June 27, 2014 § 16 Comments
Penny heard this talk on the radio whilst driving somewhere a while back. She’s been pestering me to listen, too, which I have finally done. For those of you who cannot spare the quarter-hour it would take to listen for your ownbadselves, the talk is by a fellow who spent years working with NGO’s to cultivate economic development in developing nations. Yeah, I know: A slippery slope if ever there was one.
But to this fellow’s enduring credit, he soon realized that the standard method of aid – of coming in with suitcases of money and lots of ideas and a particular notion of how things should unfold – was doomed to failure because it was not of the people and region they were trying to help. So he started doing something different.
“You never initiate anything. You never motivate anybody, but you become a servant of the local passion… What you do: You shut up. You can give somebody an idea (but) if that person doesn’t want to do it, what are you going to do? The passion a person has for their own growth is the most important thing.”
It’s a great talk, and you should hear it. But you know what’s sort of frustrating to me? I just spent an entire friggin’ year writing a 60,000-word book that is in large part about our decision to allow Fin and Rye to self-direct their learning and what that process looks like. And here’s this dude summing it all up in about three sentences.
Ah, well. In other news, the pigs are so fat I’m starting to wonder if I ought feel obligated to leave Weight Watchers brochures lying around in conspicuous places. And Apple freshened, so we have milk. And cream. So while I may have written something like 59,950 more words than strictly needed, at least I’ve got that.
It’s true: Cream always compensates.
June 25, 2014 § 31 Comments
Someone sent me a link to this story on the Atlantic magazine’s website, about the importance of self-directed play and its relationship to something called executive functioning, which is defined in the article as “a broad term for cognitive skills such as organization, long-term planning, self-regulation, task initiation, and the ability to switch between activities. It is a vital part of school preparedness and has long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other positive life outcomes such as health and wealth.”
I’m glad to see a mainstream publication like The Atlantic running stories about the importance of self-directed play. Obviously, I agree that self-directed play is important. But the thing that drives me nuts is that it’s not enough to say that self-directed play is important in-and-of-itself. According to the article (and it’s not just this article; I’ve seen others that use similar arguments), unstructured play is not an end, but a means to an end, which in this case happens to be advanced executive functioning, which is itself a vital part of school preparedness and a powerful predictor of academic performance. In other words, self-directed play really only matters because we’ve determined that it improves our children’s performance in the context of the industrial educational system.
For those of us who believe that our children – in conjunction with the world around them – are their own best teachers, I suppose it’s a small slice of affirmation to see an article like the one linked above. I guess I’m glad to know my boys are cultivating cognitive skills such as organization, long-term planning, self-regulation and so on, and lord knows I would’ve done well to cultivate these skills a bit more diligently myself. Furthermore, I suppose I’m glad to hear Fin and Rye are developing executive functioning, however much it feels to me like an ironic choice of words for the subject at hand (I can just hear it now: “Go on, shoo! Get outside and play with your friends so you can develop your executive functioning!”).
But the truth is reading the article makes me a little sad, if only because it confirms the extent to which we’ve lost our bearings. No longer is it enough for us to understand that free play is an inherently important part of childhood and maybe even of being an adult. Now, it must be understood that free play is important primarily because it furthers our children’s performance in the arena of school. Now, it must be understood that free play is important because it a “powerful predictor of health and wealth.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure these things are true. I mean, it’s all based on a study conducted by a bunch of PhD’s at the University of Colorado, so it must be true.
But here’s the thing: If there’s a goal in mind, there’s an agenda behind it. If there’s an agenda behind it, there’s an expectation.
And if there’s an expectation, is it still just play?
June 24, 2014 § 10 Comments
I walked up from Melvin’s an hour or so ago, tired enough that I actually paused to consider my route: Should I got short and steep or long and low? And if the former, along the cow path or straight against the pitch, leaning into the hill as the blood hammered in my veins and the flow of sweat that had just stopped started again, one brined drop at a time.
The cow path seemed a good compromise. Besides, if one can follow a cow path home is not one obliged to do so? Seems to me that choosing otherwise might be considered provocation by whatever gods watch over rusticated footworn fools like myself, so I tripped one heavy boot in front of the other and let the cows lead me home. I don’t need no more trouble. I know when to be good.
I was tired because of haying; over the previous two days, we’d put up nearly 2000 square bales, never mind 34 round bales that needed gathering and transporting and rolling into the high drive of Melvin’s barn. In all, it was maybe 125,000 pounds of hay, give or take a few ounces. And most of it stacked twice, first on the wagon behind the baler, then into the barn nine and ten bales high, so high you have to design ladders into the stack so you can reach the uppermost rows. Not all by ourselves – don’t get me wrong, we’re not heroes, just idiots – but still and all, it’s heavy work, haying. There’s no way around it. Many hands make it less heavy, but it is never light and we are always as ready for it to be over as we were for it to begin. Isn’t that strange? How you can so look forward to something and then so look forward to its end? Sometimes I think what we were looking forward to all along was the end itself and with it the knowing we have another year of feed under tin. We have bought ourselves another year of butter and beef and shit and honesty.
Why do I say honesty? Because putting up 2000 square bales is honest work. Because Melvin putting off his own chores to help us put the last few acres into rounds because the forecast changed and we lost of day of sun is honest. Because us helping Melvin with his bales the next morning because he did chores late the night before because he was helping us with our bales is honest. Because making butter is honest. Because milking on a 20 below morning in January in an unheated pole barn while your cow munches contentedly on the hay you put up six months prior is honest. Most things in this world, you can make ‘em dishonest if you try just a little. These things, you cannot. Or maybe I’m just not smart enough to figure out how.
By the time I’d followed the cow path to where it dumps into Melvin’s big hayfield and by the time I’d walked halfway across that hayfield to where I could see the roof of our house, my sweat had flowed and stopped yet again. Tired. So damn tired. But I could smell that uniquely sweet scent of fresh-baled hay wafting up from our barn. I could look behind me and just see the dark line of the cow path beat into the dirt. I was tired enough that for a second, I questioned if that was where I’d really come from. Looking backwards it seemed illogical, like so many things do. Maybe I should turn back to find proof of my passing. There’d be boot prints in the dust.
But why? That would be stupid. Anyway, by tomorrow they’ll be gone.
June 19, 2014 § 30 Comments
Yesterday when I went to add Peter Gray’s blurb to the sidebar on the right I noticed this blog just went over a half-million page views. I don’t really know if that’s a lot or not; it sure seems like a fair bit to me, but someone once told me that Amanda gets something like a gazillion views per month. I have no idea if that’s truth or rumor, but I do know that the times she’d linked to my page, my traffic has gone lunar. Funny thing, though: None of them seem stick around very long. Maybe I need to start sewing my own dresses.
I stopped monitoring my traffic about the time I realized I never want to sell ads. Indeed, deciding I never want to sell ads was in some part dictated by my decision that I never want to feel beholden to growing this space beyond what it wants to be. That’s not to say I don’t care about having readers, because I do. I just don’t want to care about having readers more than I care about feeling free to write whatever I want, whenever I want. I suspect if I was a bit more strategic, I could figure out what sort of subjects attract the most readers. I’d probably figure out that using words like “ain’t” and “geezum” and writing about my sons shooting guns and eating beaver and furthermore admitting to my affinity for men-children like Van Halen and Motorhead aren’t doing much for my rep. Actually, they’re probably doing a lot. It’s just not good. By-the-by, as proof that my musical tastes are not obsessively childish, I offer this recording of our friends. Now if that don’t make you feel lucky to be livin’…
In any event. A half-million page views. I guess it’s a milestone, though of course it’s also just another number. Either way, it’s an opportunity to thank all of you who have supported this space, either materially, or simply by reading and maybe commenting.
So, thank you. It means a lot.
June 18, 2014 § 9 Comments
It’s down to meat, greens, and eggs, for the most part. A little milk, too, but not much since Apple hasn’t yet freshened and Pip’s only giving us a half-gallon or so each morning and the fellas have that polished off before it even cools. Before it even makes it to the fridge, most mornings. The berries are gone. Kimchi, gone. Potatoes, gone. Onions, gone. No carrots yet. For breakfast, we eat eggs and bacon and steamed nettles. For lunch, steak and salad. For dinner, leftover steak and salad. Rinse and repeat, maybe throw a bit of lamb or the occasional chicken into the mix for the hell of it. A smidge of bread here and there, usually piled thick with pate. We’ve got enough pate to survive the zombie apocalypse and the beautiful thing about that is that hardly no one else likes the stuff so we don’t even have to bother with the razor wire and booby traps.
It’s a slimming diet, I’ll tell you that much. I’m down two belt holes in just the past month, the larded paunch that came upon me over the winter melting away one footstep at a time as I hump my diminishing self over hill and dale chasing a yearling heifer that seems unfazed by the 4,000 volts pulsing through the fence that is supposed to keep her contained. Confounded thing. Yesterday we finally corralled the beast, got a halter on her (no simple thing, let me tell you) and taught her a thing or two about electricity. Lo and behold, she wasn’t out this morning. Hopefully, the lesson will stick. Otherwise, the freezer awaits. We hath no mercy for self-liberating bovine.
It’s a funny time of year, food wise. We’re caught in the annual gap between the bottom of our freezers and the productive capacity of our crops and so are eating in the margins. There is a certain comforting sameness to it; frankly, there’s just less to think about when your choices are so limited. But on the other hand, we’re all ready for a bit more diversity. Yesterday, in a fit of weakness (or maybe just sheer hunger) I stopped at the village grocer on my way home from little tractor job and bought an ice cream sandwich. By the time I’d motored the rest of the way down Main St (and a veeeery short Main St, at that), I’d devoured the whole damn thing and even licked the dribble that’d run down my forearm, tasting not just the sugary confection, but the salt of my own sweat, a bit of softwood pitch, and something that I’m hoping won’t make me ill over the coming days.
What I’d really like, to be perfectly honest, is a ripe tomato. Some fresh blueberries. A cup of cream, with slug of maple syrup. Have you ever drunk a cup of cream with a slug of maple syrup? And I don’t mean just any cream, but cream so thick it won’t pour; you have to spoon it into the glass. And I don’t mean just any syrup, but the batch of syrup you took a little too far, so it sort of sinks into the cream in its own little distillate ball, an egg in its nest.
Now I stop, for I am beginning to feel deprived and I do not like feeling deprived. For lunch I will eat my burger and my lettuce and I will do so if not exuberantly, then at least in the absence of outright resentment. I will remember that my shot of cream and syrup are only days away, maybe a week at most. I will remember the day that happens every late July or early August, when the boys come running back from the blueberries with the first half-ripe specimens in their hands. I will recall the first tomato of last year, how I snitched it right from the vine and didn’t even share. You want to take the true measure of a man? It’s what he does with the first ripe tomato. Now you know.
I will even remember licking cheap melted ice cream from my arm as I putted down the Main Street of Cabot, Vermont yesterday afternoon. I ran my tongue from elbow to wrist and then right up to the tips of my fingers where little bits of brownie fuzz had stuck in the small folds of my skin.
Damn. It was good. It was real good.
June 17, 2014 § 8 Comments
The days pass so quickly they feel liquid. One minute we’re waking up, the next we’re tucking in and whatever happened in between already feels as if it happened in another life. Maybe even to someone else.
We do not mind. Winter was hard and spring long and for months we pined for exactly what we’re getting now: Days of almost unfathomable beauty, everything green and fertile, the animals fattening on good grass and the crops pushing skyward by what seems like inches per day. Later this week, if the forecast holds, we’ll fill the barn with the first cutting of hay, the first real harvest of the season. It is always a relief to see the barn filled, though the funny thing is that I never know I needed to be relieved of anything until I am. An old-timer once told me he can’t enjoy summer until both his woodshed and his barn are full. I wouldn’t go quite so far as that, but I understand the sentiment.
That is all for today. My head is not in the writing game at the moment and I’m not inclined to force it. There are times for that, to be sure. But with the gleeful immediacy of all that wants doing beyond my office window and my own need to get out there and do it, right now is not one of them.