Monday, December 29, 2008

A Farmer Joke

So, after the end of the busy growing season, the farmer does this huge house-cleaning, puts everything away, and fixes all the loose screws, worn weather stripping, dripping faucets, etc. The house looks great. Everything has a place, and is in its place, and works properly.

"There!" says the farmer. "All done! Now that I've finally gotten caught up with all the defered mainenance that I've been needing to do for the past few years, it will be easy to keep it looking this nice next growing season."

If that doesn't have you rolling on the floor with laughter, you probably aren't a farmer.

A Fabulous Feast

Today was JL's last day at the least until her return next summer, after studying sheep in New Zealand for 6 months. Not even this summer of too many graves has discouraged her from pursuing her dream.

Since it was coincidentally JF's monthly work day for her long-distance apprenticeship, we decided to celebrate JL's departure with a feast. I also realized it's been pretty close to a year since EF started volunteering here. So it turned into an awards banquet, of sorts. Families were invited; we ended up with 8 people including JF's children.

I did some prep and a little cooking ahead of time: Boiled the eggs for the devilled eggs; made meringues for desert; made a fresh batch of mayonnaise including freshly laid egg yolks left over from the meringues; gathered ingredients; made sure the rack of lamb and the applesauce I put up this summer were thawing. I filled pitchers with water, checked the ice supply, made a batch of spearmint tea to chill in the garage overnight.

Mainly, I cleaned the house!

This morning I got up and started the bread machine about 9 a.m. (whole wheat bread from flour grown and processed in western Kansas, seasoned with garlic, basil, oregano and sage from the garden). Then I started the roast, and began cleaning and cutting the veggies carrots dug aweek ago, right before the single-digit weather set in, and potatoes harvested a few weeks ago, and onions grown my my hay supplier a couple miles away) that would later join it in the roaster.

Folks started coming, and as planned we completed the meal prep together. After a long season of working together in the sheep shed and the garden, working together in the kitchen came easily. We made a grated carrot salad seasoned with ginger my mom grew in her greenhouse; we took tour of the garden and scrounged a surprising variety of salad stuff from under the row covers despite the recent arctic temperatures; the last package of frozen rooster turned into the chicken stock base of the leek-and-potato soup; the devilled eggs were completed with the homemade mayo and popped right back in the fridge; jars of Dilly Green Tomato pickles and Pepper Relish that Mom made from my veggies were opened and put in dishes; chestnuts from a friend who planted his chestnut orchard about the same time I started my farm were slashed prior to roasting; the kids and other bystanders took turns shaking a pint of heavy whipping cream in a glass jar to make the butter for the bread. Pinwheel Farm honey turned out to be a popular topping for the herbed bread, with a thick layer of homemade butter to keep it from soaking into the bread.

What more could we want? JL brought a pumpkin pie she'd made, I believe with one of those pumpkins we got from the neighbor awhile back.

It was a memorable feast, and a wonderful demonstration of the kind of meals that one small farm could produce for its people.

After the meal, it was my extreme pleasure to commend each of these wonderful dedicated volunteers for their work and learning this year. JL and EF received sheepskins as tokens of my appreciation for their work. I really could not have done it without them this year. JF received felt ball kits to share with her family; she's just been with the farm since June, and can only come once every three weeks because of the distance.

The most remarkable thing to me is that each of these folks deliberately set aside time from already busy, demanding lives to come work and learn here. EF is a fairly young full-time college student communting from near KC to KU; he unfailingly has done evening chores 6 days a week for the past year with only a few days off AND managed to keep up his grades in a demanding school schedule. JL worked a busy job, and in addition to coming to the farm 3 or more times a week, managed to complete the Growing Growers apprenticeship program which meant attending out of town workshops at inconvenient times once a month. I told her when she started that I would reimburse the GG program fee she had paid if she completed the GG program AND stuck with her work commitment to the farm until after the Holiday Sale in Dec., and I was happy to do so today.

Many other people worked this year--whether for a day or for months--to make it such a great year for the farm...and to make it possible for me to work full-time in addition to keeping the farm going. For various reasons, some could not make it to today's feast. But if they read this, they should know that their efforts are deeply appreciated. I hope to reward each of them in due time, when I see them again.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are great feasts, but neither means as much to me as this one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cricket on the Hearth

I believe it is either the Chinese or the Japanese who believe that a cricket on the hearth is good luck. When I was a child, we used to get the most exquisite little bamboo cricket cages from an oriental gift store...sort of an exotic version of Woolworths. Apparently you were supposed to track down your good luck omen and imprison it just to be sure. Hm...not quite my style.
So I was delighted to have this little harbinger of blessings appear on the hearth by the woodstove this morning. It's a camel cricket, very different in appearance from the classic black field cricket that chirps so annoyingly in the fall. These delicate creatures with shiny wingless hunched backs and long threadlike antennae generally live in the basement or outbuildings. This past month is the first time I've seen them on the main floor. They are carnivorous, and not as likely to eat holes in fabrics as the field crickets do.

Slow Food, Slow LIVING?

I've followed with interest the emerging Slow Food movement...a hint of sanity in the desertification of American Foodways, and increasing wasteland of nutrition-free fast foods, junk foods, snack foods, etc.

And of course you've heard me rant about the myth of "simple living". Of course, it's hard to really know WHAT to call it. But "everyone" (at least everyone of a certain mindset) knows exactly what I mean if I say "simple living", and those who have tried it, like me, will give an ironic chuckle or roll their eyes.

Today I had an insight: Perhaps what we are really seeking is a more holistic extension of "slow food"--in other words, "slow living".

The Slow Food idea is to start at the beginning, whatever you determine the beginning to be--somewhere before the grocery store, at any rate. Either growing it yourself or getting it directly from the person who grew it. Then preparing it yourself. To skip the "quick and easys" and the "pre-cooked" and the "instant", and recall the way of "doing" food that was really the only option less than 100 years ago.

Slow Living, then, would be to not only grow your food, but also to knit your socks, sew your clothes, provide your own transportation with your feet or a bicycle, use snail mail to keep in touch with friends, mow your grass with an unmotorized reel mower, make your own music or attend live performances, etc. And beyond that, to do so in an unhurried fashion. To skip the stress of wanting to acheive too much in too little time. To forego trying to be in too many places at once.

Obviously this is not something I have managed to put together in any cohesive fashion, or I wouldn't be blogging at 1 a.m. with a host of undone housework, bookwork, value added production, fall planting, etc. lurking in the background. But at least I've learned a lot of the skills. I have a puzzle picture, and now I have most of the pieces, I just need to figure out how to put them together to make the picture. I'm confident I'll get there in my own slow time. That's one of the important puzzle pieces, I think: learning to be content with slow progress.

As I listen to the radio now and then, gleaning glimpses of the economy beyond my own property lines, I find I am not too worried. I think I HAVE done well at planning a way of life and a business that will weather economic storms better than average, and perhaps even thrive. And I think that others may come to appreciate my approach more, through their own struggles. I already see a definite trend in people wanting to learn the "slow living" skills I have, in pursuit of their own dreams of a "slow life".

This Sunday will be a special "Slow Food/Slow Living" event at Pinwheel Farm, a private banquet of a dizzying array of farm-grown and locally-grown foods prepared by and for my key 2008 apprentices and volunteers. In addition to learning how to grow food, they've developed related skills they probably never imagined, like hitching a trailer, basic building skills, managing water systems in cold weather, knot tying, etc. They've been a great group to work with, and I'm looking forward to honoring them for this past season's efforts and to working with many of them in the coming season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Upcoming Event: Bird Tree Day 2008 #2

Generally Bird Tree Days are after Christmas, during the school break. But the other day I just had the feeling that we needed to plan one for next weekend, the 21st. A nice way to celebrate the winter solstice. Also, my daughter will be gone over Christmas Break for a study-abroad program in Ghana, and she loves to participate.

So, anyone who wishes is welcome to join us from 2 to 4 next Sunday to make edible decorations for the towering Douglas fir tree in the front yard. It will pretty much be the same deal as the one we had last winter. Chances are we'll have another one after Christmas at some point.

I'll appreciate RSVPs in order to have enough cocoa on hand. Leave a message at 979-6786, or email

Bring your own mug if possible, so we don't have to break out the styrofoam ones. We'll supply popcorn, crackers, peanut butter, etc. for both decorations and snacking, but feel free to bring other stuff too.

Catching up...

Hard to believe it has been nearly a month since I've posted! I think I'll be able to write more often for awhile now that things are slowing down for the winter.

Today was the last major "marketing event" of the season...the Farmer's Market Holiday Sale. It seemed to be a bit slower than last year, but better than I'd feared. A good solid end to the season. This was the first year I've had vegetables, and several other vendors also had a variety of greens and root crops. Leeks sold out early on, and all I brought home veggie-wise was Jerusalem Artichokes.

I would have had more salad stuff, but I've been exploring a supplier relationship with a major local institution, and much of my "post season" produce has gone to them as we get a feel for the details of delivery, packaging, and other logistics...and I whet the chef's appetite for excellent locally grown veggies! The really exciting thing about this opportunity is that THEY came to me seeking assistance in procuring local produce. So I got to skip the "cold call" part of the marketing which I HATE. They are well-informed about the benefits of buying local produce: keeping their food dollars circulating within their community to create more financial stability here; increased food security in case of natural disaster, economic or infrastructure upset, or other disruption of the complicated logistics of hauling in food from around the globe; and of course better nutrition and taste. You will be hearing more about this relationship as it unfolds.

Where have I been lately? Recall that one of my last posts was about the bathroom improvement project. This has pretty well consumed my "spare" time and then some, including many pleasant nights of puttering until 2 or 3 in the morning. It is coming along nicely, and the fixtures are all back in service, and the tile floor is fabulous. There are just so many little details and challenges in the finishing touches. An entire evening ended up being devoted to hanging a dumpster-dived new-in-the-package towel bar. I wanted it on the bottom of the wall-hung cabinet, rather than the wall, as it is much less cluttered that way. Six screws, no big deal, done in 10 minutes, right? But the original screws were a fraction of an inch too long (trip to the hardware store), and the mounting holes were difficult to reach (ended up installing several screws with an off-set screw driver, 1/4 turn at a time working upside down), and holding the long rod while fidgeting with all this involved a precarious system of bar clamps, and trying not to drop anything heavy on the "new" sink. Eventually there will be pictures....

A steady schedule of work with both new and seasoned apprentices continues. We're still doing our 5:00 Thursday "livestock seminars" regularly, though it is pretty much dark by the time we're done. Lots of details on keeping the livestock supplied with liquid water, as the weather becomes more wintery: Draining hoses, thawing "drained" hoses, reviewing draining hoses; understanding and managing the frost-free hyrants to protect them from freeze damage; dealing with leaking quick-connect hose fittings (colored washers are better than black ones because there is less likelihood of someone mistakenly putting a new washer over an old one); troubleshooting stock tank heaters and their associated electrical cords, GFI-protected receptacles, etc.

Plus, we've finally dug the last of the potatoes, pulled all the tomato cages out of the ground (we can clean dead vines off them any time on a sub-zero day, but they have to be out of the ground before it freezes up for the winter, covered the fig trees, spread dozens of bags of leaves on various areas so we can start the spring weed-free, etc. Good satisfying progress, but oh-so-busy!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins

uFor a couple weeks around Halloween, I ran an ad: "Wanted--old pumpkins." Thought maybe I'd get a few retired jack'o'lanterns to feed the chickens. No response.

Or, at least I was consoling myself that the ad only cost $4, because I hadn't gotten a single call.

And then the phone rang. A nearby market gardener with a farm stand & small pumpkin patch. He'd seen my ad, it just took awhile to get around to calling. He had about 70 pumpkins left over he was sick and tired of looking at. Did I want some?

It happened to be Thursday, the day my apprentices come for a weekly teaching session. So, the lesson was pumpkins.

We loaded over 100 pumpkins on the truck, piled high above the bed. Really too many for the springs, but it was less than 2 miles to travel, and we didn't have time for a second trip. Topic of conversation while loading was reiterating a conversation I'd had with my mentors when I first started envisioning my farm.

We started the conversation by going over some of my personal strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, then moved on to aspirations. I thought it would be great fun to have a pumpkin patch.

"Wait a minute...didn't you mention one of your limitations is no health insurance?"

"Yeah, what does that have to do with pumpkins?"

"They weigh a lot. Hard on your back. Easy to hurt yourself, then you'd have medical expenses."

So scratch that idea. They did have a point--I should focus on small, light, high-value crops that would give me a good return and capitalize on my penchant for detail work.

The apprentices and I agreed that this was very good advice. Loading them on the truck once was about enough...oh, yeah, and then we unloaded them at the barn. But growing them we would have handled each one many more times than that between field and customer.

Never mind that pumpkins are difficult to grow in this area because of squash bugs, unless you use some sort of insecticide. We also have a squash vine borer moth. Cucurbits are not one of our specialties.

So we have approximately 100 pumpkins, weighing an average of 15 lbs. each. Now what?

Smashing pumpkins, of course.

The rotten ones we immediately threw into the chicken coop. They are enjoying picking out the flesh from the hard rinds.

And a new part of our sheep feeding chores is to divide a pumpkin between the the breeding subgroups. Here's the current method:

1. Lay the monster wood splitting maul blade up on top of an old bedsheet on the barn floor.

2. Choose a pumpkin from the pile and spike it down on top of the maul a couple times. This breaks it into a few large chunks.

3. Wipe off the maul and put it aside.

4. Hack at the chunks with the machete until the whole pumpkin has been reduced to pieces less than 4" square. Helpful hint: aim your blow at the ground under the chunk of pumpkin, and the additional momentum (compared to aiming for the visible surface of the piece) and the increase in effectiveness will astound you. This works for hammering nails, too.)

5. Wipe off the machete and hang it up.

6. Gather up the sheet and pour the pumpkin pieces into a 5 gallon bucket.

7. Divide chunks among sheep, tossing them over the fence.

The sheep quickly learned that pumpkins are delicious, and will even leave their alfalfa hay for them. Pumpkins supply extra vitamins and minerals in their diet. Plus they're free, and the sheep really like them. Plus it's kind of fun hacking them up! Good exercise and machete practice.

It will be interesting to see how long into the winter they'll keep in the barn without turning to mush. We'll probably bed them down with hay to insulate them soon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Mysterious Sight

Apprentice J. and I walked the farm this morning, exploring various deep questions like "Do feral Jerusalem Artichokes produce tubers after being crowded by brome and grazed by sheep for 10 years? (yes, though smaller and fewer than the pampered new varieties we planted in the garden this year) and "How big does a tree have to be before sheep won't girdle it? (depends on the type of tree and the texture of the bark).

Looking out to the willow row from the garden, I noticed something gleaming white in one of the willows, quite high off the ground. I pointed it out to J., and we walked back to see what it was. My best guess was mushrooms...possibly edible.

We walked out there, but couldn't see it from below the trees. J. walked far off and looked back, guiding me to stand under the proper tree. Eventually I spotted it, high up in the branches, as J. walked back from her far-off vantage point. I started laughing.

"Can you see what it is?" I asked.

"Not from here, what is it?" She replied.

"A sheep's jawbone stuck in the crotch of a limb, about 20 feet above the ground."


I don't have a clue how it got there. Raccoon is my best guess.

This is a true story. The jawbone is still there, as far as I know.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

At midnight (not accounting for the time change) I walked from the house to out behind the barn, by the garden. It's been a radiant autumn day, in the 70's, a flawless sky spread above vibrant yellow and red trees. Now it is cooler, but still pleasant in light pants and a sweater. The stars gleam brightly above, but a veil of mist begins to blur the margins of the farm. By morning there will be thick, obscuring fog.

But now, a nice point of view: the heavens stand out sharply, in clear focus, while the worldly things fade into the enveloping fog.

I walk a little ways without turning the headlamp on, and the pale mist throws a black shape on the path into contrast: Ambrosius the Fine Cat greets me with dignity and assumes his right to ride on my shoulder, purring contentedly. I purr back. It is indeed a lovely evening, made even more perfect by a wonderful feline companion.

But what could have compelled me to leave the bright house and venture out to the farmyard so soon before bedtime?

The outhouse, still not quite complete but approved for service by the Health Dept...the first in some 25 or 30 years in this county.

In recent months I've been increasingly aware of a certain dampness near the base of the toilet, and finally determined that I really did need to address the resetting of the stool while the weather was still pleasant.

Previous leaks had rendered some of the vinyl tile unattractive, to say the least. And it dated back to the 70's, as near as I could tell. A couple years ago, when I tiled the new hearth for the woodstove, I'd observed that the bathroom really wasn't much bigger than the hearth, and was inspired to purchase some close-out ceramic tile for the bathroom, "someday".

There is a wonderful children's book called "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" that well describes the dynamic that's been set in place with the bathroom.

Plan of Work:

1. Replace wax seal on toilet. Done. Right?

2. Well, it would be a good opportunity to tile the floor while I have the stool up. 2a. Strip off vinyl flooring. 2b. Research adhesive removers (bathroom floor turned into a giant upside-down sticky note when the vinyl came up with a heat gun). 2c. Get a respirator in order to not sustain permanent lung damage using the Adhesive Remover. 2d. Scrub entire floor with AR. Vacate premises for awhile, while it airs out.

3. Removing stool reveals significant damage to subflooring and sub subflooring. 3a. Learn to do plunge cuts with a circular saw. 3b. Cut patch for subfloor, a jigsaw puzzle shape because of old floor joints and the dynamics of where the saw will fit around the various pipes. 3c. Realize that sub subfloor needs repaired as well. Figure that out.

4. Notice that the room seems MUCH larger without the ugly old vanity. Shop for "new" wall-hung sink at Habitat for Humanity Restore. Remember I have an old wall-hung sink like that at home already.

5. Notice that the wall behind the fixtures appears to have been sheet-rocked with the window cut-outs from the rest of the house, badly taped, with runs of old paint beaded up behind the vanity. And there's that hole that was never patched from the old medicine cabinet, that the new one didn't quite cover. And an extra electrical outlet (not to mention the stray wire....) appeared when I took the vanity out. 5a. Take down medicine cabinet. 5b. Shop for sheetrock. 5c. Realize that if I'm doing one wall I might as well do the other.....

Meanwhile, I've made enough trips to the outhouse to get back into the routine, though it's been about 17 years since I've lived without an indoor toilet. I do have a "chamber pot" if needed, but each time I head that way, I realize how much more pleasant it would be to walk out to the outhouse without the slop bucket, so I just go do a "direct deposit"....

The project and I are settling into a comfortable long-term friendship. I'm setting no deadlines...thoough the impending winter urges me to keep at it. No deadlines greatly reduces the stress level. I work in little bits and pieces; just fetching a tool counts as completing something worthwhile. It's a nice excuse to talk to Dad on the phone more, picking his brain for bits of construction wisdom.

Several people I've worked with in the past would be pushing me, anxious on my behalf for the project to be finished, hurrying me to answer on each little decision, promoting short cuts. It is nice not having the outside pressure. I've been learning to appreciate my own indirect way of doing things this summer, valuing it for its distinct benefits though others find it frustrating.

The latest issue of The Canadian Friend magazine arrived recently, and I've been browsing the stories as I take my breaks or eat breakfast. I know many of the authors from my stay in Canada, where I "sojourned with Friends" twice for the annual national gathering of Quakers. As I reflect on the descriptions of Quaker worship--sitting quietly, waiting for the Divine Light to shine through the gathered bodies--I come to a new understanding of my way of working at a big project like this.

The time spent sitting and looking at a project, or perusing the shelves at the hardware store, is not procrastination. Nor is it laziness. It is, in fact, a form of prayer and meditation akin to Quaker worship. It is how I open myself to the inspirations I need to bring the project to its most perfect completion. It is a spiritual act of taking in God as my partner in this endeavor.

Of course the end result will not be perfect. But it will be the best I can make it, with God's help. The goal is to do it deeply and soundly. If I succeed in that, it will serve me the rest of my life.

And, after all, its end use will be as a place of prayer and meditation, won't it? Isn't the bathroom so often our mini-retreat space, our place to hide from the clamor and stress of the world and detach from it for a few minutes' sitting or a long hot shower? Isn't it a place of healing and self-care? Shouldn't it be built with the loving craftsmanship I would lavish on a chapel?

Though on a balmy autumn night, it's easy to forget that an indoor toilet is really a necessary part of that. It's hard to argue with stars for a ceiling....

Monday, October 27, 2008


Several weeks ago, I attended a spiritual retreat where there was a strong Canadian connection. It so happened that the event was held on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, in early October, so we feasted on turkey with all the trimmings at our banquet. A tasty foreshadowing of our U.S. Thanksgiving, nearly a month away.

The farm has its own Thanksgiving day, though. It's a date not marked on any calendar, except in retrospect.

Today is Thanksgiving: the first killing frost.

A couple weeks ago, we had a light glimmer of frost a couple nights, and I spent from midnight to 5 a.m. picking tomatoes by the light of my headlamp: about 10 big crates. Today, I picked another 8 crates. Tonight promises to be the real killing frost.

Brought into the garage, they will continue to ripen for quite awhile...whatever I don't sell at Farmer's Market the next two weeks. I'll make everything I can think of (and have time for) with green tomatoes--time permitting. I'll sort through them time and again, making sure that one bad tomatoes doesn't spoil the "barrel".

The photo shows some of the farm's bounty--a combination of stuff pulled out of the fridge on a whim, and stuff waiting to be made into salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. There are tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tat soi (greens), mutton summer sausage, baked potatoes, pickled radishes and jerusalem artichokes, applesauce, garlic, sage, and a small bottle of homemade "V-8" juice.

The colors and textures of the vegetables are so beautiful, more beautiful to me than any painting--partly because they are alive. When kept improperly, or too long, you can see the life go out of them little by little. It is sad, though as inevitable as the yellowing and falling of the autumn leaves. I have to really bite my tongue to keep quiet when housemates store their vegetables in ways that show lack of concern for the well being of the produce.

Am I nuts? No, just a gardener. I cringe at the psychic screams of dessicating plant material. And also I am passionate about nutrition (not that you'd know that by how I feed myself these days.).

As I approch the second anniversary of my repossession of the farm and house after my sabbatical, I've been reflecting a lot on how the farm and I have grown together, how we feed and frustrate one another in so many ways, how connected I am to this land.

How connected? The vitamins and minerals in these vibrant vegetables are about to become my muscles and bones, my very energy. But these nutrients didn't just magically appear in the vegetables. They came from the farm's soil, carried up through the roots by water from the Kansas river and the season's plentiful rain, synthesized by the sun though nearly miraculous processes. From the soil (silt from the river, deposited over hundreds of years) to the plant to my hands to my body.

Dirt farmer...a farmer made of the dirt she farms.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

My bones are the only stones this soil grows.

No wonder I am so strong, so stubborn in my determination to ransom this land from the world's economy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Setting the Captive Free

Driving around in circles on the bus all afternoon, various bits and pieces of earlier conversations bring themselves together in new ways.

The election brings up topics around race and culture, challenging us each to try to see the lenses through which we are seeing...a truly difficult task, maybe impossible, but a measure of our humanity that we at least attempt it.

Did the Civil War end slavery? That it did is a myth supported by our culture, which is in denial about the many various forms of human slavery being carried out in virtually every country throughout the world. Just google the phrase "human trafficking" if you don't believe me.

As the farm teaches me more about the non-human community of life, I view issues such as slavery from an increasingly multi-species viewpoint.

A slave is one person owned by--subjugated by--another. But if we understand "person" to refer to any living being, what does that say about our relationships with other beings? When we buy a dog, a sheep, a plant--what is our relationship with them? When we buy a piece of land--an entire community of life--what is our relationship with it?

As I learn (little by little) to understand and respect the deep wisdom of the community of life here on the farm, I find I cannot consider the farm a mere possession to be bought and sold. I find that it is not a lifeless thing, but rather it is a powerful multitude amongst which I am only one small and limited part. As a whole, it is my equal at least--actually, easily my superior! I am a bumbling toddler wreaking havoc within an elegantly integrated dance of life, thanks to my possession of the unfortunate combination of anthropocentrism and opposable thumbs. Forgive me, Lord, for I know not what I do!

As I grow to understand my practical relationship with my land as a partnership, it becomes harder to understand my financial relationship to it as one of buyer/owner and purchased object. The more I think about it, I can no longer in good conscience say I am purchasing my land.

I am ransoming it.

I am paying the price demanded by those who have held it in servitude, so that I may set it free. If I were purchasing it, the price would be more or less what the land is "worth". But a human being can truly only be assigned a dollar value in the context of slavery. When a person is held hostage, no one believes that the amount of the ransom is that person's actual cash value, because we can't put a cash value on a human life.

Our Constitution declares that we are created equal. There are so many dearly beloved people in my life, on whose lives I could set no price. Therefore, each human being must be priceless, if I am to claim to be humane and just.

We, as a culture, believe in the inalienable right of other people to be free. On this basis we have liberated many human slaves, we have fought innumerable wars. Many of us campaign for women's rights and lgbt rights. We abolished child labor (for the most part) and try to be vigilant against the abuse of children, elders, differently-abled people, etc. No human being can legally be "owned" as a piece of property by another human being, in our country at least.

There are efforts (sadly, many of them misguided, in my humble opinion) to extend these freedoms and rights to various domesticated animals, even though domesticated animals are theoretically "owned" by someone (though who's the boss may be in question in many particular animal-human relationships). But we still acknowledge the existence of "feral" and "wild" animals that are owned by no one. A dog could be purchased and set free, though the kindness of such an action is dubious. We acknowledge a concept of "captivity" for wild animals held forcibly against their will. In many companion animal/human relationships, there is an element of voluntary service on the part of the animal that is "owned"--they choose to stay in the relationship even if given the opportunity to do otherwise. Ambrosious has always taken leave of the farmstead for weeks at a time, hunting in the wilderness area, and returning to bask in front of the fire when it suits him.

But the land itself does not have such a choice. In the U.S., every bit of land--of the natural environment--of God's creation--is deemed property, deeded to someone. So there is really no avenue of setting it free. In our culture land must be owned by someone. It must be an object, not a being. It must be a slave.

So the best I can do is to purchase this land, according to the customs of "my" culture, and then to strive to treat it as though it is not my slave. To treat it as an equal, as a revered teacher, as a community of which I am a part. But this is not truly setting it free.

It is a hard thing to even see--let alone relinquish--the power which "naturally" accrues to the ownership of some"thing". In housemate relationships, it seems impossible for us to live as equals when I hold the title to the house. I am seen as having power even if I don't think I am exercising it. When I put forth an suggestion that a certain course of action is desirable based on my 15 years' experience with this physical structure, compared to someone who has only lived in it a few months, I am seen as having authority based on my ownership, rather than my experience. When I shrug my shoulders and plead ignorance about some entirely new household situation, and seek suggestions from other household members as a community of equals, they express outrage that I don't have all the answers. Since I am the owner, I am supposed to know everything. I am supposed to be in charge. Even if it is an area in which others have more particular expertise, they tend to defer to my ownership. I recognize this ownership in part from the weight of responsibility that I cannot put down.

So I must question myself whenever I purport to speak on behalf of the farm's non-human community of life. I know I am blind to my biases. And a clear mirror in which to study myself is hard to find. At best, I can only turn to the community of life itself as my mirror, and try to see myself reflected in the community's responses to me.

As flawed a spokesperson as I am, I hope I am better than none. And if I must be the slave-holder of this incredible land, let me be a kind and compassionate master.

And thus I am driven to persevere in the sometimes grueling work of both working to earn the ransom for, and caring for, this community of life. I could not sustain this level of motivation to purchase some mere possession–only to ransom some dearly beloved being(s).

Holding Water

A reader notes that they have missed my updates...sometimes that's the kind of feedback it takes to get me back on track.

My life lately has seemed a little like holding this elegantly-marked baby black rat snake that I found under a concrete block near the chicken coop. We are getting a lot more eggs from our 13 remaining hens (from 80 two years ago), now that the weather is cold and this fellow's parents are less active.

Holding this snake was like holding water...impossible. As tight as I could reasonably squeeze with the gloves, it slowly oozed out between my fingers. Getting the picture at all was a real challenge...I had grabbed the snake in my dominant right hand, of course...and the right-handed camera in my left hand. It was almost impossible to hold the camera and activate the shutter button with just my left hand, because cameras are right handed!

I let the snake go in the garage, where I can tell that mice have been visiting. Just the smell of it will discourage them, I hope. It will likely eat crickets, too. Had it ended up straying into the chicken coop, the hens would have had a tasty snack. Perhaps I should let them? The snakes do make it difficult to produce eggs. But, on the other hand, they control rodents and rabbits in the garden and house. I can buy eggs from friends in the summer, when the snakes are active. Rodent control is not so easy.

Note Toss's intense stare and lifted paw. She doesn't point birds, but she points snakes just as a hunting dog would point quail. Luna was intent, as well, but less of a classic point. When a snake is loose on the ground, Toss approaches with the point, hesitantly, step by step, stiff and wary. I call it her "snake dance." It is useful dog body language to know; in other ecosystems it could save me from a venomous snake. We have never found any at the farm.

About life at the farm: Transition after transition, esp. in terms of people. I've been a gypsy in my own home for the past couple months, as people come and go and I shift from room to room. Now everyone is gone and I'm hoping to settle into one room and a better routine. I'll insist that whoever comes next fit themselves around ME, rather than vice versa. People talk about getting less flexible in their "old age"--for me, it is not about age but simply weariness from people constantly changing their minds. I invest time and energy in accommodating and training them, then they leave. For the last month I've been using the computer (laptop) on the floor, waiting to move into the room with the built-in desk and not wanting to move file cabinets twice. Fine for e-mail, but a strained muscle in one shoulder made it very uncomfortable for extended writing.

The death count from internal parasites has soared to 10: a full 1/3 of this year's lamb crop. Very discouraging...probably another reason I haven't written much.

Last week was our first light frost, and I picked tomatoes from midnight to 5 a.m. 12 big crates, compared to last year's 4 or 5. Probably around 500 lbs. of green, red, yellow, orange, pink and striped tomatoes! So far the vines haven't actually frosted, so I probably could have left the fruit on. But, now I don't have to worry about when the killing frost will come...and that night, I was off work the next day and able to sleep in a bit.

We had a great tomato crop this fall, even though we lost a lot to ill-timed rains that caused excessive splitting. If I weren't working off-farm, much of that fruit could have been processed into tomato sauce, but...oh, well. Another year. Just getting crops harvested for market has been a real challenge. Three hours Friday morning is not enough. The apprentices have tried to do some on Friday afternoons but we haven't been able to work together enough for me to train them to be really efficient.

I've also spent a lot of time dealing with bad cell phone reception. A visitor had great reception with a different provider, so I switched to that provider. Alas, I still lost a high percentage of calls. They gave me a different phone, which dropped nearly 100% of calls the first day! This leads me to question why I am using all this technology at all. I got along just fine...and got more real work done...before I went on Sabbatical and came back with the cell phone and internet.
Plans for next season need to be made, but I really can't do much planning until after Election Day. The citizens of Lawrence have to vote themselves a sales tax increase, or the entire public transit system will end Jan. 1, 2009. Whether or not I have a job next year will determine the extent of my farming.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Peace by the Plate-full

A friend expressed that, to her, promoting vegetarianism is an important part of teaching peace. This entry is my reflection on her statement that "peace begins on your plate".

First, I have NOTHING against people choosing to be vegetarian or vegan themselves. I have many respected friends who are one or the other.

Second, for the past 12 years I have chosen to make a significant part of my living through animal husbandry, producing lamb and mutton (for which I personally watch the slaughter in a State-inspected processing facility) and poultry (which I generally slaughter myself with the help of friends); I LOVE eating sanely produced/process meat (and enjoy eating almost ANY meat); and I have a metabolism that simply is not supported by any vegetarian regimen I've tried.

What we eat is a VERY intimate personal matter...right there next to who we have sex with, if you ask me. What we eat is deeply entwined with sense of self, family issues, relationships, cultural traditions, religious celebrations/taboos, etc.

Because it is a very intimate personal matter, I think it is especially important to respect other's boundaries about their foodways. Giving people respect for their choices is an act of peace...whether they are gay or straight, omnivores or vegetarians. To me that means neither criticising nor promoting ANY particular foodway. To me, using any kind of heavy-handed "education with an agenda", emotional appeal, coercion, or persuasion to get people to change cherished foodways or feel guilty about their foodways IS A FORM OF VIOLENCE. It does not promote peace!

I DO believe that large-scale, industrialized meat production often involves practices that are questionable or outright inhumane. I DO believe that animals raised for food (or any other purpose) should be treated with respect and kindness; their basic needs (food, water, shelter, health care, physical safety) should be reasonably met; and they should be handled and slaughtered with a minimum of stress. Likewise, the people who work in the production system should have their needs reasonably met.

I ALSO know that many aspects of producing vegetarian/vegan food involve significant violence, sometimes worse than "animal husbandry done right". Feedlot cattle may less abused than migrant field workers...and farm workers in this country may be far better treated than those in others. Ecosystems and indigenous cultures are devastated to raise cash crops, both here and overseas. Nearly all vegetable production--even organic--depends on huge amounts of fossil fuels, contributing to the on-going bloodbath in the Middle East.

When I started raising sheep, I asked the folks at the little family owned processing plant if I could watch the slaughter. They and the inspector were fine with that. That led to me getting a job working in the plant, and it was really the most peaceful workplace I've ever been in...lots of respect and no horseplay. Over the years, several inspectors and I have commented that we would choose the same quick end for our own lives if we could, when it's our time to go, rather than all the gruesome, painful, lingering "natural" deaths people die. "Violence" in a sheep's life is any other death--predators, bloat, disease, parasites, etc.

I recently heard that castration and docking may be banned in some areas because they are considered violent or cruel. Whoever makes that judgment has not seen the suffering of an animal from the consequences of NOT being docked or castrated, as I have experienced. It is like the pain of a vaccine injection for a child, to prevent terrible illnesses later in life.

People who are not involved in animal agriculture really have no grounds for passing judgment based on relatively few tragic stories, propaganda, and hearsay.

I do agree that "peace begins on your plate". How? Eat ANYTHING you like--personal peace begins with a full stomach and happy tastebuds! (The intense, insatiable hunger I experience on a rice-dominated diet does not make me peaceful, it makes me violently grouchy!) Community peace begins with enough food for everyone, potlucks where all foodways are shared (with labels to guide those with allergies, religious restrictions, or various preferences), enjoying good food together.

After that, eat locally grown/sustainably produced food, to minimize fossil fuel use. Fossil fuels are the most violent aspect of our food system. And, eat things in less-processed forms because that also cuts down on energy use. "Organic" is NOT necessarily more "peaceful" (or better for the environment) than non-organic (though healthier), because organic standards can dictate the use of MORE fossil fuels.

The role of education in working towards peace through food should be in encouraging tolerance, appreciating diversity, exploring new foods, teaching nutrition, physiology, post-harvest handling, food processing and preparation, so that people can make their own informed choices and be more independent. And teach them to grow their own, for even more food security!

Friday, September 26, 2008


Good Orderly Direction: an acronym commonly used in 12-step programs to aid those who struggle to relate to the notion of a Power Greater Than Themselves.

Sometimes, I quipped last night, the G.O.D. of my understanding--what I can grasp and use at the moment--is as simple as:

East. I am walking east, putting one foot in front of the other, and that is Good--it is taking me closer to the restaurant that will ease my bodily hunger--it is Orderly--my steps are rhythmic and firm, and continue in a consistent direction--and it is a Direction--east, towards 10th and Mass.

Lots better than standing on a corner starting to cross first one way, then the other, afraid to choose for fear of making the wrong choice when either choice is a step in the right direction.

But this morning, Jesus reminds me: In Christ there is no East or West.

The sheep and parasites and trees (even the 12" diameter elm Quinn and his crew cut down this morning, a tiny seedling that had grown so large in its 10 years that it was beginning to push over the back wall of the barn) remind me: In the farm's Community of Life, there is no "teacher" or "student"; there are no "higher" or "lower" beings. We're all in this lifeboat--this ark--together.

The soil under my feet and fingernails speaks to me: I am the Ground of Being; nothing so mysterious about that. From earth you came and to earth you shall return, and these processes re-enact themselves each day as you eat the fruits of your labors (tomatoes in this season, tomatoes in every shape and size and color until my mouth breaks out in sores) and then releive yourself in the almost-completed sanitary pit privy, the first approved by the Health Dept. in Douglas County in several decades.

GOD sez: in the beginning was the word, and the word was GOD.

GOD sez: at the beginning of Creation (of course, beginning and end and middle are all contained in a glorious NOW that our human minds have to dissect into "days", "years", etc. using a scalpel called "time", in order for us to "understand" it), I gave Adam the gift of speech and the chore of choosing sounds by which to call my creatures (which he has carried to extraordinarily silly extremes), and I gave him a limited dominion over them (which he has terribly abused)--but I never said anything about ranking them or choosing some as good and others as bad.

GOD sez: I gave each of my creatures/creations its own task. Not one creature truly knows the knows the task of any other. All my creatures babble in tongues, the sheep do not speak the llama's language; the trees do not speak with human tongues.

GOD sez: later (when you had learned at least a little, like toddlers) I gave you a new, more challenging task, a Great Commission: Thou shalt love me, and love thy neighbor as thyself. You still are barely able to love me and to love yourselves most of the time, and only in moments of unusual clarity do you remember that the stranger is your neighbor, and love them, too...let alone to recognize the sunflower as your teacher, or the worm as your sister in my creation.

And so I respond by harvesting dazzling lavender eggplants; releasing the jubilant ewes into the west side pen to feast on the brush of the felled elm; engaging the dogs in a moments' play; bowing my head in humble respect to the monarch that is poised next to the remains of the third crysalis outside the Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum, ready to begin its migration to far-off countries where I'm unlikely ever to travel myself.

I think these mundane actions are part of a Good, Orderly Direction. But God, forgive me for I know not what I do--bumbling idiot that I am, trying to learn to understand each note of all your creatures' babbling tongues singing in concert at once, and somehow translate all that symphony to these stark electronic letters. How vain!

Especially when my kindred and I can't even agree on what the Bible--already written in our own tongue--means!

Book Report

On several spiritually-focused listserves that I participate in, people have been sharing titles of books they are reading or want to read.

A new friend introduced herself by giving me a short reading list she felt was relevent to my situation, and another friend left a message on my answering machine tonight saying, "Do some reading!"

Not right now, not in my least not the sort of reading these folks suggest. It just isn't the season.

Books bound of paper and carboard and printer's ink belong to other seasons--not autumn, not spring. To the depths of winter, perhaps...or the bowels of August, when any effort greater than the leisurely turning of pages is contraindicated.

So I alternately ignore, laugh or procrastinate such directives from others this time of year.

I'm also, in general, a lot more given to writing than to poring over tomes, whether ancient or modern. I tend to read selectively, a few books that come into my life from respected individuals, and to re-read the same books repeatedly, wringing a new and different significance from them each time through. Some people roll their eyes at this habit; they read things once and pass them along, never turning those same pages again. Whatever.

But on second, thought, I AM reading a lot these days...the things that are written in the natural world around me on the farm and in the landscape outside the windows of my bus. The "news" hinted at in the title of this blog.

Recently, I've been reading a favorite book over again, more thoroughly than ever before. It's the fascinating epic journey of some soil becoming a milkweed plant, and then being transformed into monarch butterflies by a herd of striped, tentacled caterpillars.

Two years before moving to Lawrence, the same semester I designedPinwheel Farm as an imaginary 20-acre vegetable farm for a final project for a Vegetable Crop Production class at KSU under Bill Lamont, I weaseled my way into a senior/graduate-level course entitled Insecticide Properties and Laws without having taken ANY of the prerequisites (Entomology and Organic Chemistry)! A good lesson in the power of simply asking for what you want...also a demonstration of the persuasive power of enthusiasm. Professors are generally intrigued by the novel idea of someone taking an obscure and challenging class when it isn't required for them in any way.

It has almost, but not quite, inspired me to take up the study of entomology, just to better understand the details of the metamorphosis of caterpillar into crysalis into butterfly. The little that we "reviewed" in the class, as the foundation for the destructive action of certain insecticides, has stayed vividly with me all these years.

And though I have watched crysalises hatch many times, watched the limp, watery wings be unfurled and pumped up and solidified into brittle banners--I have never before watched a caterpillar turn into a crysalis.

Actually, I didn't quite watch the whole thing. The tableau was the garden in front of the Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum. On days when I'm driving the bus, I get to stop there for a few minutes every hour and 20 minutes. So it was a time-lapse sort of watching.

But one round, there was a caterpillar looking large and lazy. And then it was hanging by its hind feet on the heavy mid-rib of the leaf, arching its neck to and fro. Next, its feet seemed to be bound to the leaf with a "silk" binding, and it hung immobile in a "J" shape, first looking like a caterpillar fishhook and then looking somehow different, more contracted, subtlely less striped.

Then it was a smooth green case studded with gleaming golden jewels.

It hung there, unchanging, for more than a week. Then one day there was an orangey glow just visible through the transluscent green case, veined in black: the nascent furled wings of the butterfly.

The next day, only a transparent shred of the case remained, swaying lightly in the breeze. The receptionist at the museum (who had been watching the caterpillars' progress with me, after I alerted her to their presence when I first saw them. Miracles are even more fun when they're shared with someone else who's excited about them.) rose from her seat even as I reached to pull open the museum door, and rushed out of the office towards me. "It's gone! I saw it fly away!"

Together we examined the remaining younger crysalis that we'd found a day later than the first. And she pointed out another she'd spotted, deep in a tussock of graceful prairie grass nearby. Miracles in progress.

Without fully understanding the physiology of it, barely able to accept the fact of it, w hat I learned in the advanced entomology class is what goes on during this remarkable transformation. In lay terms, it amounts to this:

The entire innards of the crysalis dissolve into amorphous goo, at a cellular level, and then that amorphous goo re-forms into new kinds of cells to shape an entirely new digestive system, circulatory system, muscles, exoskeleton, eyes, antennae, wings, wing scales, etc. Every detail of the caterpillar is gone. Every detail of the butterfly is brand new. All that is left of the original caterpillar is the chemical building blocks, and the DNA.

And that whole process is carried out automatically from within the crysalis, over the course of a very sort time.

Mindboggling. Simply mindboggling.

It's one of my favorite books, this process of metamorphosis. I refer to it often in my thoughts, and even in my telling of my own personal transformations.

Amorphous goo. What a great metaphor for the chaos that sometimes overtakes my own life. In the midst of that "goo"phase, I'm sure the caterpillar/butterfly has no idea what's going on. It doesn't even exactly have a brain to think about it with! All it can do is surrender to the process, with some sort of understanding that everything is proceeding according to the proper order, even thought the present moment really manifests nothing but amorphous goo.

I'm in such a "goo" phase in my life (and the life of the farm) right now. Housemates are moving out of the main farmhouse, squatters leaving the Granary House; how can financial ends possibly ever meet? Friends and allies have moved or defected, where will my help come from? Key machines have broken down in mysterious ways; my own body betrays me. Mental, health, logistical and financial barriers spring up at every turn. (Never mind whatever is going on in the outside world, writhing in pangs of war and economic collapse and political posturing....)

It is a time for resting in faith...hard, but sometimes really the only thing I can do...

...When my life turns to amorphous goo.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When Something Dies

There is always an empty space, like the space left by a missing tooth. In the case of my own mouth, 3 years of orthodontia obliterated the spaces of 4 deliberately pulled teeth to the point where anyone who met me in the last 35 years (0ther than dentists) has no clue that I had more teeth at one time. But though I rarely think of it, I am aware of their invisible spaces, and aware of the state my entire mouth (with ripple effects throughout my body, since dental caries have been linked to other health problems) would be in if they were still there.

Sometimes the empty space left by a "death" is for a good cause, overall.

Sometimes it's not, like the hole in the budget when yet another lamb dies from side effects of internal parasites ("worms"). My dedicated apprentices buried our seventh dead lamb yesterday while I was driving the bus.

When something dies far away out of view, it may take awhile for the realization to soak in, even though one's mind knows it for a fact. And the ripple effects of any death--even a gradual and somewhat expected one, even one that is up-close, in-your-face and personal--may run far and wide, exceeding all expectations in the scope of their devastation. Only over time, sometimes, does one realize some of the crucial parts the dead being played in so many subtle ways.

Whenever there is a death, there is a sense of loss, change, disorientation, mourning: an experience of the long, uncontrollable, ragged process of grief. Some people may not be very aware of grief; others are acutely aware of at least the overt symptoms. Some deaths trigger a lot of grief, some surprisingly little.

The rest of life may seem to go on as normal, barely ruffled...but at some level, it doesn't.

The farm and I suffered (and continue to suffer) the loss of a truly one-of-a-kind friendship this summer, a gradual separation and distancing that I sensed was inevitable from a certain moment last winter. In this case, not a bodily death of a human being, but a this-time-complete dissolution of that person's connection with the farm and myself. Not something I sought, maybe not even something that they sought, but some unknown process that happened in their life to which I wasn't privy and over which I had no control, that had the inevitable consequence of this disconnection.

M___ is someone who has been an intimate part of the farm's life, and mine, for more than 5 years; someone who has shaped the farm far more than any other single person except myself. Someone who brought a dizzying, dazzling array practical skills--but more than that, a powerful inventive outside-the-box outlook for brainstorming and problem-solving; an incredible amount of determination and physical energy; a passion for organization and order, digging holes, throwing things away and hacking at weeds and generally "subduing the earth". Someone with a significantly different set of experiences, values, goals and perspectives than mine, who often didn't fully understand or respect my own values and goals (and I learned early on to respect this for who she was), but who in spite of (or because of?) our different points of view, was a priceless sounding board for me.

Even during her many extended absences from the farm, whether due to one of her many overseas adventures, or to the cyclical, changing seasons of our friendship, she was "there" as a virtual sounding board. I could look at a situation and think, "what would M___ do, or say, or think about this?" And I would know. And sometimes that was as good as a real conversation.

Even when I understood that other activities in her life had become dominant, even when our friendship ceased to be reciprocal and I was no longer encouraged or even allowed to lend my energies to her projects at home, she was still "there" as a distant, perhaps damaged, sounding board. But a sounding board none-the less.

I have an ugly, much-abused, ancient upright piano in the garage, "Gilbert". I love Gilbert for the quality of his tone, despite a cracked sounding board and layers of "antique" paint. Others agree: the cracked sounding board really doesn't make that much difference in how he sounds...or perhaps it even adds a certain unique dimension that strangely works. It's under the bass strings, and I like Gilbert's bass tones a lot better than most pianos.

We all know Gilbert is not and will never be a grand piano...but to my ear, he is a great one. He will never be a parlor piano...but he resonates perfectly with the garage, changing with the seasons but staying remarkably in tune. His resonance comes from the sounding board, cracked though it may be. And, at a remove, the garage itself becomes a sounding board, part of the instrument. Gilbert and the garage together are the instrument, just as M___'s impeccable white grand piano sounds in concert with the lovely stucco, brick and wood room where it resides. These instruments would not sound the same anywhere else.

The big sounding board of these rooms gives life to the smaller ones, which give life to the strings. In a concert hall, the room lends an even larger resonance. So, too, M___'s previous distances provided a more complex, but somehow more fundamental, resonance for the farm.

But strings struck in the utter absense of a sounding board make scarcely a noise. All efforts at sounding them fail to give any real sense of music, though the stark skeleton of the tune and rhythm may be heard.

Bare branches make a stark skeleton against a summer sky. A tree dying withdraws its tiniest feeder roots, leaving imperceptible, far-reaching cavities in the ground. More and more, over a long slowness of time, the roots shrivel and rot, leaving a humus in which other things can grow, but leaving also a vast emptiness in the woods. And if a storm blows through, the hole in the forest canopy gives the wind a opening that lets it uproot nearby trees that were subtly held up and protected by the twigs of the missing tree interwoven with their own.

If there is no one present to hear it, does a falling tree make a noise? A tree falling in the forest may make a lot of noise, especially if it's in a mountain valley where the echoes reverberate again and again. The solitary tree that falls on the open, unpeopled plain--that is the one that barely makes a sound.

The hole left by the loss of this friendship is huge, though mainly invisible. For some years now, the connection has been tenuous at best, her presence at the farm as seasonal as spring peas and spinach. The dogs, the farm and I have learned to accept her coming and going just as we do the budding of leaves in spring--with delight, anticipation of what will come, excitement, and awe--and the falling of leaves in autumn--with delight, appreciation of what has gone before, contentment, and awe. Normal transitions.

In recent years, I made it a point to learn from her how to do many of the tasks she usually did around the farm--a lifetime gift to myself and the farm, and through us to hundreds of others as I train volunteers, apprentices, housemates. I would probably not have learned many of those skills but for her example, and her stubborn insistence on their benefits. Care and use of a power lawn mower, a chain saw, a garden tractor. A certain way of folding a tarp. A certain knot. A tendency to notice certain safety hazards. Even certain attitudes about various commonplace things around the farm, too numerous to mention. Through the repetition of her leavings, each one was more and more seamless as I became more adept at simply picking up where she left off.

I am used to the farm's seasonal shifts, as well as the shifts of our friendship. I accommodate them with barely a thought (through living with others and working with apprentices, I realize just how significant, far-reaching, and important these nearly automatic adjustments are...and how deeply they've become ingrained in me through 12 years on the farm). The heat is gone out of the season, and other things have shifted and changed. But this year I've been noticing that someting is very, very wrong. Can I not bear the heat as I did when I was younger? Am I ill? Am I depressed?

Sometimes the leaves of a tree begin to turn color just a little differently, and you know at a glance that something is very, very wrong...that an inexorable process has just become evident that nothing can reverse. The beauty of this gradual decline heralds death, not dormancy. And you know that you will always be stumbling over the emptiness of the invisible space left when that tree eventually dies; you will always follow a quirkily crooked path, like a sheep trail that will forever bend to go around a tree that isn't there any more.

I awoke this morning realizing that it isn't just the normal seasonal shifts, the typical exhaustion of late summer that are wearing at me, preventing me from accomplishing my normal amount of work on the farm. It mostly isn't even the relentless rearrangement of the house and household routines as housemates come and go, and I face moving my place of residence in the house for the 5th time in less than 2 years.

Rather it is a sense of all of the farm's and my daily life now being strings struck in the utter absense of a sounding board, the pitiful inadequacy of their tone only highlighting the empty silence. There is a technical purpose in continuing to strike them--practice, exercise, continuity, something--but the tone simply vanishes into the distance and is not returned to my ears, giving no reward, no impetus for the next tone, striking no harmonics. The strings themselves seem dead--old, rusted, overstretched--but I know they aren't. A new sounding board, a new resonance chamber will quickly bring them to life again. Within the ring of the rotting tree stump, a new tree will grow, like the saplings sheltered in the decaying stumps of "nurse trees" I loved to see in the woods in Washington when I visited there a few years ago.

But for now, the dull striking of strings is all that's possible. I am only the piano player (and a beginning one, at that!), not the builder or mender of sounding boards. I can only keep my fingers limber, and teach them new patterns of motion. I am the tree tender and pruner, not the one who can cause seeds to germinate or roots to re-sprout into a new tree. I can only oil and hone the garden tools.

For now, the dull striking of strings is all that's possible.

But it is possible, and so the empty space M___ leaves is for a good cause, overall.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The little things that make it worthwhile

There's scarcely a day I don't see something or hear something or eat something that I know I could only experience because of all the work I've done to pay for and develop the farm. It's what keeps me going and makes it all worthwhile.

This incredible butterfly, a "Redspotted Purple" (named by someone color-blind, surely--it's the iridescent BLUE of a South American butterfly, and the spots are as orange as a pumpkin!), delighted us by sitting for a long time...long enough we got bored...on a branch right on the front patio. It's big, nearly 3" wingspan. This photo is far better than the one in "Insects in Kansas" though that book overall is an excellent field guide. Try as I might, I never could catch a photo of the underside of its wings--slow camera, fast butterfly.

Tonight I was feeling a bit queasy after driving an especially bouncy bus all day, so tried to think of the most soothing supper I could. I invented this recipe for:


Brown a few small bits of locally-cured bacon to render out enough grease to lightly saute:

1 tiny head of homegrown garlic, minced
1 homegrown leek, sliced

Add some water and a generous cup or so of leftover homegrown mashed potatoes (Purple Viking and Huckleberry varieties, chopped and boiled with skins on, then mashed with just a dollop of mayo instead of butter/milk).

Simmer until leeks are done, season with:

Fennel seed
Black pepper

Serve in a mug, pouring it over a tablespoon of Alma cheese curds.

If the roof of my mouth weren't raw right now (for some unknown seems to be healing quickly, though), I would have had one of my new favorite sandwiches instead. I've been experimenting with seasonally appropriate, locally grown versions of the traditional BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato)...fall lettuce is coming, but by the time it gets here the tomatoes are usually past their warm-weather prime, and baby lettuce just doesn't have the body to stand up to a vine-ripened heirloom tomato like the bolder greens do:

BTK (Bacon, Tomato, Kale)

SLT (Summer Sausage, Lambsquarter, Tomato)

MLT (Mutton, Lambsquarter, Tomato)

MKT (you've probably got the code figured out by now....)

The secret ingredients to all of these are mayo on the (whole wheat) bread, and a grind of black pepper on the tomatoes. Stick the tomatoes between 2 layers of the greens, and the sandwich will keep fresh in a lunch box much longer without sogging up the bread.

I'm including the recipes for the sake of any of you who are attempting the Community Mercantile's Eat Local challenge this week and next, since these are good solid balanced meals with all-local, in-season, ingredients.

A prize to whoever figures out all four of the obscure references of the initials of these can cheat and use Google for some of them but not all! If you use Google, at least 'fess up, ok, and we'll see if anyone gets them all just from their memory! Holler if you need clues!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Other Nation--Imperialism marches on

This essay is a bit long, but I really hope folks will read it carefully and thoughtfully, and give me feedback. Especially my friends from other cultures (Canadian, ethnic, religious, etc.).
I've been having an interesting e-mail conversation with a near-by farmer, relative to our separate-but-similar work to prevent the industrial development of a piece of land that lies between our two farms.

In a recent installment, I explained my position of determination never to "cash in":

"My" land AS A FARM is my only "safety net." When I get the houses paid off and all the parcels merged into a thriving, sustainable farm, I will always have food, water, shelter, and access to various energy sources (firewood, solar, wind). I don't trust that other types of safety net will endure, or that [developed] land will always have cash value [or people always have cash]. Probably more true for my grandchildren than for me. But it's not about just MY grandchildren, it's about whoever wants to grow food in the future.

All my resources go into my land, I have no other "safety net". But even if I had "invested" that money, it would never be enough for a decent retirement even if the economy stays good. I'm not whining, because I know I'm actually WAY better prepared than most people, who have utterly no safety net and never will. And many people's investment "safety net" will collapse if the economy is bad or infrastructure disrupted. Personally, I'm convinced that my land will eventually have more cash value as farm land than for any other purpose...esp. when everyone else sell theirs out to development.

I truly would rather die of cancer than sell out my land. I'm going to die anyhow, why murder the land as well? I just need to find a way to prevent others from murdering it in short sighted greed once I am no longer around to protect it.

My friend's response triggered some deep thoughts in me, observations that I feel led to share more broadly.

While expressing deep respect for my integrity in sticking to my ideals, he also characterized the above words/ideas as "extreme", "Quixotic", "intemperate rhetoric".

And then he shared stories of his family selling out one piece of land and buying another, more remote parcel, time and again, as they kept fleeing an ever-encroaching city.

And then he shared stories of personally watching "indigenous" people he knew in southeast Asia sell out their ancestral land to become golf courses, and move to the big cities to be assimilated.

And then I take my bathroom break at Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum, and walk silently past the displays witnessing my ancestors'--YOUR ancestors', most likely--appalling, brutal, deceitful programs to displace and assimilate this continent's "indigenous" peoples in the 1800s and early 1900s. [As an aside, I prefer the terminology I learned in Canada to what's considered "politically correct" around here: "First Nations" makes it clear who was here first without implying that some immigrants are somehow "more native" than other, later immigrants. We humans are all relative newcomers to this continent.]

And I realize that the imperialism that we rebelled against in the Revolutionary War is still alive and well, and WE are its victims.

This land I "own" was originally home only to the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air. It belonged to itself, to its creator, to its Community of Life.

Then people migrated here--from Northern Asia, according to the preponderance of evidence given to my by my culture. These were the First Nations. As soon as they arrived, it became "their" land, even though they didn't record titles and deeds. It was "theirs" enough for various subgroups to dispute rights to use various areas according to their laws and customs, for their own economic gain.

Then others--those from whom I'm predominantly descended, though I carry some "First Nation" genes as well--arrived. We could call us the Second Nations. We ran the First Nations folk off (or killed or assimilated them), and said the land was ours to use according to our laws and customs, for our own economic gain. In some cases, we paid for the land: Nothing close to what we purchasers knew its real value was in our economic system, and certainly nothing close to what it's worth now. We developed a system of deeds and titles to keep track of who owned what.

And for a long time, we who held title to our land could use it as we saw fit. We raised our houses and barns, raised our families, raised our food, raised our heat source and transportation...until the insidious coming of another Nation, Other Nations that arose from within, disguised as ourselves. Now, the Other Nations say our land is theirs to use according to their laws and customs, for their economic gain.

[I would call them, by logical extension, "Third Nation", but that sounds too much like Third World which is pretty much the exact opposite of the Other Nations.]

The Other Nations are Nations not of people, but of "powers and principalities". They are the governments and corporations that run roughshod over individual title-holding landowners. Agencies that have no title to my land, but can somehow dictate how it is used because they have somehow stealthily acquired power over ALL land, and increasingly over the very genetic material of the things that grow there. It is no longer our own. Our Second Nations titles and deeds are no longer good for much. There are easements that aren't even publically recorded, remember?

And now the Other Nations are inexorably expelling us Second Nation title-holders from our lands. In most cases, it is a simple matter to simply buy us out. The Other Nations thrive on assimilation, and have the media as an incredibly powerful, pervasive tool. It is so simple to brainwash us with a new set of values, commercial by infomercial by pop-up window. So easy to convince us that "resistance is futile"--"economic growth is good", "it's inevitable that it will be developed", "you can't stand in the way of progress", etc. The message is simple: "give up your land without a fight, and we'll let you name whatever we make of it, so that it will be a legacy for your grandchildren. Because you're going to have to give it up no matter what. Join us now, and we'll make you happy with $$$$$, because $$$$$ CAN buy happiness. Hold out a little? Wait and see? You might get more, you might get less, we might just take it."

Many non-land owners and land owners alike will be surprised and perplexed by the above assertion. I hear their puzzlement all the time when I talk to folks about the issues I face with my land.

"What do you mean, you can't camp (or run a business or put up a sign) on your own land?"

"Why can't you just build (or repair or store) what you want to?"

"How could they keep you from having sheep (or a composting toilet or chickens or more than 2 housemates)?"

And dozens of other outraged questions.

To our Founding Fathers, it was so self-evident that we could do these things that had always been done, that they neglected to include them in the Bill of Rights. So we have the right to bear arms, but not the right to camp, keep chickens or hang laundry on a clothesline. We have to pay for a license to hunt or fish, but not to buy a gun.

Though they are outraged over the particulars, these questioners don't really integrate those particulars into the corresponding big picture, to realize that we cannot truly own our land any more. And it's especially sad because so many of these people are still dedicating their lives to owning their own land, imagining that once they have scrimped and saved the purchase price they will be free to do as they wish, safe in their private property. That's one of the insidious ways of the Other Nation: it continues to promote our dedication to a dream--the American Dream of home ownership, whether it's a townhouse or "Ten Acres Enough"--which it has silently devoured from the inside out, leaving only the hollow shell. And it uses our simpleminded focus on that dream to cheat us of our birthright. "With the money you earn from selling us this land, you can buy twice as much a little further down the road."

The catch is, we are running out of environmentally appropriate land "further down the road." And so I choose to stand my ground here, literally, on this piece of property I hold title to. Someone has got to draw the line somewhere, sooner or later. Why not here, now, me?

It's no easy task. And honestly, I would not do it if this were not truly one of the finest pieces of agricultural land in the world. I have bought the Biblical field in which a treasure of great value lies buried, and I know it...that's why I bought it and continue to defend it.

At one and the same time, I realize that though I continue to pour my earnings into paying off the mortgages on several of the parcels, it is "my" land only in the eyes of the Second Nation. Physically, spiritually, it can only truly belong to Earth and Diety and the Community of Life--essentially, it belongs most truly to itself. I imagine the First Nations would concede this as true even as they assigned traditional rights to its use by certain parties. The Other Nations believe it is their land, to do with as best suits their economic goals.

I really harbor no illusions that I actually have very many rights to my land. My goal is to try to acheive some sort of creative tension with the Other Nations, where I get to keep title to my land AND to use it as I choose, in return for playing by their rules while going through their channels to change their rules.

It's just a different kind of selling out...hopefully, I won't have to move down the road.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sabbath Survival

One of the foundational concepts for the farm, and for my own notion of sustainability from a human point of view, was the biblical concept of Sabbath. "Six days you shall toil, on the seventh you shall rest." (A loose paraphrase garbled together from many translations, I'm sure.)

It's an important concept for sustainable least for sustaining the farmer. It's a good preventative health program for maintaining sanity and avoiding burnout. Things will NEVER be "caught up" or "done"; you can't wait til those mythical times to reward yourself with a break because you'll work yourself to death trying to achieve the unachieveable.

So the Sabbath is a very practical system for scheduling "arbitrary" or "artificial" breaks on a regular basis, in just about the right balance most of the time.

Until my Sabbatical (taking the seventh year off to rest self and fields) a few years ago, I kept the Sabbath pretty regularly. My sabbath was a bit off kilter, to accommodate the realities of interweaving my spiritual/farming life with the modern workaday world "out there". My Sabbath started when I was entirely unpacked from Farmer's Market on Saturday and ended after church on Sunday. That let me work Saturday morning (Market) and Sunday afternoon (prime time for people to want to bring their families out the farm on THEIR Sabbath--a rest for them, but work for me as a tour guide). It worked pretty well.

Al that changed when I returned to the farm after my Sabbatical to find it in shambles, and concurrently had the opportunity to purchase the land next door: Big financial and work sinkholes. One of the casualties of my current life structure--full time off-farm job in addition to the farm in addition to the new property--has been having a Sabbath "rest day". I don't seem to have ANY dedicated time off, let along a whole day. But somehow I mostly don't miss it. I feel sustained anyway.

I was reflecting on this today, and realized that before Sabbatical, my Sabbath practice or "rule" has been that the Sabbath is a time when I don't have work. But what is "work" when nearly everything I do is stuff I like doing, even if I AM exhausted? Is spinning a relaxing hobby or a value-added enterprise? Is gardening a pastime or a career? In various traditions, many entertainment and social activities have been banned on the Sabbath. Pre-Sabbatical, I eventually arrived at a loose interpret that worked well for me: simply, that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do. But I was also supposed to keep the focus on God during the Sabbath, so that my activities were undertaken in a spirit of praise, rejoicing, prayer, meditation, etc.

Today's insight is that during "the week" we do what the world wants us to do; our focus wanders wherever it will. On the Sabbath we do what God wants us to do; we try to keep the focus on God.

Now, since both the farm and the off-farm job are ministry work--God's work--to me in a very real sense, I am ALWAYS doing what God wants me to do. And so every day is a Sabbath day, renewing and sustaining me in miraculous ways.

I know there will come a time when I will need to spend my Sabbath time in prayer and meditation. of a different kind that driving the bus, pulling weeds, teaching apprentices. This current pace is not sustainable in the long term. But for now (God willing) it seems to be long as I keep my focus on God.

Does that answer all your questions about how I can DO everything I'm doing in my life right now? It's my best explanation.


In my former work for DPRA Incorporated, a small national environmental consulting firm headquartered in the unlikely small city of Manhattan, KS, I studied the use of various herbicides in various horticulture-related industries. One of these was forestry.

As a side effect of my relentless wild-goose-chases-on-the-telephone search for obscure, industry-specific, seemingly trivial information, I was introduced to a number of concepts that have become foundational in my thinking about farming...and, both metaphorically and practically, about life and everything else.

One of these concepts was the idea of "release" in managing re-planted clearcut logging areas. The clear-cut would be planted with seedling trees for the new crop of timber. Of course, the new trees were small, and easily dwarfed by the weeds that grew around them. But the fiercely competing weeds also served as a "nurse crop" (another foundational concept), protecting the trees from blazing sun and harsh winter winds, hiding them from hungry tree-eating beasts.

After the young trees had been established for several years, the forestry company would use herbicides to "release" the young conifers from their competition, using chemicals that killed the weeds but left the trees. Suddenly free of the smothering that both gave them a chance to grow and held them back--drawing on the deep, strong roots they had had to develop in order to survive amid the overgrowth--the young trees suddenly were free to grow fast and tall and straight, to strive towards their full potential. The spurt of quick growth enabled them to reach a stature where they would never be held back by the weeds again, in fact would themselves shade out the weeds.

I see this happen at the farm. A vegetable transplant, limited by the confines of its pot and the artificial nutrient soup it's raised on, is "released" when transplanted to fertile ground rich in myriad macro-and micro-nutrients, with ample space and bountiful water. Suddenly it takes off, while its sibling in the pot lallygags along at a slower rate, under the best of conditions.

I use it deliberately in the garden. A smattering of quick-growing annual weeds keeps the soil most for the delicate young carrots. At a certain stage, I weed them out, and the carrots are "released" to quickly grow to market size. When the carrots or other root crops are planted thickly, thinning them is a form of "release" for those left, giving them space and more resources to grow to a larger size.

But sometimes "release" is not enough. In particular situations, there may be a lingering legacy of the time of struggle. Sometimes the briefest of struggles followed by complete release can leave a lasting mark all out of proportion with the source. I see this in the towering sycamore tree in the front yard. I watched this tree grow from a tiny self-sown seedling about 8 or 9 years ago. In its second winter, when it was already an astounding 8 or 10' tall and straight as an arrow, there was a terrible ice storm. The supple sapling was bent over by the weight of the ice, as were many trees. When the ice melted a few days later, other trees straightened almost immediately. But the sycamore only straightened part way. In succeeding years, as it grew, it lost some of the bend, but not all. And now that it is perhaps 30' tall, its huge trunk still shows the legacy of that ice storm.

I realized today that I also see this concept of "release"--both complete and distorted--enacted in the people who come to the farm. Some come with burdens of terrible things that have happened in their pasts, in whose shape that person will always tend to grow. Some come full of energy to burst into new growth, ready to absorb the rich melange of ideas, concepts, skills, information, etc. that the farm and I can offer, and to use that to feed their own dreams, full of health and vigor.

Either way, I rejoice in watching their growth and development, whether it is quick or slow, whether they are here for an hour or a year.

I see this also in myself, periods in the past when I have been "released" from some overburden, and entered into a time of exhilerating in some or another area of my life. And I find myself waiting now for a "release" that I know awaits me, sooner or later--God only knows.

What a release it will be when I no longer have to work off the farm, when I can give myself entirely to the mission and ministry of the work I do in concert with this land and the people who are drawn here by the mysterious workings of God, the universe, whatever you name it! Right now, I know the job is necessary, and that I am growing deep roots from the experience. I just am excited to see what fruit those roots will produce when they are released!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oh, Deer

Driving the bus gives me plenty of time to think in a detached sort of way. Most of my attention is on driving--as it ought to be--but there is another layer that is sifting through and responding to all the various inputs I receive: things I see along the road, things passengers say, things I hear on the 2-way radio. All that blends in with the rest of the "thought compost" in my brain. From that rich blend, interesting connections, concepts, and realizations arise.

Any little thing can form the seed for this crystallization process.

Today, I saw a deer. Not the first I've seen on the northern end of my route, which is quite rural in an Industrial Park sort of way. But this wasn't grazing in a distant field, nor bounding across the road in front of the bus. No. It was standing smack in the middle of a side road, burnished russett-red like a fox in the late afternoon, late August sunlight, impossibly long-legged, looking perplexed.

I commented on this odd sighting to one of the other drivers on layover. He asked if I had deer on my farm. I responded with the story of a recent sighting, not on my farm but on the neighbor's pasture.

On a full-moon night, I had taken the dogs and the head lamp and walked out to the far edges of the farm to check electric fences...a good excuse for a moonlit walk when I'm too busy.

In the Old Grove overlooking Spencer's Pasture and Maple Grove Tributary, there is a swing of board and rope in a huge mulberry tree. It is Beth's prayer swing, for meditating on being a child of God. It is a lovely place to retreat from everything for a little while.

As I sat there gently swaying in the quiet, living night, hearing the distant swirling of traffic and trains all around, I cast my view over the fields before me. The headlamp was still on, forgotten, because it was so bright out that at any distance the moonlight overshadowed it.

On the other side of the ditch, near the culvert, four points of light blazed back at me, reflecting the headlamp. At first I thought it was eyes. I glanced the light away from them, then back. They stayed steady, unchanging. I got up from the swing and walked around. They still stayed the same. I made noise. No change. The dog rummaged around in the near edge of the pasture, but no response from the "eyes".

Maybe they weren't eyes. Maybe they were reflectors on a trailer or farm implement. It seemed a strange place to leave such a thing, but who knows what the neighbor is up to? I whooped, moved around some MUST be a trailer or something, they neither budge nor blink.

I began walking towards whatever it was. As I reached the crossing, suddenly they stood up and silently slipped away, shadows darker than the shadows cast by the full moon. It WAS deer. Later I returned to that spot and saw their dark forms grazing on the pasture.

But as I drove on, I kept returning to the driver's question: Do I have deer on my farm?

Maybe he actually asked, "Do you see deer where you live?" or "Are there deer at your farm?", and my mind turned it into a slightly different question.

Do I "have" deer on "my" farm?

After a couple more methodical loops around the town, it really started to settle in.

I simply don't much use those words any more, at least in my head. I'm sure I say "my farm" from habit. But in my mind, the possession is quite the opposite: I belong to the farm, not it to me. I think and speak of "the farm." I "have" no deer: they have themselves, and allow me to see them from time to time.

The deer I saw on the road belonged only to God and to itself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Still pluggin away

I realized tonight I hadn't written for awhile. Winding down early for the night, after a busy day and a couple nights with not very much sleep, so thought I'd catch y'all up a bit.

Looked at my watch. Well, don't ask me why I thought it was an early's midnight, somehow.

I have seen a humourous story about a married couple going to bed. He says he's going to bed, brushes his teeth, and is peacefully snoring away 10 minutes later. Two hours later she is still finishing up a million little household rituals "on her way to bed". I definitely tend towards the latter habit, though once I'm in bed I'm out like a light.

So, what HAVE I been doing? Well, other than the full time off-farm job, there real constant on the daily "to-do" list has been weeding/mowing/mulching. I'm tempted to suggest on my market gardening list serve that we each send in photos of our weed patches, so that we can feel better about our own knowing that every other farm is on the brink of anarchy as well. With this unusually wet, cool August (many nights it's been a full 30 degrees cooler than August often is), the weeds are thriving. Nevertheless, I AM doing the best ever at keeping the farm looking fairly nice. This year's additions to the mowing tool collection are being put to good use, each to its own specialty. The BCS sickle bar will j-u-s-t fit down the mid-block lanes, when they are waist high. For the lanes and larger areas, it really lays down a lot of tall grass in a hurry. The Austrian scythe still reigns as my favorite, period; it excells in trimming under sprawling crops and along edges. The riding lawn mower keeps the 8' and 16' lanes neat, and creates huge amounts of mulch for garden. The self-propelled power mower is good for smaller areas like the front yard.

We continue to struggle keeping sheep alive because of the parasites. I buried another one last week. As I write, we have just today wormed again--this time rotating to fenbendazole at higher-than-label rates at my vet's recommendation, and counting the days til slaughter to make sure there will be no residues. We've also given iron dextran injections at the vet's directions, to help their anemia, and B vitamin complex to stimulate appetite.

A new housemate is moving in, and we are expecting our second WWOOFer this week. So there's been lots of people interactions that are important, but distract from the farm work. Key volunteers have been plugging away now that they're back from vacation.

An especially dear people interaction was a leisurely visit from old mentors Judy and David. I used to volunteer hours and hours on their farm, including running the farm for a month one year while they were on vacation. They haven't been to my farm in years (they now spend a lot of time living in Hawaii). It was really rewarding to hear their encouragement and compliments about how much I've done. We tackled the pile of fleeces in the basement, and after several hours of sorting fleeces and skirting them, we really whittled down the pile.

That's important, because I've just given up my beloved east bedroom for awhile to live in the basement. While the east bedroom is my favorite place in the house, the basement is a close second so it's not discouraging. Just the fact of revising my daily routines is daunting, however.

Tuesday night, August 19, the City Commission will supposedly decide whether or not to annex and rezone as industrial a large chunk of land north of me. I invite my readers to pray for the protection of this outstanding agricultural soil. This action could have significant long-term effects on the future of Pinwheel Farm.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Parasites: The Good, the Bad, the Not-So-Ugly

The Good: These photos were taken a day or so apart. They show a cabbage worm on a kale leaf, paralyzed and parasitized by tiny cocoon-forming wasps. We had an outbreak of the cabbage worms, then noticed many scenes like this with the caterpillar slowly being drained of life force by the parasites. Some farms purchase such beneficial wasps and release them to try to control pests. I just put out a banquet of a variety of plants for them, and invited them to come, and they did.

We also noticed a few aphids starting to colonize the kale a few weeks ago. These tiny pests can spread at an incredible speed. But on close examination we noticed many of the swollen, gold-sheened ones that have been parasitized by even tinier wasps. Again, just establishing a fairly natural environment has brought these helpful wasps to our farm of their own volition. And we haven't seen the expected outbreak of aphids at all.

Sometimes parasites are our friends. Sometimes they aren't.


The Bad: We lost a lamb last week to complications of internal parasites...4-S syndrome, for starters. That stands for "Sick Sheep Seldom Survive". By the time you notice they're sick, they are on Death's doorstep and you really have to work hard to bring them around.

The first-born lamb this season has been a problem since Day One. Malpresentation at birth resulted in a very weak lamb, slow start, intensive care for days. Probably he did not get an adequate dose of colostrum in those critical first hours. Then he was rejected by Mom, therefore bottlefed. The bottle-feeders were inexperienced and not very careful about following instructions, I later learned. We made a lot of mistakes while figuring out how I could balance the off-farm job with lambs in chronic special care. So his early nutrition left a lot to be desired, and he's been the runtiest lamb of the year.

At our last worming, nearly 2 weeks ago, he was clearly suffering from parasites, probably haemonchus ("barber pole worms" because they are part red, part white)--a nematode that sucks nutrient-rich blood from the stomach lining, and in sufficient numbers can literally bleed an animal to death internally. The increasingly severe anemia in the earlier stages of infestation manifests as pale "pink parts" on sheep that have them (nose pad, ears, armpits, rectum/vulva--wherever there isn't wool and the skin isn't pigmented), pale gums, and the whites of the eye losing the brownish tint and fine veins that characterize a healthy sheep. The anemia can result in edema, with fluids especially collecting under the throat to form a swollen "bottle jaw"--a classic sign of worm infestation, but one that can fluctuate drastically throughout the day. An infested sheep may also have diarrhea, be reluctant or unable to stand or move, and have droopy ears and a general depressed demeanor.

#211 had all of these symptoms at worming. Badly.

I put him in a pen with some of the other ram lambs that have gotten so big that they are likely to breed their mothers if left together much longer. The guys are in the pen east of the back yard, rotating into the back yard sometimes for grazing, so it's easy to keep watch on them.

After worming, he got worse--not unusual. The stress of handling often puts a borderline sheep "over the edge". We did special "supportive care" as best we could, considering my work schedule and everal volunteers being on vacation at the time. "Pig iron" (iron dextran) and B vitamin injections to combat anemia and boost appetite. A quiet pen alone. The best, choicest fresh grass and lambsquarters from parasite-free areas of the garden. Alfalfa pellets. Tubed him with electrolytes (Gatorade for sheep) to combat dehydration in hot weather. Nutri-drench vitamin and mineral supplement. Once again, his care derailed a lot of progress on other things around the farm.

He seemed to rally and improved a lot. But then he took a turn for the worse, and he started to have labored breathing. Before we had time to consult with the vet, he was dead, probably from inhalation pneumonia associated with the tube feeding or Nutri-drench. Sad, but it happens. We struggle every summer to keep the barber pole worms under control, but they are an ugly, ugly foe, and some individuals are more sensitive than others.


Not So Ugly: Not quite a parasite, but so beautiful I had to include this very fuzzy, inadequate photo of a beetle we found today. The book gives its common name as "Caterpillar Hunter" so apparently it is It was easy to catch: dead on the circle drive in the woods. Not how I like to collect specimens. Even if it were in focus, the still, two-dimensional shot would hardly convey the incredibly brilliant, scintillating iridescent green of the wings and deep lapis blue of the thorax.