Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Pelznickel saved Pennsylvania Christmas from the Quaker Scrooge

A Modern Day Pezlnickel ready to scare the kids at Landis Valley Museum

Today is "Second Christmas" and it was once a legal holiday in Pennsylvania. Second Christmas remains a legal holiday in Germany and is celebrated in England as Boxing Day and Ireland as St Stephens Day. I think we lose something with one day of Christmas as I once blogged about here.
I know I need more than one day. Western Pennsylvania Winter is a monotony of dark grey days and long cold nights. When nature is like that, God seems to me like a remote, uncaring, unhearing, entity. Thinking about God as a baby coming into a cold dark world into a barn full of  urine and feces is a good antidote for Winter's darkness: Truly Emmanuel.      

That Pennsylvania has any Christmas is largely thanks to the Pennsylvania Germans (once known as "Dutch"). Pennsylvania was the most ethnically diverse of all the original states, with English, Scots-Irish, and Germanic people each composing about a third of the population in 1790. The Quakers who founded the colony were once death on the holiday and still seem to be somewhat  uncomfortable with it, as were many of the Mennonite groups. The Scots-Irish who took their religion seriously were also anti-Christmas, bowing to the traditions of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Pennsylvania Christmas was once the sole domain of a tiny Anglican minority and the Lutheran and German Reformed (who have always been far more numerous than the Plain sects). Even stalwart German Calvinists never seemed to have the issue with Christmas that the British Puritans did. The season began with Pelznickel scaring the kids, special Christmas markets,  and actual Christmas was regarded as a 48 hour feast of sausage, music, conviviality, and real hard cider.

The idea of a Christmas Holiday created a political issue in the state legislature in the early Nineteenth Century.  The Dutchmen wanted to close down state government for not just one day, but TWO! They won that fight, and by the time of the Civil War even New England states got somewhat on board with the holiday. Somewhere along the way though, we lost that 24 extra hours to party!

Froliche Zweite Weihnachten! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lyme Disease Update

Deaths' Head Tombstone from Old New England, stands in contrast to our death denying culture.
My wife is better mannered than I am. When she stops blogging for a while, she has the good grace to announce it. I tend to exit my little corner of  Cyberspace without any by-your-leaves. She recently shamed me about it, I am going to try to do the same as a measure of politeness to any regular readers.

My last post was actually on her blog, and about my Lyme disease. You can read my theory on Lyme here.  I wrote it a couple weeks ago. I am pleased to be slowly getting better each day. The best part is I finished my course of medicine. I am unsure where side effects of the antibiotics began and where the disease ended.

The Lyme has been frustrating. I am officially a codger in years now, but have not fully come to grips with the prospect of significant physical decline. I am much better prepared for death than disability.  For a long time, I have been in habit of preparing for death each morning.  I consider it right after the first cup of coffee and before my second cigarette.

Historically, the old farmers often feared disability more than death. In 18th Century New England, the angel of death stared you in the face every time you walked by the cemetery. Part of the colonial strategy at Bunker Hill was to keep the Yankee militia's legs shielded by a stone wall, so that they might be killed; but not hit in the leg and disabled. 

With the Lyme, I was not prepared for either the feeling that comes from being unable to do normal homestead tasks, or the feeling sorry for myself that results from inability.......

If I am smart, I might be able to use this experience as a preparation for growing older on the homestead. I do have some guides. Last year, I read William B. Irvine's book on Stoicism.  If the reader is a Christian believer, there is almost nothing in Stoicism that is inconsistent with classical Christianity. If the reader is not a believer, the Stoics may provide some useful grounding in life besides football, face book, and dancing with the stars.  Here is Dr. Irvine's lecture on growing old with grace. Its worth a listen.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: Surviving Off Off Grid

When my wife had her old Granny Miller site, (the infamous one that crashed) we received a free prepublication copy of Surviving Off Off-Grid: Decolonizing the Industrial Mind for our review. I wrote the following review back then, and recently dug it off the old computer to  revive it here because the Author has been donating royalties towards a new film. The film is called Beyond Off Grid.As we are now entering a new post-literate age, a film may have greater impacts upon many more people than a book. If you have not read this book, consider ordering it before the end of the month and help support the Beyond Off Grid. (I realize this is late, but better late than never). I am late because I fretted  about changing the original review essay a bit. Were I to write this review today, I would probability be more nuanced in my discussion of the relationship between agrarianism and Christianity, but I decided to let the original review stand. I think its  underscores the point that this is a very worthwhile book.  The central thesis about decolonizing the industrial mind is more pertinent today than when Mr. Bunker wrote the book.
I did not want to like this book. The author, Michael Bunker, is a self described “Christian Agrarian Separatist.” From my understanding of Mr, Bunker’s beliefs, he advocates that Christian believers should separate from the World around them. I am a Christian, and believe that agrarianism offers an excellent basis for a nation’s political economy. I also believe that the Bible has a lot to say about our relationship with nature and other people.  However, I get uncomfortable mixing my faith in Christ crucified with any other political, economic or social agenda. History seems to be on my side in this regard.  From Byzantine “symphony” between church and state, to Cromwell’s Commonwealth, to the 19th Century Anglo Catholic Socialists, Christian vegetarianism, the “Dutch Christian Goat Breeders Society”, and liberation theology, the church has been there and done that. I also live in the graveyard of failed Christian agrarian separatist ventures (Zoarites, Harmonists, etc). Only the Amish/Mennonites have survived, but that is the subject of another essay. My objections to Mr. Bunker’s theology are not pertinent to why I think this book is important. Furthermore, I do not debate religion on the Internet. If Mr. Bunker would ever come to Pennsylvania, I invite him to discuss this topic at leisure on my porch over some beer or milk.

As the reader may suspect at this point, I like this book very much. This book is not an apologia for Mr. Bunker’s theology (though it informs him and is found throughout the book). This work is otherwise hard to categorize. It is part history, part cultural criticism, with some biography. It is explicitly not another “how to” book, but the intelligent reader will extract many practical ideas. The best way I can characterize this book, is that it is about mindset. Mindset is what lets the soldier, policeman or armed citizen win a fight. Mindset is the most important difference between the dead and the survivors in any crisis. Mr. Bunker’s thesis is that industrialism and urbanity have “colonized” the human mind in 21st Century America, and he has set out to de-colonize it. This de-colonizing will create a mindset that will allow families to thrive in what may become an increasingly difficult future. 

While dealing with the lofty subject of human thought, this book is anything but academic. The style is very readable and conversational. The prepper or survivalist will find some serious tests to determine just how prepared he really is (starting with some discussion about what the word “Survival” really means). A person who has never thought deeply about how our nation devolved into the present mess will hopefully read this as a needed alarm call. The homesteader or small farmer of any level of experience will find keys to better his endeavors by thinking in new ways.

While I am not an advocate of agrarian separatism, I believe Mr. Bunker may be one of the few people who could write this book. His separatism gives him a perspective of distance from the “grid” (which is much more than mere electric power, including debt and wage slavery, and the omnipresent corporate/government alliance).

This book is also refreshing in its practicality. The Internet has spawned some self-proclaimed survival experts who lack any significant real world experience but the ability for noisy self-promotion. There is also a horde of romanticized back to the land resources that make the agrarian life seem like a breeze. Michael Bunker fits neither of these classes.  When discussing land, water, light, heat, building, tools, and food, the author speaks from a remarkable personal experience.  He understands that the old paths he has chosen lead to inevitable physical discomfort and a heap of hard work. Yet his realism does not deny the pleasures of an agrarian life. As a stockman, I especially appreciate his understanding of land and livestock that counsels how to make the two fit together wherever the reader might live, not just the author’s central Texas home.

He also directly confronts common objections anyone who sets out on a path of greater self-support will encounter. One is the charge that any uses of technology by an off grid agrarian represent hypocrisy. He demolishes the myth that a robust agrarian society means everyone must be a farmer. He also supports a host of “intermediate means” as an integral part of one’s journey, so the reader need not feel compelled to go naked into the wilderness and build a homestead overnight. Yet use of these intermediate means must be accompanied by thought. This part of the book is important for any homesteader who needs to explain to his consumerist friends why he has chosen this life. It also offers encouragement at any stage in the journey to independence.

The reader should be forewarned that the author is very opinionated. This is a consequence of his independency from the said grid. A free man can speak his mind without worrying about what a boss or customer might think. Sadly, America was once full of open speaking farmers like this. Maybe if enough people read this book it will be again. While this book is thought provoking and challenging, it is in no way offensive.

This is not a perfect book. There is some incorrect historical data. The author asserts on page 10 that the Romans “skipped the step” of respect for farm life (that the ancient Greeks had) making a statement that ignores the agrarianism of the early Roman Republic. There are a few others, but they are quibbles that could be corrected by a good editor. The bibliography is also very skimpy for such a wide-ranging work, amounting to only thirteen books (among which are books by the Christian gentlemen of the survivalist movement  James Wesley, Rawles, and Herrick Kimball whom I regard as an agrarian philosopher king.

Mr. Bunker has made compelling case about why this book is for everyone, and I agree.
This book deserved serious engagement, and more attention that it will probably get. I am hoping that the film may bring greater serious discussion of these serious ideas for our times.  

Link to Michael Bunker's Author Page 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eternal Vigilance

One of my favorite blogs is Home on the Range. How can I not love a blog that centers on three of my favorite things  (guns, dogs,  and mealtime! )  Brigid understands the realities of the world as a very beautiful place, and the paradox that it is also sometimes a dangerous place. Her latest is a must read. Click on the quote from her poetic essay to read the rest.

"There is much we can be cleansed of, by the Water and by His blood, but there some things formed in the soul, which can not be bound by man, or removed with reason, things for which we should always be ready. For there will always be those whose capabilities for harm we can not always fathom but we should always dread. For  that I am armed with not just the Second Amendment, but the blued steel of eternal vigilance". 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raccoon Recipes, Distributism, Chelsea Green Books, and Hard Cider

On a Sunday afternoon, if I chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of the snow made by the step of a long-headed farmer, who from far through the woods sought my house, to have a social "crack"; one of the few of his vocation who are "men on their farms";who donned a frock instead of a professor's gown, and is as ready to extract the moral out of church or state as to haul a load of manure from his barn-yard. We talked of rude and simple times, when men sat about large fires in cold, bracing weather, with clear heads; and when other dessert failed, we tried our teeth on many a nut which wise squirrels have long since abandoned, for those which have the thickest shells are commonly empty. 

Henry Thoreau, Walden

Q. What do Raccoon Recipes, Distributism, Chelsea Green Books, and Hard Cider have in common?  
A. Christian Farm and Homestead Radio 

I am sometimes privileged to be a guest on this weekly show by Scott Terry. Scott is fun to talk to because he is like Thoreau's long headed farmer. He has that unique combination of being well grounded in real world practical skills (he is a full time dairyman, and was once a full time backcountry trapper in Alaska) but still extremely well read and a careful thinker.

Our last conversation covered everything in the title of this post block, plus we touched on Merle Haggard, the whiskey rebellion, the 19th Century Dutch Anti-Revolutionary Party, Ruger Firearms, coyote and bobcat trapping,  Henry VIII, and squirrel dogs!

And big city folk call us neanderthals, rednecks, rubes, and hillbillies?  I always smile inside when urbanites look down on country people as lacking sophistication. Real sophistication is complexity of thought and  a broad interest in the world around us.   


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Trade Musket and America's First Consumer Culture

My Lovely Wife snapped this picture of my current project gun. It is a reproduction of a Northwest Trade Musket. I bought it for a very affordable price from Gun Broker online auctions. I knew from the pictures I was in for a project. The gun was only barely functional due to rust and neglect. The bore was solid, but the lock and all the screws holding it to the stock, were really rusted. Somebody also tried to remove most of the screws with a non gunsmithing screwdriver and damaged the heads.  Each night for four weeks I applied gentle squirts of PB blaster, got the lock off and dissembled,  and slowly got everything in working order again. It is now to the point it fires reliably.  I need to decide whether to further disassemble and clean it up, or leave some of the "patina".  In the photo it is missing the ramrod. When this shot was taken, a new ramrod from Track of the Wolf was drying in my incredibly filthy shop (I just can't seem to work on a gun, take care of livestock and homestead, earn a living, blog, shoot and fish, and clean the shop at the same time!).

The gun itself is a 75 caliber smoothbore flintlock. It shoots a massive lead round ball nearly 3/4 of an inch in diameter. It will also shoot shot loads. Most original trade muskets were around 60 caliber, but were equally versatile.  Trade muskets were meant to be cheap but durable firearms for trade to native American Tribes. Different variations were made by the French and English at different times. Googling Fusil de Chasse, Type G trade gun, and Northwest Trade gun will bring up information for the interested reader.  Of particular note, is the musket owned by Tecumseh which is similar in dimension to mine, and has been wonderfully reproduced by gun maker Larry Spisak

While working on this gun, I thought a lot about their unique history in America. At the time of European contact, the Eastern Woodland peoples were an agrarian people. They were very skilled at horticulture, and may be one of the ten or so worldwide areas where agriculture sprang up independently.  They did not raise domestic livestock but managed woodlands through burning to maximize deer browse.  They met most of their needs for food shelter and clothing within their community, but traded across North America for unique items, like copper and quality flint.

Europeans were eager to get the deer skins and furs that native peoples had to trade. The natives were equally eager to trade those skins for new and marvelous stuff. Deer hide clothing gave way to linen shirts and wool for skirts, blankets and mens leggings. Dependent upon the tribe, the locally made  bow and arrows were either relegated to a secondary role, or thrown aside in favor of a European musket. The clay cooking pots (which had to function like a slow cooker) were forgotten for copper, brass, and iron kettle. Stone axes gave way to steel. Soon the traditional skills to make clay pots and bows evaporated as well.

Within a couple of generations, the native people of the East became almost entirely dependent upon a technology they could not reproduce. They were not stupid people. In fact they were highly skilled at playing the French, English, and later Americans off against each other. Many of their leaders  recognized what their growing dependency was doing to their culture and economy. It was simply impossible for them to develop the infrastructure to mine coal, smelt iron, and forge on a large scale. They only had one product to trade for the things they now needed-hides. Initially, this caused the Beaver Wars, that I once blogged about. Men were forced to hunt not for food, but to buy stuff they now needed. They began hunting for skins alone, even leaving carcasses to rot. They found themselves working harder and even going hungry as they killed quicker than the critters could reproduce.  Many became indebted to big multinational fur trading companies. From a combination of necessity and desire, their entire culture changed in a couple of generations. Without the ability to make what they depended upon, they became consumer oriented, rather than production oriented.

When I think on this too much, I am tempted to trade the musket and stick with the bow made from an Osage tree on the farm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Civil War and the End of Agrarian America

Yankee Farmers in Enoch Wood Perry's Talking it over. A glimpse of the old northern agrarian culture that once was.  (Original at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) . 

READER NOTE: Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good (or at least the mediocre!). I wrote this back in July, and never published it for lack of editing. My blog is full of these essays in draft, so I am going to try to dust some off. 

“During the Civil War, the upheaval of American society resulted in much ugliness and some deterioration of taste. Before that time, agriculture and the preservation of tradition were a cherished part of the good life, but from then on the philosophy of ‘change for the sake of change’ became the dominant force in American thinking.”

Eric Sloane

The Southern Agrarian writers tend to focus the Civil War as a battle between an industrial north and an agrarian south.  Modernist historians frame the war in moralistic tones- “a new birth of freedom”.   

We forget that before 1860, the Old Republic was made up of a myriad of local cultures, many of which were in conflict with each other:

  • The Southeastern planter class, who imitated the English aristocracy and hid their monoculture commercial agriculture behind an agrarian fa├žade
  • The North’s urban commercial classes (precursor to modern urban America),who fought for cheap labor through open borders, government public works projects,  and to preserve tariffs against free trade southerners. 
  • The schoolmarm moralists of Greater New England (Precursor to modernist nanny state types), This culture settled a band from Northern Ohio to the upper Midwest and for whom the real evil of Slavery was also mixed with a number of other reforms, including eradicating "demon rum."    
  • The old hardscrabble Yankee farmers, the cultural descendents of the men who fought on Lexington Green.
  • Appalachian subsistence farmers who detested the lowland planters and were sometimes  staunch unionists in places like East Tennessee.
  • The greater Pennsylvania German culture area, which stretched from Eastern Pennsylvania, down through the Shenandoah Valley into North Carolina, and westward into the Ohio Valley. This culture was built on a three legged stool of Christianity,  Family Farming, and the "Dutch" Language.   
  • One of the big sectional divides before the Civil war was west versus east, with an emerging Midwest grain belt.
 When most American s read about the war today, they read through a nationalistic, modernistic eye (and also with more romanticism than they should).  Our movies tend to make cartoon characters out of historical figures as well. We want bad and good, forgetting we are all a mix of both. 

While the “North” ostensibly won, the old rural Jeffersonian North was as great a loser as the South. Many small communities lost so many men that they could no longer maintain their pre-war agrarian economy. Community cohesion was destroyed. Men who did survive were too changed to return to the life they knew in 1859. The urban commercial elites amassed more power  and wealth through wartime government contracts, and the power of the old rural Jeffersonian Democratic Yankees was forever broken.  Pennsylvania German culture survived until A pietistic schoolmarm president named Woodrow Wilson entered World War I. He demonized families including some of mine as un-American, despite the fact they had been farming, drinking hard cider, and praying in German in Pennsylvania since the 1730's.

War is a  great enemy of agrarian society.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Nine Pound Lion Heart

I am starting to work the Calhoun Pup with squirrel tails on a fishing pole. The idea is to get him excited and barking. He is very interested, but only a couple of barks. Setting up contrived situations in training can work, but it can also be overdone, creating a bored dog, or a dog that trees without game up the tree.

Once in a while though, I can't resist watching my beloved little female Rat Terrier work a tail. Lizzie weighs nine pounds soaking wet. She was the runt of the litter, but don't tell her that.  Inside that little body is the heart of a lion.

She lives to kill barn rats, tree squirrels, and run rabbits. I can't take her along to do any night time chores. She inevitably will start running nocturnal rabbits and I end up chasing her halfway to the back of the farm at bedtime. She lives to hunt. 

Her boldness worries me for her sake, as much as me being annoyed at finding her. When I was a little agrarian kid, we always had a pack of these little terriers around. The largest game in our area were foxes. In the late 70's  coyotes came in, and they routinely prey upon small dogs.  Coyote predation on pets seems even worse in more suburban areas. I should not hunt the little dogs these days, but as my wife says, "Would you rather live life to the fullest and get eaten by a coyote; or be a stodgy bored house dog?" 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Info Fasting

"A behavior should probably not be considered “extreme” if it was the practice of the entire human race from Adam until the mid-20th century"

T. David Gordon

The undisputed king of agrarian bloggers,  Herrick Kimball, has been on a news fast. That is a good ingredient in the recipe for a happy life.

I must follow some pertinent local stories for my off-farm profession, but most "news" is really not relevant to my life. In fact, I think "being informed"  when defined as constant contact with the  24/7 information cycle, is probably bad for our mental and spiritual health. Among the damages are attitudes that create a cult of celebrity, whether around a politician or an entertainer.  

A lot of people I actually do admire seem to think the same thing.

Herrick Kimball
CS Lewis
Rev. Dr. T David Gordon
Rev. Franklin Sanders 

What do they all share? They all manage to be more original, thoughtful and well read than modern norm.

I got a shock a while back when giving some visitors a tour of a few really sublime areas of western Pennsylvania.  In the midst of some of nature's finest handiwork, some where checking their smartphones!

An hour a day spent on "news" can also be spent running dogs, shooting, playing fiddle, reading a real book or journal, or fishing. I know how that spent hour makes me happier. Since I spent a half hour in front of this screen typing this, its time to shut down and go enjoy a beautiful day outdoors! Hope you can do the same.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hope and Porter

 I young man of my recent acquaintance has begun a "nanobrewing" venture in Beaver Falls Pennsylvania.
Beaver Falls is one of many small towns in western Pennsylvania that used to be known for making things. While these towns were industrial-not agrarian, they created real products like axes, cutlery, and pottery. The towns lost their manufacturing base because the stock-jobbers and the white shoe boys  decided that paying their fellow citizens real money to make real stuff was too much of a bore. They started re-enslaving Asiatic coolies (See George Orwell for the term) and creating derivatives instead.  This left the good people of places like Beaver Falls to figure out what to do with the Superfund sites and all the other chaos and problems left behind by de-industrialization. 

Once in a while, a young person will choose such a place and say, "This is where I will make my stand. Here I will build a life as a craftsman". In doing so, he becomes an agent of real hope for the future.  I believe the way back for small cities is in a large measure to return to wealth creation by actually making products. Food is one of those "products". Food also has the advantage of building a closer link between city and countryside. It is often the craft-level food producer who is the small farmers' friend.  

This particular small farmer's friend is anyone who can make a good dark porter or Brown Ale.  A glass of dark beer at bedtime is the difference between me sleeping 6+ hours, or only three hours straight. 

"We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old".

Martin Luther 

We are not going to fix what is wrong with this country by voting. We might start to fix it by buying what we want and need from people who are creating real wealth in an agrarian sense. I could buy Guinness, and see my dollars flow back to London, and enrich the same multinational company who once owned Burger King and attempted to use their political power to suppress an award to a Scottish micro-brewery. Or, I can buy my beer from someone who is trying to revitalize a town for which I have affection and takes great pride in his good work. Having done this, I can sleep even better at night. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Essence of Agrarianism and Industrialism in 15 minutes

Please take the seven odd minutes to read and watch this video posted by Terrierman.

Then take another seven minutes and scroll back through this picture blog I stumbled on a while back.

Why does one set of images disturb us, and one draw us in?

I could post about the lives of animals and man, whether there is enough land to grow food for people and a bunch of other thoughts, I think the important point is  that most of us know dehumanizing  evil when we see it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Learning his Life's Work

While I have not been blogging about it, I have been enjoying life. Almost every day (unless pressing business or weather intervenes) I run my Mountain Cur pup in one of my woodlots for at least a half hour. Calhoun is 4 months old. He was bred to run and tree squirrel, coon and Bobcat. I have pretty low expectations at this point. My short term goals are for him to:

Learn to come when called.
Be comfortable with the sites and smells of  the woods
Learn to leave the Deer and Turkeys alone
Learn that he is part of a team with me and he can trust me
 He is doing well on all those accounts. As he grows older, my expectations for him will grow. My hope is that about the time the leaves are off the trees, he will find squirrels on his own  and bark tree.

These daily walks also let me see my woodlots, which was something I could not do as often as when we had sheep. Truth be told, Hardwood has been one of the most profitable crops on our homestead over  the years. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex subject, we have always "low graded" so we grow more timber than we cut. We open up small spaces to give partial shade to new undergrowth and let the big straight trees grow faster.
This months Farming Magazine has an excellent  article by Wendell Berry on that subject.My interest in the woodlots have always been beyond timber. The peace of the woods is a place for me to think, and important to my spiritual health. 

There is nothing I would rather do than run with woods with a dog. I also like to eat squirrel, so I have made a few management decision that other woodland owners might not. For example, I don't get too excited Beech Tree encroachment (Beech can be invasive, and is lower value. Some woodland owners eradicate them by spraying).

Squirrels look plentiful this year. and I don't have much competition in hunting them. most hunters today are after bigger game. Few bother hunting squirrels and fewer still seem to want the time commitment of training a dog. If anyone is interested, there is a good article about squirrel dog training in this months Fur Fish and Game, which to my way of thinking is the only general interest hunting and fishing magazine still worth reading.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Fourteen Year Old Farmer

In this day and age, when 25 year old "children" are staying on their parents' insurance as dependents, and still living at home without any self support, its nice to see a young entrepreneur.

 A friend of mine has a really smart 14 year old boy who wanted to make summer money. In my youth, almost everybody still made square bale hay, and a boy could make a bit of money helping put up hay throughout the summer. Round balers put an end to much of that by reducing labor needs.

My friend had a underutilized square baler, and an ambitious son. So he:

  • Gave him use of 8 acres fields around the homestead.
  • Staked him an advance for fuel, fertilizer, and twine.
  • Set him up with a checking account.
  • Watched to make sure he was safe with the equipment. 
  • Turned him loose.

Since we decided not to try  make our own hay anymore for a few cows, this work great for us. I have already bought 118 bales from him, and intend to buy another 200 or so. If weather holds and he works hard, he will make better money than any fast food job. He is more independent than other teenage jobholders, as he does not need his mom and dad to haul him to work.He has no boss besides his father's veto on safety.   He is also learning a about money management, dealing with customers, forage quality, and safety, and decisions about how much to cut, how much to sell off the field at a lower price and how much to store in the barn for later sale. 

I asked him if he was becoming a farmer, or he is just a capitalist.  He is not sure whether he likes the hard work as much as the money!  Either way, the young man will be better ready for the "real world" than most urban college graduates.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Biting off more than she can chew?

Adam sent me this photo of Susie, their new farm pup, meeting our two older Kerry Cows over at Gibsondale Cheese.   Susie is a typical Border Collie, and sometimes too smart for her own good. Luckily Adam was there to keep her from getting the snot knocked out of her. All of the border collies I had over the years would work sheep, but some were not tough enough for cattle in close quarters. One good kick and they were cow shy. The one I had who was tough enough was way too hard for sheep and I sold him to a farmer in Missouri who had  enough wild cows to give him honest work. I like Susie, and she may be tough enough if she manages to grow up.

We quit keeping Border Collies after our last one died of old age. I also have  sad associations with the breed due to a nearby crime and tragedy among a couple I knew and liked who raised and trained sheepdogs.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Twenty Five Years and 1,200 Sheep later

 Slippery Rock Creek near Elliott's Mill site.

Sometimes a random email from a friend can restart a dead blog. A lot has happened in the year since I posted what I expected to be a final entry in this journal.  Most notably is that this is the last year of the sheep business for us. When the Marcellus Shale boom came with truckloads of money to our little community. I said to my wife that "I guess we will see who really wants to farm now". I surprised myself in being one of those who did not. After 25  years, we are getting out of the sheep business. We had been downsizing, and the last of the flock has already been passed to a young farmer, and I could not be happier. I expected to miss the wooly little creatures, but have not. In fact, was actually ready to sell the whole farm and move on to something else. I had plans!

  • Move to Day County South Dakota and fish for Walleyes and Hunt Pheasant.
  • Move to the big empty part of North Central Pennsylvania, fish for Trout and hunt Bobcats and Coyotes with Dogs.
  • Move to Eastern Crawford County PA, where we also have family, fish the Allegheny River, and  buy some cut over timberland to improve. 

I can live with the Marcellus shale boom.  I am less happy that my community has changed in so many other ways, primarily by starting to become a suburb of a City known as "the Paris of Appalachia". I usually call it something more vulgar, by replacing the TT's in "PITT" with "SS", or the "P" with "SH".  

We are staying here because my wife, who has lived in such diverse places as Beirut, Lebanon and
Washington DC, has made a home here. Perhaps better than I do,  she understands this as home, and  us as the living continuation of a community bigger than us. That community  includes both our living neighbors and the dead.

I fish as much to clear my head as to catch fish. When I do catch fish, I need to cook them outside on a camp stove as my wife cannot abide the smell of freshwater fish or waterfowl. This morning, I fished the branch of Slipper Rock Creek about a mile from the farm. I was casting on the opposite bank from where one of my ancestors worked at grist mill here in 1806. He was referred to in an early local Presbyterian church history as "A German miller, named Grossman, who was a blatant and outspoken infidel." He apparently got religion very briefly during the solar eclipse of June 16, 1806, but left meeting and went back to work when the sun came back.

While I was ready to move out, I realize that it is something unique in highly mobile Twenty First Century America to still live in a community where my family has spent over two centuries. When my lifetime and memories are combined with those of our fore-bearers, a crick is no longer just a place to fish, but a part of who we are. I think that connection is part of agrarianism. It need not be a 200 year one of blood and DNA, but an attitude that this place, means something beyond other ones.