Sunday, January 29, 2017

Of Pagans and protests: an easy balance

Local protest on Saturday, January 28, supporting the Water Protectors
and against TD Bank, with its ties to the DAPL.

I almost had myself double-booked Saturday. I planned to attend a meeting of a group of local Pagans for our first monthly gathering to discuss what we had learned observing nature from new moon to new moon. We are loosely following The Druid Network's Perennial Course in Living Druidry. The same day, at an overlapping time, local activists planned to gather for a 3 hour protest, as noted in the caption, above. I contacted the organizer of the Pagan event to let him know that I would be coming in an hour late, and would do so with as little interruption as possible. The organizer, a Druid and very earth- and nature-oriented fellow, instead polled the group and in the end, chose to delay start of our discussion so that the others of us who also wanted to attend the protest, could do so.

I spent what was actually a delightful three hours, standing in the cold, holding my "Water IS Life" sign and flexing my knees in rhythm with the drumming being done by the Penobscot tribe, who were instrumental in organizing the event. Lots of exercise for bionic knees and I knew they would tell me about it today. As they have.

The Druidry discussion focused on inspiration, awen in their vernacular, and where and how we found it in nature during this past month of attention. With 11 participants of varying ages, backgrounds and locations, both urban and rural, the discussion ranged far and wide. One participant chose to pay attention to how he spent his time, keeping a log to compare with his impressions of what he did each day, and he was surprised to learn that in a day when, for example, his perception told him that he had spent a good day cleaning house, in actual fact, he was only occupied with that task for an hour! He discovered that he was unaware how much time he "wasted" watching TV, as an example.  Another theme of the month's observations was to have been "soil," but here in Maine there is not much of that to be seen this time of year. I noticed that I could see it in some places most of the month (even the nor'easter did not manage to cover the place where my truck normally parks) and that I had made a deliberate decision to stand on it, as opposed to on snowy or icy places, during the demonstrations that I have been attending. Soil, even frozen, is much warmer than ice! But ice turned up as the theme as well, not surprisingly, as this month's weather has been much more about ice (both falling and as rain, falling and freezing) than it has about snow. Many saw the ice as a protective shield. And ice factored in to most of the names for this moon cycle, another task that we were to focus on.

One participant had a very different take on the idea of "naming the moon" though. She sees the moon as a Goddess, and felt that naming Her appearance each month was not something she wanted to do... so she named the sky! Whether one chooses to say they are "naming the moon" or the moon cycle, or as I sometimes think of them, the "moonth" (differentiating from month) it will be interesting to look back from this time in future years to see how well the naming holds/how it needs modification. My choice for this moonth was Icy Dark Rain Moon.

With the long day off the farm yesterday, and the extra exertion, I was not surprised to find myself a bit "down" today. I declared a "self-care sunday" and have not done much beyond chores and a bit of walking about outside. 

Thankfully my pain pills DID take the edge off, and allow me to do some extra wandering, as I had a full sled of compostables to slide out to the garden. The heavily laden sled took itself over the compacted snow and ice layers, and with my cleats on, I was able to walk easily along on the top of the "snow." Coming back up from the garden, the baby fruit trees got my attention and I parked the sled in a flat location (so it would stay put!) to take a quick walk around them. This is the time of year when one thinks about pruning, so I cast an analytical eye at each one, looking for potential problems. Since they are young and small, pruning is a minimal event, but each tree showed me at least one place where a branch should be removed. I also noted that -- thus far -- our anti-deer fence is working. There was no "wild pruning" to be seen!

After bringing the compost buckets back to the house, I visited the apple trees along the driveway and the cherry tree there, as well, then I picked up the sled again and brought it around back before visiting the butternut and hazelnut trees. I specifically had wanted to visit the hazelnuts because one of the participants at the Druid meeting had mentioned their blooming and it seemed a bit early to me. Well, it is... sort of. Apparently these trees (or bushes, as I know them) have both male and female flowers, bloom in early spring before they leaf out and their male flowers "are visible from fall through winter, hanging stiffly from the hazelnut branches" [The Natural Web - Signs of Spring] and indeed they were! I did not have a camera with me on my walk, but I will take one next time out, when I plan to prune.

Walking out back to the "old apple tree" I did see a couple of places where something had done some "wild pruning," as well as getting a good look at where I need to do more work. There were, surprisingly, no deer tracks around this tree either, though it is well outside the fence. I DID see a couple of deep depressions in the snow (obviously old, made before the freezing/thaw cycle) where it appears something winged made a serious impact, likely attempting to grab some prey. No signs of blood though. 

Other than that, the entire back field was free of tracks of any sort, until right along the back property line, where deer and other tracks were frequent. There were lots more beyond the locust tree row and this side of it, and all were moving mostly in an east-west direction. There were a couple of places where it looked like something had been dragged... the marks were about 4" wide, one about 18" long, the other more like a few feet. I only saw two piles of deer sign and neither looked recent. One was in the "proto-forest" grove, the other alongside. I also got a good look at the crab apple tree we found late last summer and I will have to spent a LOT more time thinking about pruning it!
Abundance, prosperity and smooth
sailing through life sign sailed
off to Texas this week!

A gift to friends in OK
I find that farm stuff and nature stuff is an excellent way to balance out and shake off the frustration that comes from dealing with politics. That, and knitting, and painting, of course. The first "Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch)" hex sign of 2017, is shown at left, in its official portrait.  And the last of 2016, which was actually completed this month, arrived at its new home (right). 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Revolution doesn't need clean underwear...

Preparing for the Womens' March

The past couple of weeks have been crazy. No, I am not talking politics. Not yet, anyway. Talking weather, mostly.  After the nor'easter that I wrote about early in the month, one might have expected more snow or at least cold temperatures, but -- climate change anyone? -- we have had much more precipitation as rain and daily high temperatures well above freezing far more often than one would expect in central Maine. The snow that fell had melted, acquired layers of ice sufficient to walk on without breaking through (at least for me, Tractor Guy had a different experience), then more melting and our critter-tending paths devolved into holes and high spots that made a walking stick an essential tool. The temperature graph has been emulating a roller coaster and precipitation -- just today -- has included rain, sleet and beautiful fluffy snow.

I did think ahead, and laid in a month's supply of feed for the critters and, other than a 24 hour period with two long power outages, things have pretty much worked. But it's still crazy. RAIN in Maine should stay plainly out of winter!

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the USA installed a new president, who took office, according to the polls at least, with the lowest ever approval rating. He said many things during the campaign which riled up lots of folks and started off his tenure doing things that have not put many folks minds at ease.

It will come to no surprise to long time readers of my blog, that I
An hour before the gathering
in Augusta.
am "a tree hugging, dirt-digging, recycle-promoting liberal-thinking hippie" from the old days. And, though I have been a regular voter, I have not -- in a very long time -- been especially politically active. That is changing.

I had thought about attending the March on Washington last Saturday, January 21, but as much as I hate to travel, dislike big cities and all, when the opportunity presented to attend a "sister event" in our capital, Augusta, I did. I am told that 10,000 people attended. It was an uplifting event and I am glad I attended. I am also glad that it was NOT as cold nor as windy a two hours as that which I spent standing up for Medicare, on a bridge in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, a week before!

I don't really like leaving the farm. My days here are more than full, very satisfying and exactly the life I have always desired. And that, exactly, is why I feel that I must squeeze one more, very important thing, into my life: standing up, speaking up, stepping up, and yes, out for things I believe in. And I believe folks -- ALL folks -- needs good health care, good, unadulterated food and the knowledge of how to fix it and a place to do so. I believe that science works and tells us stuff we need to know.  I believe that by working together, letting others join us in our country ('cause, truth be told, most of us wouldn't be here otherwise) and respecting each other are core American values. And at the base of it all, we need to -- all of us -- do what we can to take care of this planet and the earth, air, water that sustain us all.

Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth
Sailing through Life hex sign almost
ready to ship.
Now, I've always been a "long-term-variable periodic housekeeper." "The work" -- be it a hex sign order to that I am completing, or planting, tending, harvesting, putting by or sharing the food -- plants and animals -- that I grow, always seems to come first. And often some time at the spinning wheel or loom will sneak in there, too... before washing dishes or laundry, sweeping the floor or picking up the mess. And that's ok. It will get done sooner or later. Eventually it gets to me.

As I started out, the revolution, or the resistance, doesn't need clean underwear, or clean sheets... but sometimes WE do. We need to heed the call to action, when we are called, but we must do it with a strong grasp on the OTHER THINGS that are important to us...they are the reasons we were called, the things that will keep us sane, and keep us going.

So Be It.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making the best of it

turkey flock as of October, 2016
We are down to 4 turkeys now. Our second-in-line hen went missing some time back, one of the older young was Thanksgiving dinner and another is in the freezer. And today, one of the two youngest ones, both of them having been stupid of late, and taken to overnighting on the fence rail of the chicken yard, got stupid and flew into the dog yard.

Livestock Guardian Dogs are typically not naturally inclined to guard poultry. I can understand this, from the dog-psych angle. They are "flightly" by nature and dogs are inclined, by nature, to chase. To add to the issue, our turkeys love to tease the dog and mornings often feature long sessions of turkeys, near the fence, strutting and gobbling at the dog and his barked responses, which spur more strutting and gobbling. So when the bird landed in his area, he gave chase.

This has happened before, but on other occasions we did not have deep snow and less than sure human feet getting in the way of rescuing the bird. While K did get to the somewhat naked turkey in time to collect it and bring it into the house, and we were hopeful of recovery, it was not to be. When I checked it a bit after supper this evening, it seemed unusually sedate. When I checked a few minutes later, it was no longer warm, though still alive. I made the decision to dispatch it at that point and did so, in the bathtub, which we use as emergency hospital quarters for all kinds of livestock.

I do not like "harvesting unripe poultry" but I am glad that we were monitoring this one closely and were able to turn it into food. Most often, it seems, animals that die of stupid moves or the like, do so quietly, in the barnyard. In those cases, when we do not know when they died, I cannot assume they are safe for human consumption, but I do -- always -- process and cook down for the dogs.

"Thou shalt not waste" is one of my guiding mottos and that includes, with exclamation points, "Thou shalt not waste FOOD!"

I abhor the waste in our supermarkets here in the USA. Driven by folks who think that only "beautiful" food is fit to eat, pounds and pounds of food is thrown out daily. I am betting that even if you realize that, you do not realize the extent of it.

I am friends with a pig farmer, who gets produce and other discards regularly from one store of a local grocery chain. Yes, thankfully, they are WILLING to give it to farmers to feed their stock. This is not always the case. My friend and another pig farmer split the late afternoon pull from this store. This is the THIRD pull of the day! Yes, this store culls produce, bakery and other goods THREE TIMES each and EVERY DAY! Some times the culls amount to a single banana box of food. Other times the discards, in bags and boxes, could easily fill the bed of my truck two layers deep! At an average, that's a Toyota pickup bed, full to a depth of 14-18 inches, possibly three times a day. I have no idea how much is contained in the earlier pulls, only the one my friend shares with his fellow farmer.

And this is just ONE store of a chain, ONE chain of many!

Much of this food is perfectly edible, BY PEOPLE.  It is not moldy, rotten or even wilted. Maybe there is A BAD SPOT. Oh dear! A bad spot! I would like to think that if you pulled an apple or a pepper from your fridge and found that it had a bad spot, as you were preparing a meal, that you would cut around that spot and use the rest of the fruit. I do know that in the grocery trade, here, workers in stores that have services like delis and so on that produce in-house salads, packaged cut fruit, etc. are instructed that if they can cut around a bruised or broken place on a fruit or vegetable a thumb's width from the damaged part, the balance of the produce can be used for making stuff.

Some stores DO mark down and try to sell blemished produce. This one does not.  I am happy to be a friend of my friend who shares some of what they get from their every-other-day waste food run with me, for my poultry. Cluck, cluck...

I am also told that the companies that fill vending machines cannot afford to pay their employees to check expiration dates on the candy, chips, fruit, etc with which they fill their machines. It is more cost-effective for them to have employees empty the machines completely and refill from new stock. The pulled products are... you get it... often thrown away. PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD that has GOOD expiration dates!  Some of these products go to farmers and others for non-human consumption. But were you to pick one out of their barrel, it would compare with the same item from a sale shelf, safe to eat.

Here at Hex Central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck, we do our best not to waste. Leftovers get re-heated or re-purposed. If they get to the back of the fridge and accidentally overlooked, the dogs, cats or poultry are happy for our accident. None of them have ever suffered from eating our cast offs, and they all look forward to "waste food day."

We are still eating on food that I froze a summer ago. Has it, maybe lost a bit of nutrition? From what I read, maybe. But I am betting that it's still better for me than most of what I see in the supermarket! At least my most recent blood work that the doc ordered show no deficiencies and we feel fine. My storage beets and carrots are not in a cooler and are beginning to show a bit of wilt around the edges. Am I eating them? You bet! I am also processing them as time allows, in jars or for the freezer, for longer storage. Waste not, want not.

And likewise, we will eventually make a few meals from a smallish, "unripe" turkey. I don't think it's ready to be roasted, but in a slow cooker with a bit of liquid, it will yeild meals of turkey and dumplings or noodles, turkey tacos, turkey tetrazini and who knows what else!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On Being Snowed In and Anonymous Helpers

As the nor'easter of Dec 29-30 started
the weeds next to the deck took on a
magical look.

The month ended with real Northern weather, finally! Officially a nor'easter, the overnight storm brought winds out of the east to north and at least 8" of "good packing" snow. The snow fell over ground that had previously had snow and rain and freezing temperatures, so as it turned out, the driveway was literally a
Nor'easter buried everything!
sheet of ice, under the snow. Once Tractor Guy got Fergie uncovered, heated up and started, she was willing but could not get any traction. She slid down the bit of a hill from the dooryard to the main drive and even using her bucket to push, he could not get her back up. The next day, the snow had frozen enough to turn her around and get her back to her parking place, but there was still 12" or more of snow in the driveway (not a typo, nor a fish story... remember the winds? think drifts, folks!) so the following day he tried again, to no avail. He managed to get our non-road-worthy 4WD project truck going (the idea was to pull her back up) but with old mud tires, R2, the new old truck, just wanted to slip side around.

By this time I had beat the chore paths into submission with the snowshoes and sled, so I had energy after chores for something more than housework, so I attacked with a snowshovel. Yeah, I'm old and I know this is a known heart attack attractant, but I truly enjoy a snow shovel workout and, now that I don't have the pressure of getting to work pushing my efforts, I know to take my time and let the project take several days if need be.

Before the storm, I made sure we had sufficient necessities to be comfortable for a good while: we filled the kerosene cans (15 gal all told) and propane, except for the big tank that lasts a month or so running the overnight heater. Of those we have two, and one needs filling, but we had not planned that expense until January. I brought in two bales of hay for the goats and we had sufficient pellets for the fowl and rabbit and kibble for the cats and dogs. We always have plenty of people food! Having lived remotely, and only made a supply trip once a month, this is not a difficult scenario for me to work with!

So, well supplied and happy, I started playing in the snow. The first thing I discovered was that, if there is ice under the snow, vehicles need to stand down! My first day I did not accomplish much, as I spent much of the time with a small spade (as opposed to a more typical snow shovel) liberating and tossing bits of heavy, very compacted icy snow (much like the "plow gift" that the town plows pile up at the end of the driveway) that was mixed and hidden in what appeared to be "just plain snow." I could not get the snow shovel into where there was hard stuff buried and I could not make quick progress with the soft stuff in between the hard lumps while using the spade. Everywhere the tractor had tried to run or had pushed piles of snow since the ice was preventing Tractor Guy from turning and dumping was a fight. While TG had been worried about my ability to stay on my feet on the snow-covered ice (he had fallen 6 times on his first day's attempts), standing and working was not an issue for me. My fight was with what he and Fergie had left me to work against!

On the New Years Day official holiday I was finally able to attack and clear most of the Fergie piles and today, January 3, I was looking forward to being mostly able to just shovel the somewhat packed snow. Having been a kid in Michigan gave me the skills that I use to do this! "Good packing snow," especially when assisted by gale force winds, lends itself to being cut nicely into blocks with an old fashioned snow shovel. The blocks can be the same size as the shovel and can be lifted out and tossed aside (though as a kid, we placed them carefully in place to build a fort or igloo.) Where the snow had drifted to be deeper than the 8" fall I did have to take two shovel bites per area, as I can not life 12" or more on my shovel and keep it from tipping. With the lesser depth, I only have to shovel twice, not three times in order to recover dropped pieces. I had hoped to shovel clear to the plow gift at the end of the driveway today and clear the heavier snow tomorrow, but didn't quite make it. Close though... and I was shoveling a path more than just wide enough for the tractor. My goal was to enable TG to get to the pavement, and traction, to clean most of the plow snow, but to not have to try to widen the path enough for the trucks to make their way down and back. TG had said that, moving forward, Fergie could move on the ice by pulling herself with her bucket, even up the incline, so I knew we could get her back after clearing the end of the drive and I was pretty sure, once he was turned around, that R2, even with the mud tires, could get up the hill, especially if Artie (with his studded snow tires) was out of the dooryard.

Now, our forecast for tonight is -- gues what -- mixed precipitation and rain! After completing my work today and coming in to get ready for lunch I was thinking "I know there will be challenges tomorrow" and I was getting prepared to deal with whatever comes, when I heard a plow truck on the road and looked up to see not one of the big town plows, but a green plow pickup with the rotating yellow light on top and a yellow plow on the front busily attacking the plow gift in front! Looked like he was getting ready to dig out the mailbox and I commented my surprise to TG. "I thought the homeowners were supposed to do that!" I said and we theorized as to who, and why... never coming to a conclusion, but being thankful never the less, when the green truck started working on the driveway! I did not recognize the truck... the only one I know of similar color and look belongs to a neighbor, but I know for a fact it has his business logo on the side and this one did not appear to have one. The truck and its driver cleared not only the plow gift at the mouth of the drive, but pushed it back to allow for easy turns in from both directions and then began working on the driveway itself!

I had taken my spade down with me today, but had not needed it for more than just the first couple of feet, so I had left it stuck in the snow in the middle of the drive, easy to find and haul down for the plow gift work tomorrow... now I was hoping the helpful stranger would not bury it! But he did not.. he stopped short and moved both the shovel and an ad-hoc walking stick TG had left nearby out of the way and continued on, clearing a WIDE path up to where Fergie was sitting... then drove away!

So tomorrow, come what will after our current bit of "wintery mix" is done, instead of clearing the plow gift at the end, we will be clearing a smaller bit by and possibly in front of Fergie and R2 and putting up a "thank you" sign at the end of the driveway.