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I am in Louisville, Kentucky this week. Last night the group with whom I work played our semi-annual wiffleball game in a park down by the Ohio River; the same park, incidentally, where people are about to fling their homemade contraptions off a ramp and into that river in an event sponsored by Red Bull. I didn’t drink at all last night, having tied one on pretty well the night before. After the game, I went to my room, got changed, and took a walk, looking for dinner.
I had dinner at the Addis Grill, an Ethiopian restaurant. I had the Vegetarian Ethiopian platter, which included lentils, split peas, green beans, cabbage, and collards, along with, of course, the traditional spongy teff bread. It was delicious but spicier than I anticipated, so afterward, I walked to 4th Street to find some ice cream to put the fire out.
Somehow I found an ice cream place that was open at 9:30pm and I got one scoop of chocolate and one of mocha chip in a waffle cone. It came out of the freezer case a little melty, so I was a complete mess by the time I even got out into the heat and humidity of the Louisville evening.
Just down the street from the ice cream shop, sitting on a little bench with a guitar, was a dreadlocked man with a gorgeous blonde husky. His case was open with a few dollars in it, and the cardboard sign said, “Passing through. Grateful.” I threw a buck in and asked him where he was headed. He had gotten off the bus from Denver that morning, found it too hot and humid for his tastes, so he was taking the midnight Megabus to Chicago. He is originally from just north of Seattle and has been on the road for three years. I scratched his dog (who was immaculate and sweet), wished him luck, and walked off to eat my ice cream.
As I walked, I was thinking that I should have talked with him more. I was thinking that I wish I had brought my acoustic this week instead of my Telecaster. I didn’t want to bother him, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go back and talk with him some more. So I sat down, finished my ice cream, and walked back.
“Mind if I sit?” I asked. “I promise I’m not a preacher or a cop or anything.” He was very friendly. I sat for a second before he asked if I had a cigarette that wasn’t broken. He had one, forlornly snapped off at the filter. I told him I don’t smoke, and that I thought smokes had to be hard on his budget. He laughed and heartily agreed. I told him I wished I had my acoustic so we could play, and he said, “Do you want to jam on this one? It might be out of tune a little.”
So I took his guitar and gave it a strum. I tuned it up a little but it wasn’t bad. His high E buzzed quite a bit but it was an easy-playing guitar. It had little messages scratched into the varnish, all about a girl. I presume they were all about the same girl. They seemed to indicate loss.
I started picking out “Perfect Disguise,” since he was from Seattle. We talked about music. He’s a Deadhead but loves Tom Waits.
A security guard approached us and said he got a complaint from a local business. Conner handled it really well, offering to close up his case so we weren’t getting any money, just sitting. I pointedly asked, “You’re on the midnight bus to Chicago, right?” The guard was fine with us staying with the money off display, maybe or maybe not because he knew we would be moving on no later than 11:30 or so.
As we talked, a skinny guy with the California flag on his shirt walked up. He yelled, “YEAH! Play some good music and get these people livened UP!” He was a big-talker, a conversation-monopolizer. He claimed to be trained as a journalist, but he worked for an oil company. I thought he acted like a cop. He lives in Los Angeles and was in Louisville on business. They talked; I played and listened.They talked about Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. California said that HST was his reason for becoming a journalist, but it was clear that he didn’t really get Thompson. He was one of those people that takes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as nonfiction. I played “Yesterday is Here” and mentioned that HST was actually from Louisville, which California seemed to know.
As they talked, I saw my colleague from Kentucky across the street. He noticed me and came over. “What did you do, steal this guy’s guitar?”
“JB, I want you to meet my new friend…what’s your name?”
“Conner, this is JB.” JB and his wife were both incredibly kind and gracious when thrown into what was probably an awkward situation for them, and I am grateful for that. We all chatted about food (JB’s wife can’t eat cheese or ice cream, poor thing), then they excused themselves to go get some dinner.
Conner told a story that had happened earlier in the evening. A drunk woman who identified herself as an FBI agent told him he should come to her room if he needed a place to stay. He said he didn’t think he could sleep with an FBI agent; as a Deadhead, he said, he was afraid he’d get kicked out of the family! I said, if you were a little older, it might mean something to you because you could tell people you slept with Agent Scully. He laughed (I think he might have actually gotten the X-Files reference), and I asked, “How old are you?”
He’s 20. He’s 20 years old and has been on the road for three years. I am literally old enough to be his father. I wondered what had happened, what made him come to the decision to cut loose at 17. I didn’t ask and I should have.
He said he’d been in 27 states, but that he “…only counted the ones I’ve been drunk in.” He got a DUI at 16, one month after he got his license, when he hit a mailbox. He mentioned that he got an ID in Wyoming several months ago and that they had misspelled his name, which had caused him a few problems but prevented his old warrants from coming up.
While they were talking and I was playing, a little boy walked nervously up to me. He was wearing a shirt that said “LITTLE CITIZEN.” He handed me a dollar, which I immediately handed to Conner. I gave the kid a warm, genuine, smile, said, “Thank you, brother. That was very kind!” He smiled back and walked off with his parents.
When California finally left (I think he said his name was Paul), Conner said, “Let’s hear some of that Tom Waits now!” I paused, looked at my watch. It was 10:45. I said,
“I’m going to play one song for you, then I’m going to go. This is a good song for you. It’s by a New York band called Drink Me and it’s called ‘Train to Chicago.'”
Gas stations / Neon signs / Orange and white blinks an eye and then whispers good night / Drunk on the train to Chicago / I feel all right / Half pint of Dewar’s White Label still half full / The train lurches left, lurches right / Drunk on the Train to Chicago / I feel all right
I left a New York of gas bills and cigarette burns / Of wasted days / Of whisky and As the World Turns
Train driver, hit the gas / Shovel coal, move your ass / We’ve got a schedule to keep / Drunk on the train to Chicago / I fall asleep
And in my dreams, we’re careening drunk / Down the streets of my hometown / The man in the moon is on Benzedrine / Everybody’s spinning ’round
Bells ring and lights flicker / Old girlfriends, good liquor / Hold my hand all through the night / Drunk on the train to Chicago / I feel all right.
I shook his hand with both of mine. “Have a great time. Chicago is a great town, but it can be violent. Be careful and take care of yourself.”
With that, I handed him the $18 in my wallet and went back to my hotel.
I traveled a bit in Britain after I finished my undergraduate degree. I was 23 at the time and never considered not going home. I was on a shoestring occasionally, but never like Conner is. I can’t imagine what that is like. I can’t imagine what would cause a person to take off at 17 and just go. What does your life have to be like as a 17-year-old kid to make that choice?
To my Chicago friends, watch out for Conner. You can’t miss him: baby-faced under a 20-year-old’s scraggly beard, guitar, and an immaculate blonde husky. Give him a hand, if you can, and tell him I said hi. More importantly, let me know he’s okay.
To everyone else, keep being kind. People make decisions that you might not be able to understand, but their information and interpretation of that information might be different from yours. Every time you help a stranger like this, I consider it a personal favor. Thank you.
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“I do not aim with my hand; He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand; He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun; He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.”
(Stephen King, The Gunslinger’s Creed from The Dark Tower series)
I am late to the party when it comes to The Dark Tower. I have been reading King since the mid-1980s (my first book was ‘Salem’s Lot at the age of 12). I tried The Gunslinger not long after it was released, but the style was so different from King’s other material that it put me off. I came back to it about six months ago. I am now on Book Five.
The Creed speaks to me on a couple of different levels, and I have been formulating how to express that over the past several weeks. However, something has happened in the past few days that has brought it into sharper relief.
The most interesting aspect of The Creed is the inherent dichotomy: The first two tenets are mechanical. When learning to shoot, particularly a handgun, hand/eye coordination is incredibly important.
Tenet One: The hand must point where the eye tells it to. The hand must follow orders from the eye. Mastery of the firearm is not gained until the eye can pass orders to the hand without intervention from conscious movement. Learning to do that is (incredibly) difficult. I am not sure that I have, and I am certain that most casual shooters have not.
It’s worth noting that this is vastly easier with a revolver than with a pistol due to the shape of the grip. The pistol, with its nearly vertical grip, does not allow the gun to point as naturally as the curved grip of the revolver. A revolver lends itself to being pointed like a finger, aimed with the eye.
Until very recently, I had 29 hens. I hadn’t lost any to predators in quite a while, primarily because the birds stay locked up most of the day since The Great Dog Attack of 2015, when I lost 40+ birds in one day to a neighbor’s dog. I let them out for a few hours when I get home from work, and they are usually out all day when I am home on weekends. Last week, though, a quick head count revealed 27 hens.
Tenet Two: The hand has done what the eye has told it to, where exactly to point. The next step is for the mind to tell the hand to fire. There are good reasons for this to be a not-quite-conscious action. Many people will anticipate the recoil and jerk the gun upward at the instant the trigger is pulled, thereby shooting high. Others will anticipate the recoil in another way and push the hand down in a sort of bracing motion against the recoil, thereby shooting low. Personally, I tend to push my hand slightly to the right when I pull the trigger, a very common reaction among left-handed shooters. The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to squeeze the trigger without pulling. When I am teaching people to shoot, I like to tell them that “you should be a little surprised when it goes off.” Another way to put that is that your mind shoots, not your hand. King nailed it.
Yesterday, as I planted tomato plants, the chickens freaked out in that very specific way that tells me something bad is happening. Sometimes it’s just a snake in the coop, but often that sound means someone back there is dying. I grabbed my shotgun (which I only had handy because I have some house sparrows in one of my bluebird houses that I’m trying to eradicate) and ran back there. The turkeys were on alert and the chickens were absolutely screaming. A brief walk revealed the scene pictured above: the recent demise of a Rhode Island Red hen, with nothing left behind but a trail of feathers.
So, I locked up the birds, set the live trap (baited with dog treats), and went back to planting.
Tenet Three is the most interesting, both in terms of The Creed separate from the story as well as in the context of the books. It is the tenet that is not mechanical but emotional. It warns the gunslinger-to-be, and reminds the mature gunslinger, that to be a gunslinger who is a force for good, killing must not be easy. It must be easy to perform the action mechanically, certainly: A gunslinger must be practiced in the craft of death, to inflict it where needed quickly, to protect the lives of self and others. But it must not be easy on the spirit. A gunslinger must kill with his heart, and every kill must kill him a little, too.
This tenet speaks to me for obvious reasons, if you have read some of my stories here. Killing is hard for me and it should be. I hunt, I slaughter animals for food, but every kill leaves its mark on me. I would have it no other way.
This morning, of course, in the trap, was a raccoon. A juvenile female. I have no way of knowing whether she killed my birds, but I know she would. As always, I was crushed to find something in the trap, knowing I had to kill it. We looked at each other for a long moment. I turned my back for a longer moment.
It was my decision to raise chickens that brought us to this point. The raccoon did what raccoons do. It was not her fault, per se. “I do not hate you, and I am sorry,” I said, out loud. But to do what I do, to raise birds for eggs and for my family to eat, to save other birds from the horrific lives of the commercial chicken house…well, shooting this raccoon was, in this moment, the culmination of those decisions. The greater good, in my mind.
I aimed and shot. The gun went off (I am always surprised by how loud a .22 pistol is). The raccoon looked at me, surprised but unharmed.
(i aimed and shot with my hand i have forgotten the face of my father)
With tears in my eyes, I did it right the second time.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who would have opened the trap and let the animal out, who couldn’t pull the trigger, who couldn’t possibly kill that raccoon because your heart couldn’t bear it.The kind of person who recognizes that this animal doesn’t deserve to die because of a decision you made to keep chickens. The kind of person who thinks back over what it takes to make that animal, to give birth to it, raise it, for it to forage and survive, only to be reduced to component parts in an instant by a chicken farmer and a small piece of lead. You know what?
I envy you.
I still wish I could have let her go. I don’t wish I did, or I would have done so, in the moment. I wish I could have.
Or maybe you’re the kind of person who could shoot a raccoon without a second thought. It’s just a raccoon, and there are a blue million raccoons out there, seven more waiting in line just out of sight to take this one’s place. That’s completely true, and that animal ate at least one of your birds and would do it again. It’s not a big deal to kill a common animal to protect animals for which you are responsible.
Part of me wishes I could think like that. It would make my life easier. But in the end, I don’t envy you if you think like that.
I pity you.
You do not kill with your heart, and you have forgotten the face of your father.
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“You’re a little far from the water to catch a duck.” I turned, saw her, and smiled.
“How are you? You okay?” I could see she had tears in her eyes.
“Well, you know how I told you I have four daughters? The oldest is 18, and my baby will be one on St. Patrick’s Day. I just signed some papers. I won’t ever have them again.” She paused. “It’s hard. It’s hard to get established in this town.”
I was walking back to the hotel Monday night when a voice asked, “Are you with the Naval Academy?” I turned and saw, sitting on the steps of a church, a woman of African descent.
“No Ma’am,” I replied, “I’m not. Why do you ask?”
I imagine that anyone with my coat on, a military-style field jacket with flags on both shoulders, would be thought of as having a Naval Academy attachment on a regular basis in Annapolis. It happened a few times this week.
She asked me if I had anything I could spare. I handed her $5. She smiled and stood. We walked and talked.
Her name, I would find out at the end of our conversation, is Jasmine. She is 39 (nearly five years younger than I am) and has been homeless for a year, since she left her childrens’ abusive father. “I got tired of the beatings,” she said.
She asked where I was from, why I was in town. We talked of northwest Indiana. She knew Gary as Michael Jackson’s hometown and said she’d like to see it. I tried to impress upon her that it is not worth the trip.
Our discussion was personal and our discussion was big-picture. We discussed race relations, white flight, and drug dealers. She told me about the white people who had spit on her about half an hour before we met. I told her how unreasonably angry I became in New Orleans last summer, watching old white guys with fashion-accessory canes, strutting down the street in seersucker suit like they owned the fucking place (which, of course, they do). We differentiated between White People and a white person. She is bright and well-spoken. And angry.
I told her I was in town for a meeting about ducks. She laughed. We talked about hunting and management (a little), but mostly we talked about her experiences. She said that a lot of the time, black passersby treat her worse than whites. She told me that she thought that black people don’t want equality, that’s why they don’t have it. I disagreed strongly and we talked about the history of systemic racism, of the inability of the white establishment to consider black people equals, and a great deal about the inequality of opportunity. I don’t know if I changed her mind.
She has four daughters: 18, 16, 8, and almost 1. The two youngest were in foster care. The others, it wasn’t clear to me.
I was cold, shivering, and half-drunk. I asked her, point blank: “I am a 43 year old white guy. I can get whatever I want. The world is made for me. How can I, and people like me, help? What can we do? What is your perspective?”
I don’t know what I expected her to say. She thought, a long time, and said, “There’s so much that has to change, I don’t think there’s anything you CAN do.”
Our conversation struck me hard and touched me to my core. I don’t know if I would have asked her such frank questions had I been sober, and I know I could have been more clear in that case. I think we each had something to offer the other.
As we parted, she told me that there was a nearby pizza place that would sell her two pizzas for $9, and did I have a few more dollars to help her get to nine? I handed her the two singles in my wallet, wrapped around a twenty.
The next night I went to dinner with a good friend, Pam. As we walked toward the water, we passed Jasmine coming up. I high-fived her as we walked by. Pam said, “Who was that?” “That was Jasmine.”
At dinner, we talked about Pam’s experiences as an adoptee (among myriad other things). It was an eye-opening and to some extent heartbreaking conversation, one that I am glad we had.
When I saw Jasmine tonight, with tears in her eyes, she had just signed the papers to put her kids up for adoption. It broke my heart. What could I say?
“I’m so sorry.” That’s what I said. Wholly inadequate.
“You’re here in this town to fight for ducks? There’s so much more. So much more that is needed, Adam. Pray for me?”
With that, she gave me a strong hug. She promised she will take care of herself.
I went on to dinner. I ate at a place called The Boatyard, where I spent $40 on dinner, including $12 on a half dozen oysters. They’re not even food. They’re a luxury. An indulgence. I am filled with self-loathing at the moment that I cannot begin to quantify.
Jasmine said I’m here to fight for ducks. That’s not right, but I didn’t correct her. I’m here to learn about ducks. But fighting for ducks? That’s not what I do. I made my peace a few years ago with the fact that my job is a job. I love my job, but it’s not a passion. And it’s not really about conservation.
So what? I sat down by the waterfront for a while, before dinner, watching some skater kids ignore the “No Skateboarding” sign. “You can’t help everyone,” I thought. But then, this: “God damn it, am I helping ANYONE?”
Am I? What am I doing to make this world a better place? I grow food. I am raising two kids. Is that enough? What do I have, what skillset, what resources, that I can parley into helping someone?
My skill at growing food is marginal. It costs me more than I can get out of it. Can I help the world by teaching people to grow food? No. I can’t even teach myself, apparently.
I am trying to raise my kids to be good people. I think I am succeeding. That’s great. But if every middle class white guy raises two decent kids, the world will be a better place in approximately never.
I don’t know the answer. I’m crushed because I don’t know the answer. But I can’t quit trying to think of it. I can’t.
What can I do?
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It’s been a while since I wrote anything. I have several ideas for articles, but alas, the real world keeps getting in the way. I have one percolating, though, that I’m hoping to write up tonight. Stay tuned…
Filed under: Farming, Veggies | Tags: Bedford, Bloomington, Indiana, Plant starts for sale
We will have several varieties of plant starts for sale soon. The peppers are coming on a bit slower than the tomatoes, but the soil here in southern Indiana is still a bit chilly and I for one don’t plan to move my peppers and tomatoes outside until the week of 18 May this year, a week later than usual. The peppers may go out a bit later than that, even. You know the old adage: “There’s nothing more productive than a June garden!”
I have provided links for each variety, mostly to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, from whom I buy most of my seeds. Many of them are quite limited in availability, and all are first come, first served. I will have starts at the Smithville Farmer’s Market the first few weeks (17, 24, and probably 31 May). Starts will be $1 each for the bigger ones, 2/$1 for smaller ones (at my discretion). If you see something here you want, contact me to see if the variety is still available.
Here’s what we have:
- Black Hungarian
- Purple Jalapeno
- Poblano (limited quantities; link to Wikipedia–apparently Baker Creek is out!)
- Golden Jubilee (medium, orange-yellow)
- Hughs (large yellow)
- Mortgage Lifter (large, pink…and AWESOME)
- Illinois Beauty (limited quanties, medium-sized, red)
- Sioux (medium, red)
- White Tomesol (medium-large, white)
- Black Prince (salad-sized, purple)
- Japanese Black Trifele (large, purple)
I’ve been meaning to tell this story for some time. If you and I are connected on Facebook, then you may have seen a lot of this already–when I’m out of town and drunk, I post a LOT. The original post was made 29 January 2013, you can find it on my Facebook page if you were of a mind to do so.
I travel for my day job, not as much as some but more than most, I think. I’m gone 3-6 weeks per year. The last week of January I was in Memphis for the Ecology and Conservation of North American Waterfowl Conference. The conference was at the Peabody Hotel, just a few blocks from Beale Street. It was a cool location (though vastly overpriced and more expensive than I could afford if traveling for pleasure).
I spent a lot of time wandering Beale by myself, talking to the homeless and other locals. What I want to talk about here, though, is about two people I met at the hotel during a social.
At most of the socials, there was a cash bar, and the prices were like being at a ball park ($7 Budweiser? HA!). The second night, though, there was free beer. Needless to say, myself and some colleagues who are also underpaid state biologists were first in line, and in fact were early. The keg was not tapped, and was not even at the bar, but was on a luggage cart across the room. A couple of us offered to carry the keg to the bar, and did so, over what could only be considered mild protestations on the part of the bartender. We then offered to tap it, but the bartender did that.
I talked to the bartender for a bit. Her name was Sarah. She was well-spoken and intelligent. Somewhere along the line, she mentioned that she was related to William Faulkner. Her great great great(?) uncle was Faulkner’s brother. She prefers Hemingway. So it goes. She made me promise to read The Sun Also Rises.
Things got crowded. I am not fundamentally a social person, so I wandered around a bit. Before too long, I wandered up to the gentleman who had been standing by the door since we took the keg matter into our own hands.
His name is Lewis. Lewis’ job was to clean up after us. I opened with some small talk, but it wasn’t necessary–he was ready to talk. Lewis is about 5’5″ and slight of build. He’s 54 years old, African-American, with a light complexion. He has been working at the Peabody for about a decade. Before that, he was a chef, cooking in the school system and for private families.
He has six siblings with whom he shares a mother, although each has a different father. His mom married Lewis’ dad, who is now 82. His dad owns a 300 acre farm that has been in his family for generations, since one of his ancestors, who was share-cropping the ground, inherited it from the previous owner. Lewis and one half-brother will inherit it when his father dies.
Lewis is from Memphis, but his dad’s family is from Benton Harbor, Michigan. He still has at least one uncle up there who comes to visit Lewis’ dad and brings him down to see Lewis. His dad likes beer. When Lewis goes to visit him, he takes his dad two beers and himself two Diet Cokes. It sounded as if Lewis’ dad used to be a heavy drinker, as Lewis was himself. Lewis has now been clean and sober for 20 years.
Lewis owns his own home (two bedroom, one bath). His girlfriend also owns her home. Lewis spends $25 per week on groceries, splurging on ice cream and Diet Coke.
We talked about Ghostwood and the kids, and how nice it is to be able to raise them in such a place. Lewis told me that his dad says he wished he’d have raised Lewis on the family farmstead. Lewis wishes he had, too.
Lewis is a minister. He spoke a few times about how God finds ways to make people do good things. He did not talk of it much. Before I left the room, I told Lewis that I am not a believer, but I hope…Lewis broke in and said, “…to find Him?” I told him that I had found God once and I am now glad to be free of Him. What I hope, I told him, is that I made a good impression as an unbeliever. Essentially, I want him to believe that nonbelievers can be good people. Lewis said that whether one believes doesn’t matter, as long as one is a good person. That was good to hear–so many who believe think that one MUST believe to be a decent person.
I only tell this story, not to out myself as an atheist (not a surprise to anyone that knows me) and not to air all of Lewis’ laundry. I wanted to tell this story to show how amazing, how INTERESTING, people are, people that we walk by every day. I go out of my way, now, to talk to people that I normally would not have. One never knows what new perspectives one will gain, new insights, and even new friends.
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An amazing post from Of The Hands regarding the patently offensive Dodge trucks Superbowl ad. Take a look? I for one find it inspiring and I’m thinking about having a part of it printed on huge paper to hang in the garage:
“You got a farmer in you, like the ad says? Honor it. Don’t buy a fucking truck—that doesn’t make you a farmer. Work the land. Grow food. Engage the household economy. Learn to live with less, build your community, turn you back on global and corporate systems that destroy the land, destroy local communities, and make us all dependent on a rickety system with an ever-approaching expiration date. Come home and begin the long and hard work of staying in place, of strengthening the land on which you live, rather than tearing it apart for temporary luxuries.”