March 23, 2012 § 14 Comments
Last night I walked down to the birch knoll, so named for the thin copse of paper birch that populate the small hill, their white bark like bones against the sky. I carried the chainsaw, the splitting maul, a peavey, and a beer. The target was a fat length of ash I’d pulled from the woods over the winter. I knew it had at least a week’s worth of cookstove wood in it, and I set my goal on its demise before nightfall.
To reach the knoll, one must past the pigpen, where there are currently 17 two-day old piglets nursing on a pair of recumbent sows. There is no cuter critter than a two-day old piglet; they are soft as downy kittens, and sound like small ducks. Their ears are permanently folded back, like the wings of paper airplanes. They even smell nice, which I know because earlier in the day, I’d held one to my nose and just breathed, for at least a minute. Then it started quacking, so I put it back.
I stopped for a moment to admire the scene. The mothers looked as if they’d just set down the weight of the world; they lay with their soft underbellies exposed, as if they had nothing to hide, nothing to fear. The piglets had arranged themselves in neat rows, one per spigot. The late sun was slanting down, and it felt nice on my skin. It was as bucolic a scene as I’ve witnessed of late, and I’ve witnessed a few.
Standing there with the saw heavy in one hand, the axe and peavey awkward in the other, and my beer going warm in my pocket, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that within six or seven months, all of the pigs would be dead. In two months or so, after the piglets have been weaned and sent off to their new homes, I will walk to the pigpen with a .22 rifle in my hands and put a bullet in each of those sows’ brains. Their blood will spill over the very ground on which they gave birth and nursed their babies. The piglets, of course, have a bit longer: It will be a half-year or more before their demise.
I have come to realize that to be human is to be, by default, pro-death. It does not matter how many meatless “meat” patties you consume, how many leather shoes you forgo in favor of hemp or organic cotton. To produce each and every one of those “cruelty free” products causes the death of innumerable small beings, as the foundational crops are sown and harvested, and then causes more suffering as the industrial pollution machine grinds into gear during processing and distribution. This is not an argument against vegetarianism and veganism; I hold no qualms with anyone’s dietary choices. It is merely an acknowledgement of reality.
The inescapable conclusion is this: I am pro-death. I suppose it’s not the most politically correct statement ever, but then, I’m not running for office. Still, the core truth is slightly more complicated, because the notion that life and death are not interconnected and interdependent is a contrivance of human emotion. They each require the other, to the extent that they are not even two sides of the same coin: They are the same side of the same coin.
So yeah, I’m pro-death. Which makes me pro-life, too.
March 14, 2012 § 12 Comments
Above photo taken by Penny (as are most on this blog), just after the boys and I had finished processing our lambs.
This morning, Fin, who is 10, was reading on the couch. “Papa,” he called to me (I was in the kitchen, making some sort of mess), “what’s a Big Mac?”
This reminded me of a experience Penny had, back when Fin was 5. I’ve mentioned it before, but it was a long time ago, back when there were about 3 people reading this blog. She’d taken the boys to a water sports store to purchase a used kayak. At the store, they had a TV playing kayaking videos. Fin was transfixed, and called out to Penny: “Mama, come over here. Look at this box! It has pictures and sound!”
One of the beauties of homeschooling your kids in a rural community is that you have a tremendous degree of choice regarding what and what not to expose them to. Once in a while (although thankfully, not as often as you might think), someone will hear that we homeschool and say something brilliant like: “Aren’t you worried about socialization?” To which I can only answer: “Damn straight. That’s why we keep them at home.”
It’s a bit snarky (but then, I’ve been accused of worse), to be sure. Still, it’s the truth, or at least part of the truth. Because if, at the age of 5, my kid doesn’t know what a TV looks like, that’s just fine with me. If, at the age of 10, the words “Big Mac” are meaningless to him, I’m downright ecstatic. It could be said that this ignorance will all but ensure that my boys remain out-of-step with contemporary American society. Perhaps, perhaps.
But then I think about all the things they do know: How to identify practically every species of tree, bird, and bush in our forest. How to build a fire, to milk a cow, to field dress a deer. How to plant a garden, handle a splitting maul, use the chop saw. And I can’t help but think that it’s contemporary American society that’s out of step with them.
March 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
So let’s say you’re over to Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, Maine for a work project.
And let’s say you’re duffing around and you find a pair of chicken-shit-covered-but-in-generally-excellent-condition 16.9 x 28 tractor tires, which just happens to be the size you need to replace the not-in-generally-excellent condition treads on your machine.
Furthermore, imagine that the owners of said tires are willing to let them go at a very reasonable price. Not only that, they will trust you to send payment by mail, and loan you a pair of ratchet straps. Do farmers rock, or what?
All of which is say, imagine me driving three-hours home with these tires atop the roof of our “new” Subaru. The shit-eating grin I got from the fella operating the skidder at the side of Route 113 was all I needed to confirm I’d made the right decision. That, and the fact that I passed three cops, and none of them pulled me over.
The ol’ ‘Ru did feel a tad top-heavy, I must admit.
March 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
There will be an open bar, exotic dancers, and oodles of blow, and I will be performing solo acoustic versions of Freebird and Crazy Train.
Either that, or Julia and I will do a short reading, and we can all hang out and eat some tasty snacks.
Hope ya’ll can make it.
March 5, 2012 § 7 Comments
Down in M’s barn last night, we stood only a few feet from the hind end of one of his cows as it dripped afterbirth into the gutter. He’d gotten a heifer out of her, and this seemed to put him in a good mood; when I’d seen him earlier in the day, he’d told me he was expecting a bull calf. “She’s 11 days late,” he said, rather irritably. “Probably another bull.” According to M, late calves are most often bulls. I have no idea if there’s any scientific basis for this, but the guy’s been farming for something like six decades, so who am I to argue?
Anyway, we were talking about the state of things today. This being a frequent topic of conversation for us. Specifically, we were talking about what seems to be an epidemic of depression and general dissatisfaction with life in twenty-first century American society, how people are unable to extract themselves from the ruts in which they increasingly seem to find themselves entrenched. M told me how, shortly before he was born, his mother had given birth to a baby girl. The girl (he didn’t tell me her name) died four months later, of pneumonia. “My father told my mother she had two months to grieve, and then it was time to get back to it,” M said. “So that’s what she did.”
I was a bit taken aback: Two months? To grieve your dead baby daughter? But of course the times were different; they demanded able hands, a strong back, and the presence of mind to make use of both. M’s parents owned a dairy farm. It was the early 40’s, or thereabouts. There would be no long, drawn out period of depression or grieving, because there could be no long, drawn-out period of depression or grieving.
I thought about this in the context of my own life, how every so often I’ll wake up in a foul mood, or feeling unmoored for reasons that elude me. And how it is that my morning rounds to the animals never – and I mean never – fail to bring me around. Sometimes I don’t even realize it until later; I’ll carry my pissy mood through chores, and perhaps even into breakfast, wishing like all get out that I didn’t have to do chores on just this one day. But of course, that’s not an option and inevitably, at some point shortly thereafter, something shifts, and I find myself whistling, or singing under my breath, or simply feeling lighter. Maybe it’s the physicality of our choretime ritual: Throwing hay, hauling water, shoveling snow. A little sweat on the brow, the stretching and flexing of muscles in ways so familiar they have become nothing short of ritual. Or maybe it’s the animals themselves: How can you be in a bad mood when you have so many loyal friends depending on you for their survival? Probably, it’s some of both, coupled with the humbling recognition that I am incredibly privileged to begin my days in such a manner.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never been truly depressed the way some people get depressed, so it’d be presumptuous of me to suggest that chores are an antidote to the epidemic of emotional malaise M and I were talking about. Yet I can’t help but wonder: If we still inhabited a society where people had something real to grab hold of each and every day, something that needed them to be there without fail, even in moments of frailty and sadness, if everyone could just begin their day by cutting the twine on a bale of hay and breathing the scent of summer, would we not be better off?
Yeah, I know, I’m biased. But I’m putting all my chips on my faith that we sure as hell would.
March 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
Finally, it feels like winter: Two storms in the past week have transformed the landscape. What was crust and scratch is now fluff and hush and despite it being colder than we’ve become accustomed to this winter, it feels warmer. Not physically warmer, but somehow emotionally warmer, as if after being set on edge by the atypical conditions, we can finally relax. I’d thought I was ready for the season to be over, but the snow reminds me of how much I missed “real” winter.
The eve of the second storm, two nights ago, Rye and I slept out in the debris shelter he made with his friend and mentor, Erik. We skied down through the woods just as the light was going glowery and the snow was beginning to filter down in widely-spaced flakes. We built a fire of birch bark and deadfall, skied a little more, and then snuggled in to sleep through the storm. I slept especially soundly, as I always do outdoors, and when we awoke in the morning, everything was soft and white and I felt more energized that I had in weeks.
The snow adds to our daily chores, but this winter has been so dry, it feels like a novelty. There is the driveway to be plowed, which is great fun. Slightly less entertaining are are solar panels that must be swept clear, so they might harvest every precious electron. The batteries that store our modest supply of electricity are terminally ill and desperately needing replacement; this is a $3500 proposition, so of course we have been procrastinating mightily. Still, it’s been good for us, forcing us to an even deeper level of awareness regarding our electricity use and generation. The briefest moment of sunshine shall not be wasted; not even a single 20-watt lightbulb can remain lit for longer than is absolutely necessary. Soon enough, it will be summer, and we can go back to our wastrel ways. You know, using three and even four kilowatt hours per day.
Still, no matter how winter-like the next month or two prove to be, the fact remains: This winter has been a fleeting, fickle thing. I know well enough that complaining about weather is both fruitless and tiresome; I have little patience for it, particularly in the hills of rural Vermont. I mean, if it’s consistent weather you want, why not just get the hell out? On the other hand, weather is an historical medium for chitchat and connection, and I’m reminded of this almost every time I stop by one of our neighbors’. It is weather that so often sparks the conversation, and while there is rarely overt complaining (these are native Vermonters, after all: They know the score), it is generally understood that the subject is to be raised only when conditions are less than optimal: Rain during first cut, warm nights during sugaring, a killing frost in May.
It is somehow comforting to me that so many in my community are so tangibly dependent on the weather for their livelihood. It is a reminder that no matter how much it might seem otherwise, we are inextricably linked to nature. We are not separate, and we never will be. To deny this truth is to deny no less than a piece of ourselves.