Raising a Man of Taste

Thomas is not a picky eater–he will eat chicken feed, goat feed, cow feed, and cat feed indiscriminately without pretense or shame. I guess it serves me right: I was secretly hoping Thomas would enjoy helping me do farm chores, but instead of helping me feed the farm animals, he mostly just helps himself to the farm animal’s feed. In the process of trying to deter my son from binging on calf starter pellets, I’ve learned that explaining to a toddler why he shouldn’t eat feed meant for other species is a task that should only be undertaken by someone with a Ph.D in logic. Toddler logic is the hardest logic to defeat.

ME: No, no, we don’t eat goat feed.

THOMAS: eat! eat!

ME: “No, it’s the goats time to eat, we just ate. Thomas, stop!”

THOMAS: [grinning with a goat pellet hanging from his lip] time to eat!

ME: “No, goat feed is yucky!”

THOMAS: “No yucky–yummy!”

In the barn, we have three big plastic  trash cans that serve as feed bins to contain the livestock’s vittles. They also serve as Thomas’ buffet line. Of course, the easiest way to keep marauding pests out of feed bins is to shoot them, but you can’t really do that with toddlers (at least you can’t in the South–gun culture is so strong here, the toddlers would likely shoot back). 

And honestly, I’m not sure if I really want to deter Thomas’s adventures with taste. It’s not like he’s only eating highly processed animal feed, he is also developing quite a fondness for farm fresh salads, in particular a fresh orchardgrass/fescue mix which he shoves into his mouth while toddling through the pasture. Anyway, my theory is that if he eats grass as a toddler, he’ll eat broccoli as a teenager. I’ll report back in 11 years.

Thomas caught with hand in cookie jar.

Three Farming Poems

THE GARDEN SPOT

That patch of land beside the road,

below the old barn, is Kendrick land—

those terraces thrown up by a Kendrick man,

long lost the art of nine up, three down,

moving dirt by plow,

gone the cotton boll and wagon road.

All that’s left is hayland, cut by another,

and vegetables, worked and watered.

NEW FARMER

I wonder what the sight of it all

(the ground as hard as the fact of drought,

the corn so pitiful

and tasseled out at two-feet tall)

means for him who hasn’t seen

drought, flood, weevil, and wrath of God,

and if his corn is cause for doubt. 

THE BLACKBERRY ROWS

The men and women of the blackberry rows

work long: a long, long way from somewhere.

Some still have shirts draped over head, though

the moon is kinder than the sun, kinder but queer,

people picking blackberries at night, ghosts  

flowing in and out of flood lights, fingers

stained from blood or blackberries or both,

(those are no thornless canes, I assure you)  

with no sound but the electric hum

of generated light and the loud silence 

of men and women a long, long way from home. 

Gluttons for Punishment

Not to get religious, but one thing I find interesting about the story of Adam and Eve is the fact that God punished the first couple by farming. That seems about right. Out of all punishments in the primordial soup, and I’m sure there were some tasty ones in there, God chose boring old “soil cultivation” as his foundational punishment. Eventually, God added some spice with plagues and floods and such, but those wouldn’t add nearly as much misery without farm crops to ruin. 

The point here, though, is farmers are gluttons for punishment. Year after year, farmers come back for another round of woe and bear the weight of original disciplining. In my innocence, I used to think farming was fun and exciting (a belief quickly dispelled when I planted and picked a quarter-acre patch of strawberries by myself), and I see a lot of new farmers come into the agriculture office where I work thinking the same thing. But most quit after a few years–sadly, can’t take the pain.

Not to get even more religious, but I’ll bring up another point. Right there in Genesis, written thousands of years ago, are the first documented descriptions of the two farm paradigms: (1) the organic, ideal, untainted, natural, sustaining garden planted by God and (2) the cursed and fallen land outside it, destined to be worked by the toilsome efforts of man. Whatever you make of Genesis, the point here is the two conflicting paradigms of agriculture are accounted for thousands of years ago. 

Humanity has been in a state of cognitive dissonance ever since. Which is kinda reflected in my own thoughts about agriculture: I support farmers who shoot for a higher ideal (we may not be able to get back into the garden, but maybe we can get closer to it). Meanwhile, I also support conventional farmers who undergo the toilsome and often thankless labor of feeding the vast majority of Earth’s inhabitants, and in so doing bear the brunt of original disciplining while the rest of us eat and critique their farming methods. 

The way I look at it, there’s no perfect paradigm of farming, no perfect farm, no perfect farmers. Just people, most of whom are exhausted and trying to make it through the day, doing the best they can with their particular helping of primordial soup. 

My Thoughts on Math

Yep, you know I’m scraping the bottom of my subconscious when I write a blog post about math. But best I can tell, math is mostly a pointless, stupid thing. I mean, sure, it may have played a small part in producing some of the modern luxuries we all enjoy, like rectangular pop tarts, but think about all the miseries and horrors math has unleashed, like, for instance, my recurring nightmare about calculus class. I guarantee you, in the days before math, cavemen didn’t have recurring nightmares about calculus class; they probably just had blissful dreams about picking berries with cavewomen, with maybe a nightmare thrown in every once in a while about a sabretooth tiger or tyrannosaurus rex, both of which pale in comparison to the ferocity of an old-school math teacher. 

Mrs. Seymour was old. I suspect she was probably around when calculus was first invented. Her general strategy for teaching math was massive amounts of homework, plus humiliation and shame. I can’t say it wasn’t effective. I probably learned more in her math class than many others, but then again I still have nightmares about her scanning the class, searching the downcast eyes of her pupils for her next victim to send to the board. In my nightmare it’s always me and for some reason I’m wearing a turtleneck and suspenders, a la Steve Urkel, and my classmates are snickering. Eventually, after I get the question wrong, Mrs. Seymour hangs her head in disappointment and then slowly looks up with an evil grin and gets in on the snickering, which crescendos to a full-blown communal laugh at my expense and then I wake up. Scary stuff. 

Another scary thing is me trying to do long form division now. I once was proficient at division, back in 4th grade, but now it’s a sad sight to see me, a full-grown man, baffled by basic arithmetic. I knew how to set up the problem, with the little division half-box thingy, but after that my mind was a jumble of mathematical rules: carry over, bring down, please excuse my dear Aunt Sally, Roy G. Biv, etc. Eventually, I had to use my phone to Google how to do longform division, which shows you how dumb I’ve become, since the advent of smart phones, because I could have just used the calculator on my phone to do longform division. 

Save Yourself, not the Bees

Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart–or faint or mind either. A beekeeper who is “keeping bees to help save the bees” is a beekeeper who has yet to wrestle with the harsh reality that most beginning beekeepers will kill more bees than they will ever help save. The beekeepers who reload and return to the beeyard, despite the despair of dead outs, may eventually tilt their cosmic scales back toward bee savior, but, on average, I wonder how many hives die before a beginning beekeeper actually becomes proficient enough to save bees–that is to keep bees from drowning under the virus load of varroa. It probably took me thirty dead outs over five years before something finally clicked and I started overwintering hives successfully and my hive numbers started multiplying

Now I’m in my tenth year of beekeeping, at least if you count the first five years which were mostly me killing bees. Sure, I could say it was varroa that killed them or pesticides or small hive beetles or poor nutrition or extraterrestrial bee snatchers or whatever the excuse de vogue at the time was (at the time, I, like many others, just lumped all these excuses into a singular catch-all excuse called Colony Collapse Disorder). But the truth is my hives died because, first and foremost, I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen to the advice of seasoned beekeepers because I thought I knew more than they did. I didn’t listen until, finally, enough cognitive dissonance erupted between my bee savior desire and my bee killer despair that I finally asked the great existential beekeeping question–“To beekeep, or not to beekeep?”

I chose to continue to beekeep–that is, to get serious about beekeeping, which is really the only way to keep bees now.

I hate to say this, but the term hobby beekeeping is now an oxymoron. Think about it this way: suppose you took up some other hobby for pleasure and relaxation. Let’s say fishing. You could just dig a few worms, buy a cheap Zebco and basic tackle, and then go catch bream or sunfish to your heart’s delight. And if by chance you don’t catch any, well, a bad day’s fishing is still better than a good day’s work. 

To fish, you don’t have to buy high-priced fishing gear, subscribe to Field and Stream, and join BassResource, the most popular bass fishing forum on the web. Of course, you could and many fishermen do. But even if you did–and this is the point–you still wouldn’t have to build your own farm pond and become an expert in farm pond management and ichthyological parasites to keep your bass from going belly up every winter. 

Or, put it another way: a fisherman just needs a hook, line, and sinker. A beekeeper needs a hive, veil, and standing appointment with a shrink.