Author: Philo

human

Here’s Knowing You!

Pork and Belly 2

 

It was a good day yesterday. Pork and Belly, our pigs, are hanging in the garage and the job of butchery begins tomorrow. We have four sides to get through and the process will be a learning situation. The process of raising, slaughtering and butchering your own meat is (as the words used to describe the process) a somewhat violent process towards the end but I choose to broaden my perspective and see the beauty in the cycle of life.

Pork and Belly were happy right up to the end. Sniffing at the barrel of the pistol that was about to end his life, Pork was at ease and full of trust; never stressed and never felt a thing. As I took a minute or two to calm my nerves, holding the pistol and watched as he poked at it innocently. I describe this not to disgust or dismay, but to remind us all (including me) that death is not the important thing: life is.

While it is true that Pork and Belly trusted me and I broke that trust, it is also true that I built that trust by giving them the best life that I could. Their life was full of rutting around, eating acorns, pats and scratches and a warm bed of hay every night. There lives were good by any standard and it is that life that I am proud of.

This is a process that I believe is necessary if we insist upon eating meat. It affords us the understanding that by eating we take something of great value, something that we must come to appreciate as we cannot bring it back: a living, breathing, and thinking entity. I do not thank a god or gods for their lives. I am thankful that I have been given the chance to look at life straight in the eye; all the blood and beauty of it. It only gives me a greater appreciation of the food that I eat, and the animals’ lives that I take in order to do just that.

Raise a glass with me to Pork and Belly
Good pigs they were, and good food they are!

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One More

NRA

This coming weekend I am faced with having to put a pistol to the head of my two pigs. When I talk to others about it we talk of the necessity of the killing, and how they’ve had a good life, which they have. I do not pick up a weapon lightly, and I do not kill anything with apathy; rather, I put the pistol to their heads with antipathy. I take a life, and I do it trying to be morally consistent and with respect for the finality of the act and because I live the way I do: I eat meat.

The recent slew of shootings is the opposite of respect or for that matter the understanding of the finality of death. These shootings are the symptom of, not the prelude of, the lack of understanding and dismissal of the respect that is necessary to take a life with purpose. These shootings are a symptom of how we as human beings have lost the understanding of the price of taking a life and replaced it with ignorance and fear, false empowerment and cowardice.

These shootings are allowed by apathy and a lack of antipathy for killing not because we are not capable, not because our leaders are not capable, but because we are unwilling and our leaders are unwilling to call the shootings what they are: our own responsibility. I kill my pigs, the pigs that I have watched grow and play with the understanding that I am responsible for their lives, but also and more importantly my own: I kill my pigs because I eat meat, not because I like to kill.

I remember when the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) motto was “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation”. This was almost a virtuous, an understandable goal. Now, the illustrious association prefers an excerpt from the constitution: a motto that was changed in 1977 to the one the N.R.A. still uses: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” Mr. LaPierre leads the charge against a massive majority of this country’s populace who must endure and endless stream of shootings because a minority of people scream about concepts that they seemingly do not understand: rights.

What strikes me about the motto is the allusion to rights. But rights are actually restrictions, not guarantees. The use of a constitutional amendment is important, not because it is an excerpt of the basis of this country’s laws, but because of the word “amendment”. The term amendment alludes to change, to alteration: by its very wording the constitution is to be changed: the very thing the NRA led by LaPierre fights rabidly against.

The NRA is now nothing more than a terrorist organization belying their stated goals of protections of rights by their endless siege upon the safety and security of the persons in this country. They now hold this country hostage by disallowing amendments not only to the constitution concerning gun law, but to their obvious lack of antipathy towards killing: it seems they simply like to kill. With this in mind, I must hold a gun to kill the food that I will eat: I hate killing, but I am morally responsible for what I eat. The NRA supports the opposite: they kill because they immorally support concepts that they either do not understand or refuse to understand.

To the NRA I ask: “How many more times must we say “one more…”?
And the answer that they seem to give is: “As many times as it takes.”

 

 

Art

black-hole 2

A musician searchs for intertwining melodies, chordal movements, and counterpointed lines to paint a mental picture or to tell a story that can only be understood through sound.

A painter splashes paint, dabs color, carefuly inundates the canvas with lines of imagination, shapes of surreal dreams, looking for the picture that is indelible, cemented in his mind.

The poet draws words from the canvas of language and rhythm; memories are real, and reality as clear as the words on the page. The black and white of paper and pen the most beautiful of all.

The philosopher searches for the illusive truth, the difficult understanding and the never-ending hunt for reason. The art is euphoric and personal but applies to the world.

The farmer wakes with the dawning sun and looks over mother nature. His animals await, his plants sit silently in the morning light. Pitchfork in hand, plough on horse, the farmer smells the earth, the manure, the life that he creates.

The teacher draws in the coffee smells and pulls up papers, hoping for the spark of intelligence. Eager faces look for guidance, and the teacher looks for secrets that we call learning.

The carpenter draws a blade across the wood and puts his nose to the newly planed plank. Timber becomes lumber and lumber becomes the necessities of life.

If only…if only perfection were found in art. Then, and only then, the artists could rest their weary heads and contemplate the perfection in their hearts.

Pain

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This week I have had that old and misunderstood teacher, pain, in my life.  This time it came in the form of an old piece of oak and a table saw.  As good teachers ought to, pain pointed out my stupidity but did so not in a condescending way; my lesson was learned in a split second and by my own hand.  I have no excuse, which was the lesson taught.

I have all of my fingers and they all will work normally but for the time being I have thirteen stitches in two of them (nine in my index an four in my thumb).  I took the test and failed.  However, failure is as it always is, a chance to learn.  My Renshi, pain, has not let me down and I have learned; if only I can remember when the lesson is finished.

A teacher and a student are one in the same, but a teacher sometimes needs a reminder that they are a student as well.  I’m not sure what lesson Master Pain has learned.  My lesson has been one of trust: do not do it with machinery and wood!  I have an old adage: comfort is your enemy, and there is another one: familiarity is a teacher of men.

My lesson is all bandaged up now and the learning process has started.  Flashbacks of my lesson continue, I cringe, and I type with eight fingers for the time being but the lesson came at a cheap cost.  Pain is unforgiving, straightforward, and honest as all good teachers should be.  And I am thankful as all understanding students come to be.

MISTAKES, MISGIVINGS, AND MOTIVATIONS: II

face roadmap

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.

Never noticing it before, it was nevertheless worn from wear. Like a shiny piece of metal washed many times and never found, it was clean…almost luxuriously so. The past mirrored the man as he looked into it’s shiny, blank sheen; not so much did it offer up memories, but misgivings as to what could have been compared to what had been.

The past, he found, was not full of memories, but of imaginative vagueness and ample insecurities.
“What if…”
“If only…”
“Had I only known…”
The sentences formed in his head and his imagination finished them thoroughly and almost automatically. It was as if he had no control over his past.
“But it is mine,” he thought.
“This is my past!”

However, the metal simply stood its ground; the past would have none of his illusions. Stamped in metal by his own meanderings the man realized he no longer owned what he had done, what he had been.

Looking around for an explanation, there was none.
Searching for answers to the puzzle that the past posed, he found none.
“There must be, though; the past is mine. IT’S MINE!!”

But the metal dripped in apathy as the man slowly realized that it was only the tears and he put the past back into his pocket.

Rituals

coffee pic

There are rituals that we all seem to abide by often without knowing it.  These rituals seem so inconspicuous when we are alone but when guests come, or when they are otherwise interrupted, they show themselves in unusual ways.  If we work away from the home we tend to enjoy the workplace just a little more; or when we work at home we notice the rituals and how they are being poked at, if just a little.

This is nothing against the guests in our houses; they are welcome and enjoyed.  But the little rituals in our lives are, well, just a little put out.  If you have pets, especially a dog, you probably notice this.  However, when our own rituals must be put on hold, the dog’s perspective doesn’t seem that strange.  We, like our pets, live by rituals.

The ritual itself doesn’t really matter, it is not the ritual act that counts.  Rather it is the act of having a ritual that seems important.  We do things in a certain way, at a certain time.  Personally,  I notice this when my early morning coffee ritual is changed (read “interrupted”).  Coffee itself is a ritual, not just the need and desire for caffeine.  Coffee in the morning and a beer (or two) at night are explicit rituals, but what about those small, inane rituals that our lives are filled up with?

We do not notice the small moments in our lives when we are in the middle of living them.  It is only when we are reminded of them that they matter.  Perhaps rituals are not unlike our past: they are made and then remembered?  Perhaps Hume and other philosophers are right when they state that we are nothing but a collection of memories?  This may be the case, but if so then the memories themselves are rituals incognito.

The Act of Caring

piglets

Pork and Belly: it has been a pleasure!

It is getting close to doing the inevitable for the last time this year: I must “process” the last twenty-five chickens and more difficult, I must say good-bye to Pork and Belly our two pigs. There is no getting around the fact that death is violent, no matter how we choose to express it. Killing is even more violent. But death and killing are ubiquitious and we must come to understand that sometimes the acts are not necesarily wrong if we are to live with peace of mind.

When the decision was made to make self-sufficiency the goal the decision was also made to act philosophically; to be philosophical we must also act philosophical. And the reality of eating brings upon us the reality of killing. I have run into many that have expressed their opinion of the uselessness of philosophy, but in my years of teaching and trying to live philosophy their conclusion seems empty.

To kill an animal, even for food, honestly, we must look it in the eye and put the knife to its throat; this is the honest thing to do and because honesty is important to the act and so the act is philosophical. The question of killing is most certainly a moral question, one which the homesteader needs to ask themself: is it the moral thing that I am doing?

This is all to say that Pork and Belly present a unique opportunity to put philosophy into action, but also present a moral decision. We started with two pigs and they become as much pets as livestock. So, the obvious answer seems to be: more pigs, less pets. In other words, with more animals on the chopping block we don’t get attached. However, this solution is sidestepping the real question; it is a way of making ourselves immune to the inevitable act of killing an animal.

In the end we must choose: to eat meat or not to eat meat, but in making our decision we must also realize that life includes and is not the dichotomy of death: life and death are one in the same, and this idea (again) is philosophical. As humans, we have the ability, the capacity to choose morally, we must choose philosophically; life does not care, but we must because we can.

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.

Busy

busy-quote

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

travel

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.