Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sheep calls

I finally got my pictures developed and picked up from my recent trip to Wales. A few of them are over on the Sustainability Blog

This one, of a sheep appearing to exit a traditional UK red phone booth, was one I just had to post, but not appropriate for the blog where I put professional material for students.

In home news, Snorri has settled down nicely to a Ménage à quatre with his three "wives."

I envy him not. One is plenty.

Today we got in the winter oats for the sheep: 1,000 lbs of feed in one go. Once the grass stops growing, we switch them to oats, with some coarse 16% protein sweet feed for the selenium. The oats come from Maine, relatively close by (Aroostook County), and so reduce the footprint of our sheep operation which would otherwise require lots of feed trucked in from the midwest.

They still have quite a few apples left to eat in two of the paddocks so with apples and oats and hay and what is left of the grass they are pretty fat and happy. All they need is brown sugar and cinnamon and I might join them.

The next job this weekend is a little more firewood, which we will get from a fellow in Dixmont, the next town to the north and locus of one of the state's controversial wind power project proposals. This neighbor wishes to add turbines to his mountaintop to supplement his retirement income, and it's a good site for it, but it remains to be seen if the voters will allow it. But he's also a good source of cut, split hardwood, which he takes from his own land with what I have to say is a pretty exemplary forestry operation.

We have to buy in wood this year because the spring was too wet to cut much from our own land. Our ground was waterlogged, too wet for the tractors, until July, by which time I had my hands full with insulation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snorri snogging

I forgot to mention that Snorri the Rental Ram arrived on Sunday. This is an old picture, from last year. Snorri is the big one with the white spot on his nose.

He has a very wrinkly nose too, which is kind of cute.

He got right down to business, licking around Nellie, a recently mature ewe. Nellie, for her part, was not impressed, and ran away.

Named for the first European child born in North America (around 1,000 AD to a woman who traveled with Lief Erikson), Snorri was the first-born lamb of the Beach family farm, over by Farmington, Maine. (His owners had visited Lief's former camp in Newfoundland.)

We like him because he's so mellow. His lambs are also very mellow, and add calm to our flock, which can be collectively scatterbrained at times. He's also quite large as Romney-cross studs go, adding around 10 lbs to the weight of a finished fat lamb after five months.

Which is good, because we pay his stud fee in meat. Depending on our luck with lambing and lambs, we will get from two to three, to five to six times the weight back at the end of the process, as we pay up front.

So the fat lamb we sold this year from Snorri weighed 45 dressed, while the three from Abraram weighed around 35.

While Abraram is also mean, and once almost broke Aimee's arm when she made the mistake of reaching through a gate to get a feed dish. He did manage to break the gate, which was made of seasoned hardwood, so she was lucky to get away with a bruise.

I suggested to her that we she make ram-burger of Abraram, and keep Snorri full-time.

(We are not supposed to do this, as we are bound by a promise we made to the former owners of our flock not to slaughter the original members, of which Abe is one. But that was before Abe was so mean. If he's going to hurt us and be mean, we shouldn't have to keep him, says I.)

She just gave me that look. But Abe is a useless mouth right now, and mean. Maybe I should post a Google-blogger poll and see what the blog visitors say?

Thumbs up or down for Abe? Vote to your left.

Ain't democracy wonderful?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wet weekend looms

Between one and two inches of rain is forecast for today.

Great. I need the rest. I've been crunching on my barn project, attending contentious extra wind turbine meetings that make me restive, and in general getting less sleep and rest than I need.

There's the small matter of new tires for Aimee's truck, and the bill-paying, to be taken care of.

I was going to separate the ewes into breeding and non-breeding herds. Snorri the rental ram arrives Sunday, and his girls must be ready.

Breeding ewes this year:

Mollie (4 year-old)
Maggie (3 year-old)
Nellie (2 year-old)

Non-breeding ewes:

Tootsie (who knows how-old)
Tillie (who knows how-old)
Jewel (not so old, but had a hard time last season)
Lark (too stupid)
Polly (baby)
Poppy (baby)
Penelope (baby)

Abraram, of course, will also not be breeding; All of the above except for the three older ewes are his daughters or granddaughters or great-granddaughters. That wouldn't stop him, the old goat, but it will stop us from letting him.

Poor Larkie, the too-stupid-to-breed ewe, was badly cared for as a baby (not by us) and had white muscle disease (a wholly avoidable mineral deficiency disease).

It would be nice if some humans realized that they, too, were too stupid to breed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

First snow falls

It happened after it got dark, so there are no pictures. Right about the time we watch Robin Hood on the Beeb (we get BBC America via satellite), the white stuff started to fall out of the sky for the first time in about six months.

The flakes were huge, some of the biggest I've ever seem, each one about two inches across and slowly parachuting down. On inspection each big flake was made of hundreds if not thousands of regular sized small flakes.

This snowfall capped a productive day and a productive weekend in which we delivered boxes of pork to the folks who bought pigs earlier this year, thoroughly cleaned out both the barn and the pig-sty, manured the north half of the garden with the spoils from that project, and rebuilt the outside part of the pig-sty as a sheep pen for lambing season. At the end of all this, I was starting to feel like I was getting in control for winter.

At least, that list of jobs was what I did this weekend.

Aimee, school ma'am par excellence, graded (marked) papers and prepped for class. I had about three hours of grading to do, but Aimee graded or prepped all weekend, poor girl.

Knowing there was heavy snow falling gave me a nice thought, however, as I went to bed around 8.45. We could get a snow day tomorrow! As soon as I had this wonderful thought, envisioning a nice long afternoon nap on a Monday, I realized that my chances of snow actually sticking and deepening in October were pretty slim.

And I was right. Awake at 2.20 am, nocturnal Haggis and I went out to inspect snow quality and depth and we can report that it is now turning to slush and drizzle.

Which I suppose is all right since I never quite got around to banking the back part of the kitchen where the crawl space is open to the weather. Or getting in my last two cords of firewood. Or taking down all the temporary wire and hot wire sheep fences. Or putting away all my farm equipment from the summer, ready-use parking area around the driveway to the winter area out back where it can't be whacked by the snow plow.

And on, and on. We're nowhere near ready for winter. I guess that I congratulated myself too early on getting the barn job done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Snow is on the way

Haggis the Australian Skunkherd and I couldn't sleep, so we got up and went out in the yard so Haggis could piddle.

Once sprayed, twice shy, I watched carefully for skunks while the dog did his business. It's been cold at night, around freezing, which is pleasant when the house is warm, especially when the stars are out.

By the time we had done that and put a log on the fire and made some coffee, it was three in the morning and nothing much to do, so I read my favorite British daily, the Guardian, and all my favorite blogs, and then for no good reason decided to look through my pictures for the year.

I found these shots that were particularly good but either not published on the blog yet, or interesting enough (to me at least) to put up again. Most are wintry shots, which reminds me of all the yard work and other crucial jobs I have yet to do before we're ready for that season.

I'd better get cracking because we can already see snow on the Maine mountains to our west.

Click on each photo to make it bigger, if you want.

From the top:

1) Icicles forming on the porch roof last winter. Ice is a major threat to Maine buildings and has to be fought vigorously. These formed because I somewhat carelessly installed a baseboard heater in the porch to keep the dogs warm and their water supply unfrozen on the coldest days when we're at work all day, but there's only R 11 fiberglass in the crawl space above the porch. I need to seal it up and blow in some cellulose. And yes, that is a five-foot snowdrift outside our garage door.

2) Our barn in midwinter. We get cold, clear Canadian air a lot in January and February. It's not so terribly unpleasant to be a winter Mainer when the snow is deep and the sun is out. You can get used to six months of winter.

3) Mud season, April 2009, on our driveway. This is a season that Maine has that few other regions of the US share. Mainers complain about mud, but I think we secretly like it. It means that spring is coming. It's also an interesting challenge to getting around.

4) Lambs get born in the barn in mud season. This would be one of Jewel the ewe-l's twins coming into the cold, harsh world. I'd get back in if I were him. We only tend to lose lambs if we fail to keep the ram away from the ewes in September and October, and they get born in January, like as not dropped in a snow bank where they can die of exposure. So we separate the ewes from the ram and any ram lambs each year in the first or second week of September, which means the lambs get born in March and April.

5) Lambs play king of the hill on their water trough. We kept it covered with a pallet to keep out the ducks, who would swim and shit in the water because, due to the stock tank heater we use, it was the only unfrozen water around. Never going to have ducks again, at least not in the barn with the sheep. Noisy quacky things that poop in all the other animals' water. But the eggs were nice.

6) Aimee with Polly-lamb, born to Molly, one of Snorri's kids. I have this picture framed and in my office at work.

7) Van (Gogh), the ear-less piglet soon after her rescue from one of Maine's many piglet mills. Quite a few Mainers keep a sow for piglets and sell the offspring on for feeder pigs, but conditions are not always ideal. We're not picky about heritage breeds in pigs or anything like that, and, with our more or less ideal pig-happiness set-up, we do well with litter runts, so we often buy them because we feel sorry for them. Van, a tiny runt who was bullied by the other pigs, had no ears and a nasty cut on her back when we bought her. Even so, she still dressed out at 162 pounds after having had a much better few months of life than otherwise would have been the case.

8) The three younger pigs on arrival. Trucking pigs at weaner age is no problem. Later, not so easy. Read the article below for details. Read it and weep (with laughter at my expense).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Four-day weakened

Well, we made it one third of the way for the calendar year, one sixth for the work year. One down and five to go. The first third of the semester is over.

Next break is Thanksgiving.

You may think it ridiculous of me to complain of the two of us working so hard when we professors get all these breaks and our summers off, but I've worked all kinds of jobs and all kinds of shifts and this is definitely the hardest job I've ever had.

I've worked in factories, in a mine, in logging operations and a lumber mill. I've been a farm laborer and a builder, an equipment mechanic, a military medic and rescue specialist, a flight line crew chief, a troubled youth counselor, a caterer, and a coffee shop owner. Most recently I've been an applied science researcher and a writer and number-cruncher/computer modeler for a major university "think tank," and also a senior administrator at this same college. Even that job was easier, although at the time I didn't think so.

In all of these jobs, I had more time to think, more ability to control the workplace, and more protection from hazards, especially emotional ones, than I do as a professor.

Sometimes, when I have time, I try to figure out what is so difficult. I think it boils down to being paid to think, but not having enough time to do so. That's the worst of it. The second worst part is that some, often many students do not actually wish to learn what they are assigned to learn. You jump around from one class to the next, encountering learning problems constantly, and never having time to fix them.

My job, and Aimee's, is to help students learn to solve society's problems using science skills and science knowledge. These problems are fairly complex, and there are no easy answers. It can take weeks of lecture to just lay out the basics, so for instance, in my upcoming discussions of climate change with my general education class on human sustainability, I have to lay the groundwork for an understanding of climate policy by teaching the students what we know about how the planet's climate works. This layout will take about four-five weeks, and build like a pyramid of knowledge.

I can lecture fairly well on climate change by this point. I long ago memorized the basic knowledge and have at my fingertips all of the facts. I have collected a large collection of slides and graphs and I know exactly what they all mean and can explain them very well in layman's language, using analogies that most students grasp easily.

If all I had to do was lecture and then give a standardized test, it wouldn't be so very difficult.

But then I don't teach at that kind of college or university. I don't teach, for instance, in Britain, where at many universities one good, solid, written 5-6 hour long exam on climate change might be given at the end of a whole year of lecture, and any students who flunked, well, that would be their problem.

And I don't teach at a state-run university in America where I might have 400 students in a general education class on climate change, a small army of teaching assistants to hand out my tests, and a computer machine to grade the answers, which would be written by the students on computer-readable cards.

No, I teach at Unity College, which prides itself on serving under-served students.

Which means for instance, that the young man, an obvious and probably self-proclaimed "redneck," with a face right out of a casting crowd for a Civil War movie, who sat sullenly in class for the entire hour Thursday, glowering, and then ostentatiously slammed his book shut close to (but not quite) the end of class, looking around for approval from his buddies (a high-school trick, that one -- and I was glad to see that not much approval was forthcoming), well that guy is my problem.

I will have to try harder to teach him, but he doesn't want to be taught.

And the young woman, the one who ostentatiously buries her head in her hands and takes no notes most of the class, pretend-weeping like Job, possibly even gnashing her teeth.

She's my problem too.

Both of these students probably hail from backgrounds where the parents have few resources. The young man almost certainly does. Americans pride themselves on having a relatively class-free society, but a Brit who has been over here a while begins to decode it. This guy comes from a rural background. Many of my young men do. Their high schools were sub-standard to begin, their families don't necessarily value education, and they don't read well, so study is very hard for them. In Britain they would never even get a chance to go to the university-level. They would have flunked most of their GCSEs. The young woman, I can't tell there, but there is something wrong somewhere. Possibly she is spoiled, possibly just resistant.

Both probably feel that the college's standard, which requires them to demonstrate competence in knowledge of climate change before they graduate, is wrong, that they shouldn't have to learn this stuff. They are probably politically, if not also socially conservative, albeit in an unquestioned kind of a way.

Neither can likely articulate a reasoned argument why they shouldn't have to learn this stuff. For the most part, despite our best efforts the previous two years (this is a junior class), they probably haven't learned to reason well at all.

While I can, and so can the rest of our faculty. We definitely have them out-gunned in that department. We reasoned carefully, many years ago, that an environmental professional in today's society must understand the basic parameters of human sustainability. We set the standard, in writing, in our catalog and in the statement of goals for our degree programs. The outcome was assigned, or "mapped" in curriculum planning language to this third-year general education class. Each student was required to take the class and pass it before graduation. All of this was written down in contractual documents, such as the college catalog, that bind both students and faculty.

One of us, me, was assigned to teach this knowledge to this particular group in this particular section of his class. The most important issue at this point in sustainability is climate change. Therefore these two reluctant students must learn climate change at a decent level, or fail their degree courses. But they do not wish to do so, and are close to rebellion about it.

If my only problem were two students who didn't want to learn climate change (out of twenty-five or so in the class), that would be fine too. But I have another class, with about twenty students, where we are supposed to discuss and debate their duties as environmental citizens and trainee, soon-to-be degree-bearing, leaders for society. Less than half of that class wishes to do so.

Then I have two sections of very young youngsters who wish to be conservation wardens and who must therefore first learn to read a map and not get lost in the woods and mountains. It isn't so hard to learn to read a map, and the hiking around while students try to learn is relatively fun. But these guys are survivors of American high schools and therefore spoiled to death. Even after five weeks of my very best drill sergeant impersonation, they are still showing up without maps and compasses. For sure, if we were running either a military basic training, or an RAF Mountain Rescue trial, they'd have all been kicked off by now.

What they really need is a few long, foggy days on the hill with a good teacher like I had, say Sergeants Hammy Anderson or Dick Allen. Someone who would give them a hard time on hill days, but treat them as human beings in the breaks in between, drink a beer with them, tell stories, hang out. That much would be obvious to any MR troop. I probably had hundreds of hours of map reading practice in the worst possible conditions before I passed my badge test and won my Party Leader status.

But I have these students fifteen at a time, for two hours a week.

My last class is a boon. Out of about twenty-five students in Introduction to Economics, I am going to say about fifteen or possibly more actually want to learn the subject. They answer questions, make a good effort on assignments, and ask questions themselves. Even though the class is six till nine at night, I still come home feeling intellectually refreshed.

The others make me feel like I am beating my head against an intellectual wall.

Then the fact that each class is taught several times a week adds to the difficulties. I feel like I'm just getting somewhere, then it's time to quit. You jump around from one stressful class to another, never quite making headway anywhere. A little bit of practice at a time might be the best way to teach algebra or composition, but you can't teach climate change, or study the social contract that way. You certainly can't teach map reading that way.

The best way to teach climate change to the two very resistant young people in the sustainability class would be take them on a field trip to some place close by where climate change has already impacted the environment. A farm, for instance, where we might talk to a farm family about growing season, or the Atlantic shore where we could look at the various species migrating north along the coast. Particularly if we were able to get to know each other a bit on the drive, so they could see for themselves that I'm a human being, not a thing, which is what they seem to regard me as right now.

It would take at least a day of conversation, probably a week, to begin to figure out what their difficulty is with the education they're getting, and fix it. Most likely if we were rational, they would drop out of school, but at least we might get to the bottom of things.

As for the recalcitrant Environmental Citizens, the best way for them to decide if they have responsibilities to society or not would be for them to be out working in society for a while, and then have them come back later and think about it. At this point, having been in high school twelve years and in college two, society is still an abstract concept. How can they decide if they have leadership responsibilities, or what those responsibilities are, when they haven't even really had to be a follower yet, in any productive societal activity?

There I am trying something a little different, though. I am having them spend a couple hours a week each helping me build a barn for the college, a service project. There at least I get them in twos and threes, not twenty at a time, and we get to know one another better. I have them take responsibility for bits of the building. It's difficult work and requires some gumption and stick-to-it-ivness. And it gives us something real to talk about in class.

For the map readers I add a surreptitious extra hour. They are supposed to come from 12.30 to 2.30 pm, but they don't have another class until 3.30, so I keep them for an extra hour's practice. They don't complain.

Of course the many hours spent building subtract from the time I have available for my other classes and add to the stress load that results from jumping about from one difficult job to another.

I'm looking forward to today's job, the first job of this break. I will go over to our friends' house, Friends Anders and Alysa, and they and I will take our time sketching out an electrical system for a cabin he has on the property. If we encounter a problem, we'll have time to think. We will fix the problem rationally and deliberately and move on. We won't have to jump around from one hard thing to another every hour. And I doubt very much that we will feel stressed about it at all.

But we will get somewhere, and by the time we are done we will have something to show for it.

I suppose if I was a regular college teacher I wouldn't care about not being able to get anywhere with students. But I do care. And it upsets me greatly.

Which is why this job is the hardest I've ever done.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pig perambulations

I'm going to write this particular escapade up right away so I don't forget a thing.

Today was the day I had to take the three sold pigs to the butchers. Accordingly, I had a plan, kind of. I had decided to use the old pig crate, which fits into the truck bed, one more time. To get the pigs up there I would construct a sturdy pig-ramp, using the motorcycle ramp I had built this summer. The addition of high, pig-proof sides would do the trick.

And so I went and found a 4 by 8 of plywood and cut it into two 2 by 8's, then screwed them onto the sides of the ramp with a couple of studs for stiffness.

So far so good. Then I loaded the ramp in the truck and trucked it over to the barn and put in place in the doorway of the barn, ready for pigs. The truck now empty, I loaded up the pig crate and dropped its wooden tailgate and put the new pig ramp on this, carefully positioned in such a way as to make everything line up, and no gaps for hasty pigs to wiggle out. (So I thought.) I used the barn doors to fill some of these gaps, bits of plywood or pallet to fill others. I opened up the pig pen and let them out and tried to lure one onto the ramp with food in front and me pushing behind.

First up was Gus.

Gus took one look at the ramp, made a short run, and cleared the sides like a show jumper, heading for points west.

One pig out.

No matter, I thought. Gus is a troublemaker anyway, he won't go far and I can get the two girls loaded. The girls will go easy.

Two more show jumpers later and I was out looking for our three pigs. I was able to get them into the north paddock, where they began to grub up our nice recovered pasture. Not willing to stand for too much of this kind of vandalism, I tried to lure them into the barn through the side door, then through the back pen.

No dice. Grubbing and rooting much more fun, sorry.

To this point you shouldn't feel sorry for the poor pigs. Even though the story ends badly for all three, so far, they were having a fine old pig jest at my expense, and enjoying the relative freedom of a 1/2 acre pasture instead of a 15 by 30 foot pig sty and 15 by 30 foot outdoor pen.

I soon got tired of trying to lure these disrespectful creatures nicely, and instead got a rope. I caught Gus by the tail and got a noose around his neck, then after a couple of rugby moves, got another noose around his foot.

Hog-tied, I wrestled him into the barn. It wasn't easy. Aimee came out to see what all the screaming was about, which meant that I had help, but also that I would have a handy critic.

Then I hog-tied Vera. Aimee put her fingers in the ears to mask the pig squeals. By the time Vera was in the barn, Ruby came willingly. All three pigs took a nice cooling mud bath. Going after them, I lost a wellie twice.

Back to square one.

I decided first to secure the back door of the pig sty to reduce the amount of space for pig chasing and wrestling to a manageable amount, and to remove the possibility of losing a wellie again. This was achieved with three three-and-a-half inch deck screws.

Crude, but effective.

Then, with Aimee's "advice" ringing in my ears I tried to think.

Let it be understood, I was already shattered. My nerves were gone, my stress load sky high, pulse racing. The pigs, meanwhile, were taking a nap, girding their loins for round two.

For myself, I couldn't think straight, but on an off-chance called the butchers. Did they happen to have a trailer? Sure. They would loan me a 4 by 8 low-rider pig trailer, if I would just come get it.

Would I? You bet. In a pig's heartbeat.

I drove over and picked up the trailer, taking the nice safe half-hour or so of driving to gather my wits. It wasn't easy. So far, these pigs had me beat. I was nervous about how things would go later, but hopeful. The trailer proved study and well made. Just the kind of trailer I should have bought, or built, for myself, if I had any sense.

And an extra $800.

Back home, I set about getting the trailer in the barn, unhitching it from the truck and running it into the gate of the pig's pen, using the open gate to block the "loose head" side. I dropped the tailgate. Somebody had left apples in the trailer, and the pigs went right in.

Only trouble was, with the trailer dis-hooked from the truck, the thing tilted right over as soon as a pig was in it.

So I hooked it back up to the truck. But now the barn doors were open. I pushed them tight against the truck and trusted to the gate-block as before. But the pigs rushed the gate while I was fiddling with the other side. One pig went right out, the other two dallied. I screamed for Aimee, but no help came. I could only keep one barn door shut at once. The remaining two pigs waltzed their matildas right out.

One pig decided at this point to rummage about under the truck and got stuck, starting to scream. What's the procedure when a pig is stuck under a truck? Not having encountered this particular problem, I improvised, confidently, the way they taught us in NCO school. Noticing that if I backed up the truck more, into the barn, it would tilt up an inch or so, I tried that.

That only made the pig scream louder.

I went to get my floor jack.

Even when the truck was well clear of the pig, she still lay there, no doubt relieved not to be stuck anymore.

I went around to her butt end and gave it a gentle kick. She wiggled out.

With three pigs now loose again, and me getting my rope ready again, of course it was time for Aimee to show up. And Aimee was pretty mad at me not only for mistreating pigs, but also for not asking for help.

I thought I had screamed out loud for help. (And no help came.)

Go figure.

So with two of us to hold doors and tailgates and the weigh down the trailer tongue so it didn't have to be hooked up to the truck, so the barn doors could stay closed and pigs stay in, we were able to get Gus loaded easily enough.

But no other pig was willing to get on the trailer as long as Gus was on there screaming and angry because he was now finally caught. With Gus trying to climb out, unsuccessfully, thank heavens, I drove away.

The pig from hell.

But one pig, even one out of three, is better than none.

It was an hour to and from the butchers, with Gus only showing his head above the trailer sides once, but that was enough for me to tap the brakes.

Then back for the two sisters, who went in easily enough and didn't try to climb out.

Then I had to fix all the fences that pigs had broken while on their spree. All in all, my pig trucking day went from 10 am until 6pm. And I was shattered.

Of course the pigs were in far worse shape, although they didn't yet know it. But for some strange reason I don't feel nearly as bad as I normally do for them.

Here they are in happier days.

Gas, gas gas!

This will be an interesting item for family, friends and other readers in the yUKe, where these smelly New World near-weasels do not exist. This one was a striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis.

It happened last night as I took the dogs out to piddle before bed. It had been a nice day and I was relaxed and my guard was down.

Yesterday was my birthday, and having successfully fought off all attempts by workers, renewable energy "clients," and colleagues to have me do various kinds of work on my birthday, of which tries there were a shameful number, I declared an official Mick-holiday.

It started with bacon and eggs, our own of course, and good coffee, Fair Trade of course. Then we had a listen to my Youtube playlist, a compendium of British and the occasional American folk song videos that I find compelling or meaningful in some way, the Corries singing Lord Byron's Lochnagar, or Eric Bogle's And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Then I had a little drive to Bangor to go shopping for a few tools I needed for my barn project, always a pleasure to go shopping for tools, even when it is for work.

I also went to the bookstore and got a couple new books to read. I rarely spend money directly on myself, and books are my main treat, along with the occasional cup of Starbuck's espresso -- although Aimee tends to see the hundreds of dollars annually that go into tools and hardware for the house and farm as Mick-treats too.

At home, I did a couple of brief chores and jobs, including fixing the handle for the wood stove which has been bothering me a good deal, now that we have begun to use the stove a little. The old handle, made of cast iron, had broken and the door wouldn't latch. I fabricated a new one out of mild steel I got at the hardware store in Bangor, and was quite happy with the results.

Thus totally victorious over at least one husbandly project for the day, however minscule, I decided to quit while ahead and headed for the couch. I spent the rest of the afternoon there reading my books, only rising to start a nice lamb stew for supper, which I tended carefully until dinnertime, in between long spells of reading happily and peacefully on the couch.


In the evening I ate my stew, drank a beer, and watched some TV with my lovely wife. We had thought about going out to dinner for my birthday, but I have to say what we actually did was better.

And all was well in the world until the dogs went out to piddle at about 8.30pm.

I always watch them carefully because even if they don't chase the whitetail deer that congregate in the large dooryard we share with our neighbors at this time of year at night, they will perhaps get into trouble with a porcupine, which is worse, and more expensive at the vet.

I was momentarily distracted, though, by a car driving by, our other neighbor returning. And then I heard a dog snuffle and whine in the dark.

And then I smelt it.

Haggis had gotten skunked right there in the dooryard next to the house, right where Aimee parks her truck.

Haggis came right back to me at that, asking for help. His eyes were already red and his nose was contorted with the taste of skunk juice in his mouth. The smell was not yet quite overpowering. It was more of a physical affront to the eyes and the back of the throat than to the nose. In the first blast of a skunk close by, while it's more concentrated, the peculiar chemical weapon that is skunk juice is more like tear gas in its effect. It's a few minutes later, as it gets more dilute and the droplets spread out in the air and on hard surfaces, that it becomes most stinky.

It reminded me of the tear gas we experienced regularly as part of our 1970s Nuclear. Biological and Chemical weapon (NBC) training that was part of the British military tradition in that era.

There was a drill for this, beat into us by the DIs during Basic, and repeated over and over by sergeants and corporals in Tacevals throughout our careers. Especially the "Rock-Apes," the RAF Regiment, guarded this particular tradition. You were supposed to shout "Gas, gas , gas!" while only exhaling and reaching for your mask. You drilled until it was automatic. The story was, you had nine seconds or you would die. The DIs always made sure we got a taste of the gas, just so the coughing, choking, and puking that resulted gave a Pavlovian edge to our training.

Hopefully Haggis will be able to similarly respond to a skunk the next time he encounters one, and shy away. I'm doubtful. This makes two porcupine-ings and two skunkings in the four years we've lived at the Great Farm. About $700 at the vets, and copious quantities of various dog-bath chemicals. I'm beginning to wonder about this dog.

Where they got nine seconds from, I have no idea. Bullshit, probably. And at that age I never once thought of dying, even when doing the most dangerous stuff. Surely if I was immune to all those car crashes and motorcycle accidents and avalanches and rockfalls and climbing falls that were the routine punctuations of my life at that time, I was immune to nerve agent too?

From such attitudes a defense policy is rationally constructed. Only 17-25 year-old males are so brave, or stupid, to believe without thinking that they would actually survive a determined Soviet attack. Therefore only 17-25 year-old males can be trusted to service and rearm and refuel F4 fighter-bombers in the open during DEFCON One.

Cannon fodder. A bit like the dog, really. Possibly not even as bright.

Enough of the World War Three that never came, thankfully, at least not to the green and pleasant isle. (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola, Guatamala, other nations that hosted proxy wars, not so lucky.)

Back to Haggis, poor clot.

Haggis, the canine moron, had to stay outside while Aimee and I had a confab. Luckily, I am married to the female version of the Boy Scout, whose motto is "be prepared." A little rummaging by Aimee in boxes of obscure but clearly wifely-essential cleaning agents turned up a full container of commercial skunk juice deactivator. Haggis was confined to the garage while I gave him a bath with this stuff, and left there overnight with a dog bed. And as I came in from this job, my clothes went straight into the laundry machine, and I went into the shower.

Decontamination procedures.

I have to say that this particular proprietary brand of deactivator, Natural Chemistry's "Skunks Etc," worked just fine. Recommended. Buy some now, at least if you're on this side of the pond.

This morning Haggis was sprung from his garage/isolation ward looking very chagrined to have spent a night cold and wet in the garage instead of in the nice warm house where all good dogs belong. Right now he's confined to the porch, which is warmer, and he's drying off. He's a healthy young dog and shouldn't catch cold with this treatment.

And we were lucky enough to have a rare October thunderstorm last night, with three or four inches of rain, so the outdoor skunk smell is well-diluted.

I have to say, we dodged a serious skunk-bullet here, folks. That's thanks to Aimee's careful shopping habits and some very bad weather. We won't have to smell too much skunk for too long. No thanks to Haggis, the sausage head.

But skunk is skunk, and there will be a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi about the Womerlippis and their farm for a short while here.

Especially Haggis, the dunce.

While Aimee, girl scout supremo, has already put on her wifely list that she must get another bottle of deactivator.


Aren't I a lucky man, to have such a prescient wifie?