Farm Life: Culling the Herd

Farms, as domestication of all things wild that we find useful, have biological and cultural carrying capacities. Eventually, the fruits, vegetables, and livestock require harvesting. The fruits and vegetables you want to harvest when they are ripe. Leave them too long, and they will be come food for birds, rodents, insects, caterpillars, worms, microbes, and fungus. Livestock and poultry are best butchered before you have too many of them, they get too old (I.e. tough and gamey), or obnoxious.

Caution, if you prefer to consider your meat as something that comes in rectangular packaging from the store, you may prefer to stop reading here.

A year ago, some neighbors called up to say they had six roosters that they wanted to give to our barn and field. They are homesteader-types too, but live on an acre or so in the suburbs. They have forest property near us. They eat in a vegetarian style for the most part, raising chickens for eggs. A year ago, in the Spring, they noticed some of their hens were broody. They let them sit on their eggs. They hatched out more hens.

So, they let the hens sit on their nests again, but the second round they hatched out six roosters. Anyone who raises livestock can tell you 1) you only need so many males per so many females of whatever you are raising, and 2) excess males just lead to trouble (should we apply this to human population distributions, having 50/50 ratio of females to males is definitely going to lead to problems… maybe we will get back to that later). We became the proprietors of six roosters along with our dozen or so ducks. Our friends, though vegetarian themselves, said that they did not mind us butchering the roosters at some point, as they would have had a beau colic life on our farm.

Initially, the roosters were quiet cute, being about half the size of the ducks. They were no trouble as the duck could herd them around and put them into their place (the term “pecking order” definitely comes from raising poultry). By Fall, when we had intended to butcher them, they had grown to about the equivalent size as our ducks. But, we were busy and without any hens, the roosters were rather docile. Winter came and went. They crowed at all hours of the day, and ate lots of insects in the barn and field. They seemed useful.

They continued to grow over winter. Warmer days came. And, they got really roostery. Any idea of the docile farm was gone. They now wanted to dominate the top levels of the pecking order. Even within the rooster-ranks, they began to develop the rulers-of-the-roost versus the smaller roosters that did their scratching a little ways off.

Then they began to challenge our position on the farm. Ever wonder why muck-boots go most of the way up your calf? Good protection again Mr. Testosterone. Of course, that brings up the mating thing. With six roosters wanting to procreate and no hens, the ducks got the worse of it. Duck sex is unpleasant enough to come upon at 5:30 a.m. feeding time, but roosters mounting ducks is crossing social boundaries (and does not yield much).

We noticed that our duck’s necks were becoming bear of feathers. The ducks were cowering from the roosters swooping down on them (the roosters slept on half doors in the barn and would literally fly down for a little humpty-dumpy). One morning, we found a duck lying dead from rooster-abuse.

Time to cull the herd (or flock, in this case).

Culling is the process of selecting out individual animals for slaughter and butchering (or to sell/give to someone else, as our friends had done the year before). This gets back to the concept of carrying capacity. This is the ability of X amount of space to sustain Y number of whatevers. Carrying capacity can be biological, in that X amount of of space has Y+N number of whatevers, they cannot survive. Thus, N number of whatevers go to freezer camp (that’s what the locals say to their children before they are of age to understand that butchering means slaughtering those cute critters on the farm). Carrying capacity can be cultural, when Y+N number of whatevers is greater than we (farmers or society) can tolerate, even when X amount of space could sustain them. Thus, we had both a biological and cultural carrying capacity crisis.

Not being a large farm with reason to own the equipment for regular poultry harvesting (e.g. killing cones, scalding tanks, stainless steel butchering tables, cold storage, etc.), we had more modest arrangement. Anyway, plucking a chicken is a lot of tedious work.

First, we had to catch one of the roosters. While I would have preferred to start at the top of the pecking order to reduce the most aggressive one, I went with practicality: who was closest that I could actually catch. Out our way, where we have “poultry houses” which raise 50,000 birds at a time, one of the jobs is “chicken catcher”. I have done rehab on some of their hands. They can catch and carry six chickens at a time. I was happy to get one without skinning my knees too much. Anyway, one rooster, flapping away and trying to peck you is best held with two hands, one around each leg with the guy upside down. They become relatively calm after a minute.

Now, they old-time image of grandma cutting the chicken’s head off and letting it run around the yard (even without a brain the chicken’s reflexes allow it to run and flap), is actually not humane nor desirable. All that running around puts a lot of stress hormones and blood into the meat. It sours the taste. Rather, you want to quickly bleed it out.

For that, we have the “gallows”. We place it over the compost pile, as blood is a very good source of iron and nutrients for future soil. This means holding the bird upside down, securing it feet in bailing twine hanging from the structure, and leaving it for about 5 minutes to settle.

Meanwhile, that is time to set up the sanitizing and ice baths. We take basins of ice water and vinegar. One will be for washing the meat as we cut it out, and the other for cooling. Quick packaging, then a run into the house to put the meat in the refrigerator, or better yet, right into the the crock-pot for cooking.

Back to the gallows, hold firming to the head, stretch out the neck and cut both carotid arteries. Leaving the head/brain intact, allows the heart to pump, thereby draining the blood from the meat. Go do something else for a few minutes.

According to the humane butchering book (yes, such things have been written), if you do not want to invest in lots of equipment and time for plucking feathers, you can do a “dry pluck” method within about 10 minutes of slaughter. After that, the skin begins to lock up the feather base. Dry plucking is just pulling off feather as fast a possible. As we intended to skin the roosters, I only removed the feathers from the legs, back, and breasts up to the neck. Feathers have a lot of good compost nutrition too, so another reasons to butcher right over the compost pile.

Feathers off, skinning begins. Cut along the breast sternum. Cut around the thighs and legs. Pull off the skin. Debone the breast and drop them in the washing basin water. All of this has been done with the rooster hanging upside down in the gallows.

Lacking a stainless steel butchering table, I rolled a good size block of wood from the log splitter pile to make a chopping block. A hatchet comes in handy here. Wack. Off comes one leg/thigh. Wack. Off comes of the foot. The legs and thighs go into he washing basin (meanwhile, The Mrs has cleaned the breast and moved them into the cooling basin). Wack. Off come the wings (not enough meat to make “wings” for the effort it would take). Wack off comes the head. Removing the innards is a little bit of a messier process. While the hearts and livers might have been good to save for dog food, I opted to just pull out all the innards and crack off the pelvis from the back. The back can, with the ribs attached, can go into the washing basin.

Breast meat is good canned for future stews and soups. The backs and ribs became broth. The legs and thighs became crock-pot meals, just add lots of vegetables and spices for flavor.

Rather than trying to do this process six times over in a day, we opted to do in one rooster per day over several weeks on our days off. The barn is much quieter now. The ducks are back to mating in their own way, and sitting on their nests.

Carrying capacity. Whether we contemplate this concept or not, we apply it in various ways in our domesticated existence. While we might not eat our pets, we do cull them. We sell off or giving way extra from littler a of puppies and kittens. When they get old and ill, we “put them to sleep”. We consider this humane rather than letting our beloved pets live in pain.

But, do we consider how we apply this on humane scale? I have read of prior societies disposing their excess babies and elderly through exposure (i.e. putting them out in the cold over night and collecting their bodies the next day for burial). Recently, I have read controversies about certain cultures doing this in essence by drowning those who they cannot afford to keep alive. In our western wisdom, we debate aborting babies and euthanizing elderly and terminally ill I (with as much the same language and reasoning that “Old-Yeller” gets the blue cool-aide). Is this biological or cultural carrying capacity?

In a college writing class, I recall writing an essay, unfortunately loss to culling of my files, on the topic of population density. Even then, I had concluded that the earth’s biological carrying capacity was at or near it’s limit. While I advocated reducing, as a personal/social decision not government mandate, birth rates, I recognized that natural or social processes would have the effect of culling our herd. I identified wars as one means by which we slaughtered millions of people. Famines starved millions more. And, diseases could take out a percentage of population, especially as population density allowed for greater ease of infection, illness, and death rates.

Last year, while watching our roosters grow, and watching the Covid death rates rise, I revisited that thesis. Whether vectoring from some natural source or released by carelessness or design, Covid is one more wave of culling our herd. Wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes are helping with the harvest. These events happen on regional and global scales. The tragedy is on an individual scale.

I suggest not being an obnoxious rooster.

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Farm Life: Fog (Haze) in August, Winter Forcast, 2021-22

This year’s Fog in August report is a little hazy, you could literally say. For the past few years, the confounding winter factor has been the temperature. We have had plenty of moisture, but warmer than usual temperatures. We ended up with more rain than snow storms. Draw your own conclusions.

This year, some days we had difficulty differentiating between clear days, light fog, and haze. Haze? You ask. While the concept of Fog in August is that the local phenomenon of fog forecasts the number of snow storms that will occur.

But, local weather is regional weather. For our mid-Atlantic/Appalachian Mountian region, we need to follow what is happening in North Africa and the Pacific Northwest. Huh?

Our weather has two primary sources. The heat coming off North Africa flows out to the mid-Atlantic to Caribbean region. The hot air absorbs moisture, which forms tropical storms and hurricanes. These move into the Gulf region, turning north into the Mississippi Valley or up the eastern coast of North America.

From the Pacific Northwest, the Jet Stream travels west to east across the continent. Look at the temperatures in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington states. That will come our way in a few days. Has anyone not noticed the record breaking temperatures in the Pacific Northwest this summer?

Thus, the moist mid-Atlantic/Caribbean air mixes with the Pacific Northwest temperatures, and we get fog.

But, what has been happening in the Pacific Northwest this year. Hell certainly is not freezing over. No, its burning up and sending high altitude smoke our way.

Having grown up in central California, I remember late summer sun rises. If we could not see the Hamilton Mountains to the east, and the sun rose as a big orange ball, we new that something was burning. Though I do not recall the fires being as large and numerous as now, I do remember fires in the Coast Ranges (near Santa Cruz), the Hamilton Range between the Santa Clara Valley and Central Valley, or somewhere in the Sierra Nevada Mountians. That orange ball of sun indicated fire, which indicated smoke, which filtered into haze.

In July, I recall one day, that our mountains disappeared around the Shenandoah Valley. I thought that fog was early, though it seemed awfully dry that day. By evening, I watched the ball of orange descend over Shenandoah Mountain.

I said to the Mrs. “There’s fire somewhere. I bet that is smoke from the west coast fires.” Two days later, the news reported that the smoke from the fires 3000 miles away had ascended high enough into the atmosphere for the Jet Stream to send it to the east coast.

Various weather systems have cleared out the smoke on some days, but this year’s Fog in August is somewhat clouded, we might say, by Haze in August. Thus, I have added an additional category to my tally. I could not say how this plays out with snow storms, but I suspect that if the fires continue into winter, it will not go well.

Clear Days: 4

Hazy Days: 6

Light Fog: 7

Moderate Fog: 4

Dense Fog: 6

Rain: 4

I’ll start my tally of winter weather in December and report back to you in April. Meanwhile, please don’t think that coming to the country means that having a bon-fire is a good idea, or if you do please clear the ground for 12 feet around the fire pit, and put out the coals before climbing into your bed or sleeping bag.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Yellow Jacket Nests

Yellow jackets (n): type of wasp which builds nests and lives in tight, social groups; very defensive of their nests; stinger is not barbed, thus can aggressively attack threats to their nests with multiple stings

September is yellow jacket hunting season. That could be interpreted as the yellow jackets are out, on the hunt, looking for late season food sources such as raspberries or my dinner plate; Or, it could be interpreted as this is the time of year that I try to find yellow jacket nests in undesirable places, such as under the deck, porch roof, holes in the ground, the garage, the barn or other places that we are likely to intersect.

This past weekend, I found two nests. One I found, or should I say they found me, just outside the barn door. They had their entrance hole under the frame of the barn, building their next inside an enclosed wall-support space. I happened to be raking up fallen hay by the entrance. They got excited. I got three stings before I backed away and located the risk.

The second was in the shed where I keep the string mower. When I pulled out the mower, I noticed a couple of yellow jackets fly by me. I spotted the nest before they spotted me. I was able to do the mowing, and had a plan to verify the nest when I put the mower away. I pushed the front end of the mower into the he box, dislodged the box, and confirmed that hundreds of yellow jackets were not happy. I had run quickly to a safe viewing distance.

If a yellow jacket nest is safely away from our routes, I leave it alone. They serve a purpose and do not usually bother us, when we stay away from them. Its sort of like identifying the bully up the street and deciding to walk around to another street to avoid him or her.

I do not use poison sprays, as these are only useful when you have a clear shot to destroy the whole nest, then pick up all the poisoned yellow jackets to avoid letting them enter the food chain. The fist nest was inside an enclosed area where we have our ducks. I did not want them eating poisoned yellow jackets.

Plan B, trap them. Yellow jackets are not like swarming bee, which an experienced bee keeper and collect into a box to transfer them to a new hive. Yellow jackets are social insects, like European bee colonies, but not hospitable to people.

In these situations, I try to trap as many of the yellow jackets as possible to deplete the nest, and thereby risk. Have-A-Heart traps are not very useful here. Sticky things are. We have giant fly paper in the barn. It looks like a role of paper towels with a string across the role to hang it up.

I started with the first nest in the barn wall. I unrolled a foot or so of sticky paper, wrapped it back on itself to form a tunnel. I then slid this over to the nest entrance and trotted away. The disturbance of the entrance alerted dozens of yellow jackets which flew out of the entrance, into the sticky tunnel, looking sort of like a scene out of Star Wars in which a bunch of storm-trooper Imperial TIE fighters fly out of a Battle Cruiser and into a Rebel Alliance trap. Anyway, lots of yellow jackets get stuck to the paper, sending some signal of distress which calls more out. I leave it be for a few hours before harvesting the first assault. Tear off the paper with angry, stuck, yellow jackets and repeat the process. Hopefully I am not breading smarter yellow jackets.

Round two. I do about the same with the box full of yellow jackets in the mower shed. This is a little tricker, as the box is about four feet inside the shed. I’m not crawling inside to put down sticky paper, with the belief that I will get out unnoticed. Instead, I suspend my trap on an eight food long pole, dangle it over the box, drop it and run. A couple of hours later, I pick up the box with the eight foot pole, haul it out onto the lawn and run. This is way too fun.

Meanwhile, I am following the latest news from the Middle East.

In some ways, our social units, tribal in orientation, whether a neighborhood, region, sports team (one of our local high schools mascot is the Yellow Jackets), Internet website, etc. seems like a yellow jacket nest. Add some religious fervor for fanaticism. Nationalism is just a European concept that has not fit well when applied a region of yellow jacket nests.

Arabs, Kurds, Taliban, al Qaeda, ISISl do not like their nests disturbed.

In the country, yellow jackets get a long fine, as long as their nests are sufficiently spaced. What becomes a problem is when one nest is too close to another.

The same might apply to our tribes (not just the Afghans to Egyptians). If each had its territory and did not have to interact with the others, we could live peacefully, nibbling on our raspberries and pears.

But, the world, politically, economically, culturally, is not separated. To obtain the materials (minerals, textiles, food, energy supplies) to make the produces we want, we have to interact with other nests. In the process we offend and take offense. We and they might use some version of sticky paper to try to eliminate the intruding nests (IED to drones to sanctions), but as we are seeing, the nest may appear destroyed, but the species survives.

I have no fantasy that should I reduce the threat from my two yellow jacket nests this Fall, that next year I will not have new nests show up.

Was anyone surprised the the Taliban came back?

Don’t worry. The official President of Afghanistan slipped off to some other Midlde-Eastern country, possibly with $168 million in cash (five car loads, as reported in the news). But, the official Vice President has relocated to the Panjshir Valley to connect with the son of a former war-lord (assassinated by al Qaeda) who has an anti-Taliban group waiting to over-throw the Taliban government.

Me? I’ll just looked for more yellow jacket nests next September, get out my sticky paper, drop and run.

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Dept. of Alternative Facts: Quotes

Quote: (v) to repeat a saying from someone else, usually with implication that this is a person of authority thereby giving the phrase added significance.

Having worked in a therapy world for many years, I have seen lots of quotes. Sometime these are on posters intending to inspire someone and bring hope to their period of crisis. Now, Instagram and Pintrist have plenty of blogs which bring us quote of all sorts. Being more cynical, I’m likely to identify the underlying beliefs and challenge them.

At times the white board in the therapy room will become populated with quotes. These usually have someone’s name attached to the quote. I guess this gives the quote not only authorship, but a stamp of importance. I often do not know who the author it. That begs a whole additional set of questions.

At times, I will slip in a snarky quote, usually from a family member, and put their name on it. No one other than me knows who these people are. But there is a quote and name, it must have authority.

”Love many. Trust few. Always paddle your own canoe”

”Use it up. Wear it out. Make do, or do without”

“That’s what you get for being a Christian”

Then I watch to see how long these remain on the board. Usually in a day or two someone has erased my quote, possibly replaced therm with something more politically correct, while none of the other quotes disappear. Its one of my games to see how people interpret these ideas (all of which generate robust conversations with client who are usually a jaded as I. But that brings up a whole other discussion about whether the point of therapy is to make people feel better in the movement versus challenging anxieties to vanquish them. I think that you can guess which approach I take)

For many years, in our public discourse, one branch of society has been resisting anything they see as “government over-reach” (usually blamed on Democrats) under the idea that such government action is limiting their Constitutional right to Liberty. This usually results in a wave of deregulation (usually promoted by Republicans, oh, I mean the business community which funds them). The Obama era Affordable Care Act ramped up this phenomenon fueling the Tea Party’s antics as if seeking a way to provide health care for everyone was about to put them in chains.

A quote that is conjured up in various formats was Patrick Henry’s revolutionary era “Give me Liberty, OR give me Death”. That’s a little histrionic for the inspiration white board, but pithy.

Now, 2020’s pandemic era has lit the flame of another round of my-liberty-is-stolen thinking. Mask mandates, social distancing, stay at home, work and learn from home, stream your favorite movie or band, connect with loved one through FaceTime, drive-by birthdays, etc. And, now vaccines, vaccine passports, vaccine-hesitancy, and ant-vaccers.

Then the Delta-variant hit. Republican leaning states are claiming that they want to offer liberty to their citizens to decide for themselves and their children whether to get vaccinated, wear masks, dine inside at a restaurant, go to the movies, and jump in the mosh-pit at a concert.

The result is that Patrick Henry’s quote is now “Give me Liberty, AND give me Death”

What we lost in the frenzy of protesting someone telling us that something is desirable to do is that when we have the liberty to act, we should do what they are recommending. Liberty demands responsibility. Liberty is not a pass to do whatever I please. Liberty requires us to do good.

As many of these same people profess to be Christians, I would quote their scriptures for added authority: “The wage of sin is death”. Seems that this is the route we are taking. I doubt that quote will last on the white board for long.

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Farm Life: Official Dog Drinker

We have a variety of pets and livestock. We have neighbors who love animals. This is useful when any of us are away. We take care of their animals. They take care of ours.

Usually this involves putting out food and bedding. But, dogs in particular enjoy some companionship. One of our neighbors enjoys the attention of critters of all sort, maybe more than the complicated expectations of people.

When we are away, we send her an e-mail to let her know that when she is available, she is welcome to come sit on our porch with our dogs. She is delighted.

To add to the social visit, as we know that she likes red wine, we leave out of bottle and wine glass for her and dog treats for her to distribute.

Another couple take on the duties of feeding. Occasionally, they will arrive at the same time. Porch party time. However, one of the couple left a message, “How do we get the Official Dog Drinker job?” We started leaving out three wine glasses.

Our Official Dog Drinker friend had a particular affection for Bella. She has been about as teary about Bella’s death last week as we have. She is also concerned about Tippy’s dog-grieving.

We put the bottle of wine, glass and dog treats out each morning, now, when we go to work. Our neighbor comes by for an afternoon visit with Tippy. She has printed off a couple of photos from times Bella came to visit her (such as when she jumped into and paddled around in their fish pond one hot day). She plans to bring one of her dogs up for a play-date next week.

In our human traditions, we usually respond to someone else’s loss in words. These can be comforting from those whom we are attached to but geographically distant. But, sometimes they are awkward, such as from someone who has not reached out to us for some time (they usually disappear as quickly as the appeared in the time of loss).

Some times gestures of kindness, a hot meal, help with cleaning out the person’s possessions, etc. are as useful as words.

Some times just being present is what we need. Those kinds of relationship develop over time. They are build on engagement, interaction, and shared memories.

Maybe the world needs fewer talking-heads and more Official Dog Drinkers.

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Theatre Review(s): The Post-Covid Season

In 1592 the plague spread across the City of London. Among other measures the leaders took to limit the spread of the plague was to close the theatres. Some acting troupes may have taken their costumes and props on the road to regions less effected by the plague. Some would resume productions in London later in 1593 and 1594. Some author’s wrote poems or published scripts of their plays which literate folks could read privately or put on in their homes. I imagine that they would have embraced our Internet technology, streamed shows from their kitchens, and posted images from their windows. Some historians argue that the theatre closings had less to do with health concerns than Puritanical disdain for entertainment that they considered sinful. Society does not change much. Outbreaks of the plague would come and go over the following decades, with additional shutdowns of commerce and entertainment.

We saw our last live theatre productions in February and March of 2020: “Much Ado About Nothing”, at the Blackfriar Theatre in Staunton, VA; and “Pippin”, at Howard University. Pippin was especially memorable because a family friend, Deimoni Brewington, played the lead role. How often do you get to take the star of a show out for Pho before seeing him on stage? More on that later.

For the next few months, we would be rather distracted and distant, working odd days and shifts on the Covid Units of our hospital. The plague, up close and too personal for my intellectual and abstract taste. I found my Monty Python moments (remember the plague skit, “Bring Out The Dead?”) in all of it. And, we discovered streaming services on our Roku, specifically Marquee TV, on which a number of the productions of the American Shakespeare Center were broadcast over the spring and summer of 2020. The world was right there in our cozy home theatre (aka basement).

The American Shakespeare Center did re-open for a few months in late summer of 2020, with productions, at the Blackfriar Theatre and an out-door venue. We saw the last performance of “Othello” before the doors shut down again as Covid cases surged, and our election cycle turned into something like Richard III.

In May, 2021, the lights came back on. This time under a tent. The American Shakespeare Center utilized the Rose Terrace at Mary Baldwin University, just up the hill from their home performance space. This was an excellent choice for their return production of Macbeth. With all the unpredictability of natural and super-natural images in “Macbeth”, outdoors is a great option for staging. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company brought “Pericles” to another outdoor venue, the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, in Ellicot City, MD. And, then the American Shakespeare Center re-opened its Blackfriar Theatere for productions of “Henry V” and “All’s Well That Ends Well”.

Four productions of Shakespeare in one summer. What a way to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow the Covid-Delta-Variant shall surge”.

After a year of Covid-19 and Hyper-Masculine Election chest beating, what could be better to wash one’s hands of 2020 than “Macbeth”. Death. Death. Death. With board swords and pikes, no less. Being outdoors was even better, as Scotland is a place outdoors, or at least in cold, drafty castles and huts.

After a year of off-and-on performances and sheltering in place with Zoom rehearsals, on-line musical fund-raising nights, regrouping on stage takes a bit of work. The chore team stomped and strutted the doomed royal couple, spooked us with weird sisters for foretelling forbidding prophecies, and scattering the stage with new performers hacked to bits until McDuff does Macbeth and his Lady in.

This was a visual show, which the outdoor venue accentuated. Of course, the air conditioning system in the bushes behind us and old ears sort of took out a lot of the language. We will be seeing the same production later in the season in-doors at the Blackfriar Theatre, so we will have a chance review it sans “vmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”.

”Pericles” is a great romp from port-to-port around the Mediterranean Sea, skillfully performed on a multi-level ship built into the corner of the stone ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park. The audience sat in folding chairs on one side of this ship. Better yet, we reserved one of the picnic tables too enjoy our feast and wine before the show.

To keep us oriented as to where the hapless Pericles might be on his adventure, the cast would hoist colored flags and done similarly color tunics, shirts, scarves, or hats for each scene. This helped to keep us afloat with the fast paced production, especially later in the play as characters from various locations came together to re-unit the separated family.

The cast generated increasing energy with each entering and exiting scene, round of “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor”, and bold-knights fighting for the princess’ hand. They even some how conjured up a ten minute thunderstorm in the middle of the second half. All that distant lightening and rumbles… well, we were on top of a hill.

Even more exciting was that our friend Deimoni was in the show. From graduation to rehearsals to production in one summer. What fun to have a character walk off stage to great you and introduce other cast members before and after the show.

Back in the theatre, “Henry V” reigned triumphant. Whatever concerns we might have had about some of the new cast members keeping up with the seasoned performers vaporized as they brought us a prince-become-king, unruly drunkards, brave and not-so-brave soldiers, and princesses-to-become-queens in Elizabethan English, French, and Spanish. If Macbeth were to be vanquished and haunted by ghosts of his own hand, Henry V is to be cheered and toasted for ending the chaos of war and sit and dine in a period of peace.

Time for a comedy. Technically, “All’s Well that Ends Well” is a comedy: the fated couple is coupled in the final scene. Helena gets Bertram. But, at the end of pre-show music set, Christopher Johnston summed up the ambivalence of Shakespeare’s plot with a hilarious welcome about “My tears are tears of joy. Your tears are tears of sorrow”. The cast then took us on a two hour rodeo round-up of the cad.

As we walked back to our car, we both asked “Why would you want to marry that jerk. If he would do that (i.e. run from you and chase other women) while your are courting, he’ll do it to you again”. We cannot tell Shakespeare’s motivation for this plot. Maybe he was just saying “This is how people are”, or maybe he intended to say “What kind of fool are you”. I’m inclined to interpret that later, as the Countess of Rousillion says in Act I, Scene I, “Love all, trust few, Do wrong to one”.

Whether tragedy, adventure, or comedy, in the theatre, the evening ends with resolution. Evil is destroyed. Good governs. The separated couples and families are reunited. And, we can go home with a sense of order.

But, life is more cycles than two hour productions. Periods of chaos and peace revolve around historical contexts. A power-turned-delusional obsessed king and queen are eradicated, usually be be replaced by another power-turned-delusional version of leadership. We drive the Taliban into the mountains, leader-by-leader destroy Al Qaeda, only to have ISIS rise and fall, to then find that the Taliban are re-taking city-by-city as we withdrawal our military. The Reagan era is replaced by the Newt era is replaced by the Tea Party, is replaced by Trump era is replaced by Q-Anon. Now the GOP is the Party of Tin-foil hats, Pround Boys, Three-Percenters, and Oath Keepers. The peaceful reign of one king lasts as long as the king, or was never that peaceful anyway. Did we really think that the Biden Inauguration love-fest would lead to a term of the lion and lamb settling down together? The three plays that brought Henry V to the thrown will be followed by three plays of Henry VI, which go from bad to worse. Given the trajectory of separation-to-reunion for Pericles and his family, can we expect that all will go well after the lights go down? Is the Covid-19 pandemic really over? I’m not celebrating. I’m keeping my mask on, and thankfully the Blackfriar Theatre never let us take our off. At least not everyone is a fool.

History grinds on. The tragedy or comedy occurs on a human level. We as individuals live our lives in those historical contexts. Sometimes we lives in peace and resolution. But, most of the time we live in the small dramas of personal chaos. Theatre may help us to continue on to the next scene. Or, maybe I’m just in a bad mood because my dog died. Hmmmmph.

Posted in Lights On Stage, Reviews | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Farm Life: Memorials

Back in the Spring, I received a couple of checks for my birthday. The Mrs. asked what I wanted to do with the birthday money. “Let’s go to the yard art place and look at some sculptures for the yard” was my wish.

We drove the truck in on a sunny Friday. After work, we stopped at the cement sculpture place to see what caught our eyes.

There were saints holding hearts to Grecian goddess holding urns. There were trolls and soldiers (facing south with a cannon pointed at them, which may be circumstance or commentary about whether the Civil War is over yet in this area). There were Baby Yodas and Buddhas.

Then I found it. Bella. Well, technically is a cement representation of a wolf, but Bella looks sort of like a wolf, just with a little stockier shoulders and coloring of an Akita.

We had the crew put it into the truck bed (cement sculptures are not light and going uphill to get into the truck), along with a black lab for Tippy, and some other miscellaneous bits of whimsy for other parts of the yard.

A friend was out the next day. He helped to find a suitable place, level the ground, and unload the wolf sculpture.

Bella came to us as a puppy on New Year’s Day some 14 years ago. She had been found by the road by a soldier on leave for Christmas. He could not find anyone nearby who would claim her. He brought her into the vet’s office where a friend of ours worked. He was returning to the Middle East conflicts a few days later and could not keep her. Our friend brought her home and we happened to come by for a New Year’s visit. Bella has been with us since.

In case you are wondering, while we thought that the name Bella meant “beautiful”, as in Italian, our friend named her after a horse, Bell, who she had put down shortly before. Language means something different out here in the country.

Bella became our first dog. We had not consider having a dog when we lived in the city. Our work hours and condo life were not suitable for giving a dog the attention and out door activity that it needed. A criteria that we would need for a dog in the country would be that it would need to be outside while we were at work, or away on vacation, year-round. An Akita’s fur was perfect for here.

Bella was the Alpha-Dog and hunter to anything on our property. If she went out in the field, she would round up the calves (this was prior to goats), run them to a corner of the fence, then split on off and run it to the opposite end of the field, just as a wolf or coyote would do. A couple of times we saw her catch a groundhog and twist it’s neck in a second. Twice I found dead skunks in our yard. She was fast enough to not get sprayed.

Medium sized dogs usually live a dozen years. We watched Bella age and slow down over the past few years. Naps on the porch took up more of the day. Chasing Maggie the Evil Cat took up less of her day. She did not appear to hear thunder any longer and her eyes appeared to miss the deer in the driveway. If she saw something out of order, she noted it but no longer chased it. Her hips and knees got stiff and our walks slower. Until this Spring she could do our 2 mile walk to and from the mailbox, but not with enthusiasm. We modified our walk, doing a loop to the end of the driveway and back through the woods before sending her back to the porch to snooze some more while we took Tippy for her run

We had anticipated that the past couple of winters might have been her last. One evening we might return to find her gone in a frozen day of sleeping at 15F. But, each evening she opened her eyes and asked about dinner.

Rather than a chilly winter night, a hot summer day got the best of here. Achy joints, falls, liver problems, anemia, and a tumor pressing on her spleen. And this week temperatures 100F in the shade. She could open her eyes, but not much more.

But, Bella’s sculpture sits by our driveway, vigilantly looking at anyone who turns through our gate.

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Farm Life: Projects on Country Time

Here in the country things get done… when they get done. While we know that we will always be “come here’s” (even after owning our property 30 years, having a cabin for 28, and living here 18). However, we have the option of being “country people” versus “city people”. The former is the highest complement that a local can give a come-here. The other… well, you will either never get your project done, or it will cost you a lot more to get it done.

Country-people recognize that they should listen to the locals to learn how something should be done. “If I were dong this…” should be heard as, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you pay me to do what you are telling me to do, you are a fool”. Usually, the local people know why they would recommend X, Y, Z. They are just not going to go into detail to explain why. If you can’t see the reason…

City-people on the other hand, usually believe that their higher education, higher pay jobs, stock portfolios, well connected social status, and $70k vehicles (no, do not arrive in a Tesla, Range Rover, Cadillac SUV with VA, MD, or PA sporting a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate out here) means that they call the shots. A local crew here will either give them exactly what they asked for, while taking the money and running (we have three ridiculously steep driveways in our association because that is what the city-people told the excavator to do… we have never seen those excavators back again), or their project will mysteriously never make its way up the list of the contractor.

A local contractor will usually have half a dozen or so other projects in line before a city-person’s projects. Stall long enough, and the city-person will get impatient and go away. Get rid of that headache once. Do not have multiple headaches by jumping each time the Ranger Rover’s owner honks their horn.

So, being a country-person is the way to get something done.

That might take a couple of months or years even. Or, maybe the crew will drive up the next day. No hurry. Our place will be here.

And, our place has been here, coming up on three decades. That means, remodeling time.

When we moved here nearly two decades ago, we did finish up or add some remodeling. We finished the kitchen cabinets. We had the screened in porch closed in for a dinning room. We built a garage and barn.

A few years back, we began reworking some rooms for more formal guest rooms. We now have “A Room With a View”, “The Two Much Fun Room”, and “Peach Blossom Suite” to accommodate our family & friends.

A couple of years ago, we decided that the downstairs bathroom was due for a make-over.

We had the bathtub removed. Instead a walk-in shower stall filled the space. The toilet was ready for an upgrade. The sink and mis-matched cabinet (yes, the “store deal” which had two different cabinet door styles) was ready for burning. While we were at it, we had the great room downstairs tiled, with the same tile going right into the bathroom.

As this was an indoor project, we let the contractor know that we could wait for cooler weather, when his crew would prefer to not be framing additions to houses. Come winter, it was time to start tearing out the tub, leveling the floor, and moving walls and plumbing. In a few weeks, we had a cozier downstairs.

We call the shower stall “The Roman Grotto”. It has a stone sloping floor with no threshold, floor to ceiling tile walls, clear window (like, who is going to be walking around our yard looking in our shower in the middle of the forest?), and built in seat and niche for all our shampoo and soap needs.

Building the vanity and sink became my project. I took one of the cherry boards (1”x11”x8.5’) stored out in the garage, sanded it down, cut it in half and secured the two pieces together for a four foot, six inch long top. As it was cut with a three or four foot diameter saw mill blade, I left some of those semi-circular markings visible for a rough effect. I built the frame from smaller dimension cherry boards, put in shelving, and enclosed it with doors made from similar grade pine boards.

The sink is a glass vessel sink, with single pump handle.

To add a woodsy aesthetic, I cut floor to ceiling length limbs from our pear tree (it needed trimming anyway), removed the bark, and cut them to fit on the corners. To secure these to the walls, I used four inch cross slabs from small oak and maple trees which became shelves on which I attached used tea-tin boxes to hold brushes, perfume bottles, etc. One, thick branch became a grab-bar next to the shower.

That all happened in 2019 and early 2020. The bathroom has been quite serviceable. But, a final touch was missing. A mirror.

We knew a wood worker who made just the style mirror that we wanted. We saw him every year at a local artist event held on the weekend of the 4th of July. We had intended to buy a mirror at the show in 2020. But, a pandemic got in the way.

So, we waited. A year and a half went by with a temporary mirror leaning behind the sink in a not-too-useful fashion.

And, this past 4th of July, we caught up with the wood worker. We made sure that we arrived first thing of the opening of the show. We needed only about a minute for both of us to say “That’s the mirror” (along with an end table, but that is another project story). Within minutes of writing the check and having the “sold” sticker placed our acquisition, someone else came in and lamented “I love that mirror, but it’s sold already”. We were on to decorative pillows by then.

We have a tall friend whose usual guest room is next to this bathroom. We held onto the mirror until he visited to be sure that we hung it at a height that would be beneficial to him and us.

Our project is complete… on country time.

Now, let’s line up some more projects… there is tiling the rooms downstairs, replacing the deck, remodeling the upstairs bathroom… when we ‘round-to-it.

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Poem: Honor

We come to honor our father,
(Husband, grandfather),
In this memorial.

We honor his years of youth,
Sewing the harvest of his adult years,
Courting and marrying
Our mother (grandmother),
And pursuing the education
Which would be the cornerstone
Of our family.

We honor his young adult years
In which studies and career
Corresponded with bearing
His two sons, and brining his
Family back to California.

We honor the travels and explorations
Of the world with our
Trips to close and far
Destinations from the Sierras
To Japan and Europe.

We honor the faith
That he held
With simple understanding
And admiration
For guidance
And comfort.

We honor his willingness
To provide for our youthful years
Educations, experiences,
Adventures, and misdeeds,
Always with acceptance
And forgiveness when his
Prodigal sons returned
With another layer of life experiences.

We honor his love
Of family and desire
To find us wherever
We settled ourselves
In the world.

We honor the freedom
That he gave us and
Our mother to pursue
Dreams to see other places,
Meet diverse people,
And learn to love
Nature, whether along
A river, ski slope, or
Mountain garden.

We honor his need
For opinion,
Whether we agreed
Or ranted with and
Against him.
And his pursuit
Of voicing his positions,
Personally and
In the public forum.

We honor his ability
To include all people
On a personal level,
Seeking ways to help
Them weather the adversity
Of need, for shelter,
Transportation, material comfort,
And spiritual connection.

We honor his elder years,
Filled with memories,
Reiteration, physical compromise,
Unrelenting drive for continuity,
Which slowly descended
To simple pleasures
Of a meal, a smile,
A handshake,
Before the inevitable nap.

We honor his assent
To allows other to care
For him in his waning
Years, always perking up
Momentarily to kind gestures,
Gentle touch, a moment
Of presence,
In which time became timeless.

For this honor,
We pass on the visible
Evidence of a good life
To the ocean which surrounds
The places that he called home
For nearly 90 years.

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Farm Life: Stimulus

During the past year, we have received various forms of economic stimulus funds. Some of these came in the form of federal bank deposits, and for those of us who work in health care, our paychecks were heftier as we worked extra shifts to help out with caring for those in the hospital with COVID-19.

With these funds came various rational as to what we should do with the money. Some were compensated for lost wages as businesses closed their doors, temporarily or for good. Some were provided a way to stay home to reduce social contact that risked spreading the virus. Now we are encouraged to spend the funds to stimulate the emerging economy as business increase production, re-open, and start up in the void left by other businesses that closed down.

Being low on consumerism, pretty self-sufficient, and not needing a whole lot of stuff, what do with do with our Covid-19 funds?

We have a few remodeling projects on the long-range plans… but our builder is overwhelmed with fixing up places and building new homes for city folks who have been buying up country properties this past year. We have assured him that we would rather wait until his crew can do our jobs thoughtfully, rather than be rushed in the quality control department. We have indulged in the yard art department, and picked up some extra books along the way. We are supporting our local art/culture establishments with donations for streaming plays, concerts, ballet, and virtual museum tours.

But, for the most part, we are stimulating our economy as we usually do.

March is wood cutting season. Before the sap start running, and trees fill with the water and nutrients for growth, we want to cut next year’s wood heating supply. And, our local handyman could use some cash flow right now, as farming is a business when you make a lot of money for a short time when you harvest your crop or send your livestock to the sale. Most farmers have at least one or two other jobs/businesses. March is too early for doing outdoor construction and painting that balance the budget.

So, two Sundays ago, I call up my handyman ask if his crew is available. I tell him that I have marked (I.e. painted red X’s) on three oak trees that are shading the greenhouse in Winter, and give him permission to take out any other trees that are in the fall zone. Block up and split the wood. Leave it there and I will haul it up to the wood shed over the summer. The wood splitter is by the driveway.

The next day two of the trees are down. By mid-week, all the trees are down and blocked up. By Monday next, there are piles of split wood. He calls me up, tells me the hours they worked and gives me a total. He is coming our way the next day and asks if I can write a check and leave it on the front seat of the old truck. You, bet.

Now, when was the last time you called someone one up, asked them to do a week’s work for you, did not need a written estimate or contract, trusted your equipment to be used and returned, got a call with the bill, and just left the payment on the seat of the truck?

Welcome to country life, where the economy runs on one’s word. I also left an old chainsaw that needed some work on the floor boards of the tractor and told him that the crew could have it for free so they could take care of some other wood cutting jobs for other folks.

Now that’s stimulating.

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