Pat gets to have interesting conversations.  She had one at the gym with a young woman teaching an aerobics class; a girl going away to college soon.  An older man, who is possibly far too interested in very young girls, had asked her what she would be studying.
"Architecture."  was her reply.

Pat found this interesting and asked her what she felt influenced by, what did she like.

The girl frowned thoughtfully and said, "I think I'll do buildings."

It was time for Pat to come home anyway.

Another conversation from the twilight zone took place after a concert.  We had been to the local venue, a sort of retired cathedral, or at least a very big stone church with 50 foot ceiling, and it was about 95f, inside. The crowd was commensurately small, fanning themselves avidly with programs as they listened;  the group was accomplished.  A German Celtic group, Cara.
The drummer had done an extended solo on a bourain which he held on his knee.  Moving his hand around on the inside of the head as he beat he added a surprising number of tones to the rhythms.  After the concert we were walking out and I spotted him on top of a stairway getting some air.

"You guys are great," I called up.  "You deserve a bigger audience."

"It will be better," he called back, "when we tour the Middle East."

I looked at Pat as we walked.  "They're touring the Middle East?"

She gave me the look and said "Sure, they open for Dylan in Fallujah."

I sighed.  I knew I had done it again.  "What did he really say?"

"It will be better when they lower the heat."

It generally amuses me when my brain fills in as my hearing fades.  My brain really doesn't want to let me down; it is diplomatic about my deficit and buoys me with real conversations.  I hear people say the most astounding things. Maybe my brain is affirming that we, the both of us, still have a sense of humor.  Does that mean my brain is separate from me?  More and more I think that is the case.  The body-mind split is old hat.  And then I wonder how much of this composite person, me, can be sloughed off before I lose my identity?  I imagine it is like sand falling in an hour glass; I just slowly, crumb by crumb, dribble into the bottom of the jar.  I hardly notice, it is so gradual.

Perhaps memory is the key link.  If you can't remember who you are then you can't be you - right?  I sort of wonder about that, too.  I forget things all the time now:  end up in the kitchen wondering why I just walked the length of the house, and then I have to laugh and fill in the gap by making a cup of tea.  If I were asked I think I might learn to lie about it; old people do learn to confabulate quite handily - at what age does the practice begin?  When do we first feel endangered, not by our lapses, but by the worried looks of our children?   It has been about 20 years since I first became aware of moments that were, but now aren't.  They aren't because I don't know I had them, even though I was there.  Entire events have vanished.  Sounds scary, no?

Yes, at about 45 I started to lose track; the usual stuff - where did I put my keys?  My glasses?  Little things, but telling.  It might sound like a shattering moment when I realized I was losing it - it being the core of my being, and maybe I did feel like that initially.  Now it is more a source of amusement; standing up against some question of intent or purpose, aware that I had something in mind, and trying to tease out the threads of why and how.  It just doesn't  bother me all that much.  Think of it as a puzzle with oddly personal twists.  Pat is more bothered, I think, but then she has more mind to lose than I do.  And I sometimes get the feeling that aging doesn't set very well with her.  Not that I like it, but, what the hell?  She plays the "I am six years older than you..." card; I try to take it seriously.  Sure.

One reason I wonder about memory as identity's anchor is that I have worked with a few Alzheimer folk and one thing struck me about them.  Oh, they are incredibly vulnerable; tell one to stay away from the stove and 2 minutes later guess who is back at the stove?  Memory is mainly about defense, I have decided.  We remember what hurts and try to avoid it.  No, that isn't what is striking about these people; it is that they all still have personalities.  They may not know who they are, but somehow they are still themselves.

Some are cranky old dotards and some are  sweet as berry jam.  I don't think that changed when they forgot who they were.  I think it is an intrinsic part.  Nobody gets old and becomes wonderful.  You were either wonderful when you were young, or you aren't now and never will be.  So, if someone who no longer knows who they are still has a personality, then what does that say about identity?  Maybe the question is silly.  I mean, if you don't know who you are, then does it matter?

Aging is like  having been handed a scorecard to mark.  It lists all your attributes, the things you have always counted on, the assurances of youth:  agility, wit, will, memory, resilience, hawk-eyes, speed, sexual appetite.  We are all missing a few to begin with, our lists vary widely, but we do value the strengths we possess, and as they diminish we hoist the scorecard and make little entries.  Check box A for missing gall bladder, B for arthritis, C for constipation, and D for all of the above.  See how simple that was?

Some misaligned seniors take to it as sport, or hobby, and go on endlessly about their multiple surgeries and brushes with terminal damage. They count the ravages as tokens - heaven knows what they think to win.  A moment's notice?  A one-up on the slice-o-meter?  I don't like these people; something is wrong with them.  I think they have always been  weirdly self-concerned and little has changed for them.  We will always tally what we have lost; the challenge is what we can do with what is left.

Supposedly - I think it is one of those self-help homilies - we acquire 'new' strengths as we see others on which we have counted gasp and sag.  I doubt it.  Maybe we are just able, when lucky, to redistribute some skills to sort of fill in the potholes.  Humor is a great filler-inner.  I don't know how I will handle ongoing corporeal degradation.  So far I have done ok.  I still grab my shovel and dig, hoe weeds, wield my chainsaw like a light saber - may the force be with you-, all 120 volts.  What comes next doesn't exactly prey on me, but it is meatier food for thought every year.  It is an adventure; one you only get to have once.

My cyber-friend Charles, we have never met and probably never will, was recently blogging on 'experiential capital'; the personal capital we have as a people that allows us to work and flourish.  Much of it is self-taught and learned thru error.   From New Mexico to Maine this is the very attribute I have seen and valued, the willingness of folk to learn how and build, grow or fix anything,  It is all about problem solving; the jack-of-all-trades the inveterate ambassador.

If you don't read Charles daily blog,, then you might give it a shot.  He is a bright fellow.  Too bright I sometimes fear, too busy.  Out of the corner of my eye I see him as  a candle burning at both ends, and when the last spark appears where the flames finally meet and extinguish sputtering smoke may overcome the light.  Probably I am wrong and he has it all in hand; talent is frightening.   He has a grasp of both theory and practical application in so many areas:  health care, economics, education, society's workings, philosophy, businees, blue collar workaday.  He has a way of getting down to the grit of what is happening to us, our country, and why - always with a question, and what can be done by ordinary people in the effort to control their own destinies. You would have to read him to appreciate this.  If your own world is circumscribed by societal norms, if what you read or hear on the news is gospel truth, if you have belief in the 'system' in which we live, then Charles may seem to  you a crackpot, harebrained, dangerous even.  I beg to disagree.  Charles is a man our founding fathers would have welcomed with open arms; a questioner, an argumentative son of a bitch, a man who thinks we could all do better, a believer in honest appraisal, in personal accountability.  I won't go on.  You will either 'get' Charles, or you won't.   His musings are not going to interest everyone; somedays I even find I am not interested in what he has to say.

My own problem with 'experiential capital' is that I keep reinventing the wheel.  It is an egregious failing for which I am solely responsible.  Charles says we need more of this capital - though not necessarily the reinvention part.  I agree, and I think in past years we had more, due to pure need.  When times are tough then invention raises its, sometime ugly, head.  Surely  the 'financial engineers' that got us into this mess are of that ilk; look what they want to do now - bundle life insurance policies from the elderly and sick, forced to sell those policies at a discount for the cash just to get by day to day, into marketable bonds that institutional investors will buy for the final payout, death.  Sounds macabre - no?  But it is the American Spirit at work.  Problem solving at its best.  Our financial engineers, awful as the result of their efforts have proven, are problem solvers; they may be, in some sense, the best we have.  The destruction of society, of the middle class, is nothing to them.  The dark side of problem solving.

Charles says that viewing T.V., texting, playing video games, our newest sports, none of these build the sort of experience we need to face real world problems; we have quit teaching ourselves to go hands-on at things; pick up the screwdriver and attack.  Problem solving is an odd game.  One problem solved may be the death knell of the next man in line.  I think Americans have a genius for problem solving, but it is not always a benign event.  Look at the problems solved by industrialization; we received the gifts of uniform parts, mass production, a less expensive and easier life.  But the problems then created - mass unemployment, Luddites, blood in the streets were also the fruit of our genius.  We have a corollary event today in labor unions adamantly  refusing to give any ground in order to keep jobs.  Rational thought suggest that  limited funding will either result in layoffs or a pay cut for all to preserve those jobs;  unions don't believe it.  The public service unions have slipped quite beyond problem solving into total denial.  They have grasped the brass ring and will hang on until their fingers are torn from their sockets.  When the tax base erodes there is simply less money for salaries.  They really don't get it.  They have lost the ability to problem solve.  They live with the Luddites.  I think they become an arm of the elite, willing themselves to be untouched by change. 

I am not sure that the will to 'experience' is easy to quantify.  Maybe that will, to handle and explore and manipulate, is an inbuilt trait.  Only some of us will have it,  a dangerous curiosity.  Maybe the kid who pulls the wings off flys will invent the next generation solar collector.  Not everyone is curious to see how things fit together, to see what happens when 'a' is added to 'b'.  The results can be disastrous.  Maybe the curious die younger and more violently - it wouldn't surprise me.  I think some will want to turn their hand to everything that comes along, and others will not; they will want the tried and true.  We cannot make people curious, the best might be just to encourage those who are.  How many household appiances did you take apart, irrevocably apart, as a kid?  What happened when I took the carburetor off the Oldsmobile?   Why didn't our parents kill us?

Now I have my projects.  I need to reinvent the wheel now and then.  It is my brain on fire to find out.  When Pat questions my latest venture I have to say to her, 'what happens if I don't do this?' 

She knows my answer.  'I will die.'  I don't want to save mankind, or the world, just myself.  I have to be engaged.

So, on to the new apple grinder and cider press.   A fellow named Hendrick Kimball has a website,   He sells plans, for about $20, to build an apple grinder that will out-perform anything you can buy ready-made, and a cider press that will get the last drop of juice from your apple mash.  He has done his homework, gone through various designs, built and tested them, and the book gives you plans for his final effort.  I built the machines from his plans and have pressed 36 gallons of cider.  I had a lot of scrap around: scrap lumber, bolts, motor, so it was pretty cheap.  It you need to buy anything new, like a motor, it will get more expensive, but I have to report that his machines work wonderfully well.  The core of the grinder is a used garbage disposal, about $10, hooked up to a continuous duty motor.  The plans are reasonably easy to follow and the result can always be tweaked where you screw up.

I picked neighborhood trees and got several bushels of very tart, scabrous, gnarly little apples, and their juice was heavenly.  I have never tasted apple juice like this.  It hammers your mouth until the tongue cries for more - possible warning of imminent addiction here.  The other apples I pressed came from a local orchard at $6/bushel.
These are the lowest grade of apples, the next grade up, the utilities, cost $19/bushel.  The cider grade have bruises and bird pecks and spots, and the juice they press is much milder than the little tart apples.  The orchard apples are Macs and Galas.  I am about ready to add the raisins and put the water seals on the barrels and hope for hard cider in a couple of months.  We will see.  Not sure what I will do with 36 gallons of apple cider vinegar if I screw it up....

Small change of plans has commenced.  My reading causes me to worry about all the apples with rotten spots that I ground; odd bacteria added to the juice, shaky results impend.  I visited a local brewing shop and got  the stuff to kill all the bugs in the must (squeezed juice), and commercial yeast to add back in after the massacre.  My tartest must had an extremely low specific gravity, meaning very little sugar, so I added 25# of pure white to the 20 gallons.  If all goes well the yeasty beasties will convert all this sugar into about an 8% etoh beverage.  The other barrel was made from cleaner and sweeter apples and had almost enough sugar.  I added 10# to it.  Also, both barrels got moved, via Chuckles Kubota, to the basement.  A 20 gal. barrel is about 170#; I avoided both rupture - of myself or the barrels, but there were exciting moments on the 2x12 ramp down the basement stairs.

The light weakens.  The days shorten.  Firewood is getting stored in the basement, the yard cleared, outbuildings straightened up.  Snow is a ways off. but temps drop at night toward the 40's.  We wind down and draw inward.  Another winter is around the corner.  But first we have the autumn colors, and maybe some good Indian Summer.  It is a beautiful time out and the days are glorious.  I sit in the yard in the evening and talk to the chickens.  If the end of summer is known to them they don't mention it; the biggest thing is the next juicy bug, and life is all short term.  Long term is simply getting back to the coop to roost by dark.  That is the sweetness of day's end.

The canny editor approves, though I noticed veins bulging when she read my assessment of the unions - an old socialist showing grand restraint; she didn't make me take those comments out.  We are all here and seemingly thriving.  We hope the same for you.  D - P - S - W - R - and cluckers.

Identify yourself, now! 
(or at least make a half-assed stab at it...)
This page was last updated: September 13, 2009
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