Ghostwood Farm

The pitch.
May 12, 2017, 10:36 am
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Ghostwood Farm LLC was founded in 2012. We are a small vegetable, fruit, and poultry farm, with one acre in production (and plans to expand to about 2 ½ acres, including an orchard, in the near future). Our one production acre is within a 6’ high electrified fence to exclude deer. Currently, we have two asparagus beds (500 plants) and a 24’x 96’ bed of strawberries. We also have 17 annual beds, each of which is 8’x100’. One of these is being converted to a perennial wildflower and herb bed to attract pollinators, with plans to convert an additional bed to perennials next year. We also have a poultry house in a converted horse stable. The birds are outside on pasture frequently, though not as frequently as we would like due to predator problems.

Just as important to us as our production area, we have about 20 acres of fairly rugged woods and an 8 acre prairie planting that is in a conservation easement. The prairie was designed to provide pollinator habitat in summer and songbird habitat throughout the year, including providing food over winter. Longer-term plans include incorporating an environmental education portion to our mission, focusing on how food production can be most wildlife-friendly.

Our draft articles of incorporation state that, “The specific purposes of the Corporation are to increase food security and independence in southern Indiana through 1) growing garden plants, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and poultry (hereafter “produce”) and providing these to residents of southern Indiana, and 2) cooperating and developing educational opportunities. Both will be primarily and whenever possible distributed through cooperation with other local nonprofit agencies. The Corporation will be funded through grants, donations, and sales of produce (both regular price and sliding-scale) through on-farm and farmer’s market sales.”

We are pursuing 501(c)(3) status because we want to use the farm to help our community. Over the past few years, we have been donating more and more to local food banks (Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard). This year, we will have donated over 1200 plant starts to MHC to distribute to their clients to put in their own gardens, and last year we donated nearly 900 pounds of fresh produce to HHFB (our goal this year is one ton). We are intentionally planting produce this year that HHFB has requested as most useful to them and most needed by their clients.

We plan to distribute food primarily through HHFB. They serve Monroe and surrounding counties. We will also be actively searching for partnerships within Lawrence County for food distribution, since our farm is located in Lawrence County and we feel it is an underserved community. We want to work with HHFB in part because their distribution network includes Lawrence County. Consultation with HHFB’s leadership indicates that a partnership in our county could be mutually beneficial. However, we are also open to partnerships in other parts of southern Indiana as we are able to expand our offerings. No formal agreements are in place yet. However, we are in frequent communication with both MHC and HHFB as we develop our mission statement and bylaws. Our plans are to use the distribution networks of these established organizations to reach the most people effectively. We plan to reach out to Lawrence County providers (food banks, primarily) to determine whether other collaborative opportunities exist.

We find that, so far, we have not been able to make any money through the farm. However, we believe that a relatively small influx of capital (>$30,000), raised through donations and grants, can help us build infrastructure that will allow the farm to be far more productive. These improvements would include an orchard (with deer fencing), weed eradication, adding brambles and grapes to our fruit plantings, high tunnels, raising some of the beds, amending soil, an irrigation system, and reducing predation losses through better fencing for the poultry while on pasture. This would not only improve productivity in terms of quantity and quality, it would also extend the season during which we can grow and make production more predictable, opening a potential opportunity for starting a community supported agriculture (CSA) program in the future.

Additional, medium-term future plans include integrating gardening education into our mission to help families learn to grow their own food. We hope to cooperate in this with established organizations, such as MHC, who already offer such opportunities in Monroe County. We would like to incorporate what there is to learn from their experiences and help to “recruit” new gardeners in our area.

We do not currently have any employees (and have no plans for any). Compensation for the executive director in the short term would be limited to produce, with a longer-term goal (~10 years) of developing enough income for the farm that the ED could take a salary to work for the non-profit full-time. An additional benefit of achieving 501(c)(3) status is that it would open up a pool of volunteers within the Bloomington (and hopefully Lawrence County) community who could be available for short-term assistance (one-day projects, for instance).

We have applied to the Indiana University Nonprofit Legal Clinic for pro bono assistance with the application process. We are now awaiting an appointment to speak with them, which should be forthcoming shortly. Their assistance would be invaluable with filing for our status. In addition, we are hoping for some advice on how to handle some potential complications. The most important one is that the land used for the farm is our personal home, so determining how legally to lease, rent, or loan the land (and all the equipment) to the new nonprofit will be critical.

In terms of the Board, what we really need are members with experience getting a nonprofit through those first few hurdles who are willing to respect the ED’s vision of what the farm should be. I am considering whether the initial Board members should be limited to terms of less than one year, with evaluation and reconsideration once we achieve legal status. At that time, the Board would likely be reorganized to include members with fundraising experience and a passion for alleviating food insecurity. This will not be a large budget operation, at least in the short to medium term, but someone with accounting experience (and credentials) would be extremely helpful in bringing the ED up to speed with what is required on that front.

We sincerely appreciate your interest in our project and gratefully welcome any comments, suggestions, or questions you may have. Thank you.

A letter to my kids.
April 10, 2017, 1:17 pm
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My friend Diana is leading a project in which people are submitting reflections on a given topic (The Bridge Project). Many of these reflections will be published in a book and on an associated website (not yet developed–I will post a link when it is). I wrote the following open letter to my kids about sex as my contribution in the “Family and Relationships” section.


This is a difficult (but important) letter to write. Sex is fun. It feels good. That’s why you seek it. There are things you should know, though. Some of those things I can tell you and some of them are things you have to find out for yourself. Sex is one of the most important parts of any long-term relationship and is a basic human need. I will tell you what I can.

#1. Sex requires consent. Everything you do with a partner needs the consent of both of you. Nonconsensual sexual contact isn’t sex, it is assault. Only “yes” means “yes.” Ask. Over and over. Always. If you mean “No,” say “no”. Be assertive, be respected, and be respectful. Have fun, and be safe.

#2. Sex is normal. It is not dirty (sweaty and messy, maybe). It is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone’s idea of sex is different. Have fun, and be safe.

#3. Communication is very important. “That feels good.” “That hurts.” “I want to try something.” Everyone’s idea of sex is different. Have fun, and be safe.

#4. There are things that can hurt you in sex. There are diseases you can get from unprotected sex, and of course, pregnancy can be a life-altering result. You can get these diseases from oral sex, too. Have fun, but be safe. Condoms are not negotiable and are your responsibility. You may find that the emotions involved in sex can be intense and confusing and, sometimes, hurtful. Have fun, and be safe.

#5. Sex is a collaboration. If one of you is not having fun and receiving pleasure, fix it. Communication is very important. Respect your partner and their needs, but don’t give up your own opportunity for pleasure. Have fun, and be safe.

#6. Alcohol and sex can be a difficult combination. Alcohol removes inhibitions and clouds judgment. Be careful, be assertive, have fun, and be safe.

#7. The best sex grows out of the intimacy of a long-term relationship. The better you know your partner, the more trust and respect there tends to be. But sex doesn’t have to come out of a long-term relationship. Sex doesn’t have to mean anything. But the best sex strengthens a relationship. Have fun, and be safe.

#8. Self-awareness is important. You can’t tell a partner what you like if you don’t know what you like. It can take a long time to discover these things with a partner, especially with a partner who is also new to sex. So, experiment by yourself. There is nothing wrong with masturbation. Most people do it. It’s a great way to find out what you enjoy. It should be private, but not shameful. Have fun, and be safe.

Your decisions are your own. There are a lot of people who will tell you that teens should never have sex, that they can’t be trusted with new hormones running through their bodies. Nonsense. You are going to have physical contact with other people, hopefully people you care about. You need to be aware of important aspects of sex before you start. Other aspects you will figure out. You can always ask me or your mom any questions. About anything. Just remember:

Sex requires consent. Sex is normal. Communication is very important. There are things that can hurt you in sex. Sex is a collaboration. Alcohol and sex can be a difficult combination. The best sex grows out of the intimacy of a long-term relationship. Self-awareness is important.

I love you.

Have fun, and be safe. Be safe. Keep yourself and your partner safe. And make sure you both have fun.

February 18, 2017, 9:46 pm
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We have been here at Ghostwood Farm for almost seven years now. We incorporated right away, though we took the easiest possible route. Legally, the farm itself is what is known as a single member LLC, which means that doing  our taxes is easy: We just include farm expenditures and income in our personal tax return. 

The farm has never made a profit, in any year (and CERTAINLY not over all years). In 2016, we were about $450 in the red (our best year!). However, we donated about $2000 worth of food to charities last year. That charitable aspect has become more and more important to us as we have developed over the past few years.

It appears that we have decided to become far more intentional about alleviating food insecurity (and increasing food independence) in southern Indiana by moving forward with incorporating as a 501(c)3 non-profit public service corporation. 

As we move forward into this process, I will be writing here more. I will explain why we are taking this step and explaining how our approach has evolved (and will evolve) as we focus more fully on feeding people. I will talk about the process from my perspective as a complete beginner. Hopefully, I won’t have to talk about how awful the experience is!

For now, I will just say that we will be exploring partnerships with existing charities that have been dealing with hunger for decades. We think we can fill a unique niche here by dedicating our production to supplying local nonprofits with high-quality and (what we hope will be) dependable food and garden plants for distribution, as well as an important educational component to help people understand where food comes from, how they can grow their own, and, possibly, the environmental effects of different food choices. 

I have reached out to friends who have contacts in the nonprofit world and I will gratefully continue to count on the support of those who have been through this process. I am excited and terrified, but mostly really really hopeful that changing our organizational structure  (fairly radically) will allow us to greatly expand the positive impact we can have on our community.

On the road.
August 25, 2016, 12:49 pm
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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.

I kill with my heart.
May 24, 2016, 12:28 pm
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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.


IMGP8774Yesterday, 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.

February 4, 2016, 8:15 pm
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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?

Been a while…
April 20, 2015, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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…

April 10, 2013, 9:49 pm
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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.

Work Made a Farmer
February 8, 2013, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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.”

Work Made a Farmer.

Nine deer.
October 19, 2012, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had an early morning meeting on Wednesday which necessitated my leaving the house at 5am. As I pulled down the driveway, the buck I’ve been watching, a big lovely 10-point, ran across the driveway. At first excited, I realized quickly with dread that he had a very bad limp in his left shoulder. I could not see, as his right side was to me, but I suspect that someone shot him with an arrow: Archery season opened October 1.


Deer One

The first deer I ever shot was the first season I ever hunted: November 2000, in North Dakota. In North Dakota, if private property is not posted, one can hunt on it without permission (at least, that was the case then). A friend, Eric, who had grown up hunting deer was helping me scout. We found some heavily-used trails along the Red River just east of the town in which we were living (Buxton). It was raining that day, about 40 degrees. I remember a red squirrel coming down the dead tree by which I was standing, getting within about five feet of me, and bitching up a storm.

I was hunting with my SKS. It was a Chinese made semi-automatic “assault rifle,” but the only rifle I owned. I bought some soft-tip hunting rounds and sighted it in alongside a black bean field. I had a doe license, which were much easier to get than a buck license, and I was only interested in the meat anyway.

The first deer I saw that day was a huge doe. She came busting down the hill about 20 yards from me. I remember it clearly: I thought, “Oh my God, is that the first deer I’ll ever shoot?” It was not. She winded me and shot north along the river.

Hours later, me freezing and fairly wet, a small herd of does came along. It was well within shooting hours (it is illegal to shoot later than half an hour after sunset). They did not notice me and were coming from the south. I picked what looked like the biggest one. I remember that she was darker and redder than the others. I lined up the shot, just behind the shoulder, right where her lungs would be, and squeezed the trigger. I remember for some reason watching the brass shell casing as it ejected. When I focused again on the deer, the herd was running. I went over to where I knew the deer had been standing. Nothing. I looked until dark, growing more and more frantic. No blood, no deer, and it was getting warmer.

On my way home, I convinced myself I missed. After all, she was only about 20 yards away, much much closer than I had practiced, and I had shifted my point of aim downward, perhaps too much. When I got home, Eric said he’d come out with me the following day.

I went to the south end of the woodlot, Eric to where I had been the day before. The idea was that he would drive deer to me by walking and making noise, giving me an opportunity to shoot one. After about five minutes, I heard him shout: ‘ADAM, DON’T SHOOT.” I went to see what the issue was. Of course, he had found my deer from the night before, not 30 yards from where I shot her.

I dressed her, with direction from Eric, and I dragged her out myself, shaking. We could tell that some of the meat was bad–it had been in the 40s overnight, and her body heat took too long to dissipate. We butchered her that afternoon, discarding some of the obviously bad meat, but not enough. Occasionally, we’d still get a mouthful that wasn’t quite right. I hated to waste what we did, and it was no one’s fault but my own. Interestingly, she had a 12 gauge slug lodged against her spine, just above her tail, that had healed over. She was a year and a half old.

I don’t think I’ve ever told that story. I think Eric is the only one that knew about me losing that deer.


That limping deer bothered me all day. I had to give a talk, but as I drove to and from the meeting (a total of nine hours on the road), most of what I thought about was how terrible it would be for that poor animal to have a broadhead wedged in its shoulder blade–a wound that would not be fatal, but excruciating for weeks or until someone else finally killed him.

It’s easy for such to happen, by the way. The point of aim for an archer is just behind the shoulder of the deer. The idea is to put an arrow through the deer’s lungs, which will kill the animal within seconds from massive internal blood loss. Miss by six inches forward with a rifle and the deer is shot through the heart. Miss in the same place with a bow and the arrow is incapable of penetrating the bones in the shoulder–you have a terrible, painful wound.


Deer Two

I was in Massachusetts for deer season 2001 and did not hunt. Deer Two came in early November 2002, during muzzleloader season in Virginia. I was hunting with a friend and co-worker, Brian, on his father’s farm. We had been hunting all day, and it was just about sunset. We were sitting, facing in opposite directions, with our backs to the same downed log. Earlier in that same spot I had seen a fork-tine buck and did not shoot–we were hunting on deer damage tags, and they preferred to take does. Brian said that I should have shot, so when he tapped me on the shoulder in the failing light and pointed, I got ready. It was, I thought, the same deer. He was scraping in the dirt, urinating in the scrape, and rubbing his face on a tree branch–just generally having a good time, marking his territory, getting ready for his first opportunities to breed. I took careful aim with my percussion muzzleloader and pulled the trigger. The cap went off, but the powder did not. I whispered, “No…you…didn’t.” The deer took no notice, being about 50 yards away and really into what he was doing. I was trying to figure out how to get another cap out when I saw the muzzle of Brian’s rifle moving past me. He was handing me his gun! I took it, and shot. The deer ran off and we followed a bit faster than normal, because the light was dim and it was fairly warm–it would be easy to lose the deer and it would mean losing most or all of the meat if we did. We walked right to him. It was a different deer, a spike. It remains the only deer I’ve killed with a muzzleloader, and I’ve never killed one with my own, despite hunting many seasons with it.


This year is the first year I plan to hunt with a bow. One of the big reasons I’ve avoided bowhunting so far is the higher probability of inflicting the kind of injury from which this buck likely suffers. One is also more likely to completely lose an animal when bowhunting, because deer can run quite a distance even while hemorrhaging. However, my job is such that I always have to work opening weekend of the firearms season. After that weekend, the deer completely change their patterns and are much more difficult to hunt, at least on the farm. Bowhunting will allow me to start early, hopefully allowing me to harvest an animal before the gun season opens.


Deer Three

Fall of 2002 again, back on Brian’s dad’s farm. He was hunting across the property and I was in a clearing, hanging out in the top of a blown-down tree. Just after lunch that day I had seen a herd of 30+ deer run by me. I stood there, slack-jawed and dumbstruck, as they ran by at top speed. I didn’t shoot.

I was hunting with my .30-30, a gun that remains my favorite deer gun and one that I wish I could use here in Indiana. It was not scoped–I prefer open sights because I don’t like taking long shots. If I feel confident I can hit with the open sights, it’s close enough to shoot.

About an hour before sunset, I heard Brian shoot. Thirty minutes later, three or four deer showed up, all does. Chances are they are the same herd from which Brian took his deer earlier. They were probably 90 yards away, right at my limit. I drew up on the biggest one and shot. I gave them a few minutes, then went to where they were standing. No blood.

I could see in which direction they ran, so I walked slowly, cutting diagonally across and downhill. Finally, 60 yards later, a giant gush of blood, and 20 yards further, there she lay. It was the longest shot I’ve ever taken.


When I got home, I took a long, slow look through my binoculars at the unmowed portions of the field in front of our house, hoping to see the injured buck bedded down. If I had seen him, I would have tried to sneak on him with my own bow, moving quietly from downwind (it was quite windy) and try to get a fatal shot. I looked very carefully, but he was not there. He was not bedded down in either of the unmowed areas closer to the house. If I wanted to find him, I would have to go looking the hard way.


Deer Four

I didn’t kill any deer in 2003, and not for a lack of trying. Brian and I hunted his dad’s place hard, and I hunted the Powhatan and Amelia Wildlife Management Areas as well. For my next deer, I had to go to a controlled hunt at Presquile  National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is a large island in the James River, where deer tend to concentrate. I was drawn in a lottery to hunt the refuge. The morning I hunted was the second day of the two-day hunt. The day before, 20+ hunters killed 40+ deer.

We rode in a ferry to the island, where we received orientation. It was shotgun only, and most hunters were using buckshot (which I despise). I had buckshot because I didn’t know if they required it, but I loaded my shotgun with a slug.

Not a shot was fired before lunchtime. I went to find a new spot, and wound up in a wet woodland adjacent to a marsh. Just across that marsh was the tidal James River. I had been in this spot for no more than an hour when I heard a crashing in the cattails to my right. A doe came…well, not “barreling,” precisely, for reasons that will become obvious, but moving. She came out of the marsh maybe 25 yards from me. I saw with what can only be described as horror that one of her rear legs was barely attached. She collapsed in a heap in some grass, right in front of me, maybe 15 yards away. She saw me, was looking right at me, but didn’t move.

I knew I had to kill her. She was not going to survive and was clearly suffering and exhausted. I took the slug out of my shotgun and put in a round of buckshot. With tears streaming, I shot her in the neck. I’m sure she never even heard the shot.

When I calmed down, stopped shaking and weeping, I saw it was even worse than I initially thought. In addition to her rear leg being broken and hanging by just a piece of skin, her shoulder on the opposite side was torn open and her shoulder broken by buckshot. This deer had been shot twice with buckshot, each time causing a horrible but non-fatal wound.

It was the first of only two deer shot on the island that day. When I butchered her, much of the meat in the damaged portions was rancid, meaning that the wounds were days old. It’s the only deer I’ve taken with a shotgun, and hopefully the last. It cemented my hatred of buckshot for deer hunting. Luckily, buckshot is illegal in Indiana for deer hunting.


When Melissa and the kids got home, I helped get their dinner together, then I took Melissa into the bedroom and explained what I had seen, and that I felt I had to go look for him. I took my bow and my .357. If I found him and couldn’t get a shot with the bow, I wanted to make sure I could put him down. I would just have to call it in to the conservation officers after the fact and hope they were understanding about it.


Deer Five

The last day of the season, very early January 2005. My last chance in Virginia, though I didn’t know it then. I was at the Amelia WMA, one of my favorite places. I was sitting inside a woodlot, just inside the edge from a large sunflower field. I was at the top of a hill; at the bottom of the hill was the Appomattox River. It was a lovely sunny day, and warm–probably 55 degrees at 9am.

I had been there for an hour and decided that another log, about 10 yards away, looked more comfortable. I had not been sitting at the new site for five minutes when a spike buck ran by me at full speed, not 15 feet(!) away. I almost shot from the hip he was so close. The bullet from my .30-30 hit him and he went down hard…then jumped up and took off. I waited, as one is supposed to do, then followed the trail. He had run downhill and died on the bank of the Appomattox.

When I dressed him, I realized how lucky I had been. Because he had been so close, I hit him much higher than I intended. I missed the lungs and the heart, but managed to just clip the aorta–just half an inch difference between this clean kill and either a live deer (bullet passes clean through with little damage) or a long, ugly, painful death.

The hill was not an insignificant one. It was just about all I could do to get him back to my truck. As I dragged him out, I came upon the carcass of a huge buck that someone had shot the night before and just cut the rack off. I got back to my truck, called my deer in, then called the game warden for Amelia County to ask if I could salvage a portion of the other buck. He said I could, so I cut out the backstraps (the hindquarters were probably no good by then, as warm as it was).

It still appalls me to think about that deer, lying dead, with nothing taken but the rack.


I put my boots on for the first time in weeks. I badly rolled my ankle three weeks ago and it is still swollen. I started by walking the field but saw no sign. I followed some deer trails down into the woods, walking down into the creek bottoms. My ankle was killing me (walking downhill was, unexpectedly, far more painful than walking uphill), it was coming up on dark, and it was warm. In addition, it was threatening rain.

The leaves are just starting to fall and it was windy, so it was tough to hear anything. It had not yet rained so everything underfoot was super crunchy–there was little chance of sneaking up on anything. The woods were full of squirrels, which are much louder than deer (really). I walked down into the creek, followed it to the property line, then took a breather, trying to decide whether to go up the hill toward the barn and pond, or go back the way from which I came.


Deer Six, Seven, and Eight

These deer were shot in 24 hours, within 48 hours of Thanksgiving 2008. We had moved to Indiana in September of 2005, and I was unsuccessful in 2005,06, and 07. In 2008 I hunted a friend’s pastured poultry farm and had good success.

I had scouted it well, and was sitting in exactly the right spot. A heard of perhaps eight does and fawns crossed the fence onto the property, maybe 35 yards away. I was hunting with my .44 magnum lever action now, since high-powered rifles are not legal for deer here. I aimed at the front doe, a big one, and fired. She collapsed, but then to my surprise, looked at me, alert. She made no sound, nor effort to rise. I waited a minute or so, then shot again. This was my first Indiana deer.

She was a large 2 1/2 year old doe. My first shot for some reason had struck very high, and hit her in the spine just behind the shoulder, paralyzing her back legs. She was probably not in much pain, but she couldn’t move. I got her home, hung her up in the garage and skinned her out, then went back to the exact same spot for the afternoon.

That afternoon, after not sitting there more than two hours, another doe ran by. She was moving at a good trot. I shot, and she ran off. I couldn’t find her right away, but as I neared a thicket of multiflora rose, I could smell her. Well, I could smell HIM. It was a 1 1/2 year old buck with one tiny antler hidden behind his ear! Luckily, I had two doe licenses and a buck license, so I was legal. It was the first and only deer I’ve ever found by scent!

I had to get my friend to help me get the deer in the truck–I was exhausted after the day I’d had. I got this deer home and wound up cutting the meat off the first deer that night, then skinning and hanging the buck.

The next morning, I was in the same spot. Foggy, cooler. The does came across in the same spot at the exact same time. The first one, a big grey doe, looked right at me. I aimed and shot. My bullet hit her in the throat, just below the white spot that extends for six inches or so below the head. I blinked and she was gone, a puff of steam where they had been. I couldn’t believe I had missed…and I hadn’t. She had collapsed right where she was standing, dead. Again, she probably never even heard the shot. It was 24 hours almost to the minute from when I shot the first doe. She as 3 1/2 years old, the oldest deer I’ve ever killed.

And now I had three deer to butcher and get in the freezer before we left to go north for Thanksgiving…the next day.


I decided that my ankle would not allow me to climb the hill to the pond and went back the way I came. I looked below the pond from above, but by this time it was quite dark. He wasn’t there, anyway. I expect he hit the mowed trail just off our property to the south and headed west, bedding down somewhere in our neighbor’s woods. I never found him or any trace of him.

I collected eggs, picked some collards and rutabagas, and went inside to hang out with the kids before they went to bed.


Deer Nine

Thanksgiving weekend, 2010, our first season here on the farm. My brother Matt was hunting (his first season) to my east. We’d been out all day and firearm season was nearly over. I was right on the property line, overlooking the very place I stopped to rest on Wednesday. From the west came a large doe. I was unsure what to do. Should I let her go? She might go to Matt, and that would be his first deer. Plus, she might be followed by a buck. But she seemed to be interested in cutting up the hill opposite me rather than follow the valley around to Matt. I shot. She fell in her tracks, dead instantly.

I started climbing down the hill and the closer I got, the smaller she got. The large doe I thought was 70 yards away was a button buck 40 yards away. It was the first deer I killed here at Ghostwood (so far the only one), and the first fawn I’ve ever shot. It was the last deer I shot, too. So far.


I tell these stories because I remember every one of them like it was yesterday. Every one of these animals was and is important to me. I’ve cried over some of them, and I’ve thanked every one of them. I hate like poison that some deer may still be out there with an arrow in his shoulder because I couldn’t find him Wednesday (and someone else missed their shot). I didn’t wound him, but I have empathy for him.

I intend to kill a lot more deer. I intend to kill deer with my bow, too, hopefully starting this year. And I’ll probably lose a deer at some point. Maybe I will exercise poor judgment and take an ill-advised shot that wounds an animal. It happens to nearly everyone who hunts, no matter how conscientious. I hope not. I don’t know how it would affect my future hunting. I hope it would make me more conscientious, and I hope it would not make me quit.

Killing is hard. Really. It should be hard, I think. I don’t want it to be easy. I think about the beans of mine they ate, and I think about the population that is very healthy–that’s the big picture, the population, not the individual. But I do have empathy for the individual, and I hope I don’t ever lose it.

So, this big, injured deer:

I’m a little sad that he probably won’t live long enough for me to shoot him, it’s true. I’m not a trophy hunter by any means, as is evidenced by the fact that I’ve taken three bucks in my life, and between them they had five points. I’ve been watching this deer since he was a spike yearling. He was raised on this farm, to some extent eating my produce. I’m more sad that he’s unlikely to be utilized (except by scavenging wildlife). I’m mostly sad that he is in a great deal of pain, and that it is possible (likely?) that at some point I will cause the same suffering in another animal. I cannot help this deer, but I can use the experience to focus on trying my hardest to be very careful, to take the right shot, to do the right thing.