Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Spring Rambling

The relative leisure of winter is giving way now, as our hay fields and pastures spring back to life and begin to call for our labor. For the first time ever, we were able to have all of our manure spread on field and garden, with nothing left over. It's nice when your farm isn't constipated. Everything grows better that way.

We had just started plowing the manure into our garden when one of the spring clips on the left line to the horses popped loose. Though I regularly practice verbal "Whoa!" commands with the team for just such an event, they're just not used often enough to respond to this situation in the way I'd like.  As horses are wont to do when they sense something isn't right, they took off, and I no longer had control with only one line in hand. The newly renovated plow (all new handles) is now in need of another renovation, and the garden fence -- which stopped the horses -- didn't fare so well either. On the plus side, nobody was seriously injured, and the horses both survived with minor scratches. Never again will I allow snap-links in the lines!  It's not the first time they've let me down, and I was dumb to allow a second time.  It amazes me that they're "standard issue" on work harnesses.

At the recommendation of a friend, I recently read the book Lost Connections by Johann Hari. While I've never personally endured chronic depression, it's been in my family, and depression is something everyone experiences to some degree. This book is a fascinating read, documenting the author's own battle with clinical depression and experience with SSRIs. His revelations into the drug trials and the means by which these medications were approved are real-eye openers. 

Hoping to bolster his arguments, one of the biggest proponents of these medications looked in to how these trials were conducted and declared them to be completely useless. These trials showed SSRIs were only marginally better than placebos. Being told to get more sleep had a significantly greater impact on patients than SSRIs do, for instance. Drugs designed to have the *opposite* chemical effect had nearly identical results when tested in trials! 

Close investigation proved that the pharmaceuticals cherry picked the data to achieve their "slightly beneficial" results by excluding test subjects who showed zero improvement. Even worse is the fact that such test subjects are typically low income and are financially motivated to both claim symptoms that the trial is looking for and to claim that the drug helped them. Those recording the results of such trials are similarly motivated to believe these people, as such results help to justify and sustain their jobs.

With Hari's damning revelations, we can hopefully look forward to the end of SSRIs. Perhaps we can look forward to a reduction in school shootings and suicides that these drugs have caused since their introduction. While their benefits are absolutely questionable, their significant and negative side effects are quite well documented.

Hari's conclusion -- which closely mirrors that of Sebastian Junger's book Tribe -- suggests that depression is in fact a reasonable reaction to the detached lives our modern society has created. Community has all but been destroyed, as people bounce between different employers and residences every few years. As I've pointed out before, the automobile is in large part what enabled this destruction. That's precisely why those who greatly value their community -- such as the Amish -- refuse car ownership. Their views are absolutely not a "rejection of modern technology" that they're often portrayed to be. Not only are they quite insightful, but we're now proving them to be correct!

Despite spending massive amounts on plastic when I was into sailing and playing in the mountains (plastic boat, sails, lines, Gore-tex, cordura nylon, polyester fleece, etc), I've never really been a fan. Yeah, plastic enabled a lot of things that would otherwise be unaffordable or impossible, but there's a massive cost. We're just now learning how massive it is. It's all based upon fossil fuel feed-stock, produces loads of long-lived toxins, and now we're realizing that it's anything but inert. Our sythetic-fibered clothing is among the worst offenders. Most of it releases endocrine disrupting compounds, and degrades into micro-plastics which have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and lead to brain damage. It's in our food and bodies, and it's destroying the natural world we depend upon. This is just a hunch, but considering that many of the compounds it releases mimic estrogen and other hormones in the human body, I think it's quite likely at the root of much of the gender confusion that now permeates our society.

There's not a day that goes by now when I'm not exposed to some new revelation that tells me we're fundamentally screwed. It's one thing to be fascinated by a car wreck, and quite another to realize that you and everyone you love are in the wreck as it's happening. Though I'm rarely successful for very long, even I try to look away nowadays.

We've already released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to expect a 7 degree (c) rise in temperature based upon historical observations -- a temperature well above any which may still support human life. Despite much trumpeting that would make one think we're making progress, we're not. Global CO2 emissions have climbed steadily for my entire life, despite ballyhooed events like Kyoto or the Paris Accord. Not only have they steadily climbed, but the rate of climb is accelerating, particularly within the last few years.  It's particularly disheartening to be met with fierce opposition from family members when I try to limit our energy consumption.  Most people -- even those who know better -- don't even seem to try, and I can see why.

Discussions of near-term human extinction are no longer the fringe concept they were just a few years ago. That's made movements like Extinction Rebellion possible. They're doing the right thing, regardless the ultimate outcome. They're calling for the UK to be completely carbon neutral by 2025. Is that possible? Yeah, anything is possible, but every action has consequences. There's little doubt in my mind that a large portion of the population will not survive such a change whether that's here or in the UK. Still, it's the only solution that *may* allow a small chance for continued human survival -- and that makes it a goal worth achieving.

The "Green New Deal" (GND) pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez probably sounds crazy to anyone who doesn't understand what's now happening, which I bet is still the majority of the population. As is often the case, the older generation often refuses to accept any change which will impact their remaining years, even if they know deep down that such change is the only chance their younger family members have.

I think the GND is worthwhile, but not because the technology it promotes will actually reduce our carbon emissions. We've already demonstrated that building a bunch of solar panels, wind generators, and electric cars has the effect of *increasing* carbon emissions instead of lowering them. That should come as no surprise, since they're all being manufactured with massive amounts of fossil fuels, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. So what then is the value in the GND? I think it's exactly what needs to happen in order for society to come to this realization. Just as a smoker who switches to "light cigarettes" hasn't really improved anything at all, a switch to "green" energy won't help us at all. The salvation of human life -- if the possibility still exists -- lies with de-industrialization. Let's hope it doesn't take too much longer before that concept becomes widely accepted. At the rate the biosphere is currently collapsing (particularly in the oceans), we can't afford to be slow learners.

A recent article in Der Spiegel document's Germany's "energiewende" difficulties with introducing renewables to power their grid. Suffice it to say that they're not going to reach their goals, despite being more technologically advanced and more motivated than most any other country on the planet.  The answer, as always, is to reduce consumption, reduce expectations, and live as we did before. Exceedingly few are willing to accept the obvious, but it's nice to see others coming to the same realization I've held for a while now. The Automatic Earth has a recent discussion of the subject which is worth checking out.

The NY Times recently highlighted two companies who are planning to mine carbon from the atmosphere, which they claim will help with reducing our CO2 emissions.  The articles then go on to explain that such carbon can be turned into fuels for sale (thus completely negating any carbon benefit and completely ignoring the laws of thermodynamics, but... well...).

The guys who produce the Crazy Town podcast recently ran the numbers for the task that these companies are supposedly undertaking.  Suffice it to say that *just the energy to run the fans* for such an operation, if it were to only cancel current emissions (but do nothing to actually reduce atmospheric carbon levels) would consume the entire electrical generating capacity of the United States.  The energy required to actually turn the CO2 into something stable or usable as fuel, of course, would dwarf the energy required for running the fans. The episode which covers this subject is They'll think of somethingisms, and is worth a listen.

Instead of swatting at flies, whether that's mental health issues, peak oil, overpopulation, plastics pollution, CO2 emissions, species extinction, chemical & nuclear contamination, or the many diseases of our sedentary lifestyle, let's try chopping at the root of the problem. Time and time again, if we dig down far enough, we find that the root is industrialization, and it's fed by fossil fuels. The two are inseparable.

It's within this light that I find my environmental and recreational interests converging.  My longtime interests in wild foods, foraging and hand-craft meshes very nicely with a reinforced disdain for plastic and all that it represents.  A lack of plastic is a requirement for my other recently-revived interest revolving around historical trekking, black-powder, and primitive skills.  I'm focusing on the late 18th century -- a period when industrialization was just starting to take hold.  It's also prompted a renewed interest in my own family history from that period.

My latest non-plastic creation
I haven't done a whole lot with it yet other than make a bunch of stuff (shirt, moccasins, axe, tomahawk,  knife, turn-screw (i.e. screwdriver), shooting accouterments, haversack, etc), but I'm enjoying the research as well as the activities.  I of course need to test my newly made equipment and newly acquired skills with frequent camping trips to the woods at the back of our farm.  It feels a bit like camping in my backyard when I was a five year-old, only this time my Dad isn't outside the tent trying to scare us with simulated bigfoot noises.

I'm getting very good at starting a fire with my home-made flint & steel, and am also getting better at cooking over a fire with my small reproduction trade kettle. I've been working on the use of a bow-drill as well, though I'm by no means proficient with starting fires that way.

If nothing else, playing 18th century woodsman is a nice way to pass the time while the world burns. It's a temporary respite from the stress that comes with reading the steady drumbeat of bad news about our collective future.

Few things are as pleasant as time spent in the woods listening to the the song of a nearby oriole, watching the wind on the pond, the flames of a campfire, or the busy activities of muskrats and turtles in the pond.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

B. F. Artley

Our barn's granary.  The newly discovered name is on the door behind the black cabinet.
I made a discovery today, which has lead to some new and interesting revelations about our farm.  While cleaning up so that I could close the door on the granary in our barn, I noticed a barely visible name stenciled in red paint (probably the same as was used on the outside of the barn), "B. F. Artley".

I'd long wondered about the history of our farm. We've dug up a few artifacts, most of which add to the mystery rather than answer it.

Three artifacts from our farm museum: a broken clay pipe,
a sleigh bell,and arrowhead.  Unbeknownst to most people nowadays, sleigh
bells were a required safety device used to warn pedestrians who might not
otherwise hear them coming.  Electric cars are known to be similarly quiet.
Perhaps that new Tesla needs some sleigh bells?  Tesla Bells?
I found part of an old clay pipe manufactured by the Hendrix company in Montreal during the late 1800s. When putting in our well, I found a worn down grindstone, buried at a depth which suggests it was dumped into an old privy hole.  A black straw woman's hat from the 1800's fell from the ceiling of the living room when we remodeled.  

The fields and soil around the house have yielded old hand forged horse shoes, horse bits, a sleigh bell, and pieces of wagons and farm equipment. Cleaning the barn when we first moved in, I found an ancient tin of percussion caps, definitely pre-dating the modern resurgence of muzzle-loading firearms, and imagined it to have been left there by a farmer who used his civil-war surplus rifle for slaughtering livestock. 

We knew this farm was homesteaded sometime between the 1858 and 1872, as it first appears on the 1872 map.  The original barn is of a Pennsylvania Dutch (German) style, a two story bank barn. Had the person who built it come from Pennsylvania, I wondered? It's an excellent design, and a perfect fit for the type of farming I enjoy. You can drive into the hay loft upstairs for unloading via the overhead trolley, and then toss the hay downstairs to the livestock accommodations.  An overhang on the downhill side provides a nice covered outdoor loafing area

I went online with the name I found on the granary door, and soon found a slew of information about the man and family who homesteaded our farm -- Benjamin Artley, originally from Hughesville, Pennsylvania. He was born on September 7th, 1840.  Now I know how our Pennsylvania style barn came to Michigan.

The oldest of 12 children, Benjamin was a civil war veteran (perhaps lending credence to my theory of the tin of percussion caps found in our barn) who signed on with a Pennsylvania regiment. He was listed upon one military document as having the disability of "chronic diarrhea, and piles" (hemorroids). This was the dysentery which killed 95,000 of his fellow soldiers. Two of his younger brothers enlisted, one of whom survived the war and one whom was killed at Gettysburg.  

After the war, he moved west to Michigan, where other family members from the same part of Pennsylvania had become well established. He married Eliza Artley in the nearby town of Constantine in 1870, whom had three daughters and was a widow of another civil war soldier killed in January of 1865 near the end of the war. Eliza's maiden name was Wilson, and it appears as if her first marriage was to one of Benjamin's Artley relatives, so she was already an Artley when they married. They had three boys together, all born while living in this house. Benjamin was listed as a carpenter as well as a farmer, and presumably built this house himself, likely with the aid of his younger brother George (also a carpenter) who also lived here at the time of the 1880 census.

The original home was 700 square feet, two stories, and four bedrooms for eight people.  Though they built a fantastic barn, they skimped a bit on the house. I discovered that they only used sheathing on the west side of the house which faces the prevailing winds. The rest of the exterior had clap-boards nailed directly to the oak studs.

Benjamin died in 1908 of hepatitis at age 68. His wife appears to have moved in with her daughter Hattie in Kalamazoo, where she died in 1924 at age 84 of liver and stomach ailments. Hattie later died from smoke inhalation during a fire in that same home in 1940. The other two daughters appear to have moved to Iowa.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love John Bolton

Our Savior?
Those of you who know me and my political views will, upon seeing the title of this entry, assume it to be irony. While there may have been a slight smirk on my face when I wrote it, I can assure you that this is not an ironic title. There is, in fact, a good reason to support the views of people like our national security advisor, our former secretary of statepro-apocalypse megachurch pastors, neocon diplomats, or similarly minded folks. Sometimes people are right for all the wrong reasons, or wrong for all the right reasons. Still more people, it would appear, are just plain confused.

I've never met Mr. Bolton, and I don't know his motivations. However, I do regularly read about his expressed opinions, which I've always found abhorrent until now. From what I can tell, he's of the opinion that projecting US military might around the world (primarily for the benefit of our corporate interests) is almost always the right thing to do, regardless of the cost in lives, reputation, or precious "taxpayer dollars". This article here is one that appears to be representative of his latest thoughts.

So how exactly did I fall in love with Mr. Bolton?  Allow me to explain...

Depending upon where we set the "baseline" temperature for measuring climate change, we're now at about 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial global temperature, a feat achieved by cranking our atmospheric CO2 from 280 up to the present 413ppm.  Our current global temperature is also being *reduced* by the effects of global dimming -- that being the shading effects of jet contrails and particulates from fires and industrial activity around the world.  After 9/11, when air traffic over the US was halted, a 1.1 degree (C) rise in temperature was observed, due to the loss of the shade from contrails alone. Considering that industrial activity -- and air travel in particular -- must stop if we're to have a fighting chance of controlling our carbon emissions, you could conclude that our measured 1.5 degree increase is actually 2.6 degrees as soon as we get our affairs in order.

It's long been argued that a two degree (C) rise in temperature is the absolute limit for continued human existence. It's not that two degrees itself is the problem, however. The problem is that two degrees is a "tipping point", beyond which various feedback loops kick in to create uncontrolled temperature increases that would soon kill most complex forms of life.  NASA scientist James Hansen thinks two degrees is well above the safe limit for triggering the feedback loops which we will be unable to control. Based upon the feedback loops we're already seeing triggered at 1.5 degrees (like this or this or this one), I'd have to say he's correct.

To sum it up, we're already losing control at 1.5 degrees, and we've already got a minimum of 2.6 degrees baked into our future. Things aren't looking good, to say the least. Suffice it to say that we need to stop all fossil fuel extraction asap, and additionally find new ways to sequester carbon, pronto!

Considering these facts, I'm sure everyone is completely on-board with eliminating the use of fossil fuels. We'll park our cars permanently, and walk to work (assuming our job can exist without fossil fuel use).  We'll stop heating our homes and businesses. We'll give up fossil fueled electricity, stop maintaining roads with asphalt or concrete, and never again use anything made with metals mined/smelted/transported with fossil fuels. We'll no longer run diesel tractors, semi trucks, or shop at grocery stores supplied by these devices.

Does this sound likely? No, I don't think so either. It should be clear by now that we're never going to voluntarily skip down the one remaining path that *might* not end in human extinction.

But alas, this is no reason for despair.  There are other ways to get there!

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that the global economy started to stumble a bit around 1980, when per-capita energy peaked. The economic outlook stumbled a bit harder shortly after conventional (i.e. affordable) oil production peaked around 2006.  Within the last few years, we've witnessed what now appear to be peaks in the production of coal, concrete, diesel fuel, and quite possibly global GDP.  Chinese industrial production is sputtering, and stock markets are again swooning in ways reminiscent of 2007/2008.

Industrial civilization, it would seem, is growing weak and frail, as energy sources become more difficult to extract.  It's having trouble growing, which means that it will soon have trouble servicing the debt that has filled in as life-support for countries around the globe over the last few decades.  Just a push is all it needs to go over the edge from which it cannot possibly recover.

That push, it turns out, is where John Bolton comes in.

When resources grow scarce as they are now doing globally, humans have a long established habit of fighting over them. Thus, Bolton's warmongering ways are probably all but inevitable, and appear to be the most likely route to reaching de-industrialization. If Johnny gets his gun, of course, there could be some unpleasant side effects, but maybe the some unicorns sprinkling magic rainbow fairy dust will neutralize those. We can never say for certain exactly what the future holds for us, so don't knock the unicorn possibility, eh?

I suspect that some of you may remain unconvinced of John Bolton's great merits despite my detailed argument in support of them.  If that's the case, I have only this to offer...

Pause from your daily grind, and take the time to stop and smell the roses which still surround us.  They won't be blooming here forever.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Taking Stock

It turns out that I'm not alone in thinking that the chance for human survival within this century is slim.  Even the idiot in chief, as an excuse to pander to industrial interests, has cited the fact that we're looking at a 7 degree rise by the end of the century... which means nothing matters anymore, and means that we can get rid of all those pesky environmental regulations. That is more or less what's already happening now here in the US. Brazil's new president-elect has declared his intent to raze what remains of the Amazon rainforest. Instead of a valiant final effort to save ourselves, we go collectively bonkers, flying off the cliff with the pedal to the metal, Thelma & Louise style.

At least one family member has cited our impending doom as reason to no longer take any shame in jetsetting around the world. Then again, I'm not sure they felt any shame or avoided flying back when it would've really been helpful. The do-nothing default wins yet again.

If the future is a football game, and human survival the home-team, we're down 49-0, with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.  In theory, we could still win the game and get to see our kids lead full and enjoyable lives, but our chances grow slimmer by the second.

Room with a ewe:  Our flock cleans up in the orchard & garden while
 Leo the ram fervently examines them all for signs of heat. His preferred
testing method is, of course, tinkle-tasting.
If you live around Puget Sound, your summer air quality is now worse than Beijing's, due to the local forests going up in smoke, now an annual event.

If you regularly escape to the Cascades as I once did, you see the shrinking glaciers and burned forests first hand, while trying not to damage your lungs in the smoke.

If you live in Australia, you've watched your magical great barrier reef die, most of it in the last two years. Europe has seen unprecedented fires as well, both north and south. If you live on the gulf or east coast, you've seen unprecedented hurricanes roar through at rates and intensities never before seen. Ditto for the hyperactive western pacific, where category 5 super-typhoons are now a dime a dozen (6 of them for 2018).

Here in the Midwest and New England, summers have become hellish, forcing everyone indoors to crank the AC, ultimately making the problem worse. While we may be able to escape, the natural world upon which we rely cannot.

The UN / IPCC's latest report, upon evaluating the latest scientific studies, says we meet with civilization destroying disaster by 2030 if we don't make a dramatic course change. Keep in mind that the IPCC has long history of understating trends and forecasts, as a result of industrialized countries like the US, China, and India exerting undue influence on their reports in hopes of continuing with business as usual.

It should by this point be clear to anyone with an IQ north of 50 that things aren't looking good for us. Does that mean it's time throw in the towel?  Should we just stop swimming against the current and mindlessly drift wherever it takes us?  Good question. I don't have an answer for everyone, but I plan to continue swimming, even if my efforts are woefully inadequate.

As Chris Hedges has been saying in his recent speaking tour (which I highly recommend watching), "We fight not because we will win, but because it's right, and because it gives our lives meaning."  He's referring more to the fight against corporate fascism that now dominates the US and much of the world, but it's really the same thing as fighting to preserve humanity.

Does it give my life meaning to eschew the tractor or car and use the horses instead? Does it give my life meaning to avoid air travel, and thus miss my grandmother's funeral in California? It's clear to me at this stage that the effects of such efforts will be drowned in the tsunami of our fossil fueled existence, so "giving my life meaning" is really the sole reason for doing what I hope is still the right thing.

If there's a bright side to all this knowledge, it's that it has intensified my appreciation for all the beauty still alive in the world.

Monday, September 24, 2018

21% Dumber by 2100

As it turns out, rising CO2 isn't just an issue of climate change or ocean acidification.

High CO2 levels, as it turns out, make us dumb. Those in urban areas (where higher CO2 levels are typical) and those spending a lot of time indoors get it the worst. At 1,000ppm, human cognitive ability drops by 21%. We're on track to have 1,000ppm globally, by 2100. Indoor air often exceeds 2,000ppm.  Check it out.

While I'm on the subject of laughing dumbing gas, it turns out that time spent in a car or near traffic has a similar effect, from low level carbon monoxide exposure in addition to the CO2.

Cars: a dumb idea that make us dumber.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Domestication of the Wolf

My favorite all-time movie was released by Disney when I was eleven years old, in 1983.  As the only movie I feel compelled to watch again and again every few years, Never Cry Wolf, always teaches me something new each time I watch it.

The story line in a nutshell is that Mr. Mowatt, a biologist, is hired by the Canadian government to prove that massive declines in the caribou herds are due to wolf predation, thus providing a justification for an expansion of their wolf eradication program. Through observation and interactions with the local natives, he discovers that the herd's problem is not wolf predation but rather a disease outbreak -- one which is being mitigated by the wolves, who hunt down the sick and weakened animals and help prevent further spread of the disease.

While the basic wildlife biology lesson in the movie is a worthwhile one, I'd never thought about how it might apply to my own species until recently.

We like to pretend that we're different from other animals; not subject to the same laws that govern all other living organisms. The course of humanity over the last century has certainly given us plenty of reason to embrace this idea.

We have several "wolves" that have plagued us since time immemorial.  Famine and disease are at the front of the pack. When they fail to cull our herd, war is usually right behind them. There are many lesser wolves which torment us, yet help to keep us healthy either individually or as a species. The physical effort involved in feeding, clothing, and sheltering ourselves is one we've scared off, to the point that obesity runs rampant. In our effort to ward off the disease wolf, we've sanitized our environments to the point that our immune systems have gone haywire, manifesting in numerous autoimmune disorders and severe allergies.  In fact, most every wolf we've managed to ward off has left us with unintentional consequences which are ultimately worse than those were were first trying to avoid.

In an effort to ward off the Wolf of Economic Malaise in the face of energy and resource decline, we're now amassing ever growing piles of debt on a global basis. This wolf feeds on debt, which will make him far more ferocious when he returns. Debt is little more than a promise to pay at some future point, and the more debt there is, the more likely this promise will be broken.

The Famine Wolf has been kept at bay for so long that few in the industrialized world have any memory of it. The development of the Haber-Bosch process, which allows us to artificially fix atmospheric nitrogen for use in fertilizer and vastly improve agricultural yields, gave famine a near-fatal blow. When it was developed at roughly the time my grandparents were born, the world's population had reached 2 billion. Various inventions have dealt other serious blows, from the McCormick Reaper to tractors using internal combustion engines and the modern combine. Though it came at a cost in the nutritional quality of our food, the development of hybrid crops also greatly expanded production.

The Disease Wolf was beaten off in large part through scientific knowledge of microorganisms, such as the work of Louis Pasteur. The development of antibiotics and vaccines dealt another great blow, and greatly reduced childhood mortality. By the time my parents were born in the mid 20th century, the world population had crept up to 2.5 billion.

Shortly before I was born, Norman Borlaug took another swing at the Famine Wolf with his development of dwarf wheat varieties. He's credited with averting a massive famine in India, whose population has now nearly tripled in the time elapsed. He knew, however, that he hadn't scared it off for good, and warned that we should use the time he gave us wisely.

The War Wolf has also been scared off, in much of the world anyway. The development of nuclear weapons have kept it at bay for several decades now, though it's by no means a certainty that they can continue to keep it away indefinitely. As our population continues to climb and resource conflict intensifies, this wolf grows ever more menacing.

I frequently see conservative media pointing the finger at Thomas Malthus, exclaiming how very wrong he was about the future, simply because his schedule for the arrival of the famine wolf was off. They seem to think that our ability to scare this wolf off for a few years is the same thing as killing it.

Every time we scare off of yet another wolf, our population grows. The 2 billion people in my grandparents' childhood world have now exploded to 7.5 billion in my world.  It's apparent that the wolves are never killed, but are scared off into the forest, where they grow ever more hungry the longer they're kept away.

The story of perpetual progress we like to tell each other is not one that ends happily ever after.  Human societies have always grown as they scared off the wolves, and collapsed as the unintended consequences arose. Such was certainly the case with Greece and Rome, which overshot their resource base just as we're now doing. Now that our society and the overshoot of our resource base is global, collapse threatens to also go global. Just as the caribou need wolves to regulate their population, humans need the wolves we've fought away for so long.

So am I advocating for the abandonment of scientific knowledge? No, not really. Promoting ignorance doesn't seem like a good idea in any case. I do think, however, that we should try to domesticate our wolves by regulating ourselves as they once did. As difficult as that may be, it's far better than the alternatives we're now facing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Late Summer

No more tarps on the wood pile!
The starlings and blackbirds gather in flocks of ever increasing size these days, moving in magically synchronized clouds between our cricket-rich pastures and our barnyard oaks, where their constant singing livens up the mornings. Hummingbirds chase each other around the row of zinnias in the aging garden while goldfinches inspect the sagging sunflower heads. Mowing the orchard last week, I dodged a milkweed plant and noticed two monarch caterpillars happily munching away as I passed by. I accidentally hit our smaller pawpaw tree (the one which pollinated our first-ever pawpaws on the larger tree) with the mower.  Hopefully the stump can re-sprout!

It's been hot this summer. In the past we'd always been able to keep the house comfortable by opening the windows to let in the cool night air and closing them as the heat of the day began. Huge maples shade the house, and we were always able to keep it at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside air this way. This year, however, the night time lows haven't been living up to their name, and made that technique unworkable. So now I sit in a room with the AC blasting away, doing something I'd prided myself on doing without, and increasing my dependence upon the grid. Today is supposed to hit 89 degrees, but the humidity is forecast to put the heat index at over 95 degrees.  The horses don't stand panting with their tongues out as the cows would be, but they're covered with sweat as they stand in the barn to avoid the torment of monster sized horseflies.  We're both thankful that the weather hasn't allowed us to put up any hay recently.

For all the heat, I would normally expect our pastures to be brown and crispy as with most years in August when I reluctantly feed out the hay we've just put up. This year, however, we've had rain, and lots of it. I've been scanning the forecasts for a weather window to cut our hay, and haven't seen one for a month now. Without the cows to feed, I think we may actually be self sufficient in hay for the first time. Assuming I'm able to eventually cut what remains in the field, that is.  As an added bonus to all the rain, we've had a bumper crop of chanterelles and chicken of the woods mushrooms this year.

My health is much improved from earlier in the year, enabling me to catch up on delayed projects like the wood shed. It's essentially finished now, aside from some doors I need to put up before the snow flies. My best guess is now that the flu triggered a leaky gut, which lead to extreme food sensitivity and created the reactive arthritis symptoms. That's the problem I've been treating anyway, and I'm making slow but measured improvement. The "swollen thyroid", as I learned from a belated visit to the overbooked endocrinologist, isn't actually my thyroid, but is rather a thyroglossal cyst, and is basically just an annoying benign lump that will be most likely be surgically removed.

Sighting in a bow or rifle has been a neglected task since we moved here.  Shooting the bow meant putting out a few straw bales, trying to prop them up so they don't fall over, and then hauling them back to the barn (or more likely, letting them stay out in the rain to get ruined).  For the guns, I've been shooting into an old garbage can filled with wood chips and sand.  Both made for poor backstops, so I finally got around to setting up something a little more permanent.  Both are set up with locust posts and a tin roof made from barn leftovers. The archery backstop is basically a frame to hold and protect three straw bales. The rifle backstop is a wooden box filled with sand and lined with rubber to keep the sand from spilling out after shots put holes in the wood. I even thought to bury cobble sized stones every 10 yards down range as distance markers so that I won't have to pace out distances every time I shoot.

In the interest of getting things done without manufactured or purchased inputs, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make my own ink and write with a quill pen.  Fortunately, I live in a location where three essential ingredients are found:  turkeys, black walnuts, and cherry trees. Turkey flight feathers provide nice strong quills, black walnut husks make an excellent ink, and gum gathered from the trunk of cherry trees (when they're attacked by insects) thickens the ink.

Results thus far have been mixed, but I still enjoy working at it. The quills need to be soaked and then hardened in hot sand and cut just right, with the nib split so that the ink wicks all the way to the tip. The ink needs to be just the right viscosity, which is thicker than that used with metal nibs.  Sometimes it goes very well, and other times I have trouble getting enough ink on the quill without having it spill out, so I've been starting the freshly dipped quill on a piece of scrap paper until the ink flow seems about right.  Writing left-handed with a "hook" is a much greater impediment with this type of writing than it is with a ball-point pen, as I have to take great pains to ensure I don't smear the ink with my hand following the quill.

Whereas finding a turkey feather in the woods was a mild curiosity before, I now get quite excited about it. I don't think they'll really wear out so fast once I've got everything figured out, but at this stage I've been going through quite a few as I try different cutting techniques for shaping the nib.


I see that Back-stabbed Bernie has come up with a new bill to do wonderful things. I don't really expect congress to do much with it, but taxing employers for the social subsidies claimed by their underpaid employees sounds to me like an *excellent* idea. Wal-Mart is known for providing food-stamp applications to their new hires, because it knows they'll qualify on the wages they'll be making, thereby getting you and I to subsidize the Walton heirs. Yes, many businesses will likely fail if such a law is passed (oh no! No fast-food joints and less industrialized agriculture!? The horror!), but if they can't stand on their own two feet, they weren't really viable businesses now, were they?  Seems like a perfect way to Make America Great Again.