Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whirlwind Tour of Central Arkansas

In the past two days we've been driving all over central Arkansas. To the airport to drop off Aaron who was in town for a visit this past weekend and headed back to Ft. Drum NY. We had hoped, at the same time, to pick up Mason who is on R&R from his base in Afghanistan. He will be with us for two weeks. Ronny spent the last three days not eating or drinking, and running himself to death to try to lose enough weight to officially ship off to Army bootcamp at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.

Enter the tornadoes.

We spent most of Monday at the LR Airport cursing the inefficiency that is the airline industry. Mason' flight was late coming in from Dallas. Aaron's flight back to NY was cancelled and Ronny could not quite get to the 205 pounds he needed to be to get through MEPS and ship.

By 5:30 PM Mason flight finally comes in, Ronny is given one more day to lose 3 pounds, and Aaron is reassigned a ticket for the following day. We exit the airport terminal to the sound of tornado sirens wailing from several different locations. With Ronny still sequestered with his recruiters at the pre-deployment hotel, Mason heads to the baggage claim to pick up his checked luggage which, I bet you can guess, did not show up when he did. Because of the weather Mason became separated from his luggage as planes were swapped in and out.

So Mason decides to take me, Patt, and Aaron to dinner before heading home. The weather is atrocious. Sirens blaring all over Little Rock. Mason takes us to Copeland's where we sit down and finally receive our platters filled to the brim with cajun cuisine. Just as we were digging in, after not eating all day, the manager stops by our table and tells us a tornado is moving over our location. He lead us through the kitchen back to the walk in freezer. He assured us the door would not lock from the outside.  So the four of us and several other customers piled into the freezer to wait for the funnel cloud to pass over.

After all of this we finished our dinner and headed home with the radio on listening to the weather alerts.

Flashflooding on Calf Neck Road, Perryville experiencing flooding, a tornado signature on the radar 3 miles southwest of Perryville heading northwest. When these weather alerts come on the radio we are normally asking, "where's is that?" But last night all of the locations were within two miles of our house.

We did not sustain any damage, no flooding, the garden is soaked but nothing much to worry about. All the animals were okay. We still do not have power but that is not much of an inconvenience.

I am back at the airport now as I am writing this. Ronny lost 6 pounds overnight and made his weight and is shipping out from gate 3. We got to visit with him before he went back to the gate because we are here to see Aaron off. His plane leaves at 3pm. Mason is sitting with us and will take us to the pub for dinner before we head for home again. Somehow, the whole family was back together for at least a few minutes - even if it had to happen at the airport - it was nice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Larry Boyd the Masking Tape Marksman

My basketball career went much the same way as my baseball career only speckled with a little more humor. I was slow, short, and couldn't jump. I was infinitely better equipped for the diamond than the hardwood. 90 ft along the 1st base line after laying down the perfect bunt was a much shorter distance to me than the 10ft from the floor to the rim. So I developed the only skill I could physically master - the jump shot. They called me Larry Boyd or The White Shadow.

These were the days of the short-shorts. There was no three point line. If there had been, I would have shot 75% from behind it and led the league in scoring in spite of only playing 2 or 3 minutes a game. Really, unlike today, there was not much need for a slow, short, rifleman in any basketball league. I was a pretty good defensive player, got my share of steals and easy lay ups. I even hit the game winning jump shot against the Boerne (pronounced ber -nee) Bears while playing in highschool with the Randolph Ro-Hawks in San Antonio. The school could not decide on a mascot when it was created so they held a vote among the students to decide. The two top choices, strangely enough, had the same number of votes. But instead of having a run-off, they decided to combine the two names Rockets and Hawks to become the enigmatic Ro-Hawks symbolized by a hawk riding on a rocket.

The highlights of my basketball career, though I did not know it at the time, were sharing the court with Reggie Rivers who went on to a national football league career with the Denver Broncos. Reggie scored a touchdown in one of their superbowl appearances and playing against a future college and NBA star whenever we played our arch-rival Cole Highschool located on a local Army base. I was a senior at the time and spent most of my time sitting on the bench with my friend Steve-another short, slow, white dude.

We would always seem to find a way to beat Cole during my time at the school in spite of their gargantuan freshman center. During my first game involving Cole High I saw my first live high school dunk, a rim shaking affair, that had our fans cheering for the player that performed it eventhough he played for the opposing team. That player dominated the game in losing efforts. Knowing what I know about him now, it must have been frustrating. That player went on to be a star player for LSU in college and a number of teams in the NBA. His career, now in its decline, included a very public falling out with a team mate, joining a police squad, a couple of movies, and some NBA Championships and All-Star Game appearance. His name was Shaquille O'neal.

My career ending quietly but not without some controversy which resulted in our coach, who took a team picture every year and displayed them in his Biology Classroom, placing a head-sized piece of masking tape over my face after I graduated.

During this time, as I watched games from the bench, munching on popcorn and hotdogs with my buddy Steve, I also edited the high school year book. My senior year, having nothing left to lose, I wrote an expose on the basketball team that my subversive Journalist teacher Ms. Foss, willingly published. In this piece I described the joy I felt during an epic 5 overtime game against Marysville High, which we won, and in which I was "kind of" almost the leading scorer. My friend Chuck Dawson got fouled early in the game and his jersey ripped. The rules required Chuck to sit down for the rest of the game unless he replaced his jersey. Coach Scott yelled down the bench towards me and Steve. He called my name! I was going in the game! I put down my popcorn, hopped up, and headed toward the scorer's table to check in. Coach Scott grabbed me by the seat of my shorty-shorts and said, "Whoa, where you goin? Give me your jersey. " I was stunned, not a little disappointed, and shortly embarrassed as I removed my jersey in front of God and everybody, baring my naked and chubby torso. I handed the jersey to the coach which he then handed to Chuck. The article stated that my jersey was the second leading scorer in the game and if only the coach had asked for my shorty-shorts, I may have been the game's top scorer afterall.

That little attempt at humor, which my journalism class considered a brilliant stroke of literary genius, become my ticket to Coach Scott's Hall of Shame. As far as I know, I am the only player in Coach Scott's many years of coaching basketball to have his face obliterated by a piece of masking tape.

I remember, after contacting Coach Scott through the Randolph Reunion website, the numb feeling I had when he proudly related to me how selfish and disloyal he thought I was for the article in the yearbook and that he had used the tape to hide my face from view. I mean who is the adult here? I contacted him to say hello and to let him know that he taught me alot...I guess that's what you get for trying.

A Boy in Summer

It was late summer 1985 when I gave up on baseball. Three years after a strike suspended play in the major leagues, two humiliating events occurred that made me realize that I wasn't going to play baseball professionally afterall, and to make matters worse, my beloved Houston Astros were battling the New York Mets in the national league championship series for the right to go to the world series for the first time in franchise history.

Nolan Ryan was still playing in those days and the Astros had a pitching staff that was the envy of the league: JR Richard, Charlie Kerfeld, Mike Scott, and Phil Neikro complemented the "Ryan Express".
But, alas, the Astros lost to the Mets who went on to win the world series against Boston with the infamous Bill Buckner error on a single to first. I never watched another baseball game again, even when the home-run derby that was Sosa and McGuire started shattering records. Steroid scandals and congressional intervention sealed the deal for me. Even when the Astros made it to the World Series a couple of years ago I didn't really care. I knew they would lose - they did - and, well, it was over.

I grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan during the reign of the Big Red Machine. Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Davy Conception, Joe Morgan, et al. Dad and I would watch every game we could on the television. Always the coach, Dad would quiz me on the game situation and what would I do if I were playing second base with a man on first and third, one out and the ball is hit to me.

"Throw to the short stop covering second, the short stop would throw to first for the double play." was the right answer.

After moving to Randolph AFB in San Antonio I joined up with the little league on base and began my early career in baseball. Dad, of course, was the coach of our team, the Randolph Giants. I thought my Dad just wanted to be with me, that's why he volunteered to coach, but I later found out that, as a recruiter, he got promotion points for community service. My being on the team still was a little more than serendipitous, in that it was he that drafted me when the league set up for the year. I was the best player on a last place team. Even back then it felt strange to receive a trophy for 9th place during the awards ceremony at the end of the season. Everyone gets a trophy now days...

As I grew into middle school age my love for baseball increased. This increase was due largely to the fact that Dad was no longer my coach. He is not a bad man and he was a good coach. But I found that he was only a coach during that period in my life. And because of his overdeveloped sense of honor he was always harder on me than the other players. We moved to Cable Ohio and I immediately joined the league there. I was considered among the best second basemen, a good hitter, and base stealer as I had always had good speed and due to my Dad's drilling I "thought" during the game and its various situations more than my peers. We won second place in the league one year and because of my speed and fielding ability was moved to centerfield. One highlight I remember vividly was a fly ball hit well to my left. As a right hander, I would have to not only make the catch but twist and throw across my body to catch the runner leaving second after tagging. I ranged to my left in a dead sprint, dove to the ground snagging the fly ball, tumbled over in  a neat summer-sault, sprung to my feet, shifted to the right, and fired a cannon of a throw to third to snag the base runner, ending the inning. The crowd gave me a standing ovation.

Shortly thereafter we moved back to San Antonio - It was as if Dad's career looked up and saw that we were starting to get comfortable and said "Time to Move!" So as a sophomore in high school, we went back to Randolph AFB where I attended and eventually graduated from the high school there on base. The school, however did not offer baseball as a sport, and I was relegated to joining the base Pony League which was for high school age kids. This was the first blow to my dream of a professional baseball career. It is hard to get noticed by scouts in the secure and hidden confines of a military base if you are playing in an unofficial league. I was nothing more than an intramural baseball player at this time.

There are two instances that occur in my memory from time to time that eventually let me see that baseball would not be my profession. One game, while playing my favorite position, second base, I had forgotten that we already had two outs. Our opponent had a runner at third. The batter pegged a line drive directly to me, which I caught for what was the third out, but as I had forgotten this important point, I fired the ball home to try to get the runner. All of my teammates had started for the dug out because the inning was over. Our catcher had taken off his mask. My throw hit him in the head. The crowd, applauding my catch and the end of the inning, became suddenly quiet. I grew suddenly embarrassed. I never had a good game after that. I lost something of my mental edge - I was never really into the game.

The second occurrence, was equally as humbling. It was my senior year and I was struggling with my game. We got a new coach, the dad of our first basemen. For the first time in my young career, I was not the coach's favorite player. I began to realize why my dad treated me harsher than the other players when he was my coach. It was not a good feeling to the other players to never get praise or a preference when the lineup was created for each game. We were at one particular practice, after school had let out for the day and my new coach was throwing batting practice. It was my turn and for the first time I experienced a curve ball. Up till then I had never seen one. Up until that time, pitchers did not try to deceive you with special pitches. They just reared back and tried to throw it past you and always tried to throw it over the plate.

The first pitch came at me as I stood in the batter's box. It had the sound of sizzling bacon and was spinning oddly. It was headed straight for my left shoulder. I cowered and backed out of the box thinking I was going to get hit by the fast moving projectile. It was then that the pitch curved up and then across and down to the middle of the plate. It would have been a strike if it had been in a real game. I still remember the laughter of the coach, his son, and all of my teammates. I still remember the coach saying, "You ain't going no where unless you can hit a curve." I never could hit a curve ball. Something about the way it acted, malevolent, feigning like it wanted to bruise me, but then mockingly veering away from me as it sailed harmlessly over the plate.

That coach - I use the term loosely - never tried to teach me how to hit a curve. He seemed to enjoy making fun of my inability to hit it more than any desire he may have had to make me a better player. I knew then my career was over. It was then that I laid down my glove and cleats, and attempted to excell in basketball. That attempt was filled with more comedy than achievement.

I am slowly recovering my love for this ridiculous game. I listen to every Razorback baseball game I can, while out working or relaxing in the evening. Slowly the good memories are coming back.

The things I love are coming to light again. The feeling of freedom as I stepped over the first base line to take my position in the manicured centerfield. The feeling of my cleats gripping the spongy turf. The comfortable feeling of the stirruped socks nestled securely in the arch of my cleated feet. The feel of the thin cotton uniform, the snug cap upon my head. The wrist bands, the smell of the leather of my fielder's mitt, the soft leather touch of a lightweight batting glove. The cheers from the crowd when I would reach first base on a single. The tension of taking a lead, daring the pitcher to make the throw. The wind up, the set, the pitch. I would take off in this two man battle to see which would get to second base first, me for the steal or the catcher's throw for the out. The smell of popcorn, hot dogs, newly mown grass, leather, ash, the red clay infield. It all comes alive again through the radio. The relaxing drone of baseball conversation which is unlike any other commentary in sports. Abruptly punctuated my the call of an exciting play. It goes like this...

"Top of the second inning and James Mcann steps up to the plate. A beautiful day here at Baum stadium... the pitcher comes set and delivers, a fast ball high and outside, ball one... the rain that came through last night has cleared out and the fans are really starting to show up...the pitch, a curve ball inside, ball two. When you are in Fayetteville, be sure to stop by the Catfish Hole, here's the pitch, Mcann swings...a long drive to dead away center field, the outfielder is back, back, back, and this ball is gone! Mcann puts the Hogs up 1 to 0 on a deep fly ball! What a hit! Last night with all the humidity in the air, that ball would have died out around mid depth of center field. Up now, Bo Bigham who is working on a 16 game hitting streak. The Catfish Hole's legendary hushpuppies come with every meal, the pitch, strike one."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Planting Done!

Finally finished the planting for this early season. Can't wait until it all gets growing. In the background the hogs are grazing in their paddock.

Our wild rose hedge is now in blossom. We planted this two years ago from small sprouted plants we found along the Camp Acres Road. Now it is one of the corners of our "wild arkansas meadow"

We are letting our "front yard" return to "wild arkansas meadow" much to the chagrin of our neighbors and the Hwy 216 Mowing Man who insists on cutting down the wild flowers that spread to the side of the highway. There are still some "man planted" things growing in our meadow that will get moved to our formal flower garden this fall. I think our meadow is responsible for at least 15 different species of birds that frequent our farm including the elusive Pileated Woodpecker.

We took part of our eventual orchard this year, fenced it off, and planted tomatoes around the border on 3 sides and melons that will eventually fill in the middle. By July we should have 4 different types of melons to harvest, and then we will plant our pumpkins for a fall harvest. This lot is out front of our chicken coop and has been the location of a cattle stall, hay ring, goat pen, and goose yard. The soil is very rich and should feed whatever we plant there all year.

The flower and herb garden, "Le Petit Jardin" or kitchen garden contains lettuce, sage, rosemary, oregano, leeks, radishes, parsely, beets, tomatoes, and jerusalem artichokes. The weeds that can grow knee high by mid summer are mowed with a hand scythe. This produces large stalks and leaves that we can lay out into the pathways to help control the crabgrass. This method of weeding, as opposed to the weedeater, uses no fossil fuels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome in the Adult

We've got at least two people that play a part in our lives that always seem to be in a hurry but they never seem to get where they need to be when they need to be there. I am intrigued with this psychological phenomenon because it really resembles an addiction.

Example 1:
"I'll be there at 3:00 PM," she says, "meet me at the grocery parking lot." It only took a few times before we realized that she would never be there at 3:00 PM. In fact, now, when we have to meet her, we don't leave the house until 3:30 PM because we know she will be at least an hour late. but even so, we sit and wait sometimes for up to an hour and a half. So, doing the math; she is an average of 2 hours late.

Example 2:
"I'm going to text you to let you know when I am coming. I'll text you on Tuesday. But if I don't text you on Tuesday plan on me texting you Wednesday or Thursday. If I don't text you Wednesday or Thursday, I'll be there Friday to pick you up around noon-ish." he says. This is an actual conversation we had with him. He left us with the vague feeling that there was a solid plan. In spite of our efforts to give him plenty of ways to contact us to let us when he was coming by he always claims he texted, or posted Facebook, or tried to call but somehow we didn't get the message. Now we know there is little reliable content in his statement.

When either of these two miss a deadline or don't show up at all they come prepared with excuses for being late. Sometimes they sound reasonable. Sometimes, well, they sound like this:

I do not think these are bad people. In fact, I think they genuinely try to help and the only reasons I can give for their perpetual lateness (or Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome CPSS, as I call it) are

1) they over commit with the best of intentions (to help) and because of this they can never meet most of their promised deadlines, and thereby help fewer and fewer of their contacts with each new committment.

2) they do not possess the skill set to adequately plan their day, manage their time, or to politely decline to add more to their already crowded lives.

In the first Example 1, the lady provides a service, free of charge, to her customers. She has altruistic motivations. However, her skill set and the number of her committments (which are generally a part of her elaborate excuses) prevent her from fulfilling her self imposed obligations. Her customers become frustrated and less and less tolerant with each occasion.

In Example 2, the young man, already seems to know that his calendar is muddled and doesn't quite know where to stick us or whether he will be able to remember to do has he promised. He, in his own way, is preparing the ground work for his excuses.

My high school English teacher used to say "An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie". I am not saying that these two are lying when the lay on their multilayered, sometimes dramatic, and stilted excuses. What I am saying is that they have CPSS.

Chronological Phase Shift Syndrome is basically a difference in "time" between the schedule in their heads (their ideal schedule, or the schedule they perceive to be true) and the schedule that happens in reality.

If your day were to look like an outlook calendar in the DAY VIEW and you are always or nearly always on time then 9 AM on Monday would either be "free" or it would be scheduled with something for you to do. You would complete your task starting at 9 AM Monday and would allow enough time to move to the next task. But, if you are one with CPSS, then the task you pencilled in for 9AM Monday in your internal calendar really isn't going to happen until 1030 or later. You think you are doing well because the task is on your list, but you fell a little guilty (or defensive) about missing another deadline. Your calendar is there and it gives you some comfort but you are using it for the wrong thing. You are using it as a worklist NOT a schedule.

In both of these examples, because they both know they have a history of missing deadlines, they build in excuses, sometimes even as they are setting the appointment as mentioned in Example 2.

I am rarely late and if I do get behind it sends me into a spiral of anger and despair. I am nothing special and these two examples are not much younger than I am. So I can't claim a particular talent nor can I blame another generation for this phenomenon. And I am not so sure I can attribute it all to my upbringing. But this I do know. This world has way too much lateness. BQW (Before Quitting Work), one of the cardinal sins one could commit if one was a salesman needing my time, a committee member required to be at a meeting I was conducting, or an applicant looking for work was to be late. Used to be you could weed out the deadwood simply by noticing who kept their committments. My being on time is not as much a matter of personal pride as it is a courtesy to the person waiting for me. My being on time for them shows them the importance I place on their time. Now, however, most everyone is late. And with the exception of myself and a few other "hardasses" at the hospital it is generally accepted. One of my co-workers who was to lead a meeting that I was also attending, started promptly at 1 PM when the meeting was scheduled. She concluded the meeting at 1:10 PM because I was the only person in the room. We did get alot of work done though...

There is an element of honor in keeping to your committments. And it starts with making every committment a matter of honor-if that makes sense. I would not hire a person who was late no matter the excuse. If they would be late for an interview to get a job, would they be late on their first day? Would they be late frequently? Would they be unreliable in other areas of their life if they could not keep a simple appointment time?

What is more, the people in my example, seem to be addicted to this cycle of commit-fail-excuse-commit again.

Somehow, the emphasis in our culture shifted from being on punctuality to a kind of martyrdom. Now it seems that having an overbooked calendar and failing to keep committments is the new way to show how hard one is working. Again, I saw this played out, BQW. One day while walking out at the end of my day at 4pm I met up with another department director who was also leaving for the day. When I asked her if she was slipping out early she simply said, "Just because someone works 14 hour days, is late to meetings, and has an overbooked calendar, and can't keep a committment does not mean they are a good manager". I agreed.

So what is the solution? Here are a few tips that are effective in my personal experience.

Remove this psychological safety net from your repertoire. Everytime you are late (every time) simply say, "I am sorry, there is no excuse. I know you were counting on me and I let you down". This is a short, if not painful, way to break the cycle.

Secondly, make no new commitments until every commitment you already have has been completed. Then take 2 weeks and enjoy the freedom of no committments. Then, with your first new committment, plan for one hour before and one hour after the appointment. Use this time to meet that committment. If you are meeting someone at 2PM, start the process of meeting them at 1PM - even if you are the one that is waiting for the appointment for a change - this helps you to plan for those things that cause excuses.

Third, make being punctual a matter of honor to you- a way to build trust in your reliability. Everyone wants to be trusted right? Well the cycle of commit-fail-excuse-commit again slowly (sometimes quickly) erodes the trust people have in you. Make the other person's time more important than your own.

Do all three of these things in concert and you will be on time, most of the time. Miss any one of these and the old cycle continues.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Honorary Favorite Song

This is so my son Aaron won't hate me....

Ball and Biscuit by the White Strypes demonstrates Jack White's genius for the guitar and layering a full sound out of one guitar and a set of drums...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Top 10 Songs

I was recently asked to list my top 10 songs. I couldn't do it. If I could, perhaps, have 10 categories wherein to place 10 songs I would come closer to completing the task. But, encouraged by the askers, "If you had only 10 songs you could put on an MP3 player and you could never add anymore, which 10 songs would you choose. Well, here goes in no particular order:

Bron-Y-Aur Stomp by Led Zeppelin is a folksy, acoustical piece that Robert Plant wrote to his dog.

Voodoo Chile (Stevie Ray Vaughn Version)

Hush by Deep Purple. When I was in the military they used to truncate my last name to Hutch. So whenever this song came on the radio in our shop every one would sing..."Hutch, Hutch, I thought I heard her calling my name now, Hutch, Hutch"

No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature by the Guess Who.

Respect by Aretha Franklin- I was once caught dancing to this in a grocery store aisle as it played over their speaker system. Can't help but to wiggle a little when it cranks up.

At Last by Etta James

White Room by Cream

The Core by Eric Clapton (Rita Mae, and others too!)

On The Turning Away by Pink Floyd. This song played a big part in my becoming a Christian. It's true!


Unchain My Heart by Joe Cocker

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Egg Production Study

I just can't seem to stop making charts. This one is my attempt to link high and low temperatures each day to egg production. There is a flaw in the data in that I know that it takes 15 hours of daylight exposure for a hen to lay an egg. Pests, cleanliness of the nest box, the number of roosters, and anything out of the hen's routine, like a varmint attack, moving the coop, or a change in feed, will affect production. But, assuming that everything is normal in the life of our hens and understanding that less sunlight in the winter also coincides with lower temperatures I think I can make the link to higher temps = more eggs. So other than all the unaccounted for variables in this equation, the data is still good.

(I sound like an elected government official commenting on the state of the economy!)

The chart indicates that drastic drops in temperatures like what we had on February 10 this year resulted in a drastic drop in egg production. My scientific explanation for this is the hen when squatting down in the nesting box, frozen from low temperatures, experienced what we in the scientific egg production community call "a butt-pucker". This phenomena resulted in a constipated "channel" resulting in no egg.

The Hogs

This was the stuff dreams are made of. What young baseball player hasn't dreamed of hitting the game winning homerun?

April 9 around 10:00 PM Central Time, James Mcann stepped to the plate in a game between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the LSU Tigers.

In the top of the 9th inning, after 8 innings of scoreless baseball, the LSU Tigers scored three runs to take the lead three to zero. The record crowd at Arkansas' Baum Stadium, somewhat deflated after 3 hours of tense defensvie baseball held out slim hopes of a victory. The bats were dry; runs scarce. But then Colin Kuhn gets hit by a pitch.  One baserunner now in the bottom of the 9th. He moved to second on a fielders choice. One out one man on.

Bates singles to right allowing Kuhn to score from second base with one out , 3-1 LSU, at this point. Kyle Atkins, called upon to pinch run for Bates steals second base, still with one out.  Dominic Ficociello, singles moving Atkins to third. Now the Hogs have something going. Men at 1st and 3rd with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

LSU, only two outs from sealing the game, faced James Mcann at the plate. After Mcann flirted with a homer on the fourth pitch, a long drive to left field that went foul. Mcann took the next pitch and knocked it over the left field wall near the Razorbacks bullpen scoring three runs and giving the Hogs the victory. It was Mcann's first ever "walk off" home run. Hogs win 4-3.

The Land of Lost Knowledge

Here are some examples of the knowledge we have lost since the advent of mechanized and petroleum based farming after World War II. This list is by no means exhaustive and does not even begin to include home-based skills that are all but forgotten.

1. How to plant seeds. The instructions on how to plant seeds that are on the back of the seed packets you buy at the store are all but useless and in many cases cause a waste of garden space. Do I really need to plant my lettuce 6" apart in rows 1' apart? The answer is 'yes' if you have depleted your soil with pesticides and herbicides and you need to run a large tiller or tractor over the garden. With a nutrient dense, well drained soil you can plant seeds much closer together and lay out your rows much closer together. For instance, when we plant kale or collards - and even turnips - we just scatter the seeds in the row we have layed out. If two or three or fourteen seeds land in the same space it's okay. Nature does the rest. When the plants are up we thin them to make some room for the roots to grow and use the thinned plants to give our animals a treat or eat them ourselves.

2. Green fertilizing - when I was a kid, my grandfather always used to plant alfalfa in his recently tilled fields. He did this in the fall after his corn or wheat were harvested. I asked him once why he did this. He simply said, it's good for the soil. He didn't know or didn't care to share the scientific basis for this. This was in the early 80s. Thirty years later many large scale farmers have forgotten this kind of natural fertilizer. One rice farmer in south east Arkansas, instead of burning the stubble in his newly harvested field, decided to turn it under. Many of his peers couldn't understand it. They burn the stubble from their fields which is now conventional wisdom. The farmers that burn their fields will spend more in artificial fertilizer next year than the farmer who tilled his field under.

3. Natural pest control - my grandfather always planted marigolds around the border of his garden. When asked why - he did not know. "The plants just do better." The scientist will tell you that the marigold releases a scent or something in its roots repels insects. That may be. Now you know why marigolds can be bought in such quantities at your local nursery.

4. Genetic diversity - many of the farmers I know and several of them in their 70s and 80s think tomatoes only come in 1 color and 1 shape. Red and round. When I brought some heirloom tomatoes to the office one day, one of these self-proclaimed old-timey farmers couldn't believe the stripes and different colors our tomatoes had and assumed they were some kind of strange mutated or genetically engineered vegetable. I had a hard time convincing him that the tomato he had been holding in his hand was from seed first recognized hundreds of years ago and that his perfectly round red tomato was the mutant!

5. Pigs eat grass. Yes. I don't know how many times I've been told that I can't pasture my pigs because "pigs don't eat grass". This comes from several decades of mass produced pork. Pork houses keep the pigs on concrete and crowd many animals into one stall. Rings are put through their nose to keep them from trying to root and their tails are cut off to keep the crowded, bored, and angry pigs from eating each other's tails. Now I ask you, what are the two most prominent features of the pig? The snout and the little curly-q tails. What do we do with these innately piggish things? We lop them off or ring them, essentially removing the pig-ness from the pig. Our pigs eat our pasture - yes they root it up too - but the grass recovers. Three other benefits occur at the same time. The soil gets aerated; it gets fertilized; and the pigs are happy and healthier. I know farmers who believe that the best way to raise hogs is to lock them in a 4'x8' stall and force feed them corn. This is the result of knowledge lost from Old Solar Agriculture. The new knowledge they operate by is assumed to be the best because Industrial Agriculture has permeated our methodologies.

6. Forests are the model for renewable agriculture. In 1943 or thereabouts, Iowa was 98% agriculuture. Small farms (under 100 acres generally) dotted with wood lots, crossfenced, and teeming with biological diversity - chickens, hogs, cows, horses, and the forests all playing a part in the fertility of the land. Today, Iowa is 98% agriculture mostly with farms over 100 acres, cleared of trees, fences removed, planted in one vast monoculture of corn. Many farmers buy all of their groceries from the store and chemicals have replaced (insufficiently) the fertility of the soil that is best modeled in our forests. Leaves dropping, getting wet, manured by wildlife, and composting into rich loamy soil ready for the next generation of trees.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Theology and Geometry

"What the United States needs is Theology and Geometry." - Ignatius Reilly, Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole's tragical-comical character, Ignatius Reilly, can't seem to get out of his own way. He wreaks havoc upon everyone he meets, he can't keep a job, his relationships always go awry, and he finds himself in the most compromising of positions, and all of this through no fault of his own-so he believes.

We bought this book because it was recommend to us by our good friend April. I have just finished reading it and I must say that it was intriguing. Probably the strangest thing I have read since David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.  Walker Percy wrote the introduction. In it he said he found it passable to begin with but then it grew on me. I agree, the oddity of the characters and events was a little hard to digest but for some reason, by the time I finished the first quarter of the book, I really wanted to know about this pugnacious, disgusting, gluttonous, slothful man- Ignatius Reilly.

About halfway through, I took a break and researched the author, JK Toole. The author's bio on the back page of the book interested me in that he grew up in the deep south, (New Orleans-where we used to live and the Big Easy is really one of the main characters), received a Phd, became a professor at a New Orleans college, and died all before the age of 32. Both of his books were published posthumously. He committed suicide at this young age after Confederacy was rejected for the fourth or fifth time by publishers that kept telling him, "the story isn't about anything." He drove to Mississippi from New Orleans after withdrawing $500 from the bank- reportedly leaving thousands of dollars in savings, rented a cabin, ran a garden hose from the tail pipe of his car to the cabin and slowly asphyxiated. The publishers had it all wrong. A Confederacy of Dunces is about something. At the very least it is about  "nothing" and what happens when lives lose their shape (Geometry) and their belief in something (Theology). At its worst it shows that nothing much has really changed since the 1950s in America. Science is replacing Sense, frequently people are jumping from one cause to another in a frantic search for meaning. A false sense of Truth handed down from the generation before has lost its efficacy as a "social hammer" to beat in good behavior but even now the blows fall all the more rapidly.

In his own way, through the Reilly character, Toole was struggling with his own issues - a domineering mother whose concern for her social status in New Orleans was veiled as concern for her son. Is it not odd that she is responsible for Confederacy being published after her son's suicide? A book that has as its focal point the dysfunctional relationship between a doting mother and a slothful son? Toole had a largely absentee father whose work-a-holism/ethic was a veil for concern for his son. In the book, Ignatius' father no longer existed and was referred to by his wife as "Mr. Reilly".

But even through all the inanity, absurdity, and insanity of the novel, Toole speaks directly to the real problem he saw in American culture in the 60s and even into today. The lack of something solid to hold on to - Geometry - and the lack of something to believe in - Theology. We wonder why young Americans don't vote, don't leave home and live life!; we wonder why families are disintegrating, why we fill our lives with rush inducing speed technology. We wonder why personal relationships have been supplanted by words (or acronyms) sent through the air.

It is because we've left the concrete things in life - Geometry and Theology- behind for something we can make for ourselves, something posing as safety.

Ignatius Reilly was desperately trying to fashion his own safe world wherein everything that went wrong was some outsider's fault, paranoia becomes self-preservation; stuff becomes security and psychology (or psychosis) becomes the fulcrum of relationships. In the 60's, the Ignatius Reilly characters of the world may have been rare. Today there are Reilly-s are everywhere.

Politics is now passe and those that participate in it are mistaken in their fervent belief that it is Geometrical or Theological; that it is real.

We don't need a new president - not one named Newt for sure - we don't need a larger growing economy - not one built on the nothingness that is our DEBT - and we don't need any more Reilly-s refusing personal accountability for their actions.

What we need are personally accountable, real men and real women who know that their faults are not the world's doing. We need Geometry and Theology or we will end up like Ignatius Reilly, searching desperately for purpose and peace and finally ending in... well you'll just have to read the book.

From the Depths of Space-Wormwood

This is a picture from a copy of Emile Zola's novel Germinal that I recently bought at a library book sale. It cost me a dollar. It has been sitting on my shelf awaiting its turn to be read. I finally got to it and sat down in my comfy chair to get started. Starting at page one, I was mortified when I realized that many pages of the novel had been written upon, commenting on its contents, the previous readers thoughts and literary analysis of the contents, and otherwise highlighted with what they viewed as important passages. I have determined that the previous owner of this book was an Atheist. Or perhaps a Christian, as every passage that mentions God, or the Church, or the clergy was annotated like in the picture. Perhaps the previous owner was a pervert as well. The religious passages were marked in ball point pen with either a cross as in the picture or with the word Religion or God (capital G) but the passages referring to female body parts, innuendo, or romantic encounters (as benign and tasteful as they are) were highlighted in pink highlighter pen.

This is wormwood.

1) The wonderful thing about reading is that there are already two parties involved in the transaction. The reader is opened up to a new world of the characters and setting of the novel but he is also experiencing the thoughts and ideals of the author. After reading any novel the reader "gets to know" the author a little bit. When I finish this novel it will be just as if I had met Emile Zola and had a brief conversation with him about his world view and opinions on the subject matter of his novel. The previous owner, with his incessant marking up of this book, has forced himself into the relationship Emile and I are developing. It is a relationship that he should not be a part of. I have little interest in "meeting" a nameless person who has this many congealed disparate issues.

2) The markings are a distraction. I am having trouble "getting into" the story because the annotations are constantly drawing my attention to this unwanted 3rd party.

3) The most likely reason the library sold me this book for a dollar is that it has been written in. The library lost value in its property and now will either have to do without this novel or buy another copy. If it does without, this novel's message is lost within the community that frequents the particular library. Who's to say that there is not some message within that may do someone some good. If it buys another copy it is a further drain on its resources that are funded by me and you and other tax payers.

Many years ago, while visiting an elderly woman, I was invited to look through her book shelves for any old books that I might like to read (and keep). As I searched through the battery of handmade book shelves lining both sides of her already narrow hallway I grew excited at the wide selection of historical, religious, and politically themed volumes I could choose from. I am a nut for old books and many in her collection were over 50 years old. I selected one after another that drew my interest and whilst thumbing through the pages I found that she had marked every reference to God, Jesus, the Church with comments (some not very flattering) in red ink. These were not the occasional, fleeting comments, sparsely dotting the margins of a page or two. In some of the books, every page was marked in the same red pen and thin cursive script. The books immediately lost their value to me or to anyone, perhaps, but herself.

Why would she give them away? I can think of only two possibilities. The first is that she was trying to tell me something about herself that she could not speak of on her own and she hoped that in my reading of them I would learn a little about her that she could not bring herself to say to me. The second is that she is a little off-kilter.

In her past, she claims, she left earth for a little while, travelling in a space craft where her hosts educated her on a great many myths that were developed, by man, over the history of his existence. Her annotations documented this extra-terrestrial education that she had received. Now I am faced with a dilemma. Were the markings in her books actual communications from an alien life form? Or were they ramblings from a woman that is no longer really here?

Perhaps, the previous owner of my copy of Zola's Germinal, also received information from outside of our world, opening up the secrets to a great many truths that man has forgotten in his long history. Perhaps there is another party involved in my relationship with Zola that I had not counted on. Perhaps representatives of a mysterious and intelligent race of beings light years away is reaching out to me. I am at a loss. Do I trust this information? If I do not, I am taking the chance that the secrets to the universe that have been handed to me in this book will be lost forever. Do I risk the possibility that I will not get to "know" intelligent beings from another solar system and thereby increase my own knowledge of the universe? And in increasing my own knowledge, place myself in a position of power in my own world?

On second thought, if there are intelligences scattered about he universe and they approve of their proselytes writing in books, they are NOT intelligent nor are they anyone I would willingly associate with.

In fact, if the marking up of books is on their list of approved practices, there is no way they can be anything like what we call "civilized". I guess I will just slog through this copy of Germinal, annotations, comments, pictographs and all, and then put it back on the shelf until next winter. It will help me start some fires in the wood stove...

Some People

This is the Hwy 216 Mowing Man. He has OCD I am sure. He mows, I think, the entire two mile stretch of hwy 216 from our house to State Hwy 9 - both sides, two passes on each side. This episode of mowing madness occurs at 7 AM on Saturday morning. I can still hear the mower from inside the house as I am writing this at 8:30.

Meeting General Petraeus

Aaron finally sent us some pictures. He is recently returned from Afghanistan where he...

Served on the color guard for General Petraeus. Aaron is holding the weapon - no surprise there.

When he got back state side after his deployment was up his commanders decided to hold a ball. Aaron, weaponless I assume, is now armed with a bow tie.