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The Enemy of the Good

permaculture poster

It is difficult to wake up every morning and face the day, knowing that something that you will do will…fail.  But, this is inevitable; no matter what we do: we will fail.  Failure is a source of stress and frustration, anger and sadness; failure builds like a bomb inside of us and weighs down upon our shoulders.  Failure is physical.

But fail we will.  Some call failure an opportunity and others call failure a learning adventure, but when we lay our heads down at night to fall into a fitful sleep it is failure that we feel, it is that deep feeling that we did not quite make the grade.  This feeling of failure starts early and is experienced often.

This much is true; this much is the case and it must be the case.  But why do we fail?  This was a question that has been posed for eons and answers are many.  We fail because we do not try; we fail because we do not believe in ourselves; we fail because we have been told we will fail; we fail because we tell ourselves we will fail; we fail because to many anything less than perfection is failure.

Anything less than perfection is failure?  I have been a full time farmer for approximately a year and if I did not know that perfection is an illusion, then farming has taught me the hard lesson that it is, in fact, illusory.  We can gnash our teeth and pull our hair out; we can cry and obsess; we can wail and scream at the gods or we can remember that we should never let the perfect…be the enemy of the good.*

*Sam Harris: Waking up

 

The Last Screw

screw

I just recently finished building a “chicken tractor” as I am expecting ten young birds this Thursday.  For those that may not know the term, a “chicken tractor” is a wooden frame that is wrapped in chicken wire (or some such wire), and is accessible from the top.  The birds are put inside the structure and the whole shebang is put out on grass allowing the birds to eat grass and bugs.

I’d never built one before and it wasn’t difficult.  No plans were needed and managed to build two doors on top: one for the food and the other for the waterer.  Such projects are typically done without a plan, by the seat of your pants and this one was no different.  There is always an idea in the head that sparks it all off and then the work begins.

A few days later (or sometimes a few hours, depending on other chores) projects such as my chicken tractor are done and another takes its place.  This particular project started with a few 2×4’s and some chicken wire.  I had some tin roofing left over from the pig house I’d built the weekend before in the same manner.

The drawings in your head change as the project progresses.  Plans change; pictures are repainted.  The door is moved, the structure is reinforced diagonally instead of just in the corners; the door is smaller and in the opposite corner. These changes are typical and ongoing and like a house or painting or a piece of music, projects are rarely finished but simply left after the last screw is screwed in.  There are no finish lines, but only last screws.

And Then Pigs

piglets

(Meet Pork and Belly, our new pigs)

For some years I’ve wondered where the line was between being a gardener and a farmer.  It began when I made the conscious decision to grow my own food.  I felt like a farmer, but couldn’t really call myself one.  Then, I endeavored beekeeping.  I started with one hive; they unfortunately died.  I got two more and lost them.  I was really hurt.

I thought that this is what a farmer must feel like when he loses livestock or must acquiesce to some sickness and put an animal down.  They were just bees (I said to myself), but they were more than that: they were my livestock, my responsibility.  I was, however, still just a gardener with bees.

Last year when we bought our current property we had to start from the ground up.  I renovated the house over the winter: I was a carpenter.  I plowed a large plot for my garden: I was a gardener.  Early this spring I built a greenhouse: I was a market gardener.  Bees came and I was again (gladly) a beekeeper.  Not long afterwards I built a chicken coop: carpenter again.

Finally, the time had come to get chickens; there were animals coming to a farm.  I felt that finally I could call myself a farmer.  I picked up the small chicks and installed them in the coop.  They had water, they had food, they had straw; I must be a farmer, but alas…still nothing.  I could have chickens in the city.

Then, I got a call on Friday from a farmer that I had met.  I ordered manure and we talked pigs.  Evidently, I ordered two piglets when they were ready (about 8 weeks old), which would be in about 2 weeks.  He told me that “my” pigs were ready to be picked up.  My wife and myself scrambled to build a house for them, a pen and bought some electric fencing.  We had the whole thing ready within 24 hours.

We picked them up and put them down in their pen.  I was nervous.  The cuffed around in the dirt and ate some food.  They were getting use to their new home.  They were a bit nervous in their new surroundings; they didn’t know what to expect.  They were, in fact, a bit like me: nervous in their new position.  Without knowing it I had fallen into farming, but I think the pigs realized it before I did.

Change

change-fish

Change is inevitable.  It does not come secretly into the night, but glaringly through our lives, if we only notice it.  Perhaps we turn our backs on it in hopes that it will go away.  But change will never go away; it is the reality in which we live.

Change is neither good nor bad.  It has no moral code, but a clear path which is all and everything.  It is the certainty that morality will never be.  It is reasonable to accept it, as it is reasonable to accept the moral codes which make sense.

Change cannot be ignored.  To ignore change is to ignore the water on the planet upon which we live; it is to ignore the infinite space above us to wonder at a small ditch beside the road.  To live life looking at the ground makes no difference to the change in our lives.

Change is fundamental.  It is both sufficient and necessary.  The fideism in which we lose ourselves blinds us to the ineffable, to the sublime, to the practical, to the rational, to the happiness in our lives, and to the sorrows that we must all face.

Change is the only consistent; the only inexorable constant, the philosophical truth, the scientific fact, the universal of the universe, the one god which is not love, but change itself.

We can change if only accept the change that is our lives.

Ten Things to Make you Feel Better

expectations

 

In this age of Trump, fake news, insanity and stupidity everyone needs something to make them feel better.  Here are ten suggestions guaranteed to help:

  1. Plant something and take care of it; start a garden.
  2. Go for a bicycle ride.
  3. Cook something completely from scratch (and drink wine while you’re doing it).
  4. Do something to help someone, but do it anonymously.
  5. Do #3 and take it to a neighbor.
  6. Take a long weekend and spend it in an expensive hotel.
  7. Go for a hike on a quiet trail, early in the morning (and I mean early!)
  8. Write a letter (on paper with a pen) to a friend.
  9. Close all the windows, all the curtains, and the doors and spend a day doing nothing.  Note: be sure to stock up with your favorite food for this one.
  10. Take a first step towards a long put-off dream.

Do not expect these suggestions to have the expected consequences, but if you delve into them in full guaranteed fulfillment is a certain consequent.

Mothers

mothers

I am reminded, on Mother’s Day, of those mothers that do not have a voice, but love nevertheless.  I am reminded that all of life has a mother; one who loves in their own way, even if it is not ours.  I am, of course, referring to the mothers that we all often forget.  I am reminded of them when I walk out my door.

I hear them in my yard and see them scamper up trees and into the wood pile out back.  In the mornings I see them walking slowly through the forest on our property.  And sometimes I hear them in the back and have seen their black flash run through the woods.  I read about them and see pictures of them lovingly licking their young children or sleeping.

I must admit that I have disturbed a few when I lifted some wood or mixed the compost pile.  They look up at me and I feel a shutter run through me.  I quickly replace the wood, or cover them back up; them and their young.  I hear them chatter angrily when I let the cat out, and I hurriedly pack poor old Fimp back inside.  I know there are mothers that are afraid, that are hunted by the heartless among us and they too have mothers.  I cannot seem to get myself to read or watch about these things.

I would ask all of you to give a thought to all the mothers of the world and consider that they all, in their own way, love their children.  I think, especially in this age of inconsideration, that it is time that we consider those that deserve much more than just a passing thought.  I love my mother, and she loves me.  I also know that there are others do the same.

In the Mornings…

coffee

 

In the mornings a newly paired couple of ducks sneak up to the winter’s bird-feeding tree and gobble up seed and grass, always on the lookout.  But with a cup of coffee in hand, before the day starts, I settle back in my chair and watch them as the cautiously feed.  After ten minutes of so they fly off either to the pond a few hundred yards back or to the other side of the property where the water gathers a few feet deep, fed by the trickling stream from upland.

I’m not sure why I find these moments special, but I do.  Always sad to see them fly away, I know that I will meet them when walking Maggie (my dog), and we always do.  they complain and fly off but by the time we are making our way back towards the house, there they are again.

They are Mallards, a common duck, and are beautiful like the mornings here, grey and rainy, a bit cool; the subdued weather brings out their colors even more.  I like that they are cautious but getting braver every day.  I like the cool, grey mornings that are getting warmer and a bit more sunny every week.  There is change in the air, and the ducks know it too.

Soon they’ll mate and eggs will be laid, ducklings will be presented to the world and the ducks will become parents.  Perhaps, with a little luck, those ducklings will grow and have a happy life, only to show up once again in my little corner of the universe to feed cautiously as I watch, coffee in hand.

And when the coffee is cold and I am no longer here to watch I can only hope that there will be ducks cautiously feeding under tree, always on the lookout for the change that is, in the end, inevitable.

It Could Be Worse

Denmark has been rated as one of the happiest countries in the world for some years running (I think that Norway won this year’s test).  But, when reporters asked a prominent university professor in Copenhagen why his answer was, well…very Danish.

“We simply lower our expectations.”

Having lived in Denmark for some years and being fluent in Danish, I had to chuckle.  That answer sums up the attitude of the Danish culture as I have experienced it.  This seems very un-American and at the very least unattractive to Americans.  But, I believe that it is true, at least in a sense.

Recently in a conversation another somewhat “Danish” attitude towards happiness cropped up.  The interviewer asked how to be happy and the answer appropriated was:

“Always remember that it could be worse.”

This, too, has a ring of truth in it.  Lowering our expectations and remembering that things could get worse does help. Not expecting so much and being better than a worse scenario has the resulting happiness, at least in a sense of the word.  And perhaps that is enough, but perhaps not.

Then again,I am reminded of a song lyric (Queens of the Stone Age) that also alludes to happiness:

“Ignorance is bliss, until someone takes your bliss away.”

If you read, you might be reminded of an ancient philosophical idea (originated by Socratic philosophers) that says the same thing.  As J.S Mill wrote alluding to that idea:

“It is better to be miserable as Socrates than happy as a pig.”

So can a pig lower it’s expectations, and in doing so is it reminded, as it is shuffled off to slaughter, that things could be worse?

 

Spring

spring

The snow gave way quickly and just as quickly came the green.  The greenhouse went up just in time; the plants, some of which I thought must have died, buried under several feet of snow for months, poking their green sprouts out of the yet still cold earth.  This is no miracle; it is Spring.

The frogs in the back pond reappeared after a long hiatus, and frog eggs line the shallow pools in the back “roads” on the property.  I’ve seen moose tracks and more deer and turkey tracks than I care to count.  The fox is about and I hear the hawk’s screech almost everyday.  The garden is waking up and the plants stir in their pots anxious to get in the dirt.

As always Spring brings anxiety: some plants got burnt up in the newly built greenhouse (my bad).  But, most are fine and I kick myself for not putting spinach in a month ago.  Every Spring I forget what I remember the previous year.  Perhaps this is part of Spring too.

Small buds appear over night on the Birch, the Maple, the Oak and the Cedar and Spruce trees seem even greener than normal.  The fireplaces are cold and everyone is outside.  The wind blows the glorious warmth around and the leaves, freed from the snowy prison, take flight.

We all feel a bit more free in the Spring.  Perhaps Spring is when happiness gets a chance to shine, just for a little, to fly around with the leaves and rid itself of the heavy weight of winter worries.  A new start for an old, old cycle.

Spring into the Past

dirt

Sometimes we long after times that are gone, things that will not come to pass, and futures that are certain.  But we all know that these things are illusions.  Time passes and we all have different ways of noticing this.  Some of us stare at clocks on the wall or time displays in the corners of our screens.  Some of us count the nights and days, the weeks and perhaps the months.  I used to count time by the summer breaks I had.  It all works.

But time passes no matter what we do and we can only do with time what we decide to do with time; time will pass.  In the past I’ve watched time start with new seedlings and time continue with new plants in the garden.  I’ve watched time pass with the coming cold in the air and with the smell of beer brewing; kale boiling and the smell of canning the summer’s crop.

Those times are past and are yet to come.  Those times cycle through even if we do not notice them.  Sometimes our time is spent in the past, looking out over the horizon that darkens with every waking day.  That does not help.  It does help to think of the possibilities that the future holds.  Perhaps that we people garden.

With a small container and some soil we seed the future; the past seems not to matter.  With water we nourish our hopes; regrets seem forgone.  With soil we reminded that the past is nothing more that possible futures.  It is, after all, where we come from and where we eventually will come to.