ARCTIC SEA-ICE –Stand By Truth–

Around a fortnight ago I heard that Alarmist sites were proclaiming that the big guns were being rolled out to blast Skeptics, in order to convince the general public that Global Warming was a “fact” and not a theory, and that only wicked people (like me) denied such “facts”. In actual fact the Alarmists have rolled out pop-guns; not cannons. There has been a shortage of facts, and primarily we’ve seen raving and ranting by young people who are “on strike” because grown-ups are “destroying their world”, (which is basically a delusion, for it is likely there has never been a generation as physically well-off).

(Emotionally, such youth may well be destroyed, but their teachers are to blame for that. The climate itself is beyond reproach. And I could warn such foolish teachers what eventually happens to the teachers in socialist revolutions, but that would take me down a long, sad sidetrack and far from the subject of sea-ice.)

I will only go so far, playing this silly game Alarmists play, wherein they steer far from the facts while pretending they are the realists. As long as the person I am debating is willing to calmly discuss the facts, (and also whether the facts are “raw data” or so-called “adjusted data”, [which is data that has been fiddled-with and therefore can no longer can be called true data]), I can enjoy the conversation. However there are certain conversations that seem highly unlikely to involve any enjoyment.

Having raised two daughters, I am familiar with young women’s extremes of emotion, (though by age sixteen mine were showing some signs of returning to earth). But with daughters one at least owns the love which sees one through feminist storms, and daughters return some degree of that love, even when they’re furious at you. In the case of Greta Thunburg one is faced with a veritable iceberg of antipathy.

And “icebergs” returns me to the subject of sea-ice. Which is what people need to do, when faced with political nonsense. Otherwise one risks being dragged down by the sheer ugliness of untruth. In such situations it is often wise to go for a hike and absorb the beauty of the view. Become aware of the wonder.

This was actually all I was doing, when I first posted about sea-ice back in July of 2013. I was merely sharing a beautiful escape I had found, which offered relief to the heat of July.

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/north-pole-ice-melt-watching-the-summer-thaw/

But that post embroiled me in the Climate Debate on my own site. (I did visit the “subject”, in a political sense, on other sites, but my own site was for my personal, poetic wanderings, attractive to some 10-20 viewers a day.) Abruptly I had over 500 viewers a day, and all sorts of interesting comments.

My first sea-ice post made me aware of what a huge hubbub surrounded sea-ice, and that, though the subject seems inane, it can get you more attention than driving a Mercedes. Gosh! If I only knew I could get so much attention talking about icebergs I surely would have started much younger, back when I still had the lungs and stamina necessary to chase women. However, because I am largely past such pursuits, I am not as impressed as I once was by superficiality. In fact I am interested in things that didn’t interest me at all when young, such as “peace”.

When I was young I was more interested in stimulation and excitement, but even then I was aware of a richness and depth which could be found in quietude. I even pursued peace, sitting cross-legged and chanting “Aum” for an entire fifteen minutes, when swept up by spiritual zeal, but soon that seemed too boring, and I bopped away from meditation along an erratic path towards gratifications that never were lasting. To be honest, the course of my life displayed a sort of Brownian motion, despite the great gift of owning free will in a free country. Yet one thing did seem to come along with me and to be lasting, namely a sort of intangible and highly subjective sense of beauty.

Beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. One time I was swept into a sort of rhapsody by the beauty of a sunrise, but when I asked a depressed and cynical friend if the sunrise was beautiful, he stated it looked like a vomited egg. For that reason I sometimes am in no hurry to share beauty with sourpusses.

As one gets older one’s initial attraction to mere superficial beauty (which is why people wear make-up) evolves. One is hurt when a person externally beautiful turns out to be cold-hearted, and one is touched when an ugly person turns out to have a heart of gold. One then becomes more aware of a thing that is an “inward” beauty. This in turn seems to have a relationship with a thing called “Truth”.

For some odd reason I have always had the ability to see beauty in situations that few would call beautiful. My depressed and cynical friend once told me, “You could face a pile of stinking shit, and you’d find something positive to say about it.” I had to laugh. It was the Truth. But that only annoyed my cynical friend, for I was finding something beautiful about his insult.

One time I was in an alley of a slum, and rather than be upset by the ugliness and decay all around me, I was entranced by the way a sunbeam found its way into that gloom, and how beautiful the old, orange bricks looked in the sunlight. Also I noted that, in some forgotten past before the slum was a slum, the bricks had been laid with extraordinary care by a skilled mason, at which point my cynical friend accused me of smoking dope without sharing any with him.

I actually did hope, when young, that legalizing marijuana might allow others to see the way I saw. After people smoked they would say things like, “Wow, man, the sky is so blue.” Unfortunately their revelations weren’t lasting, and the long-term consequences of using drugs seemed to lessen revelation, rather than stimulate revelation. Not that there was a definite decrease in intelligence. People remained the same. At age fifty they sounded the same as age seventeen.

When I look back and try to find some logical reason for my ability to see beauty, (rather than just calling it a “gift”), one thing I remember is an amazing collection of old and ugly people. My parents were both wealthy and very active, and chose to delegate the rearing of their children to others, and this tendency was exacerbated when they both were bedridden by polio in 1954. The first “nanny” I recall was an old French woman, the daughter of a French composer, who had no fear of polio germs because she was a Christian Scientist. She looked very much like the face on a box of Quaker Oats: Not exactly the face of a Hollywood movie star, but a person who was very beautiful, simply because of all she had endured in France during years of hardship, without losing faith and hope, nor losing her ability to suffer little brats like myself.

Someday I’ll hopefully write a post called “My Nannies” about the entire collection of fascinating refugees who I was cared-for by, by age nine. All were fired, as not one fully achieved the high standards my parents desired for their children, but they were all fascinating in my eyes. They didn’t ever tell me about the hells they had endured, the lynchings in America’s south, the barbaric behavior of Hitler and Stalin in Europe, but, though I later learned they had endured such ugliness, instead, in their wrinkled faces, was a triumph over evil, the victory of simple, good people over horribly astounding adversity. They shone with an “inward beauty” I was somehow able to see, despite being a naive and gullible child, and I think it stuck with me. Being old and wrinkled has never since seemed the slightest bit ugly to me.

Unfortunately, now that I myself am the old and wrinkly person, some young people do not look upon me with any fondness.

Greta and her ilk shows no sign of having the slightest interest in respecting any elders beyond those who indoctrinated her. She is as prejudiced against old people with differing views as some white people were when they listened to Louis Armstrong’s music at a nightclub, but wouldn’t allow him to drink at the same bar with them. Yet Louis wasn’t soured, nor convinced the world was doomed, but instead sang with hope in his old age:

There is an irony in watching Greta, (who has just sailed across the sea in a boat owned by monarchy), wrinkle her nose and insist her future has been stolen, and comparing her sourness with the sweetness of a man whose life was full of reasons to be bitter, yet who refused to be bowed, and persisted, and insisted on joyous song.

What makes the difference? To me it seems to be a difference between imagination and fact, between a dismal distortion of hope into despair, as opposed to an acceptance of what the present tense holds. Where Greta gripes about a forecast, Louis accepts the weather right now and, if it is raining, sings in the rain.

Greta complains her dreams have been stolen, but what are dreams? Even in a better world there is no guarantee dreams will come true. Nor is there any certainty worries will manifest; in fact they usually don’t, and even when they do they’re often not nearly as hard to endure as one envisioned. All in all, it is better to attend to today and allow tomorrow to tend to itself; even five-day-forecasts are often wrong, and few lives unfold anything like what we had scripted at age sixteen. We may plan for a pension, but “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray”. Conversely, even when one seemingly assures oneself a miserable future by being utterly morose in the present, unexpected fortune can befall one out of the blue. Even Greta’s sour face might tomorrow be the glowing face of a young woman who has fallen in love.

One reason it is better to focus on the present is because it is all we really have. It is where Truth exists. It is filled with beauty, if you only look for it. Sadly, people often miss what they have because they hanker for what they haven’t. It is not only heroin addicts who writhe in their cravings, despite the fact the sun is shining and birds are singing.

This at long last brings me back to the subject of sea-ice. It is a beautiful and wonderful subject, if one simply looks at the Truth, and has no need to distort with bias and “adjustments”, nor any need to advocate some political cause. Even though the sun has stopped shining at the Pole, and arctic birds have fled south, the starry polar night has a beauty all its own.

It is a time of great changes, from perpetual sunshine to perpetual darkness, from melting ice to freezing salt water. The flooding arctic rivers, glutted with meltwater, abruptly shrink to a trickle as melting ceases to the south, and even the south winds become cold, when they come north over a tundra which has abruptly changed from being a swampy ooze to being as hard as iron.

This time of transition is fascinating to watch, as it never happens the same way, because a great many variables are involved. Allow me to skim over the surface of this highly complex subject, to give you an idea of how wonderful it is.

One variable is the amount of sea-ice in the marginal seas, which seems dependent on the state of the AMO and PDO. This year the ice-cover is low and the passage along the coast of Siberia is open. What this in turn creates is the likelihood of air rising over those open waters, for the waters “remember” the summer sunshine in a more lasting way than the sea-ice to the north and the tundra (already snow-covered in places) to the south, which makes the air above those waters both milder and moister than the air to the north and to the south. Because the air is rising low pressure is encouraged, and lows tend to ramble from west to east, from Barent’s Sea through the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas, all the way to Bering Strait. In the map below (for September 29) the blue areas are places where pressures are lower than normal, (especially along the Siberian coast), and orange areas are where pressures are above normal (especially over Greenland and the Central Arctic.) You can see the suggestion that the open water is effecting the pattern. (Maps courtesy of Weatherbell Site.)

When we switch to the temperature maps of the same time (Sept 29) we again can see the effect of the open water, as compared to colder lands to the north and south. (I prefer the Celsius Weatherbell map because the difference between below freezing (white) and above freezing (purple) is so clear.) Of especial interest to me is the above freezing area towards Bering Strait over the East Siberian Sea, as usually the East Siberian Sea is colder and first to freeze.

Also of interest is the below freezing air just inland of the Laptev Sea coast in Central Siberia. It looks so cold one doesn’t see it is actually warmer-than normal, unless one looks at the temperature-anomaly map for the same time:

In the above map the area inland of the Laptev is so cherry red one is tempted to forget temperatures are in fact below freezing, and get carried away and step outside in a bathing suit. (One has to be careful with anomaly maps.) What the anomaly demonstrates is the after-effects of a large storm that stalled over western Russia, drawing cold air south over Scandinavia and pulling warm air north over central Russia. But remember the warm air is only relatively warm, has chilled as it came north, and is in fact below freezing and far colder then the air it displaces over the Laptev Sea, when it is sucked north because the air over the Laptev Sea is rising.

Also notice the above map shows colder-than-normal air plunging south in Western Canada, as Eastern Canada is above-normal. This is indicative of a loopy, “meridienal” jet-stream, (which is what you look for if you like exciting winters). A flatter “zonal” jet stream has troughs and ridges that are barely bumps, and on the surface beneath have meeker lows that travel west to east without much ado. But it is when the jet stream gets loopy that the fun starts. The storms beat their chests and roar. They can start down at the edge of the tropics and come northeast intensifying constantly until they are full fledged monster-gales as they approach the arctic, actually drilling up into the upper atmosphere and altering the steering currents. This is great fun to attempt to visualize, though it can leave you a bit cross-eyed. How can the steered control the steering? It messes up computer programs, for it is like unruly peasants marching to the castle with torches and scythes to tell their boss they aren’t going to follow his orders.

What you have to watch for is storms stalling, and the upper-air pattern getting stuck in a certain position (or sometimes looking like it is going to pull out of a certain position, but then relapsing back to its former pose.) As the storms stall they often occlude, which means the warm front has caught up with the cold front, and the “warm sector” is hoisted off the ground and starts messing around with the upper atmosphere. Though some take the attitude an occluded storm is “cut off” from the juice that feeds storms, at times an occluded front represents a pipeline of juice still feeding the gale, but feeding-in up a few thousand feet. The massive gale remains massive, and often slows, stalls, and then curves back to the west. What the heck is going on in terms of “steering currents”?

The most elegant explanation for the looping of high latitude gales is that they have escaped the influence of mid-latitude westerlies and nudged into the influence of polar easterlies. And, as is the case with many beautiful explanations, this idea works, but only to a certain degree, after which elegance is thrown to the wind like a rich, fat banker slipping on ice and falling on his butt.

In the most elegant scenarios all the might of the primary gale fades as a secondary storm grows new might, usually to the southeast where the occluded front meets the warm and cold fronts. In the most pretty examples, as the secondary explodes into predominance the primary low’s occluded front turns into a secondary cold front of the secondary gale, and the primary gale just vanishes. This happens often enough to be something I watch for, and it fails to happen often enough to cause me to think inelegant thoughts. Politically incorrect thoughts. Thoughts often begun with the three words, “I wonder if…”

There is stuff going on up there on the arctic coasts that bears further study. I fear we may have a sort of west-to-east prejudice, due to living in mid-latitudes, and that this prejudice manifests as a sort of blindness to ripples that move east-to-west, like our sun. What’s more, polar weather is capable of trickery impossible at lower latitudes, for a cross-polar-flow can make a south wind a north wind in one inch, which can’t happen anywhere else (except the South Pole). This messes with simple concepts such as “Coriolis Effect”, to say the least. But it makes the Pole a splendid place, if you like to wonder.

One thing I’ve been wondering about is what causes a jet-stream to get stuck in a certain location. This is important, because a stuck jet-stream has led to our most remarkable winters. For example, the winter of 1976-1977 saw the jet stream get stuck in a pose where the coldest Siberian air took a cross-polar flow north of a balmy Alaska and then across a frigid Yukon and straight down to where I lived in Maine, and far further, to freeze oranges in Florida and cause “Time” magazine to wonder if an ice-age was starting. But what the wonder should have been was: Why did the jet stream stay stuck? It is a small wonder if the jet stream assumes that position for a week in an ordinary winter, and we get a blast we call “winter’s worst.” But that year the blast began in November and stayed stuck until February. It was amazing how the cold just wouldn’t quit that year, and fortunately I was young and hot-blooded and enjoyed it to the hilt.

Now I’m more than forty years older and would likely call the same weather a pain in the ass, but I remain curious about why the jet-stream stayed stuck. Because it seems scientists are too busy trying to get paid by showing CO2 is the cause of everything, no one has the time to wonder why jet-streams stay stuck. Therefore I have to think all alone, (without the help of those who are supposedly educated, but chose to be slaves).

One thing I have wondered is that, if I was going to push around a jet-stream, I wouldn’t chose to do so when it was charging north, like giant surf that flattens swimmers, or sucking south like undertow that can drag swimmers out to sea, but instead would chose the moment when the mighty wave is reduced to a ripple, at the top of the beach. That “top” is the coast of the arctic. It occurred to me that seemingly small things, along that coast, may effect the jet stream when it is at it’s weakest. Just as a little pebble can start an avalanche that flattens an army, small events on the arctic coast may effect the entire Northern Hemisphere winter.

Not that I can say what the events are, but I do think we should study what happens, and not CO2-caused events that don’t happen. We should study what usually happens, and also study the unusual.

What usually happens is the East Siberian Sea freezes first, followed by the Laptev, and then the Kara, and lastly by Barents Sea to a varying degree. And “usually” as the waters freeze the low pressure systems passing over them lose the addition of heat and moisture, and therefore weaken, first over the East Siberian Sea, and later over the Laptev, then Kara, and lastly Barents Sea.

At this point I am launching into sheer conjecture. It seems to me that the point where a jet stream stops moving north and starts moving south may be a sort of “hinge” which can be moved this way or that way, by small things, and have huge effects on the world’s weather. The swing of a huge gate is determined by a little hinge, and that “hinge” is moved east or west by a scrawny little man with a screw driver.

God willing, I’ll find time to venture some of my ideas about who (or what) the “scrawny little man” that determines our winter might be, in a future post. However the point of this post is not to announce some grand theory, but rather to stress the importance of simply watching the Truth. The Truth knows all about the grand theory long before we get around to discovering it, and Truth toys with it.

DOUBLE VISION

Anyone who has had the misfortune to wear an eye-patch for a while has experienced a loss, even though they still have the vision of the other eye. It is the loss of depth perception. In a sense the differences in vision between the left and right eye create something neither eye has all alone: “Depth”.

I can remember fooling around with this phenomenon, as a schoolboy. We would do things like dribble a basketball with one eye shut, or play catch with one eye shut, or even try to bring our index fingers together with our elbows bent and one eye shut, and we noticed how simple tasks were much more difficult and required far more attention. Things also just plain looked different. For example, as a basketball neared it did not look “closer” so much as it looked “bigger”.

I think my awareness of this phenomenon was heightened because our old, Victorian town-library had a dusty drawer in a back alcove holding some old steroscope viewers from the 1880’s, and masses of cards holding double-photographs that one put into the viewers.

These devises, high tech for their time, puzzled me, for I didn’t see how they worked. The two photographs on the card looked exactly the same, yet when you looked through the “glasses” you only saw one picture, and it had sharp and clear distinctions in terms of what was near and what was far away. This seemed a bit magical. Even when I was told the two pictures were slightly different, and looked at them more carefully, I couldn’t detect the differences, (and I thought I was highly skilled at picture-puzzles that asked me to spot what was different between two pictures, or a group of pictures.) The sense something magical was occurring remained.

Perhaps it was the sense that magic was involved that engrossed me in the differences between what my left eye saw and my right eye saw. For example, if I closed my left eye, and lined up my thumb to cover the face of the clock across the room, and then closed my right eye and opened my left eye, my thumb was no longer covering the clock. When I shifted my thumb so it covered the clock using my left eye, and then shut my left eye and opened my right eye, again the thumb didn’t cover the clock. So which view was the correct view?

What was really odd was that, when I attempted to solve the situation by opening both eyes, I saw double, with one thumb over the clock and another thumb to the side of the clock. Because seeing-double was a bit disconcerting, I focused on the thumbs and they came together and became a single thumb, but in the background the single clock divided and became two clocks. It was obvious the way we view things was not simple. And then it became even more complex. If my own two eyes couldn’t even agree, how much greater would the disagreement be when other eyes, in other skulls, become involved?

This was made especially clear to me because the clock involved in my experiment was the clock on the wall of the math classroom. The teacher’s view was very different from my view. Where I viewed a very boring teacher and even duller blackboard, she viewed a very inattentive boy giving a thumb’s-up to the clock on the wall for a prolonged period of time, winking constantly in a slow squinting way, first with one eye and then the other.

In a more perfect world something magical might have then occurred: The two views might have meshed and “depth” might have been revealed. The teacher might have politely asked me what I was doing, and, rather than be sullen, I might have innocently and honestly answered, and the class might have shifted naturally and gracefully from being about the area of a rectangle to the subject of depth perception, but my world was less than perfect. The teacher was dealing with a baby-boom classroom of 26 students, and the teacher asked me what in Sam Hill I was doing, which was less than polite, and my response was to become sullen, silent and defiant. Sad.

Sad but no reason to resent. Schoolboys and schoolmarms are always at odds, with different views, yet they can disagree with love, as occurred within the relationship Mark Twain describes between Tom Sawyer and his Aunt Polly.

In my past posts I confess I’ve been rough on schoolmarms. But they were rough on me, as a lad, as they failed to recognize I had, (if not exactly genius), a sort of strange gift when it came to the study of differing views, whether they be two eyes in a skull, or two people in the same room, and also a focus on the strange thing called “depth” that might arise from the coexistence of such double vision.

I think this gift was encouraged because my father was a brilliant, attractive, loving and lovable man, and my mother was a brilliant, attractive, loving and lovable woman, yet they divorced, (with the help of unenlightened psychiatrists), in a non-violent but unbelievably ugly manner. I’ll skip the details, but they were an example of two views that fail to create “depth”. The differences they developed were worse than those between your left eye and right eye, after a quart of whisky.

Even when parents divorce on so-called “friendly” terms, their children undergo a hellish schism, (albeit sometimes unspoken), for the parents are both, in a sense, stating “my former spouse’s views cannot be borne,” and the child is then put in the shoes of deciding which parent’s view is the correct view. These are heavy boots to walk in, for spiritual Commandments do not command, “Honor one parent but not the other”, and the child’s heart secretly loves both parents, even if one parent is a saint and one is a beast (which is seldom entirely the case, as the mad cannot exist without the maddening.)

I was fortunate, because besides my parent’s example of a non-marriage I had grandparents who had a beautiful marriage. My grandfather had announced he was going to marry my grandmother when he arrived home from grade school at age eight, and for over eighty years they worked together like a right eye and a left eye, overcoming all sorts of trouble while staying in harmony and in love.

To some degree my grandparents seemed illogical to me, for my grandfather did not seem as lovable as my father seemed, and my grandmother did not seem as lovable as my mother seemed, yet my grandparents achieved what my parents failed to achieve. So one day, with the brash, foot-in-mouth audacity of youth, I asked my ancient, recently-widowed grandfather, “How’d you and grandmother stay married when Mom and Dad couldn’t?” To my surprise a thundercloud of anger flashed across his brow.

I very seldom saw the slightest trace of anger in my grandfather. His rare expressions of displeasure were more prone towards frost than towards fire. As an engineer, he didn’t like incorrect calculations or sloppy science, and occasionally I rubbed his fur the wrong way because I loved to talk about the latest scientific discoveries I had come across, (which in some cases were new to me but not new to the old man), and sometimes my enthusiasm was so great my science was sloppy. Even then he often would look more amused than annoyed, and simply ask me a question. But one time my sloppiness was so great it was basically dyslexic.

On that occasion, during a discussion about New England forests, I said most species of willow were at the southern border of their range while most birches where at the northern reach of their range. The opposite is true, and a look of immediate disapproval flashed across his face. (As an Eagle Scout he’d known most birches were northern species while most willows were from the south ever since he was twelve years old, and I think I also knew as much, but was simply being sloppy with my thought.) (When a writer makes such a huge, dyslexic mistake he issues a correction after his article is published, but my grandfather was an engineer, and when an engineer lets such a dyslexia slip by, a building can crumble, or a bridge can fall, or a dam can can give way.)

The effect of the change of his visage from benign pleasure to abrupt disapproval was powerful. He did not have to say a word.

To see this change occur again, when I asked why his marriage worked and his son’s hadn’t, shocked me, for I hadn’t made a statement but instead had asked a question. However perhaps I inadvertently had made a statement: “Your son failed.” In any case, my question demanded an answer, and his answer was three gruffly spoken words: “We had faith.”

Now I can kick myself for not asking follow-up questions, but at the time his expression made me aware I was probing a sore spot, and I sat back to think. His three-word-answer gave me a lot to think about.

One thing I contemplated was the pain a parent feels when their children don’t follow their advice. Each generation thinks it is seeing things for the first time, and is somewhat surprised to, later, discover their parents were once young and walked the same planet, and even made the same mistakes. It is even a greater surprise to study history and to read of someone arriving at the same conclusion as your “new discovery”, two or three thousand years ago. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

One sameness is that naive children tend to take a condescending view of parents, and to think it is parents who are naive. Even when they think their parents are good people, and honor them, they tend to think their parents have lived sheltered lives, and don’t know about the harsh and ugly realities they’ve discovered, and even that parents need to be protected from ugly truths. This idea, (that parents are foolish), gives the young an excuse to disobey parent’s advice, and it is only then, through disobeying parents and consequently learning things the hard way, that the young become aware that perhaps their parents were not so foolish. However youth’s rebellion is painful to behold for the parent, and is especially painful when the child suffers something the parent escaped, such as divorce (or death), which has no clear remedy.

To me this again seemed like two views, a right eye and a left eye, the view of “innocence” and the view of “experience”. While the elder usually likes to think his or her view has the “depth”, (and quite often it does), it cannot be stated as a rule that elders are always wiser, for sometimes the young have experiences elders don’t.

Initially, as a teenager-hippy, I was quite convinced I was on a frontier my parents knew nothing about. This was in part due to my attraction to Jimi Hendrix’s music, and the album “Are You Experienced“. The idea, encouraged by the Harvard pseudo-scientist Tim Leary, was that LSD was a new “wonder drug” like penicillin, only it effected spiritual consciousness rather than the body alone. Leary even had the audacity to pose sitting cross-legged, as if he was a spiritual master from India, and he basically discouraged communication between generations, stating that “caterpillars” (elders, or “the establishment”) couldn’t understand the language of “butterflies” (the young, radical and “advanced”).

I wasn’t entirely trustful of such gurus, for not-entirely-high-minded reasons. Tim Leary taught at the same college as my father and stepfather, and his habit of drugging and sleeping-with the daughters of other professors did not go over too well, especially with teenaged boys like myself, who never like men old enough to be their fathers hanging out with the same girls they themselves drool about. Because Tim Leary turned forty when I was only seventeen, he himself was the very elder I was suppose to distrust. And then, when I was still seventeen, Jimi Hendrix died in his own vomit. I had reasons to distrust distrusting.

I then had the good fortune to attend a school far away from sex, drugs and hippies, where I had my mind crammed full of the works of great English poets, and learned dead people, far older than I was, could offer inspiration. Rather than rejecting the views of others I developed a thirst for the views of others. This opened me to the views of people who had tried drugs and rejected them. For example, when studying what Native Americans had to say about the hallucinogen peyote, I chanced upon the words of a chief who had initially been very impressed by peyote and promoted its use, as founding member of the Native American Church, but who later discouraged its use, stating, “Peyote is a trickster.” I renounced drugs at age nineteen.

I had a great desire to avoid the sort of divorce my parents had experienced, and to instead experience the marriage my grandparents were still experiencing (when I was nineteen). I developed the annoying habit of asking my parents questions about things they didn’t want to talk about, like a young, pestering psychiatrist. Both my parents used the exact same words to dismiss such questioning: “That’s all water under the bridge.”

Rather than discourage me, my parent’s unwillingness to look backwards made me feel like a detective attempting to solve a mystery which guilty suspects don’t want to talk about. I became aware people “put things behind them”, but that such things tend to continue to influence them from behind, like a ghost tapping them on the shoulder. I became a complete pest, when it came to nagging others about stuff they might have in their subconscious, and spent time rooting about in my own dream-world, when I likely should have been spending time getting a Real Job. (The subconscious will come along with you, if you get a job, and you can then work on it midst real-life interactions, which often offer spiritual insights which meditating-all-alone can’t.)

It took time, but one thing I became aware of was that my parents were not as naive about sex-before-marriage as I had assumed. This was definitely not something they wanted to talk about. I didn’t mind so much that my father apparently had been a sort of Don Juan, (for men somehow were seen as being heroic for being as unspiritual as James Bond), but it came as a genuine shock to realize my mother had boyfriends before my father. She never spoke about them, but I asked who certain sailors in old photographs were. One was an English youth who likely died on a torpedoed ship on the arctic sea-route to Russia, and the other was an American who may not have died; he may have stopped writing because he found topless Polynesian women under the palms of the present-tense more appealing than a woman from a cold landscape of the past, but in both cases the letters to my mother abruptly ceased. The “happy ending”, which occurs in romantic novels, never happened, and my mother was perhaps made cynical.

Sixteen million served in World War Two, mostly men, of whom many were teenagers. Where my grandfather had served overseas in World War One, America’s involvement in that war was brief, (largely the second half of 1918), and my Grandfather was an already-married man with a small child (my uncle) at home, and remained faithful. Perhaps it was a bit much to ask unmarried teenagers to be equally chaste, when sent far away for year after long year, (sometimes December 1941 into 1946). Despite songs such as, “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me“, many men received letters from childhood sweethearts who couldn’t wait, and the etymology of the phrase, “A Dear John Letter”, suggests it originated during World War Two. Therefore men also had reasons to become cynical about a “happy ending” being a romantic possibility, either because of their own shortcomings, or their sweetheart’s, or both.

This made me aware my parent’s generation had disillusioning experiences of death and desertion that my grandparent’s didn’t, which may have resulted in distrustful cynicism that in some ways explained why nearly half of their generation’s marriages failed, while my grandparent’s didn’t.

As I played the detective further, I chanced upon another reason, involving a great-grandfather I never met. In his latter years my great-grandfather exhibited some symptoms which might (or might not) have been indicative of tertiary syphilis. This would have given my grandfather a very good reason to remain faithful.

Even if my grandfather’s reason for fidelity had been based purely on a fear of syphilis, (highly unlikely, because he first was enchanted by my grandmother at age eight), or even was based on some other fear, such as the fear of going to hell for adultery, (also unlikely, as engineers take a very pragmatic view of the future), the simple fact remains that he remained faithful to his marriage vows. My parents didn’t. Therefore he was more of an authority on faithfulness than they could ever be, and knew more deeply about the “depth” that two “eyes” have, when they work together, which cannot exist when each “eye” (or “I”) is alone.

This inevitably brings up a sophist argument I often heard when young. Namely: If one gains great depth from one woman, wouldn’t one gain greater depth from ten? And even greater depth from a hundred? Why limit yourself?

The answer seems to be that a rock does not gain depth by skipping like a stone over the surface of the water. To gain depth it must sink, but sinking involves being “in over your head”, which is exactly the point at which many a Casanova says, “Thank you, Mamn”, and heads for the hills.

When I first held my newborn children and grandchildren, one sense I had was their souls were utterly “in over their heads”. They were only good at sucking, (and not all that good at that, during Hour One, when first faced with a nipple). They sucked at everything they attempted. If they tried to scratch their nose they punched themselves in the eye. And even their eyes sucked at seeing, and couldn’t even focus correctly. They had every reason to cry, but the fact they cried showed they had faith someone would answer, and we did our best to see to it their faith wasn’t broken. And midst this good fortune of cuddling and coddling and pampering and petting, (a sort of “happy ending” at the very beginning of life), their two eyes learned to focus and work together and become able to see “depth”.

By now some readers have likely caught my drift, and have suspicions about what I am driving at, which is that marriage involves the same dynamics. My conclusion is derived from a lot of hard thinking my grandfather caused me to do, when he stated his marriage with my grandmother worked over eighty years because, “We had faith.”

One thing I have had the challenge of dealing with, (because I run a Farm-childcare), is children who have had the misfortune of having parents who couldn’t keep the faith. Often addiction is involved. The baby cries, but the mother is unconscious. The baby suffers neglect, and often it is the grandparents who step in and attempt to help the neglected child. But in one tragic case the loving grandmother, over-stressed, dropped dead of a heart attack in the kitchen, and the child was home-alone with a corpse all day before the grandfather came home. I can’t imagine the poor toddler’s trauma. The uncomprehending, desperate child, not quite three, basically trashed the house trying to get the dead grandmother’s attention. And it was only after all that trauma that the child, still in diapers, was brought to my Childcare, and I was basically told to keep it happy.

I do my best, but trust is like a light-bulb. If you want it to work correctly, it is far better not to break it in the first place. (I’ll leave the details of dealing with such traumatized children for some other post. For the time being I want to stick to the subject, which is trust.)

The fact remains, if you want light you need an unbroken light-bulb. It is extremely difficult to glue together and mend a broken light-bulb, but that is not a proof that light bulbs can’t work. My point is that we should stop breaking light-bulbs, if we want them to work. In like manner, if we want faith to work, we should stop breaking it.

In some ways our eyes are more faithful than we are. Your right eye does not distrust the left, and the left does not distrust the right, and together they produce depth.

Sadly, in current politics, the right does distrust the left, and the left does distrust the right, and the result is not depth, but the utter shallowness we call “stupid”.

Happily, deep down, America, as a whole, has not entirely subscribed to such stupidity. In a difficult-to-explain and non-intellectual manner we just plain don’t like being stupid.

Sophists, on the other hand, with the slippery intellectual grease of snake-oil salesmen, make it seem easy and wise to be stupid, and scorn trust and faith as weakness. They scoff at tradition, calling it oppressive, old-fashioned, and “the establishment”. Consequently they deny themselves the benefits of “depth”, in exchange for the nothings of gratification, (stuff like sex without children, or eating only to vomit, or power without love, or breathing without life). In a sense sophists give up on that which is wholesome, in favor of becoming the walking dead, or, in the tale of Pinocchio, donkeys.

Nothing makes me cringe quite so much as looking back and seeing times I deemed myself sophisticated, especially those times I bragged about it, and, when I recall the times I took such arrogance a step further and mocked the unsophisticated, I want to writhe. I want to cram such errors behind my back, but they then become ghosts that tap me on the shoulder when I least expect it; prods from the subconscious; inadmissable influences.

At the start of marriage one often feels they have left sadness and loneliness behind them, and have stepped irrevocably forward into the bright uplands of a honeymoon. All the ways which the cruel world wounded one and broke one’s faith dissolve into amnesia. Basically one’s faith is restored by the rapture of love.

However that is only the beginning. Because marriage involves nakedness, nothing can be hidden, and buried influences reemerge. Like a soldier experiencing battlefield flashbacks long after the guns have gone silent, bad habits reappear, cravings reoccur, and restored faith gets challenged. One sees things they didn’t suspect in their spouse, and things they thought they’d outgrown in themselves. Then the honeymoon is over and the real work begins.

Marriage therefore becomes a most ambiguous situation. On one hand it restores our faith, while on the other hand it involves nakedness that brings up the buried influences we least want to come to the forefront, because they once shattered our faith. In essence faith is at war with lack of faith; the two things cannot coexist.

Marriage can then involve some terrible quarrels, when it seems lack of faith is winning. One sees their own weakness exposed and loses faith in themselves, and sees their spouse’s weaknesses in glaring light, and loses faith in them as well. At which point one wonders, “What is there left to have faith in?”

This is a critical juncture, for if one bails on the relationship (and I confess I have bailed from some relationships even when I had no parachute), one loses the chance for “depth”. The right eye has gone rolling to the east as the left rolls west. Rather than the restoration of faith one sees the shattering of faith continue, perpetuating the very thing one wants put behind.

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

In order for a marriage to survive the passage through such critical junctures the spouses must do an illogical thing. They must have faith despite proof there is no reason to have faith. One has lost faith in themselves and lost faith in their spouse, yet continues to have faith. How can this be possible? It can only occur if there is a third thing to have faith in: Not the husband and not the wife. But what is it?

It is invisible. But consider depth perception. Can you see it? The right eye can’t see it. The left eye can’t see it. Yet it exists.

To have faith in something you cannot see, and do not yourself possess, stretches the credulity of many past the breaking point. They mock faith like a teenager mocking a child’s belief in Santa Claus. What they fail to see is that they are in a sense crippling themselves, and that it is not those who they call foolish who are the fools. They are depriving themselves of “depth”, and in doing so are actually guilty of perpetuating iniquity.

In fact it takes three to make a marriage work. What is the third thing? It doesn’t really matter. People give It different names, “God”, The Word”, “Abba”, “Love”, “Truth”, “Commitment”, “Power”, “Creativity”, and in this essay I call It “Depth”. But the important thing is not the label we put on It, but the fact It exists, as a beautiful depth that is all around us and is utterly free.

Considering It is completely free, and has amazing benefits, why don’t people grasp It? It is due to distrust. The sophists of the cruel world have broken the trust of millions, if not billions, until all carry baggage, which they want to leave behind them but which stays glued to their heels like a shadow.

You can’t run away from a shadow. Yet what man allows himself to be pushed around by his shadow? The way to deal with a shadow is to expose it to the light. And strangely, this is exactly what marriage does to people, rummaging through the baggage of their past. At its worst marriage revives the worst of a dead past, but at its best it dissolves the past so it can be truly dead, and rest in peace, and be a ghost no longer.

How is this possible? The process is often complex, involving more tangles and snarls than a child’s fishing line, but consider the simple, amazing process of dropping a grudge:

For weeks, months, even years one walks about with a disagreeable expression, carrying a heavy burden and thinking vengeful thoughts, due to a painful event, even when the event’s antagonist has long forgotten the offense, or didn’t even notice they offended in the first place. The one bearing the grudge is more burdened than those they snarl at. But then a merciful dawn breaks and one tosses the burden aside and lightly walks relieved and smiling. What has happened? One has experienced a “change of heart”. The light of love and forgiveness has melted away a shadow. (Simple to say, but sometimes hard to do.)

When one has faith in faith, one is allowing a Third Thing to intervene in the endless differences which arise between two eyes, which cannot help but see differently. Rather than disagreement the discord becomes harmony. Such harmony can seem completely miraculous, at times.

As soon as I use the word “miraculous” I know some are putting up their guard. Such people have often scientifically tested to see if miraculous stuff could possibly occur. As a youth I knew a fellow who once asked God to prove He existed by cancelling school the next day. God may have proved He existed, but perhaps the school He cancelled was in a town three thousand miles away. In any case my friend then became a sort of schoolmarm, and flunked God for failing to pass his test, and then became determined to be an atheist ever after.

To some degree I can empathize with such disbelief, because the engineering pragmatism of my Grandfather runs strong in my veins. But in another way, as a writer with a poetic streak, such disbelief leaves me incredulous. This involves my grandfather’s statement, “We had faith.” Even among engineers belief can have a power that scorns disbelief.

How is this possible? It is because we have progressed a long way, (hopefully), from the people 2000 years ago who needed flashy miracles in order to believe. By now we should have learned, and no longer need a “sign” such as walking on water, or giving sight to the blind, or healing cripples and lepers, or raising the dead, or turning water to wine, or yourself dying and then walking about afterwards. All such glitter and flash is unnecessary for us “evolved” people, 2000 years wiser. By now we should be able to have faith without such miraculous distortions of Creation, because they are apparent in Creation itself.

Even sophists see the miraculous beauty of nature, (though they often immediately want to either buy it and fence it off so others can’t have it, or to make a national park out of it, where they are the rangers free to walk where they will, while all others are illegal trespassers beyond stipulated paths.) However sophists fail to see the same beauty in mankind. Sadly they too often see their fellow men as “overpopulation” and seek a “remedy”, oblivious of the genocidal horrors this “final solution” might unleash. What they fail to have faith in is a beauty already apparent, to those who use both eyes.

If one refuses to use both eyes one can miss the depth of depth-perception. Even if one “shares” in a manner that “takes turns”, first seeing with one eye and then seeing with the other, one remains blind to what two eyes see when working together. In like manner, if one “shares” power, first with republicans and then with democrats, one misses what they’d have working together. In a sense one prefers to be blind, unless one chooses to “love their neighbor as themselves”, or even to go a step further and “love thy enemies”.

In a modern sense, what is miraculous isn’t physical things like walking on water, but rather is depth-perception. Why? Because there is a reaction to every action, and, to those sophists who are convinced such things are impossible, the natural “reaction” of depth-perception appears like a divine “response”, which is not allowed in their world-view, because they have no faith in faith, and think they are smarter than the fools who expect a “response” to faith. However a perfectly ordinary and pragmatic thing, such as depth-perception, only appears impossibly miraculous to sophists who insist upon using only one eye. To more ordinary folk it is everyday.

To a person with a life-long eye-patch who had no depth-perception, faced with planning a route through a series of obstacles near and far, the route through the obstacles would be be made more difficult because he would not know which way to swerve to avoid the near obstacle, nor when to swerve the other way to avoid the more distant obstacle. To such a person, the ability of a person who has depth-perception, to whom it is common sense when to swerve one way and then the other, appears a miracle. It would look like the person with depth-perception was receiving “advice”. And they would be correct. Perhaps the Almighty is not responding in a booming baritone, and indeed the Almighty may be utterly silent, but the person utilizing depth-perception is “receiving” something the people who scorn such efforts are blind to, and to whom such a “reception” seems a miracle.

Sadly, the sophists tend to dismiss the depth-perception which others have and they lack. They have another word for “miraculous”, and it is “impossible”. Dubbing faith impossible bolsters their disbelief. With cyclops-vision they see those who see differently as “bumpkins” (and many other degrading terms.) Even more sadly, often the disdained bumpkins possess great, innate insights, but are told over and over they’re ignorant. The irony becomes sublime when, because bumpkins often gain their insights because they listen respectfully to others, they heed the bad advice of sophists. Then it is more than a case of the blind leading the blind; it is a case of the blind leading the sighted. But the tone-deaf can only teach one with perfect-pitch to sing for so long before their advice falls flat.

Some sophist scorn of bumpkins has elements of truth. For example, sophists may point out some poor are just as tempted by corruption, but are only faithful because they can’t afford prostitutes. What they fail to see is the reward the poor gain: Blessed are the poor. Even if the poor only remain married because they can’t afford two places and can only afford to pay the rent for a single shack if both work, they accidentally learn about teamwork.

Spirituality learned as a matter of survival is still spirituality. Sailors together on a ship at sea in a storm don’t have to particularly like each other to see that if they don’t work together, one manning the sails and tiller and one bailing like crazy, then they both will die. In such a storm the “third thing” the two eyes gain by working together is life itself, and, after the storm is survived, when the winds die down and the sun breaks through the clouds, the sheer joy of being alive can enliven the sailor’s faces with laughter, and even though they still don’t particularly like each other they strangely don’t dislike each other quite so much. They have learned they can count on each other in a storm, which is the germ of growing “faith”. This is a useful analogy for the storms of marriage, (although I wouldn’t advise telling your spouse they are like a storm at sea).

One thing gained from storms at sea is a contradiction; one has gained the right to humbly swagger. One has the awareness of the power they were up against, and that they are lucky to be alive, yet one also has greater confidence (which is another word for “faith”.) One has a growing certainty that, should the horizon darken with a second storm, they can count on their shipmate and their shipmate can count on them. What they survived once can be survived a second time, and due to this confidence they are less likely to turn tail in panic, even though they know the danger. Not that they rush ahead foolishly, or don’t stay in port as a hurricane approaches, but they are able to face storms when storms cannot be avoided. And sometimes staying in port is ignominious timidity: Though nothing is certain in life, to get anywhere in life one needs to set sail. In like manner, if one wants marriage one has to display the courage to ask for it.

One strange quality of sophists is that they are certain some things are impossible because they themselves have never done them. Perhaps due to fear of the deep blue sea they stayed home and never set sail, and chose to dwell in the musty Mom’s-basement of academia, where they put themselves forward as authorities on sailing and sailors despite never having set sail. They state certain things are impossible which I know are possible, because I did them, as a crazy teenager.

For example, I read the work of one academic who based his history of mankind’s seafaring discoveries and advancements on the premise Man had an aversion to going to sea, suggesting men only learned to sail because they were driven to do it by dire emergencies. Fishermen only fished because they faced starvation otherwise. As I read on I felt a growing sense of incredulity, and in my imagination I pictured the author as a frightened professor, creeping about the dim hallways of a college, clinging to tenure and pensions as a way to be “secure”, and appalled by any suggestions he go out adventuring into the fresh air and ride a heeling sailboat on a tossing sea. Because he lived a timid, indoors life he saw all mankind as being that way, seemingly unaware that, for some boys, it is the classroom that is appalling. To some schoolboys, being “secure” is stultification, and “adventure” is their delight.

In Truth the two extremes are like two eyes, and wisdom lies between them. Midst a storm at sea, a warm, dry bed is appealing, even as, to a man long bedridden, a storm at sea has great charm. Neither the timid schoolmarm nor the reckless schoolboy has an exclusive monopoly on Truth, while Truth embraces both views.

But in the end, when push comes to shove, action teaches more than inaction, in terms of faith, and this is one reason an illiterate bumpkin can be wiser than a college professor. Action involves venture, “Nothing ventured nothing gained.” And perhaps the greatest gain of all is faith.

One reason the poor are blessed is because for them every day can be an adventure, like a storm at sea. Danger is always present. In the morning the poor may not know where their daily bread is coming from, yet they go stand with others seeking “spot labor” because that is their only recourse, just as a sailor bails like crazy because that is his only recourse. They know they might not find work and might go hungry, just as a sailor knows the ship might be swamped and he might swim, but they do what they have to do, and when they find just enough work to buy just enough bread, they gain a pleasure in their evening repast which a sophist, eating at a fancy restaurant, cannot conceive of. Why? Because the bumpkin eats full of faith, while the sophist all too often eats because he has made a mockery of faith.

Midst the storm of poverty the poor often must rely on each other, which leads to them counting on each other, which leads to the burgeoning faith called “confidence”. The sophist is also aware of confidence, but utilizes it in the manner of a confidence trickster. They deem faith a weakness and seek to exploit it, shattering faith in the process, but calling the people they have shattered “suckers” and “chumps.” Therefore they stand in stark contrast to all that creates faith, for the person ripped-off by a confidence trickster is a person who has had his faith destroyed.

As an aside I should note that the word “sucker” is derived from a baby’s sucking, and a small child’s tendency to suck their thumb, and is therefore “sucker” is used to call an adult excessively naive and innocent, but in a degrading way. Where Jesus said it was a good thing to have the faith of a little child, sophists sneer at the idea, and think it is wiser to become distant from such faith. The way to get ahead, they seem to think, is to steal candy from a baby. So what if the baby cries? If their conscience bothers sophists they say, “Go away, kid. You bother me.” In essence, they are dependent on faith, for without it they cannot exploit it. But they have no faith in faith. Only “suckers” have faith, in their view.

Their view is devisive, for it is blind to the views of the people they exploit. Rather than people you can count on, they are people who you can’t count on. They separate themselves and ignore the concept, “United we stand; divided we fall.”

America, despite allowing the freedom which allows snake-oil-salesman and other confidence tricksters to ply their wares, seems to have faith in its foundations; the very bedrock of its landscapes seems inclined to free people from their past, and to shepherd people’s thought towards contemplating what Power it is that actually frees us. The Founding Fathers of the United States thought long and hard about what promotes freedom and what promotes slavery, studying European nations and Native American confederations, and concluded the myopic view of a tyrant lacked not merely peripheral vision, but a mystic depth-perception which a single-sighted cyclops lacks.

As an alternative they proposed the radical idea that a single leader was not a good idea, and that it instead might be possible to form a better government wherein all citizens had a say. Statements we take for granted, such as “all men are created equal”, actually sent shock-waves through the world, and awakened a somewhat mystic and ancient idea which stated that, when people worked together, a Power greater than the sum of all the individuals became involved, a “depth”, a One out of the many.

The Founding Fathers had no idea if their idea would work, and would be amazed to gaze ahead 200 years and see the power their idea unleashed. Yet in a sense it is not such a radical idea. It simply extends the idea of two eyes creating a depth perception neither eye has, until it says the same thing about millions of eyes.

Christianity uses the analogy of a gathering of believers being a “body” and individual believers being “parts”, (the hands, feet, heart, liver and so on), but freedom allows more. If one is free one can move from group to group, and be whatever fits, here an anus and there a heart. What stays the same is the reality that a Third Thing embraces all the parts, and comprises the “life” of the body.

What seems most important is to keep ones faith in that Third Thing, whatever name you chose to give It. Keeping the faith involves a lot of work, as in the case of caring for a helpless baby when it cries out in faith for help. The benefits of keeping the faith are not always immediately obvious, and the sophists will claim there are none, and will claim it is better to break the faith. Faith faces constant challenges.

At times I look at the history of the United States and see a naive and hopeful people traipsing about in a world full of cynical sophists, getting constantly slimed and sometimes maimed. From the get-go a “Land of The Free” represented a standing challenge to all who don’t share such faith, and who instead favor some form of oppression. There are those who would be quite happy to see the American Experiment ended, (or at least altered beyond recognition). In the face of such opposition we constantly are sending our young off, full of idealism, into situations that test and sometimes shatter their faith. Considering the Byzantine craft and wickedness of the foes of freedom, and the naivety of Americans, Americans should be long gone. But a Third Thing reaches down from heaven and gives us a hand, or so I seem to see.

(For example: There is no way Washington should have been able to survive the faith-crushing collapse of 1776, manifesting as his army’s retreat from New York City to Valley Forge. For another example: There is no way it should have been possible for the United States, with its devastated fleet, to face the faith-crushing might of the Japanese navy and sink all four Japanese aircraft-carriers plus a heavy cruiser, in the Battle of Midway. And so on and so forth.)

Perhaps the most horrible battle and most unlikely survival was our battle with ourselves, called the Civil War. As many died in that terrible slaughter as in all our other wars combined. How the nation’s faith survived such trauma amazes me.

Yet now, as I look around and read the fake news, I have the queasy sense we are flirting at the precipice of a Second Civil War. The two eyes are failing to work together, the two spouses are heading to divorce, and I am strangely like my Grandfather, my brow clouded with a thundercloud of anger, growling “We Had Faith”.

“…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I likely sound like a gruff, old coot, but when I was young I would not have to tell anyone the above was from Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” of November 19, 1863, because schoolmarms drilled it into my skull. Now the same schoolmarms seemed cowed, and in some cases seem afraid to even mention Lincoln’s great speech, because someone might be offended that it has the word “God” in it.

In a sense our nation is under attack by an onslaught by sophists who have such a profound lack of faith it is dizzying. There seems to be nothing they don’t dare to distrust and dismiss; no history they don’t revise, until the very foundations of our freedom is doubted. Sounding like lawyers midst a divorce, every negative event in our past is magnified, ever good belittled. And what do they propose, to replace a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with? Basically, when you examine their proposals carefully, they propose the tyranny of a bureaucratic oligarchy, which has no real belief the people deserve the liberty to rule themselves, and instead scorns the people as imbecilic nincompoops in need of their guidance.

One thing I’ve been amazed by (so far) is the restraint the public has displayed when faced with the offensive provocations of such sophists. Some groups, such as “Antifa”, even state in writing that they want to cease all attempts at civil discussion and to instead to start a civil war, (which is to break the faith neighbors will be neighborly), but the people they intentionally antagonize have (so far) simply wiped the egg and paint and piss (and even blood) from their faces, and have refused to be silent while refusing to be violent. Attacked for wearing a red hat, they continue to wear red hats.

Quiet people refusing to be silent, in the face of rude sophists attempting to shout opposing views down, is a brave attempt to continue a dialog with people who don’t want to talk. Sophists see no profit in discussion, for they cannot imagine there is anything to be gained by talk. They cannot conceive of a depth-perception called “faith”, because they have small and narrow minds that can’t see beyond a single point of view. It is for this reason Antifa likes to portray itself as “the resistance”, and “antifascist”. After all, everyone knows that the “fascists” were the bad guys, and the French “resistance” were the good guys. They like to see things in simplistic back-and-white, and the possibility of a Third Thing is quite outside their ken. Therefore to quietly continue a dialog is actually a weapon against their state of mind, and can even increase their rage. Why? Because the very existence of a dialog involves two views, two eyes, and creates the Third Thing which, if not actually hated by sophists, they are in very bad terms with.

Quiet explanations may not fit our usual idea of what a “weapon” looks like, but they can be very effective, especially when you get a young radical away from his support-group of a roused rabble, and can talk one-on-one. In such situations it can be very helpful to puncture the balloon of arrogant ignorance with a question, such as, “Are you familiar with the atrocities committed by the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War?” Or, “Are you aware of the so-called “purges” enacted by anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and how many anti-fascists were executed by their fellow anti-fascists?” Or, “Did you know that George Orwell’s cynical attitude towards the politically powerful, that manifests in “Animal Farm” and “1984“, is derived from the fact he joined the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and was willing to sacrifice his life for them, but only just barely escaped being executed by anti-fascists by the the skin of his teeth?”

No, forget that last question. It has far too many words, for a situation where it likely will be difficult to get a word in edgewise. It is likely better to keep things simple, and ask, “Have you ever studied the Spanish Civil War?” More than likely they haven’t. (Though they may nod, it only means they have a vague knowledge that the event happened.) After you depart, they may dig deeper, and have their eyes opened.

If you ever wanted a reason that it is far better for the left eye to get along with the right eye, or that a civil war is a disastrous choice to make, the Spanish Civil War is a very good reason. What is saddest to see is how close they were to working things out just before the war started. The tragedy is how evil the world then was to Spain. “Outside Agitators” inflamed disagreements towards discord, as “Peacemakers” stood back and professed it was a virtue not to get involved, and failed to resolve disagreements towards harmony. The “Outside Agitators” were Hitler, on the side of the fascists, and Stalin, on the side of anti-fascists, and neither man is known for putting too great a value on a human life, especially when the life is a far-away Spanish life. Between a half-million and a million Spaniards died. Surely it would have been better to continue dialog. This should be especially clear to anti-fascists, because the result of bleeding Spain dry was that the anti-fascists lost.

But sophists seldom study history, and when they do it is in a most unsavory way. They seem far more interested in “Outside Agitators” than in “Peacemakers”, more interested in those who shattered faith than in those who kept faith, and more interested in those who briefly profited from discord than in those who suffered to bring about harmony. They seem far more interested in Hitler and Stalin than in great artists, composers, saints and prophets. Their fascination seems to be, “What did Hitler do wrong?” and “What did Stalin do wrong?” and “How could I avoid their mistakes, and do even better than Hilter and Stalin?” This seems like a strange definition of “better” to me.

This strange definition of “better” arises because, basically, you are dealing with a cyclops. In a way you are dealing with a pirate with an eye-patch, (not meaning to offend people with eye-patches.) The sophist’s eye-patch is an intellectual eye-patch. People, even pirates, with physical eye-patches can still see with depth, just as blind men can still say, “I see.” However an intellectual eye-patch uses only one eye and willfully refuses to use a second, and thus cannot have access to the third eye, called “faith”.

The awareness that you are dealing with a terribly handicapped person is a second “weapon” one can use. Why? Because, if you value another view, you are basically sympathetic and empathetic, even to the degree where you value the sophist’s view. However the sophist lacks such empathy and sympathy. This creates an unfair situation where you are back on your heels while the sophist is on the attack. You are fostering faith even as the sophist seeks to foster doubt. If you think you are on the same page, the sophist will win, for it is far easier to break a promise than to keep one, and therefore all a sophist needs to do is break faith and he has won the argument. He has proven faith is a dumb idea, and it can be crushing to face such evil logic. However everything changes when you understand you are not on the same page. Once you understand you are dealing with a dreadfully handicapped person with an intellectual eye-patch, you are not crushed and are able to keep your poise.

Another weapon to use against the Antifa-mind-set is pity. Pity defuses the anger one naturally feels when attacked, by utilizing the powers of depth and understanding. Like Christ on the cross, or Steven while being stoned, such depth basically pities the ignorant for being so ignorant, for the ignorant miss seeing so much that is beautiful.

However tolerance has its limits. To refuse to fight when ones self is attacked may be the brave deed of a spiritual hero, but to stand by when women and children are attacked is the deed of a coward. I have a dread Antifa will use this to eventually provoke the violence it desires, and history demonstrates that, once the madness of Civil War begins, it can get very bad, very fast.

I personally loathe the possibility of a Second Civil War, for it would involve terrible suffering that is completely avoidable. However I am forced to consider such a possibility, due to the sheer folly of certain sophists. They are unaware of their illogical thought, and the gigantic hypocrisy they enact. (One example of hypocrisy, which strikes me as humorous, is that some doddering hippies who once chanted, “Make love, not war” now state “Make war; Don’t love.”)

But now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve used the four-letter-word “Love.”

At this point I have to confess to you that, as a grandson with engineering in my blood, Love is a mystery to me. It doesn’t seem to enter into the mathematical calculations of an engineer building a bridge, however, at the same time, as a writer with a poetic streak, I sense Love is behind all the mundane stuff engineers must be truthful about. For example, consider the Law of Gravity. (You probably won’t, to the degree I have.) Gravity is a beautiful creation, when you think of how it holds creation down to earth, and therefore gravity can seem an expression of the Creator’s Love.

Because engineers must be pragmatic and down to earth, they are spared the seductions that lead to the downfall of writers like myself, and all sophists. To some, hypocrisy and double-speak might lead to fame, fortune, and political power, but when you try to build a bridge using hypocrisy and double-speak, the bridge collapses into a pile of rubble. Truth matters. Therefore engineers are blessed, because they are spared a lot of the delusional crap that goes into becoming a sophist. In like manner, the poor are blessed, because they are spared delusional crap. They do not put their faith in the delusional crap sophists put their faith in. (Funny how sophists have a sort of faith,even when they mock it.)

Even when you’d rather have your head in the clouds, it is an annoying but good thing to be brought to earth. But what I find most odd is that being down to earth, and dealing with Truth in its most earthy manifestations, is a gateway to the clouds.

In this essay I’ve tried to be like an engineer. I’ve tried to be mathematical. I’ve tried to show, in a action-creates-reaction way, why faith is good, and how growing faith can be a logical action-create-reaction process. I confess to having a little pride about hitting upon the example of how faith grows, when two men who don’t like each other must rely on each other, at sea in a storm. But as I did this I had more faith in mathematics and cause-and-effect than in the real Reason to have faith.

It is Love. It is the one thing I can’t claim to understand in the slightest.

Love is part of depth-perception. How can the left eye have it, all alone? How can the right eye have it, all alone? Only Love can bring such disparate views together and create such a magnificent thing as depth-perception.

The really difficult thing to be pragmatic about, from an engineering standpoint, is that somehow adherence to the truth can result in a reaction that seems impossible, in terms of the actions that preceded it. Truth inspires seemingly doomed men to attempt desperate deeds, which some would call suicidal, and it changes everything. Victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

An example is Washington crossing the Delaware. In the eyes of sophists that was the suicidal action of a doomed man, and its success was due to sheer luck, yet the deed changed the course of human history.

Due to my engineering background, I cannot accept the idea of “sheer luck”. No bridge is ever built on “sheer luck”. Therefore I dig deep and study history.

Few sophists do this to the degree I do. In fact, rather than study the different views offered by the past, sophists prefer to revise the view until it fits their view. Currently sophist’s revisionist history likes to portray Washington as a sleek, racist, white-skinned slave-owner who owed everything he had to exploiting the common man. In actual fact he had “bet the farm”, putting everything he had on the line, in support of the common man’s liberty.

Where his troops could look forward to their enlistments being up on December 31, 1776, and to leaving the miserable conditions at Valley Forge to return to their warm farms, Washington could not return to his plantation. The British would hunt him down and hang him. By all appearances he had bet everything on a lost cause.

In actual fact Washington’s leadership had been masterful, in that he even had an army (albeit perhaps only until December 31). He had extracted his troops from defeat after defeat without surrendering, to such a degree that the British referred to him as “the old fox”, but wars are not won by retreating. And retreating does not win one much support.

When Washington looked south for support he received little food, money and supplies from the rebel leadership, some of whom were on the verge of panic. When he looked north for General Charles Lee to rush to his aid, he learned Lee distrusted his leadership and wanted to supplant him as chief commander, and rather than rushing was dawdling, unwilling to waste his fresh troops on Washington’s lost cause. With even his troops on the verge of departing, Washington had nowhere to turn for support but up.

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There are few prayers by ordinary men so often depicted by artists, perhaps because there are so few examples of a prayer separating the dark depression of abject despair from the white light of victory.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a2/George_Washington_in_prayer_at_Federal_Hall_in_New_York_City_IMG_1694.JPG/640px-George_Washington_in_prayer_at_Federal_Hall_in_New_York_City_IMG_1694.JPG

Of course, to my engineer mind-set what happened is a practical sequence of events. A surprise attack on Christmas was a smart decision. The risk of transporting an army across an ice-choked river was a smart decision. Attacking from the north when the wind was from the north and full of sleet was a smart decision. But the attack was no matter of sheer intellectual armchair speculation; it took balls, and it took faith.

One thing I often wonder is whether Washington saw a copy of Thomas Paine’s broadsheet, published in Philidelphia just two days before he crossed the Deleware, which begins, “These are the times that try men’s souls…”

It is good to look back and see how faith can be the hinge that swings men through dark times when despair and panic whisper in one’s ear. Where the sophist calls faith an illogical thing, it can be the only thing, and is definitely part of the action-and-reaction that shapes world events.

(Of course, there are certain coincidences involved which can seem like the Hand of God. For example, what ended General Charles Lee’s dawdling and hurried his troops south? The capture of Lee himself, as he dawdled in a tavern miles behind his troops, by twenty-five British troops on horseback. This event is nothing a engineering mind-set plans for, nor even hopes for. Not too often is a general of thousands captured by twenty-five. But it solved some of Washington’s problems to be rid of the man, though Washington did not plan it, and it occurred due to “sheer luck”.)

It is the element of “sheer luck” that I find most impossible to explain, using an engineering mindset. Of course it makes sense that if you do the right thing, the right thing will happen. However when one opens the door of faith and is drenched in an unexpected streaming light of kind compassion, the intellect cannot help but be taken aback. When one turns on the light-bulb of faith, one expects only light; it is the Love that surprises.

In the end, that is the “weapon” sophists cannot stand up against. We may be mere ants, but are friends with an Elephant.

Stand by the Truth, and the Truth will stand by you.

THOUGHTS AFTER MANCHESTER TRUMP RALLY

I have many other things I’d rather write about, and in some ways would rather be in my garden weeding than be writing at all, but politics has a way of shoving its snout in your face, when you live in New Hampshire. I blame this political intrusiveness on the fact we are the first state in the United States to hold its presidential primary. If it weren’t for that event, no one would bother with us, for we are barely over a million people. Neighborhoods in New York City hold more people than our entire state does, and we only have two representatives to congress. There is not much reason to notice us, (and I don’t think it is always an entirely bad thing to go unnoticed).

Not that I haven’t craved fame in my life. Writers do hanker to have their efforts appreciated. However when I look at famous people I sometimes thank my lucky stars I never had to suffer what they are afflicted by. Some famous people are wonderful, but the majority strike me as….well, I’ll just say I don’t admire them.

And when I think back to the “popular kids”, (back more than fifty years ago), who I attended high school with, there were quite a number who I also don’t recall fondly. They may have felt they were “popular” back then, but they were not “popular” in my private estimation, and some were downright mean.

I think it was at that time I developed the habit of steering away from the sort of situations where “popular” people go to be “seen”. Not that I didn’t go to some high school dances, but I was usually drawn by a particular woman, and I tended to have such a miserable time that I eventually stopped going.

At some point I wondered if I was just a coward. I pondered that perhaps I was bigoted towards popular people, who might actually be nice, so, to test myself, I went and sat down at the “popular people” table in the school cafeteria. (Yes, a very beautiful woman did sit at that table, which did play a part in my decision to test my courage.) The “popular” people seemed so astonished to see me sit down that they forgot to tell me to buzz off, and I sat at the “wrong” table an entire week, contributing very little to the conversation, and somewhat astounded by how inane the conversation was. I concluded popular people were very boring, and I went my own way, and did my own thing.

Right at this point (1969) “doing your own thing” became fashionable. As a senior in high school I quite accidentally found myself “popular”. All the things I did because I couldn’t bother be politically correct, such as wear shabby jeans and have unkempt hair, suddenly became politically correct. I’d left school the prior June as an unpopular slouch, and when vacation ended and I returned in September I was abruptly “cool”. I was “hip”. I was the dude others wished they had the nerve to emulate. (That was the summer of Woodstock, and of men first landing on the moon, and of Kennedy driving off the bridge.)

I will not deny that being flattered for being “hip” swayed me to some degree. But all too soon fashion moved on to “Disco”, and abruptly wearing shabby jeans and having unkempt hair became emblematic of being a “has-been”. Flattery’s rosy glow faded to the gray of disillusionment, and I became aware that “doing your own thing” is often done because it is the right thing to do, and not always because it is rewarding.

I should hasten to add that being righteous is rewarding, but not in a way the world pays much attention to. The salt-of-the-earth gain no great wealth nor acclaim for being the backbone of the planet. They are why we are fed and clothed and sheltered. They are why things work, and the fact things work is their only reward. They may never be rich and famous, but they raise children and pay their bills and are the reason life goes on. They just “do their thing.”

When I look back through time it seems to me that times-of-trouble arise in human history when societies forget to value the salt-of-the-earth commoners, and become too enamored and infatuated by wealth, power and fame. It doesn’t matter if one is royalty spurning the commoner, or a Brahman spurning the Untouchable, or Hitler spurning the Jews, or Stalin spurning the Kulak. All hell breaks loose when people snub the very people they depend upon. Rather than loving your neighbor it is like sawing the branch you are seated upon.

The American Constitution was devised by men who thought long and hard about why this problem occurs, and how best to avoid the inevitable repercussions. It is a marvelous document, unique in human history, and most people who state it needs to “evolve” and who seek to “improve” it have not thought nearly as long and hard about human nature as the Founding Fathers did. This is especially true among those who refer to America’s salt-of-the-earth people as “Deplorables” and “Climate Change Deniers” and “Bitter Clingers”, and refer to the American Heartland as “Fly-over Country.” Unfortunately many such people were educated to dismiss the Founding Fathers as “rich, white slave-owners”, and to never themselves think long and hard about the mortal desire for wealth, power and fame, and how such desire can corrupt human endeavors in the manner the “Ring of Power” demented its wearer, in Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings”.

It seems to me that one thing that sets the American Constitution apart from other forms of government is a premise, (to some degree unstated), that power corrupts and is a vigorous root of evil. Therefore a framework was devised to keep any one person or group from gaining too much power. The three branches apportion power in a way that keeps power dispersed, and the Electoral College does the same thing. Therefore our constitution is very frustrating to those who want all power in their own hands, wrongly thinking that if there is no opposition there will be unity.

Such a one-sided “unity” is a farce. It is the “unity” of a dictator, a Hitler or Stalin or King George, who has little respect for the salt-of-the-earth commoner. It cannot conceive a commoner may do good by “doing his own thing”, and often seeks to outlaw commoner’s small pleasures, assuming “unity” knows better, (“unity” being the personal preference of a tyrant).

The tyrant sneers at the fact commoners may like to scoot across lakes on noisy jet-skis, claiming it disturbs the peace, and therefore bans jet-skis, but then inevitably goes out on the same lake on a diesel-belching, three-story cabin-cruiser. The tyrant scoffs at the commoner’s hot-rod, and demands they use electric golf-carts, while riding in a sleek limousine. The tyrant snubs roasted ribs at a commoner’s barbecue, and passes laws demanding vegetarian diets, yet holds feasts with apples in the mouths of pigs. The tyrant demands commoners use no hydrocarbon fuels, while scouring the skies in their private jets. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. They hunt for sport, but call commoners who hunt for food “poachers”. Tyrants demand commoners, who are relatively faithful and respectful to their wives, bend over backwards respecting women, but then are less than respectful themselves. Perhaps their greatest hypocrisy is to demand commoners be honest, while in private stating it is smart to lie.

My personal view is that one never is wise to lie. Lies always backfire in the end. (I even have a hard time with surprise-birthday-parties). Truth has a purity and sanctity so clear and undeniable that, even among Atheists who who can’t stand the use of the word “God”, I can have uplifting, calm conversations simply by replacing the word “God” with the word “Truth.” Yet some believe it is wise to lie.

It isn’t. Even when you are selling something, and seek to attract buyers by pointing out the good attributes of what you are selling, honesty is the best policy. The moment you introduce a lie into the transaction then what was beautiful gets ugly.

A beautiful transaction is when a person has something a second person needs or wants, and is then rewarded for giving the second person what they need or want. Both people benefit. However, when a snake-oil-salesman conducts a transaction guaranteeing a bald man a full head of hair, promising the buyer they will save money because they won’t have to buy a hat to avoid a sunburned scalp, the transaction becomes ugly when the bald man remains bald. Such sneaky salesmen tend to hurry from town more often than they honor their guarantee, and give the money back.

The ugliness gets profound when some deem others “suckers” and “chumps” and “sheeple”, and think a good way to get rich is to gain another’s confidence with a lie, and then never deliver what they promised. If such people succeed with their con-artistry, they think that the money they then ruffle is proof that what they have done is wise, and they build upon a quicksand foundation which assumes success comes from harming others. However what they do does not go unnoticed, by the salt-of-the-earth commoner, or by God.

The average American has long been bombarded by commercials. One once could escape by turning off the TV and radio, and driving on a back road that had no billboards, but now one has advertising logos even on their dashboard and lapels and shoes; their wife’s pocketbook is a portable billboard; and even their little children’s toys are often a sales pitch. Madison Avenue spends billions to find better ways to convince people to want what they don’t need, and of course politicians noticed this phenomenon, and hired Madison Avenue to get people to buy into their election promises. However the average American is not as stupid as some sellers think. Just as mosquitoes developed a tolerance to DDT, and required larger and larger concentrations of spray, until in some places spraying no longer was feasible, lying to the American public required larger and larger audacity, until it finally fooled so few that Donald Trump was elected.

I think Trump won because he simply spoke the Truth. It sounded harsh and impolite to many, but to the salt-of-the-earth commoner it was a breath of fresh air. They had grown weary of being lied-to by bald-faced hypocrites, who basically said, “Trust us,” and then broke the trust again and again and again. And the bald-faced hypocrites? They were terrified, for they could not simply flee to the next town like a snake-oil salesman. Their power, which had seemed made of rock, abruptly seemed made of sand, and the commoners, whom they had mocked as chumps and sheeple, were rising like a tide.

This was actually exactly what the Founding Fathers intended to have happen, as they thought long and hard about how to devise a government. They knew very well that some become so enamored of money, power and fame that they will hurt others to gain such inanimate things, and then will hurt others to keep them. They knew this because they themselves had money, power and fame, and were well aware of the hazards such possessions bring. For example, even though Jefferson owned slaves he was able to criticize slavery, stating, “We hold the wolf by its ear.”

Like bosses everywhere the founding fathers had to deal with sloth and theft among those who worked for them, and were forced to dole out punishment to employees who broke the trust, yet at the same time they were mere “employees” of King George, facing punishments the king felt forced to dole out to them. Perhaps it was because they could see things from both sides, and then gathered together to think together long and hard, that they came up with a Constitution which comprehends that sloth can occur both in employees and in bosses, as can theft. Therefore they attempted to devise a system wherein all people, both rich and poor, could call-out others when they detected sloth and theft. Which is exactly what Donald Trump did, regarding the so-called “elite” in the so-called “Swamp” of Washington D.C.

The response of the so-called “elite” has been telling. Rather than accepting the results of the election, they doubled down on their dishonesty, wasting over two years attempting to inflate a false narrative that the Russians had somehow “stolen” the election, with Donald Trump complicit. They did not want to heed the results of the election, because the electoral college majority was telling them that the public was sick of the elite’s dishonesty, and tired of seeing the elite with their hands plunged up to their elbows in the cookie-jar of taxes. The so-called “elite” were then faced with a choice between democracy, and destroying democracy to cling to power, and many seem to have chosen destruction.

The salt-of-the-earth American commoner can’t help but think, like Queen Gertrude in “Hamlet”, that the elite “doth protest too much, methinks.” The public has undergone weary decades of seeing lies exposed, and seeing the exposure bringing no penalty to the elite. President Clinton was nicknamed “Slick Willy” because no wrong-doing stuck to him; he could lie, “I did not have sex with that woman”, and then, when “that woman” stated the truth, he just laughed it off. Consequently the public became so accustomed to lies they were no longer all that shocked by lies, or by corruption going unpunished, and indeed were so jaded that they rather expect to be lied to. The elite kept up a pretense of morality, thinking the common man consisted of fools to be fooled, but Abraham Lincoln stated “You cannot fool all of the people all of the time,” and it turns out he was right.

Just as an experienced fisherman can scan the smooth surface of a still lake, and spot ripples that tell him where the big fish move beneath the surface, an experienced person can look at the smooth talk of a skilled politician and spot the lies beneath the slick guff. In some sad cases the politician is fooling only themselves. Wise people recognize when a smile is not genuine, and where it may even hide the malice of a murderer. While people avoid leaping to conclusions, and don’t want to be guilty of developing an entire conspiracy-theory from a single, suspicious detail, people do notice when such coincidences pile up. “The List” (of deaths associated with the Clintons) has been kept since the 1990’s:

When Jeffrey Epstein was recently accused of allegedly running a sort of upper class whorehouse staffed by underage girls, cynics in my little town wondered aloud how long it would be before, (because Epstein “knew too much” about Bill Clinton and other “elites”), he would commit suicide under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and be added to “The List.” Then, when Epstein did commit suicide, a new cynical joke could be heard making the rounds among the local folk. It was to facetiously say, with very round eyes, “I know nothing about the Clintons. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!”

Though spoken in jest, the humor does describe how repellent the elite have become in the eyes of the common man. Call the reaction “fear” if you will, but a common man with teenage daughters or granddaughters cannot think highly of men who attended Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged whorehouses. What is so elite about such depravity? And the fact such privileged people could look down their long, depraved noses and sneeringly label common men “deplorables” calls the very sanity of the elite into question. Do they never examine their own behavior? Or do they see a mirror as a thing only used to make sure their make-up is applied correctly, to hide the ashen hue of their spirits with the falsified rouge of health? (After all, the original “bigwigs” wore their big, faux-healthy wigs to hide their patchy baldness, caused by syphilis.)

I personally am so repelled by the rich and powerful and famous I want little to do with wealth and power and fame. I far prefer the small garden of a small man in a small town. The small pleasures of raising five children cannot be measured in money. Upon the edge of poverty one has a chance to be wholesome, and in that wholesomeness one owns riches surpassing that of billionaires wading in the reek of “The Swamp”.

Furthermore, I’m getting old. Though I likely will work until I drop, I am of “retirement age.” I can’t do what I once did, and must adjust my ambition downwards to some degree. While I don’t abandon the helm entirely like King Lear did, I do hand some batons of life’s relay-race to the young, who have ambitions that see a future I won’t live to see. Not that I don’t plant orchards, but I know I won’t live to see the apples. Rather than overrule the young, I respect their new ideas, for they are the ones who must reap crops I will never witness. Not that I don’t give them more advice than they sometimes ask for, but I have a different attitude toward power than The Swamp’s: I can give power up.

This retiring attitude is something I’m good at, for in a sense I’ve been retiring ever since I stopped going to dances as a teenager. It is part of being a writer, and is also called “withdrawal”. However it also makes Donald Trump a man beyond my comprehension, because he doesn’t retire and he doesn’t withdraw. To be quite honest, he puts me to shame. How does he take on The Swamp with the tenacity and courage he displays? It can only be because God formed him very differently than God formed me, and he is able to derive pleasure and zest from what would be, for me, a living hell.

There are times he makes me feel like a complete sissy. I feel like an anxious mother watching her child climb a tree or tall cliff. I can’t bear to watch, and turn away, not because I don’t admire what Trump is attempting, but because I don’t want to see him fall and be crushed.

I fully expected he would be assassinated by now, and am amazed by his survival and by what he achieves. One of his greatest achievements has been to so alarm the people addicted to wealth, power and fame that they have stopped pretending to be nice. They have thrown off their sheep’s-clothing and revealed themselves as wolves. Of course, some of us knew they were wolves all along, but if we said so we would risk being accused of “having a conspiracy theory”. How could we call a sweet, adorable lamb like Slick Willy a wolf? He had such a nice smile, as did other wolves. But now they are showing their fangs. Formerly they pretended to be part of a two-party-system and to be like Harry-Truman-democrats, but now their dictatorial, one-party-system tendencies towards tyranny are undisguised. Groups like Antifa resemble Hitler’s Brown Shirts, and clearly stand against the two-party-system our Founding Fathers established as a great and noble experiment.

I find their attack upon America deeply troubling. I lose sleep, and find politics bad for my health. Because it will do no one any good if I get sick, I prefer to retire to my garden. I have run my race, and it is up to the young to carry on.

But as I squat and weed, listening to birds sing, and watching thunderheads bloom in the summer sky, a little voice whispers in my conscience. “Have you been intimidated? Are you a coward? Have the bullies of Antifa silenced you?” If you pass by my garden you may hear me muttering to myself, from time to time, as I wrestle with this voice.

I certainly haven’t been silent on the web, concerning arctic-sea-ice and Global Warming. My posts on this site have been viewed by over a hundred thousand people, and my other posts and comments (on sites less obscure than this one) have been seen by millions. I have been part of a process that has exposed the falseness of a false narrative, to such a degree that thinking-people (including some cynical Alarmists) are well aware Global Warming has no scientific basis that justifies it being called a serious threat, and only exists as a political tool used to seize money and power.

Ten years ago there were wonderful and lively discussions involving the actual climate-science involved, but now such discussions have devolved to name-calling. I even heard a wonderful description of arguing-with-an-Alarmist: It was described as being like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how brilliant your moves are, the pigeon just knocks your pieces over, poops on the board, and then struts around like it won.

To a certain degree one just gets weary of arguing with pigeons. It producing nothing, whereas weeding my garden produces delicious vegetables.

But then I pause, and think my arguments did produce something. It produced a degree of censorship from Google. If you type in “Arctic Sea Ice” on Google, you can scroll down through page after page of search-results, and not see any mention my past posts, though some of my posts have thousands of views. Formerly my posts appeared in the first few pages of search-results for “Arctic Sea Ice”. So my posts did have an effect. They forced some at Google to take off their sheep’s clothing. They think they have “silenced” one party in a two-party-system, (me), but what they have done is to “show their hand”. They cannot claim to believe in the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press when they, in essence, burn books. If they wanted silence they have gone about it the wrong way, for they have been too loud.

Having bragged (to a degree) about having had this effect, I cannot claim to owning much desire to become more deeply involved. Such one-party-system-people have a sort of reek about them, and I do not usually feel comfortable when in the proximity of a skunk, even when it wears a lovely fur coat. I would like to just be done with such nonsense. Let the young carry on with the battle. I have played my part. I’ll just become one of those silent people who do not appear in polls, (because I hang up when a pollster calls me on the phone), but I’ll still vote when the day comes.

But then that whisper occurs again in my conscience: “Have you been intimidated? Are you backing off because you are afraid? What if Donald Trump did that?”

When I heard a Trump Rally was going to be held only 45 minutes from my front door I had no desire to attend. While I like live concerts, I am uncomfortable once crowds get much larger than a hundred. I admire great athletes, but would rather watch them on TV than attend a Superbowl. There is something about a crowd that makes me uncomfortable, perhaps because I’ve seen crowds turn ugly, and also because I have seen involuntary goosebumps of thrill rise on my own arms, and know I am not unmoved by the group-think of a mob. I prefer to stand back and watch from a distance and mull things over. I am a retiring sort, and even these words I now type are words I will mull-over and rewrite many times, before I set them free. Spontaneity is not my middle name.

However when I heard a local branch of Antifa was calling for people to come and disrupt the Manchester Rally, seeking to intimidate people from showing Trump any support, a bit of spontaneity ruffled my feathers. I may be retiring, but I’m not dead yet, and I can’t stand the way Antifa calls Trump a bully for bluntly speaking truth, and then turns right around and behaves in a bullying manner, speaking balderdash propaganda. To argue with Antifa is another case of playing chess with a pigeon. Rather than speaking opposition to their concept of a one-party-system, sometimes it is better to simply show opposition by attending a rally.

However when the day came I was very busy with work at my Farm-childcare, and it seemed unlikely I could get in to the rally. The 12,000 who gained entrance to the arena arrived before 4:00, and I wasn’t off work until 5:30, and it would take me another hour to drive in through rush-hour traffic, and on the radio I heard parking was just about non-existent and that the traffic was especially terrible near the rally. To top it off I was dead tired. I decided to spend my time praying the rally wasn’t bombed, and went to bed before the rally even ended.

The next morning I didn’t bother listening to the news, for I knew networks would report a highly negative view of whatever had occurred. Instead I searched through the web until I found a film of the actual rally. I find it interesting to form my own impressions, and only later to listen to the impressions the media gathered, which they then brazenly state are opinions “everyone” should share.

Quite often I see the media’s impressions are in lock-step, as I switch from network to network, right down to the talking-heads parroting the same exact words, yet their impressions are so different from mine that you would find it hard to believe they were of the same event. The Press takes things so far out of context it becomes downright humorous listening to the “experts”, who make such an ado-over-nothing they resemble people throwing a tizzy over the warped view they see in a circus’s fun-house mirror, as if unaware their views are warped.

At his rallies Trump often states something, and then gestures towards the Press, poking fun at what they will make of his statement, and how his statement will be warped when it appears in the next day’s papers. Where the Press once had the ability to make or break a politician, Trump has emasculated them by pointing out a reality which all now call “Fake News”. He has turned the tables on them, for rather than the Press manipulating the politician, the politician is tweaking the Press, making them prance like puppets, and playing them like a violin.

I feel I have watched a deterioration of the media that has taken decades to manifest; a crumbling of the trust the public has in the news they are told. It began during the Vietnam War, and the irony is that back then it was the Press itself that stood up against the purveyors of propaganda. How times change. Now even events which were accepted as well-researched-truth sixty years ago are called into question by the unrelenting scrutiny of countless, private, investigator-bloggers on the web, and, while there are a lot of paranoid rants and nonsense to be sifted through, some attempts to manipulate a gullible public are exposed by bloggers in ways that brook no doubt. (For example, some horrific pictures of bomb-blasted, weeping children crouching by gory and apparently deceased mothers in Syria were rendered far less heartrending when before-and-after pictures revealed the mother and child laughing as they put on bloody make-up usually used to make triage-training more realistic for EMTs, and then relaxing after the photo-shoot; IE: The entire bloody scene was a scam created to move public opinion.)

It doesn’t matter which “side” one is on, one gets tired of having their heart played as if it were an inanimate violin, and one wearies of what seems to be a general acceptance of lying. Especially exasperating is that, rather than the Press working to make amends for past failures, by working harder to sift through various views and versions of truth, and by honestly seeking to show all evidence, the Press has seemingly abandoned all attempts at objectivity in favor of a total devotion to a one-sided one-party-system. Bias appears to have become a sort of virtue-signaling; reporters appear eager to be purveyors of propaganda, (though their eagerness perhaps demonstrates a child-like and frantic attempt to please Big Daddy, enacted by frightened employees leery of being fired).

As I watched a replay of the Trump rally I did not see anything like what the media described and reported. The media saw racism, because the crowd was 94% white, but the simple fact of the matter is that the population of New Hampshire happens to be 94% white. What the media was seeing was simple demographics, but at times they snarl like wolves at people merely being what people have no control over being. Meanwhile Trump looked glad to see everyone. Right off the bat this made him a mile more likable and winning than the suspicious, hostile media.

Then Trump began to talk about what he has been attempting to achieve, which the media seldom mentions. Instead the media has reported what never happened. They have clogged newscasts with misinformation, focused on how Trump’s election was due to Russia and not his supporters, which is a theory now disproved. The crowd seemed far more interested in what Trump was actually attempting, and untroubled by the three years of false accusations, (both before and after Trump’s election).

Because the media has been such a abysmal failure, in terms of telling the truth, in a sense Trump was doing what the media should do but doesn’t do, as he described his agenda at the rally. As he listed what he was trying to achieve there were some topics I recognized but others I didn’t, and as he described his critics there were some I had heard about but many I hadn’t. However when I thought about “what I already knew”, it occurred to me very little came from the mainstream media. Instead, much I have learned has come through diligent searches of non-mainstream websites. Sad to say, but the mainstream media offers almost no actual information.

For example, concerning the subject of illegal immigration, the media’s focus has largely been upon ideas, and not facts; they discuss the idea that “borders” are racist, and upon the ideas of individuals who feel “open borders” are a good idea, and upon the idea that Trump’s promise to “Build the Wall” is bound to be an abject failure.

To some degree I can commiserate with such no-borders idealism, for it holds the beauty of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” However, as a man who has lived long and still works hard “past retirement age”, I can look back across decades of experience and am well aware people have limits; people have to draw-the-line. I’ve seen that, while in a Perfect World there would be no borders, we do not live in a Perfect World.

I may be an old grouch, but once I was young and brimming with idealism, and visited a hippy commune where “everything was shared”. After an evening of profound talk I went to bed, and when I woke the next morning I couldn’t find my pants, (which were new bluejeans). When I meekly brought up the fact I had no pants, it turned out someone else had “shared” them. When I suggested it would be difficult to avoid arrest if I headed out into the world without pants, I was “shared” some pants. They were the most ragged, frayed, filthy, and in-need-of-mending-and-patching pair of pants I have ever worn in my life. This experience awoke me to the fact idealism can get ugly. I said I did not agree “sharing” was a good thing, and wanted my own pants back, which did not go over too well among the idealists at that commune.

It is experiences such as this which turn “Songs Of Innocence” into “Songs Of Experience” (William Blake) and leads to slightly cynical statements such as “If you’re not Liberal when young you have no heart, and if you are not Conservative when older you have no brain.” (Winston Churchill and many others). Many old hippies know exactly what I am talking about, even as many youngsters haven’t a clue.

In the end we come back to the dilemma the Founding Fathers were striving to deal with, when they wrote the United States Constitution. This dilemma boils down to facing the fact we do not live in a Perfect World, and that vices such as sloth and theft occur in the rich and poor alike, the young and old alike, and the Liberal and Conservative alike. In the face of our mortal weaknesses, (whether you call them “foibles” or “sins”), it is obvious a one-party-system cannot succeed, for eventually it will pit the old against the young, the rich against the poor, or masculinity against femininity. Instead a two-party-system must evolve, where there may be some discord and conflict, but good things such as “harmony” and “marriage” are also possible. “Vive la difference”.

Lastly, for a two-party-system to work, there must be a division between the two parties of some sort. There must be “borders”. There must be male and female, rich and poor, Liberal and Conservative, and buyers and sellers. This may not be utopia, (for in the State of God-Realization absolute Unity exists), but we are not God-Realized, and in fact we had darn well better recognize we haven’t realized God yet, or else we are possessed of such arrogance we are doomed to disaster.

Some members of the media bewail what they call “polarization”. Despite a superficial praise of “diversity”, they don’t like the existence of differing views. I think this is what lies behind the dislike some express towards the Founding Fathers, for the Founding Fathers not only accepted the fact views do differ, but devised a system to handle the differences.

If the Press desires to function in a healthy manner it needs to describe both sides of an issue, which involves departing from the idea-world of idealism and descending into the nitty-gritty landscape of facts. But if a Press is captured by bias, it becomes so affronted by differing views that it cannot handle them, and flinches into a sort of reflex of bashing. They leap to conclusions. When covering the situation at our southern border they are quick to report the idea that illegal immigrants are held in “concentration camps” and “drink from toilets”, but are slow to fact-check such distortions. Because the Press offers a dearth of facts, it is up to the president to say there is news the mainstream newspapers are not mentioning, which is what Trump does at his rallies.

I hope you recognize the irony. Fifty years ago the president (Johnson) was the purveyor of propaganda, and people turned to the Press (Cronkite) for news about Vietnam. Now the tables are turned. Rather than the Press, people turn to Trump for news. More news is dispensed by Trump, during a rally, about the situation at the United States southern border, in fifteen minutes, than is heard in months on mainstream media. What’s more, Trump not only reports about his own views, but also about his opponent’s views, and he does so in a cocky, off-hand manner which infuriates many.

I think I see one reason he infuriates some people. In their eyes he over-simplifies, and is breaking their complex system of rules, which happen to be rules that in many ways stifle free speech.

This exposes a second irony. Fifty years ago the people speaking freely and in a refreshing manner tended to be celebrities such as “The Smothers Brothers”. (It is interesting to watch reruns of their old shows from the 1960’s, and to realize what seems so innocent (to us now) eventually caused such a fuss (back then) that they were taken off the air.) Now celebrities tend to avoid causing a fuss, and spend most of their time fussing. They are far too busy virtue-signalling and being politically-correct to dare be so refreshingly incorrect as to bring up the Truth.

There is something about Truth that is refreshing. What’s more, it is something salt-of-the-earth commoners recognize and respond to, whether the speaker is on “their side” or not. It is for this reason that a good debate between two opposing politicians can be a delight to listen to, providing the opponents treat each other with respect, in a sense “loving their enemy”. But when that respect is absent then one sees the recognition of Truth bring about a quite different and somewhat rabid response, where the humorous jibes are absent and instead hatred of Truth manifests.

I saw a bit of such hatred, in a small way, after I watched the video of the Manchester Trump rally. I liked what I had watched, and was musing to myself about the strange similarity between Trump’s performance and an old Smother’s Brothers show: Despite the great differences in political views, there was an impishness and good humor I associate with Truth. Then I checked the clock.

I had found time to watch the long rally because insomnia had awoken me at three AM, and I saw that I still had a bit of time before heading off to my Farm-childcare, so I thought I’d scroll down and check-out the comments-section, which was below the video. I was curious how people had responded.

I was taken aback by the negativity of most of the comments, which were full of foul language and generally bashed supporters of Trump as being racist pigs. It took me a little while before I noticed seven straight comments by the same person, and then scanned backwards and saw that same person was responsible for many earlier negative comments. Further scrutiny showed other individuals were doing the same thing, and that most of the comments were written by roughly ten people, repetitively cranking out the same disproved talking-points, such as Trump being put in office by Russia, illegal aliens being forced to drink from toilets, the electoral college being a dumb idea invented by rich, white slave-owners, and so on. When anyone replied to such comments all ten Trump-haters piled on them, stating disparaging things about their sanity and their mothers, using fairly ugly language.

To me this suggested the ten people were “doing their job”, and I wondered if they might even be paid to do it, perhaps with the money George Soros is so generous with. They didn’t seem to have another job they had to get to, judging from the time-stamps beside their comments. They’d been at their job for hours.

With a second glance at the clock I decided I had just enough time to reply to one comment before work, and I chose a particularly snide comment about how only fools accepted Trump as a leader, because he wasn’t a legitimate leader as he had not received a majority of the popular vote. I pointed out Abraham Lincoln had only received 39% of the popular vote, and headed off to work.

A couple hours later a member of my staff contacted me in great alarm about negative comments appearing on our Childcare’s Facebook page. When I checked, it struck me as humorous. The site contains pictures of small children at play, with innocuous comments such as “Susie looks so sweet” and “Johnie is so cute”, but abruptly the comments switched to “You’re talking through your pie-hole,” and “Parents must be insane to let their children near a fascist pig like you.” However I doubted my wife would see the humor, and sought to find out how the leftists had tracked me down.

It turned out the original video of the Trump Rally had appeared on a Facebook page, and therefore when I replied, in the comments section beneath the video, my Facebook site had automatically appeared by my comment. Yikes! What a mess!

To extract myself from the mess I went back to the original video and deleted my comment, which “disappeared” me from the discussion under the video, and also “disappeared” the nasty replies to my comment from my business’s Facebook page.

However I don’t take kindly to being silenced in such a manner. Such a silence might make Antifa happy, and might make George Soros feel he invested his money wisely and perhaps even clap his hands in glee, but such silencing is unhealthy to those who seek to nourish Freedom of Speech, and understand the refreshing, healing quality Truth has, when spoken aloud.

Therefore I have refused to be silent, and have gotten up early all week to write this essay. Please share it if you like it. I have the sense the coming election will be particularly nasty, and it is particularly important to have all views, even mine, heard.

WEEDER WARS (Parts 1-4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has this to do with farming?

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has this to do with gardening?

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

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

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

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

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

Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEEDER WARS –Part 1–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOCAL VIEW –A Burr’s Blessing–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

an’ he took up collection,
Said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus

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

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

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

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

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

And what is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These roots must be washed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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