Friday, June 30, 2006

Book Review: The Contrary Farmer

Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1994)

Knowing how I am always recommending Wendell Berry’s books, a friend suggested I read something by Gene Logsdon. Last week, I came across his name while looking in an Alabama bookstore and purchased a copy of The Contrary Farmer. I’m glad I did.

Logsdon farms a 32 acre “cottage farm” in Ohio. His book is a primer for those interested in making a living on a small farm. It’s his thesis that although you won’t get rich on a small farm, you can have a good life. He provides suggestions for the right size of such a farm (keep it small enough so that you’re not overwhelmed or feel the need to grow large), the type of animals to raise and crops to grow, how best to organize your farm to minimize work, an introduction to a new way of looking at economics and finally some wonderful writing as he describes the seasons and the joy of working outdoors.

There are two keys to success in Logsdon’s plans. First is enjoying what one does. Early in the book, he notes, “Where love is at work, work is mostly play.” (page 3) Logsdon obviously enjoys his work around the farm and you see his playful approach through his writings. Life on the farm is to be a joy. “Farming without raising and eating sweet corn ten minutes from the path is like living out a lifetime as a virgin,” he writes in one of his many suggestions of enjoyment on the farm. (page 152) A second key to success is diversity. He states early in the book that diversity on a small farm is essential to easing the workload, a theme he comes back to over and over again. Even his crop rotation plan for his “small fields” is done in such a way to increase productivity while reducing weeds (and thereby reducing work and the need for chemicals). “Variety is not just the spice of life but the indispensable ingredient,” he quotes from Thomas Eisner, suggesting that it could be the Contrary Farmer’s motto. (page 153) Logsdon farm has a variety of grains, produce, fruit and animals (chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, and fish).

Throughout the book, Logsdon comes down hard on the farming enterprises that exist today, suggesting that the only way that they’re profitable is with government subsides. Yet, he does have respect (and maybe a little sympathy) for these “industrial” farmers, suggesting that a successful cottage farmer should befriend them. All farmers are going to have challenges but should be up to the task. “Compared to nature, zealots and bureaucrats are a piece of cake,” Logsdom sarcastically notes. (page 200) Furthermore, he maintains the reason the United States has the most successful farming in the world has to do with soil and weather, not with “so-called capitalism” or innovation, suggesting that even the Soviet state run farms would have faired well in our Cornbelt. (page 83)

As much as he criticizes the large corn operations that wash away more soil than the corn they produce, he devotes a chapter to corn production on the cottage farm and generally raises an acre or two on his farm primarily for feeding animals (this is in addition to sweet corn). He is also critical of the organic farm movement for their failure to use treated human waste as a fertilizer and for being so “hard core” that they don’t allow flexibility. Logsdon admits to occasionally using chemicals, primarily as ways to spot control weeds or bugs. His irreverence toward organic farming reminds me of Edward Abbey, an environmentalist who wasn’t above tossing an empty beer can out the window of his pickup truck. Moderation seems to be one of his virtues.

Logsdon came from good stock. He grew up in the area he now farms and his wise father once said: “A bulldozer in the hands of a wise man does good work; in the hands of a fool even a spade is dangerous.” (page 175) This illustrates Logsdon approach to tools and technology. He uses them, but he doesn’t let them rule him which is what happens as farms get so big that their equipment have to be larger and therefore more expensive and the farmer ends up being controlled by the bank to grow more and more which, when done by all farmers, means lower and lower prices. By maintaining a cottage farm, Logsdon thinks one can provide healthy food for ones family and a good lifestyle, things that don’t make economic equations.

The cottage farm sounds like a bit of heaven, especially for someone retired or who has another job, but with free time. However, I’m not sure if I’m ready to make such a commitment as it means that one will need to stick around home a lot more, for there are always chores to be done. However, I enjoyed reading the book and recommend it to anyone interested in farming or just good nature writing.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Radical Ramblings

The political rantings of Nevada Jack (whose picture Blogger can't seem to post).

After not hibernating for most of the winter, I’ve been napping a lot lately and haven’t gotten a chance to do any interviews. I gotta wake up or I’m going to lose my sarcastic edge. Furthermore, I now have a competitor for the sarcastic take on the news. Desert Rat has started reporting over on Ed Abbey’s blog. On June 28, DR filed his recent interview of old Georgie Boy himself. It’s a hoot. Check it out.

A year ago I broke the story about the political consequences of Viagra. This past week, the beer guzzling and trash talking Rush Limbaugh was caught by custom agents in Florida with a bottle of the drug prescribed to someone other than himself. It’s been widely reported that his doctor, who prescribed the drug for himself, gave Rush the pills as a way to avoid embarrassment. According to my sources, that’s not quite true. Rush stole the bottle from his doctor’s office after the Doc refused to give him the drug saying that the chances anyone as ugly or obnoxious as Rush needing the drug was pretty slim. The doctor was also trying to protect the human gene pool, just in case Rush got lucky. Although unconfirmed, it’s rumored that Limbaugh was returning from a speaking engagement at the International Conference of Deaf and Blind Women (ICDBW).

I’ve also been a bit troubled about the way Bush and Cheney have been treating the New York Times. They're about as nice to the Times as I've been to Rush and company. As Arianna Huffington pointed out, after publishing all the Administration’s lies leading up to the Iraqi War, someone over at the Times finally realized that their loyalty (and I might responsibility) is with their readers and not the President. After trying his best to dominate the courts and legislature in order to insure that he has a pad of blank checks (instead of checks and balances), Bush and Cheney are upset with the news media. Spiro Agnew (remember him, he was Nixon’s Vice President who resigned in disgrace) was the first guy I remember blaming his problems on a liberal media conspiracy. Anytime a conservative politician has something to hid, it’s always the fault of the “liberal media.” Isn’t it a conservative value to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions? But then, isn’t it also a conservative value to live within your means? How can Bush call himself a conservative?

On another political topic, my fellow Michigander (is that how you spell it? I ain't from here, ya’ll know) blogger Karen, recently blasted Congress trying to give themselves a pay raise while refusing to raise the minimum wage rate. Come on Karen, don’t you know that with Abramoff’s demise, those working up on the Hill are having to live frugally and cut expenses? A few weeks ago, Karen shared her wise husband’s observation of that macho man in the White House. “If Bush had served in Vietnam, we’d won the war.” Ah, if only history could be so different.

Well, ‘nuf said. I have to let Sage get back to the computer so he can work on a letter of recommendation for Murf who’s applying for Grad School. Good luck Murf, you’ll now need all the luck you can get!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ice Tea

According to a story I heard on NPR years ago, North Carolina consumes more tea per capita than any other place on the planet, including the British Isles. And almost all of that tea is served iced, and most is sweetened. Coming from the Old North State, I consume my fair share (a couple gallons a week in the summer, around a gallon a week in the winter). But I only drink unsweetened tea. This is my story.

Ice tea was first introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. It was an instant hit. With the advent of Rural Electrification and refrigerators, the drink swept the south. As soon as kids are weaned from their moms, they’re served ice tea. It’s a ritual and it was no different in my family. We always served sweet ice tea at meals and there was a glass waiting when you came in all hot from playing outdoors in 98% humidity. About the time I started high school, my mother decided to go on a diet and started using this new-fangled artificial sweetener called saccharine. You’d add just a handful of pills to a gallon picture of tea and it was suppose to be sweetened. Luckily for me, as saccharine has turned out to be bad for you, I couldn’t stand the stuff. So I started drinking my tea unsweetened. And it didn’t take long before I was hooked. And now everyone my family, except for my brother who tries hard to make people believe he’s a redneck, drinks unsweetened tea. In my not so humbled opinion, nothing is more refreshing than chucking down slightly bitter ice tea without sugar, real or artificial.

In honor of George Orwell, who wrote more than one cares to know about how to make a good cup of hot tea, I will now share my secrets of preparing the perfect pitcher and glass of unsweetened ice tea. Orwell had 11 pointers; I’ve cut them almost in half.

1. Start with good clean water. Use a filter to get the chlorine and other junk out.

2. Bring a quart of water to boil and then take it off the stove and add the tea. Forget the idea of sun tea. It’s often too weak and besides, the hot water might kill some of the germs transmitted to the tea by the picker’s hands.

3. Use name brand tea. I use Lipton because that’s what my mother uses and besides, as a kid, I was in love with Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad. Tetley and Luzianne Teas also produce a nice slightly bitter glass of ice tea. Stay away from store brands!

4. Leaf tea is probably better than tea that’s imprisoned in bags, but since bags are so ubiquitous these days, and easy to use, I use ‘em and just let the tea steep longer. Use 4 cup sized bags per half gallon of tea and let it steep for approximately 10 minutes. I'm sure Orwell is spinning in his grave at the thought of tea bags, but then again I can't imagine putting cream in my tea!

5. After steeping, place some water in a tea pitcher (this is especially important if it is a glass pitcher for the hot tea can break it). Add the steep tea and then addition water to the ½ gallon mark. Some people add ice here, but I save the ice for the glass.

6. Use only tall, large capacity glasses (glass glasses are the best, but if I’m heading out the door, I’ll use plastic. By the way, stemmed glasses are for wine and waste space. You need volume for ice tea, especially on a hot afternoon. Fill the glasses first with ice, then with tea, and then garnish with a lemon wedge. The glass should be cold to the hand, toss back your head and start chugging. Its cool, it’s refreshing, it’s cheap, and there are no calories.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Civil Rights Institute and a few other things from my travels

I can either assume two things. None of my blog readers are living right or none of you took my suggestion to beseech God on my behalf for a cold front to descend upon the Southeast region of the United States. The official high on Thursday was 98 F. The car said it was 100 yesterday (the newspaper said 96), either way it was too hot. Let me catch you up on a bit.

While in Birmingham this week (Kontan’s old stomping grounds), I took a couple hours to go through the Civil Rights Institute. It’s located across the road from 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the September 1863 firebombing that killed four girls. Upon entering the museum, they have you watch a video. Sitting in front of me was a young African-American boy about eight. When they showed a picture of two men being lynched, he gasped. I was ashamed and wondered what he was thinking as he watched the video about his ancestor’s struggles to claim their basic rights. Why is it that the white youth in the picture of the lynching, teenagers who appear as if they might be on a date, smile and look like they are enjoying themselves? I remember a North Carolina history book from the fifth or sixth grade showing a lynching in Moore County (my home county). The picture made me ashamed and I didn’t want anyone to know that I was from there and wondered if any of my great-grandparents were involved. When the video concluded, we were ushered back into a world of fear and violence and segregation.

In the 1920s, President Warren Harding spoke in Birmingham at the 50th anniversary of the city’s founding. He encouraged the city fathers to give the blacks the vote, contending that a democracy cannot exist without all having the right to vote. The city didn’t listen to the President, passing even stronger segregation laws in the 40s. Yet, within the city’s black neighborhoods, a thriving community existed. In 1948, at the age of 16, Willie Mays began his major league career with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro Leagues. The city was a frequent stop of black entertainers as they toured the South on the Chitlin’ Circuit and featured such greats as Cab Calloway (the Institute had a 1933 videotape of Calloway performing the same song he sang in the movie, The Blues Brothers).

In the early 60s, Birmingham became a center of struggle for African-Americans. The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and other clergy lead the fight. They were joined by others across the south, including the Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” from the city. The Institute has recreated King’s cell with its actual iron door. Some within the white community in Birmingham felt threatened and struck back. The city gained the infamous status as “Bombingham,” as churches and homes of civil rights workers were firebombed. Most notorious of the bombing was Shuttlesworth’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Nineteen sticks of dynamite, placed in a hole dug next to the foundation of the church, went off on a September Sunday morning in 1963 and killed four girls, ages 11 to 14.

The Institute provides a portrait of the segregated south (with its separate water coolers, bathrooms, and sections of buses), and then catalogs the events between the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared the “separate but equal” school systems to be unconstitutional up through the 1965 voting rights act. Of course, the “separate but equal” policy was never equal as Birmingham provided almost twice as much per child school expenditures for white schools as it did for black school. Looking at the Institute, and thinking about the way the Federal Government intervened, I was reminded that not all that government does is bad. Here, “big government” helped right a terrible evil.

Upon leaving the Civil Rights Institute, I walked across the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church. The church stands on a corner and jutting out from the corner of the building, so it can be seen from both streets, is a blue metal cross with neon letters identifying the church. I took a tour of the faculty. The area in which the bomb detonated is now a kitchen and there is still a crack in the foundation visible there. Most interesting is a large stained glass window of the famous painting of Jesus knocking on a door (Behold, I stand at the door and knock). The bomb blew out only Jesus’ face. The woman in the gift shop told me about coming to church late that morning and hearing the blast and running to see what happened. There in the basement of the church is a clock that stopped that morning at 10:22 AM, the time of the bombing. Being there brought tears to my eyes as I realize it is almost always the young who suffer the most. As horrible as the girl’s death were, they became a rallying cry for the civil rights movement and their deaths accelerated the cause.

Yesterday, my brother-in-law and I canoed the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. It was a long trip. He thought we were below a dam, but we were above it. I should have checked the maps! However, we had a great work-out, paddling five or six miles of flat water in near triple digit heat, before portaging around the dam. Once below the dam, the river sped up and we were treated to some small class one rapids. We talked about doing the Etowah River, up near Dahlonega. With my interest in mining history, I’ve long wanted to run that section, but every time I’m down here, the water is too low. There’s a place along the Etowah, where the river is diverted through a long tunnel. The tunnel was constructed to divert water so that the placer deposits in the river bed could be mined for gold. But there's a drought here and the water is so low here that it would was impossible to get through the tunnel. Maybe on the next trip! I fly home tomorrow.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Frank and Roosevelt: Stories from the bakery #3

Like Ernest and Harvey, I also inherited Frank and Roosevelt when I began as the night shift supervisor at the bakery. For nearly a year, I would come first at night, review the day’s orders and set the schedule. About thirty minutes later, Roosevelt reported, took the schedule and headed to the mixing room where he began to weigh up buckets of ingredients. As the mixer could hold 3000 pounds of dough, only the ingredients that were used in small amounts, such as salt and whey (a milk substitute), enrichment and preservatives were added by buckets. White flour was blown into a hopper on top of the mixer, whole wheat, cracked wheat and rye flour was added by 100 pounds sack. Corn syrup and shortening and fermentation brew (the yeast) was all added mechanically. Mixing time depended on the type of dough and the strength of the flour, but was generally in the 10 minute realm. Once the dough was ready, it was dumped into a hopper and pumped over to the make-up area where Frank oversaw the operation. The dough was first sent through a divider, cutting it into proper portions which were then shaped in a rounder and allowed to rise a bit before being sheeted out flat and then rolled into a loaf shape and dropped into a pan. This all worked smoothly as long as the machines were set up and the dough of the proper consistency.

A seaman earlier in his life, Roosevelt had served as a cook on an oil tanker. He told about being at sea for 8 weeks, when his ship which was hauling oil from the North Sea to Philadelphia. In a storm, the ship’s hull split and they were in danger of sinking. Two ocean going tugs reached the ship and helped it limp into Jacksonville, Florida. During this time, Roosevelt said he slept with his life vest. When they finally got to port, the Captain told Roosevelt the ship would be ready in about ten weeks, but he decided that his days on the sea were over. Although he still had his seaman papers, he came back home and took a job at the bakery. Roosevelt proclaimed himself to be a Black Muslim, but he wasn’t a radical and didn’t seem to mind having a white supervisor. However, he was probably a Muslim in name only as he smoked pot and enjoyed a drink.

Roosevelt was dependable and he made my job easier. Frank wasn’t dependable and on some days made my job a living hell. He often came in late. Several times he reported in a condition in which he wasn’t capable of working, which created a problem for me. It’s hard to find a last minute replacement at 2 AM and I often ended up doing his work. One night he didn’t show up and when the wrapping crew came in three hours later, they found him passed out in his car. Having become fed up with him, I asked permission to fire him, but he cried to the personal manager who only allowed me to put another warning in his rather thick file. A few months later, they regretted their actions. Frank, while on break one morning, had gone over to the slicing and wrapping area. When the bread came out of the cooler, and entered the slicing area, it would be crusty on the outside which allowed it to be sliced easier. Joking around, Frank took a loaf that hadn’t been sliced and wrote on the bottom with a knife, “Fuck You.” He then put the loaf back onto the conveyor. Unfortunately, they were bagging the bread in a special “private label” bag that had a clear bottom. This bag found itself on a shelf of a store in South Carolina and then in a family’s home where Frank’s handiwork was discovered. A few days later, our General Manager got an angry call from the head of the grocery chain. They dropped their contract with us and we lost several thousand dollars a day in sales. I was then called in and told to find out who did it. As Frank had shown this loaf to several employees, it only took a few questions to pin it on him. We called Frank into the office and when confronted by the General Manager, Personal Manager and me, he admitted that he had done the “deed” as “a joke.” Frank was fired and I had to walk him to his locker and see that he cleaned it out and turned in his keys before I escorted him to the door.

I ran into Frank a few years later, after I had left the bakery. He talked about how he was fired because we “couldn’t take a joke.” I just shook my head and said “whatever,” realizing that hadn’t learned anything from the consequences of his actions. I never saw Roosevelt after I left the bakery, but a decade or so ago, another supervisor I knew from the plant told me the sobering news that he had quit and returned to the sea. Six months of so afterwards, he was found floating next to his ship which was docked at Norfolk. He had been stabbed and it was assumed his death was drug related. My heart grieved over his demise.

Linda and the summer of '76: Memories of the bakery #2
Harvey and Ernest: Memories of the bakery #1

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Father's Day Tribute

I started writing this Sunday on the plane, but didn't get it finished in time for Father's Day, so here it is a bit late.

Some of you might think that I am crazy about fishing. That’s not completely true. I take pleasure in fishing, but I mostly enjoy being outdoors. My father, however, is crazy about fishing. Most of what he taught me about life came through the lens of this sport.

We moved “Down East” when I was nine years old. “Down East” in North Carolina means on or near the coast. My parents had always wanted to live near the ocean and when my father got an opportunity to transfer to the area, he took it.

My father quickly learned the art of fishing for flounder and taught by brother and me. We spent hours on rising tide, fishing for flounder at Masonboro Inlet. Although such fishing isn’t as graceful as using a fly rod, it requires at least as much skill. Dad taught us to tie our own rigging, using an 18 inch piece of light wire with a triple hook on one end and a one ounce torpedo sinker on the other. The rigging was attached to the line of a lightweight spinning rod. A live minnow, which we generally caught with throw nets (another acquired skill), was hooked through the lips. Walking in knee deep water armed with a light spinning rod we’d cast the line out into the depths, searching especially for holes where a flounder might be hidden. The line was slowly retrieved, the weight keeping the minnow near the bottom where flounders lay. You careful felt for tell-tell bumps on your line, indicating a flounder taking the bait. When that happened, you’d loosen the drag and give the flounder about a minute to take the minnow into its mouth, before yanking the line in order to set the hook. If you prematurely yanked the line, you’d pull the minnow out of the mouth of the flounder. From such fishing, we learned patience. Hurrying only caused you to miss fish.

A year after we moved to the area, Dad brought a 14 foot johnboat with a six horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. For years, that was the only boat he had and it was perfect for navigating the creeks running behind Masonboro Island, a nine mile long barren strip of beach that stretched from Masonboro Inlet to Carolina Beach Inlet. Soon we were fishing the barren beaches for founder on rising tide and for Bluefish during the fall run. The island became a second home. Since the creeks only have water in them on high tide, a fishing trip that was more than an hour or two committed you for at least half a day. Often, we’d make a two day trip, camping overnight. In the fall, at low tide, we’d collected oysters and in the evening roast them over coals. Breakfast often consisted of roasted bluefish.

On one of our overnight fishing expeditions, my dad hooked a huge fish on a heavy surf rod. For nearly an hour he fought the fish, as he’d get it almost up into the surf only to have it run back out into the ocean. Finally, he beached the largest Red Drum I’ve seen. The tide had already dropped and there was no way we could get the fish back to the mainline till the next morning. My dad knew the fish might be close to a record, but since he could get it to a weight station, and since our cooler wasn’t large enough to hold it, he gutted the fish, stuff ice in its hollowed cavity, and buried it in the sand. The next morning, we dug the fish up and headed to a marina where they had a weight station. Even after being gutted and drying out a bit overnight, the fish still weighted 47 pounds, just a couple pounds shy of the season’s record. My father stoically accepted fate. If he had been able to get the fish to the marina the day before, he’d probably set the record. However, if it bothered him, he never let on to it. Another lesson taught by action, you don’t complain about things you have no control over. This, by the way, included mosquitoes and sand gnats and the weather. There was no need to complain about the obvious.

My father seldom spoke of the beauty of it all, but the times I spent of the beach with him instilled in me an awe of creation. I’ve seen more sunrises and moonrises on the ocean that I can count. I've watched many sunsets behind the marsh grass of the Myrtle Grove Sound. I taught myself early the names of the stars, especially the autumn sky, since fishing was best in the fall. There’s nothing more majestic than watching Orion’s belt rise above the ocean on a moonless night. Enjoying the outdoors was something he taught silently.

For years my father continued to use that old johnboat, keeping the motor in tip-top shape. The motor still runs, my nephew uses it today on a boat he built in his high school shop class. Hating debt, he waited till he could afford a larger boat, a very utilitarian fishing boat. A few years ago he purchased and even larger boat that allows him to run out into Gulf Stream, in his search for the big ones. His patience has paid off and now he can spend us kids inheritance on gas, for for his new boat it cost as much to fill in fuel as that first johnboat cost. However, Dad never allows us to pay when we're with him. Being on his boat is his gift.

Patience and don’t sweat the stuff you can’t change were two lessons Dad instilled in me while out on or by the water. When I think back about how young my parents were, they’d gotten married three days after my mother turned 18, just a month after they’d graduated from high school and I was born a year and a half later. The following year my brother dropped in, and the year after that came my sister. For such young parents, they both did a great job. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Catching Up

It’s been an exhausting week. Don’t get me wrong, it was also a good week. We won again on Monday night in softball and, from what I hear since I was unable to make it, lost our first game last night. Losing wasn’t good. I wish I could have been there, but I wasn’t one of the guys they really needed. But the rest of the week was good.

I’m going to briefly break my two rules of blogging and talk a bit about work and family. For two days this week, I hosted a visitor from Ghana. He was interesting and the experience fun, even though it was exhausting for me (and probably more exhausting for him). He’d never had Mexican food. There are no Mexicans in Ghana, but I learned that there are Chinese restaurants run by Chinese there. So to give him an American experience, we ate in a local Mexican place run by Columbians. He put his palate into my hands. As there is a city in the north of Ghana named Tamale, I thought it was suitable to have one. Obviously the city and the food are not related, but he ate it all. I have never really thought about going to Ghana, but after seeing pictures of red rocks (and with my withdrawal from Utah going on three years), my mouth began to water. Maybe I should visit. Besides, English is the official language and about half the people can actually speak it, which I figure is about par for parts of this country.

As for family, my daughter floored me again last week. We were coming back from the lake and I had NPR on and she was listening. They were reporting on the celebrations following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. “I don’t get it” she shouted from the backseat, “why are they celebrating someone’s death.” I tried to explain that he was a bad guy and killed lots of people and that there is evil in the world, but that she still had a valid question. Death should always be a humbling event because we’re reminded that we’re mortal. Somewhere in the good book it says something like “and a little child shall lead them.”

I fly to Atlanta on Sunday and will be in Georgia and Alabama next week. I’m sweating just thinking about it. Pray that the jet stream drops out of Canada and bring cool air to the Southeast. According to the local cult in Ed Abbey’s neighborhood, if just the square root of one percent of the people on earth meditates, we could have world peace. So maybe if a similar percentage of my blog readers beseech God, the Southeast will experience a short-lived ice age. Since I should be in places where wireless is available and will hopefully have more free time on my hand, I’ll try to post some more of my recollections.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

An Evening on Hall Lake

It really shouldn’t be this cool in June, but I’m enjoying it. But will it affect the fishing, I wonder as I slide the canoe off my truck? The wind is fairly brisk out of the northwest. I load the canoe, a fly rod and a lightweight spinning rod and reel, a pouch containing my tackle, a lifejacket which goes under my knees but satisfies DNR if they happen by, and my dog. I’m trying to train him to be a paddling companion, but he’s not a water dog. Actually, that’s good, for I know I don’t have to worry about him going overboard to investigate something. The dog has been through the routine before and immediately lies on the bottom of the boat, between the middle two thwarts. Occasionally he’ll lay his head on the wooden thwart and look out or to invite me to pat him, but mostly he lays low. It’s about ninety minutes till sunset.

We paddle out along the eastern side of the lake, maneuvering behind an island that’ll protect us from the wind. There’s a deep channel through here and I put on a spinner and began to cast along the edges. After a few dozen casts, I finally get a strike. The fish bends the light tackle, but it’s a fairly small bass. Before releasing it, I show it to the dog. He’s not interested. Another few dozen casts, but no more strikes. I move further along the eastern side of the lake, into a small inlet, trying several prime looking spots. Almost ever cast comes up with weeds, so I change to a plastic worm with a weedless hooks. I let the worm sink deeper into the channel. A few casts later, a fish strikes but I miss it. I cast out parallel to a log that juts out into the water. Just after I begin reeling, a fish hits; I yank and he’s hooked. He comes to surface and jumps out of the water. It’s another small bass, but he’s smart. I watch him dive, then turn, pulling my line toward the log. I keep the line taut, and keeping him from tangling my line behind the log. He tires quickly and I reel him up to the edge of the canoe. He’s hooked in the lip, allowing me to reach over the side and release him without taking him completely out of the water. As soon as he’s free, he dives and disappears in the weeds.

The sun drops lower on the horizon behind steely gray clouds that look more wintry than summer. The other boats on the lake are heading in. I stow my rod and paddle a bit, talking to the dog while admiring the purple irises jutting out from the bank. Finally the wind diminishes and I reach for my fly rod. With a little black spider at the end of my leader, I work the lily pads along the edge bank, continuing to make my way along the eastern side of the shore. Nothing happens. I’m all ears listening for the recognizable sound of a fish coming to surface and my eyes scan the surface, looking for that familiar swirl of water at the end of my line.

The calm water begins to reflect the pastels of the sky. Even if I don’t catch any more fish, I’m happy to have been out here at the time of the evening. It’s chilly for June, I think, but I keep casting and waiting. Then there’s a swirl of water, but I’m late and miss it. I cast back, dropping the spider just a few feet behind where the fish was at and slowly pulling it across the water. Another swirl. This time the fish takes the bait and I yank back and begin to work the fish toward the boat, keeping him away from the lily pads. Like his brother earlier, he jumps, but he too tires quickly and I pull him along side the boat and release him. I notice more fish coming to the surface and even though it’s cool, now that the wind is calm, mayflies and mosquitoes fill the air. For the next thirty minutes, as soon as the spider drops into the water on almost every cast, a fish rises. I catch another three bass and eight or ten bluegill as the color bleeds from the sky.

After stowing my fly rod, I began to paddle south, across the center of the lake, back toward my truck. The cool air over the warmer surface of the water creates a light fog, providing a mystical setting. I’m careful not to bang the boat or to make any more noise than necessary. All is quiet except for the sound of the paddle and of fish feeding on the surface. Through the trees to the southeast, I notice the moon rise. I want to keep fishing and to bask in moonlight, but it’s getting late. The dog is happy to be back on shore and wants into the truck right away. That’s fine; I won’t have to worry about him when it’s time to go. It’s close to ten o’clock by the time I have the canoe secured for the ride home.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Some old pictures

I admit that I’m not as technologically sophisticated as some of you. I don’t yet own a digital camera (when you have a lot invested in old 35s and 2 ¼’s, it’s hard to think about buying new ones. So instead, I now generally use an old point-and-shoot 35 mm, leaving all the extra gear at home and either scanning the pictures in or having a CD made when I have them developed. Last January (you can look back at my blog postings), I spent a week as a relief worker in New Orleans. I lost one roll of pictures which were mostly of the 9th Ward. I recently found the roll and got it developed and here are a few more shots to remind us just how much some people suffered. I would say, enjoy. But not now! Instead, realize that there are a lot of folks still hurting.

I've added another picture from the roll, of my daughter on a hike in early January. This time of the year I look with longing eyes at the snow.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ann Coulter: The Anorexic Witch

A book review by Nevada Jack

As a rule, my sidekick Sage doesn’t review books that he hasn’t read. He asked if I would report on Ann Coulter’s new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. I was happy to oblige, after all, everyone knows that bears don’t read and besides, as a carnivore, I like a little more meat on the thighs than Sage.

Ann Coulter is an anorexic bitch for the far right. Her book, calling liberalism godless and suggesting that the widows of 911 who disagree with her and the president are “witches” who are “enjoying their husband’s death,” is not only outrageous and untrue; it’s also tacky and hypocritical. Ann makes the Pharisees of old look down right noble. Not only is her argument flawed, but she herself is doing what she finds so outrageous in others. She is a first class hypocrite. She accuses some of the 911 widows of seeking publicity from their husband’s death to push their own political agenda, as if they don’t have a right to challenge the policies of our present administration. If that’s the case, what gives Ms. Legs the right to support such a disastrous policy? Ann, to recall the words of Jesus, take the log out of your own eye before you try to correct others.

But her treatment of the widows is only the tip of the ice berg. According to reviews of her book and her ubiquitous presence in the electronic media, this venomous Barbie blasted liberalism for being a religion with its own creation myth (evolution), high priest (teachers) and virgin sacrifices (abortion). She has even ripped into concerns about their environmental concerns, suggesting that those who advocate waterless toilets (that compose sewage) want to live with worms. She's created an liberal strawman that doesn't exist.

Ann claims to be a Christian, and even claims to know something about the faith. One review of her book quotes from page three:

"Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others."

Jews are Christians? Of course, that would only be Jews who agree with High Priestess Coulter. This is nonsense. Not only is Coulter an offense to intelligent political dialogue from the right (for our society to work, we need to have intelligent dialogue from all sides), she is also an offense to the Christian faith to which I claim membership. Although I’m sure I wouldn’t be accepted in her church, I happen to think I know a bit about the faith, probably a bit more than she does. First off, in the Hebrew Scriptures (which both Jews and Christian ascribe), there is strong admonishment to take care of the “widows, orphans and foreigners.” Ms. Coulter recent sermons fail on the first two accounts and I can only imagine what her immigration thoughts might be. Secondly, when did right-wing ideology become the “mark of a Christian?” The evangelical faith has been hijacked by the political right. Coulter is not to blame for this, there are been plenty of folks inside the walls, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Fawell and James Dobson, who betrayed the faith to the right wing of the Republican party with a kiss that would make Judas proud. To be a Christian, one has to admit one’s own sinfulness (ie, Ms. Coulter, you’re not always right), one has to admit the need of a savior (no pulling yourself up by the bootstrap myths) and accept of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (which means you not only believe in him, you strive to follow his teachings and example).

Ms. Coulter’s god is not the God of Abraham, it’s the golden calf. This lady worships money. She’s laughing all the way to the bank. She’s making these outlandish comments because she knows it will generate exposure (with her mini-skirts, she should know something about that). In the end, she will sell more books and store up more treasures on earth. If she’s serious about being a Christian, maybe she should review Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. No where in the beautitutes does he say "Blessed are the Republicans" or even "Blessed are the Americans."

For Nevada Jack's previous rants about Ms. Coulter, click here. Yeah, it's a satire based around dark beer, but keep to the end of the article and you'll get to Coulter.

For a couple of other good takes on this, check out Scribe at Independent Christian Voice and Panthergirl.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Speaking of food and some other stuff

Many of you have wondered just how Bob Evans makes Eggs Benedict since they don't do any poaching (or at least the restaurant in Big Rapids Michigan doesn't poach). I sent Nevada Jack out to do some snooping and he found this recipe in a dumpster behind a restaurant.

Bob Evan's Eggs Benedict (aka White Trash Eggs)

Stale white bread
Scrambled eggs
Some kind of yellow/orange sauce

Toast a piece of stale white bread and place some scrambled eggs on it. Bob likes to cook his eggs in bacon fat, and then make sure they’ve dried out well so you get all the cholesterol and none of the taste. Eggs Benedict is also a dish that allows Bob to recycle those eggs that stayed under the heat lamp too long, a great recycling program. Bob considers himself a Green (which, I'm not sure is a badge of honor when you're in the egg business, unless you’re Dr. Seuss). Next, fry up a piece of bologna and place it on top of the eggs. Top the eggs with sauce. Use outdated package Hollandaise sauce, replacing butter with the cheapest margarine you can find. If packaged Hollandaise sauce is unavailable, melt some processed cheese food over it.

Sage’s note: Although Bob Evans doesn’t serve alcohol (it sounds like he should be a distiller of cheap bourbon), if you making this at home you might compliment it with a aged bottle of Boone’s Farm or MD-80 wine. As for where the name Egg Benedict came from, supposedly it was first served to Benedict Arnold by an American Loyalist, in an attempt to poison him after he changed sides and joined the British.

Other things happening in the world:

Congratulations: Be sure to stop over and congratulate Ed Abbey and the Misses on the birth of Little Abbey! You might include some helpful hints about diaper changing and midnight feedings. Let’s pray that Little Abbey is out of the hospital soon so she can enjoy the nursery Ed has been remodeling for the past nine months.

A Couple Sites I'm Enjoying: For incredible storytelling (check out his post about male bathroom ediquette), look up Bone. And for some wonderful poetry, visit Pat Paulk at Laughing Ghost. Ever wonder why all the best writers are from the South? I’ll have to add both to my blogroll when I get around to it.

More about food: Laurie, down in the Old North State and already on my blogroll, is trying to eat locally produced food. She recently had a link to the best food in NC. If you can’t eat locally, at least make sure it’s from North Carolina! Check out the quiche dish, they don’t serve that at Bob Evans (and notice, Bob didn’t even make the “honorable mention” list).

Some more speaking about food: I've been pretty busy lately (which is why I haven't been blogging as much), but I did get around yesterday to cooking for the contractors who are volunteering at the Habatit for Humanity's "Blitz Build." There are some 400 houses being built this week across the nation, one just outside of our little town. A couple of us fed about 25 construction workers (boy can they eat!). Lunch was a dutch oven feast of baked chicken, potatoes and onions, salad, cobbler and ice cream. Of course, the salad and ice cream didn't get cooked in the dutch ovens.

And finally, a softball update, we beat the Assembly of God Church last night by some incredible amount (I stopped paying attention when we were up 19 to 3). I played half the game, went two for four, scoring one run. Although they’re not nearly as good as our rivals, the Baptists, they seem to have more fun as they don’t take the game as seriously.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Canoeing the Pere Marquette and a softball update

Father Marquette was the 17th Century Kilroy. As a French Jesuit, he explored the Great Lakes and left his name on a college, a few towns and counties, a defunct railroad and a river. I’ve always liked the sound of Pere Marquette and on Wednesday got a chance to canoe and fish the stream. Leaving home a little before 6 AM, I picked up Lee and we drove north, stopping in Baldwin to pick up permits and arrange for someone to shuttle my truck. The Pere Marquette is a popular river; evident by this outfitter who had have had a hundred canoes. And he’s only one of three outfitters working out of Baldwin. But Wednesday wasn’t going to be busy on the river as the forecast called for rain and thunderstorms.

We got to Bowman Bridge, our launching point, about 9:30 AM. The mosquitoes were out in force and we wasted no time unloading the canoe and storing gear. In a few minutes, we were in the water. By the first bend of the river, the smell of wild onions overwhelmed us. For the next eight hours, we saw all kinds of birds and animals. Great Blue Herons guided us downriver. A young beaver was seen, splashing the water with his tail to warn of our approach. I spotted a muskrat and a doe and her young speckled fawn climbing a steep bank as we rounded a bend. We even saw a few turtles up on a log; we’d seen a lot more if the sun was out. Not long after we started, I hooked a small rainbow trout on a spinner. We’d catch a few more throughout the day, but didn’t set any fishing records. Occasionally it sprinkled, but it never down-poured and mostly the skies held their water, allowing us a wonderful day. Well, it was almost a wonderful day.

We had a mishap. I hate to admit it. I've been canoeing since I was 12 and have owned a canoe since I was 16. It’s been nearly 15 years since I had a mishap, but we were fishing in rather fast water and not paying attention to where we were going. Without knowing it, the boat was swept under a tree that had fallen into the river. The tree pushed down the port gunnel till water slipped in over the side. I dropped my rod down across the thwarts, grabbed a paddle, but it was too late; we had water in the boat and were caught in the brush. Trying to work the boat out, we took on more water and both had to get out of the boat and work it to shore. Although the boat stayed upright, my rods got knocked into the water and some of the gear floated downstream. We retrieved the gear and I found my fly rod fairly quickly, but in thirty minutes of searching fast, chest deep water, did not come up with my spinning rod. I’m going to miss that reel, a small British-made ultra-light.

Later in the day, I began to notice more mayflies and, since I no longer had a spinning rod, tossed out a fly. But the trout didn’t seem to be any more interested in my artificial fly than they were with the natural variety. I only saw a few trout come to the surface to feast off the mayflies. Lee was able to catch a couple more trout on spinners, but after losing my rod, I was skunked. We got to our landing at Sulak a bit before 6 PM and headed home.

For dinner, we stopped at Bob Evans for dinner. We had a young waiter with a lot more exuberance then intellect. I asked for eggs benedict (they serve breakfast all day) and he asked how I wanted my eggs prepared. Poached, I responded. “I don’t think we can do that,” he said. “What,” I asked, “how else do you prepare eggs benedict?” He went back to the kitchen and sure enough, they don’t poach eggs in this restaurant that specializes in breakfast. I ordered a sandwich and made a mental note to avoid Bob Evans in the future. I got home around 10 PM.

Softball Update. We played our first game last night and easily beat the Baptists, 17 to 8. Our first game was to be Tuesday and it was rained out. I can’t say I did that great. In my usual fashion, I caught one running shoestring catch and missed another ball hit right to me. At bat, I walked a couple of times and got a single and popped out and grounded out.