The Custodian

the-custodian

When we have land we do not own it.  Rather, we are custodians.  What we do with our newfound role is, of course, up to us.  But ought we do good?  A custodian is a caretaker and the land, if we listen, will speak, will tell us its wants and needs.  It takes time and a few long walks through the forests and the fields.  In time, though, we can come to understand the language of the land.

I am afraid that the custodial role is a disappearing one.  It seems that landownership is taking over the caretaker’s careful and thought out intentions.  When we own land it seems that we assume that we have rights to do what we want…no matter what the land needs.  Ownership is economic; taking care is ethical.

Out in the forest, chainsaw in hand, I cut dead fall (those dead trees that have fallen and have hung up on other, often young, live trees.  Caretakers change the land for a reason, like landowners, but caretakers change the land for reasons that have to do with the land and not ourselves.  Caretakers must make choices.  Do we manage (if that is possible) our land for beauty, for use, for both?

To be a caretaker is difficult work, but to recognize the importance of being a custodian of the land is perhaps harder yet.  This concept is not an idea that we wake up with.  We must realize our roles as custodians and also realize that such work, such roles (as so many are) are thankless.  In a world measured by profit the custodian lives in poverty.

If land needs a custodian at all, shouldn’t the custodian recognize that their very existence is dependent upon the land and not the other way around.  Perhaps, in the end, this is the difference between owning land and caring for land:  the custodian recognizes his dependence and the landowner does not.  I would hope that most people get a chance to care for land if and only if they can also recognize that their very existence is dependent upon what they do with it.

Learning How to Read

snow-forst

Many of us love to read books, great articles in good magazines, and perhaps less and less the news.  But after years of reading I am learning how to read…yet again.  There are certain topics that are difficult such as philosophy (a love of mine), and scientific books, even layman science is difficult to me.  However, having recently purchased a property that I intended to make a farm, I am learning how to read again.

In the crisp, New England mornings I walk my dog through the months old snow and the half-century old forest that I own.  I’ve done the walk twice a day for some time now and every day the land teaches something new.  A crevice here, a creek that is burrowing a new furrow; hills and dales, and the trees: oak, birch, red and white pine, hickory, poplar.

Farmers, I think, know what they want, but few know what the land needs; only the good ones, and to know this they need to know how to read.  Walking the land envisioning a field but the land won’t have it.  Perhaps a fruit tree grove there, but the land has started one here.  We own land, but we don’t control land.

Land seems pliable and passive, but don’t let it fool you.  It is the master of its own fate.  We are ego-filled and short-sighted.  The land is wise and counts eons, not seconds.  It is in no hurry as its age is endless.  It knows that we are of it, and by it.  we see land as potential, but it is full of the past.

I am learning how to read the land, and it is a difficult lesson.  I am impatient and the alphabet is foreign.  But the land is patience, and its alphabet it created.  The words ooze out of the fog of my ignorance…slowly.  But as I learn to read I realize that even the choice to learn is an illusion.

A Few Thoughts on the Muslim Ban

Note: Sam Harris is a brilliant writer.  I’ve subscribed to his blog and found this article interesting.  I add the article here because Trump’s election to the Whitehouse changes even the goals of a simple experiment such as self-sufficiency.  His election, if it does not conjure philosophical questions, conjures psychological  questions at the very least.

 

President Trump has had a busy first week in office, displaying the anarchic grandiosity, callousness, and ineptitude of which he seems uniquely capable. He is every inch what we knew him to be: a malignant Chauncey Gardiner. And now our…

Source: A Few Thoughts on the

Work, Rest, Repeat

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There’s only so many hours in a day.  That is the lesson to learn if one is to try to take a self-sufficient idea to a self-sufficient reality.  Some of those hours are better spent resting and some are better spent working.  There is a balance and I notice it when I swing by (thanks to J. Mellencamp for that bit of word play).  This week was to be the week where both the greenhouse and the woodshed were to be started (not started) as well as my wife’s desk (started), and the cabinet doors and closet door for a new built in finished (done).  I did mention to catch a bad head cold.

I don’t believe I’m lazy, but looking back over the week the projects fell short.  But is that really the case?  There must be time for rest and relaxation; we all know that.  Taking time, however, is a different story.  Work defines us to a great extent and there is nothing wrong with that, but the guilt of not getting all the projects going is ridiculous.  There are those out there that feel this way and know what the importance of rest and relaxation are.  They also know how difficult it is to do when there is a list of things to be done.

Self-employment carries the weight of work rather than the joy of work, but this is unfortunate.  Often those self-employed become that for the simple reason of making decisions for themselves.  However, the reality is often the opposite: the projects needing to be finished make the decisions for them.  There is nothing wrong with having to work until late in the evening or even “crazy” hours, but there is something skewed to the thought that one must do this.

I, like many, enjoy working and the feeling that comes with finishing a job, doing it correctly and being able to look upon something built with my own hands.  This is a craft-less world that needs more time, not more things.  This is, perhaps, a good thing to remember when we wake up in the morning with a list of unfinished projects or unfinished business. The business of rest is equally important and (as I am finding) equally difficult as business as usual.

Twelve Non-Sequiturs

space

Deep in the night of distrust comes the dreams that make us, us.

In the starlight of the dark the mirror of our soul we realize that it was always.

In the muck of mired reality and mindless noise I find peace under a tree.

Memories flood the causeways and hope finds a boat.

The world must go on, but in our minds we know that we must not.

I had a bicycle once, and felt free.

Joy can be found but must be forced from its hiding place among the crowds.

Tears flow from the hidden parts of our lives, those forgotten gems.

To tear away the truth is to tear away the fabric of all there is to know.

Love lays silently wishing for the days that have gone by.

Waking from a startled sleep I search for source of my trouble.

Say goodbye to the memories of those who must live in the past.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

country-christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!  It has been the time for Christmas spirit as well as that time of year when we all try just a little harder to be a little nicer.  Just as so many other things in our lives, it is a good reminder that in order to change the world we must first begin with the belief that we can, and then act upon it.  It is not much different than the Christmas season itself.

You may not believe in Santa Claus, but to act as if you do doesn’t hurt.  Santa Claus embodies the potential that we have as individuals.  The hard part of potential is that it takes time, more than a season of cheer has to spare.  But it is well worth it.  But that is perhaps the worth of believing in Santa: we can better ourselves for reasons other than selfish ones.

Perhaps Christmas reminds us that our dreams do not have to be forgotten; that our goals do not have to go unsung.  Christmas reminds us that failure is an option, but never for long.  The Christmas spirit is that spirit that we all have in those unfortunately few moments when we forget ourselves and the typical cash and consumerism motivations that we often do not realize define us.

While some of us cannot be with family, we can maintain our Christmas spirit by remembering that family is not always blood relatives and that friends are friends even if they are far away.  And so, I raise a glass of my favorite Islay to those I cannot be with tonight, and wish those as well as everyone else little bit of happiness in their lives, as much as there is room for!

Material Goods and Good Material

materials

It’s been snowy and awfully cold here these past few days (-7 f) and the wood burning stove has been busy in the shop, as have I.  But one thing on my mind has been in these holiday  times: materialism.  Of course, it is with us in the west most everyday, but during Christmas it seems, well…so over bearing.

However, recently I was reminded that there is a difference between material goods and good material.  We do live in a material world, but we need to remember that we live in a material world; a world of things and stuff.  These things need to be treasured and looked upon as the good that they are.  I was reminded of this yesterday while trying to decide what to do with the two massive cherry slabs I recently acquired.

These slabs remind me of the importance of putting importance on material things.  There is a cost to all the things that we buy, from iPhones to cherry slabs but it is not only the monetary costs, it is the real, the material costs that we need to always remember.

Looking out over my acreage, it is covered in forest, I am reminded of how much lesser the land would be without its beauty; I am reminded that this beauty is not wasted, but is wonderful; it is not resources, but reality.  The difference between material goods and good material is the real cost of taking these things from the world that we live in and the world we want to live in.

 

The Daily Dream

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It’s interesting watching dreams move in and on, change and morph into new and strange, sometimes traditional and familiar themes.  At the end of the day, working to make a dream a reality is like most other jobs: it requires long hours, tough work, compromise, eating crow and learning; always learning.

The snow is on the ground now, and days are spent in the wood shop making cabinets and built-ins, making onion and potato boxes, and planning out woodsheds and chicken coops for the coming spring.  With each of these things the drawings and dimensions, the measurements and plans change almost with each passing day.  But the days pass, and pass quickly.

Every morning, however, starts the same: make coffee, fire up the wood stove in the shop, and take the dog for a walk.  I guess some things never change.

Six months into my dream, reality is taking hold and does so every morning when I get out of bed and feel sore, wanting more sleep but not being able to sleep because of the day’s work that rolls around in my head.  I watched, and worked, with my father-in-law dairy farmer for some years and told him this the other day.  He just laughed, but it sounded like “I told you so…”

And so tomorrow morning I’ll get up, make coffee, fire up the wood stove and go for a walk in the snow with the dog, and when we get back, I’ll get on with the work of making my dream a reality.

 

New-Old Lifestyles

Image result for old farm tools

When talking to people, especially older people who sometimes don’t understand why anyone would want to “go back” to raising and slaughtering your own meat, growing your own food and working your own land, they often point out that they are “fine” eating the modern products and processed foods of our current world.  They are right, of course; at least sometimes, or partially.

But the real point is lost on them; the point is not just the healthy aspect, but also the moral aspect.  We humans have somehow lost the necessary respect that life deserves and demands.  It is not just for health reasons that we till our own gardens and raise and slaughter our own meat.  It is healthier and better (lacking the additives and antibiotics) but is most certainly a more moral choice (respect for life and the living): a better choice.

A respect for life is the cornerstone of the agrarian lifestyle.  This does not preclude, but does not necessarily include, a religious adoration of life, but it is a necessary moral choice that does much to define who we are at the end of the day.  People that were raised on farms eighty years ago seem to remember the drudgery and forget the community.  They seem to remember the hardships and forget the rewards.  I’m not sure why and perhaps I will too at some point, but I hope not.

The irony of talking to older people who have had such “lifestyles” is that they seem to look upon the new crop of self-sufficient people as being a bit spoiled, but I would argue that the new farmers of old ideas are not spoiled, but curious and willing to do the work.  Although many people will fail at these new old endeavors (because the physicality and harshness of the work have not changed) there are many who have found solace and education in pursuing  “non-progressive” ways of life.

I think that when an honest lifestyle is dismissed so easily by others that it is because those that dismiss it have never really thought about their own life.  To do so, like the new agrarians will find, is physically and morally demanding; no less than the new- life that they have chosen to lead.

My Own Mistakes

I continue to be taught by my tools and the wood and earth that I now work with on a day to day basis.  It is a wonder how much a table saw can teach us if only we listen.  My bandsaw lays in waiting for the lesson to be taught.  A piece of lumber is a particularly harsh professor.  Lacquer is a nun with a ruler.

The oak that I saw lures me into the comfort of knowledge only to take it away again, leaving me in the darkness of ignorance; but there is always a light at the end of that educational tunnel.  The maple slabs never let me slack nor do they allow me to rest my weary head.  I lay my well-worn sander on them only to find a new lesson.

My jack plane is a peculiar teacher.  The razor sharp iron lures me into comfort and laughs at me again and again as its paper thin slices suddenly turn to chunks of precious wood.  I cry and it offers no solace and so I am angered and it is entertained.

My shop lays in wait at night for me to wake and try my luck again at learning a trade that I thought I knew.  It proves me wrong and I still fight.  There is no “first place” or empathy; there is no participation points.  I am learning from the best teacher that I know of: my own mistakes; and teach they will, one way or another as long as I keep trying.