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.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Modest Dilemma

Yesterday and today, I have walked around grinning like a kid with a new toy, laughing at myself for doing so, and at the same time trying unsuccessfully to drape a somber veil of spiritual embarrassment over my delight. But the innocent delight won't stay subdued.

Especially when I venture into the "outside world".

I have a new car. New to ME, of course-- it's a '93. Predates my arrival in this town by a year...therefore more than a quarter my own age. Not so new.

But it LOOKS new, at least at first glance. It's sleek and shiny and not obviously banged up. The 1/2 ton Ram pickup I bought for the farm a year ago is actually a year younger--but the truck's paint is very weathered and peeling (typical Dodge), and one side of the bed was caved in before I ever bought it. It was a work truck then, and it's even more of a work truck now, with a ladder rack that converts to a stock rack. A fabulous farm truck, cheap and dependable.

But alas, Porpose gets 10 mpg. Filling the tank--at least a monthly occurance since I've been driving it to work--has recently cost over $100.

Scooter-Bug--the new car--should get 3 times as many miles per gallon. Haven't got a real handle on how accurate the gas gage is yet, but going from steady orange "empty" light to full cost less than a third of filling Porpose. Which, HONESTLY, is the primary reason I bought Scooter-Bug: chronic ecological embarrassment at burning so much gas driving an empty pickup truck around town, and financial dismay at the internal combustion of so many dollars that could go towards more permanent, environmentally-friendly purposes on the farm.

I'd been keeping my eyes and ears open for an alternative for quite awhile, but not much time to shop or test drive. And I wasn't very clear what I wanted. In some ways it made sense to put a rebuilt transmission in the old mini van that's been sitting around the farm since I got back from Canada. "Vera" had been an excellent Farmer's Market vehicle in her days, and could be again if only she could back up. In fact, I had just had my mechanic price the job of making her functional again. I'd also thought about getting a scooter, though winter didn't sound like a lot of fun...or very safe.

Day after day, I sat at a certain traffic light on my way to work looking at the used cars for sale at the scooter dealership near the farm. Minivans, trucks, big things. Several thousand dollars each. Not what I was looking for at all.

I thought I was looking for a hatchback. Or a small station wagon. These had served me well in the past: My first car, Heron, the sporty turquoise "pickup in disguise" Fiat 1283P hatchback (still regret selling that one). Sabot, the "gift horse" Pinto, bought for $1 (it wouldn't run...until I corrected the spark plug wire sequence). The Subaru Legacy wagon. The classic Volvo wagon (Yes, it had over 250,000 miles. No, the tail lights never all worked at the same time.). Something small, practical, better mileage, carry bunches of stuff. Something I could afford to drive to visit my parents, friends in Missouri, other farms.

Then the little turquoise sports car appeared on the lot across from the traffic light. Surely I mis-read the price? Or a digit was missing? It was less than the estimate on the van parts!

But affordable was not the only criterion. Probably it had a big powerful engine that guzzled gas. CERTAINLY it would not carry very much. And it would probably cost a lot every time it needed repairs. Tires would cost a fortune. Plus it didn't look like any Japanese car I was familiar with--and Dad, who was financing the acquisition of more sustainable transportation, wasn't fond of American cars. All the stereotypes rattled through my head.

But it was beautiful, and cheap.

Eventually curiousity go the better of me, and I swung across into the lot one day. It's a Toyota--the hands-down favorite make, among my family! And the Toyota Paseo is a four-cylinder, rated at 28-34 mpg. Four seats mean I can take my daughter and grandchildren places...not possible in the pickup. NOT suitable for Farmer's Market...but it won't hurt to run the truck once a week just to keep it limbered up. And consensus is that it won't mind pulling a small, light trailer, which will make Market do-able eventually.

So I got my desire--cheap to purchase, cheap to run. And a lot of bonuses--sunroof, sporty, pretty, clean. But how hard it is to accept the bonuses in good grace, as gifts rather than embarrassments. How does this brilliant little gemstone of a car fit with my "plain" dress and "simple" living? It's so flashy and sporty and--well--FUN to drive!

Though Scooter-Bug feels like a fun new toy, it's actually a serious tool for my spiritual and farm work. It will let me afford to keep commuting across town to my job, freeing up money for other spiritual work like the farm. It will let me afford to visit my parents. I'll be able to attend spiritual gatherings much more often, and visit my Old Order River Brethren friends in Jamesport, Missouri. I'll be able to afford to do a draft horse apprenticeship next summer.

I think God's message to me, in putting this darling little car into my life, is that I have to be modest about modesty. I can't be too frugal all the time. I can't be too austere all the time. These values are essential to my serenity, and the sustainability of my life. They are healthy and prudent. But denying myself all beauty and pleasure in life is not what God has in mind. And that includes the beautiful creations that His creatures create. Including the mass-produced ones.

There is a more subtle message, too: a reminder that I CAN love machines; I DO enjoy using them; I DON'T have to disdain the wonderful gas-powered tools in my life.