Ghostwood Farm

The lowest part is free.
February 2, 2018, 9:29 am
Filed under: Farming

The following statement will be delivered to Hodge Patel, a member of Senator Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN) staff, on my behalf.

My name is Adam Phelps, and 2018 will be my seventh season growing vegetables, fruit, eggs, and poultry at Ghostwood Farm, in northern Lawrence County. I apologize for not being able to speak with you in person, but unfortunately, I, like more than half of the farmers in the US, work a job in addition to farming.

I began the farm with the following ideals:

That a Small Farm Renaissance could provide people with locally grown, high-quality food, thereby improving local economies, local health, and reducing the pollution that comes along with long-distance shipping.

That my children should know that food does not come from a grocery store, but is grown in soil by real people, who work hard to feed the world.

That quality food should be available to everyone, regardless of income.

And that I could help those things happen while making a living doing it.

Like most small farmers, I have learned that is not the case. Last year, we nearly broke even for the first time. I recognize that there are startup costs to any business, and a farm, even a small one, requires sizable initial investments. But please keep in mind that when I say we nearly broke even, that only includes covering our costs: It does not include any compensation, any wages, for the time we spend farming. We give our time away to grow food.

I find myself in a classic catch-22 situation: I think I could make a living at farming if I could work at it full-time. However, I can’t afford to quit my job to farm full-time without already making money at the farm. So I’m stuck in between.

Most weekdays, mid-April through mid-September, I go to work at my main job, pick up our two kids, and feed them dinner. Then I work on the farm–planting, weeding, harvesting–until dark. Luckily, I am able to work all my hours at my other job in four days, so I have Fridays off to work on the farm. I take two weeks of vacation every May to do the main planting. And I farm on Saturdays and Sundays, too, taking valuable time away from my family. My kids, 7 and 9, are already starting to talk about how I am about to become too busy to play with them because farm season is coming.

One way to break out of this cycle that we have been exploring is to seek 501c(3) nonprofit status. We have, over the past three years, shifted our focus from growing to sell to growing to donate. We have donated thousands of plant starts to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and hundreds of pounds of produce to Hoosier Hills Food Bank, and we work with those organizations to intentionally provide the kinds of plants and produce their clients most need. With nonprofit status, we would be eligible for grants, and people could write off donations to us. This could be the source of the relatively small influx of cash we need to make the infrastructure improvements  our farm needs to be more productive with less work, but that we cannot afford when we are just breaking even.

Then, the 2017 tax bill came along. With the rise in the standard deduction being likely to cause far fewer people to itemize, charitable donations will drop nationwide. We have had to re-think our calculus regarding nonprofit status, because that world, always uncertain, was just rendered even more challenging by this devastating legislation.

I do not like to complain, and I am not a greedy person. I love being able to grow what people need and give it to them. I choose to do this. But there is something wrong with a system in which commodity crops are heavily subsidized and farmers growing actual food struggle, a system in which people struggling with poverty also have to struggle with nutrition because quality food is out of their reach. This is an unjust system that doesn’t make sense on its face.

But it is within your power to affect some change. The 2017 Farm Bill can include grants, cost shares, and low-interest loans for small farmers, beginning farmers, minority farmers. Money that is desperately needed for equipment, infrastructure, and conservation practices. Incentives to grow food for people, rather than commodities for markets. Incentives to farm sustainably, without chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Incentives to prioritize local food over industrial “organic.” Local food connects neighbors and builds economies while helping people make healthy food choices. In all of the tremendous budget in this bill, surely this must be a priority.

We, the small farmers of this country, we can help save the world. Really. Please help us do it. Nutritious food should not be a luxury, and those who grow it should not have to choose between growing food and making a living.

Thank you for your time.

January 12, 2018, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

George and Frank. And George again.
July 23, 2017, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Not long after we moved to Bloomington, the Monroe County Library put on a program about Iwo Jima. Being extremely interested in military history (especially the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my grandfather served throughout the war), we attended.

The program consisted of two veterans of the battle (Frank and George), talking about their experiences. It was, as you might expect, harrowing and powerful to listen to these two gentlemen discuss their experiences.

At the end of the program, Frank said something I hope I never forget (I have to paraphrase, of course). He was crying as he told the crowd that he was afraid to face God, because the Bible clearly says “Thou shalt not kill,” and he had killed a lot of men.

I was so angry, even as I cried for him. Here was a man who was nearly 90, afraid to die because he thought God would be disappointed in him or angry with him. This is the power of religion, folks. But I digress.


When I was in college (in the early 1990s, so forever ago, now), I knew a guy (Ben) who had been in rabbinical school in Israel. We had a class together (plant taxonomy, I think). He told me once, as he described how he realized he didn’t believe in God, that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a mistranslation. Anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that the Hebrew God wasn’t exactly pro-life. Ben told me that the correct translation is “Thou shalt not murder.”

Murdering is obviously a subset of killing (all murders are killings but not all killings are murders).  But a prohibition against murder is not a prohibition against killing.

As I sat in the library that day, watching Frank talk, I just wanted to tell him what Ben had told me eleven years earlier, abut murder and killing. Because most likely what Frank did on Iwo Jima was not murder. Not that it isn’t possible, I suppose, but killing in battle to save your life and the lives of your comrades? That is not murder.

But I didn’t tell him that. Who was I to do so? Why would he have believed me? I have always regretted not talking to him, just on the off chance that I could have eased his mind.


Fast forward a few years. When Melissa was pregnant with Iain, we took a birth class at a local organization called Bloomington Area Birth Services (BABS). After the first class, I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into–buncha damn hippies! But by the end of the series, we learned a tremendous amount, made some friends, and came to see just how important the organization was to the community.

The founder and executive director of BABS came to be a great friend of ours. Georg’ann is passionate about helping families have the healthiest babies possible and giving mothers a voice in their own healthcare–rather, ensuring that they know how powerful their voices are. She is fierce in her advocacy. She is also kind and remarkably generous. Funny. Sarcastic. Tremendous fun to be around. Long story short, she has become one of my favorite people in the world, and I don’t say that lightly.


A few years after our second, Alexandra, was born, Georg’ann and I were chatting. I can’t remember how it came up (probably something historical I posted on Facebook), but she mentioned that her dad was at Iwo Jima. I was dumbfounded.

“Your dad was in the Fifth Marine Division at Iwo Jima.”

“Yep. He lives in North Carolina. He gives talks about his experiences there with his friend Frank. They gave a talk here a few years ago.”

Ever the slow one, I finally put two and two together: My good friend Georg’ann’s dad was one of the Marines I saw talk at the library.

What are the chances?

While I don’t remember the details, George was coming to visit not long afterward. We made arrangements for Georg’ann, her husband David, and George to come to the farm for dinner. I made a venison pot roast. We had a nice dinner, and then George talked about Iwo. I am sure it was his “spiel,” but it was really important to me that the kids hear what he had to say. Alexandra was too young to get anything out of it (probably for the best), and Iain (to my great disappointment) does not remember the conversation. But I remember.

I don’t want to project, but my assumption is that George and Frank gave these presentations to people not simply to contribute to the historical knowledge of what they did. It was to deal with what they did. It was, to use a cliché, to exorcise the demons of Iwo Jima that they had lived with for decades. I hope they were successful.


We had dinner at Georg’ann’s Friday night. George had recently returned home from a  trip to Guam and Iwo Jima. Georg’ann said he was in no shape to make the trip but wouldn’t be deterred. While in Guam, he fell in the bathroom and cracked his head on the tile. He had a rough flight home and was doing quite badly by the time he arrived stateside.

We received word this morning that George was taken to the ICU last night with pneumonia. He died early this morning. He was 93.

George was not my dad. If he was, I don’t know how I would have felt about him taking that trip to the Pacific in his condition. But as someone who admired him, I am grateful he was able to go. And why not? He wasn’t going to ever be in better shape to go. He lived on his own terms to the end, and good for him.

I understand that Frank died a few years ago. There are so few WWII veterans left. One of my great regrets (if one can regret something that one has no control over) is that my maternal grandfather died while Melissa was pregnant with Iain, so they never got to meet.

I don’t really have an overarching thought to wrap this up. George would object to being called a hero, but I don’t really care–he was. They all were. Going through what they went through makes them heroes. But you know what?

He raised a hero, too. As the director of BABS, Georg’ann empowered so many families to speak up for themselves and have their babies on their terms with the most knowledge she could impart to them. What she did as part of BABS was beyond measure to all of us who benefited from that organization. And she continues to be an advocate in our community for justice. She is a strong, fearless voice, and I can’t help but think that George lives on in her spirit.

I am proud to have met your dad, Georg’ann. He was a good man. And I am in your debt for helping me to expose my son to his experiences. But I am in his debt, not just for the ordeal he endured for us, but for giving us you. I love you, I hope your dad is at peace, and I hope your memories of him bring you peace and joy.


Here’s a link to an interview with George at the WWII Memorial:

Here is a brief record of the 13th Marines at Iwo Jima. George was in the 4th Battalion.


The pitch.
May 12, 2017, 10:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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
Filed under: Uncategorized

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
Filed under: Uncategorized

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
Filed under: Uncategorized

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
Filed under: Uncategorized

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
Filed under: Uncategorized

“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…