Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Peace in the Valley

I'm going to focus on peaceful things. Of course, for me, living out here Just Off the One-Lane Road…it’s mostly a PIECE of cake! But not always. Just because the environment makes it easy, doesn’t mean my mind doesn’t roil with the white noise of conflict that permeates and eclipses just about everything living and breathing in today’s turbulent world.

Last night, for example, MM and I found ourselves watching a PBS program on World War II. I guess we were both tired and weren’t particularly discriminating. It was –in a word-- horrific. Mercifully, we turned it off after about 20 minutes and read until four eye-lids closed and we hit the sack. But such mayhem is simply beyond words. Truly I can’t imagine the death and destruction of war.

So, I decided that beginning April 1—and this is no joke!—I’m going to seek out topics for thought and deed that are as peaceful as I can find. And, I promise myself never to watch another war program of any kind.

And here’s a start: on PBS on April 7th, there’s going to be a (highly advertised) program on Buddha, revealing his (peaceful) life after he renounced his wealth and family connections. That ought to be a good start for me.

I also ordered a video I was fortunate to see last week entitled, “Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness.” It’s about a society that has, so far, been able for the most part, to formally reject consumerism and live close to the earth, realizing that protecting it is vital. They are not interested in the conventional way of measuring “progress” but rather focus on what they call their “gross national happiness.” The Bhutanese strive to govern with the goal of doing the best they can to ensure their peoples’ happiness and satisfaction with their lives. Can you imagine what that would be like?! For more information on this concept go to Gross National Happiness

This morning, I looked out the bedroom window in time to see the full moon about to set in the West, so I grabbed my camera and tripod and flew out the door, even before a single cup of coffee! The birds were chirping furiously, the sun was just creeping over the Eastern horizon, and there in all its glory was the moon in the West. And, it was so peaceful.

Today has dawned with full sun and not a cloud to be seen! We’re spending the entire day outside with that endless list of projects—pruning the rest of the grapes before the sap ascends; cleaning out the bird house so the purple martins will rent from us; raking sticks from the yard—such a lot of them came down in the winds of winter; cutting down the dried remains of the Fountain Grass. It’s going to be a WONDERFUL DAY!

And all throughout the length of this day-gift….I am going to forget about the gnashing of teeth, and the roaring voices and concentrate on peaceful, gentle living, out here JOTOLR. Peace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Wave

 When we first moved to West Virginia in 1975 people still waved. At first the practice was astonishing. Anytime we met a car driving along the one-lane road, a hand rose above the steering wheel just enough to acknowledge the meeting, but not enough to imply a stop. To us, coming from the West—where traffic was thick and populations were the same—being waved at by a stranger was a curiosity and somewhat mystifying at first..

Like all things valued too lightly when plentiful, waving to unknowns has died out around here, JOTOLR.  In retrospect, it was a lovely tradition, one that MM and I adopted quickly, responding in kind, waving to everyone, accepting waves from others. Out here, JOTOLR, we learned from our neighbors that waving was something you just did.. It was such a warm, friendly tactile nod.  And it made sense. Even if someone was feuding, they could still wave at one another from the safety of their cars.

Initially there was a learning curve for us. We had to decide whether to wave only to those we knew, but not to others we didn’t know (that’s the way we did things in our last locale) or at the risk of accidentally not having waved at someone we DID know, we would wave to everyone and thereby –like Sherwin Williams—we would cover the (local) earth.  It was safer all around to take the latter approach.

As time went on, it became evident that we had been the first of many “outsiders” moving into this beautiful region in West Virginia. (Even if you live to be 100 years old, and spent 95 of those years here, you will still be an “outsider.”)( I always tell people that, no, I am not a native, but I got here as quick as I could!) Gradually, the population changed. Traffic out here JOTOLR increased markedly and it sped up. People going to work and returning were intent on the destination, not the journey. Mailboxes had names that now deviated substantially from traditional Celtic-origins. The price of gasoline made Sunday drives outmoded, and picnics “in the country” down by the river, became a thing of the past.

And, over time, along the lines of the passenger pigeon, waving, too,  became extinct. For one thing, it became de rigueur to have fully tinted, dark, wraparound windows in the vehicle. Tinting became big business.  Industry tells us we’re “preserving our privacy” and preventing “serious injury” from glass that might otherwise shatter and fly, harming us in an accident. (Have you ever noticed the propensity of marketers to depend upon the Fear Factor for sales of unneeded items?) So, in meeting a car now, you aren’t always sure there’s even a driver inside or not! You’ve got to study hard and fast,  and be ready to jump in the event the vehicle is a runaway with no driver! One of my “defensive driver” tools, used to be watching the driver of the other car to anticipate their intentions. But with dark-tinted windows that particular tool is no longer available in most cases.  Most of the time, I can't see a driver. 

Even waving to someone you know, there’s a problem: people are trading cars every year, it seems, so instead of an old Buick that you’ve been waving to for years belonging to the Smiths, has morphed into a 2010 SUV that looks like every other SUV.  People seem to buy a new car every other month!

A couple of years ago, we finally had to admit we were in the dying throes of waving. For awhile, folks tried to accuse wavers, not as waving AT or TO something, but rather waving the black flies out of their faces. But that wasn’t it. We were all waving to EVERYBODY! 

But now, in today’s fast world, the vehicles whoosh by with no response to our friendly gesture. Worse, people are on their cell phones yakking away, as they blindly barrel around a corner at 40 mph on a 10 mph one-lane road..

Yes, it took us awhile, but eventually, we gave up waving, too, and we now remain stoic inside our car cocoons (without tinted glass).

It’s sad. I miss the waving.  Waving to all our neighbors, whether we knew them or not, was a lovely piece of Appalachian Americana that no longer exists out here, JOTOLR. Back in the waving time, there was an innocent unspoken trust and reciprocity that implied a connectedness, one to another, if only in the politeness of a wave.

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's a Tie!

And you thought I was going to talk about basketball, didn’t you!
But no, this little piece is about something much humbler, much more common; nearly every farm keeps some of it handy for those little emergencies when you need to tie a gate shut or make a fast sham of a fence repair.

I’m talking about baler twine, that ubiquitous, often ratty-looking string drooped on bushes and hanging off fences, made from either sisal or polypropelene, and which has a way of filling in for the “real thing” in so many circumstances on a farm, not to mention, handles the tough job of keeping hay orderly and compressed into bales. Thank goodness for baler twine!

It’s surprisingly tough. We throw the finished bales from the field onto a wagon, using the twine for handles; we tug it back out of the barn later in the season to feed—using the twine for handles; all throughout the feeding season, we depend on that twine to keep order in our barns, and get the hay from the barn to the livestock—without breaking.

The history of grain and hay harvesting is rather –shall we say—“entwined.” In both cases, harvesting is a big job! Until the 1930’s hay was harvested by cutting, raking and manually making large hay stacks. Often it was stacked outside, shaped in such a way that water mostly ran off. The process was as old as time itself, but losses were significant compared to the amounts initially laid down.

Harvesting grain, on the other hand, was done by hand for thousands of years, using hand sickles. It was carried in untied bundles to the threshing floor. The process was exceedingly labor-intensive.

Grain harvesting here in the United States began to change in the late 19th century when Robert McCormick designed a grain reaper which cut the grain and deposited it on an apron where it was conveyed onto the ground beside the machine. While that was a big improvement, a worker still had to walk beside the reaper and gather the grain off the platform behind the sickle when enough had accumulated to form a small pile. The bundles still had to be tied. Tying was done mostly by women.

But several inventors in the late 1800’s started thinking about trying to reduce both the labor and the losses and make more efficient use of barn storage space.  They focused  devising a method for compressing the forage into neater packages.

Eventually, Cyrus McCormick and others put their collective (or competitive) ideas together and in 1872 the first reaper (called a binder) was produced. Initially, this was used to “bind” the sheaves of grain. (Keep in mind that baling hay came after the mechanized binding of grain.) If you’re ever traveling on Interstate 81, if you “bail” off at Exit 205, you can visit the Cyrus McCormick Farm Museum, and see many interesting farm implements of the 19th century, including early binders. The first binder used wire. Two steel arms caught each side of the grain, whirled a wire around it, fastened the ends of the wire with a twist and cut the bundle, which then dropped to the ground for pick up in a separate operation.

But, as innovative and labor-saving as this process was, there were still problems: The wire would often break. It was not uncommon for the livestock unknowingly to ingest a piece of wire and acquire what farmers call, “hardware disease”—meaning they accidentally ate a piece of wire, it poked the gut, and the animal died. Also not uncommon, was when the wire pieces would mix with grain. Traveling through the various grinding processes of a flour mill, the stray metal generated a spark which, in turn, created an explosive fire in the flour mill. Several flour mills burned to the ground as a result. Finally, the wire was challenging for handlers. All too often, it seriously injured workers as a result of deep lacerations on their hands. So, while the labor-intensive work of gathering and storing grain/hay had been somewhat reduced by this first attempt at mechanization, there was obviously room for improvement.

Along came John Appleby, who devised a knotter device that used twine rather than wire. In 1879 William Deering and Company reached an agreement to commercially produce a reaper using the knotter, which went into full production in 1880. It was only a matter of time until the harvesting of forage crops (hay and fodder)—and binding them into easy-to-store cubes for over-wintering became the target for improved methods and “binder twine” became a farm staple.

Two kinds of twine are used today: one is made from sisal, mainly in Brazil; the other is polypropylene. With time, improvements in both types have made the process of saving forage both simpler and easier, to the point where cutting, baling and storing of hay can be a one-person job. The resultant product in most cases nowadays is a round bale, compressed so tightly that water doesn’t penetrate the interior of the bale. We’ve even taken storage one step farther as farmers, today, have the ability to wrap their bales in waterproof bags.  That process keeps the forage fresh with little waste. But nothing, so far, has replaced the need for twine.

So, what ELSE can baler twine do around the farm? Here’s a short list:

Tie a gate shut…or open; tie down a tarp; make a dog leash; make a horse halter; tie up a box of chickens; make a bucket handle; tie a pig in a poke; mark a garden row; string up string beans; hold your pants up; hang up a bunch of onions; tie back a wild rose; tie a hat down on a windy day; make a (temporary) fence repair (sham); create a make-do shoelace….and the list goes on!

There’s always a leftover piece of baler twine on the fence near a gate on this farm. There’s probably a leftover length or two on the tractor; some in the trailer; some near the chicken coop; a piece or three in the garden…you never know when you'll need a piece for some emergency.  A farm simply cannot live without baler twine! My sincere thanks to
Bridon Cordage for their informative article on the role of twine in North American agriculture.  If you'd like more information go to Bridon Cordage and you'll get the whole picture of the importance of a little tiny bit of string!

The Answer

Two of you guessed right!  The skull (last week's post) was that of a squirrel.  I got my first clue when I found a muskrat skull online.  The teeth were the giveaway. Of course, the muskrat was a lot bigger. Obviously I needed to look at smaller rodents and zeroed in on either sciurus carolinensis (Grey Squirrel) or sciurus niger  Fox Squirrel.   But that's as far as I could go.  There might be a slight size difference between the Fox and the Grey, but I haven't the knowledge or the ability to distinguish further.

Thank you everyone for your responses!  What fun!!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mystery of the Week

On my walk to the big pond last Tuesday, I found this little skull. Bones always fascinate me. They tell stories if we listen carefully. Normally it’s not hard to tell what animal’s bone or bones they are. But this one has me stumped. Email me with your ideas, please! I have one idea of my own, but won’t “spill the beans” until next week. I’ll let you all have a shot at this mystery of the week.

Top View

View of the roof of its mouth

Note the two front (curved) teeth and the overall size of the skull
Let me know what you think...!

Short Takes

ITEM:  The peepers are in full voice.. What a cacophony they make! I caught one once. It took a lot of patience and a quick dive, but I managed to get one of the little frogs to hold in my hand (and then I turned it loose). They are so small! With voices so big! I always wonder how something so tiny can muster a sound so huge! As they sing in unison, it’s magnified. Truly, it’s reassuring every spring to know we still have them. The worldwide decline in the frog populations signals decline in environmental health.  So, I always wonder if this will be the year they go silent...

ITEM:  We dropped a big hickory (for next year’s firewood) deep in the woods the other day. The Forest Service, in their survey of our farm, had recommended which trees needed to be thinned (trees we could use for fuel). Such was the case with this old, gnarled giant.  It was a free service by our local Forest Service agent, who spent two days surveying our farm, and gave us a “conservation plan” at the end. Many don’t know this service is available. If you’re interested, (and you have enough acreage to warrant the service) call your state’s forest service representative (here in the U.S).to discuss eligibility requirements.

ITEM:  Night before last, I went out after dark, to shut the door on the chicken coop, (having forgotten to do so earlier). The door is located adjacent to our garage. I didn’t bother to turn on the yard light. As I reached the coop door, there was a clatter of large wings over my head, followed by whooshy flapping, as obviously an owl—with my rude intrusion--decided to leave its roost for more suitable hunting. The sound was too large to have been a screech owl. I’m not sure what owl it was. I had noticed the leftovers (owl poop) on my car and had earlier surmised we had an evening camper, and I was delighted, as our rabbit population has increased dramatically and those cute little furry beasts eat gardens. Getting into the car yesterday, I saw the remains of the owl’s meal: a white-footed mouse was still mostly intact just waiting to be consumed by an owl that was no longer there. I felt sad that I had disrupted the owl’s feeding. It takes raptors several tries to “bag” a meal, and they spend a good deal of energy doing so. I so hope the owl returns!

ITEM:  We received our National Geographic in yesterday’s mail. It’s a Special Edition, totally dedicated to Water. The issue is breathtaking in its scope. If you don’t subscribe to NG I recommend you purchase the Special Edition and share it with friends. There are so many reasons we should be concerned about water everywhere in the world. We take it for granted. But…we mustn’t!

That’s it for this week! Yea, Mountaineers! But the best game last night was the Xavier/Kansas State game. WOW! Double Overtime!  Stayed up ‘til midnight and a little beyond! That’s LATE for an old lady!

 Thanks for sharing your week with me!
 Have a delightful weekend!  See you Monday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Comment on Comments

First, thank you so much for all your comments. Someone told me when I first began blogging that comments are the lifeblood of blogs. You’ve shared moments of your lives with me, I’ve made many new friends, and it’s been lots of fun, running my fingers over the keyboard and connecting with all of you!

Getting ready to take on summer tasks full swing, now, I suspect there may be lapses in our conversations from time to time. I know you’re busy, whether you’re teachers winding down the last few months of school before the BIG vacation; or landscape businesses with greenhouse obligations; or farmers out plowing fields or rounding up the herd for spring culling; or just about anyone entering the brighter seasons of the year.. You, just as we, are going to be very busy in the coming months! But I know you’re there! Just as I am…and we’ll catch up with one another every now and again.

Meanwhile, I expect to be posting something of interest on about the same schedule as I have been now for the past several months, as I discover things myself—and share!— as my own journey unfolds! I still have scads of topics I want to show you! I never seem to run out of something to say, do I! Do stay with me. After all, there is indeed, more to life than increasing its speed! So, lay down your chores for a few moments, take a breath and drop by for a cuppa. The gate’s open (and the driveways finally passable!) Let’s share a little time out here, Just Off The One-Lane Road, and then we’ll all go back to work.!

To Ruta at  What in the world is fly-tipping??? Seems like it MIGHT be the practice of dumping bags of trash “on the fly” as in clandestinely, at night? Whatever it turns out to be, it somehow reminds me of a local garbage pickup service that calls itself the “Fly By Night” gargage pickup! For some reason that tickles my funny bone. Ruta, you are such a dear. So many insightful comments have come from you, and I love learning from you about the UK and your corner of the world. Your photos are rich with information and artistry, and I can’t begin to tell you what a pleasure it’s been getting to know you through your blog! Thank you for your friendship. It’s only been a short time, but it seems as though we’ve known each other for years!

To Marlene at  How talented you are, Marlene! Your quilting is a joy to behold! I live in a (forgive the pun, now) hotbed of quilters. So, I’ll spread the word about your blog (which lists lots of other quilter blogs!) Thanks so much for your favorable comment on my little haiku. I so look forward to your comments, and to seeing a tiny little slice of your life. Thank you!

To Thomas at I love your comments, Thomas! It’s hard for me to believe that you have a day job! You’re such a dynamo! A whirlwind if I ever saw one! I simply cannot wait to visit Old Otter Holler Farm (if I may?) this coming summer (bringing my camera along!) when your beautiful world is in full bloom. We’ll compare notes with Ruta and see what she’s got blooming over there in North Devon UK. Amazingly similar to us here in WV so far in the early part of the year, at least. Thanks for your comments all!!

To Barbara at What a unique and interesting blog you have, Barbara! I look forward to reading it so much! And I thank you for your generous support through comments and sharing! Again, another online friend I treasure! Thank you for all your words and comments. Your photos are beautiful, too, girl!

To Carla at Yours, too, Carla, is a unique and interesting blog! The connections you make, the insight you share, and your gentle suggestions are what the world needs. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, your art. How fortunate we all are to have people like you, helping the world to have a better vision of itself.

To Debbi at my mentor and my friend…what a joy to know you! Thanks for all your comments and all your help! I couldn’t have done it without you! And your own blog had so many interesting posts this past week, especially on the “health reform.” Today’s was so thought-provoking! Love you, girl.

To L in Southeast at I’ve so enjoyed your comments, L. And I count you among my growing group of online friends, too. With your being the same age as I am, we have lots to share, don’t we! Thanks so much for your comment and support! You fill out another space in my life with your perspective and voice. I truly value what you give!

To Elora at My namesake in Italy! If anyone in this group is going to be busy the next few months, it’s got to be you! Getting married, counting the days, terrified you won’t finish everything…and I keep asking why does it matter. Lotta help that is, eh! (that was a “Canadian eh” just for you, Vancouver girl! Thanks for all your comments!!

To Sunny, keep on saving those artistic pieces of wood! To Sam, stop by again, some time!

To BV—I hope I didn’t lose you!

To Chris, don’t work too hard! Drop by now and again for a “hitch-n-sit-a-spell.”

To Virginia, thanks for checking in now and again!  I know you're a busy lady so your visits are doubly appreciated! 

These are just a few highlights from comments received this past week. Some of you email, and that’s wonderful!

Let me know if you have trouble commenting. Blogger can be a pill! Probably the easiest is to comment as “Anonymous” but sign your name so I’ll know who sent it. And let the comment window load completely before proceeding.

Tonight we watch West Virginia University play the University of Washington. That’s cool: MM’s and my alma mater is U of W; we live in WV; we win either way! Go Huskies and Mountaineers!!

Going to Seed

MM and I--after the long winter’s nap—are feeling a bit beat up this morning. Those of you who live the agricultural-based life probably know what I mean. Our ancient muscles lie dormant all winter long (mostly) and suddenly, reveille sounds in the form of delightful spring days with sun and light breezes. It’s then that energy has a way of being more in the head than in the hands and feet! So, we charge out bravely, expecting to do everything at once, (just because spring has arrived with the attendant to-do lists) and with no repercussions! Well… it doesn’t quite work that way!

As a result of yesterday’s zeal, we have both discovered muscles we never knew we had! You can almost hear the creaking joints and the word “stupid” has everything to do with a bent-over bone structure rather than brain power—or lack thereof.

It wasn’t windy. It was sunny. And there was no excuse for not doing it. So, out we went yesterday afternoon, to seed clover on the 15-acre east field. The photo is the seeder we bought at the Farm Center. (our old one conveniently broke as we were getting ready to use it) The process is called "walking on the seed."

It’s an Earthway seeder, and positively the very best one we’ve owned. (Doesn’t appear that anyone is bragging on either the box or the seeder “Made in China” so maybe it’s a USA product!) And, we’ve owned several seeders, the last one being a “can” model which was most uncomfortable to use. The Earthway has a bag made of heavy duty nylon, even has a zipper on it. The benefit of the bag over the can is that the bag forms itself to the body rather than being rigid. The adjustment mechanism is perfect—letting the tiny clover seeds through the opening in orderly fashion (rather than a dump), and the whole apparatus has a ridge on one side for keeping the seeder upright, whether it’s in the farmer’s hand or sitting on the ground. It also has a nifty handle for holding the seeder on the opposite side from the crank which relieves some of the stress and strain that sets in after a few passes.

These seeders are a couple of steps above the old timey method of flinging seed out by hand, from a light canvas shoulder bag. The various adjustments allow for seeding everything from the tiniest to the largest seeds.

We took turns walking the length of the field. The whole job probably lasted a couple of hours, but this morning, it feels like it was all day!

I’m working on a Comment on Comments post for later today. Thank you to so many of you who have offered up conversation and compliments on several of my recent posts! I appreciate my readers so much! You are wonderful! More later today…

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Talking Trash -- Warning: TWBAR (This Will Be A Rant)

I am not going to show you a picture of litter in my driveway, today. Trust me. It looks the same everywhere. But a little daffodil –looking down (at the trash)--can only do so much to create country ambience when it’s competing for visual superiority among heaps of paper, plastic, and aluminum garbage!

Every time I go to the mailbox and find a Bud-Lite can flung out someone’s car window, taunting me as it glitters fiendishly in my driveway, or a pile of McDonald’s Styrofoam hamburger “wrappers” and leftover hamburgers, rummaged the previous evening by a poor old possum (whose every scrounged meal is a Happy Meal), leaving the by-products shredded and scattered, or a Pizza Hut box which crows were scavenging just before my arrival--strewn across my normally pristine entryway, I seethe with anger. I even found an old sock (with a hole in it) the other day. Worst of all, I guess, are the big BAGS of trash that someone purposely dumped in the depression off to the right of my driveway, because they were too lazy to take them to the landfill on free day.

Every landfill in our state offers a “free day” so even those who are strapped for cash can stash their trash at the dump. Who ARE these people? More to the point, who do they THINK they are? What do they look like? How can they be so barbaric and poorly educated as to drop THEIR trash in MY HOME? Or anywhere, for that matter….expecting all of us to pick up behind them?! I simply cannot call it “thoughtless.” Everyone knows about litter these days. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to dump your trash on someone else’s ground. If you don’t have a litter bag in your car, you’re supposed to take refuse home and put it in the waste can.

Yes, I know about the Adopt-A-Highway Program. I guess I am resentful. The principle of this arrangement, simply grates on my sensibilities. I know: somebody’s gotta pick it up….and we want our driveways clean….but it angers me to have to clean up behind slobs.  But, of course, some of our tax dollars go toward litter clean-up anyway...

We have even had delivery trucks pass through our farm –in and out—making a delivery, only to find candy wrappers, tossed out the window of their truck on their way!

People, you need to know that every single piece of trash, no matter how seemingly infinitesimal, is VISIBLE to us country-types when you toss it out your car window. We SEE it. I know…you’re sorry….you never thought about it because teeny tiny wrappers are commonplace in cities. The wind lifts them and they swirl out of sight in the traffic---Lifesavers individually wrapped with those cute little cellophane protectors, small boxes that once held Dots candy, a Reese’s brown paper cup…..are gross anomalies amidst the pastoral beauty here. This kind of litter, out here JOTOLR, stands out like a polar bear among penguins.

And you know what the number one object of litter is? You’ll never guess.

Cigarette butts. Yep. That’s right. The butts are made of cellulose acetate (manufactured right near here JOTOLR, providing good jobs.) They're not made of cotton, which would at least be biodegradable, eventually. The acetate takes decades to break down, environmentally. And the toxic residue in cigarette filters is damaging to the environment, as well--not to mention they're responsible for setting many fires during summer’s dry conditions.

There’s an organization called Cigarette Litter.  It lists campaigns against cigarette butts throughtout the world. In the UK the Gedling Borough Council says, “It is estimated that 40% of the litter in the Borough is smoking related, be it wrappers, cartons, or cigarette ends.” Estimates run as high as several trillion cigarette butts littered worldwide every year. That’s billions of cigarette butts flicked, one at a time, onto our sidewalks, beaches, nature trails, farms, gardens, and other public places every single day!

I’m sure most smokers don’t even think about this, but out here JOTOLR we SEE those butts. They are eventually visible no matter where they are flicked. I have picked up behind unthinking visitors, who, standing and talking, or driving in or out, toss the butt out into the pasture (or onto our weedy “lawn”), thinking the butts will go unnoticed. Believe me, they ARE noticed.

Here are some salient litter facts:

Nationwide, the annual cost of roadside litter control is $115 million; (wouldn’t that go a long way toward providing health care for everyone!) West Virginia ranks among the WORST eight states in the country for litter; Virginia ranks in the BEST eight states; West Virginia spends more than $1 million annually to remove litter from state highways; West Virginia’s highway litter is composed of 59 percent paper, 16 percent cans, 6 percent bottles, 6 percent plastics, and 13 percent miscellaneous; most common items found are fast-food wrappers; second most common item—beer cans; cigarette butts are not considered, though, when addressing litter cleanup. 

So, please…if you’ve been guilty of dumping the leftovers of your Happy Meal in somebody’s driveway, or flicking your cigarette butt out the window…take a little time to consider what we country-dwellers are wishing on you:

If you with litter do disgrace
And spoil the beauty of this place
May indigestion rack your chest
And ants invade your pants and vest!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Haiku -- Woodwinds

 Tree limbs sway:

Nature's batons

Conduct wind's music.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Comment on Comment

Fog in the Valley

Ruta's comment on my post for today, is instructive.  Although I have no experience with the law in the British Isles (UK), my experience here in the U. S. suggests that the kind of governmental intrusion to which she speaks, is more for the benefit of the government (fees that can be collected and multiplied, squeezing out the marginal farms in favor of the corporate enterprises, etc.)...the case can be made, I believe, that unless we stand our ground here in the U. S., the same kinds of impositions of governmental "regulation" could impact self-sufficiency endeavors.  Don't miss Ruta's post. 

I took the above photo this morning over our back fence looking at the neighbor's farm. 

To Kill or Not to Kill....

I know several of you follow my blog seeking information on homesteading and self-sufficiency. So, from time to time, I will offer up some topics in that arena with the hope that they will shed light on how we have dealt with some of them.

Those new to homesteading often have difficulty dealing with “meat issues.” It’s a delicate subject, especially for gentle spirits who view homesteading as being in a somewhat dreamy world of “nature”—free from unpleasant tasks which cause distress. If you were not brought up with the “process” of raising an animal for its food value, it can test your resolve in dealing with what we could call the “morality” of taking a life—albeit an animal’s life—to put food on the table.
I was exposed to this process very early in my childhood, and, even as a four-year-old, it was not unpleasant. My parents were both hunters and saw value in letting me view—if not the actual killing (although that was implied and explained to me)—certainly the butchering process. In fact, I remember my parents buying a half of a steer for beef, from a farm, and apparently they had agreed to be present at the butchering and take part in wrapping the meat the day it was slaughtered. I even remember my dad giving me a bit of an anatomy lesson when the interior of the steer was exposed, showing me the stomach of the animal and explaining that it had four stomachs!   I also remember going to the “locker” with my mom. It was a community “freezer” where each person using the locker had a separate key and kept as much meat (and other frozen food) as their individual compartment in the building would allow. Nobody had a “personal freezer” back then. We rented the freezer compartment.

Out here, JOTOLR, we only raise animals that contribute to our process of producing food for ourselves. Even the dogs work with us to foster the food process (and benefit themselves with meat, bones, etc); all the things we do on this farm are a part of the food production process. One look at the movie Food, Inc. and it’s easy to see the benefits of producing our own meat here on the farm. We raise chickens, turkeys, and pork, plus we have an unlimited supply of venison.

In the photographs, at least one of these pigs will be a food item. They have NO names. Naming an animal that is destined to be killed, only makes it harder for us to distance ourselves from that eventuality. So, they are simply the pigs. And have you ever noticed how society has changed the names of animals when they are transformed into food? Deer become venison; turkeys and chicken become poultry; cows and bulls and steers become beef; goats become chevon; pigs become pork; sheep become mutton; lambs become hogget. Re-naming draws a veil of comfort between alive and dead. The animals—after slaughter--are no longer animals, but, instead, become solely an item on the dinner plate.

But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here. Perhaps…the first question to be answered is, “Do we even want to eat meat?” Many people don’t. A homestead can function perfectly well without needing meat. Vegetarianism allows the homesteader to forego having to deal with killing. Of course, purchased meat is also an answer. However, once you’ve seen Food, Inc. I believe you’ll seriously consider either raising your own or becoming a vegetarian!

The next question might be, “If we are going to eat meat, then, who will be taking responsibility for killing and “dressing” it? (an odd term, too, in that skinning an animal is more like Undressing it!)

I’ve always believed that meat consumption equates with personally taking responsibility for the killing and butchering. I own both a rifle and a shotgun and I am a good shot. I know what it’s like to kill a deer, dress it out entirely myself, and preserve the meat; and I do not regard the process as sport. I have skinned and butchered my fair share of traditional food-item animals, and, while I don’t look forward to the process, I have made my peace with it, you might say, and respect and accept it. In my mind, it’s the price of eating meat, and I pay it willingly, knowingly.

If a decision is made not to be involved in the butchering, there are slaughterhouses that offer killing and cutting services for various pricing arrangements. Some require the customer be present for cutting and wrapping; others will do the entire process for the customer, who is only responsible for transporting the live animal to the facility to be killed and processed.

Finally, if you decide you are going to take on the task, there are plenty of books on the subject and how-to of killing and butchering your own meat on your homestead. One of the best we’ve used is published by Morton Salt company. We have been using the book for the past twenty years, and I believe it’s still available directly from Morton Salt Company. Amazon also has a good selection of modestly priced books on home butchering.

It’s not the cheeriest of topics, but as spring comes on and you’re thinking about your upcoming process on the farm, you may be trying to decide what you’ll raise this season. I can vouch for the superb quality of homegrown over store-bought meat, believe me! Not to mention the fact that you'll know where it came from and that, alone will give you peace of mind!  There is simply no comparison. Home grown wins hands down! The taste is well worth the effort.  If you are squeamish about doing your own butchering, but you have the land to raise your own, or know somebody who does, it might be worthwhile partnering with a neighbor who has both facilities and the wherewithal to help you "raise your own."  You may discover--as we have--that by doing it all --or nearly all--yourself, your meat is virtually free.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Go Fly A Kite!

There was just enough of a breeze yesterday that I could fly my kite. Not so much that it wanted to yank it away, but a mostly steady series of zephyrs that kept my salamander aloft.

It’s a beautiful kite, don't you think?  It easily climbs up and takes hold. As it sails, the hind feet of the salamander rustle in the wind, waving at me!  What's really nice, is that I don’t have to run forever to get it sailing. It seems to know where to go from the moment I set it free! We have big open fields, out here JOTOLR and yesterday, I took full advantage. In fact, the pictures you see here were wonderfully fun to take. MM was nowhere around, so I got my kite up and flying, had my camera in my right hand, the kite in the left and managed to get a bunch of pretty cool kite-flying pictures!

China is still a great place for kites.  They were prevalent in China before the beginning of written history. The Chinese used bamboo for the frames and silk for the coverings and also for the flying lines. Of course, the Chinese invented paper, too, so kites were made of various types and weights of paper, as well. Of the many uses, an intriguing one is that they were used for individual or family security system. Using a sounding device –sort of a flute made from perforated reeds of bamboo, the kites were flown over a house throughout the night to frighten away thieves
and bandits.

The Chinese also fished with kites. Fishing line was tied to the kite’s long tail. At the end of a string, a baited hook was attached. When the fish would bite, the fisherman pulled in the kite, bagged the fish, and sent the kite into the sky again, with a re-baited hook on the tail.

In rural China, where numerous birds would often swarm down on vulnerable crops, farmers would have their children fly kites with firecrackers tied to the tails. Slow- burning incense attached to the fuses set off the firecrackers at varying time spans, scaring the birds away.

In today’s China, during the first part of September the weather, with easterly winds, is an excellent time for kite-flying, more so than is usually the case. So, the time from the first to the ninth of September was established as The Festival of Ascending on High. After school, students fly kites of all shapes and designs. (The source of my information is a book entitled Chinese Kites: How to Make and Fly Them, by David F. Jue. It’s a superb book, featuring not only the history and uses of kites, but a whole section on building various types. The ISBN number of the book is 0-8048-0101-0. The Library of Congress Catalog Card No. is 67-16412). Mr. Jue, a native of China, shared plans and directions for making all manner of spectacular traditional Chinese kites in his book, including a Pine Tree kite, a School House kite, an Octagon, a Butterfly, a Fish kite…and so much more! Generously, he provided directions for flying them, as well.

Back to the Festival of Ascending on High...On the ninth day of the festival, the schools declare a holiday so that all can fly their kites as long as they want. At the end of the day, when they’re done flying, they let the kite go, string and all. With that, all the evil, bad luck and sickness are carried away with the kite. Anyone who finds a kite after it has fallen to the ground must burn it, sealing the promise of good luck to come. Sounds like a plan!

I bought my salamander from Walmart.  It sold for the grand price of $5, and it came with string and a cool winder. But, even so, I believe I will try to make my own kite next year. Just for fun!  Then again...instant gratification is so lovely when the March breezes appear!  Maybe I'll stick with store-bought...

Finally, kite FIGHTING is very popular in China. Participants put special care into the design and construction of each kite. The flyer coats about a hundred feet of the flying line, nearest the kite, with glue, and applies powdered glass to it. This makes an abrasive surface which the flyer uses to try to saw through the flying line of the opponent. The kites in this competition are highly decorated and the spectacle is grand! The contestants send up their kites and position themselves some forty to sixty feet apart. The kites are flown at a lower angle to the ground than normal flying. At this low angle, according to Jue, the kites “tend to dart and dodge in fast swoops.” The object is to entangle an opponent’s string, and then try to saw it so it breaks, sending the opponents' kites high into the atmosphere.

Up, up and Away......

It seems like such a beautifully sensible and pleasant way to make war. Maybe militaries throughout the whole world should consider kite-making and kite-flying instead of guns and bombs.

And, by the way....have a lovely weekend, everyone!  Looks like it's going to be a good one, why not Go Fly A Kite!?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sure Sign of Spring--Paella, anyone?

No flower it seems to me, is more emblematic of winter’s end than the Crocus sativa. Brought to the United States on ships by settlers who planted them around their cabins, the bright faces – yellow, lavender, mauve, and even white must surely have been a welcome sight after a long, hard winter. C. sativus thrives in the Mediterranean and Mediterranean-like climates such as California, in the U. S. where hot, dry summer breezes sweep semi-arid lands. It can nonetheless survive cold winters by tolerating frosts as low as −10 °C (14 °F) and short periods of snow cover.

Of course it all begins with a legend in which it seems the Greek gods Zeus & Hura loved each other so passionately that the land where they lived burst open with crocuses. Aside from the crocus’s beauty and Greek gods’ passions,  crocuses are grown for their high value as the world’s most expensive spice and dye which comes from the stigmas of the crocus sativus. It thrives in vast fields in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea—Spain, Italy and Greece. It has a fascinating history and an intricate and equally fascinating taxonomy. Thanks again to Wikipedia, here are some salient facts:

The history of saffron cultivation reaches back more than 3,000 years. Experts believe saffron was first documented in a 7th century BC Assyrian botanical reference. Documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered.

Saffron-based pigments (intense yellow) have been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric beasts in what is today Iraq. Later, the Sumerians used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. The spice was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Thus, saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians' usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac.

During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops mimicked the practice and brought saffron-bathing back to Greece.

It’s been estimated that 4,000 Crocus sativa plants yield an ounce of saffron, which explains why it was, and is, such a precious commodity. A pound (454 grams) of dry saffron requires 50,000–75,000 flowers, the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation (110,000-170,000 flowers or two football fields for a kilogram) Some forty hours of labor are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers.

Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound (US$1,100–11,000/kg)—equivalent to £2,500/€3,500 per pound or £5,500/€7,500 per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/£500/€700 per pound (US$2,200/£1,100/€1,550 per kilogram). A pound comprises between 70,000 and 200,000 threads.

At that rate, dear readers, paella is NOT on the menu here Just Off the One-Lane Road!

I went out early with my camera this morning.  Couldn't resist these sheep in the sky!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Everyone!

Eating Beechnuts?

One of my readers emailed me yesterday after my post on the Beech tree.  She was concerned about information she had read that implied the Beech nuts could be toxic.  The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden explores that question on their forum.  Here's the link:


From what I can gather, the American Beech is edible (and I am living proof of that because I've eaten the beechnuts almost every year, gathering them--in tiny quantities, mind you-- beneath that big old Beech at the back of our farm); but the European Beech, may have some questionable characteristics.  Read the commentaries on the above website and decide for yourselves!  I apologize to my readers who are--in several cases--located in other countries than the U. S.!  I love having you because it broadens everyone's perspective enormously, but sometimes I forget that I am writing for an international audience, not just local folks! Thank you, everyone, for keeping me on my toes! (and thank you, Ruta in North Devon, UK for the heads up!)


Holes out here Just Off the One-Lane Road will soon be at a premium. This is the shopping season for both four- and two-legged critters, as they roam the forest (and our yard) seeking shelter for their impending brood. Soon most of the holes will have a “No Vacancy” sign out and the 2010 nesting season will be underway.

All kinds of critters have designs on holes here. For example, we have flying squirrels. Of course they are nocturnal, so I had to borrow a photo to show you these “adorable” little “winged” creatures. But, I’ve held them in my hand. Years ago, MM knocked down an old “widow-maker” and out flew six or seven flying squirrels. He brought one to show me before turning it loose again in the vicinity of the old toppled tree.  It was love at first sight!  They are soooo cute with their big eyes, soft fur and outspread webs between their front and back legs that enable them to soar.

The Southern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys volans, seeks out tempting tree holes for nesting (and also is willing to use--and make a mess of!--any overhead storage space they can find). Some 40 days after mating in late winter, they “whelp” and raise their annual batch of anywhere from two to six young. Often, the holes they choose are located in the tops of old Beech trees, which, as you have seen in my recent posts,  usually offer lots of choices. Flying squirrels are such endearing little creatures! They actually do glide through the trees by night--30 to 40 feet at one leap, playing tag through the trees and eating acorns.  Of course, they sleep during the day.   According to several sources, they make wonderful pets. But please, don’t remove them from their habitat with that in mind! Folks around here have an alternate name: Fairy Diddles.

Others of the squirrel family may nest in a hole, here, too, although leaf nests are generally preferred by Greys and Fox squirrels.

Woodpeckers are the great hole-MAKERS. Rummaging in old snags, prospecting for bugs, they create and enlarge existing holes in their constant search for food. When the Pileated decides to visit us, chips fly!  Everybody's archetype of Woody Woodpecker, this large handsome bird is an efficient hunter, with a sideline carpentry business of making homes for others.

The word “hole” has many connotations, if you think about it. Here’s a list: A wide deep spot in a river –a swimming hole; a small, deep bay—as in Wood’s Hole; a dingy, dirty place – such as “it was a real hole;” to hibernate –the bear was holed up; in the hole – meaning to be in debt; a gap or break – a hole in the wall; a tear in fabric – it had a hole; eager to spend money – burning a hole in his pocket; golf – hole in one and other hole references of the game, including locations as in 9th hole; a gap in the flow of logic –there was a hole in his thinking.  You'll undoubtedly think of more!

No matter the alternate meanings of the word, though,  hole means home during the next few months, for the larger part of the population here JOTOLR!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sweetheart Tree

“They say there’s a tree in the forest
A tree that will give you a sign
Come along with me to the sweetheart tree
Come and carve your name next to mine…”

Out here JOTOLR, we have lots of Beech trees. I love them with their big old moss-covered elephant feet anchored into the ground as close to water as they can get, without being in it. I don’t know what it is that attracts me, except that they are so big, so bold in declaring their space, so solid. They’re the Sumo wrestlers of the tree world. Roundly powerful. Seemingly indestructible.

Sadly I know of one Beech tree, though, that was felled by a pair of lovers. I went looking for it the other day, hoping to photograph the monument, but found only remnants, no tree. I remember the heart drawn around the initials “CF loves SM” carved many years ago into the Beech’s somewhat forgiving bark. It was the thing to do back then. But love’s unintended consequences probably cut the tree’s life short. Forty years have come and gone, the tree is no longer there, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the love that prompted the carving, hasn’t fled—or at least, expired, as well. It’s common knowledge, now, that carving one’s initials on the tree sets up the conditions for premature death.
Yes, admittedly, many trees still stand with initials emblazoned on their skin, but in the broadest sense, carving does endanger the health of the tree.

I know…the surface is so tempting. Fagus grandifolia with its smooth bark invites lovestruck carvers. But breaking the “seal’ of that outer bark opens the tree’s barriers to insects which will take full advantage of the opening and begin to burrow into the tree. Bacteria can also begin their work as the tree is weakened. Finally, if the carving is large enough and deep enough, water flow up and down the trunk is compromised and this, too, hastens the tree’s demise. I know it doesn’t seem especially romantic to carve a sign and hang it on the tree, but the longevity of the tree will be greatly improved.

Beech nuts were a surprise for me when I moved to the Appalachians. It was just one more sign of the bountiful hardwood forest that sustains the wildlife in this region and adds to our pleasure. Little triangular nuts, (called cupules) three to a shell, burst with the flavor of …well…beechnuts! Remember Beechnut Gum? Another name for the flavor, of course, is wintergreen. Beechnut baby food? Beechnut Chewing Tobacco? All brought about by the humble flavor of the fruit produced by this magnificent tree.

The Beech Nut Nutrition Corporation has a long and intriguing history (well worth a read) which dates back to 1890. Beech Nut Nutrition Corporation history It all started when five residents of Canajoharie, New York decided to market the home-smoked hams of Raymond and Walter Lipe's father, Ephraim, which were renowned in the small Mohawk Valley farming community for their unique nutty flavor. That “nutty flavor” was the beechnut and Beech wood. The tale is too long and convoluted for this blog, but do go to the website, scroll down until you come to the history, and browse the story. How we got all the way from smoked hams to chewing gum and then baby food is fascinating! Many of you will remember the Beech Nut Baby Food apple juice fiasco, and it’s interesting to see how many re-inventions of itself the company has been able to accomplish and still survive from 1890 until today. It’s a remarkable tale of American ingenuity and hard-scrabble moxie. And it all began with the Beech Tree. 

Beech Nut Chewing tobacco is another story altogether. As far as I can determine, the tobacco has nothing at all to do with Beech Nut Nutrition Corp.. Let me know if you find  otherwise.

The Beech’s leaves often stay attached all winter long. As they dry, they curl against themselves and rustle with the slightest breeze—the brushes of forest music.  People often call it a "copper beech" for the color of the tree's winter garb.  In the spring, the new leaves are an irridescent chartreuse that simply takes your breath away!

Beech is hard to split, but burns well. According to one expert it “burns brightly for many hours with calm flames.” As a wood for carving it has many faces. Some call it unruly; others recommend carving it green; most carvers extol the finished product as being very rewarding; its a hard wood, fairly straight-grained. Reminds some of maple, even oak. Carvers say that you need to pay attention to keeping your tools sharpened as you work since the Beech will dull them in no time. On one website I visited, a man was in the process of carving a 300 year old Beech burl. That, I would like to have seen! Here at this generous website, you can find a list of Beech’s properties:

Finally, let’s talk kitchens. Plastic or wood for cutting boards? When I was selling Pampered Chef kitchen tools (for the past eight years prior to retiring) my sales pitch was that the plastic cutting boards we sold, were much more sanitary than the wooden ones. Turns out that’s not necessarily so. If you are wondering whether your wooden board or a plastic one is best for your kitchen, go to And the best of all cutting boards? (some say) End-grain Beech. Price?  Reduced from $127 to $88!

So, there you have it! Another marvelous product of our Appalachian hardwood forest---and a real sweetheart of a tree!