Sunday, December 30, 2012

How to wear out a young, energetic dog

1) Order up 18 inches of snow
2) Take dog for a walk

3) Enjoy

PS: Five foot snow bank behind our mail box:

Land Rover field trial and Bale House visit

Th main reason I went to such trouble to find, purchase, rebuild, and restore a forty-two year-old Land Rover truck this year was to have a bomb-proof yet basic farm utility vehicle that would last as long as I would into the twenty-first century. Four-wheel drive was part of the necessary package. Our Rover's transfer case is of course as ancient as the vehicle itself, as are the swivel joints and driveshafts, and the only servicing I gave them, while rebuilding the frame and restoring the engine tune and wiring this summer, was to grease the universal joints on the two drive-shafts and to check the brakes.

I admit, I did take a long hard look at the very complex maintenance manual detail on rebuilding the transfer case and servicing the swivel joints. My conclusion was that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and that this particular procedure could certainly wait for a year or two until bad symptoms showed themselves, or even be avoided entirely by simply replacing the whole shebang with bench-serviced, second-hand units bought expressly for the purpose.

So it was with a little trepidation that I took the Rover out Saturday for its first serious 4WD test. So far all we had was about eight inches of snow. Another nor'easter would arrive overnight. It was now or never, if I wanted to go check on our Bale House this winter, which is empty for the winter since the occupant, a work colleague, has moved to another regional town. The Bale House has a half-mile long driveway in the form of a forest access road, a public right-of-way that leads to three different residential properties including ours, but one that the town of Monroe leaves unplowed. The other two units are summer camps, and so there's only our building that is normally occupied through the winter.

The occupant generally pays privately for the road to be plowed, or snowshoes in.

It doesn't help that the road is steep and that there's a place where a seasonal seep actually comes out of the road and freezes solid, leaving a sheet of solid ice under the snow. We've had all kinds of adventures with this road. This would be an excellent way to make sure the Rover's 4WD system was up to snuff.

At the junction with the main road (itself a bad dirt road, but plowed), I pulled off, stopped, and put the car in neutral, then pulled backwards the classic Land Rover "red knob" gearshift lever that works both the 4WD and the low range. She snicked in beautifully. (That satisfying little snick as the transfer case shifter is worked is an aesthetic peculiar to Land Rovers -- you have to be there to appreciate it.) I gave her a little gas and we surged forward through the snow and up the steep, icy, snow-covered slope quite happily.

You don't race anywhere in a Land Rover in low range. It's more of a kind of slow grind. The vehicle will churn through mud, snow, rocks and even deep water. In this case we went up this very bad road with no trouble at all, making me more than happy with the Rover.

At the Bale House I was pleased to see that everything was in great shape and the house left cleaner than it probably was when the occupant took over. The only problem was that the water system hadn't been fully drained, and a window damaged by the previous (and very trashy) occupant family hadn't been sealed shut, indeed it couldn't be sealed shut because of the damage, and so the house had grown cold and the internal water reservoirs had frozen solid.

I'll have to go back with tools and seal that window shut, then in the spring we can drain the water and check for frozen pipes. I saw at least two that had been shattered by the frost -- these are just PVC pipes in this building and they will shatter very easily if left filled with water.

There's no furniture in this building now, and it may be time to finish the repairs and enhancements started a couple years ago, just before the most recent occupant moved in. These were cut short when the building was needed for use, and I didn't want to disturb our occupants privacy by finishing them with her living there.

We've been thinking about what improvements we might make that would allow us the rent the building out, even as a rustic summer camp. We've never charged any rent for this unit because of the poor facilities. Right now the very ad-hoc home-built composting toilet is simply too disgusting to operate -- you empty a reservoir tub onto a compost heap and mix it with straw and sawdust to make a decent compost. No-one really wants to be that familiar with their own effluent!

At the very least we'd need a proper commercially-produced composting toilet. It may be time, too, to rip out the water pipes and fall back to a basic two-galvanized bucket Jack-and Jill hand-well system. The solar system too could use either an upgrade, or perhaps a downgrade, to be replaced with propane lamps that never require batteries to be replaced. Those batteries never last long enough, and cost too much money. Propane would be more reliable, and there already is propane supply to the fridge and a small back-up heater. It would be an easy matter to plumb in a few lamps here and there.

Some paint and plaster wouldn't go amiss either, nor some "camp-style" furniture. At which point we'd have a decent vacation camp for friends and family, and possibly even paying guests in the summer and in hunting season.

It would make a great ski lodge too. As you can see from the photo, there's tons of snow and lots of forest tracks for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, while the right-of-way is a listed snowmobile trail. The wood stove is quite efficient and heats the whole building. Perhaps skiers and snowmobilers would be willing to pay to stay there in the winter. We'll see.

Fo now, I'm just pleased that it's in such decent shape, and that the recent occupant did such a great job of cleaning.

I'm also pleased that the Land Rover did such a great job of driving up that bad road in so much snow. The second nor'easter has dumped another eight inches so far, so there's now about sixteen inches on the ground and I'll need to move snow again today.

I wonder if the Rover would make it up that road a second time?


Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the bleak midwinter...

We had a few days after the end of term and before our regular road trip to Virginia to see Aimee's parents, and during that time I went over and over my to-do list of pre trip preparations, so our house-sitter Marsha would have an easy time of things. I checked over all the household systems again and again, brought down feed for the sheep, filled all the water containers, and generally obsessed compulsively in order that we might have a good trip without worries. Aimee did much the same, and in the end we left poor Marsha with a veritable dissertation of instructions, running to three pages, single- spaced, with email addenda.

It was all for nothing. A storm blew up a day and a half after we left which cut power to the house. Marsha was asleep at the time and so didn't notice. When she awoke, the oil furnace was out and wouldn't re-start, leaving an eight-foot 115 V baseboard heater next to the living room windows as the only heat in the house. She emailed to us down in Virginia, and waited, the house getting colder, for us to respond.

Eventually we did of course check our email, by which time it was 55 degrees F in the house, and certainly cold enough outside to freeze pipes. We called right away and, after running through some furnace trouble-shooting procedures over the phone unsuccessfully, gave instead verbal instructions for using the wood stove.

Wood stoves are tricky, and unless you've used one before, indeed, unless you've had lots of practice in using one, you may not be able to make it work for you very easily, which is why we have our house-sitters use the oil furnace instead. It's one less thing for us to worry about while we're away.

But needs must. I walked Marsha through the lighting process, step-by-step, and gave tips on what to expect from each shape, size and type of log. There followed a few anxious hours during which we waited to make sure she was getting the hang of it. We were pleased to see that she managed quite well and when we next called back, the house was up to 65 degrees F. We breathed a big sigh of relief. The pipes at least were saved.

There was also the small matter of one or another of the ewes having somehow walked off with one of the two water tank heaters accidentally attached, cutting heat to one of the two water tubs. The tank heater was nowhere to be found, the sheep having hidden it carefully in the snow. This meant the sheep would run out of water in  a day or two.

Then we saw the weather reports: giant winter storm "Euclid" was barreling across the southern states with torrential rain and tornadoes and would become a nor'easter if it followed the predicted trajectory. (Apparently winter storms have names now, just like hurricanes. I'm not sure this is a necessary elaboration.)

That was enough for us, on top of the furnace and animal woes. Christmas would have to be cut short this year.

Aimee's family were good enough to reprogram their entire holiday, and so we had Christmas dinner and present-opening on Christmas Eve, and by 8.30 am on Christmas Day Aimee and I were back in the Camry heading for points north, Euclid thundering along about 24 hours behind us.

We had good weather for driving ahead of the storm, and slowed only by fog in Virginia, had our own Christmas dinner in a south Indian restaurant somewhere north of Hartford, Connecticut, and bedded down comfortably in a Baymont Inn for the night. By 1pm the next day we were home.

At home things were fine. Marsha had it up to a toasty 68 F in the house, and the stove was burning brightly. She gets the official 2012 Learned to Use a Wood Stove in the Shortest Time Award. But then being cold concentrates the mind, I find. You'll do anything to get warm again.

We quickly sorted the animals and a supply of firewood for the coming storm. The tank heater had resurfaced and Martha reconnected it, so all we had to do was top off the tubs. I then repeated the immediate fault diagnosis for the furnace, resetting the programmable thermostat, then pressing the red reset button on the primary control, all to no avail.

What was wrong with the furnace? This is admittedly an older unit, circa 1987, but it sees so little use that we assume it needs little maintenance. It hasn't been run for more than a few tens of hours a year since we got (mostly) done with our giant insulation and air sealing project a few years ago. In that time we've burned only about 70 gallons of oil. The house is now so well insulated, we can keep it nicely warm with the wood stove and a small electrical heater, and so the only time we use the oil furnace is when we have a house-sitter, or when the wood stove goes out while we're away for the day, and we want to rewarm the house quickly.

The next day, as so-called Euclid was raging all around us, I went online and pulled the various manuals and perused the DIY blogs and videos to get good information to run through a deeper inspection/fault diagnosis process. I'd never worked on a furnace before, and wanted to learn as much as I could from the experience.

I removed the whole burner unit and took it upstairs to my workbench to get a better look at things. Back in the basement with a flashlight, the first thing I noticed was that the small anteroom to the combustion chamber where the burner tube sits was filthy, full of soot and debris, so I vacuumed that out with the shop vac, recovering a good two pounds of soot and burned dust. I examined the main filter and fuel pump screen and found both to be dirty. I pulled the burner nozzle and decided to change that too.

That was as much as I could get done because the heating firm with the parts store is, of course, several miles away and the storm would hit overnight. Hoping to salvage a little Christmas spirit, I made mince pies and fed the wood stove and gave the sheep extra hay. Aimee started a jigsaw puzzle and we watched TV in the warm as the storm blew up.

The next day we had a winter wonderland in the dooryard.

Only about eight inches of snow, not such a large storm really, but some blowing and drifting had piled up larger drifts here and there. The sheep were nice and warm in the barn, but to judge by the layer of snow on their backs, some had even slept outside! Sheep don't really care too much about storms.

I did experience that signature Maine moment where you try to open your front door but can't because of a snow drift, but the town plow had been up the road and so we weren't by any stretch of the imagination "snowed in." I got busy with the Kubota tractor and soon had the driveway clear and the various vehicles shoveled off.

The firewood pile is getting low, and so we'll need to get a little more in, but what we have is nice and dry, good quality ash from our own land. There's another three rows behind this one, enough to take us through February. I'll find another cord of dry somewhere on Uncle Henry's or Maine Craig's List.

I used the Land Rover to get to the parts store, but even that wasn't really necessary. The roads were fairly clear by 10 am.

I bought a new filter, screen nozzle and main gasket and came back and fitted them and put the whole thing back together and bled the system, but it still wouldn't light. Back to the parts store again with the electrode/nozzle unit, to have the electrodes checked. They were fine, so I bought home a new primary control. That didn't do the trick either. Finally, after checking for spark across the springs, I realized the igniter transformer was fried. And of course, thinking back, that should perhaps have been the first thing I checked, because, well, there was a power cut, followed by (I found out later from the parts guy) a power surge as the power came back on. More than enough to fry a 25 year-old transformer that's been kept in a damp basement.

One last quick trip to the parts store, a last flurry of parts-fitting and wiring, and the machine fired up. It burned a little wild to begin, of course, because the combustion chamber was filled with unburned fuel, but soon settled down.

I don't mind that I bought all those extra parts. If you think about it, now we have a fully-serviced oil furnace, with brand new wiring and electronics. Not a moment too soon, because it's supposed to get down to - 10 degrees F next week at night (- 24 degrees Celsius).

The furnace should now be good for several more years of use. Indeed, I think the only thing that will kill this old system is the rust. the basement is damp and the sheet metal housing is rusting.

What would be nice now would be to get a secondhand unit from a retrofit job somewhere with a dryer basement and switch out all the rusty panels.

I think we dealt with all these emergencies rather well, even if I do say so myself. Thinking ahead, we had good back-up plans for home heat, and, of course, a sturdy and clever lass for a house sitter who could rise to the occasion. We kept up with the weather forecast and so were able to dodge the storm. And we had good skills to fall back on for fixing the furnace.

All's well that ends well.

Just another winter on the farm.

Chris­ti­na Ros­set­ti, 1872, 

In the Bleak Midwinter

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 Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Monday, December 24, 2012

American chestnut

Wikipedia photo: Castanea dentata, the American chestnut 

The venerable Manchester Guardian, a paper my family has been involved with as readers and writers for nearly a century (and yet of which I frequently dispair -- in much the way a middle-aged child may dispair of his own parents), has done itself proud with an exceptional photo essay on the recovery of American chestnut.

It's well worth a moment of your time, if you're even in the slightest tiny bit an American conservationist:

My favorite picture is the antique one of the old growth chestnut stand.

I think it's very hard for modern folk to truly appreciate what was lost when the chestnut blight struck. You have to have some farming or homesteading experience that has included the clearing of land, the building of fences and cabins, or the use of a wood fire or wood stove, to get the real feel of this ecological disaster.

Can you imagine what it meant to the European settlers of this country to find a tree so large and so abundant, that you could split and square easily with a simple broad ax, and that would resist rot for many years even when laid close to the ground? Nearly all the settler cabins of the original frontier backcountry -- the Appalachian foothills and mountains, including Waldo County, Maine -- would have been built with American chestnut. This was a huge contribution to the economic development of the country.

Only later, when water mills became widely available for sawn pine, spruce and hemlock lumber, did the classic American clapboard house become typical. Even then chestnut fence rails and firewood would have remained valuable.

Abraham Lincoln, when he was a log splitter, would have been splitting the American chestnut.

It should be obvious that the kind of sustainability science experience developed by these chestnut conservationists and breeders may again come in handy as we deal with ash die-back in the UK, and emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly algedid in the US, among other nasty invasives.

All of course are exacerbated by climate change.

Click here to find out about Unity College's work with these last two nasties, ash borers and algedids.

I can't under-emphasize the importance of these recent developments with new invasives. Both are potentially very damaging to Maine forests and woodlots, and there are billions of dollars of value at stake.

As a "settler" and farmer, I'm very fond of both trees and use them extensively. Ash firewood is our primary heating fuel at Womerlippi Farm, most of which is cut from our own land, essentially a second-growth ash grove, while locally-sourced hemlock from Gerald Fowler's Thorndike lumber mill is the primary building lumber we use for barns and other building projects.

Losing either tree would be a massive disaster for the state of Maine, and for the Womerlippis.

Monday, December 17, 2012

First "day off" of Winter Break

Readers jealous of our work schedule with its long breaks should consider that as academics we're never really off-duty. We're supposed to "keep up with our fields", which in my case means keeping up with the world of climate mitigation and associated renewable energy and energy efficiency ideas, and getting my wind research done. Aimee has to keep up with the world of evolutionary biology and do her marine biology research. And there are always administrative meetings to attend and reports to be written. 

So, when we get into one of our two "long breaks," work doesn't actually stop. 

But scheduling becomes a lot easier when classes end. 

And we certainly get more rest.

Last semester I had two mind-numbing long days each week. On Tuesday and Thursdays I had to wake up at my normal time, feed and water the animals, drive to work at the regular time, and then keep going until around 7.30 or 7.45 pm, or whenever the last student got done asking the last question after my Tues/Thurs section of Core III, Environmental Sustainability. I'm a patient and hard-working guy, and so I always had energy for the students' questions, but the drive home almost killed me more than once. I would get home and tell Aimee that I was "well-rested" because I'd "slept in the car on the way home" and I had. More than once I'd drift off at the wheel. 

On the very last night of this class I was especially tired. I'd given an exam with an extra half-hour, meaning my drive home didn't start until 8.20 or so, and after about five miles I realized I was seeing double. There were two white lines down each side of the road, and four yellow ones down the middle!  

If I closed just one eye the double and quadruple lines went away, but then so did my depth perception. Hobson's choice: Drive with both eyes open and see double, or drive with one eye shut and have no depth perception?

I alternated, opening both eyes for the corners and closing one for the straight bits. Funnily, I wasn't sleepy, just having trouble seeing. 

So I'm very glad to be at home, warm and safe and rested, and, although the snow is falling outside, I don't care because I don't have to go to work this Monday, nor for three Mondays after that. 

My first day off was actually Sunday, since Saturday was the day I finished up my grading. We had chores to do, but that was more of a pleasure than a pain. Although it was cold, the sun was out.

Flamey helped with the chore of taking the trash to the transfer station. This is just down the road, but the dogs get to ride there and back with me, and for some silly reason they always love this little trip even though they never leave the vehicle. This time we took the Land Rover, which needed to be warmed up for a minute while we loaded the trash. Flamey was so happy to get to ride in the Land Rover, she jumped right in and waited for me to load. 

Another job we had to do was to deal with a half-bushel of carrots I'd pulled the day before. These had accidentally frozen overnight when I forget to take them out of the back of the Rover. The temperature dropped down well below freezing Saturday night. We're not sure exactly how cold it got because our thermometer appears to be reading incorrectly. Ours read 17 degrees F (-8 C) , but our friends who live on a similar homestead five miles away and at the same altitude reported 11 F (-17 C). Anyway, the carrots, which were intended for said friends in exchange for eggs since our hens still aren't laying, were no longer trade-able, so they had to be processed instead. I peeled and blanched and froze them in quart Ziploc bags, while the carrot tops and peelings went to the sheep. 

Here's Nellie asking for more carrots through the fence. 

The sheep didn't seem to mind the cold at all. Their fleeces are nice and thick for the winter. 
I don't understand these people who shear their sheep in the fall. It doesn't seem right to make a Maine sheep go through winter with a thin fleece.

There was the small matter of a hen with about a quarter pound of frozen chicken poop on her butt. This had to be cut and sponged off over the kitchen sink. The hen was quite philosophical about it all, just clucking mildly to herself while Aimee held her butt first over the sink, while I trimmed and sponged. I think she even enjoyed the warm water.I didn't take any pictures of that operation. You don't want to see that gruesome job being done.

Aimee's Sunday routine includes the weekly laundry, but Charlie cat decided to sleep in the laundry basket. This cat is a champion sleeper -- this time he went into the basket around 1pm, no doubt taking advantage of a bunch of warm clothes just out of the dryer, and didn't move until late at night. 

Now that's what I call a cat-nap.

Finally, despite the counsel of the wifely Grinch, who despises all such frippery, it was time for a little Christmas cheer. I may not get a Christmas tree this year, but, gosh-durn it, I was going to have some Christmas decorations.

So that was Sunday. Now it's Monday morning, and I don't have to go to work.

Which is good because there's a snowstorm outside.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A big softy

One of our colleagues at Unity College (in violation of the "Pet Policy") bought his tiny new puppy (a miniature Schnauzer) to work. The (female) student workers in the mail room were all over it, of course, and decided to dress him up in a scarf borrowed from a stuffed toy. The scarf fit perfectly. I had my camera in my backpack, and so asked the students to take this picture. Of course, Gary, the dog's owner, then put it about on FaceBook that my "tough guy" image was all over.

But the puppy was pretty cute, and not at all yappy. I don't like small dogs if they are yappy. And I never was that tough.

Walking our own dogs this evening and last, we've seen huge shooting stars, from the Geminid meteor shower. They all seem to be big and slow and very orange. Beautiful.

The sheep don't seem to care about the shooting stars, but they do seem a little worried about the deer that are coming onto the various Great Farm lawns to eat neighbor Jean's apples that fell off her tree. I'm not sure why deer make sheep nervous, but they do. I go out at night to check on them, and the sheep are up, snuffling about nervously and staring into the dark, when usually they are lying quietly, chewing their cud.

Scary deer. But there have been coyotes about too, so maybe the sheep are not so paranoid after all.

On our dog walk yesterday we saw a big old owl down by the beaver ponds. We came upon it unexpectedly as it was perched on a branch, and it flew off with one massive fwuff of its wings.

Also quite beautiful.

We live in a lovely place.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bentley, our purebred Romney ram, has moved on to a new farm. We'd used him for the regulation two breeding seasons, and didn't want to start breeding him back to his daughters so he had to go. He was the fourth ram we've had on the farm, and probably the mildest and the largest.

Even so, I can't say I'm sorry to see him gone.

Rams will be rams and they like to ram. In particularly, they will charge and butt you if they think you're coming between them and the ewes, or between them and their food. Or, just because. 

Bentley never rammed anyone. 

Instead he took it out on fences and buildings. He could walk right over a normal four- or five foot field fence, using his massive weight to flatten the wire. He could batter a full-depth cedar fence post, or even one set in concrete, until it keeled over. Any ordinary wooden structure had to be built very heavily, with thick plywood and cross-bracing.

The only solution was to build fences of cattle panels made of 1/4 inch welded steel wire, to connect these to very sound fence posts, and to join the fence posts together at the top with rails and plumber's strapping. Even so, he would still batter away at the cattle panels until they were perfectly concave.

So, once we felt more or less certain that all six ewes were bred this fall, we put an ad on Craig's List and in Uncle Henry's. We needed to shift him fairly quickly because of the upcoming holidays, so the price was reduced. We paid $200, but asked only for $100. This seemed fair enough, considering we have Shawn, his offspring, and so we are still up a ram, even if we're down $100. We also felt that a lower price would make it easier to place him on a farm. There are guys who make a career out of buying up sheep and goats from small farms to take to halal butchers in the big cities, especially around the Eid holiday, the "festival of sacrifice", and we didn't want him to end up slaughtered before his time. He's such a nice, well proportioned, well bred animal. He needed to live out his useful life as a ram.

Still, this quick effort to move him on happened only one year and one month, almost to the day, that we got him. Just enough time to breed two generations, and not a day longer!

People called and emailed and before we were really quite ready, a very suitable farm responded and sent out a delegation. We were at little worried to begin, because the visit was scheduled for a weekday and the people were over an hour late without notification, while we had to get back to work. Disorganized people don't always make for the best farmers, and Bentley is a serious animal, not for the faint hearted or disorganized person. But after talking to them for a few minutes we both decided they knew what they were getting into, more or less.

Of course, even this sensible plan required him to be caught one last time and sequestered in the barn before the people arrived, and I had a little fun with that. Bentley rammed his gate as I was getting the crush ready to halter him, shattering the gatepost. And once in the barn he rammed the gatepost and side fence of the lambing pen in which he'd been placed, shattering all that pretty nicely too.

He'd make a good rugby prop forward or football linebacker.

In the end I used a solid hardwood gate that we have to make a pen in one corner, and that held him. Here he is (above) being distracted by a carrot from the garden while I fix up the damage he'd caused.

We were both surprised, however, that the buyers showed up in a family van. The back seats had been taken out to leave a big cargo space, and so there was a fair amount of room. But this meant that the young boy who showed up with the group, about 13 or 14 years old, would have to ride home with Bentley sticking his head over the seats. Aimee got a picture.

I wonder how that trip went? Did Bentley ram the back of the seats? Did he destroy the van? 

It takes all kinds to make a world. 

Still, I expect that Bentley is pretty happy on his new farm where he has ewes to breed, and isn't going to be slaughtered.

All's well that ends well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The final push

We were back to reality with a bump on Monday, after our nice long Thanksgiving Break, which was marred only by my struggles with the crashed computer. Monday marked the start of the last stretch of regular teaching before Final Exams. We have one more full week, then two days of wrap-up, three days of finals, a weekend of grading, and then home again for the Christmas break.

I'm looking forward to catching up on some much-needed rest. As usual, the tension is killing my sleep, and I've been up a lot at midnight and two and three in the morning getting work done so I can be free to spend time with students during the day.

Good teaching doesn't come without struggle. You need to be able to give each student your best efforts, and you shouldn't give up too easily when the student is being lazy or weak-minded about things. As a result, you wear yourself out not a little, butting heads with students that need to work harder, or struggling mightily to find a third or fourth way to explain something when the first and second methods didn't work. If you come home relaxed and refreshed, you're probably not doing it right. You should feel bruised and battered, at least a little.

I usually sleep a lot the first week of any of our two long breaks, as my body and mind repair themselves from all these bumps and hurts.

This weekend isn't helping any. For various reasons, some good, some not so good, the college decided to hold the biannual student conference on a Saturday instead of the first day of the final exam period. Student conference is a great event, and very good for student learning, since students are put on the spot by professors and made to defend their work verbally. But I was pretty battered at the start of it yesterday, and wasn't sure if I gave it my best by the end. I came home, did my farm chores, took about a half a cup of white wine, slept on the couch for two hours and felt better. Aimee, for her part, poor girl, had to do the weekly shopping before she could come home and take her nap.

I was in bed by eight-thirty.

Today is the Maine Association for Search and Rescue Quarterly Meeting, which I must attend if the Unity College SAR team wishes to continue to make a contribution to Maine SAR, and which takes several hours, and a couple hours of driving on either side.

Not a happy weekend pour moi. Aimee, for her part, cranky too but still good-hearted, will do the laundry and no doubt keep the wood stove stoked while I'm away. At least, I hope she will. It wouldn't be the first time she let the fire go out while I was on an errand, so I plan to leave the electric heater on too, as back-up. Nothing worse than coming home tired to a cold house.

Additionally, since we knew we were going to lose the great majority of our weekend, we were forced to take a risk with Bentley, our ram. His job for the year done, he needed to be separated again from his ewes. But this is an unhappy event for him, and so of course he batters fences and gates to make himself feel better. Normally. we'd do this job at the start of a weekend, so we would have time to monitor him as he settled down. Instead I was forced to do it Wednesday evening at dusk. That gave him Wednesday night and a little time before work Thursday morning to settle down, and of course he was still pretty mad, battering the fence as I drove away to work.

I'm reminded a little of the finale to Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, when the ecological and systems problems plaguing the German armies have piled up, so much the system begins to break down and they can no longer resist the western armies. All it takes is a straw, when the poor bloody camels are already so obviously overloaded.

But don't feel too bad for us. My comparison, except for the bit about straws, is obviously pure guff and hyperbole. And no-one said I had to run a farm as well as hold down an academic job. It's my own silly fault.

We'll be done with the semester soon enough, and recovery will happen. I'm looking forward to it. We've done our  pre-winter duty as Mainers and homesteaders particularly well this year. The house and farm are all set up for the coming winter, so we'll be able to relax. I have some minor energy efficiency projects to do around the house, mostly just for fun, a wild notion to try felt-making with our own fleece, as well as a nice tall stack of serious reading.

Since the weather turned bad and the farm and pre-winter workload has reduced itself, I've been reading some great books, including Anatol Lievin's Pakistan: A Hard Country, and Patrick French's India: A Portrait, and as a result I now feel I understand both countries a lot better than I did, even though I grew up around Indian and Pakistani people in Sheffield. Additionally, and not without a groan or two from Aimee, the History Book Club offered a special, all three volumes of Manchester's book on Churchill, The Last Lion, to add to my Churchill collection. All this I consider necessary to understanding how to fix climate change, and so I take credit for it as an academic. Even Churchill, whose "wilderness years" are an inspiration for many climate academics.

I also plan to eat well, rest well, and be nice to Aimee, although sometimes I think that doesn't get me very far, or not as far as it perhaps should.