(Hat Tip: Old AFSarge, Chant du Depart)
(I am bit behind on this - these were actually complete three weeks ago).
A short history of my installation of ollas (clay watering pots):
(The Whys and Wheretofores are covered there.)
If this pictures looks familiar, that is because it should be: 20 clay pots, 20 bases, 20 stoppers. Estimated cost per completed set up: $2.47 + tax.
Learning from last time, I looked at each of the pots at the Big Box store to make sure the hole was more or less regular. I picked through every pot (well over 100) to find 20. Suddenly I reminded myself of my maternal and paternal grandmothers, who would look even at the cheapest of items for a bargain. And here I was, examining $0.99 pots for fit.
A brief update: We received the news this week that TB the Elder's Long Term Insurance has been approved. Essentially, this means that for as long as he is still with us, his care will be paid for. Thanks to all who prayed.
This is 50% of a significant burden removed from our shoulders (the other, of course, is getting my Mom's approved). While they had planned for this even without the insurance and were relatively okay, long term it could have created some issues. Now, even if we have to wait a bit more for my Mom's, things are a little less stressful.
We still need to argue with the insurance company, of course: the first location my mother and father stayed at is still "under appeal", as it the current location for my mother. Overall the first represent perhaps 4 months of their stay combined , but is almost $20,000. So not an inconsiderable sum.
My sister, who has been really managing the process, is continuing to provide data and follow up with the insurance company, so any thoughts or prayers for her patience would be much appreciated.
We are making progress. It just seems so very slow.
26 January 20XX + 1
My Dear Lucilius:
One thing I think of as I sit here, day after day, trying to stay busy and engaged and waiting patiently for a Spring that constantly seems forever out of reach, is the reasonable health I have enjoyed this past year.
I have always enjoyed moderately good health, with the caveat of course that age is the great leveler of us all: with the exception of the usual aches and pains of sore knees and a lower back that needs monitoring, I have little to complain of. Working to stay active, especially when I moved here permanently, during the Winter months was a challenge, but a resolvable one with the proper equipment.
That said, I realized this morning that I have not had a cold in well over two years.
The answer, of course, is pretty easy: no people. Or not many, anyway. Young Xerxes, when he comes by. An acknowledgment when I am watching the road coming in, from time to time. But really, that is it.
It does make you wonder about the urban areas though – perhaps like the ones you find yourself closer to (though not fully by choice). People, all the makings of epidemics – and the health services which are undoubtedly very much less than they once were, if they are at all anymore.
Not that we are in any wise better, of course. The regional hospital is about 25 miles away – an easy 30 minutes back in the days of fuel, now a solid day walking to get there and another to get back, assuming that they are still open (they are not, so we hear). If you have an “emergency” anymore (and I suspect our definition of such things has changed dramatically), do not count on making it there in time for a resolution. We are thrown back on our own resources, in this as in so many other things.
And although we may (at least temporarily, if not more permanently) now lack the benefits of so defined “modern medicine”, we at least have practices that our ancestors – even our very recent ones – did not. Wash your hands regularly and practice general good hygiene (thankfully, we know how to make soap now, although like so many other humble items I am sure it will become a trading good rather quickly). Eat sensibly, and in general monitor your intake of things like sugar and salt (sugar is a passing problem I suspect; give this interruption enough time and sweets and the resultant tooth decay will be a very small problem). Brush your teeth. Care for wounds quickly. Keep the weight down and the activity up. Protect your hearing, your knees, and your back (you will need them all).
But at best these are all maintenance activities. Unless things turn around fairly quickly, the great advances of modern medicine will have gone beyond our reach to recover them. Instead, we will be rewarded with conditions and diseases that we in the modern world thought we had conquered long ago, without the benefit of the modern world to fight them.
One wonders, Lucilius, if those who blithely continued down this path of interrupting our ability to create and build and replaced it with a philosophy of the generous spending of others’ money, of replacing the independence of the individual and the sharing between individuals to the enforced cooperation of the caring collective, foresaw such impacts in their grand social plans? No matter; they forgot the most fundamental point of macroeconomics that I learned long before the then-current system had existed: the modern economic system was a highly complex systems depending on multiple inputs and stasis to bring us wonders beyond compare. Break that system in one place just enough, and the whole thing – not just the thing one was trying to “fix” – comes crashing down.
We used to have highly effective compounds and materials to fight contamination. Within my lifetime, we may very well be back to boiled water as the primary instrument of sterilization. If this represents progress, my hands are too small to grasp it.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca
When I was in the equivalent of Middle School (my school, at the time, had one class per grade), I developed an intense and burning interest in World War II. I could not devour history books fast enough (back in the day, that is what we had) and exhausted our local library's ability to provide them.
As it turned out, my mother had some books - all fiction -that dealt with World War II on the shelves that lined the hall in our old house. One of the books she suggested to me and I had read was still on her bookshelf when I looked at The Ranch: H.M.S Ulysses by Alistair Maclean.
Maclean is probably better known for some of his later works (The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare) - H.M.S. Ulysses, it turns out, was his first novel.
The book chronicles the adventures of the H.M.S. Ulysses, a light cruiser (based on the Dido Class), in the 1942-1943 era of Atlantic naval warfare. The ship serves as an escort to convoys on the North Atlantic Arctic Convoys between Iceland and The Soviet Union.
The reader is dropped directly into a visit with the senior staff and the Director of Naval Operations after a mutiny: the men are exhausted because of the runs and the Admiralty has decided that, as redemption, the ship will run one more convoy (FR 77), before being reassigned to the Mediterranean.
What follows, compressed into six days, is a story of man against nature, man against man, and man against himself.
I remembered this book when I saw it. I have not read it in 40 years. Reading it again, I am reminded why it made such an impression me.
It is written by an expert writer who himself served in the British Navy and on these runs in the Arctic. He knew, like perhaps few writers do, what Arctic cold and Arctic weather felt like:
"The cold was now intense: ice formed in cabins and mess decks; fresh water systems froze solid, door hinges locked in frozen immobility; the oil in the searchlight controls gummed up and made them them useless. To keep a watch, especially a watch on the bridge, was torture: the first shock of that bitter wind seared the lungs, left a man fighting for breath. if he had forgotten to don gloves - first the silk gloves, then the woolen mittens, then the sheepskin gauntlets - and touched a handrail, the palms of the hands seared off, the skin burned as by white-hot metal. On the bridge, if he forgot to duck when the bows smashed down into a trough, the flying spray, solidified in a second into hurtling slivers of ice, lanced cheek and forehead open to the bone. Hands froze, the very marrow of the bones numbed, the deadly chill swept upwards from feet to calves to thighs, nose and chin turned white with frostbite and demanded immediate attention then, by far the worst of all, the end of the watch, the return below deck, the writhing, excruciating agony of returning circulation. But, for all this, words are mere things, pale shadows of reality. Some things lie beyond the knowledge and the experience of the majority of mankind, and here imagination finds itself in a world unknown."
The cold is always in the book; it never leaves the pages even though it is not always mentioned.
The convoy suffers from every possible setback: weather, enemy attack (this is when Germany still controlled Norway and threats from U-Boats and aircraft and the surface ships of Kriegsmarine were real), internal dissension, and the slow destruction of men physically and mentally. At the same time, one sees the growth of men who, having realized they have nothing left to lose, turn themselves into something more fearful and heroic at the same time.
To tell the ending is to spoil the work; it is a work well worth reading, a tautly written prose tale which reached out to me in surprising ways 40 years after I had last put it down. In it, oddly enough, I found a germ of what I have come to believe that all leaderships should entail:
"And so he had come back to the service and had grown older as the bitter years passed, older and frailer, and more kindly and tolerant and understanding. Among naval captains - indeed, among men - he was unique. In his charity, in his humility, Captain Richard Vallery walked alone. It was a measure of the man's greatness that this thought never occurred to him."
I have read a great many books over my life, many of which were read once and put aside, a few that were read multiple times, and a very few that I remember from reading them, even long ago. H.M.S. Ulysses is one of the latter, and this edition will continue to find its home with me, be it here or at The Ranch.
We are always in need of being reminded of great sacrifice, great courage, and great heroism.
As I was walking, I suddenly was struck by the sounds - I take them for granted when I am here. "Hey", I thought, "I can take a video and share them":
I found the hawk that you hear high in a tree (Apologies, this was the best I could do. He is that yellow blob):
Sometimes the timing of when we find something makes all the difference in the world.
When I was in high school and in my regional record store (we called them that, back in the day), I had a choice in buying a Celtic music tape. One was hammered dulcimer; the other was some group I had never heard of. I bought the hammered dulcimer tape, which I did enjoy for many years. The tape I skipped over was one of the first albums of what became a very famous Scottish Band, Silly Wizard. Had I chosen that tape, my musical experience would have been completely altered.
Or my experience with Gene Logsdon, whom I revere as an author, farmer, and contrarian. I read his book The Contrary Farmer in 2000, right when we were moving back closer to my parents and The Ranch. I was searching for someone who spoke the language of agriculture and philosophy in an engaging way - and that was the book Logsdon wrote and I had picked up. If I had picked up one of his earlier, more advice oriented books on small scale grain raising or raising blackberries, I might have read it, gone "Hmmm", and moved on.
This is my relationship with Joel Salatin.
I should like Joel Salatin. From what I have read of him, we share a similar philosophy, religious bent, and general distrust of government. But the books I have read of his have never really got me excited, wanting to read more. The books I have - You Can Farm, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being A Lunatic Farmer- have been, well interesting and informative, but not captivating.
We finally made the connection.
The book is, in a nutshell, a review of the food system as it exists in the West and the governmental system (mostly in the US) that undergirds it and allows corporate agriculture to exist. It is divided into two sections (I am not sure if that was accidental or just the way that Salatin's mind worked). The first half is really a discussion of how the system that has been constructed to supply food is not normal at the micro level, the level of the individual and the farm. The latter half of the book is a discussion of how the system, enabled by government and favoring corporate agriculture, operates on a macro level against the small farmer and back to the land movement.
As with other reviews, it is best to let the author speak for themselves:
"The same teen who can't legally operate a four wheeler, or all terrain vehicle (ATV, commonly known in the vernacular as Japanese Cow Ponies), in a farm lane workplace environment can operate a jacked-up F-250 pickup on a crowded urban expressway. By denying those opportunities to bring value to their own lives and community around them, we've relegated our young adults to teenage foolishness. Then as a culture we walk around shaking our heads in bewilderment at these young people with retarded maturity. Never in life do people have as much energy as in their teens, and to criminalize leveraging it is certainly one of nation's greatest resource blunders.
Our culture now denies young people the very activities that build their self-worth and incorporate them as valuable members of society. Rather than seeing children as an asset, we now view them as a liability." - "Children, Chores, Humility and Health"
"No civilization has ever been in this state of environmental ignorance...But in recent decades, in our culture, putting food on the table does not require any knowledge or involvement except how scan a credit card, open a plastic bag, and nuke it in the microwave. No civilization in history has ever been able to be this disconnected from it ecological umbilical. And in more frequent dinnertime discussions, I'm finding more and more people wondering if a civilization this disconnected can actually survive." - "A Cat Is a Cow Is a Chicken is My Aunt"
"True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week's farmers' market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket." - "Hog Killin's And Laying In The Larder"
"Innovation always requires risk. That is the nature of the game." - "Lawn Farms And Kitchen Chickens"
"With all this in mind, though, instead of picking away at the edges and challenging with the most fringe possibility, why don't we focus on the great majority for whom the idea is doable? Instead of saying ideas are stupid because not everybody has land or room for a chicken yard, how about realizing how many people living on city lots, in the suburbs, or rural farmettes don't do any of this stuff? The truth is that if the majority would do the innovative right thing, the culture would change so dramatically we probably can't even conceive what the next tweaking would look like." - "No Compost, No Digestion"
"A homemade pound cake, made with real raw ingredients, will only last at household room temperature for a couple of days before mold spots start dotting its exterior. That is why I eat this pound cake quickly and aggressively - immediate consumption is my personal preservation policy towards pound cakes." - "No Compost, No Digestion"
"When someone says 'The only way to fix this is..." I immediately tune him out. Almost nothing can be fixed only one way." - "Scientific Mythology"
"Do we really want society's bottom feeders to be in charge of our air, soil, and water? Compare that with the culture in Spain that manicures cork forests to grow the world- famous acorn fattened black-footed hog. In that culture, the man who knows how to prune the cork trees is revered as much as the medical doctor." - "You Get What You Pay For"
"One elderly farmer friend recently explained it this way: 'Everything is about recreation. America is one big playground. Your farm and my farm, they're just a big playground.' I daresay he is right. The boldness exhibited by some groups to either take private land or narrowly define its use would make the founders of this nation start the revolution all over again." - "Get Your Grubby Hands"
"I think our culture is paralyzed, again, by constipation of imagination. Is there no recourse for redress other than litigation." - "I Hereby Release You"
"I'm surround by a loving family - multiple generations. I'm surrounded by enthusiastic young people. I'm surrounded by land that I've watched heal over these last fifty years, from a worn-out, gullied mess to verdant pastures supporting poultry, cows, pigs and rabbits. The intensity of my feelings springs from the intimacy of my knowledge of this place, its surroundings, the weather patterns, the season. I believe this is historically normal, and I covet that for others. Now go be a normal person." - "The Church Of Industrial Foods"
There is more. Plenty more. There are more quotes I highlighted, but ran out of space to enter.
Another interesting thing about Salatin is that he is intensely practical. Each chapter of the book has actions that you can take. And they are pretty specific, very doable, and occasionally very revolutionary.
As you can guess, I liked this book. Salatin has matured as a writer - he confesses in the acknowledgements that this is the first book (2011) that he has had an editor on, and I think it shows. His thinking is clearly and has all the vitality, vivacity, and vitriol that I would expect from someone that lived a life similar in many aspects to Gene Logsdon: obstinate, succeeding against the grain of a society that says only the big and completely scientific can survive. The book is practical in that the steps he suggests are not improbable or completely unactionable. And he has a healthy distrust of the government and large industry, something dear to my heart. Were I to recommend a first pass for a new reader of Salatin, I would start here.
It took almost 25 years, but I am glad we finally connected.
24 January 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius:
One of the things I never really have become accustomed to, living this far North, is how dark it is for so long during Winter.
Take this week. The sunrise here will not occur until well after 0700. And that is just the sunrise – if one is hoping for things to “warm up” a bit, one need wait even longer before one is out an about doing things.
Sunset is the same. The sun will set a little after 1700 this week, which means that anything being done that requires more than a headlamp and candles will have to be wrapped up around 1600 or so, to allow enough time to finish off everything that needs to get done before we are plunged back into darkness.
It was not quite as much a bother when we had regular power, of course, but now that such things are fleeting at best or non-extant, it makes a considerable difference. There is a great deal more planning of tasks to be done of course, because any light which is not generated by stored energy is precious, precious in a way it was not a year ago.
Keeping the artificial light is critical as well, of course. Fully charged batteries for everything is a must, as well as rotating them to make sure that everything is equally balanced out. I try to conserve on the use of the computer, as I know in the back of my mind that the panel for charging it will eventually wear down – and at some point, barring the re-establishment of regular power, the data will be frozen forever.
Evenings are long under such circumstances. The house is quiet, with occasional crackles of the fire and the sounds of the rabbits. Too much light can be an issue too: I am too close to the road to have a bobbing headlamp moving in and out of vision. Signs that someone might be up and about, someone with something to take.
This sort of thinking depresses me.
I had the equivalent of blackout curtains before all of this happens – given how cold it becomes here in the Winter, who would not? - but have taken to putting towels over those as well to block any residual light. For better or worse, this cabin came with not a great many windows, so it is a doable task (A side benefit, of course, is that I stay even warmer).
What do I do in the evenings? Read, of course – I am almost to the point of starting the Dostoevsky novels I bought so long ago – or was it only last year; I am saving them as it is likely it is the last “new” material I will see for a bit. Exercise, via the pseudo-treadmill or kettle bells. Practice my martial arts. Pray. Spend time with the rabbits. And of course, go to bed earlier than I might otherwise.
In such pre-Industrial circumstances, one comes to understand why the coming of Spring was such an anticipated event – for the light, if nothing else.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca
This is the first visit back to The Ranch since February that fact that my parents are not coming back has truly hit me.
It started Saturday morning, when I stopped by to see TB The Elder on my way up to The Ranch after my arrival. He seemed in good spirits, perhaps a little stronger physically, and carried on a conversation which, again, seemed to make have no relation to anything that I could understand. It extended to Sunday, when I stopped and saw my mother. We had a pleasant 40 minute conversation, mostly me talking about updates on the family - but I completely carried the conversation. When we were done, I walked her in, gave her a hug, and came back.
And the house was empty. Empty in a way it has not been before.
My parents have their clothes - or clothes that they use (On a side note, this seems to be a thing in memory care facilities. My father and mother are always nicely dressed, but it seems like most of the time it is not in the clothes we sent with them. It is okay of course: the clothes are in good repair and clean and in some cases, my father has never dressed better in his life. But it can be a bit jarring the first time). My father has some pictures, my mother some pictures and some furniture. But really, that is all from their lives - and that is all they truly need right now.
Suddenly, the house is not "them" anymore. It is a place with stuff they purchased and kept over the years, but not "them". Their presence is in the items here, not in a sense of them.
I am sure over the months as I continue to come back, the house will seem like less "them" every time, as their presence continues to recede from here. The items all remain the same, of course - right now there is neither time nor particular need to sort anything, although to some extent this is probably also driven by the fact that I do not want to face the truth that by doing this on an organized scale, I am essentially confessing the obvious: They are not coming back. And the one who seems troubled by this seems to be me, not them.
When my maternal grandfather passed away, my Aunt J inherited their house. For years she did nothing with it other than maintain it. The items were all the same inside, circa 1960's and 1970's. I always wondered why it ended up taking her almost 10 years to begin to do anything with the house at all.
I think I understand more clearly now.
Yesterday morning I took a walk out to the main road and back, approximately 1.5 miles. Along the way I counted 15 different kinds of wildflowers. And I was not trying especially hard to find them.
It will be dry all too soon, but they sure are lovely while they last.