Sunday, September 5, 2010

Test Blog

Is this going to work?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Spider in My Mailbox

There is a housing shortage in the Ozarks and millions of potential home-owners have fanned out across the hills, looking for suitable places to build. These potential home-owners are not of the people variety, they are of the wasp variety. It seems everywhere I go these days, I seem to be bumping into every kind of wasp or they are bumping into me. As they do not yet have nests and brood to protect, they do not appear to be aggressive but sometimes a wasp buzzing two inches from the end of your nose can be unsettling. There always seem to be two or three inside my cabin, and a small army of the homeless seem to continually swarm around the eves of the roof outside. Everytime I get into my truck I seem to have company of the winged variety (I am convinced there are a couple that just use me to bum rides to town and back) and I always double check the steering wheel to make sure I don't put my hand directly down upon one. It is clear that the search for housing has begun in earnest and apparently, almost any shelter will do.

I am reminded of last year when a similar situation arose. One warm and gentle Spring morning I opened my mailbox only to find it infested with ants, a LOT of ants. In fact, it appeared that my mailbox had been taken over by an entire colony of the small black insects! Normally I would not be taken aback by the sight of ants but seeing them amassed in such huge numbers in such an unexpected place startled me. Being somewhat new to country life and not exactly knowing how to deal with this first-in-my-lifetime situation, I simply closed the door and walked away feeling somewhat relieved to have a sheet of metal between myself and the thousands of unexpected tenants in my mailbox. Convinced this sort of thing must not be unusual out here, I consulted my across the creek neighbor, Jacob. He is an indespensible resource of local country lore, wisdom, and practical tips. Rarely a week goes by that my new country life does not require asking his advice. With his knowledge of the trees and plants in the area, I was sure he could direct me to some strange herb that would send the litlle squatters packing. I was a bit dismayed to be advised to use a poison, "they sell it at Wal-Mart", for just that purpose. That did not set well with my organic, back-to-the-land, Mother Earth News sensibilities so I did nothing and everyday the ant colony grew larger. I noticed however, that every time I opened the mailbox, the ants would scatter. Perhaps leaving the door open would create an environment not at all to their liking. I did just that and the next day there was not an ant in sight, success! Full of self-satisfation and triumph, I closed the door, problem solved. Until the next day. Again the ants had returned in what seemed to be an ever growing colony! Now I was downright perplexed. Again I left the door open and again, the following day they were gone. "Whew" but I knew I couldn't continue to play hide-and-seek with a bunch of insects that seemed to have the upper hand, and I couldn't leave the mailbox door open all the time with the Spring rains we'd been having. I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing. The following day I went to check the mail and half expected to see the entire mailbox engulfed in a black mass of teaming ants. What I found instead was, well, just my mail and I soon discovered why the mailbox was surprisingly ant-free. As I reached inside, I noticed a flicker of movement in one corner of the box. Looking closer, I saw what appeared to be the silk cocoon of a caterpillar but then realized it belonged to a small spider that had woven a compact, little web as its home. The sight of my hand startled it and it crouched in fear. Having been raised to fear spiders, I still usually give them a wide berth but the little spider in her web house was the most beautiful thing I had seen in a while. With a sigh of relief I realized that time and nature had solved the ant problem for me. As a major predator of the insect world, the spider would survive quite nicely by picking off the steady supply of "scout" ants the colony would send back each day to the mailbox to see if the coast was clear. Each day I would pick up my mail, I would acknowledge the spider with an appreciative nod and words of encouragement. Visiting the mailbox became a fun part of my daily ritual and I was always eager to check to make sure the spider was still there, which of course, she always was. I mean why would she bow out on such a cushy deal? This little spider had it made. It had the use of a weather tight condo with meals delivered daily. What a set up! For the rest of the Summer and into the Fall my little eight-legged sentry kept my mailbox free of pests.

Given time, nature was allowed to bring the situation into balance. The same is true with the wasps this Spring. I know that in a few days or weeks, most will have found places in which to carry out their main function in life, rearing a new generation. Everything in nature has its place as I am continually finding mine in this beautiful valley I have taken as my home.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Quickening

It is late winter, here at the Gentle Karma Farm. Mother Nature reminded us of that by her gift of five inches of snow in three hours a couple of days ago. A couple of days from now the temperature is supposed to be in the sixties. So the battle is well underway. Winter and Spring are now dueling for dominance in spite of the obvious outcome. The peepers, tiny frogs that call out at first chance once the temperatures reach into the sixties, have been out twice so far; and twice they've been driven back under cover by the returning cold. It is inevitable that within a couple of days, I will again be hearing their celebratory calls from the slough on the other side of the ridge from my cabin. According to the local wisdom, once the frogs "peep" for the third time, Spring is officially here regardless of what the calendar indicates. In my forays into the woods, surveying cabin sites, I have noticed the early signs of a Spring yet to be. This has been the golden time, the time when the cold has made it possible to enjoy the woods without sharing it with the bugs and spiders. During my walks I have noticed the buds on the trees yearning to burst forth with life force and into full bloom. As temperature permits, the first insects, flies and moths, have begun to stir. On south facing slopes where the fescue is protected from the north wind, tinges of green are evident.
As the snow rapidly melts in the field outside my window, I think about all the plans I want to realize on the farm this year. Building infrastructure is at the top of the list, especially where growing and preserving food is concerned. Moseley's old silo will be the site of my greenhouse and root cellar. I have already begun dragging logs up the hill with the mighty Red Ranger. These logs will hold back the black soil from my lower fields I plan to bring up here to create the terraced growing beds that will be my garden. Once the beds are in place, I will need to fence them to keep out the rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and deer. Planting castor beans around the outer perimeter will repel gophers and moles who will not enjoy eating the poisonous roots. Marigolds and lemon grass around the inner perimeter will deter many insects and other varmints. And then I can plant the garden!
Beehives are part of the plan for this year. Sites for the hives need to be prepared. The whole top field, where I want to place the the bee lot, needs to be brush hogged, tilled and planted with sweet clover, wild flowers, and pussy willow.
I want to finish the cabin, interior and exterior, and add the bathroom, walk-in closet, and atrium. Building and installing the permanent rain water collection system in lieu of drilling a well is also a must. As I sit here contemplating what I now realize is a huge undertaking, I wish maybe that the snow would melt a little slower. Perhaps the peepers could take a vacation and maybe the insects will decide to sleep in. Wow, this is going to take another cup of tea!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moseley's Silo

I began building a greenhouse today. Well, more accurately, I began clearing out the old earthen silo created decades ago when this was the old Moseley place. Unlike the tall vertical silos used by grain farmers, earthen silos are horizontal trenches dug into a sloping hill. They were used to store silage to feed cattle in the winter. This one is about twelve feet wide, fifty feet long and open on the bottom end. It dead-ends into the hill. Once the silage was packed into the trench it was covered with tarps and earth until needed in winter. Having fulfilled its usefulness for storing silage, this silo fulfilled its second destiny as a dump. Over time it filled with the flotsam of farming: old pallets, mostly used rolls of barbed wire, steel bed springs, old gutters, galvanized metal buckets and bins, as well as discarded steel automobile wheel rims, worn out tires, and rusting steel frames for everything from kitchen tables to a child's toy spring horse had all made their way into the silo. Once there, they became a platform upon which to pile brush which, over the seasons and years, had decayed and fallen into the voids and spaces between the exposed and rusting steel skeletons below. Eventually new plants emerged and the steel remnants disappeared once again beneath thickets of thorn bushes, cedars, and sassafras trees. Tall field grasses took over what little earth was left exposed by the great heap that lay atop it.

As time and economics changed and the discarded steel items rusting in the silo became more valuable, they were extracted and converted into cash at the nearest metal scrap yard. By the time I first saw the silo most of the steel had been removed except those few pieces in the far end so entangled and impaled by what are now medium-sized trees, they would require more energy and time to recover than they are actually worth. Though most of the metal had been removed, the woody thicket remains. It was the task of clearing it that I charged myself with today.

The temperature was in the low sixties as the sun shown brightly on this, the next to last day of the year. I readied my tools and with firm resolve, I entered the open end of the silo. First high weeds fell to the hard plastic cord of the weed wacker. After a quick change to what I call, "The Whirling Blades of Death" attachment, the woody bushes and small saplings relinquished their hold on the walls and floor of the silo. Finally, the chainsaw made short work of the larger saplings and a couple of dead medium sized trees. The trees were removed with the aid of a steel chain attached to my truck bumper as they will find a more productive place inside my wood stove. The rest of the woody debris will be allowed to dry and what the earth does not reabsorb by Spring can be easily raked out and burned. In all, about 35 feet of the silo's length was reclaimed. My plan for the silo's third destiny is to bulid a concrete, subterranean root cellar in the final ten feet of that distance with only its front wall and door open to the earth-bermed greenhouse I plan to build in the remaining distance. Berming will give the greenhouse a lower profile to the surrounding landscape than a more traditional design. The silo's east to west orientation will provide the most solar gain possible during the time of year it will be needed most. My hope is that my efforts in reclaiming the silo for productive purposes would make old Mr. Moseley proud.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cutting wood for the stove. With predicted overnight temperatures of 25 degrees and winds gusting to 20 mph., it looks like the last day of 2008 will again be spent contending with Winter. I now look forward to Spring with added enthusiasm. The greenhouse/root cellar project beacons with promises of delicious self-suffiency in the form of a seasonsful of vegatables from the garden, enough to last through the following Winter into Spring. Nothing seems more depressed economy-proof than a well-stocked root cellar, chocked full of nutritious food.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Matrix Disconnect

I had a dream last night. In the dream I had been dealing with some large conglomerate entity that had its corporate offices in one of the large hotels in its nationwide chain. I was to meet someone (I'm not sure who) to discuss an issue (I don't know what) over which we were in some sort of conflict involving money. Upon leaving the hotel I found a parking ticket on my car's windshield. I promptly snatched the ticket from under the wiper and marched back into the hotel and into the office of the receptionist of the person with whom I had just met and asked, "What's this?!" I was informed by the receptionist that their parking lot closed at 3:00 pm. and I must pay a fine. I threw the ticket on her desk and said, "I had an appointment to meet one of your corporate officers and now you want to fine me for using your parking lot? Here you can pay this!" And I left, end of dream. Well not exactly but fighting off aliens with Dumbo the Elephant in the fox hole next to me firing a machine gun with a cigar clenched in his teeth has nothing to do with the reason for this post.

I found the dream interesting because it mirrored what has been going on lately in my waking life. As some of you know, the last 18 months for me have been somewhat cathartic. Situations of my own making forced me into resolving issues and making decisions regarding my future that had been put off for too long. External influences compelled me to learn more about the institutions and policies that effect my life. I realized that the "rules" have been written for the purpose of imposing financial slavery on the whole of our society, and that those who wrote and administer the rules, do not follow them. I was inadvertantly liberated from those rules and the systems that have been set up to create, manage, and perpetuate massive consumer debt. My loss of the Holy Grail of our consumerist society, a good credit rating, put me beyond reach of the mechanisms by which most Americans find themselves mired down in financial quicksand from which they rarely, if ever, escape. I know a lot of this borders on cryptic but hashing over the complexities of my situation will not change what went down. What is important to know is that I found myself in a situation that required an honest reassessment of what my priorities are in life. Basically, I am talking about embarking upon life in a completely different direction. I have come from a high consumption, high standard of living to a lifestyle based on a minimal consumption, high quality of life model. For years I thought that high consumption meant a high quality of life and I couln't have been more mistaken. I have made a leap to a lifestyle from an earlier time; a time of self-reliance with self-sufficiency as the goal. Discerning my needs and releasing my conditioned desires made that leap easier than it might be for those more addicted to their possessions and conveniences. Once certain things lose relevance in your life, you lose interest in them. As those things fall away from you, so does their power. Absent the fear of losing these things then, makes you fear-less and beyond the reach of those who would use that fear to manipulate you. Wresting control of one's life away from those who seek to manipulate it engenders a sense of power, self-determination and freedom. No longer having the deck staked against one allows for relatively rapid growth and success. More income is freed up to be used to solidify one's own financial security. Reaching that point is living true liberty and freedom.

The plan for self-determination and financial freedom, is simple and centers around self-sufficiency. The basic outline is this: Buy as much land as you can afford, at least five acres, more if at all possible, preferably wooded and somewhat hilly. Being on one's own land not only brings important freedoms, but valuable options that can be had in few other ways. Do what ever is necessary to live there full time. Any vehicles, currently being financed should be immediately paid off or sold. Purchase a less expensive vehicle, preferably flex-fuel capable of burning E-85 and/or pure ethanol that can be owned outright. This will save not only the monthly payments and finance charges, but also at least 60% on auto insurance. This one change will bring big benefits almost immediately. Buy a chain saw, a wood stove, and a water purifier. Do not drill a water well. They are costly and need periodic maintainence. Collect, purify and use rainwater instead. The advantages of NOT having a well are many. One is that you will still have access to your water supply even when the power grid goes down. There is also the associated monthly power bill for the well pump you will not have to pay. Grow sweet sorghum or sugar beets as an energy crop. It is very inexpensive and easy to distill your own ethanol fuel for vehicles and cooking. Keep very little money in any checking accounts. Any cash that would normally go into a savings account should be converted into precious metals, numismatic gold or silver. Do NOT use credit. Make as many purchases as possible with cash. Pay bills with cash or money orders. Whenever possible, cash all checks at the bank on which they are drawn. Does some of this sound inconvenient at best, a pain in the ass otherwise? Yes, it is but call it the cost of freedom. Make it as hard as possible for "outside entities" to track expenditures or monitor actual income. Get rid of rediculous, exorbitantly priced crap. This includes expensive cell phone plans, buying designer clothing, fitness club memberships (owning and working land makes for plenty of exercise), and digital cable or satellite TV. Do not eat or drink anything with the sweetener aspartame as an ingredient. It was first developed as a compound to be used in creating chemical weapons. It attacks the brain, erodes your memory, and is seriously addictive. Buy canned food in bulk and keep a six month supply on hand until you can grow your own. Buy non-genetically altered, heirloom seeds and plant an organic vegetable garden. Build a root cellar for food preservation (a root cellar uses no electricity and doubles as a storm shelter). After a few months of eating organically grown foods and drinking pure rain water, the toxic chemical load will begin to lift from the body. Chemically-induced miasma will give way to clear headedness and memory improves. Refusing to be a willing victim also also caries with it added benefits such as, but not limited to, lowered blood pressure, peace of mind and a penchant for self-determination.

This plan will seem pretty drastic to some as it represents a major lifestyle change. To those who have been following it for a while, it seems the only sane thing to do given the current global economic and political landscape. But what about the American Dream and keeping up with the Jones's? The American Dream is an artificial carrot that the media, advertising, and mainstream TV dangles in front of you as an attainable goal of an artificial life, if you are willing to go into enough debt. The Jones's are on food stamps and in hock up to their eyeballs. Their home is in foreclosure. I am not advocating the illusion of wealth here. That is part of the old dysfunctional past. If you think the government will come to your aid and help you preserve your current life style, well, I'd love to see you try to float that idea past some Hurricane Katrina victims. What I am talking about and advocating is self-empowerment and the easy steps to true financial security. If you love your life and crave liberty, following this plan can lead to the kind of life America's Founding Fathers intended for us all, true freedom and financial independence. Besides, self-sufficiency is groovy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cessation of Darkness

Dawn did not really break this morning. Rather, some form of indirect lighting made it possible to observe a horizon that bordered the even, bland grayness that is passing for sky today. The outside temperature is 17 degrees. The inside thermometer tells me it's 43 in the cabin. Three "starving" cats greet me as my feet hit the cold floor, their plantive cries begging me to save them from starvation and the cold. I tell them they should feel lucky to live here. They don't know how good they have it. Millions of cats around the world are suffering this morning who would consider themselves blessed to have the food that I provide as well as this cozy shelter we all share. As I stand there in the kitchen, observing their completely full food dish they all crowd in, anticipating the fresh, wet, canned food they are all sure I am about to give them. They begin brushing up against my legs to show their approval and agreement. It annoys me when animals attempt to train me to do what they want. I am offended they think I am simple minded enough to fall for their transparent efforts. It is obvious I must remember to start kicking them more.
As on most December mornings, my first order of business is to start a fire in the tiny woodstove that heats the cabin. First I must empty the ashes from yesterday's fire. This allows an open airway for oxygen to reach the fire box. Once kindled, and with all of the air handling controls set in their proper positions, it doesn't take long for the fire to turn the little stove into a blast furnance. I am ever amazed at how much efficiency was built into this crude cast iron device made over 100 years ago. This is the second winter this stove has been my primary heat source here in the Chateau Tyvek and the more I use it, the more I've learned how to use it. Soon, the mighty little stove is warming the cabin to a point that even the cats have stopped complaining, resigned as they are to eating a breakfast of dry food. Within fifteen minutes the inside temperature is 53 degrees and rising. Then in a short time the temperature reaches 63 degrees. I sit down in front of the computer, with my toast and hot tea, to check e-mail and within the hour the cabin is a balmy 73 which is where I like it.
Cats fed, the fire stoked, e-mails read and answered. It's time for another cup of tea, or more accurately, another cup of caffiene, my current drug of choice. Now I'm ready to carpe this diem!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beaver Logic (The Slough)

Below my stone bluff there is a slough (pronounced: slew). This slough is a remnant of the old stream bed that was once part of Beaver Creek, which now runs several hundred feet away to the East. Water still collects there from rain runoff and from small springs that enter from sources beneath the ridge. The soil there is too porous to hold water for very long and, in the height of summer, the tiny springs cannot keep up with evaporation and the earth's leaching effect. The shallow lagoon dries up leaving its mud bottom swollen and cracked in the sun. Other times, water spills from its shallow basin and into the surrounding field creating, in essence, the perfect algae scum covered, mosquito infested swamp. Surely I could improve upon this unacceptable situation. I took it into my mind that if the water level of the lagoon were lowered about six inches, water would not run into the field thereby fixing the mosquito problem.
Convinced of my logic and armed with a trusty spade, I set about the task of creating a narrow trench through the earthen dam created by some unknown farmer decades before to contain the water for thirsty livestock. I was careful to make the trench just six inches lower than the existing water line before I dug away the last few inches of earth that separated the pool from my excavation. Suddenly, water came rushing into my small trench and the slough began to drain. I was reassured I had made the right decision as large sections of green algae began breaking loose in the current and were swept away leaving a clear water surface behind. Water and nutrients began running into the small drainage ditch, that led away from the slough, that eventually made its way down to Beaver Creek. I could envision this little tributary springing to new life, refreshed by this new source of water. My, I was certainly becoming an excellent steward of this land! I lay my head down that night and happily fell into a very self-satisfied sleep. The next day I rushed back down to the slough to view my handy work. As I approached, I could see the flow of water had ceased. Apparently some debris, freed by the current, had been sucked into my trench and had cut off the flow of water. This I cleared in a short time and again my project began to function beautifully. Within a couple of days, the small drainage ditch did spring to life as expected. Tadpoles were swimming furiously as minnows nipped at their tails. I even saw a small water snake chasing the minnows. Surely this was what nature had intended for this place before the dam had been created so long ago.
The next day, however, I again found that my little trench had become clogged with more branches and leaves. Water was no longer flowing into my little "creek". I cleared it but was now curious about how labor intensive this little project was going to be? It seemed that every time I cleared an obstruction, within 24 hours the trench was clogged again. Where was all this "trash" coming from? I began to have my suspicions which were confirmed the following day. Again, debris had created a dam which completely stopped the flow of water. But this time, the dam maker had left a signature. On top of the pile of trash lay a large dollop of mud that had been slapped flat by a large beaver tail. In a flash of insight, it suddenly occurred to me that the name "Beaver Creek" had been chosen for a reason. I got the message, alright, but was not to be outdone by a mere rodent with a fancy tail. I became a self-declared "Dam Destroyer". No matter how often I removed them, though, the dams would reappear by the next morning. Finally I had to admit defeat and the drainage ditch again dried up.
A few weeks later a friend of mine, a professional botanist, was visiting and I took her down to the slough to discuss the situation. I got the impression she was not impressed with my water project. After spending some time hiking the length of the slough and making several notations in her note book, she finally gave me that raised eyebrow look and announced that, "Even though the earthen dam had been created artificially by man years before, Nature had adapted to create what was now a perfectly balanced and fully functioning ecosystem complete with an extremely rich diversity of plant life unique to the present conditions." I got her message which was essentially, "It's perfect, leave it alone!" The most cerebral response I could muster was, "Oh . . . wow."
After that, I began to look at my slough a little differently. The "mosquito infested swamp" was actually the center piece of a diverse, complicated, and interdependent circle of life. From the rock outcrops above, I have since observed different species of water turtles, fish, muskrats, and even the pre-historic looking alligator snapping turtle. I have come to appreciate the many beautiful and strange looking plants that explode in multicolors every Spring and Summer and I've observed the flock of migrating swallows that nest each year in the cavities within the stone bluff. I admire how they roll and tumble through the air as they feed voraciously on the mosquitos the slough offers up for their sustenance. My observations from the bluff led me to discover the agave, one of only two cactus plants native to Missouri. I have also found which parts of the bluff are covered with the exotic looking plant with only three leaves, the purple trillium. I then discovered a grove of small trees growing tenuously within the tiny microclimate that exists between the bluff and the pond, and our State's only native tropical fruit, the paw paw.
The slough experience has slowed me down as I now consider carefully any change I might want make to what already exists on this land. I have taken pause and considered my own past when I've been so eager to rush in and "fix" things that weren't even broken. Now, my daily challenge is to figure out my own proper place within the surrounding landscape as I am just beginning to understand what the beavers knew all along. There is precious little we can do to improve upon what God and Nature have already created here in these Ozark hills.