It must have been two years back, this last summer, since I was over to the riding stables for manure; I got 30 pickup loads to start the garden. The stable was a tidily run semi-communal business that seemed a trifle shaky. A couple of young women appeared to own, or run, the stable, and they were worried. If you kept a horse there you had to pay rent, but beyond that everyone chipped in and worked on a voluntary basis to keep costs down. I like' d that arrangement.
Today I went out and it has changed into a private farm, mostly beef. Gone is the neat equestrian look, exchanged for semi-squalid farminess with a foot of mud; the number of hands necessary to achieve tidiness are either missing or busy with earthier chores. The owner said he bought just about two years ago. I asked if I could get some manure; since he was already moving stuff with his huge Cat front end loader he told me where to park so he could load me up. His bucket was longer than Rosie's bed by a foot or two and there was some forking to do to get it all topped off after he dumped. He insisted on helping me. I told him not to, that nobody with a spread like that had time to be pitching manure by hand. He said it seemed that it would be pretty small of him not to help since he was there. A nice guy. Where others would have told me to get lost he took pains to see that I got my one little load in place.
As the loader bit into the 20' high pile of manure steam roiled out around the bucket, The stuff was cooking, and the heat rolled off it when it fell into Rosie's bed. Prime poop. Said to call him up and he'd let me know when he be on the loader and he'd load me up again when I wanted more. Little does he realize that I want a lot of this stuff. It is gold. The end-of-the-alimentary-canal black gold that the world used to run on, before Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon.
At the end of the 19th Century 1/6 of all the land inside the city limits of Paris was intensively farmed small gardens that supplied almost all the veggies the residents needed year-round. All this ran off the manure generated by transport, by horses. And then the world improved as motor cars replaced all the horses, and they began to import not-so-fresh veggies. Of course, the streets were probably a lot cleaner. And people and things started to go places much more quickly. It really is hard to be sarcastic about these 'improvements' when I grew up in the American Car-culture of the mid-20th Century, but I do wonder what is next. Car-culture has hit some potholes. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie? I loved 'em. All night horror-fests and a blanket in the back seat.
Most of you probably think that nothing very different is next. The recession, what little of it there was before the government saved us, is over. The stock markets are booming. People are starting to spend a bit more again. The banks are seeing vastly improved profit margins. Ah, the glory of debt, the power of credit and sly bookkeeping. I would caution you: 'don't hold your breath while you wait for the green shoots of recovery to get to you'.
Eight apple trees are on order from Fedco for April pick up. All are hardy to zone 3; we are slightly warmer here, zone 4 - temps down to -25f. The trees are all good cider varieties: 3 Baldwin, 1 Grimes Golden, 2 Golden Russet, 1 Black Oxford, and 1 Liberty. About the time I turn 70 I will start getting a nice crop for pressing, from trees that will outlive me by one to two centuries. The next in line had best teach their grandkids to thank me with the first sip of the new crop every autumn.
I got the first two holes dug when I got home. The planting instructions have all sorts of stuff about adding various organic supplements, but I don't have greensand, kelp, azomite, phosphate dust and all those other back-to-the-soil amendments. So, I dig a hole 3' across, a foot deep, fill it to a foot above grade with manure, and then put the sod back on top with the green side down and cover it with black plastic. The stuff has all winter to get acquainted, and if that doesn't make a tree happy nothing will. I just have to find the best places for all 8 trees and do this prep. When I drop the post hole digger into each center-hole in April I should be set. The first two holes are in the front yard, about 20' apart and halfway from the house to the street. It will necessitate removing the two small red maples out there, but let's not talk about that. They were once somebody's pets.
The tree already out there, the one I cut woods back around to get some sun to, has put out a fine crop of smallish red fruit that makes juice so thick and tart you have to cut it 50% with water. Wonderful. Zoe got hooked.
Zoe also began to jones bad for NYC after about a week here; so bad that she started staying at Starbuck's, where her iphone works, to check up on her friend's big city adventures. She can only hang so far with life here - out on the moon approximately, before she begins to do a spiritual fade. I mentioned not wanting to go somewhere, and she replied: "Of course you don't want to go there, dad - there are "people" there."
Got me to thinking about the Common Ground Fair. It is the place at the end of the apocalyptic movie where the survivors arrive to start building civilization again. It is where those people were going at the end of the Mad Max movie. They have traveled in battered caravans of anything-that-runs, always desperately short of fuel, ambushed by cretinous sociopaths, beleaguered by cannibal tribes on modified jet skis - a harsh and harrowing journey, and then they get there, to The Haven, and the inhabitants, all sort of Midwestern-looking farmish folk, roll back the great steel gates bristling with automatic weapons and welcome them in. There are white-steepled churches, modest and neat frame houses, a brick school, all on peaceful clean streets, and everyone wears a straw hat or bonnet and holds flowers and is smiling. These are the chosen people of god, set to start building the new society of righteous - unnhhhh, I better stop there or we will be sliding off into repeat-mode and I will be shaking my head and muttering: 'no, no, no, no....'. I recall the version of the city in the film 'A Boy and His Dog'. Topeka, they called it. That rings a bell for me.
I like it fine here. Let's leave it at that. Being in Maine raises my spirits on dark days. Sometimes I even believe the demagogues will stop coming here, bringing along their mean-spirited gods which judge and hate, and the home-grown sort will thin and fade.
I don't really belong to the camp of TEOTWAWKI -'the end of the world as we know it'. I don't think civilization collapses and we all live in bunkers in a few years. I do think things will slow quite a lot, get leaner, require more hard work and be very difficult for some - many? It is already that way for a growing number of citizens. The most note they get in the media is to be labeled as 'unemployed', a statistical referent with an ethos of failure. There are a lot more of them than the government lets on; some figures put actual unemployment closer to 20% than the official 10%. No place to go everyday and less money will always slow you down some. (That doesn't include the racing thoughts of the depressed and desperate; those are like anti-matter, or black hole forces, and run on the fuel of entropy.)
Many days later and I have all eight holes set up for my nascent orchard. The garden gate is open and the cluckers are doing end of the season cleanup. The dogs have taken to watching the chickens for food-clues and can now be seen nibbling at the still bearing raspberries. The rooster will almost fight Waldo for a bone with a scrap of flesh on it, and Shay is simply overwhelmed and driven off by their numbers.
Zoe has returned from three weeks in rainy Germany to 'visit her stuff'. That is what we call it when she goes to her storage locker and trades out clothes and such for her next trip. She arrived thinking to spend a day and then be off to Central America for 3 weeks, but indolence has settled on her and she is hanging out watching movies, harassing the adults in the house, and enjoying Pat's cooking
It is hard not to write about the grand themes of the day - the end of empire, the reallocation of the world's wealth, the mass diffusion of populations into already-occupied realms. These are events beyond knowing, moments given to very few to observe so closely, yet I have to restrain my tongue. History uncoils from its record, monuments and books, to prod us between the shoulders that we should survey the tatters of cultures gone before us, risen so high, then succumbing to greed and ignorance. Until there is nothing, nothing at all, there will be cycles, the rising and the falling, and we will ride these waves. Those that believe all is well will scoff at my intuitions, my fears, the shriven expectations of tomorrow that I hold. We all want, deeply want, to extrapolate the present, or our near-past, out into our futures in bright shining ribbons: an ever expanding economy, increased job opportunities, our children better off than we, the wondrous future of Western technology... These are the streamers snapping in the wind from our castle walls. It is anathema to think that we could devolve, go backwards, slide off toward some new dark age, have less tomorrow than we do today. It is almost treason.
As a youngster I recall wondering how the rest of the world, or the larger part of it, could live in starving squalor while things kept getting better and better in Our America. Oh, I was American! As American as any kid of the fifties who thought a beater flathead Ford and thirty cents a gallon gas were guaranteed. If we could raise a buck between us Stuie and Ralph and I could get a huge bag of day old jelly donuts at - I forget the name of the place, and a couple gallons of gas and cruise Hollywood Blvd. all night long. Nothing happened. We didn't meet movie stars or get screwed by buxom coeds, but we were 'there' and we were part of the dream and we didn't doubt in the least that it would go on forever. Sixteen was magic in L.A. in 1959. Even so the disparities between what we had and what most of the rest of the world didn't troubled me in odd moments.
I would occasionally mention this thought to someone only to receive a blank stare in return; whatever in the blue, blue sky of a California morning was I on about? I always had some uneasy sense of balance that restrained my laughing at others, teasing the weak, hammering at the undefended. It wasn't that I was any paragon of virtue in regards to social equality. Mostly I stayed hidden behind my hopefully-blank face, hidden but uneasy. I never stepped forward to receive blows aimed at the weak, offering the doubtful succor of my own suffering; no, I simply faded to the back of the crowd and wondered if this was really the way life worked.
I don't know how we ever lived through that, having a car and gas and never being hungry or very afraid - it was so right. And then the future happened. For me the Navy happened, and I went off and caught the bare cusp of a thing called Viet Nam from the cramped steel box of a ship of war sweating in tropic waters, and I was glad to escape the reality that was certain to follow. Ralph caught a vibrant, young girl friend who soon became incapacitated with almost nameless ailments and required of him a lifetime of devotion, and Mormons. Stuie caught a fair wind that blew him into the places that genius led, even for those so socially fucked-up that they couldn't say hello without causing alarm. I guess I was the middle path. No genius, no demanding commitments, no path for many years. A cork bobbing on the social seas with neither rhyme nor reason to my name.
And we come to this, to now. Me, with assorted projects, still hanging on the fringes; contented enough to say that it was worth it and have few regrets. Stuie, with his brain still on fire, dealing with the grief - and hope, of slow dissolution. Ralph - I don't know; I haven't been in touch with him in over fifty years; Stuie still is, but I don't ask. And an entire society that is dissolving around us as we age. Many of you won't believe me. You will insist on thinking things go on as before. I know different. Why? Wisdom of age? Naw. Just a hunch after 65 years of watching. We need to rethink. We need to get ready. Things are not as they were. Our capacity for blind foolishness has guided us into unknown lanes.
My cyber-friend Charles - blog-buddy, mentioned this A.M. that he was going short the market, thinking things could not go on forever in the Land of Imagination and Hope. I have thought this for a time, but the bears, those who go short the market, bet against the next rise, get slaughtered. Fundamentally there is no substance to the burgeoning hope that buoys the nation and sees stocks run ever higher - but they do. They do rise and the bears are killed, dying the death of DOW over 10,000 and rising!! The biggest post-crash market rally ever. A buoyant cry.
I have been sitting on the fence on this one; I know the price of stocks is crazy, dreamland-dumb, but the danger of betting against them rising still further is deadly. Who knows what the federal government will do next? They throw money at the parade like confetti: the Victory Parade of economic salvation marching down Main Street America. That money goes somewhere. It has to. And since it cannot presently go into capitalizing bold new industries and much-needed change it causes harm-by-misallocation. Money is not neutral; this money especially, for it is borrowed against our future. It is a tool that demands hands use it; debt is a hammer. Volatility, is guaranteed. Money flows like a river bending its course to the will of men who seek only greater profit and power. Bet in any direction, economy surging/economy tanking, at your own risk; caveat emptor in bold face. We are riding the tiger.
This morning I sold all the stocks I could, mine, Ara's, Zoe's. My bones tell me we are too close to the edge. Some upheaval will come. It isn't as if gold stocks are worth less if the market tanks; they will just sell down with everything else; they will then cost less to buy back. It is the nature of the beast that the baby and the bathwater go out in one swoop. I risk missing the huge upside explosion if gold stocks take off and triple next week, but I also avoid the risk of a sinking market that takes all down equally. I am satisfied with this. My profits are locked in - unless cash, in U.S. dollars, becomes trash. Who can hope for more than to preserve what they have gained? What will my grandchildren in a hundred years care if I ended my days eating cat food or shrimp sauteed in butter? We all finagle and flop about trying to outthink fate. Few of us succeed. It is the trying that is the real point. When I try I know I am alive.
And maybe with that I should end this letter. I do have hope. Hope in all of us that we will rise to the occasion, that we will persevere and learn to think in ways that suit what we find ahead of us. Love and best wishes from all of us at the Chicken Little Micro Farm to all other survivors with an eye toward tomorrow. don and pat and all the beating hearts here.
This letter has not exactly earned the whole-hearted support of the canny editor. As much wailing Irish doubt as she can muster in everyday affairs she continues to believe that I am engaged in writing epistles of pessimism. 'Downers', she says. 'Taint so,' I reply. 'Hope is in the air.'