Crows, the Old Field General, and Garden Warfare

A small garden, ha! What a punchline! I laugh every time I hear it, and I’ve heard it a lot. My wife’s poppaw Lowry is quite fond of the joke that precedes this punchline.

To do the joke justice, he starts out by pronouncing the fact that he’s downsizing his garden. In early spring, he may only plant a few rows of potatoes to really sell the setup. But by mid- June he’s wielding a hoe on a much larger battlefield, a certain glint in his eye as he fights once again with his mortal enemy, crabgrass. At this point, he says, “I’m getting too old for this” and then proclaims, “Next year I’m just planting a small garden.”

And it’s at this point where I laugh and say, “A small garden, ha!” Though I’ve heard that joke many times before–in fact, I hear it every year–I laugh, knowing next year his garden will be even larger. 

Older and Wiser

Lowry and Me

Lowry is now eighty-four. He has an old lawn chair that he sits in and looks out over his “small garden” like a field general. Field is an appropriate term because every year his garden grows in square-footage, to the point that his garden now encompasses a small field. The term general is also fitting because lately he’s been sitting in his chair with a shotgun.

His old foe, the crow, has been pillaging his rows of freshly-sowed purple hull peas, unearthing pea seed with precision beak strikes. But so far he’s been unsuccessful in repelling the crows. Over the years the crows around here have evolved and adapted their garden warfare tactics. The crows post lookouts in the trees near the garden and are long gone by the time Lowry shows up with his anti-aerial shotgun.

To be honest, I’ve started to worry about Lowry. Despite his big garden, he seems to have lost his fighting spirit. In years gone by, he would have concocted some elaborate crow-hunting blind to hide in and ambush his enemy. But now he’s just sitting around in the open for all the crows to see. I suspect the crows are probably ridiculing him in caws. Yesterday, I even walked up on him asleep in the lawn chair–shotgun across his lap. Not wanting to suddenly startle him while he was armed and dreaming, I just walked away and let him slumber. 

About thirty-minutes later, however, I heard a shotgun blast from the general direction of the garden. To be honest, I feared the worst: What if he had been having a nightmare, woke up confused, and blasted a watermelon? But when I got back to the garden, Lowry was grinning from ear to ear, a shotgun in one hand and crow in another. “I thought you were asleep,” I said.

His response: “And so did the crow.”

For another post on Lowry’s propensity for shooting, check out There’s a New Sheriff in Town. Also, here’s a funny story from the Small Farmer’s Journal on Lowry and my other farming neighbor called The Crowder Pea Peace Process.

There’s No Ain’t in Paint

Applying new paint is now only slightly more fun than scraping old paint. Painting used to be a blast, back when you had paint fumes for entertainment. But in their old age, paint manufacturers have become sticks-in-the-mud (rumor has it, Sherwin Williams never cracks a smile now, and Benjamin Moore has become a stoic philosopher) and now only sell low-fume paints so you can’t get high off your house siding. Without fumes, painting is officially a joyless activity that takes you to some pretty dark places. Yesterday, sun glaring, I was standing on a ladder painting the gables and started thinking about water, which strangely led me to think about water-boarding. I found myself wondering, Why didn’t the CIA just give enemy combatants old farmhouses to scrape and paint? 

My general philosophy is to let paint flake off the house naturally before repainting, but my wife says that’s unsightly. Built in 1897, our farmhouse has so many layers of lead paint adhered that I’m pretty sure it’s bulletproof. I’ve yet to see a bullet hole in our house, and I’ve inspected every square-inch of it with a paint scraper. Repainting the house is my goal this summer, which is why I’m completely against my wife setting goals. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried diligently to get out of painting, but she just repeats her new slogan whenever I approach and open my mouth. 

“I ain’t feeling too…” I’ll start to say, but before I can finish telling her about my feelings, she just says, “There’s no ain’t in paint.” This is only slightly more empathetic than her previous slogan: “You can’t spell paint without pain.” 

Of course, I’ve already tried the Tom Sawyer bit. But children these days are more streetwise than Mark Twain’s time. You’d think climbing a twenty-foot ladder with a sharp paint scraper would appeal to adventurous kids, but so far none of the neighborhood children have wanted to paint my house. They just stay inside and play video games. It’s sad really, the work ethic of children these days. 

Pretty close to an enhanced interrogation technique if you ask me.

What’s your least favorite farm activity or chore?

How to Communicate with Loggers

Farmers and loggers have long been rivals. As a government soil conservationist, I’ve been trained for effective communication with both groups. With loggers, I communicate in plain speech, with simple questions like, “Hey, buddy, you been sleeping on the job?” Sometimes they don’t understand, just glare and shake their head.

Despite limited comprehension, loggers always strike me as some of the most thoughtful and cerebral storytellers around. There’s often a lot of math in their stories, particularly concerning the angle of a leaning tree, the tree’s rate of descent once severed, and the top speed of a soil conservationist in steel-toe boots. Occasionally, they also get philosophical with quips like, “If a tree falls on a government employee’s truck and no one’s around to hear the horn, does the truck make a sound?”

Loggers love nature and tell lots of stories about snakes, hornets’ nests, and cornered wildcats. One logger told me about the time he put a large and beautiful specimen of copperhead in the county forest ranger’s truck. He never saw the forest ranger in the forest again, but he did run into him once at a bar, where the forest ranger picked up his tab, but hardly said a word otherwise. This shouldn’t reinforce the old stereotype that loggers are heavy drinkers; usually loggers just stumble upon liquor stills in the woods and feel duty-bound to dispose of the liquid contraband.

My grandfather was a logger, and I remember building forts out of logging debris, the smell of pine sap on my hands, and the sound of the skidder rumbling while I played blissfully in the woods nearby. Sadly, when I wax poetic about our common experiences, loggers always hurry back to work sharpening their chainsaws. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a logger to dull a chain on a nail or piece of barb-wire embedded in a tree. Nails show up so commonly on logging sites that on several occasions I’ve left a logging site only to soon thereafter hear a loud clunking noise and to find a nail in a tire’s sidewall. Being a government truck, it takes an act of congress to change the tire, and sometimes I’m forced to walk back to the logging site where the loggers welcome me with open arms, though sometimes the closed-fisted slaps on the back are rather rough for my liking. Still, boys will be boys, and it feels good to be included by loggers; not everyone is as kind to government employees. 

government employee deterrent.

Farmer Personality Types

It’s been raining a lot here, and the primary reason I dislike rain is because it’s wet. I hate being wet. It has something to do with the childhood trauma of my mom insisting I get clean. Getting clean was a huge waste of time because I’d just get dirty again the next day. Sometimes I tricked my mom by letting the shower run; meanwhile, I’d sit beside the shower and read a comic book until the mirror fogged up, which indicated an adequate amount of time had passed. Then I’d sprinkle a few drops of water on my head and presto–all clean!

When tomatoes took over the porch.

Perhaps my favorite reason to farm is the tan. Grease, oil, dirt, manure, and all-around general barn grime have a way of clinging nicely to farmers and giving our skin a natural patina. Back when I used to plant a half-acre of tomatoes each summer, my skin would be tinted green when I came in from picking. My wife would banish me to the shower, and the runoff would actually glow with chlorophyll, which was pretty neat. Seeing how dirty I can get shower runoff is now the only good reason I know of to plant a half-acre of tomatoes to pick myself. 

Truth be told, I hate being wet almost as much as I hate being cold. And if I’m wet and cold, I might as well be hot, which I abhor. You might think that someone who hates rain and temperatures hot and cold would be a pretty bad farmer, and you’d be right. But rest assured I’m a bad farmer not because of atmospheric predilections, but solely because of my personality. 

Recently I took the Myers-Briggs personality test, and the results confirmed my suspicions after ten years of trying to farm. It had a list of careers to avoid for my personality type, and “farmer” was at the top. If only I would have taken the test ten years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of misery (I’m thinking, just off the top of my head–the barbed fencing staple in my foot, an embarrassing wrestling match with a pig, and my personal record of twenty-three bee stings in one day.) 

According to the test, I’m an INFJ, or what’s known on the internet as a Creative Nurturer. According to said internet, INFJ is the rarest personality type (we’re not benefiting from the whole survival of the fittest thing) at a mere 2% of the general population. My research indicates few scientific surveys have been done of personality types at the sale barn, but my own anecdotal observations suggest very few Creative Nurturers leave the sale barn alive. Case in point, once I tripped and nearly fell off the catwalk and plummeted into the bovines below. Furthermore, I only know of one other possible INFJ in agriculture around here, and he works at a beet farm as a cult leader. If he walked into the sale barn, he’d probably be stoned to death.

So to sum up, the point here, of course, is I farm not because I’m genetically predisposed to be good at it, but because I don’t like taking showers. Being dirty makes me content, at least when I’m not hot, cold, or wet. 

What Myers-Briggs personality type are you? Is it a good fit for farming? Do you hate certain atmospheric conditions?

How to Fix Stuff on a Farm

Fixing stuff on the farm

It has come to my attention that one of the main responsibilities of farming is putting things back together, sometimes known colloquially as fixing stuff, which leads to the other main responsibility of farming–finding stuff to fix stuff. 

Finding stuff is a satisfying pastime, best enjoyed in the company of others. There’s no greater pleasure than shouting across a scrapyard, “Hey, I think I found something!” Over the years, my wife’s poppaw Lowry and I have spent many pleasant hours wandering the local scrapyard in search of the perfect piece of scrap. The chance to work in outdoor environs like a well-organized junk heap with birds chirping, heavy machinery roaring, and jagged metal gleaming is what draws many people to farming.

What also draws people to farming is a love of the land, and there’s nothing like landing a quarter-inch wrench from the disaster area that is my tool shed. Sometimes I forget to lock my tool shed, and I’m pretty sure that’s when my wife sneaks in there to play with my wrenches and forgets to put them back in their correct place, which is why she often finds my pocket wrench in the washing machine. 

Once you find the tools and materials needed to put something back in working order, then you just need to remember how you took the thing apart. Truth be told, it’s very simple to fix things, so to give the repair a sporting chance at failure, it’s best to reference only mental notes from taking the thing apart. Writing down the order in which the thing was disassembled is considered cheating–unless, that is, the written notes are promptly lost, in which case they become fair game for the process of fixing stuff by way of finding stuff. 

The final step after reassembly is to apply duct tape, JB Weld, or bailing twine. Then you can either call your neighbor to brag about your ingenuity and successful farm repair or, more likely, ask to borrow his equipment since your thing still isn’t working. 

A Glimpse into a Farmer’s Soul

There is nothing more intimate than climbing in another man’s work truck. It’s a glimpse into his soul. If only George W. Bush, instead of gazing into Putin’s eyes, would have gotten into Vladimir’s work truck, he would have known Putin was a dirty, no-good dictator, who couldn’t be trusted. As it is, we invaded Iraq instead of Russia, and consequently the current leader of the free world thinks injecting bleach is a good idea. Not that I haven’t thought the same once or twice, but that’s when I was really depressed because cattle prices plummeted, which, to be fair, occurred during the Obama administration. 

But enough politics, back to work trucks. I love a king cab, the filthier the better. It’s always revealing to see what’s left of the stimulants another man needed to stay awake and well-nourished on the farm: Mountain Dew bottles, crushed Red Bull cans, orange nab crumbs, honey bun wrappers. My truck is littered with M&M wrappers and Diet Coke bottles. My wife’s poppaw Lowry is eighty-four, and whenever he rides with me, he says I need to stop drinking that “dope.” Dope is what old timers here in the foothills call Coke. Unfortunately, many farmers have graduated to more hardcore substances. Sun Drop is a major problem now. Shelby, NC, is kidney stone capital of the world. 

But last year, I got into a farmer’s work truck and noticed something unusual. Instead of your normal farming essentials, like a tin of Skoal and a dip bottle, this farmer, James DeWalt, had a copy of Plato’s Republic sitting on the dash. I did a double take. “Why do you have Plato?” I asked.  

“To read,” he said, “the new combine has GPS-guided steering. You just gotta do the first round to set up the field boundary, and then the combine takes over and drives itself.”

“So you read Plato while combining?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to catch up on the classics now that I have all this leisure time riding around the field. I read Aristotle during corn harvest. ”

To be honest, I was really impressed. Who woulda thought Jim DeWalt was a man of such refined reading tastes? But that’s what a work truck can reveal. Personally, I always thought technology was making humans dumber. Take me, for example: I only know three phone numbers by heart–one is my own cell phone, one is the number to my childhood house (now inhabited by complete strangers), and one is 911. It’s sad that I don’t even know my wife’s number. She’s just speed dial number one. Thankfully, I don’t text much, so I can still write in complete sentences, but the calculator app has also destroyed  my ability to do longform division. 

working on combine

But if new technology can increase my reading time, I’m all for it because old technology has not. Several years ago, I spent $400 on on an old combine, an Allis Chalmers All Crop Harvester, but it breaks down every fourth round so I have little leisure time to enjoy anything while harvesting grain. But when I realized that for $400,000 I could have bought a combine that drove itself and allowed me to read the masters, I was smitten with envy. At least, I was until I read the following article in our local paper.

Come to find out, Jim fell asleep while reading Plato’s allegory of the cave and auto-steering malfunctioned. But despite making headlines, he had a good attitude about the mishap. He said if John Deere ever creates a combine that does laundry, he’ll be the first to buy.

How to Achieve Pet Status on a Hobby Farm

Raising bottle dairy steers is not for the faint of heart. As purchasable animals, they rival only goldfish in price and ability to keel over. I’ve seen healthy day-old Jersey calves sell for less than five dollars at the sale barn. I’ve never seen a day-old Jersey bring more than fifty dollars, which is top of the market and still a reasonable value, considering some goldfish can sell for hundreds of dollars per piece. I guess koi is good eating, probably best fried with hushpuppies.

three bottle calves in a barn stall.

Dairy breeds, however, produce a bony carcass, so most of the bigtime cattlemen don’t want anything to do with a Holstein steer, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with a puny Jersey steer on their farm. “There is more meat on a big deer,” they might say. These days cattlemen just want big beefy angus cows. This may seem rather discriminatory, but it works out in favor of some dairy steers. Many are destined for hobby farms where they live a life of leisure and get a lot of entertainment out of watching people play veterinarian. I think it’s a well-known fact among dairy steers that the way to achieve pet status on a hobby farm is to get as close to death as possible without dying and then let the farmer nurse them back to health.

We’ve raised a lot of bottle calves over the years. The ones we remember the most are the ones we nearly lost and somehow doctored back to the living. Oftentimes, they’re a little stunted afterwards, which works to their advantage cause they last longer on the farm. My philosophy with raising dairy steers is most of the work is upfront, so even if it takes longer to feed them out, it’s still worth it to recoup the time spent bottle-feeding and doctoring. We grow our own grain and run it through the old hammermill, so we don’t really have a shortage of feed.

Eventually, whenever we take the calves to the sale barn, the handlers always comment on how tame the steers are. “They’re just big pets,” I respond.

Then I walk the catwalk one last time. Though the paycheck is nice, I still hate to see them go.

a group of our steers on moving day.

9 Pointless Pandemic Ponderings

  1. Fewer cars on the road mean less roadkill. Are buzzards going hungry?

  2. How do bank tellers identify bank robbers with everybody wearing masks?

  3. Simple solution to reopen the economy: everybody wears biohazard suits. Not enough biohazard suits? Take beekeeping suits and saran wrap the veil. (okay, not thirty minutes after I published this post, I saw a news story saying Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore recommended everybody wear space suits. That a top Trump economic adviser and I think alike is concerning–for me and this country. In fact, it’s so frightening I might grab a shovel and go bury gold in the backyard.)

  4. With handshakes now obsolete, will Free-Masons develop a secret elbow-bump?

  5. Bats get blamed for a lot of bad stuff, like coronavirus and vampirism. Did vampirism start in a Transylvanian lab? Screenshot 2020-04-23 at 2.11.24 PM

  6. How is the shortage of toilet paper affecting the port-a-potty industry?

  7. Why is the first person with coronavirus called patient zero? Shouldn’t it be patient one?

  8. If viruses just live to multiply and make life miserable, was my third-grade math teacher a virus?

  9. A gallon of milk is now worth more than a barrel of crude oil. Who says farming doesn’t pay?

For more farm thoughts, see On Farm Safety Thoughts.

3 Reasons to Dwell in the Boonies during Covid Times

Please close gate behind you

Reason 1: You can go outside without fear of reprisal by the law. In fact, last week I got a visit from the law, blue lights flashing, actually requesting my presence outdoors, not deterring it–the reason being the cows were in the front yard eating shrubbery. The deputies spotted them and thought they looked out of place. Little did they know, I’ve pretty much got the cows trained to go straight for the shrubbery when I forget to close a gate. But the deputies were very nice, although Officer Beam needs to work on studying the cow wrangling section of the police manual, particularly the part about de-escalating the situation and not running wildly and flapping at bovines.

Reason 2: You can go outside in your underwear. Who needs pants when you’re holding a microwavable tray of scalding-hot bacon grease. One of my Covid-19 quarantine resolutions is to eat more bacon at breakfast. Of course, eating more bacon means I have to clean the bacon tray more often. I’ve found the fastest way to do this is to dump the grease before it cools and congeals and rinse the tray. I used to do this process in the sink before my wife caught on when the sink clogged up. Now, after negotiations with her, I’m contractually obligated to dump the grease outside and rinse the tray with a water hose, but I held my ground on wearing pants before breakfast.

Reason 3: Rural looters aren’t the smartest. I mean, if I was a beginning criminal, I wouldn’t pick an area that has more firepower stocked up than a semi-developed country. A few days ago, a local teenager decided he would spend his extra leisure time in quarantine by practicing thievery. He decided to steal a neighbor’s lawn mower at midnight. His getaway plan was to ride the lawn mower down the road. A rock solid plan, except for the fact that the owner heard him crank up and had plenty of time to handpick a weapon from his arsenal for just such an occasion. He picked such a high-powered piece that the gunshot was heard across the countryside, downed a satellite, and produced the desired effect of scaring the boy senseless and sending him fleeing into the woods. Nobody knows for sure who the boy was, but obviously he wasn’t very bright if he was stealing a run-off-the-mill riding mower instead of a zero-turn.

 Our calves–always the on lookout for escape.

Swarm Catching vs. Coronavirus Catching

Sometimes life, like swarm season, comes at you fast. I caught my first swarm of the year on March 23rd. I got the swarm call right before a department head conference call concerning our county’s response to the coronavirus. As the head of our local Soil and Water Conservation District, a county department of two, I’m required to attend these meetings. To be honest, it’s not my favorite job responsibility, and I feel a little out of place with the county higher-ups who wear neckties and shiny shoes. For instance, once having spent too long providing technical assistance (official government term for chatting) at a dairy farm, I made it to the county department head meeting just in the nick of time, right before the county manager gave some important update, the details of which I currently don’t remember. Mostly, I remember the sight of the Register of Deeds and Library Director sniffing inquisitively, and the smell of cow manure wafting from my boot. But I digress.

On March 23rd, about ten minutes before a county department head teleconference (in lieu of a physical meeting because of coronavirus), Lowry, my wife’s poppaw and my next-door neighbor, called me and said one of my hives had swarmed–“a biggun in the crotch of an apple tree.” Admittedly, my swarm control previsions had been little to none this spring. The bees had been on the back burner, as my wife and I are expecting a baby, our first after nine years of marriage. According to my wife, I now have other priorities than beekeeping, like insulating walls of our old farmhouse to make sure our offspring has comfortable environs outside the womb. At the rate I’m going, I figure our child will be thirty-four by the time I finish this task.

img_0329
a never-ending project

Before Lowry’s call, I hadn’t thought much about the possibility of catching a swarm this early. Seemingly, all my brain could focus on was the possibility of catching coronavirus. But after Lowry’s excited dispatch, worries of catching coronavirus suddenly evaporated. The great philosopher Patrick McManus had his own theory for this phenomenon, a theory which he called the “worry-box” and summed up as follows: 

“I have this theory that people possess a certain capacity for worry, no more, no less. It’s as though a person has a little psychic box that he feels compelled to keep filled with worries. When one worry disappears from the box, he immediately replaces it with another worry, so the box is always full. He is never short of worries. If a new crop of worries comes in, the person sorts through the box for lesser worries and kicks them out, until he has enough room for the new worries. The lesser worries just lie around on the floor, until there’s room in the box for them again, and then they’re put back in.” (From The Good Samaritan Strikes Again)

Swarm catching had suddenly returned to prominence as the main worry in my worry box, displacing coronavirus-catching for the time being.

Of course, everybody who keeps bees knows that swarm calls always come at the worst time possible. For instance, there’s an old story that circulates about a beekeeper who got a swarm call an hour before his only daughter’s wedding. After weighing his options, the father made the only rational decision a beekeeper in his situation could. Since he didn’t have time to run home for his beekeeping stuff, he borrowed his daughter’s wedding veil.

Like that father, I solved my swarm dilemma with similar aplomb. I stuck in my earbuds, dialed into the teleconference on my cell phone, and hightailed it home to recapture my AWOL bees. I suppose many of us have recently learned the advantages of teleconferences–you can attend meetings in pajamas (or while swarm catching), plus the smell of manure doesn’t waft through the phone.

In any event, I’m happy to report that I did catch that swarm, a “biggun” as Lowry would say, and that for a while, even though I was dialed into a coronavirus teleconference, my mind was on something completely unrelated to COVID-19.

img_0092
My swarm of bees marching into box. I should have got a bigger box

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Lowry, my wife’s eighty-four-year-old poppaw, likes shooting from the hip. He’s pretty accurate. From ten-paces, he can nail a wasp mid-flight. He prefers dual-wielding two cans of Raid while clearing the riff-raff out of the barn’s nooks and crannies. Normally, he escapes these shootouts unscathed, but last summer, he took a stinger to his forefinger; it swole up like a corn dog. 

Afterwards, Lowry hung up his Raid cans for good. He said he was “gittin too old for this line of work.” He handed over the peace-keeping duties in the barn to me. His granddeddy once did the same with him. In fact, Lowry said, “I can remember granddeddy reaching up and crushing a nest of red wasps with his bare hand. They don’t make men like that anymore.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I thought. 

To be honest, I’m glad we’ve advanced beyond bare hands for wasp removal. We now have such technological advances as Raid. One of these days Raid will come out with an organic option, so we millennial farmers can feel less guilt about massacring insects with synthetic chemicals–“at least we killed them organically,” we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren.   

Until then, I’m going to keep killing rogue wasps and yellow jackets by conventional means of cypermethrin and prallethrin. I don’t take plesure in killing them–well, usually, I don’t. Last year I got jumped by a vicious gang of yellow-jackets living in an old hay bale. I barely made it out alive, which, to be fair, technically wasn’t the yellow jackets’ fault (it’s not the venom that gets you; it’s jumping from the hay loft). But I felt some vindication when I returned in a bee suit with two full cans of Raid Wasp and Hornet Killer. I doubt Lowry would have worn a bee suit; he would have just moseyed in there, hands dangling from his side, and said, “Let’s dance.”

All this is to say, I saw my first red wasp flying this past weekend when it was nearly 80 degrees. I gave him the business and told him to get out of Dodge, to not come back round these parts, that I didn’t want no trouble. But the rascal drew on me, at which point I promptly turned tail and ran. 

Yep, there’s a new Sheriff in town. 

OLD SHERRIFF
NEW SHERRIFF

Book Review: Rust: The Longest War.

At the library, I saw this book on an endcap, calling to me like a rusty tractor implement in the weeds. I couldn’t believe it: someone actually wrote a book, a whole full-length book, about rust–and a legit publisher, like Simon and Schuster, actually published it. I’m glad they did because Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman was an interesting read, though, full disclosure, I’ve invested a lot in rusty farm equipment over the years so I might be a little biased.

Apparently, rust is considered bad by most people who don’t enjoy working on broke-down farm machinery or getting tetanus shots. Also, from reading this book, I learned that most people don’t like rust-flavored drinks, which is why the formulas for aluminum can coatings are guarded like state secrets–that, and most can coatings contain BPA (a factoid that can companies want to keep under wraps). BPA is that pesky chemical that is probably doing bad things to my body right now because I drink entirely too many Diet Cokes straight from the can.

Anyway, this book has lots of rust-related stories. The author actually infiltrated Ball’s Can School (the company that makes Ball canning jars also makes most of the aluminum cans for drink companies, who woulda thunk?) in which drink industry people, most of whom are mustachioed, get together and learn about the complexities of aluminum cans.

The author also tells the story of the eccentric guy who created stainless steel and details a group of brave Department of Defense employees who saved taxpayers a lot of money by promoting rust prevention over rust repair. The author calls this group the “Rusketeers.” Kudos to Jonathan Waldman for thinking of rusketeers and writing a good read on rust.

“On a quiet night, you can hear a Ford rust.”

From Rust: the Longest War

My rusty Ford 4610.

On-Farm Safety Thoughts

Screenshot 2020-03-05 at 6.39.12 PM

While cladding our old farmhouse in new concrete-board siding, I thought,

“It’d be nice if ladders had heart-rate monitors like treadmills. That way I could simply rest my hands on a rung and know for certain whether I was having a heart attack.”

While driving the tractor down the road, I thought, 

“It’d be swell if old tractors had backup cameras. That way I’d know precisely where to deposit my hay spear in the honking Lexus behind me.”     

While ripping a 2 x 4 down to two 2 x 2s, I realized, 

“It’d be fine and dandy if safety glasses had a defog feature. That way I could better estimate the position of the spinning saw blade to my fingers.” 

While running from yellow jackets, I pondered, 

“Geez, wouldn’t it be grand if steel-toe boots contained a lighter-weight metal alloy. That way at least the geriatric yellow jackets couldn’t catch me.”

While standing in the tractor’s front-in-loader to clean out the barn gutters, I thought, 

“It might be better if I didn’t have life insurance. That way my wife, controlling the loader lever, wouldn’t be so tempted to dump me.

While having an asthma attack from grain dust, I thought,

“I wish breathing wasn’t such an underrated bodily function. That way I’d remember to carry my inhaler, and my wife’s 84-year-old popaw wouldn’t be concocting a way to tube me like a baby calf. 

While watching a coyote swim across a flooded creek, I thought,

“I’m glad I’m not a coyote.”

Polecat-prone Areas

Looming threats are everywhere–earthquakes in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, floods down east. Even Shelby, City of Pleasant Living, is prone to its own form of natural disaster. Several years ago, I witnessed firsthand the horrible aftermath of one such tragedy–people coughing and gagging, eyes watering, and the horrified look in the owner’s eyes as he pointed to the exit. 

“Get out! Get out! No skunk clothes!” he said, rather unkindly. You know it’s bad when dry cleaners refuse that much business, my wife’s entire wardrobe, for fear of contaminating clothes of other customers. The epicenter for the stink bomb was our house, which registered a 9.6 on the rollover gagging scale. It was a night attack, right after a lightning bolt scared a skunk taking shelter in our crawlspace. We woke up coughing, lungs burning, dazed and confused.

skunk

 

By Hank Ketcham. From Sept. 22nd, 1978, Wisconsin State Journal

“Is the house on fire?” my wife said.

“No, that ain’t smoke,” I said. “That’s skunk.”

Throughout the next six months, we endured a lot of side-eye and upturned noses while out in public, but, with faith, we made it through our calamity and the smell eventually dissipated.

Over the years, we’ve had many more trials with skunks, and I’m pretty sure skunks are good candidates for world domination. As far as I can tell, they have no natural predators, save cars. So, if you live in polecat-prone areas, like Shelby, be careful out there–you never know when one might raise its tail.