Musings on Market Day

Market day is a downer. Sure, there are a few pigs I was glad to see go, but I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to disavowing bacon than on market day–well, maybe I have, there was that one time I checked my blood pressure after eating a half pack of bacon. 

Sometimes when I think about God, the best analogy I can think of is a farmer and a pig. A pig is a smart animal, but most farmers, current writer excluded, are exponentially smarter and somewhat omniscient (at least in terms of the pig’s day of reckoning) and generally benevolent (at least in terms of providing for the pig’s welfare). I suppose the analogy would branch from here, depending on your beliefs: If you’re a pantheist, the pig would dissolve into the ether of livermush–and so would the farmer. If you’re a Christian, in the end times, the farmer would return and call all the pigs home, which is basically a heavenly version of a pig pickin’. If you’re an atheist, then the farmer is just a figment of the pig’s imagination. 

I’m not sure which branch is more ludicrous. But the thing is, life itself is ludicrous. As far as we know, in the vastness of the vast universe, we are it. Somehow, on a rock floating in space, an amoeba sprang up to form a man capable of creating livermush and then using it in analogy about an abstract concept, called God, which may be a figment of his imagination. Sure, there is a lot of chatter about UFOs these days, but if aliens turn out to be pale, anemic-looking bipeds then something fishy is going on. Aliens that look anything similar to us just wouldn’t make sense. Given a completely different set of evolutionary conditions on some other planet, I would think if we did find a crashed flying saucer that was extraterrestrial in origin, it would be more likely to be piloted by a talking sponge than little gray men. 

I’m not sure how I went from pigs, to God, to aliens, but your mind goes to strange places on market day. All I know is I’m thankful for pigs and bacon and life itself, even if it is ridiculous. And I’m thankful that we live in a country where we can have ridiculous discussions and write ridiculous blog posts and think freely and eat bacon. And I’m thankful we live in a country where people can disavow bacon and join PETA if they so choose. And I’m thankful we live in a country where people can vote, whether it’s for a talking sponge or a little gray man. And I’m thankful I can live on a little farm and keep bees, the premise of which–a soft-bodied mammal keeping thousands of stinging insects–is ridiculous in and of itself. All said, I have a lot to be thankful for as I float along in this particular place on this particular rock in a vast universe of ridiculousness.

The Hot Wheels Industrial Complex

Many people these days are raising the alarm about Artificial Intelligence, but they are too late, as evidenced by the fact that Hot Wheels are now self-replicating. Everywhere I step is a new Hot Wheel that seems intent on my downfall. I can’t even get up in the middle of the night without fear that a Hot Wheel will ambush me en route to pee. As a fringe benefit, my employer offers an Accident Plan, a type of insurance that compensates you for fractures, dislocations, concussions, and lacerations. I used to wonder who would feel the need to purchase such a plan, on top of their regular health insurance, and then Thomas turned three and smuggled a Hot Wheel home from daycare. Ever since, Hot Wheels have been multiplying exponentially in our house, and I signed up for the High Option for the Accident Plan. 

For a three-year-old boy, Hot Wheels is a way of life. Thomas wakes up on Saturday mornings at 6:30, climbs into our bed, and pummels us back into wakefullness. “Can I watch Hot Wheels City?” he asks every Saturday. By this point in his short life, Thomas has probably seen Draven, the evil genius in Hot Wheels City, thwarted a thousand times by Chase and Elliot, the two claymation heroes who drive Hot Wheels to save the day, all while engaging in witty banter.

As a parent, I place blame squarely on the grandparents–as much as I try to prevent more contraband from entering the house, I think my mom sneaks in Hot Wheels inside her scratch-made five layer chocolate cake. It’s too good to resist, even if it does contain a metallic layer. These days, good ole-fashioned Hot Wheels are now a gateway to more expensive Hot Wheels Monster Trucks. It’s as if the whole Hot Wheels Industrial Complex is merely meant to dislocate grandparents from their money and parents from their shoulders. One of Thomas’s favorite Hot Wheels Monster Trucks is named Bone Shaker, an apt name if you happen to step on it in the middle of the night.

Thomas and his Monster Trucks

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Recently for work I attended a Veteran Farmers’ Conference in Boone, NC. I have long since realized that Asheville is a strange land, but Boone is not far behind. I will say something for the veterans in attendance–you could tell they had been trained extensively in the practice of self-control. Me, not so much. The only thing stopping me, a non-veteran, from storming the stage and wresting away the microphone–to put all of us out of our misery–was the fear that I would lose a fight to a pacifist. 

In the speaker’s defense, I don’t think she had the self-awareness to realize how poorly the presentation was coming off. The veterans were too polite. They just sat there, eyes diverted, hoping it would end soon. Eventually, she did end her hour-long treatise, which was supposed to be about improving farmers’ mental health, a worthy topic, given suicide and depression among farmers, especially veteran farmers, are high compared to other vocations.

But the talk meandered from Australia where the young woman, who was a new age psychological practitioner of some sort, spent time learning from the Aborigines, to Europe where she took a pilgrimage to Copenhagen, to Connecticut where she spent years at Yale studying mental health treatment, focusing on eastern philosophies. She said we needed to “decolonize” our mental health system and avoid “toxic masculinity” and live in tune with our “chakras” and that most mental health ailments arise from imbalances in gut health, for which she had a medicinal herb that could help with every possible affliction. She talked about how she was a vegetarian for ten-years, until her body revolted, at which point she suddenly realized that eating meat “aligned spiritually” with her development as a human being. At the end, she asked if anyone had questions, and if they did, nobody dared ask one for fear of prolonging our suffering. For me, the only question left unasked was how she could afford to travel the world and then attend Yale.

But while she was speaking, I was also thinking about the dichotomy playing out. Here was a young woman, white, likely of considerable privilege and obviously highly educated, bemoaning the very privilege from which she has benefited. I suspect many of these veterans she was talking to had come from much humbler backgrounds and would have probably loved to trade places with her–at least in the sense that when they had traveled the world, they risked being shot at or blown up. I talked to one young man who had spent four years as an infantryman in the Army, much of it in Afghanistan. He didn’t get into details but said he still struggles with PTSD from an ambush on his unit. He said that he was one of the lucky ones. 

Lucky, I guess, is a relative term. I think we’re all lucky to live in the United States, where men and women sacrifice their own lives, limbs, and mental health, so the rest of us can tune up our chakras and work on our development as human beings. The young woman meant well and had the audience been a typical Boone hipster audience, the presentation likely would have been received with much adulation. I guess what has struck me so much on my sojourns in the Asheville and Boone areas is the irony of it all, that the hipsters who are so vociferously pushing diversity and inclusion are mostly a non-diverse group, white and privileged, and that a woman lamenting toxic masculinity to a room full of veterans is free to do so because many of her listeners had been trained to exhibit behaviors associated with toxic masculinity, not only for their own survival on the battlefield, but for our survival as a free and democratic nation.

photography of usa flag
Thank you, Veterans!

The Bright Spot

The drought persists. Somehow we missed our 73% chance of rain on Tuesday, which is more evidence that math is fake. Another reason math is fake is because I spent $800 on grass and clover seed this fall, and my truck bed still looked empty and my tires barely bulged under the payload of a few overpriced seed sacks. It’s as if numbers don’t mean anything anymore. In fact, I think my eight hundred dollars would have been more valuable as kindling for my bee smoker. I planted the seed back in early September and it has yet to germinate, which is possibly a blessing in disguise. Had it germinated, the seedlings would have shriveled up faster than fatback in a frying pan. There is still a chance that, given some rainfall, I can recoup my expenses by actually growing forage for cows, though at this point I’d probably have better odds of indemnification by attempting to rob a bank.  

The one bright spot in the drought is the brightness of the dying foliage. I can’t remember a year when the maples were as orange, the oaks as scarlet, and the poplars as lemony as this particular year. On more than one occasion this fall, my wife, who is much more artistically inclined than I will ever be, has gasped at the color of a roadside tree. I wouldn’t know a Monet from a Michelangelo, unless the latter was a mutant turtle, but even I can appreciate the orangeness of the maples this year. It’s as if the ground, in all its droughty drabness, is merely meant to contrast with the foliage above, to frame Mother Nature’s masterpiece. 

wide angle photo of road

Hams Don’t Lie

Desperate times call for desperate action. I’ve left my car windows down, painted an outbuilding, and even hung up a few garments on the old clothesline–just to tempt the atmosphere into relinquishing a few rain drops. The whole countryside looks drab, like someone siphoned the chlorophyll out of the pastures and hayfields. We haven’t had any substantial rain since early September. But give it a few months, and the pendulum will have probably shifted and we’ll be boarding an ark. It seems like it’s always one extreme or the other. 

Somehow, in their infinite wisdom, the folks who monitor and declare drought stages have finally found it within themselves to bestow us with an official “severe drought” designation. “Abnormally Dry,” they said for months. There will be no fall flow this year, not that that’s abnormal. Occasionally, when I was a beginning beekeeper, I heard old timers mention fall flows and hives smelly and filled with goldenrod and aster honey. We still get the smelly socks aroma from traces of aster nectar, but a hive bursting with fall honey is about as rare as a raindrop these days. In the thirteen years I’ve been keeping bees, I don’t think I’ve ever had a fall flow that fills supers. 

Ten years ago, we bought the old farmhouse. My wife’s grandfather, who was born in the house, is eighty-five and likes to tell stories about the olden days when the family had hog killings in January, bled carcasses on the branch of a mammoth barnyard oak, and hung hams in the smokehouse. Eventually, they quit raising hogs because they were losing too many hams in the winter due to warm spells. 

Hams don’t lie, I suppose, and neither do honey supers. The climate is changing. And the landscape is too. Housing developments are spreading faster than kudzu, and as much as I can’t begrudge people a place to live (I guess everyone can’t live in a house built in 1897), I don’t like it much either, just like I don’t like 85 ℉ days at the end of October. 

Sometimes I wish I could have seen the countryside in its prime, back when it was dotted with farmsteads, not sprawling developments named after farms. Having tried my fair share of farming schemes, I’m not naive enough to believe it was a better or easier time, but I’d like to think it was a slower time when things didn’t change quite so fast. Or maybe change has stayed the same, and I’m just getting older and time is speeding up. Either way I don’t like it. I wish it would stop.