Saturday, July 25, 2015


Scooping up in the barn after morning milking, I look up to see the four young barn swallows perched on the edge of their mud nest just above my head. They're eagerly awaiting the next installment of bug-puke from their parents, who sound the alarm when they see me standing too close. In a day or two the kids will be be joining them, swooping gracefully through the air to rid it of bugs. Higher in the barn, in a dovecote built long ago, I can hear the pigeons cooing to one another as they contemplate the creation of more pigeons.

On my way to dump the wheelbarrow full of manure under one of the trees in our orchard, I pass the bird house Henry made from scraps of barn siding. There's a house wren living there, building a nest. He sings beautifully for a girl to come and check it out. On a post at the other end of the fence adjacent to our garden, another of Henry's new birdhouses plays host to a family of bluebirds.  I hear squealing and splashing (they like to jump into their stock-tank) coming from the pig-pen behind the garden.  Mourning doves coo their morning songs.

Next on the chore list are the broiler chickens in their pasture pen.  On my way out to them, I stop at the gate to eat a few mulberries. When I'm done, I shake the branch to knock some down for our turkeys, who are already waiting with eager anticipation.

A swing by the outhouse on my way back from the pasture wouldn't be complete without one of our barn-cat outhouse attendants. Meowy has discovered that it's easy to get some attention from me while I'm temporarily immobilized there. The forever curious turkeys stand in the doorway, craning their necks to see what's inside, and then peck at a bug on the floor. The lambs are calling to their mothers as they make their way out to pasture. Out the window of the outhouse, I can see four painted turtles, sunning themselves on the log we put in the pond for them.

The last stop on my way back to the house is the well-pump. We keep a wooden bucket there for washing hands (one made by Rachel). It's upside down on a sassafras post into which I've hollowed out a cavity as a soap dish. A grey tree frog lives under the bucket, and occasionally invites a friend or two to stay over.  I make sure not to squish him as I return the bucket to the post.

Everywhere I look, the farm is alive. So am I.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


A few winters ago, Rachel read the book "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Henry and I in the evenings after dinner and chores. We chose to turn off all our lights and use only oil lamps while we sat down to read and listen, which was a nice complement to the book. Henry enjoyed listening to the stories (based on her husband Almanzo's experiences on an upstate New York farm in the 1800s), as did I. For me, they were also quite instructive!

Despite being interested in the content, I always found myself quite sleepy after the reading. I assumed at the time that this had something to do with the dim light of the oil lamps. As it turns out, I was right, but there's far more to this effect than I was aware of.

I've lately been reading the book Lights Out by TS Wiley, which explains this effect and its tremendous implications. A researcher focusing on diabetes, the author found herself constantly returning to the role played by light in triggering the various hormones that control our sleep, appetite, addictions, and sex drive.

Though it should come as no surprise, the artificial extension of daylight through our use of electric lights (and computers, televisions, smart phones, etc) is in large part the driving force behind the appetites that drive us to favor carbohydrates and sugars. Since these are no longer as difficult to come by as they were in the age our bodies are designed for, we eat far more than our bodies can use. The resulting chronic high blood sugar we experience is what makes most of us insulin resistant and prone to a wide variety of the diseases that have risen dramatically during the 20th century.

The book is largely a highlight of various studies performed by the CDC and NIH. They interview Dr. Thomas Wehr of the NIH, who suggests that on less than 9.5 hours of sleep (a conservative minimum before the age of electricity), people will most likely develop either diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infertility, mental illness, or premature aging. When the authors asked him if he felt this should be made public knowledge, his response was, "Well, yes, they do have a right to know. They should be told; but it won't change anything.  Nobody will ever turn off the lights".

Considering that 35% of Americans are now obese, and 69% of us are overweight, most of us will suffer heart disease (our #1 cause of death), 50% of us will experience cancer, a third of us are expected to develop diabetes, and 13% are on anti-depressants, it might do us some good to learn a little more about this. Though the author's style is a little shrill, the subject matter appears to be quite sound and is a real eye opener.

Another related book which I found quite interesting is Clark Strand's "Waking up to the Dark", It focuses on sleep patterns, comparing historical (i.e. normal) patterns with today's electrically enhanced patterns, focusing on the implications for spirituality and mental health. Anyone with sleep issues will definitely be interested. James Howard Kunstler recently interviewed him in this podcast, which may pique your interest as it did my own.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Pope

The first letter to the editor I ever wrote (and which was also published), was chastising Pope John Paul II for his insistence that population control not be discussed at the earth summit in Rio De Janiero, some time in the early 1990s.  For most of the time since, I'd viewed the Catholic church as something of a nemesis, mindlessly fighting against our common future through their stance on population and reproduction.

I'm happy to announce that I no longer feel this way.  Better yet, they're perhaps one of my most influential allies.   From Pope Francis's recent encyclical, I quote,

"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.  The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn"