up at a total absence of signs of storm and thought “rain or snow in a day or two.” There is no judgement in that. No scowling. It is merely an acceptance of the cards as they are dealt. (To be honest, there is a fatalistic side to the Puritan Work Ethic more Buddhist than Buddhists, and more Zen than Zen.)

Actually I liked looking at the bright sky, for I had a couple of dark deuces dealt to me to start my week, which I would have avoided if possible. They involved the people many like least to deal with: Doctors and lawyers.

Yesterday, when the skies were blue, I had to go see the young fellow who removed my cancerous kidney last Christmas, and, today, as the weather went downhill to downpours, I had to obey a summons to go to court to testify about a young fellow I pity, but who broke the law. Largely it was a huge waste of my time, spent sitting about with people I’d ordinarily avoid.

If I am going to have anything to do with doctors I’d most like to sit about in a maternity ward, where life is new, and hope is like champagne. It is far less inspiring to sit about with a bunch who all have, (or have had), cancer, where hope is like dishwater.

In like manner, if I am going to have anything to do with lawyers I’d most like to sit about in the company of reformers who seek to reduce legislation [even if it means fewer laws for lawyers to play with], and who seek to create laws that are down to earth and which, (rather than justifying lame excuses), seek deal with practical matters, like the Puritan Work Ethic does. It is far less inspiring to sit about for what feels like forever, watching the legal system as it currently exists.

I really like the young doctor who saved my life, but visiting him was to see him pushed to the limit. The current system drives doctors to see too many patients each hour, and I couldn’t help but feel like a widget passing before the young man on an assembly line. I did slow everything down, by telling him a humorous tale (far shorter than the start of this post). I think it totaled 90 seconds. But he laughed, and I think I improved his Monday.

However the experience, for me, was not so hurried as it was for the doctor. I think “waiting rooms” should be renamed. They should be called “waiting and waiting and waiting rooms”. And the crowd I was waiting midst was not the most optimistic bunch I’ve ever met. It was a chance for me to tell them humorous tales as well, and to improve their Mondays as well, but I flunked that chance at spirituality. All I could pray was, “God, get me the heck out of here.” Rather than caring for the cancerous, like Mother Theresa, all I could think was that I’d rather be out under the fectless sky, for I have better uses for the little time we all have, here on our planet. And there is something about cancer that makes the time seem too brief.

It is not an example of the Puritan Work Ethic to spend an entire morning (when you include the time driving to and from the city) arriving at a diagnosis I could have arrived at on my own: “It is wise to have a yearly chest X-rays.”  I could have done that on my own. The young doctor could have been free to spend more time on his next patient, but some threat of malpractice forced him to see me even though it wasted time, and that threat is a good segway to the following day’s disdain of lawyers and judges, who also waste time.

Tuesday morning the weather was rapidly worsening, but the waste of my precious time was a gloom even worse. I had to obey a summons and show up at a court room to testify, but the prosecution and the defense huddled “off the record”, and the case was “continued” until January 17, due to “new evidence.”  (In other words, the young fellow had broken a few more laws since the last court-date, which muddled up the math involved in the plea-bargaining.)

The fellow I pity-but-must-testify-against was dressed in his cleanest clothing, but never even entered the courtroom for his “day in court”.  Various “cease and desist injunctions” and “restraining orders” did their best to prevent witnesses from meeting the accused, and we were compartmentalized into separate areas, and even left the courthouse at separate times. There was some brief eye-contact, but all I could think was that we spent an entire morning never talking, and never accomplished a blasted thing. The Puritan Work Ethic was rolling in its grave.

The judge and prosecution and defense likely felt they were busy and industrious, huddling and discussing correct procedures, but they reminded me of Union Workers following the principle, “do not kill the job”. Since they get paid for dealing with laws it pays to make more and more of them, until it seems they have so many rules and regulations to juggle that nothing will ever get done.

Of course, (because my stepfather did teach at Harvard Law School), I do have a little pity for lawyers and judges. During the the four hours I sat in the courtroom accomplishing nothing I got to see a slew of other cases: All sorts of other silly domestic altercations, which had escalated absurdly, sometimes due to obstinate and nonspiritual hardheartedness, but mostly due to booze and drugs.

A large case-load was handled by a very haggard and weary-looking judge. He wore a drab, black robe and had impeccably styled hair parted in the middle to curling waves by each graying temple, nearly as fashionable as the white wigs the English judges wear. Among other things, he had to deal with a surprisingly large number of irresponsible people who were so irresponsible they failed to show up. A lot of the work had been done beforehand by the prosecution and defense, and the judge was then merely a harried clerk noting down the pre-agreed-upon sentences. Many long sentences were greatly shortened, provided the culprit avoided getting back into the same trouble during the following weeks, or months, or in one case two years. The judge avoided any sort of editorial comment, besides raising an eyebrow slightly from time to time. To one side a fat man stood quietly, a revolver bulging beneath his coat, and his only job seemed to be saying, “All rise” when the judge entered. A stenographer busily typed at a computer terminal, and answered a few questions the judge asked her about defendant’s “priors”. The entire time there was not a single raised voice, and there were long silences as the judge studied papers, and during these silences the lawyers would whisper with each other, and defendants would look concerned to see their lawyer quietly chuckling with the prosecution.

The only interesting case was a fellow who was led in by a State Trooper. The accused wore steel handcuffs chained to a steel chain around his waist, so he had to stoop to scratch his nose or sign a paper, because he couldn’t raise his hands. This man had been on some sort of wonderfully wild bender, and his case was difficult because he had broken laws in three separate counties in New Hampshire, and he had cases pending in Massachusetts and Vermont as well.  The entire courtroom awoke from its drowsy indifference when the legal difficulties were discussed, but then sank back in disappointment when it became apparent that none of the juicy details were going to be discussed. (I thought the poor fellow looked like he couldn’t remember what a great time he’d had, breaking all those laws.) The case was so complicated, involving so many jurisdictions, that the fellow had already spent over two months in jail as bureaucrats tried to figure out the legalities of exactly where he should be tried first.

For the most part the judge wanted to painstakingly note which of the many sentences, which the man had to serve in the future, that the seventy-one days he’d already served would be applied to, and which sentences would be “concurrent” and which would be “consecutive”, and which jail he’d await his next hearing in, and what county or state that hearing would be held in. Legally every “T” was crossed and every “I” was dotted, with dreary and methodical slowness. I muttered to the person next to me I would have preferred some sort of brawl, for that would have settled things much faster.

Or would I? I’m an old man, and no Clint Eastwood, and think I would come out on the losing end, if the judge told me, and the young-man-I-was-to-testify-against, to go out in the parking lot and settle things man to man. But in some ways I think I might have preferred a black eye and bloody nose, to the idiotic extension of misery that the pedantic laws everlastingly perpetuate. The laws seemed intended to keep lawyers busy, and little else.

Back fifty years ago, when I was young, it was a little less politically-correct to brawl, and I got my nose bloodied and my eye blackened on a few occasions.  The teachers and authorities were horrified, but afterwards me and Bob and Chuck and Dave and Brian were on a first-name basis. If not best-buddies, we were far more respectful towards each other after our brawls than we ever dreamed we could be beforehand. Apparently, with boys at least,  contact is better than separation, and intimacy has value, even it involves fists.

If young teens can be so much smarter than lawyers, when it comes to resolving things, just imagine, if such a thing were possible, how much more swiftly a mastermind like Lord Jesus might resolve things. Theoretically He could solve disputes without everyone wasting so much time. Likely He could heal without so much time being wasted in doctors offices, and so much blasted paperwork.

As a writer, I likely shouldn’t belittle paperwork. But I do know of its hazards. I fell in love with paperwork to a degree where weeds grew in my garden, because I was too busy scribbling to weed. Consequentially I know all about the ways paperwork can reduce the crop one would expect, if one obeyed the Puritan Work Ethic.  It is only an obvious extension of this first-hand knowledge to state that others, such as doctors and lawyers, who allow paperwork to overrule the common sense of the Puritan Work Ethic, should expect reduced crops as well.

I could go on, but won’t. I think I’ve traced the borders of an idea which larger minds can grasp, and I’ll leave it up to larger minds to fill in the larger gaps.

As for me, I was just a tired old bumpkin who had to deal with his Monday and Tuesday largely wasted. The days are at their shortest now, and if you are stuck indoors during the heart of the day the dark is already growing as you escape, even when the sky is fectless blue. When the rain is drumming down it is dark even at noon, and it is evening before three in the afternoon.

What a difference a day made! Monday the sky was fectless blue, but Tuesday dawned with a rain so cold that ice was on the windshields. Up in Maine the cold brewed snow.

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But fortunately the storm was well west, and that snow could only be driven away by south winds.

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Even though we didn’t get snow, the above map shows the warm front stayed south of us, and we received the coldest rain you can get, without it being snow. Miserable stuff. But the real gloom was a sort of hangover I felt, from being plunged into the worlds of doctors and lawyers. It put a bad taste in the flavor of my own job as a “child care professional”, for I am the police, judge, jury, prosecution, defense, doctor and nurse all rolled into one, as soon as I step in the door. It doesn’t help matters when one has developed a strong sense that such people are all somehow misinformed, when you must promptly join the club. I was in a bad mood as I drove from the courtroom to work through the driving rain.

As the windshield wipers swiped the smearing purple view I wondered if I’m just getting old. The doctors and lawyers are younger than me, and in some cases seem hardly able to shave. I tend to think they are less wise than me, for where I was schooled by old Yankees who dealt with practical jobs, they studied bureaucracy and all its idiocy and paperwork. Where I learned an archaic language, they learned legalese. Where I learned the Puritan Work Ethic they learned how to waste exorbitant amounts of time and taxpayer’s money accomplishing zilch. But does this make me wise, or merely an anachronism?

Because I deal so much with youth, I have to admit there is something fresh and new manifesting. The One who created me young and bursting with new ideas and bundles of energy long ago does not weary, and fresh waves of youth are created by the Creator even as I get old and do get weary.

Some of my ideas are not due to wisdom, but due to weariness. I saw this made clear a week ago when I had to face a task I’d have done in a day, a decade ago, but found I was putting off, at age sixty-three.

A member of my staff had fretted about a big, old, dead paper-birch by a trail. Dead trees do fall in strong winds, but the fact it is highly unlikely they will fall just when a small child is passing did not make the good woman fret less, so, because I valued her heart even if not her worry, I cut the tree down and cut the trunk into a bunch of round logs, the largest as big around as a small car’s tire. Then I let those logs sit there. Operating a chain saw makes me a bit achy, but humping a bunch of big logs into the back of my truck makes me very achy. My choice was dictated by my age.

The children at my Childcare wanted those logs moved 200 yards away, for two old-fashioned reasons.  First, we have a old-fashioned campfire 200 yards away. Second, despite the fact they can barely lift the old-fashioned maul, they delight in the old-fashioned art of splitting logs. (More modern people either use an gasoline-powered, pneumatic woodsplitter, or have a pellet or propane stove, rather than a campfire.)

I was in no mood to please the whining children. If humping big logs into my truck makes my body hurt, supervising boys (and a few girls) wielding a maul to split wood makes my brain hurt. These children are aged three to nine. I have to watch them like a hawk. They do learn and become amazingly proficient in an ancient art, just as children did in the past, but I lose around five pounds of sweat for each child I teach. Therefore I hit upon a way I thought might get the kids to forget about the birch logs 200 yards away. I told them that if they wanted to split logs, I would teach them, but my truck was unavailable, so they would have to roll all the logs to the campfire.

They promptly embarrassed me. Where I looked at those big logs and cringed at the thought of moving them, they all ran off to gleefully roll them. Nor did they merely roll one or two logs. They rolled an entire tree’s worth of logs. It took them less than an hour, and this particularly put me to shame, for I’d managed to make the same job take three months (by putting it off) and hadn’t even started it. What really rubbed the shame in was they were not achy at all, after moving such a load of wood. To be honest, the cluster of kids looked rather invigorated by the exercise. Then they all clamored for chances to split the logs.

The shame. The shame. Old Yankees like me take pride in our ability to work, but I’d been outdone by boys aged five, six and seven. What could I do? I had to watch like a hawk as they attempted to spit the logs. Only a few could actually split a log, (I can still beat them in that respect), but they loved the chance to smash a log, (likely because they usually get in trouble for smashing stuff), and all went home with healthy appetites, likely had no trouble falling asleep, and likely became more muscular.

The benefit to me? Well, of course I do get paid for this stuff. I got the logs moved without paying for it. And parents do praise me because their kids are more mellow when exhausted, and less inclined to smash things at home. However I think the best benefit was that they taught me the young see differently than the old. That should be obvious, but sometimes I need things made blatant.

As I drove from the courthouse to the Childcare, squinting through the windshield at a purple world smeared by swiping wipers,  I took my revelation and applied it to doctors and lawyers. Is it possible that they too have the superabundance of energy youth owns, and all their bureaucratic paperwork is actually a useful thing I am simply too old and worn out to appreciate?

Nah.

First of all, dealing with the extra work created by a dead birch is a different thing from dealing with a bureaucracy’s extra work. The first is physical whilst bureaucracy is mental, and the first creates a useful product (firewood) while the second mostly wastes time. The only similarity is both involve dead wood, which was one reason I was delightfully surprised when the president-elect suggested that a new rule be instituted wherein, from now on,  an old regulation would have to be abolished before a new one could be instituted.

Second, though I am older physically, and jobs that once were invigorating now are painful, I am still mentally sharp, and in fact better at grasping concepts than I was when I was young and easily befuddled.

However I didn’t have time to think deeply about all this stuff, for I was arriving at the Childcare, and had to not only deal with kids cooped up indoors in a driving rain, but also with an overworked staff who had to cover for me as I ditched them to skip off to deal with doctors and lawyers and paperwork galore.  I might not feel I’d had a break, but the staff needed a break from being the police, judge, jury, prosecution, defense, doctor and nurse all rolled into one. And, as soon as I stepped in from the purple day to the bright yellow light of the Childcare, deep thought had to cease. Working with small children involves having around fifteen seconds to think about a problem, before the child chirps up with the next one, (and if you have twelve children you have twelve voices chirruping questions).

After around a half hour of directing young attentions away from havoc towards more constructive play, and arbitrating disputes, I heard the low moaning of an engine approaching out on the street, and looking out the window into the purple day saw a yellow school-bus approaching and slowing to a stop, and start disgorging a small crowd of”older” children, (aged six to ten.) Glancing at the sign-up sheet I understood some of the smaller children, who should have been picked up already, were staying late because parents were delayed by the driving rain and slow traffic down towards Manchester or Boston. We would have more children than usual. I stifled an oath and instead said, “Goodness!” (which is a word that hasn’t yet been prohibited by bureaucrats).

My focus was immediately the boys exiting the bus, because they are completely full of pent up high spirits, and as they get out of school they are a bit like goats released into a spring pasture. They want to bound and skip and frolic.  It is best to immediately assert some command and power, because if you lose control it is hard to get it back, and they would disturb and infect the smaller children with their wild exuberance.

As the boys exited the bus, I ordered them inside, because the weather was so rotten it seemed a kindness. However after six hours having to obey rules at school they were bouncing off the walls, inside. What does “bouncing off the walls” mean? Well, it means I could either get all legalistic, and forbid throwing things no sane person would think of throwing, and forbid running atop furniture no sane person would think of running atop of, or I could skip the whole bother of pretending I was a lawyer and judge of the indoors, and just order them outside. (Actually I obeyed the bureaucrat’s protocol, and asked them if they would “like to” go outside, but I used a certain growl that hints there is no option.) (I also asked the girls, to prove I’m not a sexist, but rather than bouncing off the walls they were huddled together plotting and scribbling, and simply looked at me, and then out at the driving rain, with incredulous expressions that wordlessly stated, “Are you nuts?”

The boys didn’t hesitate, and I had to collar them even to get them to put on raincoats. After all day pent up in classrooms, boys don’t want to stay in. Nor do I, after time spent pent up in doctor’s and lawyer’s offices. So we went out, and lasted around twenty minutes.

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You may think I am exaggerating, but as a so-called “child care professional” I tell you it makes a huge difference if you allow boys a bit of time getting drenched by miserable weather before they decide, on their own volition, that inside is better.

There is something about the “outside” that teaches better than I can. The boys exploded out the door and ran about and got drenched. They had a blast, and then slowed, and seemed to conclude, “this isn’t fun any more.” When they came in they payed quietly with legos, until the girls attacked them.

Now, despite the fact I have noticed there is a difference between the sexes, I attempt to be politically correct. I have mentioned I did offer the girls the chance to go outside with the boys. They had no interest, for, freed from school, they were choosing to bounce off different walls. It caused no trouble at first, because they huddled and plotted and jotted on paper. In fact it seemed harmless, until I got my personal slip of paper. It read:

Top Secret! Private!!!! Mr. Shaw your invited!

Day: Tuesday, Dec 6

Time: 4:07

Where: The farm

Why: Charlotte, Maya, and Brooke invited you!

Please come!

I am old and wise enough to understand that this is not an invitation. It is an order. And it presented me with certain problems. I had a preschooler to deal with just then, and politely said I might be a little late to the party.

When the boys-off-the-bus received their invitations, they made no effort to be polite. Rather than appreciating the invitations they received, they seemed to take offence. Immediately they began turning legos into weaponry. If the girls were going to interrupt their play with invitations, they would counterattack by interrupting the girls’ party with Lego light-sabers, jet airplanes, bazookas and spears. They were very small versions of such weaponry, but they made an amazing amount of noise.

The girls immediately began making a counter din, saying how horrible boys are and bursting into tears and telling me to order the boys to be “polite” and to comply with their orders, and to pretend to sip tea at a party with their pinkies raised. The boys announced they would rather die.

Now I am certain you, as an outsider, know exactly how you would deal with such a rainy-day conflict. You know exactly what to say to girls who invite boys to places they do not want to go. You know what to say to boys who respond to invitations with light sabers. But me? I was just glad that parents half my age started arriving just then, and I didn’t have to deal with it.

To be quite honest, there are times that my wife and I are involved in the exact same disagreement. She is inclined to go to a party, when I am more inclined to play with my Legos, (or construct a sonnet,) (basically the same thing.)

How do my wife and I deal with this problem? Well, to be frank, that is our business, and how you deal with this problem is your business. (It does seem to be a rather eternal problem, mentioned in classic literature and even the Bible.) (The Bible suggests that one way of handling it is to turn water into wine, but I must not be a very good Christian, for I haven’t got that part down right…..yet.)

But one thing that does seem unwise is to legislate. Do not make a one-size-fits-all rule, because not only does one size fail to fit all, but bureaucratic legislation spoils the fun of figuring things out for yourself.

Not that you can’t make certain rules that outlaw certain options, such as, “Thou shalt not poke another with any weaponry”,  or even “Legos shall stay in room 1, and teacups in room 2”, but forbidding certain options is not the same thing as prohibiting Freedom itself.

And to conclude this ramble, that is what the children taught me on a gloomy, rainy day.

 

 

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.

LOCAL VIEW –The Drumbeats Of Drought In New Hampshire–(With Postscript)

In the past I have posted about (or perhaps bragged) about how people in New England do not know what a drought is, nowadays, because, when I was a boy, we had a drought that went on year after year, until Boston was talking about the need for a second reservoir to supplement Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts, because Quabbin was nearly dry, and vanished towns had reappeared on its dry edges. (I’ll skip repeating tales from my boyhood, of illegally fishing and swimming in the Stony Brook Reservoir, except to say they are fond memories.)

I may have to eat my words, for this summer’s drought is becoming the worst single-year drought I can remember, here in Southern New Hampshire. Even the hurricane milling about to our south last week only gave us east winds with a mist in it, and when a front came through and dropped the temperature from 82°F to 72°F with only the slightest sprinkle of rain, I began to wonder if this might be an autumn of fires. They are rare in New England, but have happened.

New England is a fairly wet place, and there are not that many species that are adapted to fires, as there are out west. However I have noticed even the larger lakes are lower. Here is a picture of the shore of Lake Massabesic, which supplies the City of Manchester its water.drought2-6-img_3824

That is about an hour east of my Farm-childcare. Twenty minutes west in Peterborough is Noone Falls on the Contoocook River, with a bare trickle flowing over it.

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At the Weatherbell Site Joseph D’Aleo has been keeping an eye on the drought, and I lifted these maps from two of his posts.

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In actual fact I think there should be a small spot of red further west on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border to mark my Farm-childcare, because it seems every passing shower has missed us. I have a customer with a rain gauge, and though he only lives a mile and a half away, on several occasions he has received a half inch from a thunder shower, as I got only a trace. This is a bit unusual, as I’m on the east slopes of a hill, and usually get more.

As a consequence a mountain stream that tumbles down from the hill has been reduced to a tiny trickle. I have never seen the likes of it. Here is the amount of water flowing from the flood-control reservoir that blocks that stream. drought2-5-img_3825

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(The sticks at the bottom right of the picture are cut by beavers, who are at war with the State Of New Hampshire and constantly attempt to block the pipe.  A man from the State constantly clears it.  My tax dollars at work.)

I worry about the native brook trout that live in the stream. There cannot be much oxygen in the water, with such a slight trickle flowing, and the water is likely getting warm, in the few remaining pools.

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What impresses me most is the farm pond, which was bulldozed eight feet deep in clay back in 1967 (before laws about wetlands) so my stepmother’s cows could get their own water even when the hand-dug well went dry. It is spring-fed, and even on dry summers, when the intermittent stream that feeds into the pond goes dry, there usually is a trickle flowing out. The water was clear and clean, and we swum in it. Not this year. drought2-8-img_3925

A heron has grown fat, stalking around the shore, for the frogs have no place to hide.  But now children can see what became of their fish hooks, when they ignored me and cast out on the east side. (Those trees came down in the 2008 ice storm, which doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but was before they were born.) (Water usually completely covers the snags.)

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This drought has been going on a long time, locally. It even showed in last winter’s precipitation maps. One month the rain would be north of us, and the next south of us. Or east of us, and then west of us. The lawns have gotten crunchy, and last week’s mist only nourished the crabgrass, which sucked up the surface damp and already is dry.

When I scuff through the crispy woods I wonder if this might be the year we see what people in New England saw in 1947, when entire towns burned in southern Maine.

http://www.pressherald.com/2012/10/07/the-week-that-maine-burned_2012-10-07/

POSTSCRIPT:

I should have mentioned there is one thing that is relishing the drought. It is a small sort of ant that builds nests in impractical places (even the handlebars of bikes) and likely loses a lot of colonies each time it rains, due to floods. This year they have thrived, and last week sudden swarms appeared in all sorts of unlikely places, as some unknown trigger, perhaps the length of the day, brought them out to perform their mating flights.

They have absurdly oversized wings, three times as long as their small bodies, and are rather lousy fliers. It seems to me that rather than attempting to avoid preditors their strategy is to overwhelm with their sheer numbers. They seem to float about, rather than fly, and I can’t say having a cloud of them in your face makes a drought any better. Within an hour or two they are all gone, with only some anthills of dirt remaining to show they were more than an odd dream.

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(The last two ant pictures by Marlowe Gautreau).

                 DROUGHT SONNET

Flowers turn their faces from their old friend
And bluest skies seem soured by broken trust.
Balmy breezes fail to heal; What’s mild won’t mend
And even crabgrass yellows in the dust.

The dewless dawn comes begging for a cloud
But once again what’s fair does not seem fair.
What swelled our pride no longer seems so proud
And carefree sunbeams stress our noons with care.

And so it seems all things upon our earth:
Our wealth; our fame; our friends; and our powers
Are dry, and soon are deemed of little worth
If You don’t spill Your mercy on our flowers.

Only the busy ants buzz, and don’t complain,
So come again to thirsty earth, and reign.

Non-local View,

One problem with running a Childcare is that, when school teachers take vacations,  parents need childcare even more,  and therefore school vacations are no vacation for a “Childcare Professional.”  You go from working hard to working harder. You work and work until you can’t take any more. You need escape.

Smarter Childcares just close down for “Quarterly Maintenance,” which is a way of hiding the fact they are all cooling their heels and getting some well-earned time off. But closing puts the parents in a bind, because they still have to work, and have no place for their kids. I can’t stand to see full grown adults grovel, so our Childcare basically never closes. Eventually, when either I or my wife are on the verge of a nervous breakdown, we do the irresponsible thing, which is to play hooky. Fortunately we have an excellent staff, and they cover for us, when we run off screaming and waving our hands in the air.

I didn’t see the latest episode coming. My wife said, “I sure could use a break,” and I was busy at the computer and just murmured, “Me too.”  I didn’t realized that counted as authorization. The next thing I knew she asked me to carry the bags out to the car.

It is odd to wake up in a different town, utterly outside of my ordinary routine, but for me it feels strangely familiar. I’m back on the road again. It is like thirty years ago, when I was a hobo, but back then I never had a beautiful woman with me.  But where was I? Oh yes, when I wake up it is with a strange sense time is altered. Not only am I unsure of where I am; I’m unsure what the year is.

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I’m in Newburyport, which is where clipper ships once were built, and left for China.  Those days are long gone, but it does not take much for me to activate the superpowers of my imagination, and the ghosts of ships are sailing in though the glitter along side the draggers of today.

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It is but a twinkling of time to ruffle the pages of history.  The booms go bust.  Whaling is a way to get rich, then a way to break even, and then all the gathered wisdom of the Whaling Masters is an obsolete art, fading away, and scorned by a young and prissy Save-the-whales activist who may have soccer-legs, but whose spindly arms could never hurl a harpoon hard enough to prick a whale, yet who thinks he is courageous to carry a sign.  “What fools”, the skinny twerp sneers, looking back at the men who lit all the lamps of New England, but simply ruffle the pages of time a little, and the twerp is the one being laughed at from the future, and all his Computer Mastery is just more obsolete knowledge, here today and gone tomorrow, like dust in the wind or spangles on the waves.

Standing in historic places always make me wonder what it would be like to have the super-vision of a prophet like Isaiah, and to be able to see the ages spread out like the frames of a comic strip, with past, present and future all visible at once.  Isaiah could see the Jews arriving with Moses from Egypt, inheriting and building a prosperous land, but getting too fat and decadent, and then being led off to captivity in Babylonia, but then returning and…

I’m not a prophet, but I have had three cups of coffee, which is almost the same thing, and when I look about the harbor I can’t help but notice nearly all the boats are pleasure boats. Nearly all the modern boat building must be pleasure boat building. People work hard, but the industry is the tourist industry. What a change this harbor has seen!  It  has shifted from the puritan work-ethic to the modern leisure-ethic.

Well, I too am a tourist. The house I’m in is not my own;  it is a bed and breakfast. I’m just passing through, a free and homeless hobo. I’m not like a perriwinkle, who house is a home he can never leave, nor like the chambered nautilus in Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, expanding his home into “greater mansions”,  but rather I’m like the hermit crab, who knows his home will grow too small, and seeks a larger shell, yet must pass through a time, shifting from a small shell to a larger one, when he has no shell at all, and is butt naked.

In a sense to be a tourist is to willingly and willfully become homeless.  It is to be a hobo. True, people attempt to do it in style, and the RV’s that come lurching into campgrounds are about as far from true camping as one can get, and are tantamount to lugging around a home as you are homeless, but somewhere under all that claptrap is an ideal, and the ideal is Freedom.

It amazes me how, no sooner do people have any free time, they fill it with chains. They deny it of course, but into my mind’s eye comes the image of a man who wants to simplify his life to a bathing suit and a towel, and yet winds up laboring to get six coolers, five beach umbrellas, beach balls, Frisbees, horseshoes, a stereo system, and eleven folding chairs across hot sand to the edge of the water. Where is the freedom in that?

When I get grumpy I think we are the opposite of Pilgrims. They arrived with no food and no shelter and no insurance and no welfare checks. All they had were some tools and a whole lot of freedom.  Now we have tons of stuff, but are in danger of losing the freedom.

It is too much to think about, when I am suppose to be resting, but  I can’t help it, when wandering the mouth of the Merrimac, with the dazzle filling my eyes. Across the dazzle is the Coast Guard station, to save the vacationers when they are in trouble…

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…but I think we may need a greater Guard than that.

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Local View –Shadberry Rains–

I should likely start this post with a weather map, showing how even when a low swings out to sea, and a cold front pushes past with a following high pressure, sometimes the clouds refuse to depart.  (Also note the low way up by Hudson Bay. If you think it doesn’t intend to plunge south and plauge New England, you lack the pessimism necessary to live here. If you don’t believe me, move here. It is right about now that lots of immigrants start screaming and ripping their hair out), (and they haven’t even met our black flies.)

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This year has been typical, teasing immigrants (called “Flatlanders” around here) with balmy weather in March, seducing them into thinking spring is about to come this far north at the same time it came further south in their past, in the far away places they came from. As a bit of irony, temperatures hit 73° (23° Celsius) on April first, as an April Fool’s joke. And to totally tantalize the suckers from the south, a few trees such as swamp maples behaved as if they were about to burst into leaf, risking some early blooms. For proof, I offer you a picture from Farmer’s New Year (March 25).

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Yet here it is, nearly 40 days later, and the swamp maple still haven’t leafed out. As the Flatlanders scream, the trees go “bwah ha ha ha.”

The trees are a lot smarter than the people around here, which makes sense, as they’ve lived longer. Of course, psychiatrists will object to my saying that, stating trees don’t have brains, and can’t think. Perhaps that is what makes trees smarter.

Regarding psychiatrists, I will say this much: Some of the kids we have had pass through our Childcare have been troubled, and they have been to psychiatrists, and also they have been to groves of pines. Guess which did nothing for the child’s bad mood (which some call “mental health”), and guess which healed the child’s hurt heart when humans couldn’t?  (Oops, I gave the answer away, by using that word “humans”.)

People do have brains, but mostly it just gets us in trouble. For example, take the subject of “being in harmony in with nature.” This subject makes humans absolutely bonkers. In my time I have seen one actress hit by a bucket of red paint as she left a theater wearing a fur coat, and another actress sprayed with manure as she baked muffins in a pasture. (These ridiculous, yet real-life, cartoons come to you courtesy of Greenpeace.)

Whatever you may say about trees, they would never be caught dead doing anything like that.

We only have one life, but according to some the “One Life” goes on and on through countless incarnations, as our consciousness strives to be One with God’s.

I have enough trouble remembering where I put my car keys, and can’t remember what I was doing before I was born, but, according to some, a long, long time ago we ourselves were trees. If that is so, I can’t say we’ve learned all that much, in a million incarnations of evolution.

I got tremendous enjoyment from Tolkien’s trilogy when I came to the part where the “Ents” make an appearance, as “shepherds of the trees”. At our Childcare I have often regaled the children with tales and warnings about “walking trees”, even to the point where one young boy marched up to me one morning and informed me, “My dad says there is no such thing as walking trees.”

However Tolkien didn’t understand one thing about trees, and it is this secret: Their heads are in the soil, and their limbs reach up towards the sun. If a tree ever did wake up and walk, it would bring its limbs to the earth, rip its roots up, and you’d face a creature with a mane like a lion, but a mane filled with crumbling dirt.  It would see you without eyes…….unless, of course, it was a potato.

Which works me around to the subject:  I did get some potatoes planted today, with the help of small children at the Childcare. In theory it was a teaching experience. I’m never sure the youngest get what I am saying, which is that by sticking perfectly good food in the dirt we get ten to twenty times as much perfectly good food. It is the older kids, the hoary veterans aged four and five,  those who had the fun of digging up the potatoes last fall, and roasting them by a fire, who have a glimmer of understanding. The younger ones are far more fascinated by earthworms.

I also dared transplant into the garden four kale plants, and six broccoli plants, just to gamble and prove even old geezers like me can live at the edge. I’ve seen killing frosts even this late, but I glanced at the sky, and consulted Weatherbell (my favorite long-range forecast site), and I stroked my white beard and looked wise, but in the end I consulted the trees. (It is a sign of our times, perhaps, that mere vegetables are so much smarter than the mainstream-media.  I didn’t consult the mainstream-media at all.)

The carrots, beets, seedling kale, onions, garlic, fennel, turnips, seedling Brussels sprouts, and lettuce haven’t sprouted yet, nor will they ever sprout if I work too long and appear dull to the children, (for bored kids at a Childcare can trample a soft seedbed as hard as a parking lot in the twinkling of an eye), so I, as the wise master of small slaves, decided it was time to go for a walk, and consult the trees.

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Abruptly I was stopped by a lovely bloom I pass every year without ever bothering to ask myself what it is. I always assumed it was some sort of cherry, (or perhaps a relative of blueberries, as its small cherries had a blueberry-like look, at the ends of their berries), but I never bothered be sure because usually everything busts out in May in such a rush you have no time to sort things out. But this year spring seems to be in slow motion, if not in suspended animation, and I have had time for things I never had time for before. Apparently one is never too old to learn, because I learned this bloom was one I’d read a lot about. Can you name it?

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Some called this serviceberry. Why?  Because in the old days the ground was too frozen to bury people in the winter. (Old timers told me that back in the day they stuck all old people who refused to do their chores in the “Town Tomb” in the fall, and in the spring they’d open it and any who didn’t walk out would get buried. This is a subject for another post, but I may include a picture of the “Town Tomb” at the end of this post, if I ever find the time to take one.) When the ground was finally soft enough to bury people, they would have a service, with this bush blooming around the edges of the graveyard, so it was called serviceberry.

Because the bush blooms so early, it is also the first to have berries, so it is also called “juneberry.” As eggs are just hatching and voracious fledglings are demanding, these berries are for the birds, and I was brought up to avoid “bird berries”, and have never tried them.  I understand they are sour.

However the name I had heard much about, without ever identifying the actual plant it referred to,  was “shadbush”. Back a few hundreds of years ago shadbush told you the shad were running, and then all else was dropped. Few shad came as far upstream as these hills, but a wonder of ancient, local laws was that people had to drop all quarrels when the shad, herring and salmon were running. You could be a Hatfield, and could travel to the hunting grounds of the McCoy’s, but you weren’t allowed to fight your worst enemy, when you were fishing. (Strange but true, and perhaps an example for modern man.)

Shad, dried and turned to powder, was a local ingredient of a local wonder-food called “pemmican”. Pemmican was one third powdered meat, one third powdered nuts and berries, and one third pure fat. The hunters who carried this food could travel a week or two with breakfast, lunch and dinner in a small bag.  Apparently a spoonful now and again was all you needed, even while burning a lot of calories hunting. The ingredients varied from place to place, but it was common from coast to coast in America in the old days. Out west they likely substituted buffalo for shad, but eating three tablespoons a day didn’t seem to stunt anyone’s growth. When the first Europeans arrived in New England their men averaged around five feet five inches, as New Englanders averaged six feet.

The children regard me suspiciously when I tell them such tales. After all, I’m the same old geezer who tells them about walking trees. However they are interested in eating, and today they sampled wild mustard leaves, yellow dock leaves, and the inner part of the root of burdock. (These are the same kids who refuse to eat the really good food some mother’s prepare.) (One trick I use is to tell them, “You can spit this out if you want to. You probably won’t like it. Only grown-ups like it.” ) (To prove they are grown up, they try to like it even when they don’t.)

Locally the berry used in pemmican was usually blueberries, dried and powdered, probably because blueberries are easiest to dry, (but perhaps because blueberries have wondrous, modern stuff called “antioxidants” in them), (not that the word “antioxidants” was invented, back in the day.) But other berries were used as well, including a small berry that grows in the straw. Darned if I can remember its name, but the commercial variety is now as big as plum, while the native variety is as small as a pea. Whatever this berry-that-grows-in-the-straw is called, it usually blooms around now, but this spring has been so retarded I didn’t expect to see any. I checked, just the same, and there it was! The what-cha-call-it berry, blooming in the dead straw! (The children were not all that interested, likely because you can’t eat it yet.) (But they did tell me I was a dope, and the plants are called “strawberries.”)

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And this is how I entertain myself, as the dull, gray, wet day passes. It may not seem all that entertaining to Flatlanders, but then, I am not the one going absolutely bonkers, just because the leaves don’t come out in April.

It’s a damp day, bright May-gray clouds low,
With spring holding back like eyelash’s tears;
Blossoms blinking, wet and drooping, although
Most remain buds, and the forest appears
Like winter’s, except for a green haze
Indistinct midst wet twigs that string bright pearls
Like veils over depth-green hemlocks.
                                                                             This day’s
Drenched though rain’s stopped; boughs bow; and white curls
Of shredded fog stand still on the dark slopes
Of breathless hills.
                                       The clouds are so bright
That all wet things shine; even shadow gropes
With bright reflections.
                                                 The shrouded might
Of rebirth blends wild hope with foreboding,
Silence with the sound of blossoms exploding.

However I should confess that entertaining myself in this manner takes a lot out of me. I huff and puff planting potatoes in a way that is downright embarrassing. Where entertainment once knocked my socks off, now I just wind up too tired to take my socks off.

Wives don’t approve of husbands flopping in bed with dirty socks on, but neither she nor my children will take pity on a weary old man. Granddaughters, however, are different. When my wife complains about socks, and I whine I’m too tired, a two-year-old granddaughter springs into action:

Shad 5 IMG_2816

It all goes to shows you that, in terms of true intelligence, trees come in first, a two-year-old comes in second, and everyone else comes in a very, very distant third.

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.