Ghostwood Farm


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maybe you’re the kind of person who would have opened the trap and let the animal out, who couldn’t pull the trigger, who couldn’t possibly kill that raccoon because your heart couldn’t bear it.The kind of person who recognizes that this animal doesn’t deserve to die because of a decision you made to keep chickens. The kind of person who thinks back over what it takes to make that animal, to give birth to it, raise it, for it to forage and survive, only to be reduced to component parts in an instant by a chicken farmer and a small piece of lead. You know what?

I envy you.

I still wish I could have let her go. I don’t wish I did, or I would have done so, in the moment. I wish I could have.

Or maybe you’re the kind of person who could shoot a raccoon without a second thought. It’s just a raccoon, and there are a blue million raccoons out there, seven more waiting in line just out of sight to take this one’s place. That’s completely true, and that animal ate at least one of your birds and would do it again. It’s not a big deal to kill a common animal to protect animals for which you are responsible.

Part of me wishes I could think like that. It would make my life easier. But in the end, I don’t envy you if you think like that.

I pity you.

You do not kill with your heart, and you have forgotten the face of your father.

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Jasmine.
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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…



Starts for sale!
May 1, 2014, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Farming, Veggies | Tags: , , ,

We will have several varieties of plant starts for sale soon. The peppers are coming on a bit slower than the tomatoes, but the soil here in southern Indiana is still a bit chilly and I for one don’t plan to move my peppers and tomatoes outside until the week of 18 May this year, a week later than usual. The peppers may go out a bit later than that, even. You know the old adage: “There’s nothing more productive than a June garden!”

I have provided links for each variety, mostly to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, from whom I buy most of my seeds. Many of them are quite limited in availability, and all are first come, first served. I will have starts at the Smithville Farmer’s Market the first few weeks (17, 24, and probably 31 May). Starts will be $1 each for the bigger ones, 2/$1 for smaller ones (at my discretion).  If you see something here you want, contact me to see if the variety is still available.

Here’s what we have:

Bell Peppers

Hot Peppers

Paste Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Full-sized Tomatoes

Others



Lewis.
April 10, 2013, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

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.



Accidents will happen.
February 7, 2013, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Chickens, Farming, Wildlife | Tags: , , ,

When I was in North Dakota (1999-2001), my summers were spent at Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Alice is a truly amazing place. It lies just north of Devil’s Lake, a relatively famous walleye lake and a very interesting place in its own right. But Lake Alice is in a completely different class.

Lake Alice is (was?) a very large hemi-marsh. This means that it is approximately 50% open water, 50% emergent vegetation (largely cattail and bulrush).  In addition to huge numbers of breeding ducks,  Lake Alice also supports hemispherically-important breeding colonies of such colonial waterbirds as Franklin’s gulls, eared grebes, Forster’s and black terns, and black-crowned night-herons. Part of my job was to map these waterbird colonies. This involved canoeing and/or wading around the periphery of each colony with a GPS unit while being attacked, pecked, mobbed, and, shit upon.

It was GREAT.

I cannot say I loved every moment of it, but close. They were long days, some hot, some cold, all wet and smelly. North Dakota winds are something that must be experienced to be believed, even in summer. It was a beautiful place and an amazing experience that not many people, even people in my line of work, get to have.

However, there was death everywhere. Ducks were dying of botulism, which naturally occurs in the anaerobic conditions at the bottom of  marshes in the prairies. Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water. The water at the bottom is basically free of oxygen. Botulism thrives in these conditions. It gets into snails, which get eaten by ducks. One botulismed snail won’t kill a duck, but the toxin bioaccumulates in the duck’s body. Eventually, it makes them very sick. Frequently this manifests as “limberneck,” a lack of control of the head, which results in the bird drowning before it dies of the poison. Then, the flies come. The maggots, like the snails, are unaffected by botulism, but they accumulate the toxin. Other ducks eat the maggots, die, breed more maggots. It’s a vicious cycle that is amazingly destructive in hot years with low water, and kills at least some ducks every year.

The ducks,  in the final throes, would sit on the dikes. Most of the time, their nares (“nostrils”) would be full of leeches. On more than one occasion, I pulled leeches out of the nares of ducks and they would perk up, suddenly able to breathe. On other occasions, I wrung the necks of ducks that were suffering and clearly not going to recover. It was pretty horrible.

I understand that the French called Lake Alice “Lac au Mort.”

So, on one occasion, I was in a colony of Franklin’s gulls and Forster’s terns. It was late in the summer, probably the end of July. These two species tend to nest together in large colonies. The young birds were learning to fly, careening around the place. There was one juvenile bird that was swimming alongside the canoe. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t fly, until I realized he only had one wing. In place of the other, there was a healed wound with a chunk of bone sticking out of it. It had been eaten, probably, by a turtle or a northern pike. I let it go–it would freeze to death in a few months, but it was otherwise healthy and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it.

I do not believe I will ever forget one particular image: Hanging in the “fork” of a cattail, where the new growth was emerging, was a juvenile gull. It was dead and had been for a while. It had simply tried to land and hit the cattail with the bend in its wing, gotten stuck, and hung there until it died. Accidents will happen.

I have told this story countless times in my professional life to illustrate two things: that accidents are a serious cause of mortality among wildlife, and that nature is not all beauty. Nature is beautiful, awe-inspiringly so…but she’s a cold bitch too, and she’ll kill you as soon as look at you, usually in a horrible way. “Red in tooth and claw,” indeed.

I was reminded of this bird on Friday. I pulled into the driveway after having been in Memphis all week (more on that soon). I looked back to the chickens and saw what looked like a bird in trouble. I jumped out and ran back there, and what I saw was horrifying: Buzz Butch, the Sebright bantam rooster, was dead. He was hanging by baling twine over the wall of the greenhouse. Apparently, his feet had gotten tangled in the twine, which got caught on the greenhouse bench, and he went over the edge. He appears to have flapped and flapped until the stress or exhaustion killed him. It must have been terrible. Accidents will happen.

His loss was an important educational moment for me. There is no more baling twine loose in the barn or the greenhouse or near the coops. It won’t happen again. It’s too bad that Buzz Butch had to pay the price for me to learn it. Rest in peace, Buzz Butch. I’m sorry.

Buzz Butch.

Buzz Butch.