Tuesday, June 11, 2013


More often than not, particularly at this time of year, I find myself swallowed-up by the day to day, and the potentially-overwhelming constant list-making and planning for the next few days, or even weeks. Despite planning for planting season, and harvesting and canning season, in a way, I end up being a creature of the habitual moment-- just a doer.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing. Usually, I like the doing of the tasks I’ve set out for myself, in this life I’ve chosen to lead. Even bringing food and water to chickens, or weeding the ambitiously large garden are not chores, per se, if, in the moment of doing them, I smile at the chicken antics; if I say hi to these silly little fellow beings; if I stop and wonder at a new weed type, or if I listen to the birds around me. All of these moments, enjoyed while doing, as well as the doing itself, are why I do love this way of life. Seed goes in soil, while I get a bugs-eye view of the world (and prematurely age my knees a little bit more). Sprouts come up, and get quietly cultivated around with a hoe. And then there are beans, and more beans (and other things)! So, so many beans, breaking my back as I harvest, loving the quiet of it, and the promise. Beans for supper, beans blanched and dried off and frozen, beans pickled. Happy, full people.
I love the doing, the actions I’ve set forth for myself, simple, time-honored. I love the repetition, as well as the always unknowable, ever-changing nature of working within the weather.  Doing, when done with attention, can be a sort of prayer. Kneel down, hand full of seeds, nose to the earth, facing north. Walk on your knees. Listen. Listen. Doing can also be a danger, a loss to the soul, when it becomes just the doing, without any thought or listening. I think that is why the thought of most people’s jobs makes me want to run away, hands in the air! I find it all too easy to get lost in the list, the to-do, the task-upon-task. One moment it is 6am, the next it’s 9:30. Rinse and repeat. Maybe, for some people, it works to just feel like you’re living on the weekend. It is SO easy to go into automatic the rest of the time. When I remember to think about it, however, I rebel at the notion of living life after hours, as it were.  To run on automatic means to forget the greater stuff that can make life worthwhile. Stopping to appreciate a moment, or just really feeling and listening while you’re mid-task, does not mean stopping doing, it does not mean being lazy, or being a poor worker. We don’t stop what we’re doing to breathe. There is a difference between doing and doing automatically.
This year, I am striving for a better balance. I work away from home (here) three or four days a week, and stay there overnight to cut down on gas costs and wear on the car. When I am home, the daily tasks of household maintenance, plus my choice to grow most of our vegetable for the year, and all the other stuff that goes along with my half of our little farm can become anxiety-producing and overwhelming. My goal for this season is to make lists less ridiculous, to do a little bit of work in the garden every day I AM home to keep a big build-up from happening, and to plan for harvest and canning time so that, yes, I will still be my busiest, but I will remember to breathe. After all, I CHOSE this life. I found something I loved to do, and decided to make it work. But it doesn’t qualify as working, if in the deciding to do it, I forget to be kind, forget to breathe, or forget the bigger picture. So here’s to being conscious doers, thinking beings, alive. If it weren’t pouring right now, I’d go kneel in the garden and walk north on my knees, planting some more seeds.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


This past week was a lesson in and a reminder of the many faces (and phases) of grief. My father called me mid-week to tell me that my childhood cat, Rollie, who until very recently was a vibrant, cheerful, out-going, loving and lovely, HUGE kitty, was truly and rapidly succumbing to kidney failure. He had barely been able to walk up a few steps to come inside the night before, and so my deeply upset father felt it was time to take him to the vet for his final trip. Dad was upset that Rollie, who hated the vet, had to go there in order to die. He was also disturbed by the taking of a life, even if in mercy.
I was sad to hear that Rollie was going away, but frankly, I had been more disturbed by the news of him being sick not long before. I had seen him and, knowing he was sick, I had petted his now-bony frame and said goodbye. When Dad told me Rollie would soon be dead, I felt very little in comparison to the sadness I had already felt regarding his illness. I didn’t like that he would go to the place he hated in order to die—that didn’t feel right, but otherwise, I did not feel much remorse.
The next afternoon, my mother called to tell me that my 99-year-old Great-Grandmother, whom I had not seen in about 13 years had passed away. She had been declining, but somehow I just thought she would hang on forever, out of sheer… something. I hadn’t seen her in 13 years, so she had become something of an abstraction in my head. I don’t think I really felt much at all. I absorbed the news, accepted, and moved on.
Then, over the weekend, while I was away working, my wife informed me the sheep she had just bought had escaped, and our neighbor had had to shoot it because it was so flighty and not trained to grain. That was a shock, and it pissed me off that yet again we had not done things right and an animal had escaped and had to die under less-than-ideal circumstances. I felt like it was my wife’s fault because it would have been physically impossible for the sheep to have gotten out of the shed without some human error.
Less than a few hours later, however, none of the upset about the sheep mattered anymore. My wife texted me again, this time to say that she could not find our cat, Hamish. He was a huge, black, hugely fuzzy, and wonderfully un-cat-like, quirky guy. He had been in her life for years, and come into mine when I met her a few years ago. She looked everywhere in the house for him. At last, she went outside. Hamish was not an outdoor cat. Every now and then he would poke around outside, sit on the porch in the sun, sniff the front garden, and then come in, but there he was. She found him in the middle of the field, dead, but with no wounds or signs of trauma. As far as my distraught wife could tell, he had gone outside to die. He was somewhere between 12 and 16 years old, recently he had been slowing down, but there were no signs of illness. He had seemed fine.
This loss I felt. It was a shock. I felt guilt that I had not loved him more, petted him more frequently. I felt guilt that I had not checked on him the night before I left, before I went to bed. I felt guilt that I did not say goodbye to him in the morning when I left for work. It was unusual for me to not do these things, and yet I hadn’t, and then, just like that, he was gone. It was unbelievable, unacceptable, heart breaking. And it was made more heart breaking to me because it was the fourth in a string of recent deaths, and because of how upset my wife was.
Maybe people will be offended that I’m talking about the death of an elderly woman in the same space as the accidental death of a sheep, the expected death of one cat, and the unexpected death of another. But it is all loss. And some loss hits closer to home. It’s about connections, and circumstances. My great-grandmother’s death was the least problematic, least fraught of any of these four.
Today, I vacuumed, and I’ve never felt so resistant to that task (something I actually like to do). I was erasing Hamish’s life with us with every tuft of fuzz sucked into the vacuum. Call it silly, but it really got to me. Vacuuming today hammered home that Hamish is not lurking around some corner. He’s not coming back. He’s NOT coming back. And neither is Rollie. And Grammy Shaw is dead. And the sheep did not die the right way. Today, I’m in that phase of grief that shares sadness with confusion and a sense of the absurd. I want to say, What the heck, Universe!? What is going ON?! Times like these I feel superstitious. Times like these I feel like a discussion on Faith with some of my friends.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fiddlehead meanders

As I write, I can watch two incredibly fat robins skitter and hop over the front lawn in the slanting white light of a post-storm morning. The air outside is still blustery and cold, but with a nice, washed crispness to it. If it weren’t for the robins and the trees budding out, it could be early October. It is late April, and above the robins, the weeping willows have begun to push out little leaves. The hills have a soft mist of green over everything. 

Yesterday, on a walk in search of fiddleheads, I came across a tall Amalanchier (service berry) tree that had fallen over sometime in the past year or two. It still had roots in the hillside, and all along the now-skyward side of the trunk, the thin branches were reaching straight up, and covered in tender, small reddish-green leaves. Some of the branches bore a few flowers. I’d never been able to reach up to an Amalanchier flower and pull it to my nose before. The flowers are similar to cherry flowers in shape and delicacy, but the smell is entirely different. They smelled softly sweet and creamy—very much like when you’re making sugar cookies and the first step is to cream the butter and sugar together.

 Picking fiddleheads is a spring tradition, and a calm joy. It is also a reverent ritual, one of respect and gratitude. I prefer to pick on cool days, when my senses feel as sharp as the air. Yesterday, it was spitting snow, perfect for fiddlehead picking. This year I feel quite a bit of gratitude toward the existence and availability of the fiddleheads. This past winter we rarely had a vegetable or fruit beyond peas, kale, and peaches frozen last year and a host of different pickles I made. By now, we’re very much ready for something else.

I don’t remember which one of my parents first took me looking for fiddleheads, but I do know we always paid attention. Don’t harvest too many per crown. Careful where you put your feet. Keep your eye peeled. Off bigger crowns of 6 or more fiddleheads, I’ll take two, no more than three if it is a very big crown. Off most crowns I’ll only take one. And if a crown is small, and only has one or two fiddleheads coming along, I won’t take any.  Yesterday I was harvesting amongst jewelweed and stinging nettles. The jewelweed is fine, it’s related to impatiens, harmless and tiny right now, harmless and tall and sort of pretty with its slightly silvery-green foliage and its little orange flowers. But I was very aware of the whereabouts of the nettles. And I’m always careful to walk through the patch of ferns carefully, placing my feet deliberately, always watching to make sure I don’t stomp on a crown and crush something. 

One thing I will add, for anyone reading this, is that there IS a correct, safe way to eat fiddleheads. They are very high in tannins, and can cause gastric issues if not properly cooked. According to a U Maine resource, they need to be boiled for 15 minutes, then if you wish you can sauté them or whatever. Here is how my family prepares them:

Rinse fiddleheads vigorously to remove “paper”.

Place in pot, cover completely with cold water.

Cover and bring to a boil.

Boil for about ten minutes.

Pour off water (which should now be dark brown).

Rinse with cold water.

Cover fiddleheads with cold water again.

Cover and bring to a boil again.

Boil for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve immediately, before they turn to mush.

If you are not going to serve them immediately, cool them off with more cold water.

You can make a cold salad with them, sauté them in butter and garlic (or another, more difficult to find spring treat, ramps, a.k.a. wild leeks), put them in any recipe where you might use asparagus or spinach (stir-fry, quiche, pasta salad, pasta primavera, macaroni and cheese, omelets, chicken or veal piccata, etc.), or, more commonly, serve them straight with butter and salt and pepper. It’s also common to put a dash of cider vinegar over them. Though, after a winter of pickles, I might forego that this year!

If you do not have access or time to pick fiddleheads yourself, and are buying them in a local grocery store or at a farmers market, please be informed about the source. Since they have become a fad localvore item in restaurants, there has been a major increase in harvesting on a much more commercial scale. This is not good for the plants. Please make sure that whoever is providing you with fiddleheads has harvested them respectfully.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Response to an op-ed

I have a few people on facebook asking what my thoughts are on a recent op-ed, and I find I cannot shrink my thoughts down. The following is a paragraph-by-paragraph response to an op-ed in the New York Times coming hard on the heels of the ethics of meat essay contest. I had never heard of the author before reading this article, and I have not read his book, so I cannot assume to know much about his opinions or his data except what he expressed on the pages of the NY Times.

It works just fine to avoid factory farmed meats by simply not eating meat. In fact, it works better than trying to get non-industrial meat in a lot of cities and towns where there just are not other options. There’s nothing wrong with going vegetarian. But vegetarians should be aware that their choices are not without repercussions, too. None of us can live an existence free of repercussions. Most vegetarians by their eating choices are still supporting industrial agriculture to some extent, just not industrial meat production.
I want to see the author's numbers on how grass-fed cows produce more methane. Until I see the scientific study that produced the data on this, I simply don’t believe it, because it goes against every other piece of data I’ve ever seen.  I also want to see his numbers on pastured chickens. When he says we cannot possibly pasture all the cows because that would take half our land, he’s right: Which is why we should EAT LESS MEAT. Americans eat more red meat than other countries. 

If the author is approaching this entire thing using the same thinking that got us in this mess in the first place, no wonder he thinks small-scale ag can’t save us! It can’t! Not if what we want is to continue to produce beef and commodities such as corn like we have been. Now, I am not a statistician, so I don’t know the numbers that might come out of a study on how many people a well-run, diversified farm can feed year-round, so I won’t even begin to argue that point. But the author is literally thinking from the wrong place if he is crunching all these numbers and coming to all these conclusions based on the assumption that in order to feed America we have to continue feeding Americans as we have been. That system is BROKEN. We cannot replace it with the organic version of itself and nor can we hope to replace it with small farms. The small farmers that I know are part of a wave of people that are literally re-imagining what the food system could look like. Can we feed all of America with small farms? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that we would be wrong to assume that we cannot based solely on the fact that we cannot use small farmers to produce all the same stuff in the same ever-increasing quantities as the industrial ag machine.  And yes, a huge amount of land that was rainforest is now pasture for cows in Brazil. He’s right. It’s horrifying. But that’s not small farming, that’s part of the industrial system. And he should look into where much of the soy he probably eats is grown—IN BRAZIL.

Yes, many farmers raise the same breed of chicken as the industrial farms, and because of that have to feed a lot of grain, and the birds end up with leg problems because they were not bred to walk around on pasture. It’s not a great system. As they realize there are alternatives, some small chicken farms are moving away from the genetic mutant that is the Cornish Cross chicken and going back to old dual-purpose or large breeds. They grow more slowly, but they also cost less because they need less grain, because they know what to do with grass and bugs.  And on the subject of pigs, I have NEVER seen a pig with a nose ring to keep it from rooting, no matter its living conditions.  

To say that going small will only lead to the small farmers wanting to get bigger, and putting us back where we are now is so clearly out of touch with reality and could have been written by an economist. Yes, in the old capitalist paradigm, the only thing a business can or should ever want to do is get bigger. In fact, they have to! That thinking is what got us in this mess in the first place. But every farmer I’ve met wants to get to a certain size and stay there, whatever size needed to not burn our too fast, but allow them to pay their bills. The old model of grow-grow-grow is what put their daddy’s dairy farms out of business; they are wary of it. The author is wrong and missing the point again.

The nutrient cycle is not interrupted if a deer moves on from your back yard to someone else's back yard; it’s just taking its excrement elsewhere. A pasture full of meat cattle is not suddenly impoverished the moment the animals move to another pasture or are taken to slaughter. Their waste slowly integrates into the nutrient cycle, and the next spring, when new cattle are put out to pasture, the grass is all the richer. Clearly the author does not understand that farms do not experience perpetual growing seasons, that even grass needs to rest or it will become over grazed, and that the nutrients in animal waste do not instantly evaporate if they are not constantly being deposited. 

He says, “…it’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.” It’s how AND whether. Unless he was planning on having all the cows in the US magically disappear to a happy place over night, what exactly does he think happens to male dairy cattle? They get killed and used for burger. Are we all going to go vegan? He must realize that it will take a lot of nuts and soy to replace our meat protein. How much water stolen from the Colorado River goes into growing California’s almonds? Is it ok that most organic soy is grown in a clear-cut from the Amazon? What about the cost in energy and the environment to get that soy here? As I see it, he did not approach the subject from a broad enough lens and at the same time did approach the subject from the assumption that we must continue to, in one way or another, perpetuate the current broken industrial food system in order to feed ourselves an omnivore diet. I don't know if we can feed America or the world from small, diversified farms. But I do believe that the thinking that the author evinces is the same sort of thinking that got us in this mess to begin with, and thus will not help solve our problems.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ethics and complex questions

The New York Times is having an essay contest asking the question, “Tell us why it is ethical to eat meat.”  As I see it, the question posed by the NY Times opens up a can of worms. We, as beings capable of thoughtful action, have an obligation to be thoughtful in our actions as they pertain to other life. I do not see the eating of beef as being inherently any more or less moral than the eating of soy products. Did the cow live a good life? Was it killed swiftly, and with respect? No? Well then, we have a problem. Did the tofu come from genetically modified soy grown with lots of chemical inputs in an area cut out of the Amazon? Yes? Well then, we have a problem. The rate at which we, as Americans, use up resources is unethical because it is not sustainable and not a lifestyle that everyone in the world who might want to could emulate—we would need more Earths. An action is not ethical if it does not consider the repercussions for future generations. So I might also ask: What quantity of petroleum products went into raising the cattle? Think about the pesticides of the corn for feed; think about the tractors and combines; think about packaging the beef; think about shipping it. What quantity of petroleum products went into the tofu or tempeh? Think about the pesticides for the soy bean plants; think about the tractors and combines; think about shipping the soybeans to processing plants; think about the processing; think about the packaging; think about shipping the soy products to stores.

This is not to say that we should stop eating! And, being less than wealthy myself, I understand the constraints of budget upon food-buying choices—I just happen to be lucky about where I live, and thus my affordable and simultaneously ethical food choices. But what we should do is make every action a deliberate and thoughtful one. And that is what I would really say to the judges on the contest panel. 

Nothing is so simple as we would like to pretend it could be.

The following is a slightly different form of the essay than what I sent in:

It is very easy for us as human beings to frame questions, thoughts, and beliefs in black and white terms, no matter how nuanced the issues are in reality. To ask the question, “tell us why it is ethical to eat meat?” is, perhaps, to ask the question from already limited thinking. The phrasing of the question calls upon the respondent to use the strong language of dichotomy: good/bad, right/wrong. Ethics in general, and in this case specifically the ethics of eating meat, is far too complex an issue to be approached with such a yes-or-no mindset. There are many questions we need to ask ourselves about eating meat. There are factors that need to be considered, and repercussions to every action. Only through looking at the broader picture of the meat that we do or do not eat can we come to any informed decision about the ethics of that decision.

The first of the many factors, questions, and repercussions we need to think about is domestication.  If everyone stopped eating meat, there would still be a multitude of domesticated animals in the world. While it is romantic to think that we could all stop eating meat and yet people would continue to keep all the domesticated-for-meat animals as pets, it is unrealistic. So what would happen to domesticated-for-meat animals if we stopped eating meat? Would we turn them loose, let them die in “natural” circumstances completely new to them? Even if they survived, what would be the impact on the ecosystems into which they were released? Would we get annoyed at all the cows and pigs tromping through our gardens, rooting things up, eating our vegetables? Would that make us angry, would it make us feel justified in shooting these “pests”? How could it possibly be more ethical to shoot as a pest or let die as an afterthought an animal that was brought into this world for the sole purpose of being eaten? How is that respectful to the animal? And what would we do with all the male dairy animals born that we didn’t need? We only need a couple bulls to keep a many cows producing milk and replacement heifers. So what about all the other male dairy animals? Not eating meat has repercussions, too. To act ethically we must think of all the repercussions to any action we take.

Another factor to be considered is the eating of meat from non-domesticated animals: hunting. In the US, the percentage of people who get there food from game is relatively small. The question still should be considered: Is it any more or less ethical to kill a wild animal for meat? These are not animals that are dependent upon us for their food and safety; many of the complexities of meat-eating vanish when the meat in question is from a wild animal. Not all of them, however. We have altered ecosystems, destroyed the normal predator-prey ratios. If deer exist in such numbers and without their traditional predators, is it not our obligation to keep their populations in check, both for their health and the health of the ecosystem? And would it not be significantly more wrong to simply kill those over-populated deer, rather than put their lives to use by using them to fuel our own? I do not believe that it is unethical to kill another animal in order to feed ourselves. Human beings need protein, and we are, in fact, animals. We have a number of unique attributes, not the least of which is to think abstractly, philosophically, ethically. To what extent does that make us different than other animals? What we sometimes forget in our forays into the abstract and the ethical is that we are, in the end, another animal—a clever and complex predator. Is there an ethical problem with the role of the predator? Is there an ethical problem when wolves kill elk, or larger primates kill smaller ones? Are we not part of a larger ecosystem?

It would be naive to think that we could separate the ethics of eating meat from the ethics of how those animals were raised. Thousands of years ago, human beings started domesticating animals. In The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes the morality of domestication and the killing of animals for food as “A contract of good husbandry” in which “we may claim the moral authority to kill animals for food only on the basis that we are offering them a better deal in life than they would get without our help.”  We are in breach of that contract every time we keep them from appropriate habitat, feed them things they did not evolve to eat, hurt them. But we are not made less ethical by the basics of tending to domesticated animals. We should raise animals under conditions that let them lead good lives, not matter how short. I do not believe that it is unethical to kill and eat an animal that was born for the sole purpose of being killed and eaten if that animal was raised and killed with respect. Some might ask how killing could ever involve respect.  As humans, we can be violent. We can kill in anger, in thoughtlessness, and accidentally. We can also honor the life of an animal, thank it for the food it will provide, and speed it along. At its most ethical, the slaughter of an animal for meat is a thoughtful endeavor.

Another complex factor to be considered is that not eating meat does not automatically absolve us of the ethical responsibility that comes with everything we do, particularly eating. Vegetarianism, too, should not be seen to be without death. Every field that is harvested by machine has birds and mice and other small critters living in it. Ground-nesting birds are killed when grain is harvested. Humans dispense all sorts of chemicals to kill and keep rodents from food stores. How is that any less killing? Is it somehow more ethical to kill an animal if you are not going to eat it? Is the death of an animal somehow more excusable if it is a pest or just a casualty of circumstances? I don’t believe so. We must accept that deaths happen, and to try to ensure that they happen for a reason, and without cruelty. 

The question cannot simply be, “Is eating meat ethical?” it must be more nuanced. It must be, “What are the repercussions of my day-to-day choices and actions? What do I affect by eating this? How?” Eating meat is neither inherently ethical nor inherently unethical. It is rife with obligation and complexity. We must consider the life and death of the animal, the impact of its life and death on the ecosystem, and the repercussions for that animal’s life and the lives of its offspring if we choose not to eat it. Only then can we live, and eat, ethically. To eat in an ethical manner requires a deep awareness, and long-term thinking.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Core tenets, and our future

With all the shouting and enflamed/ing speech going on in the public discourse these days, I feel the need to put out into the universe a few thoughts.
I believe in discourse. I believe in compassion. I believe in foresight. I believe in speaking rationally about one’s emotions. I believe that shouting has rarely, if ever, changed another person’s mind. I believe that certain basic ethical standards exist outside of any religion. I believe that the best we, as human beings, can do for ourselves in the present, for our future generations and the long-term continuation of our species, is to behave in an ethical manner-- that is, to be Good to one another, to be as understanding as we can, and to act with a positive vision for the future. I believe that doing the best that we can for ourselves and our future generations by acting in an ethical manner necessarily corresponds with doing the best for the health of the planet and all of its ecosystems and creatures, because we are part of that whole big conglomeration of cultures, critters and ecosystems, and to separate priorities of our health and continuation from priorities of ecological health and continuation would be beyond foolishness; in actuality, it is impossible. I believe, in short, in some sort of amalgamation of thoughts put forth in essays by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Ethics for the New Millennium) and by Aldo Leopold, with a dusting of Walt Whitman, my parents, and my own ponderings on top.

I will freely admit that nothing in this world makes me more enflamed with anger than to see injustice flagrantly embraced. In situations where I see an injustice uncorrected, I find it difficult to act with the self-same levels of restraint, reasonableness, and compassion that I believe to be so central to being Good in the world. It is in part because of this that I started a blog at this moment in time.

There is so much violence-- both physical and in speech-- taking place in our world. There is so much greed and injustice. None of it makes me angrier than the willful, self-centered, head-in-sand, greed-motivated lack of foresight in practice at this moment by so many of the people in positions of power (be they economic or political, if the two can even be separated).  I believe that the reason this particular brand of injustice makes me more angry than any other is because it is not just injustice willfully and knowingly perpetrated on the current few, or even the current many; it is injustice willfully and knowingly perpetrated on the entire fate and future of the human race as a whole; it s, in effect, playing a very bad version of god for the entire world. Decisions made at the level of current corporate self-interest are not decisions made in the interest of the whole planet’s future, and yet, on so many occasions, those decisions do in fact have repercussions upon the whole planet’s future. Oil and water use, emissions standards, global warming denial, forest harvesting standards, mineral extraction, outsourcing manufacturing and its ties with clean water and clean air standards worldwide, genetic modification of seed and concurrent decreases in genetic diversity, destruction of the Amazonian rainforest for cattle, sugar cane, and soy production, and so many more agenda items are issues which have, can, and will affect everyone everywhere. But we have allowed moneyed interest to rule our interests, and our government’s decisions.

I would not call myself a raging liberal, and half of my nature has no desire to fight. But I was born with passion paired with an eye for detail and connections, and  into a world that promised me everything, only to reveal that everything had been squandered through a combination of centuries of foolishness and willful ignorance and injustice. I don’t mean to be dark, or dramatic, and I am not a pessimist. I do, however, see a world that does not live up to my expectations of foresight and ethical comportment. Instead, I see a world into which I am honestly not sure I want to bring children. I want children, but that is, in a way, beside the point. What world will my generation’s children inherit? If those in positions of power now continue their current patterns of behavior, nothing substantial will be done to curb global warming, and in my lifetime, significant changes will be seen. In the lifetime of my generation’s children…? Will they inherit a world despoiled, flooding, frequented by unpredictedable fluctuations in weather patterns? Will it look like this, but wetter and milder in climate? Will the gulf stream “conveyor belt” stop? Switch directions? In a matter of decades (link 1link 2link 3, etc.), not centuries, will the earth be plunged into another ice age? What would any of this look like for my future children, raised to live off the land in Vermont?

And so I struggle between desperate fury and day-to-day concerns. I see a direct and striking connection between the current evidence of self-serving financial greed in this country (and elsewhere), and frustrations and concerns of those people thinking about our future in the global environment. I wonder where we as a country, and as a species, are headed. And I wish fervently that a vision of foresight and compassion overcomes the current paradigm of self-serving short-sightedness, for all of our sakes.  I do not know how to bring this about, considering my aforementioned belief that shouting does not change minds. I do not, however, believe that everyone in government or in power is bad, or corrupted, and, so, perhaps the hope is for something like the uprising and thoughts of the Occupy/99% movement to start discussions and changes in behavior, as, perhaps, it already has. I don’t know. Let us pray for the best-- for compassion, rational discourse, and foresight, and for a future for all of us.     

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paean for "turkels"

    A couple years ago, my wife and I raised bronze turkeys. We were beginners, with no experience and no tutorials on how to raise turkeys, only chickens. The combination of our ignorance and some half-assed, rigged-up living quarters proved to be a deadly one for a number of the poults. (See The Hard Way) We learned that turkeys are tender, perhaps more tender than chicks. They really must have no drafts. And they grow even faster, and thus out-grow any rigged-up living situation rather rapidly. But in the end, most of the turkeys made it to young adulthood. And I fell deeply, madly, irrevocably in love. I learned that “poo pee pee pee peep!” could mean a number of things, based on the intonation. I could be in the garden by the hoophouse, up the hill quite a ways from the young turkeys, and hear a call, and know instantly if I needed to respond or not. One version meant “Danger!,” one meant “I’m hungry!,” another quieter, yet equally insistent one meant “the waterer stopped working and I'm thirsty!” and then there was one that said “I can’t see my friends! Where is everyone?”  There was a different kind of sound the day that one drowned in the sheep’s water trough-- a mistaken pairing of species that I will never, ever repeat.
    As they got older, the peeps turned into barks, burbles and chirps-- they sounded more like seals than any bird. They were so fast, so inquisitive. Gangly, silly, affectionate dinosaurs, they would follow me, chase me over the field. I always had to sneak down toward them, and then, when they saw me, race to get to the food bin before them. If I didn’t, they would leap on it, herd around it, clown around and make things difficult (including always pecking at the buttons on whatever shirt or coat I was wearing).
    I like chickens quite a bit. When well-kept and clean, I think chickens are beautiful and interesting, a little silly, and sometimes surprisingly fast and smart, and can be affectionate. But I loved turkeys-- the way the corn stubble and pea vines shook as they gleaned the fields, their conversational barks and burbles, their unfathomable black eyes peering at me from cocked heads on their unsightly dinosaur necks. What is this deep love for something so completely alien, so utterly non-mammalian? And these weren’t even heirloom breed turkeys. Sure, they weren’t the white giants reputed to have had all the brains bred out of them along with their ability to procreate naturally. These were just bronze turkeys that could get pretty huge but otherwise looked remarkably like their wild cousins. No one is watching their genetics; Slow Food is not touting their wonderful characteristics; normal people wouldn’t write a paean for these turkeys. Still, it’s been two years since that one-and-only experience raising them, and I can’t wait to have them in my life again.