Thursday, May 26, 2016


We recently finished putting up the first hay cutting of the year, jumping on a weather window that arrived at just the right time.

Last year we weren't so lucky. Cutting our main field was eight hours of hell with a constantly clogging mower (the cut hay was too thick for the mower's grassboard to clear the swath for the next pass).  Rachel had to clear the swaths with a pitchfork, or it would've taken days to mow. This year, the same field took two hours to cut, with no assist required. Sometimes the weather gods are kind to us.

I always love cutting our smaller back field. It's surrounded by forest, has some gently rolling hills, and offers a nice view back to the barns. The autumn olive at the edge of the woods was in full bloom this year, filling the air with its vanilla scent.  Like most every other shrub in Michigan, it's an introduced "invasive" plant, but is quite welcome in my book. It has wonderful berries in late fall, and our bees love it as well. Perhaps it's the secret ingredient in the honey everyone tells us is the best they've ever tasted?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Sunday Drive

There are certainly places where such a thing would be inconceivable. But then again, in most of these places, much of what is now viewed as normal will soon be impossible.

It's not a perfect mode of transportation by any means. As with cars, a horse drawn wagon requires roads, though they needn't be as smooth or well maintained for a vehicle traveling 10mph as they need to be for one travelling 70mph. While paved roads are already disappearing in some places, I think dirt roads will survive a while longer. Hills are more of a problem with a horse than they are with a car. I now have a deeper understanding of why early settlers favored flat valleys.

It's ultimately a fossil fueled means of conveyance nowadays (as diesel is used to harvest the hay or oats that fuel the horse), though that's clearly a temporary condition. Our feed this year has been primarily harvested on-farm using horsepower, as will again be the norm.

I recently expanded our lineup of horse drawn vehicles, with the purchase of a small wagon. It's much lighter than the buggy and is easier for Bobby to pull. It's more stylish to boot, like going from a mini-van to a sporty convertible.

Horses are good for gawkers like myself. They keep their eyes on the road while I'm noting the details of everything we pass. Wildflowers, an old barn, an unusual tree, a pee-filled pop bottle... I see much more of it when holding a pair of lines instead of a steering wheel. Horses are also the self-driving cars of the future and were long before anyone knew what Google was. In fact, Bobby has already made an attempt at returning home sans-driver (a thwarted attempt, fortunately). I hear stories of inebriated Amish who have made good use of this feature.

Perhaps the nicest thing about driving a horse drawn wagon is the fact that I'm not anonymous, as I am inside the confines of a car. People see me, and most wave and smile as I return the greeting. In a world of horse-drawn transportation, I think we'll find some of the community we've lost, and we'll lose much of the anonymity we've gained. I'm looking forward to it.

20 Years?

It'll certainly be a stinky way to go. You've smelled it before, if you've ever rolled a rock over on a beach at low tide, smelled a propane leak, or suffered the consequences of eating jerusalem artichokes (aka "fartichokes") or a healthy serving of beans. It's hydrogen sulfide -- mother nature's cleanser of choice whenever the organisms on planet earth become too annoying, like us.

It happened before -- and is the cause of most previous mass extinctions in the geologic record. A warming planet stratifies the oceans, reducing circulation and oxygenation. Hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria start to dominate, releasing clouds of the toxic gas which wipe out most oxygen-breathing creatures.

Unfortunately for us, it's starting to happen again, because we think we "need" fossil fuels. A warming planet is slowing ocean currents, and our oceans are again stratifying, as the NE Pacific did during the recent El Nino that lead to droves of dead seabirds and marine mammals washing ashore from California to Alaska. This year the stratification is leading to the worst red-tides ever seen in Chile, prompting the shutdown of Chile's fishing fleets.

Off the coast of Namibia, the hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria bloom in quantities that are visible from space. Current modeling suggests that most of the world's oceans will be significantly stratified by the 2030s, leading to the conditions that would allow hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria to flourish.  

We've already bleached out 95% of the northern great barrier reef this year, and recently discovered that the coral reefs of the Florida keys are now dissolving in the CO2 acidified sea water. The crazed hippies at the USGS suggest that we may well see the first-ever blue-sea event in the arctic this year, as the north polar icecap disappears for the first time in human history. If the icecap goes, all the methane under the arctic sea comes out, and our problems become a whole lot tougher to solve. What will next year bring?

Driven a car lately? Flown anywhere?  Turned on your (fracked) gas furnace? Do we need these things more than we want our kids to survive?  It's long past time to remember how to live as we did before.