Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fire Update

Update on my British Columbia friend's forest fire situation:

Today the evacuation order came, and she, her grown son who works with her, and one of her interns decided to defy the order and stay at the farm. Other workers and her son's family left. It's the peak of harvest season, and with the continuing hot dry windy weather she has to dole out every precious drop of irrigation water she can to thirsty crops. She can run the well for 30 minutes, then lets it rest again and refill, then runs another 30 minutes...sometimes round the clock.

Tonight she called to say the hill on the other side of the railroad track that borders her vegetable fields is burning. THAT'S REALLY CLOSE! At times they've been able to feel the heat of the fire over and above the heat of the weather. They are standing watches tonight to look out for sparks on her parched land.

If they cross the barricade at the end of the road, they can't come back. Friends have arranged to meet them there with trucks, and pass boxes of produce over and do their best to get her orders out. The income is essential to her operation--and many veggies don't keep, and even so her small on-farm cold storage would soon be inadequate.

She has sent all her valuable papers, computer, etc. "outside" already, in case she would need to flee in a hurry, so she has no email contact with bank or customers (or friends). I'm really glad that we've been talking on the phone a lot more this summer, so that line of communication is already established.

Her great sense of humor is intact, so far. Someone asked her "What will you do with your pigs if the fire comes to your farm?" She replied, "Throw them some apples and toss in some barbeque sauce!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Problems I DON'T have

During my sabbatical year away from the farm, I spent quite a bit of time at a wonderful organic vegetable farm near Sorrento, British Columbia. We've kept in touch since then, and it's always encouraging to talk to someone who's facing the same challenges I am...challenges that non-farmers (and non-single farmers) just can't imagine.

But her incredibly scenic location, nestled in a fabulous mountain valley, has some down sides that my humble semi-urban location doesn't. This morning she sent me the following:

We are under evacuation notice because of the fire behind us. It went from about 65 acres to triple that as we watched last night. Was the best fireworks display I have seen in a while but so sad as all I could think about was the critters being terrified and trapped. This morning the smoke is heavy and I can feel it in my lungs. I don't feel in any danger and it is hard to imagine fire getting across our open fields so haven't packed anything but passport etc... Can't even think about the animals, have no way to load them and where would we take them?

Forest fires in the mountains are sort of the equivalent of our tornados--a part of life that touches many, on average, and does a great deal of damage when it does, but rarely knocks on your own door. Something that you keep a radio around for the emergency broadcasts, but generally go right on with daily life.

I called to find out more and to let her know I'd keep her in my prayers. She paused our conversation to listen to a radio update.

The fire is now 10 times larger than it started (in a magnificent dry thunderstorm last night), and has moved within just a few miles, right to the end of their road.

But she's a vegetable farmer. She's headed off to organize the harvest crew for the day's work, come what may.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Post-Internet Society?

Reflecting further on recent technology/life interactions, the concept of a future post-internet society occurs to me.

Basically, I think--I hope--we (as a society) will sooner or later get over our current infatuation with Everything Internet/Wireless/I-Whatever, and we'll start rediscovering reality--not "reality TV" (talk about an oxymoron!), but the real reality right on the other side of our skin/eyeballs/eardrums/etc.

And I'll already be here, patiently (or not) waiting.

I can't find where I've written out this story before, so I'll write it out here. It's a very important story.

A young boy, perhaps kindergarten or first grade, visited the farm for the first time. Early in his visit, he noticed that there was no TV in the livingroom, and commented on it. What did we do without television, he wondered out loud.

We adults kind of brushed him off and continued on the tour with him tagging along.

As the end of their visit drew near, and we were all standing in the driveway for goodbyes, the little boy piped up with great certainty. "I get it now. You don't NEED TV! You have the cat channel, the chicken channel, the sheep channel...."

And we do. We have it all, in real time, complete in all 5 senses and maybe a few that science hasn't named yet.

We (me, dogs, cat, sheep, etc.) don't miss TV. Ever. Nor Facebook nor Twitter nor an imaginary farm. We DO miss our old friends (and potential new ones) who have disappeared into those virtual realities, and who have lost the ability to hold a conversation about REAL reality.

But I'm almost certain that sometimes those with TVs, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, a virtual farm, etc., have an inkling that they miss real chickens, real sheep, real gardens, real friends. Even real bugs, real weather, real work.

There lie the seeds of post-internet society. I want to water them, help them germinate, weed them, rejoice in their growth.

We (as a society) will find a balance, I hope--not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Cell phones are great for emergencies, email is great for keeping in touch with friends on conflicting schedules, many web sites certainly provide useful information.

And I DO see it coming, I see seeds sprouting. I see it coming in the renaissance of knitting. I see it in the second wave of environmentalism (took long enough...I grew up in the first wave) and the new energy awareness. I see it in the Slow Food Movement, Locavores, the upsurge in home gardening.

Meanwhile, though, is there some way that those of us who've opted out of the personal technology arms race can connect and start practicing for that wonderful real future? Support one another in our sidelined state as the heydey of personal devices and online social networking rolls relentlessly on, not yet at its climax? How can we roll out the red carpet for those who begin to want more than the glowing screen has to offer?

Should we figure out a Technology 12-Step group to support those who realize their electronic connections have reached the level of addiction?

On the local National Public Radio station a few weeks ago, I heard a blurb about Therapeutic Lifestyle as a treatment for depression. Research showed that living a more traditional life such as the Amish or some equatorial tribe actually treated chronic depression better than conventional medication or therapy. Some of the components of this Therapeutic Lifestyle were rising and going to bed with the sun, meaningful physical work outside, a simple diet of local foods. Makes sense to me. When I wasn't working off-farm, and could actually live the lifestyle the farm wants me to, my own mild long-term depression certainly abated. Especially, I realized right from the start that having to go out and do sheep chores and deal with firewood daily in the winter kept me (mostly) cheerful and up-beat right through the winter--usually a tough time for me.

Maybe the farm can be a treatment center for recovering technology addicts, and a haven for those wise ones who have stayed off the bandwagon to begin with, at least in part.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dark, Ludditious Musings

I have a microwave, a rice-cooker, a bread machine, a cordless drill, a new rechargeable battery-powered lawn mower, an electronic stud finder, a sporty little car and a full-size pickup, a BCS walk-behind tractor, an air compressor, LED flashing lights on my bicycle, a satellite-calibrated digital watch, a laptop with internet access and all-in-one scanner/copier/printer and cd/dvd player, 2 phone lines, digital camera, high-efficiency washing machine, how could I possibly be a Luddite?

I recently received a most sweet and thoughtful gift from an acquaintence made at a Quaker retreat last winter, whom I've kept in touch with sporadically by email since then. He sent me a link by which to access a free set of farmer icons.

After much thought, I "penned" the following response:

Thanks, M----! The gift will be your thinking of me.

One of my "invisible handicaps" is ssslllooowww dial-up internet access, which has the happy side-effect of encouraging me to carry out my testimony of simplicity online, by avoiding anything other than a default font, not using icons, and not visiting websites that are primarily for fun.

It is odd, because my field was Graphic Design at one time. But I had a leading (before I knew what leadings were) to not follow the design world onto the screen...all my training was with phototypesetting, and even some letterpress. I still like the old ways, and am content to let the world of visual embellishment pass me by in much the same manner as my personal dress has become plainer and plainer.

That is not to disparage such things, nor to say they shouldn't be created and used. And excellent graphic design is still a wonderful thing....

It turns out this was just the beginning of the "lesson" from my Higher Power. And maybe I'm not as content as I let on in my response to my friend.

At the Safety Meeting at work, there was a lot of discussion on the new cell phone policy. I fidgetted. I don't have a cell phone any more, so it didn't affect me. But I find myself handicapped by that lack at times when a discrete call to a supervisor (instead of the semi-public 2-way radio) would gain me guidance on a sticky customer situation, or when the bus engine and radio malfunction simultaneously. My options are much narrower than those of folks with cell phones, and the result is I get slammed for making "poor" decisions and for not communicating.

Why no cell phone? I used to have one, and my main phone number is still a cell phone number that's been transferred over to "land line" service. But the reception at the farm got worse and worse with my original service provider. I not only often couldn't make calls in the house, I had to walk way down the driveway to make them. THEN I could go back to the first...but even that option waned over time. With winter coming, I couldn't effectively use the cell phone at home, even though it was ever-so-handy for communicating at Farmer's Market or about town or when travelling out of town.

Eventually I tried switching providers, and got even worse service. Changing phones MIGHT have eventually helped (I chose the second company because a friend had GREAT reception with her phone from that company), but the logistics were insurmountable. No one will tell you which phone will work; you just have to buy them, try them, and take them back. How can you call THAT "high-tech?" It's random trial and error, plain and simple--not even an educated guess to it! With the job, farm and cell phone stores about as far apart as 3 locations can be in Lawrence, it was inordinately difficult and time-consuming to try to get this resolved. The best I could do was switch back to the ever-reliable (in an archaic sort of way) "land line."

That means I can reliably make phone calls from home, and reliably receive messages. I also have unlimited minutes, long distance AND free calls to Canada. The catch is, I have to be in the house. Which I rarely am, except after 9 or so at night. So my phone conversations are mainly with my family (we're definitely birds of the night-owl variety) and with old friends on the west coast.

But going back to a "land line", I begin to see--ever so slowly--the ways in which the world has moved beyond such a quaint notion as a "home phone", esp. one that might be shared by several people.

People call, and just start talking. I have no clue who they are. They assume I have Caller ID, which I don't. They are impatient and a little angry when I try to get them to pause long enough for me to ask for their name, then a little more frustrated at my "slowness" because I have to then ask them to go back to the beginning, now that I know who they are, and begin their request or offer all over again now that I have a context and can make sense of their words.

If I'm inside and answer the phone, then at least we get to have that conversation. If they get the answering machine, it's even worse. They ASS-U-ME that my phone will tell me who called from what number. It doesn't. My message even TELLS them it isn't a cell phone and that they need to leave a number. They STILL don't leave a number. That makes it really hard to return a call. Then they call back again, days later, angry that I haven't returned their call.

I've also gotten, "What? You didn't receive my text?" Even when I had a cell phone, I didn't do texting on it. I just couldn't figure it out...too slow for me; I'm used to a full-size keyboard. I didn't suffer through learning proper typing technique (on manual typewriters that probably outweighed the new lawn mower) in 9th grade (oh, the tears and wailing and gnashing of teeth to get that miserable "D") just to abandon it for a phone keypad...and I didn't sweat through a zillion spelling* and grammar tests, and that notorious Lesson 2 (Punctuation) of KU's Comp I by correspondence 30+ years ago in order to abandon it all for a new "shorthand" of one-letter words and TLAs.

Please, just email me. I'll hit "Reply" at 11:30 p.m. and you'll wake up at 5:30 a.m. and have your answer.

Ah--but email's becoming passe as well. I noticed I wasn't hearing from some of my favorite correspondants much any more, and gradually I've realized why--MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have lured a lot of my friends away from old-fashioned one-on-one correspondence and mailing lists, even on-line.

"MY space" is Pinwheel Farm, 12+ acres of reality. I've never been into photo albums or scrapbooking. I don't Tweet, Twitter, Twit or whatever (how IS that conjugated? English has such irregular tenses to begin with....)...I thought that was for the birds? I saw an indigo bunting and three flycatchers today....

In part, I continue to avoid these "social networking sites" because there isn't that much that I really want to share with just anybody. I have such a diverse circle of friends (or had) and such diverse interests that I don't really want all that mixed up together in a semi-public format, out of context. And I don't want to set myself up as multiple personalities personal goal is towards integrating the various aspects of myself.

Someone commented early on in my blogging that to be readable, I should keep to just a paragraph or two. But life on the farm is complicated, and full of details and nuances that can't be condensed into a half page, let alone a Tweet or a text message. Partly because the context of my life...the vocabulary of my so foreign to most folks.

Then there are the horror stories of the ill-advised things that folks have put up online, only to be haunted by them professionally at a later time.

Then there is the time that I would probably end up wasting as an on-line social butterfly, when I should be farming or doing paperwork. At least when I'm talking on the phone, I can do something with my hands at the same time, and still be productive. (And then there's the time I spend blogging....)

But a significant reason I remain aloof from "social networking" is the same as for my icon-free status: ssslllooowww dial-up internet service. Also why I don't "surf the web" or watch many of the wonderful educational on-line video clips that friends send me. No You-Tube, of course. A three-minute video clip takes about 45 minutes to download on a GOOD night, IF I keep a connection (the one that I actually took the time to download was, bizarrely, from someone who was raised Amish).

Why the dial-up? Well, it remains my only accessible internet option.

The "city-wide" wireless service omits to serve the part of the city north of the river, where I live. Isn't this false advertizing?

There isn't a cable line into the house, and having one installed would, first, damage my fruit trees (and then what would the squirrels eat?) and then open up the tiresome argument with housemates over why they can't use it for TV.

Satellite is unaffordable.

Poor cell phone reception precludes any options through cell phone providers (the irony is I can see a tower less than 1/4 mile from the house)...which would be fairly expensive, too.

Well, that leaves DSL. Which the neighbor in front of me has. But I am in a tiny area not served by DSL. I am too far--by a few feet--from some virtual "central office".

So what are my choices?

I can spend hours and hours of precious time, time that should go to more lasting efforts, doing things on dial-up that dial-up was never designed to do (or more specifically, that weren't designed to be done on dial-up). I can wage war against the injustice of internet inequality. Or I can just be an unintentional Luddite. Except I'm not TRYING to be a Luddite, really.

But the end result, sadly, is that I feel as if I'm not-so-gradually slipping into isolation from the world of humans around me, as all avenues of communication move out of my reach. Society is changing rapidly to reflect these new ways, and I can't keep up. I still try to reach out, sometimes, but it takes more effort and is less and less effective.

I attended a real-life social networking event this evening. I've attended this particular group for several years, and have come to really enjoy the diverse group of folks even if we don't have a lot in common. I've enjoyed hanging out with this crowd on bowling outings, costume parties, white elephant gift exchanges, going to bars, other things that I wouldn't normally just go do for the fun of it. But tonight, the conversations were about what folks had seen on one another's Facebook sites, or what they'd seen on You-Tube.

And then a new horror reared its head: The online "farm" game fad.

After a long day "off" spent harvesting lettuce and herbs, preparing and packing them for a customer, making the delivery, pulling noxious weeds on pasture, trying to beat back the goose grass enough to get a seldom-used gate open...soaking wet shoes filling with grass seeds threatening to rub blisters under the straps...I found myself surrounded by a table full of people talking about their online farms. Planting crops. Building stone walls. Buying things for their farm. Putting in paths. "You sold your house? Where do you live?" "Oh, I don't live on my farm, I just vacation there."

I left the networking event feeling WAY more disconnected than I did when I had arrived.

It's only just now that the eery sense of familiarity about the nature of the farm game conversation has come into focus. It's the same quality of conversation we had as children, playing with paper dolls, imagining lives that were devoid of realistic detail (no bugs or bills), had no consequences, didn't have to consider or interact with neighbors, and could be started over at any time.

My parents were the mean ones that never let us have "store-bought" paper dolls. We had to make our own...and we did.

I guess things haven't changed that much, after all.

* I have made a conscious choice not to attempt to proofread these entries to any degree of perfection. Also, many typos are due to a chronicly malfunctioning keyboard.

OK, I'm back

Not too sure what happened...partly too busy, partly too frustrated with not being able to get the new camera's wonderful new photos to load, partly ?

Several folks have mentioned recently that they miss my "reports from the farm", which was some feedback I've really been missing. So keep in mind: I'm happy to put a lot of TLC into writing about my farm experiences for you. All I ask in return is LET ME KNOW YOU'RE READING THEM via a comment on the blog or an email to

I'm not going to try to catch you up on much that's happened in the last couple months, but just jump in piecemeal with new events.

I'll be taking the entire month of September off from my bus-driving job to catch up on things at the farm. So this coming month--when the weather will most likely be gorgeous--will be a great month to come visit. I'm hoping to renew old firendships and build new social life has been severely diminished by never being available in the evenings these past 3 years. Volunteers are great, but so is just hanging out and talking while I work on something. I'll be missing the social interaction of the bus job.

So, give a call (785-979-6786) or email or catch me at Farmer's Market, and plan a time to join me at the farm, or plan some fun excursion OFF the farm that isn't driving a bus.

Even if I'm "home" most the time, I may be hard to reach because...dare I say it?...I'm outstanding in my field!