Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallow'een and first snow

This is the jack o' lantern picture from two years ago, not this year's, but I spilled coffee on my ancient Sony camera and may have done it in. I dried it out and took a picture of the lantern, which came out, but I can't get the camera to connect to the computer.

The coffee spill happened because I got so frustrated with all the geriatric hunters on the back roads on Saturday morning, the first day of the season. After one particular old codger had held me up for several minutes, not letting me get by, tooling along at five miles an hour, all over the road, I peeled away from him at the next stop sign, and of course lost my coffee.

That'll teach me to be impatient with an old guy.

But really, you're not even going to see a deer on the road at 9.30 am, never mind shoot one! They're all bedded down in the woods. You need to be in the woods, either in a stand, or tracking one in the snow. These fellas that tool around on the roads are not really hunting.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have work to do, granddad. The least you could do is look in the rear view mirror every once in a while and see the line of cars behind you!

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

We had a trick-or-treater come by, an infant ladybug, accompanied by proud parents, our neighbors. This was our first and only trick-or-treater in five Hallow'eens at the Great Farm.

We're a little off the beaten track. And we don't have candy. Aimee made cookies, though.

The other big deal was the first snow, this morning. Big slushy, heavy, two-inch wide flakes. The Eskimo must have a special word for that kind too. Of course it didn't stick around long.

Last year's first snow was October 18th.

I'd gotten the pigs to the butchers and on to the pig club members, but I hadn't done the banking, nor had I gotten in all the firewood we needed. This year I haven't done the pigs, but the firewood and baking are just fine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Geopolitical hubris

(I copied this post over from my college blog because it was about as much about the farm as it was about energy strategy.)

The Guardian has an interesting new article on wireless vehicle charging systems, which reduce the need to plug in your EV.

This kind of new idea, and the massive drop in the price of PV these last two years, makes it seem pretty likely to me that the future of both transportation and diversified energy systems is PV/electric. If wireless power exchange can be made a two-way street, we will secure a major economy on power storage for base load, which makes PV that much more viable.

The average price of solar panels dropped by between 40 and 60% over the last three years. This is because of mass production. New high-tech factories, like the superb Nanosolar factory in California, are now able to crank out very cheap panels very quickly. There have been great economies found in the material inputs, as well as through mechanization of production.

It used to be the the solar cells had to be individually placed on the panel and soldered by a human technician. Now this can all be done by machine. In the case of Nanosolar, the amorphous semiconductor "ink" involved requires no soldering at all.

So, like the technogeek I am, indeed like the cheap Yorkshire-born technogeek I am, I keep checking and rechecking the price of panels online using Google shopper and the like, to see when I'm going to buy my household system.

This is an idea I had a few months ago in response to an online debate with an oil industry researcher, in which I held that PV and wind energy prices were beginning to approach a very general price parity with oil, and even coal, so that, some time in the very near future, the climate denier/fossil fuel industry apologist position that mitigation would be expensive would no longer hold water.

It would then be cheaper to begin to end our use of fossil fuels than to continue, even without considering the cost of climate change.

This is, of course, a turn of events that both OPEC and the Russians do not wish to see occur, but that we should. The strategic gains for the west would be massive.

In the 1970s, after the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt and Syria, when OPEC was in the sway of Arab nationalism and anti-Israeli sentiment, it was diversification of the US and UK energy portfolio, including the first Carter-era efficiency gains with North Sea and Alaskan production, that dropped the price of a barrel of oil down to where some OPEC producers really were feeling the pinch.

And, of course, they let go. The embargo was lifted.

This of course led to a recovery of the US and UK positions in the global economy after the former era of "stagflation," and $11/barrel oil fueled the decade of prosperity and high employment we enjoyed in the 1990s and up through 9/11. More recently the pendulum has swung the other way, and the current price of oil gives disproportionate power to countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuala, and their ilk.

All good friends of the west and democracy.


My own idea, my next big project after switching 90% of our home heat to home-grown biomass and super-insulating, another small contribution to the recovery of the west and the triumph of democracy over dictatorship (!), was to fit a solar PV system to our house that would be cheaper than my power bill, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and of course, to geek-up the process, documenting it, and the costs, here.

Since I plan to install this system myself, with one or two students to help or look on for the education value, there's a major saving over the cost to most other American families.

But other than that, I think this a useful test.

Of course, it gets a little complicated. For one thing, electrical power in Maine has very little energy content from OPEC, the Russians, and the other Petrostate dictators whose teeth I wish to see bite the dust.

So the concept is flawed from the get-go.

That's what I get for being an armchair energy geo-strategist.

But bear with me. The price of oil is definitely conditioned by the availability of energy alternatives, and if, eventually, my solar plans turn out as planned, if millions of Americans do the same (as hundreds of thousands of Britons already are thanks to their feed-in tariffs), and, if as is also expected, electric vehicles become cheaper and more easily available and are used for night-time storage, then we'd be able to produce most of our energy using renewables, and then we'd have some leverage, wouldn't we?

Paradoxically, the faster oil prices rise, the sooner we get to deploy this great western-owned technology, reduce our dependence, and get our leverage and geopolitical position back. Ivan knows this too, of course. But he's just about as feckless and stupid as we are when it comes to choosing the right geo-strategic energy policy, so he won't be able to take much comfort in this knowledge.

But back to my micro-scale experiment:

The power supply for our little farmhouse comes from Central Maine Power and costs between 15¢ and 16¢ a kilowatt-hour (counting both the per-KWH delivery and per-KWH energy charges that would be offset, were we to produce our own solar power).

The best solar deals I've found recently involve the purchase of panel/inverter combination kits. These are packaged for contractors, but I can do all the work required myself. My father was a UK electrician. He trained me while I was quite young, and I worked for an US electrical contractor while getting though grad school. I wired this house we live in myself, and I've built several other solar power systems as well.

One such deal currently offered includes six 170 watt panels and an inverter for $8,000.

Getting there, price-wise....

In Maine, on our house, on average for the year, these would produce

6 X 170W x 365 days x 4.5 hours/day = 1,675,350 WH or 1675 KWH

Maine's net metering regulation allows you to credit all this power against your power bill. Our house has a south-facing roof that is a perfect solar site, which would allow almost all of the 4.5 hours/day of sunlight to be converted to electrical energy.

The value of this power to me is therefore 1,675 KWH x 15¢/KWH = $251/year or $21/month.

The cost of the $8,000 solar power system is reduced by the $2,000 or 30% federal tax break.

There's also a state-level rebate of about the same magnitude that would very likely expire in a few months if the most conservative of the candidates currently running for the Governor's Office in Maine were elected.

I can't afford to plonk down even $4,000 cash on such a system, so I'd need a loan. $4,000 on a cheap loan, such as a home equity loan or a secured consumer credit loan, would be about $60/month. On a more expensive loan, such as a credit card, it would be about $100/month. The $21 bucks I would get from net-metering don't begin to pay for the system.

So we're not there yet. Solar PV has to come down by yet another two thirds in price or electrical power go up by two thirds in price, or some combination, before I can realize my ambition.

But we are within the same order of magnitude. And I do think we'll see the price drop/price rise combination over my lifetime, and likely we'll see the solar prices drop a good deal more over the next decade, especially with government help in key places.

I'd be willing to bet on another 50% drop in five years.

My earlier insulation and biomass fuel efforts, on the other hand, have already begun to be paid off by the reduction in energy costs of this house, and have already helped wean the west off oil. The previous occupants used to burn 10 cords of wood and 700 gallons of heat oil a year. Last year we burned 4 cords and less than 50 gallons. Our local forests are burgeoning in biomass, so we don't really worry about adding to carbon in the atmosphere by burning this wood.

So at least one form of solar power, native Maine biomass, is cheap, viable, carbon-neutral, and geo-politically helpful.

That woodsmoke from our chimney is the pure smell of freedom, folks.

Up yours, Vladimir!

I guess I'd better go start the durn thing up, hadn't I?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Natick and the roadkill breakfast club

This year's ram Natick, actually Snorri's father, arrived this afternoon.

He's not quite the ram that his son was, nowhere near the size, in fact. But this is fine by us because Snorri was a little more rammy of a ram than we cared to deal with. This guy weighs only a little more than our biggest ewes, but still has Snorri's genes so should produce those 45-50 pound fat lamb carcass weights we like, and hopefully leave all our fences right where they are.

Fence moving, when done by sheep, is not desirable. They generally don't do it right.

Natick-ram jumped right out of the pick-up truck by himself and after a short unplanned tour of the garden, found the paddock entrance and got right to work on Molly, the oldest of the four ewes he is penned with.

Age has its privileges, I guess, Miss Molly.

In other news, Aimee left for work on time this morning at 6.45 am, but shortly after called from college to tell me there was a wounded whitetail deer on the back road to Thorndike.

So I threw the 30-30 rifle in the truck and drove over there. Didn't need the gun, though. This doe was dead by the time I got to her, having bled out.

But that only meant that much of the meat would be in good shape for eating, having been thoroughly bled, not always the case with roadkill.

Having no time to cut up a deer this morning, with classes to teach eight to eleven am, I took a short tour of local Amish family homes and quickly found an Amishman who had time to butcher and who wanted a deer. Then I called the Maine Warden's Service and asked for a tag to be taken over.

Chris, our local Warden, was pleased to oblige, and so nothing went to waste. I would have liked to have had the venison myself, but there wasn't the time, and it was better that someone used it.

Knowing our Amish and their great efficiency with such things, it's probably already in cans, or in white butcher paper in the freezer section of a kerosene-powered refrigerator already.

Interestingly Aimee said several cars drove by the animal while still wounded in the middle of the road. And I saw quite a few drive by myself.

So funny to think of the different ways this wounded, and later dead, animal was seen by the various people that encountered it. I'm sure that the folks who drive by felt bad for it, but who was going to do anything?

One of them, of course, actually hit it, and then left.

Hit and run.

While to the Womerlippis, the Amish family, and a Maine Game Warden, this was food that would otherwise go to waste.

Whatever happened to rural skills and attitudes? Can you imagine an animal like that going to waste back in the days of the Great Farm pioneers?

I later told my teaching colleague and buddy Tim, a former Maine Warden, that my hunting season was already over, even before November 1st.

I'd already got my deer. All the hunting I need for one year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Our noisy cockerel was feeling ignored during football afternoon at the Womerlippis. The Steelers are just (only just) ahead of the Dolphins, and as the game went on the rooster decided to crow at us through the window.

This rooster's name used to be Cheryl, for Cheryl Crow. But we added Roethlisberger as a middle name because he's always sexually assaulting the hens.

Plus he's in Steeler plumage: yellow, white and black.

Here's Aimee crowing back through the window at Cheryl Roethlisberger Rooster.

One of these days he'll get suspended too -- upside down, that is, while he's being plucked for the pot.


Getting ready

Well, I think we're officially ready for snow. I've been doing the various jobs that need to be done prior to winter for several weeks now, and in earnest since I got done with the Bale House, and I think I'm done.

There's snow already in the mountains of Maine at slightly higher elevation than here. That snow will form and melt several more times before it sticks for the duration.

Here we should get our first dusting in the next two to four weeks. Usually we get something before or during Thanksgiving.

Charlie cat wasn't helping with today's winterization projects, though. I was all ready to finish yesterday's aborted job of banking, but thought to stick my head into the crawl space first just to make sure the drain was alright. There were these two shiny retinas staring right back at me in the flashlight's beam.

The silly cat was as far back there as he could have gotten and so I couldn't go after him. There's less than ten inches of headroom in the lowest parts of the crawl space.

So I asked Aimee to coax him out. Charlie loves Aimee, and likes to roll around on her lap and let her pet him. I thought she might be able to get him out of there so I could seal it up for the winter on time. But she was reluctant to even get her head properly in the crawl space.

Especially when it turned out that I was taking a picture of her in this undignified posture.

The picture didn't come out. The camera batteries were dead.

Which was also what Aimee said would happen to me should said picture make it onto the Internet.

Touchy, touchy...

That episode put me in the dog house for the remainder of the morning, so I knew I would have to redeem myself. Leaving this space for Charlie to exit the basement, I attempted redemption by repairing and weeding out Aimee's overgrown greenhouse.

The design problem with this little greenhouse, which is made of local cedar and recycled storm windows and cost less than $80, was that we built it leaning against the barn's south wall on a bit of former lawn, and we left the grass in there, which of course gets out of control.

Aimee mows inside it to keep the grass down, which means she can easily break the lower windows with the lawn mower. She grew tired of this procedure this summer after breaking two more windows, and essentially abandoned the greenhouse to its fate.

I told her I would fix it once and for all, with some landscape fabric I had left over from another project, and then we could use it through the fall and it would be ready in the spring for growing starts. We usually use it for late tomatoes, and Aimee likes to grow early salads in there each spring, followed by her many dozen plant starts for the garden and for sale. These repairs would need to be done before snow. But of course, there's been the Bale House to repair first.

But today I moved out or moved aside all the plants and benches, pulled all the long straggly grass and weeds, removed the broken windows, put in replacements from the pile we have, and stapled landscape fabric to the wooden sills of the building. Then I brought back all the benches and plants.

There were three tomato plants, intended for fall harvest, whose lives were saved, more or less, by this procedure. Not as many nor as prolific as planned.

But this does mean there's a few of these nice late season vine-ripened berries for us to enjoy in addition to all the many green ones from the main garden we have refrigerated.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Haggis at the quick lube

Haggis and I had a lot of little jobs to do today. First up was to get an oil change in the Nissan pick-em-up truck.

As I mentioned last weekend, he doesn't mind going to the car repair shop at all. He just sits there while I read the paper and drink coffee in the waiting room.

Here he is, sticking his tongue out. Silly pooch.

The oil change mechanic commented on what a good dog he is. He doesn't even flinch when the mechanic sits in to write down the mileage and stick the oil change reminder sticker up on the windshield.

This is the time of year we spend money at these places. Oil changes and tires, mostly. I don't change my own oil in vehicles because I can't easily dispose of the waste oil and messy filters, while these places get it collected for bulk recycling, much better for the environment. I try to do pretty much everything else myself, hopefully in the summer season when the weather is good for that kind of thing, but even if not, we can get a car or truck in my shop. It's not the biggest workshop in the world, but it's the size of a two car garage with only one overhead door, and I try to leave the space in front of this door clear.

When we got back from the oil change we busied ourselves with clearing out said shop, getting the wood furnace ready to use, and test firing it. There was a good breeze today which made it draw well and we soon had a roaring blaze. This annual event is always a good excuse to burn off a bunch of cardboard and gash wood.

Then we went to do the banking on the east side of the house. There's a spot there where the crawl space under the kitchen is open to the weather. I leave it so all summer to air it out and keep the underside of the kitchen, a separately built building from the main house, dry and free of carpenter ants. I spray pyrethrin for the latter, which works well. I'm always terrified a skunk will set up home in there but none ever has.

Anyhoo, we finished up noticing a plumbing leak under there so my plans were shot and I got busy with PVC cement, joining pipe sections back together. A couple months ago I re-routed the drain from the bath-tub because it wasn't draining well, and I must have accidentally torqued on the attached system that goes to the kitchen sink and broke open a connector. I had an odd feeling something like this might have happened which is why I bothered to look before covering it all up for the winter. That and making sure there wasn't a stray cat or chicken under there.

So I spent the early afternoon on my back in an 18-inch crawl space with PVC cement and a screw gun, re-gluing and re-routing pipe to get the tension out of the system. In the end a 10 inch extension was needed so everything would just hang there nicely with no bowing or tension. It's a dirt floor so no harm was done, just a damp spot smelling of stale laundry. If it were a black water pipe instead of a gray water pipe that would have been nasty, but this wasn't so bad and I'm even still wearing the same set of bib overalls as I write this.

After that I was up for a nap and now I'm cooking mashed potatoes and lamb chops. Aimee's grinding away on her elliptical machine like a fiend. Haggis is zonked out, so is Mary.

All is peaceful and what passes for normal in Womerlippi-land and the kitchen sink gray water now makes it to the septic tank. Yea!

Oh, and there was a big clutch of light blue-green Americuna eggs in the barn yesterday.

Middle-class security, or our simulated version of it.

I guess tomorrow we'll do the banking.

Then we'll fix Aimee's greenhouse and get it ready for the winter.

Don't feel nearly so rushed these days now the Bale House is finished.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall pleasures

Fall is well and truly underway, and we hear they have snow on the slightly higher peaks in Vermont, a little closer to that Canadian weather.

Here's my Wednesday afternoon in "the office." Shouldn't perhaps brag too much, or I might find myself with competition for teaching this map-reading class I teach each fall. And this year it's only one afternoon a week, which makes me savor the exercise and fall woods even more.

Today started out too wet to hike, though, so we both went to town in our separate charabancs, mine for an oil change, hers to stock up with groceries.

The dogs stayed home. Sometimes when I go to the service station I take Haggis, and he just sits there and stares straight out the windshield while the mechanic does whatever. Barely flinches, even if the mechanic gets in the car with him.

Such a funny dog.

When we're in the house he likes to lie where he can see us and hear us. Making sure we stay safe.

Mary has no such foibles. As soon as she arrived, all those years ago, she took over what had been Aimee's papa san bamboo couch. What a lazy mutt.

After I made it back it had dried up somewhat so I took a hike. Shenzhi the cat came too, which meant we could only go about half a mile because she starts whining when she's had enough. Silly cat: if you didn't want to come for a hike, why'd you come for a hike?

In other activities today, we made food. I made a big batch of lamb chili with our own onions and tomatoes. Aimee made bread.

Very good bread.

I took a picture of our big fancy rooster, not yet souped. Time will tell if we're willing to keep a rooster around. Haven't seen any baby chicks yet.

And here's this year's ewe lamb saying, "what's he doing this time."

I could get used to such nice quiet weekends without big high pressure projects to do. Very relaxing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Soup kitchen repellant

Our local food bank continues to do a roaring trade, helped along by the efforts of our own students and the veggies for all program, while the papers continue to talk about folks losing their jobs and houses.

All this misery!

How can people protect themselves against job loss and foreclosure and food insecurity?

Aimee and I don't stand in much fear of losing our jobs. Higher education is considered somewhat recession-proof, with students actually returning to college when the business cycle is in a trough.

Even so, one purpose in running a farm is to have a warm place to live and to have food. As I read articles about Americans who have either lost jobs or had their hours cut back, one question might be, does it work? How easy is it to grow your own, and does it put heat in the hearth and food on the table cost-effectively? Now that the harvest is in, let's do the books.

This year we farmed a little over four acres, including our land with a half-acre that neighbors loaned to us for the purpose.

(We let our lease on the 12 acres surrounding lapse -- Aimee needed a new car and I needed airfare to visit my ailing mum, so sending several hundred extra dollars to the absentee landowner in Florida was out of the question. We may take it up again in later years, but thus far we haven't needed the extra land for firewood or agriculture, so although the lease payments preserve future options, they're not strictly part of the farm.)

Most of that four acres was for firewood and sheep grazing. We also brought in several hundred bales of hay and several tons of feed, so any proper calculation of our food balance sheet needs to take this into account.

So what did we grow since this time last year? We enjoy growing food and would probably do so even if we lost money, but it's nice to know whether or not your efforts pass the straight face test, commercially speaking.

Numbers are approximate.

4 cords of split, stacked and dry hardwood firewood
About 250 pounds of potatoes
35 dozen eggs
200 pounds of tomatoes, of which 100 pound canned or frozen
40 pounds storage onions
Assorted salad crops and herbs
Two weaned lambs sold on to another farm at two months
One fat lamb, 45 pounds dressed, already in freezer
One ewe and one older ram culled for mutton, 100 pounds dressed, already in freezer
3 pigs, around 180 pounds each dressed, not quite done

The going rate for cut, stacked and dry hardwood is $250/cord, so $1,000 there. If we credit ourselves $1/pound for potatoes, onions and tomatoes, $1.50 a dozen for the eggs, $50 total for the salads and herbs, $50 apiece for the wains, and $3/pound for meat, this is valued at $540 for veggies, and $2,208 for lambs and meat, so $3,748 total.

In order to grow these crops we input approximately,

150 bales coarse Maine hay @ $3.75/bale (that was robbery and we haven't been back since) = $563
1.5 tons pig pellets @ $250/ton = $375
0.5 ton store oats @ $240/ton = $120
0.5 ton coarse 16% bagged feed @ $10/50 pound = $200

Total for inputs is $1,258

Meaning we netted $2,490 worth of food and fiber for our efforts over the year.

This doesn't count the several tens of dollars of plant starts Aimee sold or gave away earlier this year, or any yarn we may sell from the wool clip. It doesn't make much sense to count the yarn since we sell it or use it so very slowly. The whole clip is still bagged in the barn and we haven't even thought to take it to the mill yet.

Given that we spent probably less than twenty five human-work days total in working the farm this year, this is a pretty good rate of pay and certainly well above minimum wage.

Not too shabby.

Much of this success is due however to the fact that the farm is set up pretty well at this point. If we hadn't put so much money and effort into the barn and fences and equipment, we wouldn't be able to clear this income. But our capital costs are negligible at this point, and the equipment seems to stay in pretty good repair from one year to the next if I tinker a few days each year, which when I have the time is actually a pleasure. This year's big investment was a new chainsaw, although there's a "new" secondhand lawn mower as well. the land is fertile and the input of fertility from pasture and grain via forage legumes, poop and compost is more than is needed to keep growing food on the same land for years to come.


This is valuing our food at pretty low dollar, too. Supermarket prices. Generally speaking food of this high quality comes much more expensively, so, for instance, people pay up to $4 dozen for free range eggs, and Aimee's pesto production alone (110 jars this year!) is worth many more dollars in value added.

This food and firewood should help keep the wolf from our door though.

Proof of concept.

I expect if the so-called Great Recession became the Great Depression, if Aimee and I lost our jobs, we'd lose the farm too, but if we as is more likely we pay it off and farm it into retirement, it should serve us well, keeping us as healthy as we keep it.

I always questioned the wisdom of the detached, urban way of life where everything is a losing trade with the system, and no-one really knows where their food came from.

It works fine until there's a recession.

It's a good deal easier and I think more rewarding to make bargains with Mother Earth instead.

And she cuts a fairer deal in return.

Independence of mind and body is the result. We might do well to remember that Jeffersonian wisdom as we reorganize after this latest economic disaster.

The real strength of a nation is not in nuclear bombs or industrial capital, but in the independent human beings and healthy landscapes the system is meant to create and maintain.

Without which the industrial system is just so much rusting machinery.

That you can't eat.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A walk in the autumn woods

This afternoon was one of those seemingly rare times when we both had extra time, so we took the dogs for a walk up to Howe's Pond.

This is a walk we do most years in the fall, to see the leaf colors. The winds last week took most of the reds, but there remained a lot of golds in among the green of the conifers and beeches, not yet turned.

Haggis, who minds well although he can't herd sheep, gets to run loose. Mary, a proper Red-bone Coonhound (this varietal name has eight syllables in the proper southern pronunciation!) and former bear dog, has to stay on the leash for fear she'll never come back to us.

Aimee had fund collecting acorns, of which there were millions, for the pigs. The pigs, for their part had fun eating the acorns, and so they also enjoyed our walk.

The pond, which is in the proper geological placement for a tarn or cirque basin lake, is filling in slowly with sediment. There's a stone dam which must at one time have made it larger, possibly for someone's farm water supply. Even at this altitude, 900 feet at the pond and 1200 feet on the top of the ridge, there are dry stone walls running through the woods, evidence that someone farmed this area at one time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Long weakened and winter frost and snow

Last winter in our dooryard...

We have a four day weekend, of which, in the normal way of holidays in my occupation, I will get 2.5 days for home projects, and 1.5 days for school projects.

Today we'll work on cars in the morning -- that maddening clunk in the Ford, and the coolant exchange for the Toyota. In the afternoon it's off to school to give a talk at a student climate action conference.

Sunday will be official finish-up-the-Bale-House day. The job isn't quite done, of course, but by the end of Sunday everything will be done that only I could do -- the electrical work, the plumbing, the heavy drywall/insulation project, the most disgusting cleaning jobs. It wasn't reasonable to expect the new occupant to do such a lot of work, and especially heavy duty filth removal, even if that person is getting the place rent free. And some of the jobs required specific skills and knowledge most folk don't have.

But what is left is just a little painting and light carpentry for trim, some lighter cleaning. Reasonable jobs to leave for the new occupant to contribute some work.

Hooray for official finish-up-the-Bale-House day!

Monday is finalize-the-ex-servicemens-journal day. That will be an indoor job, and even quite relaxing.

Tuesday is a cell-phone tower climb to set an anemometer to measure the wind for a possible community wind project.

So I am so looking forward to my four-day weekend! Nothing like a good rest.

Sarcasm aside, I already feel better -- nothing, actually, like a good night's sleep followed by the nice feeling that I don't have to go anywhere except stumble out to my workshop this morning.

And we can listen to Car Talk while fixing cars, always a good arrangement.

So I'm not too ticked off about my non-holiday. The really relaxing holiday for us is Christmas and New Years when we visit Aimee's parents in Virginia, and I have absolutely nothing to do, not even a wood stove to feed. I'm often bored by this lack of work, but I make up for it by sleeping about fifteen hours a day!

Then we come back to deep winter in Maine, which is always a nice rest.

The northern hemisphere has tilted away from the sun enough for us to really feel it. The days are much shorter. Snow was forecast for the western mountains and northern Maine last night. We had First Frost on Monday morning here on the Great Farm, although it didn't kill the dregs of the tomato plants yet.

That was quite late for First Frost. Climate change.

But winter is a-coming, and with it the good long rest that comes from almost all outdoor work being canceled for the season. That means about a third of my total work, and all of my exercise, so I usually have to ski and snowshoe to make up for that, but it gets me down to an ordinary kind of 40-45 hour, 5-day work week, which is much better than the 7-day, 60-80 work week that is my norm the other three seasons of the year.

So roll on winter!

When we were kids, at church or in school assembly, we sang the old Anglican hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter by Rossetti,

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Of course, we never got winters like that in Sheffield. Back in the early 1800s, they did, before the Little Ice Age ended. But we certainly get winters like the one described in that first verse here in Maine.

Every year, almost without exception.

Wonder if I can find time to move some of that farm stuff in our dooryard this weekend.

Need to get ready for winter....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Just plugging away

Haggis had a bath the other day.

Generally, Haggis does not like having baths, but this was a definite must-do. He's a healthy dog and doesn't need a lot of work, but this time his coat had become matted and stinky.

This was, nevertheless a milestone of sorts since he's been in need of a bath for a while, but we've been too busy with schoolwork.

After the fair, though, and thank heavens for this, the pace drops significantly.

Other jobs that we generally can't get too in summer or early fall are slowly being done. We plug away, and things get better.

Deep winter is for relaxation, since we can't do much else. We live then on the fruits of our plugging. I look forward to the rest.

The Bale House is very nearly done, and I cleaned up most of my construction equipment and tools and brought it home. There are a few more jobs to do there. Getting those done will free up my time for fall jobs here.

It's amazing how much better I feel about this building now that the repairs are almost complete. I can still feel, if I think about it at all, the despair and dull rage I felt on first taking inventory of the damage and filth that the former occupants left for us.

But one day at a time, plug away at this and that for a few weekends, six or seven, and it's now a decent place to live again.

There's a life-lesson. One day at a time, one job at a time. Keep the faith, plug away, things get better, progress is made.

The most upsetting thing remains the cost, though. Never mind a couple-three weeks of work spread out over nearly a whole stolen season.

It's taken over a thousand dollars, and we still haven't replaced the stolen generator. I can find time to work on things, but money is harder to come by.

Yesterday I was testing the propane fridge for the first time, and when I couldn't immediately get it to work, I started thinking of how much propane fridges cost, and that dull rage at the former occupants came back. Eventually the fridge became cold, but not before I was reminded of how much our generosity to these folks has cost us.

The garden is not yet put to bed, but first frost was yesterday, so it's time to pull the remaining spuds and strip the tomatoes. Plug.

Our two wood stove chimneys need to be cleaned. Plug again.

There's an annoying clunk on the driver side rear of the Ford that I'm pretty sure is a rusted strut mount that needs replaced. The Toyota needs a coolant flush. Both need winter tires. Plug some more.

The pigs have about a third of a ton of feed to eat and then they're finished and off to Watsons', the Butchers. If they knew that we measure their remaining lives in feed tonnage, they might eat less heartily, or at least spill less. But being pigs they live in perfect innocence of such things.

Perhaps we should all wish for such a simple understanding of life. Or maybe we do. Plug away.

I do believe my life has simplified a good deal in many ways since I was a young man in the services. This is the time of year, with Veteran's/Remembrance Day coming up, and my work on the ex-servicemens' journal of which I am co-editor ongoing, that I tend to think of how it was for me when I was younger. In between plugging on my buddies' articles, the rather tortured prose of working guys who have something good to communicate but haven't had such great educations.

Pluggers, every one. Honor to them.

And I do think I take far more pleasure now in just getting jobs done that I did then. Back then, work was something that got in the way of climbing mountains and socializing. These days, with very little socializing or mountaineering to do, work is really what I do.

And as long as I can make progress, I tend to think I am happy in my life. Plug.

Aimee, for her part, has probably always preferred work to other activities. But she too was happy to get Haggis clean. She loves her animals.

Neither of us loved Shenzi-cat, however, when our predatory moggy brought a live chipmunk into the house and released it last night.

But reason and plugging prevailed again. The silly sciurid went to ground under my night stand. We were able to thread a sheet underneath and bag the whole thing, squirrel and nightstand, and let it go outside.

Just when we thought we were getting ahead. But plugged and set right, soon enough.

Bloody cat. A bit like the trailer trash former occupants of the Bale House really. They know not what they do.

And the rest of us have to plug harder to clean up after them.

Friday, October 1, 2010


...and we haven't had a single frosty night yet.

As one result, the stable-fly outbreak has not been checked at all. I've been killing all the flies I can, in the house and on the porch, but poor Mary doesn't have a thick enough coat to save herself, and so she gets bitten.

She's also the primary vector for them to get in the house. They just hitch a ride. I've taken to getting her excited before letting her in the door. If you just talk to her a little bit, say "good girl, Mary-dog," she likes that, and gets worked up a little, and jumps up and down a little, shedding the dozen or so flies that are riding on her.

Then you open the door.

These are nasty buggers, too. Suppose you have slacked off and let one in the house. Suppose you're taking a nap on the couch, reading, or watching TV, and one of these settles on your foot.

It will bite you right through a thick sock.


And then when you splat them with the fly-swatter, all that Mary- or Mick-blood also goes splat. Pretty gross.

This will be the first year that we've had tomatoes lingering on the vines into October. The leeks seem to be enjoying it, and the sheeps' grass has put on a growth spurt. Usually we begin to feed hay this time of year. When it rains you see frogs on the road at night, a sight usually reserved for spring. Today we have a tropical storm remnant, and 70 degree rain. Heavy rain at times, but not refreshing.

We're supposed to get 25 degree nights and 60 degree days in late September/early October, and when it rains it should be 45 degrees and cold. This doesn't sound like good weather to most folks, I know, but to me it sounds like work -- being able to work outdoors without sweating! I look forward to fall work. It's the best time of the year. Instead we have flies, frogs, and mugginess. At least the firewood will certainly last the winter.

So this might be a harbinger of the regular Maine fall climate of the next few decades. This feels like the fall I spent in Georgia, not Maine.

I want my frosts back!