Archive for August, 2016

Work That Means Something

Friday, August 26th, 2016

kindling1Today I was carrying some cedar kindling from the bed of the Scout into the outbuilding and stacking it up for winter. This is a final step in a long process. I ordered a 10 cord load of cedar logs some years ago so I could process them on my sawmill as I needed them for building projects in the Estivant Pines. This summer I’ve produced the materials needed to get started on a bridge over a creek up in the pines. This is a big job I’ve been thinking about for many years. Several weeks ago, about 5 of us met up at the pines and got a couple of sections of the bridge constructed.

Making all that cedar lumber generated a lot of cedar slabs. I was in a hurry to get the lumber made, so I just let the slabs pile up. Today I started stacking them on my sawbuck, cutting them with the chainsaw, splitting them and tossing them into the back of the Scout. When full, I pulled it over to the outbuilding and started stacking. I have a lot more cedar to cut for this project, so there will be lots more cutting, splitting and stacking before winter sets in. I have to admit I do several double takes as the lovely pile of kindling grows. Starting fires in the winter is so much easier if a good supply of dry kindling is available, and I now have several years worth tucked away.

As often happens with me, while I’m doing this mindless sort of work, I start telling stories to myself. I reminisced about my childhood in a suburb near Lansing, Michigan. I had a bike and some buddies in the neighborhood, but my Mom seldom allowed me to play with my friends. There was TV to watch, and the dishes to help with after supper (how I hated that chore!), but one thing that stood out in my memories was how disconnected I felt from the actual economy of the household.

Both my parents lived on acreage when they were children. There were cows, chickens, a big garden, hay fields, and barns. The families were larger, and everyone was expected to help. When the hay was cut it was stacked in the barn, and it fed the draft animals and cows all winter. Milk that was gathered twice each day wound up on the dinner table. Eggs fresh from the hen house, and sometimes the hens themselves wound up on the supper table. There was very little mystery where the food came from. The work that the children did during the day manifested itself into a plate that was passed around the supper table. I think this sort of household economy was the norm when my parents were growing up. Many of the things consumed by the household had little or no component in the money economy.

kindling2Fast forward to my childhood where there were no livestock or draft animals. The house was heated with fuel oil, which fed a mysterious machine in the basement. We kids gave little or no thought to this machine. It never failed to do what it was supposed to do, and we were always warm inside the house. Hot water came out of the tap, again fueled by a mysterious machine in the basement. Food came from the grocery store, which my Mom prepared for the one family meal we had each day, supper. We youngsters were told to help with this or that chore, which we reluctantly did. Doing so often interfered with a rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies, or Gilligan’s Island. Almost everything we did depended on money, which was my Dad’s responsibility to bring home. Again, this was largely a mystery to us. We knew Dad worked, but the connection between that and the food and warmth we enjoyed was largely a mystery to us.

Perhaps this is why a simple project like working from cedar log to lumber to slab to kindling is so satisfying for me. Perhaps I missed something fundamental when I was growing up; the connection between labor and comfort, and the fact that my labor was necessary for the functioning of the family. I was sullen when I was asked to do any chores, I think, because I saw no connection between what I did and a tangible benefit to myself.

I went on to wonder if raising children in an environment similar to ours produces “better” children? Are they more confident that they can take care of themselves? Do they understand that no matter what happens to them in the “real” world, that there is always a place that is warm with food in the cupboard; a place where their labor would be welcomed? I think I’ve lived my life with a distrust of money. I’ve lived such that if money would suddenly become meaningless, as it has in many foreign economies in my own lifetime, that we could at least survive. People in cities that depend entirely on having their food and warmth delivered to them would suffer greatly if these services were interrupted for any length of time. Whereas I’d still have my kindling pile.

Deer!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Alice and I have participated in the Annual Midwest Crane Count for many years. It happens annually in early April. We commit to getting up very early on that Saturday morning, driving to our site, and standing quietly for several hours watching and listening for Sandhill Cranes. We have a data sheet with us on which we mark the calls we hear and the direction they came from, or the sightings. Ours and hundreds of other volunteers’ data are then entered online, and the International Crane Foundation folks get a good snapshot of how many cranes there are and where they are on their migration.

Besides being a tiny part of an important data collection effort, Alice and I spend several hours standing still on a morning in early spring. We always are surprised at how interesting it is to stand quietly and watch the world wake up. Besides our cranes, we often see lots of other birds, deer, and people who drive by slowly and wonder “what the heck those people are doing?” Over the years we’ve done this we’ve also developed a great affection for Sandhill Cranes.

Due to some health issues, we were unable to participate in this year’s crane count. We’ve made several trips down to Green Bay and back, including one just a few days ago. This one involved the 4 hour drive to Green Bay, a couple of hours at the doctor’s office, and then 4 hours back home. We were both pretty tired when we got home at the end of that day.

On the way down, I was in the pilot seat of the car, and Alice ran the navigation station. One place she really excels is spotting deer on the road. I’ll be tooling down the road thinking about this and that when I hear, “DEER!” I’ll look up and sure enough, a deer is looking our way and contemplating a leap into the front of our car. My habit is to slow down and tap my horn until the deer decides to move out of the way. We’re still cautious, though, because there are often other deer nearby that could also jump in front of the car.

Just this side of Crystal Falls on the drive south, the familiar DEER! alarm sounded, and sure enough there were a couple of figures lurking in the road. As we got closer, we saw they were not deer. I slowed down and tapped the horn, and the animals moved off the road. It turned out they were Sandhill Cranes… two of them. There was a third laying dead on the road. The two living birds were reluctant to leave the road, but as we got closer, they did move. One was quite a bit larger than the other, leading us to believe that the one that had been killed was one of the parents, leaving the other parent and this year’s chick.

We swerved around the dead bird and continued on our way for a very short time. Something made me pull over to the side of the road and stop. If I didn’t do something, the other two birds would surely walk back into the road, imperiling their lives. After a few seconds, I did a U turn, pulled over to the shoulder next to the dead bird and got out of the car. One of the living birds was staring at me about 40′ from the side of the road. The other had hidden in the brush further away. There were some loud vocalizations.

With as much respect as I could muster, and with some moisture in my eyes, I grabbed the still warm legs of the dead bird, and moved it well off the road into the brush. My thinking was the grieving birds would no longer have to stand in the road over their dead family member, and would thus be safer. After doing what I could do, we got back into the car, did another U turn, and continued on our way to Green Bay.

It was a solemn drive. I was touched by how these birds were reacting to the death of their family member. I am often skeptical when people tell me that animals do not feel grief like we do. The disbelief and pain was palpable when I faced the two surviving birds.

On our way back home, I did locate the approximate place where the dead bird was located. I didn’t slow down but did look onto the side of the road, and did not see any live birds. I figured that by this time they must have moved along. Dusk was painting the sky near the horizon. A few minutes further down the road, I saw the unmistakable silhouette of two cranes flying. It was unlikely they were our birds, but I saluted them anyway. Life can be so fraught with danger. One minute all is normal, and the next minute a scary loud machine ends the life of the parent/mate that has been with you for so long. But you have to face the fact they aren’t continuing with you on your journey. You’ll have to spread your magnificent wings and continue your journey. Safe travels my friends.

Stick Your Head in There

Friday, August 19th, 2016

garden1Harvest time of the year helps the creative juices flow. Perhaps it is the quality of the food we get that helps lubricates the rusty gears. We’ve been harvesting in dribs and drabs for some time now, but the tide has recently turned, and the garden is officially gushing. It is lucky that Alice knows how to process all this good food, because even with determined eating, I doubt we could keep up if we tried.

Harvesting food makes me think about money, and how completely most of us have embraced this strange system. I’ve been hungry in my life, and thirsty, and cold. When these primal feelings hit you, money is the least of your concerns. You don’t think about what a pizza costs, you just want that pizza. A good garden allows one to bypass at least a portion of the money system. It seems like magic when you are doing it, but harvesting food is reality, while money is the magic something we’ve made up to get us out of bed in the morning.

I wonder if that isn’t part of the satisfaction I get from our lifestyle. For most of my life, I’ve not trusted the financial system we’ve become a part of. So when I can grow some of my own food, and not depend on the trucks arriving at Walmart, I feel more self sufficient. When I walk by my completed woodpile, smell it and feel it, I know that come what may, we will likely not be cold this coming winter. It’s like the feeling I get when I take my first step down a trail with a loaded backpack. As long as I’ve planned correctly, I’ll be good until I pop off the trail on the other end.

garden2Our garden is doing its best to become 3 dimensional. Cucumbers, pole beans, and squash all love to climb, and climb they do. I’ve planted the cukes and pole beans next to each other, and given each their own trellis. But do you think they’re satisfied? Noooooo! The cukes are climbing the bean trellis, and the beans are wrapping around the cukes, python style. In order to get the food out of there, I have to stick my head right inside the green jungle.

The rewards are large. I get the sights and smells of this tropical paradise when I get down on my knees and poke my head around. And I find hidden treasure… a cuke that has escaped my notice for several days, a trove of green beans dangling seductively behind a green curtain. My “shopping bag” fills to bulging and I drag it inside and dump it on the kitchen counter. There will be fresh veggies for salads, frozen ones for the main course, and cooled ones like onions and potatoes most of the winter.

If you have a spot of land, I encourage you to plant a garden. Especially when the news we receive about world events is depressing. I challenge you to stay discouraged when you pick a perfect tomato off a plant you’ve watered, weeded, and trained all summer. And that first bite! Oh Momma!

What Franco Must Think

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Owning a smart dog changes you. They spend a lot of time looking at you, and you have to wonder what is going on inside that brain. I have bonded with my dog, so I probably assign thoughts to his brain that are anthropomorphic. So be it. I accept my limitations.

One thing that doesn’t seem to fail to catch me in the gut is to be travelling someplace and come upon a clearcut forest. What was once a functioning ecosystem has been turned into what looks like a trash pit. Modern forestry equipment is so efficient that a large swatch of forest can be “converted” in a very short time. I often have to look away as I think about the critters that depended on that forest that now have to find a new home.

francoThis feeling in my gut got me to thinking about a habit Franco has developed. When I cut the grass, Franco spends the time outside with me. In the beginning, he follows along with the mower and sometimes tries to bite at the front tires (bad dog!) At his age, this only lasts a few laps around the lawn, after which he finds a place to lie down where he can watch my progress. What I find interesting about the place he chooses to lie down is he always picks a place where I haven’t mowed yet.

As the circle of cut grass I’m making gets smaller and smaller, this means he has to get up and move pretty often. It he’d only lie down on a cut portion of the grass, he wouldn’t have to move. Astride my mower, I think about things like this, and imagine Franco thinking about my clearcutting of the lawn.

Maybe he is lying on the uncut part because he doesn’t like the smell of sheared plants, which the mowed part must be spewing in great quantities. Maybe he knows about the lawn-loving critters that had made the tall grass their homes, only to be evicted by my violent behavior with the mower. Looking into Franco’s eyes, I feel he isn’t judging me too harshly when viewing my lawn butchering. I think he knows that even though he loves these special humans, he’ll never understand what motivates us to do the irrational things we do. And that seems to be ok with him. I admire and try to emulate that outlook.