Friday, April 22, 2016

Couldn't go to work today . . .

. . . and waste the perfect weekend for getting my springtime chores done. This morning I sunk the fenceposts for my vegetable garden, which is actually a fairly substantial bit of earthwork. I have to fence to keep the deer out, and they'll knock over T-post if it isn't set deep. I'll get the fencing up on Sunday, probably, I still need to get equipment in there easily. I'm also going to plant some flats this weekend -- peppers, tomatoes, the usual. And yeah, lay in firewood for next fall. Now is the time.

I can hear a tractor working the cornfield down the street, I assume spreading manure  at this date. The meadow is full of wildflowers -- blue, white and yellow. The birds are positively symphonic. After a mild winter, the squirrels are positively obese. It's disgusting. Some of the birches are starting to leaf out, as are my fruit trees.

The downer is, we don't know what changes are going to come. Will the birds move north? Will the forest regime change? What will happen to the rain, and the winter snow cover? (There was none this winter, just a few days with a few inches on the ground, that just melted away. Last winter, we had record snowfall. Who knows what to expect?)

We had a single, three day cold snap, with two nights in February that were cold enough to set back the woolly adelgids, or so I am hoping. So far the hemlocks look okay but we'll see. Anyway, it's getting warmer.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Growing Season Officially Begins

Actually it could have started a bit sooner but I didn't get a chance. This morning I planted onion sets, and peas go in this afternoon.

I dug in a lot of loam to get a good soil for root crops, and I have room left for carrots. (My garlic, of course, was already in last fall.) There is actually no frost in the forecast, but it would be foolish to set out any non-hardy plants for at least a couple of weeks. I will however get my tomatoes and peppers going in the greenhouse. This definitely feels good.

If I wanted to clear some land, I could potentially cultivate 8 or 9 acres here, which is enough for a high intensity organic farmer to make a living -- if you really know what you're doing and are willing to bust your ass 7 days a week. My friends who I'll call Festus and Rosita have been doing it for 15 years on less land than that. They plot out every move -- intercropping and succession and fallowing -- to keep the pests at bay and get the most out of every square foot. They have year-round yield with greens under glass and they have mushroom logs in the woods. Not to mention fruit trees, beehives. Then there's processing and marketing.

Festus told me once that he suddenly realized he hadn't left the property for a month. (His father does most of the trucking and selling.) Oh yeah -- he built the house and outbuildings with his own hands. He spends hours every week maintaining equipment. They weed by hand. It's as hard a job as there could possibly be. But that's what they want to do.

The resemblance to what they call the "farms" that put most of the food into your supermarket is pretty much non-existent.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Family Values

I don't exactly know the explanation for some of the differences in regional cultural tendencies. But even the churches are different, at least here in the northeast. When I lived in Boston, and when I was a community organizer in Philadelphia, preachers generally were on the progressive side of politics. Of course some of the Black churches were socially conservative, but the big ones were generally progressive, and I think that has generally changed anyway. A lot of church basements housed the offices of progressive organizations, and churches provided the meeting space for anti-war and social justice movement events. I realize this is a regional reality, those southern and Midwestern megachurches are a different story.

As a matter of fact my uncle was an Episcopal pastor. We attended his church, and my mother taught Sunday school. I even got a bunch of Sunday school perfect attendance pins, which were pretty nice, with gold plating and blue enamel. (Wish I still had them.) My uncle denounced the Vietnam war from the pulpit. So even though atheism hit me like a diamond bullet right between the eyes when I was 14, my impression of Christianity was that it had something to do with the Jesus of the Gospels, until the Christian right emerged on the scene in the 1980s. What woodwork did those people come out of, I wondered?

Well, the rural churches in the northeast, it turns out, are more like churches in the south and midwest. I don't know the explanation for the rural vs. urban cultural divide either, but out here it's Glenn Beckistan. Fortunately there isn't much population so their votes don't add up to much, but still.

So I read with considerable interest Josh Marshall's recollection of how Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House. As you may be old enough to remember, in 1998 the Republicans impeached president Clinton, though the Senate failed to remove him from office, over a consensual adulterous affair with an adult. Yeah, she was a White House intern, so it was fairly skeevy, but on the other hand she initiated it.

The story Marshall tells is actually kind of incredible. I've never seen anybody put it together the way he does. Remember that Speaker Gingrich thought the threatened impeachment would be popular with voters, but in fact Democrats picked up seats in the mid-term, leading to Gingrich's resignation. But it turned out later that while Gingrich was moving to impeach the president, he was carrying on an adulterous affair with a staffer in his office, some 20 years his junior.

So the House Republican Conference nominated Bob Livingston to succeed Gingrich. But then Larry Flynt, the porno magnate, announced he was working on a story about Livingston's adulterous affairs So Livingston Livingston resigned from the House and David Vitter took his seat. In 2007, we found out that the whole time, Vitter was a regular customer of a prostitution ring.

Hastert became Speaker as a colorless, non-controversial compromise candidate. But now we learn that he had a very dark secret in his past, as a serial sexual abuser of boys in his charge as a teacher and wrestling coach. Remember Sen. Larry Craig? And so many others?

Whenever a sex scandal breaks about a politician, you can make money betting that it's a "family values" "Christian" "conservative" before you even learn the name. Yeah, there was Clinton (who we really knew about all along) and Elliot Spitzer, but you would win by far the majority of your bets.

Now that they are busy passing bills allowing discrimination against gay and transgendered people, you have to wonder about the people who are sponsoring and voting for those bills. Just sayin'.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ravages of age?

Hopefully not. Yesterday I went through the annual wrestling match with my loader, getting it back on the tractor. I left the snowplow on until then in order to prevent it from snowing, successfully. According to the manual, attaching the loader is easy, but they are of course lying.

Anyway, the project involves a lot of heavy lifting and today, I am as stiff and sore as I used to be after the first day of wrestling practice. My problem is that I'm trying to hold down a desk job, with a long commute attached, while being a farmer and a lumberjack on the weekend. The human body is meant to be in one mode or the other, I think.

The 21st Century has achieved a milestone. The majority of humans now live in cities. I just supervised an MPH thesis by an immigrant from west Africa who did a health needs assessment of the African immigrant community in her city. It included a survey. It shouldn't surprise you that most of her respondents said that it was harder to get exercise here than it was in the old country, where exercising was just part of everyday life. Now they have to go out of your way, and probably spend money, in order to be physically active.

There is a lot about city life that I miss, but let's face it. City life ain't natural. It's astonishing how adaptable we humans are, but maybe we need to find a way to live in the post-industrial age that's more like what we're built for.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Welcome to the tropics

On Tuesday, the high temperature at Bradley International Airport was 81 degrees F. That broke the previous high temperature record for the date by 9 degrees. It was the earliest 80+ degree reading there ever, and is the normal high temperature for June 21. It is also 36 degrees above the normal high temperature for the date. The following day also set a high temperature record.

If the temperature on June 21 this year is 36 degrees above normal, it will be 117 degrees. I'm not expecting that, just sayin'. Since Wednesday, the temperatures have remained well above normal. It's been shirtsleeve weather, although it is still officially winter. I even thought about planting onion sets this weekend, then I had to get a grip. There's no reason not to wait until April, and the weather might turn normal before then. I'm also contemplating whether to take the snowplow off my tractor, because I could certainly use the loader. But I decided to leave it on in order to prevent any substantial snowfall.

What this means for the future I'm not sure, but for the present it's a real pain. If my fruit trees flower they are likely to get frosted and I'll lose my crop. That happened a few years ago. If it becomes a common occurrence there's a whole New England industry in big trouble. There's no telling when to plant cool weather crops like lettuce and peas. Until things settle down to some sort of predictability it's going to be at best highly disconcerting.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Choir practice

I don't usually sleep through the night, so I have benefited from free concerts at around 4:00 am. That's when the coyotes generally perform. They have a much greater variety of compositions than domestic dogs -- as far as I can tell so far the possibilities are infinite. They do duets as well as solos, and sometimes they do a conversation with others in the distance.

The sounds are often eerie, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes lyric. But why are they doing this? Are they talking with each other, or for some reason announcing themselves? And why in the middle of the night?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Miracles of modern technology

In case I haven't mentioned it, I live out here amongst the idiocy of rural life*, but I work in the city, in Providence specifically. They make me park about six miles from my office which gives me a couple of nice walks each day. My path takes me through a whole lot of vacant land resulting from the relocation of a stretch of interstate highway, which has been gradually undergoing transformation.

The latest project is what I believe to be a new electrical substation. For some reason it has to be on piles, a lot of them. Watching this procedure has been fabulous entertainment. First a big crane, a really humongous auger, and the pile driver, in pieces, showed up about 400 yards away from the site. They set up the pile driver over a period of a few days, attaching and raising the boom and then attaching the driving apparatus. They flew the flag of the company from the top of the boom, which is a good 40 feet high, I would say. The body of the machine is on tank tracks and obviously has to weigh mass quantities of tons in order to counterweight the boom.

After mucking around the site with backhoes and loaders for a week or so, they finally drove the big boys over there. The piles arrived on flat bed trucks, I'd guess 25 foot long  slabs of reinforced concrete. The crane was for getting them off the truck -- it turns out the pile driver does its own hoisting.

First they drill holes in the ground with the augur. The pile driver has two cables running from the top of the boom which get attached to u-bolts in the pile, one near the top and the other just above the center. Then the operator hauls the pile toward the vertical, runs the driving apparatus up the boom,  and maneuvers the top of the pile into a box in the apparatus, which is an astonishingly deft feat. Rather scarily, men on the ground then push the bottom of the pile -- it's obviously perfectly balanced on the lower u-bolt -- into a fitting that holds it in place. The machine then crawls to position the pile over the appropriate augur hole and starts pounding. In the old days they worked by repeatedly dropping a weight on the top of the pile -- you probably have an image of those big weights going up and down -- but now it uses a hydraulic ram.

This machine has got to cost half a million bucks. It's not what we think of as high tech but in fact it's the culmination of probably centuries of development, since the steam engine first came into use. I haven't researched the history but obviously there has been continual refinement of materials and machinery. The kind of construction that's happening by my daily walk would not have been possible 100 years ago and probably would not have been an economically viable choice until the postwar years. What we have now is an incremental improvement since then, as far as I know, but still, this is an astonishing capability that humans have given themselves, to pound 25 feet of reinforced concrete into the ground in about 20 minutes.

I got to observe all the stages of the operation on a day when my power at home had been knocked out by a windstorm. It happens a lot here, since the power lines run through the woods, so I get to think about our state of interdependence quite a lot. When you think about it, if you were to pull one thread from the fabric of civilization, you could get the whole thing to unravel. It's astonishing that it doesn't happen, actually.