Sometimes…

bob the rooster

In Memory of “Bob” the rooster and one of his girls.

This last week we have lost a beautiful rooster and hen; one to a hawk, and the rooster to  (what I believe) to be a fox.  These losses were unfortunate, but the fact remains: this is what those animals do.  They are predators and they were acting naturally.  As a farmer, my natural reaction is and was anger: something must pay, and the hawk and fox were prime possible recipients.  As an intelligent person, however, I am capable of understanding justice.

Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions and in these situations we must make a choice: to react or act.  I could shoot hawks and hunt fox but for what reason?  There is only one answer to this: revenge.  Perhaps killing the fox is necessary for it will return, but the hawk…and at best such a decision is only partially reasonable.

This led me to consider reason.  As humans we are emotional creatures with the capacity, with the freedom, to act intelligently.  Unfortunately often enough we do not act accordingly.  The loss of my rooster and hen presented a situation in which I was presented a choice: to act reasonably or emotionally.  But I had left out another choice: the middle ground: to act both reasonably and emotionally.

I was saddened to lose my rooster and hen, but I could not get myself to simply kill animals for what they do naturally: they cannot be held accountable and so it would be immoral of me to kill them for acting the way they act.  However, I did not want them to return and kill more livestock.  The logical conclusion, was to accept the losses and try to lessen the chances of the predator’s capability of doing what comes naturally: to give them a chance to learn.

Many farmers would tell me that it is not worth the trouble: to kill the animals, and sometimes they would be correct.  However, I value my farm animals and other animals and their lives in a different way: as living things.  So, according to my values it is “worth” my trouble to find a compromise.  Sometimes a little emotion goes a long way, and sometimes (in order to remain moral creatures) we must learn to value all life rather than simply the life we deem worthwhile.

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Busy

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In September, work changes from input to output; that is, canning starts and thoughts of “processing” any animals, the euphemism for killing and cutting up animals, starts sneaking in.  Winter work plans are on the back burner; the shop needs a cleaning, planting winter rye and watching the hens scratch it up.  Trying to get the newly cut oak posts in the ground (around the garden to keep the hens out) while the ground is still able to be dug in.

Fall kale and beets planted and the greenhouse is closed at night.  The trees are turning and as the leaves think about falling, thoughts of last minute winterization roll around in the head.  The fall, for some reason, seems to be the starting point when some assess the year past and compare it to the year to come.  This comparison is important and painful all at the same time.  What we did wrong and what we can do better; the time we wasted and the time coming to make it up.

We stay busy; we are busy and we will be busy.  It really doesn’t matter what we do but it seems that a lot of us do.  I wonder…what is the comparison in our busy lives?  Were we busy last year?  Should we be busier next year?  Does being busy make us better or just tired?  Are we busy working or just busy being busy?  There is one other thing that we should compare: time, and how much of it we have used and how much of it we might have left.

But none of this matters to the trees that turn, the canning that continues, and garden that continues growing.  Time will churn and we will be busy turning the crank.

The Adventure Less Travelled

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The word “adventure” conjures up fun and excitement, endless activities and wide-eyed happiness coupled with friendly unknowns.  And while this is true, it is true like most things concerning human life are true: partly.  In coffee shops around the world people sit sipping coffee and munching scones, talking about what they “would do” if given the chance; but they never do it.  Perhaps, the adventure is already alive, but waiting for us to act upon it.

In the fifty or so years that I have been alive I have travelled to some forty countries, lived in four states, travelled throughout the lower forty eight, been a truck driver, a musician, and a college teacher.  I have climbed mountains and trekked the Annapurnas in Nepal, eaten curry in Calcutta, and a Vietnamese sandwich in north and south Vietnam.  I have drank instant coffee in a cave high up on the sides of mountains in places that I can’t name and have believed that cup of coffee to be the best I’d ever had.  I have drank beer in more pubs than I can count in England and eaten Bratwurst in Germany, spaghetti dinners in Italy, drank Belgian beers in Belgium, meatballs in Sweden, and enjoyed the beaches in Denmark as well as wine in France and crabs in Norway.  I am a homesteading farmer and carpenter at present and those activities present me with even more adventures.

This is all to say that the adventures that I have experienced are life: there are good and bad times, boring times, scary times, frustrating and irritating times.  There are times when a cup of coffee at a well known coffee shop, surrounded by suburbanites in a “safe” neighborhood is an adventure and there are times when scaling a peak at 13000 feet is an adventure: I’ve tried both and while the feelings are different, they can both get interesting.

An adventure is carved out of the experiences that we have while living.  The only time we miss out on adventures is when we choose not to do something because we are afraid, or tired, or lazy.  Sometimes an adventure can be had sipping a cup of coffee and sometimes we need to put the cup down and do something.  The adventure starts when we know what to do and when to do it.

The Silence of Space

space II

Much of this blog has centered upon the goal of self-sufficiency, but little do we realize that such goals come with their own baggage.  No matter what the goal we have, it will pale in comparison to the idea of that goal.  This is simply a reality rather than a judgement.  The idea is so opaque, so brittle in its nature; easily breakable but it is the only solid ground we have to stand upon if we are to succeed.

If to simplify we must complicate, then to achieve a goal we must have an idea of that goal . Perhaps the most important act (it does come down to action) is to move forward while remembering the past; to complicate in order to simplify.  But again, remembering the past complicates the very simplicity that we desire.  It does sound so encumbered, so esoteric.    How can self-sufficiency be so complicated?  It is because that while life is simple, to act is complicated.

We must all light upon a surface and look around; we must all settle in the security of knowing that the life that we lead is not only up to us, but up to our realizing that there is no ideal.  We must acknowledge the silent moments and learn from them what we can; they are so few and far between.

So, as I feed the animals I must take the time to consider them.  When I work in the garden, I must look for those moments between the weeds that give me happiness.  When I work a piece of wood, I must follow the history of the grains of the tree that it is made of.  When I look up, I must realize that in the end we are self-sufficient like it or not; realize it or not.  The silence of space reminds me of that, and the act becomes complicated.

Mistakes, Misgivings, and Motivations: I

face roadmap

Throughout life mistakes will be made, but perhaps the more important, more helpful truth is why those mistakes were made.  There is a story, perhaps…

In the search for the good, for a truth, a man went on an adventure; where to was not known and neither was the motivation: only the misgivings.  And so, with the misgivings the man started off, one foot at a time.  From the one step came another and before he knew it his adventure had begun.  In fact even without him knowing, long before he considered it, the adventure had already begun.  And without him knowing it, mistakes had been made.

The path started straight, wide and sunny, but as the weather will the clouds soon came and the path became muddied with doubt.  The man sat under a tree and pondered his predicament.  His bag wet from the rain and his coat soaked from the worry of the day, he wished for the straight, wide and sunny path and so he soldiered on.  There was no decision to be made as that had been made, and so it was with mistakes.

After a fitful night’s sleep (and soaked and sore feet) the man donned his soaked coat and wet bag and went on his way.  As paths will, the way curved and climbed with hills hiding what was ahead.  “Such is the future.”, the man thought.  And so was his life, motivated by fate or future or adventure, or whatever the man called it at the time.

His happiness wained and waved as the sea might do on a beach, but as the water will, his happiness washed upon the beach and sifted through the sands.  The years went by as will the days, as will the minutes and the man thought to himself: “Such is the life I lead.” Throughout his life the man met others and those fell away around the corners of the path the man was on, and soon the man found himself alone.

Motivated by sheer will and some curiosity mixed with a dose of virtue and the endless misunderstanding of truth the path became home.  The roots he had dug up so many times, he carried in his bag which was by now old and worn by the mistakes that he’d made.  And it was with these misgivings that the man turned around and considered his past for the first time in his life.

A Good Day to Die

MeatChickens

Farming sounds romantic: the bucolic environment, the clucking of chickens and the smell of manure and soil.  Certainly, there are aspects of farming that are romantic.  There is the peace and quiet, the honesty of the work, the freedom of the day as well as the rituals of the chores.  But farming, especially when the farm includes animals, is a reality that soon makes itself clear.

This week I will be slaughtering the first set of chickens as well as some roosters.  And while I’ve done this before the act is never comfortable.  Most of us eat meat, but most of us do not slaughter our own meat.  This disconnect is clear for the farmer, and the disconnect soon becomes a cohesive whole as the day for the killing nears.

Killing an animal should never be easy, for any reason, even for food.  But when one sets off to the country to be self-sufficient, killing to eat becomes a reality.  Most hunters make this argument but I doubt that many of them kill simply to eat.  Perhaps the hunt becomes separated from the killing;  I’m not a hunter, and don’t see the point in it with few exceptions.  But I eat meat, and that necessitates the act that I will soon partake in: killing animals.

I believe that there is an honesty in killing your own food, but that honesty comes at a price: we must look our meals in the eye while we put knife to throat.  There is no easy way around this, at least any way that is honest.  But the fact remains: if I cannot kill the animals that I have raised, I should not be eating meat.  Peter Singer goes further with his concept of speciesism.

To raise animals for food is really a balancing act between morality and need, or perhaps desire: that I’ve not figured out yet.  However, if we decide that we cannot kill our food but expect others to do it for us, we really should not be eating meat.  I like bacon, and barbecued chicken and for those reasons I must do the deed and pay the price.  Moral food has a price.

Worth Its Weight in Gold

good as gold

 

Self-sustainability, individualism, independence; these concepts have analogies in the empirical world: eating, working, and learning respectively.  Homesteading takes the concepts and their analogies and reminds us that they are inexplicably woven together.  There is a logical, a philosophical beauty to these three concepts that is brought together by realizing that relationship that we all have to the world around us.

This is not “our” world, but it is the world in which we live in.  When we lose sight of this simple fact we lose the ability to be self-sustaining.  It is at that very moment that we are no longer independent individuals; it is at that moment that we cease to work and learn. What we eat is of no consequence, or so we think.  But, without realizing it (perhaps) we eat what we are given.  Think about this the next trip to the grocery store.

The adventure of homesteading is like all adventures, however: it is wrought with confusion, conflict, contrivances, and frustration.  Homesteading is a true adventure because it is defined by the world in which we live, and not by us or our desires.  The goal of homesteading is to learn to work, and to work to eat.  Nature (as usual) had it right all along.

Homesteading is a political statement as well.  To truly be an individual we must be independent and to to be independent we must be self-sustaining.  If in the act of learning to work in order to eat we can remember that in doing so we are also creating our individualism by independently being self-sustaining, we will have come a long way in becoming a person rather than simply a human being.  And that, my friend, is worth its weight in gold.

The Human Condition

human condition

Always remember that sometimes it is your expectations that are the problem, they can hold you back.  This sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: it is old philosophical news that we act upon our emotional rather than rational motivations.  Our expectations are often our long and hard sought rational musings over possible situations, and when we finally act those musings often do not coincide with how we feel.

But should we, as rational beings , act upon our emotions?  Our intellect informs us that we are acting emotionally and tries to override how we feel with what we think. Do we act or do we think?  We are capable of both, but eventually we will act upon our emotions.

This is problematic for rational-capable beings such as humans.  We think knowing all along that we will act emotionally: we have no choice.  We know that we will act emotionally and that knowledge is not enough: this is the secret.

Our expectations will always be squandered, they will never be met because they are the product of our understanding.  My friend, Chris Ransick, and I have often debated (over scotch of course) terminology (he is a poet and I a philosopher/farmer).  I think that we are arguing this exact point: the intellect is our ticket to freewill, but we will consistently act emotionally knowing that we give up our freewill.

This is not a new discussion, it is centuries old in philosophy, and it will continue even given the knowledge that how we feel will determine the outcomes of what we think.  This, I believe, is the human condition: we must continue to think seriously about what we feel and why we feel that way.

Playing God

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There is no better way to get a perspective on one’s life than to start raising the very food that you eat.  Life is a cycle that is often times invisible to us both mentally and physically but on a farm, a self-sufficient farm where nature is allowed to take its course, that cycle is clear.  We raise chicks here on the farm and we start them in an enclosure complete with clean sawdust, clean water and ample food.  They enjoy the digs, they eat and drink.  Their fate is sealed: they will be dinner.  But, they are oblivious to this and most other things, as long as they have their food and water.

As I look down into the box at the chicks as they create their world, I think to myself that their world is not much different than most of ours: we eat, we drink, we sleep and do not question much as long as we are comfortable: our fate is sealed, as long as we have our comfort.  At the end of the day there is not much of a difference.

Of course, we have more potential, but what is potential and how many of us actualize that potential?  What is potential to the chicks?  They are potential food, potential compost makers, they give back what they receive, probably more, but in the end their lives will end on the sharp edge of a knife wielded by me.  They will end up in my freezer and will supply me with the comfort of knowing that I will have food.  They will supply my compost pile and then my garden.

Their potential is in effect endless.  I wonder, then, who is god: us or them?  They fulfill their potential without ever knowing it while we struggle to even know ours.  They are efficient users of resources and effective suppliers of the very thing that sustains life; we are consumers without understanding what we consume.  This is all not to judge, but simply to ponder the fate of god, the fate of us all, which is to supply life in all its confounded mystery and magnificence.

Heart and Mind

heart and mind

Decisions need to be made; action needs to be taken.  But, what to do, and why?  This is a common dilemma, one which most of us face at least a time or two in our lives.  These decisions, the “big” ones, often change the course of our lives, leading us to exulted happiness or dark bouts of regret.

At the one end, the decisions we are faced with are dilemmas of Grand Canyon dimensions, and on the other end they are but a fragment of dust in a vast universe.  It is our perspective that makes them greater or lesser important, and respectively more easily or harder to make.

We are told to follow our heart, but there is a price to be paid for doing such impractical things.  We are told to think things through, but then the rewards seem to be much less bright.  Our hearts and minds seem to be in a constant battle, but this is not necessary.

We can follow our hearts while being practical, in fact our hearts are much more fulfilled when the practicality of our decisions is clear.  The practicality of our lives becomes much more bright when we add splashes of color to our dreary necessities.

This is all to say that decisions will be the same, but the road we take to come to them may differ.  Sometimes we follow our heart and it leads us to the necessary practicality to fulfill the hearts desires.  Sometimes we lead with our minds and soon find that life is too dreary without dreams.