Friday, December 26, 2008

Nipper catches Christmas Dinner

A few days ago, I lost one of my Rouen ducks to the bane of poultry keepers-predators. By the leavings of the kill, I surmised it was most likely raccoon, but possibly opossum. I set traps,but nothing returned, most likely due to an ice storm. The next evening , I went into the barn and ran into a large male opossum on the top of a twenty foot stack of first cut hay. He was an easy shot with the gun I was wearing, but the idea of a 9mm sized hole in the roof of my barn was not very appealing. I went to the house for a .22 rifle but could not find an angle to make a safe shot. I let our old blue heeler, Nipper, through the sheep pens and she climbed the stack and caught the intruder in short order.

Nipper is an excellent huntress of groundhogs and other small mammals, but a bit feral. She rightly assumes anything she catches belongs to her. She also hunts for both sport and food. While she will share her kills with me, if I set it back down she regards it as dinner. Normally, I take her kills back when I find them, because her culinary habits are disgusting. However, this one she got to keep. After all, it is Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dorothy Sayers

Yesterday my church calendar commemorated the life of Dorothy Sayers. If you have heard of her, it was probably as a mystery writer. However, she was as clear an apologist of basic Christianity in the Twentieth Century as CS Lewis.

Dorothy is also a model for us because she did not lead a "perfect" Christian life here on earth, as none of us will. However, through these failures and struggles she grew in faith. As a young single woman, she had an affair that ended in a child out of wedlock---a greater scandal in her day than today. Like CS Lewis, she married a divorcee, and was unable to have a regular marriage in the Church of England.

Her theological writing is centered around the heart of the orthodox Christian faith,the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. She had little time for either the liberal approach of negating the reality of sin, or the pietistic approach of reducing Christian life to middle class morality. She coined the phrase "seven deadly virtues" to address the latter. These deadly virtues are Respectability, Childishness, Mental Timidity, Dullness, Sentimentality, Censoriousness, and depression of the Spirits. I think also because of her own struggles, she wrote an essay called "The six other Deadly Sins", as in her lifetime, morality had been reduced to a single thing.

For an agrarian, she also has much to say in her essay "Why Work?"

"A society in Which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded upon waste and trash, and such a society is a house built on sand".

She railed against the waste she saw in England before the second World War, in light of the privations felt by the English People during the war. "Can you remember....the stockings we bought cheap and threw away to save the trouble of mending?...the fresh peas we could not bother to shell and threw aside for something out of a tin?....we have had to learn the bitter lesson that in all the World there are only two sources of wealth, the fruit of the earth and the labor of men, and to estimate work not by the money it brings the producer, but by the worth of the thing that is made". The entire essay is as applicable for 21st Century Americans as her wartime British audience.

Like Martin Luther she also emphasized the value of all good work as Christian work, and refused to allow the church to usurp the inherent value of all honest toil.

"Let the church remember this: that every maker and every worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade-not outside it........ the Official Church wastes time and energy, and moreover, commits sacrilege, in demanding that secular workers should neglect their proper vocation in order to do Christian work-by which she means ecclesiastical work".

Sayers is also responsible for much of the modern revival of classical approaches to learning, particularly education based upon the Trivium of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. She is strong minded, and often satirical essayist, but like a true prophet, her criticism are tempered by love of a wayward people. She is among my favorite writers, and I will close with the collect of thanksgiving for her life.

O Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Dorothy L Sayers special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant, we beseech thee, that by this teaching we may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Big Vegetables

I took these pictures at the end of the garden season, but never had time to post them until now. I am only posting these to show off--forgive my vanity. The pepper weighed in at 14 ounces. I did not weigh the sweet onion but is was tasty. The onion was raised where the 2007 meat chicken pen was, and the pepper was raised where the ducks wintered.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pig Sticker

I have been reflecting recently on how many of the tools I use on our homestead have been around this farm my entire life. The peavey I roll logs with belonged to my grandfather. The hatchet I cut ice from the animal's water tanks with was my Dad's trapping ax. When I was about five, I stole it out of the back of his 1952 Chevy and tried to cut down one of the yard maples. I got in some trouble for that.

One of the tools I used recently was my Dad's Kabar knife. It has been used by three generations for certain butchering tasks and it has a story. At the end of World War Two, a retuning sailor who was a friend or relative gave it to my then teenage dad. I am sorry I cannot remember who. I am also sorry I never asked my Dad if he chose to take it with him when he was drafted in 1951.

While the Kabar was designed as a fighting knife, Dad used it as a boy kill chickens for the table, and his dad used it to stick pigs to bleed them out. Dad had to butcher one chicken every Sunday for Sunday supper. Sunday supper was always chicken and jello, both regarded as treats by his mother. My dad hated both as an adult.

During my childhood, the Kabar lived most of the year in a drawer in the basement. When I was old enough, my dad showed me how to use it in lieu of a cleaver to butcher deer. He never carried it hunting, as a pocketknife is adequate to gut, and he had another knife to skin.

As an adult who returned to the family farm, dad showed me how to flick the Kabar to cleanly decapitate a chicken. He also showed me how to quickly stick a hog after shooting it to bleed out the animal properly.

The sailor also brought my dad another gift; a portable airfield light that ran on 12 volt car batteries. While heavy, the light was portable and very powerful. Dad put it to less mundane use than the Kabar. His sister Irene had a boyfriend and Dad had my family's perverse sense of humor. One night he hid in one of the outbuildings with the light and a shotgun while Irene was out with her beau. He waited until the beau walked Irene to the porch for a goodnight kiss. At that moment, a very bright light struck the lovers and a shotgun blast exploded in the air. The beau took off and Irene eventually married another.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Landlord comes to Grace Church

My parish only has a church home due to the graciousness of the Highland Presbyterian Church. Tonight the landlord showed up, and was the guest preacher, though "guest" may not be the best phrase for someone preaching from their own pulpit. I was a little nervous about what we might hear. There are some big differences between a conservative Anglican and a conservative Presbyterian, but by sticking to the Gospel, he delivered a sermon that would have been well received in any church that believes we are sinners in need of a Savior. He stuck to the material in proclaiming the Word to those of us who need to hear it.

However, I am saddened to learn that the National Presbyterian Church is seeking to follow the Episcopal Church down the road to theological liberalism. The national church body has approved changes to the basic confessional documents that would remove references to certain politically incorrect sins. The local Beaver-Butler Presbytery is much more conservative than the national church. The Landlord is trying to return his church to repentance and its basic confessional roots. He has a blog about it here. I wonder whether more congregations or the entire presbytery will not depart PCUSA and reform or realign with a more conservative Presbyterian body.

This part of Pennsylvania is known as the Presbyterian Valley. As the landlord says, you can throw a dead cat in these parts and be pretty sure it will land on a Presbyterian. We live in a rural township, but are an easy walk to two Presbyterian churches, and a bit longer walk to a third. I am not a Presbyterian because of differences of belief, but I honor the heritage of that church body. We would not have a country were it not for Presbyterians and other Calvinists. Any honest reading of American History will acknowledge this. The Presbyterian emphasis on education is one of the bright spots about this area, with institutions like Geneva and Grove City Colleges. It would be a sad thing to see this heritage lost in the mire of the postmodern incoherence of theological liberalism. The landlord is in my prayers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Agrarians, Biblical Agrarians , Farming, and Homesteading

Reader Linda recently asked these questions, There are some things that confuse me. What is an "agrarian"? Why do some call themselves "biblical agarians"? What constitutes a "homestead" and why is that different than a farm?

She also has a fine blog and lives in my neck of the woods. I have answered below, but I would love some input from others on these questions.

Here are some attempts at an answer to these very good questions.

What is an agrarian? I pulled my copy of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, off the shelf. Here is the start of the entry for agrarianism. "Agrarianism, posits that the practices associated with the agricultural life are particularly, and on some cases uniquely-well suited to yield important personal, social, and political goods".
The article then goes on to explain various schools of agrarian thought and their differences. Kind of an egghead philosophical definition that runs over three pages.

I like Herrick Kimball's definitions better, from the forward of his book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. I bought the book at Lehman Hardware a couple of years ago, but I did not see it last time I was there. Here are a couple of excerpts.....

"Agriculture-the cultivation of the earth and animals to produce food is fundamental to what is means to be an agrarian...closely related to the act of producing food is the agrarians' reverence for creation in its many forms". Herrick also makes a simple but profound statement that "The interconnected relationships and dependencies between land, family, local community, and the local church which were once so strong and central to the everyday existence of godly people, have virtually disappeared in the modern age".

Here is my poorer definition.

An agrarian is someone that ascribes to a belief that the family household is the basic unit of society (not the state or the government), and that the household should produce as much of its own food, fuel, and other necessities as possible. After the household, needs should be met from within the local community. Farming is prominent in agrarianism because we all need to eat, and most of us like to eat several times a day. This makes food production the most basic of those material needs. This does not mean everyone needs to be a farmer. Those that cannot farm can still garden. Those that cannot garden can still cook (And buy food from real farmers)

Why bother with all that work?

1. Industrial prepackaged food is unhealthy and often inferior in taste.
2. Self dependency will see a family through hard times
3. Frugality is still a virtue, in spite of what advertisers say.
4. It is satisfying to provide much of our own heat and food
5. Strong families will build strong communities, which results in a strong nation

What is a Biblical Agrarian?
A Christian Agrarian or Biblical Agrarian ascribes to these same things based upon their understanding of the Bible and Christian theology. A key verse would be 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Some Biblical Agrarians believe in varying degrees of separation from society at large. In our area, the Amish would meet this definition pretty well.

I have to confess here that I am not a "Christian Agrarian" or "Biblical Agrarian". I am an Agrarian, and I am a believing Christian. I am very hesitant to mix my belief in Christ crucified for my sins with ANY other philosophy or political economy. My calling is to stay in this place and garden, tend flocks, and cut wood. I would never presume to believe that my calling is necessary for anyone to be a Christian.
What is the difference between Farming and Homesteading?

Farming is part of what we do for money. We sell cows, timber, cider, hay or market lambs and get paid in the Federal Reserve notes that pass for money these days.

Homesteading is what we do for ourselves. We raise a lot of stuff we never sell, such as blueberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, etc. I think the term "homesteading" as used today comes from the excellent Countryside Magazine, billed as the journal of modern homesteading. Homesteading includes not only raising, but preserving and cooking the food. I think "homesteading" by the Countryside definition is the essence of agrarianism:

It's not a single idea, but many ideas and attitudes, including a reverence for nature and a preference for country life; a desire for maximum personal self-reliance and creative leisure; a concern for family nurture and community cohesion; a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money; a certain nostalgia for the supposed simplicities of the past and an anxiety about the technological and bureaucratic complexities of the present and the future; and a taste for the plain and functional.Countryside reflects and supports the simple life, and calls its practitioners "homesteaders."

Years ago, I tried more farming than homesteading. Government policies deflate the value of farm commodities. We refuse to accept subsidies. Money is worth less each day. I learned we are economically better off growing more for ourselves and less to sell. This is a story unto itself that I will tell sometime.