life

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.

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.

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?

 

Mistakes…Dreams will Be Made

dreams

Dreams are interesting endeavors.  They are experiments more than anything.  But, can pursuing a dream be a mistake?  As mentioned in a previous post, it is hard to remember your goal when you are in the middle of it all.  To answer that rhetorical question: I’m not sure that pursuing a dream can be a mistake.

Think about it: a dream is an experiment; the goal is (at best) unknown and even perhaps undefined.  Pursuing a dream, therefore, can never be a mistake.  Pursuing that dream is always worth it, but it must be remembered that dreams may not be what you think they are.

Sometimes dreams will enlighten, and most of the time they will be frustrating.  Sometimes dreams clarify even if they are never achieved in full.  All of these possibilities are in a way necessities because having a dream itself is a necessity.  Imagine what life would be without dreams.

You must give up things to pursue dreams, but those things are often vague and easily given up, at least in the beginning.  In dreams, mistakes will be made, but it is never a mistake to pursue your dreams.

Want What You Need

need

This time of year is sometimes difficult; it is time for warmth but it is still cold.  The sun is shining, but the wind is blustery and bitter.  Sitting inside by the fire the day looks beautiful but out in the forest nature soon reminds us that it is unforgiving.  And so we sit wanting something that we know we cannot have.  We do this and all the time know that it is a waste of that most precious commodity: time itself.

Days spent pining over the past or looking toward the future are days wasted.  The thought is a bit Buddhistic, but goes beyond the confines of any religion because the act is human.  Perhaps we are hardwired to desire what we do not have.  This desire comes, often enough, in the form of “keeping up with the Jones”.  It rears its ubiquitous head in many ways though.  I would argue that the mess that is our government today is a consequence of wanting what you don’t need rather than needing what you want.

Think of it another way.  We need food, we need shelter…that’s it.  But we want so much more.  These desires will always come at a cost, however.  The more we want, the more we need to understand that nothing is free.  If we want to be moral we must need to be moral. If we want truth, we must need truth.  Of course, we need both, but so many times we do not want either.

Looking out the window and wanting the warmth of Spring will not bring Spring any closer.  Knowing the right thing to do and not actually doing the right thing will not make us moral.  These philosophical ponderings will do no good unless we act upon them.  We must want to act and act in order to know what we need.  This is, perhaps, the secret.  By all means think, but if we want to know what we need we must also act.

Needs

cash

In Denmark there is a term, “sort penge”, which translated directly means “black money”.  Now black money is simply a transaction (in cash) that the two parties implicitly understand will not be taxed in any way.  In Denmark this is a bit of a joke, especially to farmers up north.

Where I live there is a similar phenomenon but it goes by no name.  However, it is still implicitly understood.  What I’ve learned from this is that we are being told lies: it is not all about money.  Money is a means to an end and the oldest form of money is barter.  I’ve found that in the country no one has money, they say, but how much do we really need money and why?

First, money is necessary, but only in a society where there are people that are not self-sufficient.  Perhaps the advent of cities necessitates money.  Secondly, money is addictive; it makes our lives easy and easy is addictive.  Third, as I have found out money is not always needed.

“You can ‘loan’ my sander.  I might come up and use it every once in a while…”

“I’ve got a portable mill and can mill up those nice oak logs for you…”

“Maybe I can introduce you to…”

“Tim knows a guy who needs a door built…”

And so it goes.  I am reminded that while we do need money in today’s modern society, it sometimes takes over the really important things, like the need for each other.

The Middle Bit

themiddle_logo

New adventures are often difficult, especially in the middle.  In the middle of things the motivation is often forgotten and the goal(s) are hard to remember.  The daily grind grows like a weed and every day becomes, well, everyday.  Adventures, we forget, also include the every day living of life: we wake up, we work, we eat, and we sleep.

But when we are planning the adventures of our lives we are often caught up in the possibilities; as was mentioned earlier: dreams that come true are no longer dreams.  In the middle of it all, though, we need to remember that the adventures and dreams in our lives are always worth it, even in the middle bits.

I was once asked why I bother with handmade and with self grown when there were so many more efficient ways to do those very same things.  Other than liking it, I had a hard time answering.  The answer came suddenly a few weeks later: because dreams and adventures are not efficient.  My answer, however, at the time:  “If I have to explain it, you would not understand it.”

And so in the middle bits we often find ourselves wanting a bit more efficiency, a bit more speed and always more time.  But dreams and adventures are actually built (slowly) in the middle, where all the work happens.  We spend much of our time trying to speed up rather than slow down and in doing so we miss the one thing many of us search for but call it by the incorrect name.  We are actually searching for the middle bits.