Another Round

We’re gearing up for the renewal of our annual battle over uranium mining. As those who were reading last year will recall, there is a very large deposit of uranium just a few miles from our farm.  The owner of the site (and the Canadian conglomerate backing him) have been trying for years to have Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining repealed, so they can mine and mill the uranium.

Because of the danger this would pose to our community and our groundwater, proposals to lift the ban have been consistently opposed by all the political leadership here, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal.  The Chamber of Commerce is opposed as are all communities between here and the coast (which share our water basin).  Nevertheless, a substantial minority of people here have been persuaded that uranium mining will bring jobs and prosperity to our economically depressed community. More significantly, Virginia Uranium (the name under which the conglomerate operates) has gained the support of much of our state legislature.

Virginia Uranium spent over $500,000 lobbying legislators last year, more than the next two highest groups combined.  That has been true to for each of the last five years.  They have doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and have managed to enlist the support of influential legislators in both parties.  They don’t show any signs that they’re planning to concede defeat.

Lately they’ve opened an office on Main Street in our sleepy little county seat, featuring large signs in the windows touting all the jobs and wealth they say they’ll bring to our county.  Their P.R. campaign has included a relentless stream of pro-uranium editorials, letters to the editor, “internships” for children of local families and the like.

And now we have this.

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Is it wishful thinking?  Hubris?  It is certainly provocative.

I wonder whose idea it was to put the emphasis on safety?  After all, even the “safest uranium mine in the world” may nevertheless be unsafe.  If making an unsubstantiated claim, why not say “the most prosperous uranium mine,” or “future home of thousands of blissful uranium miners”?  Whatever.

Our Chamber of Commerce opposes the mining in part because the risk that it will occur is steering businesses away from our community.  After all, who would want to move their family to a place with an active uranium mine and mill?  So while the business  community is trying to convince people that the ban will stay in place, the Virginia Uranium folks have put up this billboard on the main thoroughfare identifying our community as the site of a future uranium mine (while drawing attention to the safety issue).

Our governor-elect made a surprising announcement recently that he will veto any bill that lifts the moratorium.  During the campaign he, like the other candidates, played it very close to the vest and never stated a position either way. His announcement was quite a disappointment to the Virginia Uranium team, and quite a boost to the rest of us.

I reckon this fight will continue until the price of uranium drops so much that it’s not worth their effort any more.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to keep slugging it out.

Moon Signs

As I was leaving our local farm store/coop recently a woman who works there called out to me, “Mr. Guerrant!  We have the Almanac calendar.  This will help you with your planting.”  And she handed me the 2014 Farmer’s Almanac calendar.

The Farmers Almanac is a truly amazing thing.  It almost defies description.  Those of you who are familiar with it will know what I mean.  The most amazing thing about it, to me, is how seriously farmers have traditionally regarded it.  My Grandpa consulted it daily (even though he already had much of the wisdom in its head).

So what does the Almanac have to say about planting?  Here’s a taste:

The best planting time is in the sign of Cancer, the second best is in the sign of the Scorpion and the third best is in the sign of the Fishes.  However, the best time to plant crops which grow underground is in the sign of the “feet.”  The sign of the “knee” is also a good growing sign.  But seeds planted in the sign of the “head” will grow to stock and vine.

The seeds for all root crops will do well when planted during the dark of the moon and in the sign of the “lower part of the body.”  Plant seeds when the moon is full and they will not do well.  Cucumbers will be more plentiful when planted in the sign of Gemini.

Plant cabbage in the sign of the head and beans in the sign of the arms.  The dark of the moon is the best for planting onions and potatoes.  Corn should be planted when the moon is full.  If you plant corn when the signs are in the heart, black spots could appear on the grain.  Never plant in the sign of the bowels for your seeds will rot.

And so on.

For those who are wondering, the body parts relate to zodiac signs.  The feet are in Pisces (or “The Fishes”), the knee is in Capricorn (“Goat”), etc.  For ease of reference the calendar identifies what zodiac sign the moon is passing through every day.  For example for May 1 (the day I usually try to plant beans and melons), the Almanac calendar says the moon is in Gemini (“arms”).  It cautions, “Any seed planted now will tend to rot.”  On the 3rd, the moon will be in Cancer (“breast”).  This day, the calendar says, is “most favorable for planting corn, cotton, okra, beans, eggplant and other above ground crops.”  Whether the moon is “running low” or “running high” (waxing or waning crescents) is also relevant.  It can be complicated, which is of course one of the advantages of having the Almanac.

Farming by moon signs is dying out these days.  I’ve never farmed that way.  There are still folks around here who do it; old-timers for the most part, but also some younger people who have preserved the tradition.  An elderly neighbor who still gardens takes not only the phases of the moon into account, but also the time of day.  He insists, for example, that melons must be planted before sunrise.  Another farmer I know, who is younger than me, times the planting of her squash by the phase of the moon and she says she has less trouble with squash bugs than her neighbors.

In traditional farming moon signs mattered for other things as well.  The moon signs determine the best and worst time for slaughtering animals for example.  Moon signs also reveal the best and worst days for fishing.

Many of these traditional practices are being kept alive by biodynamic farmers.  I have a friend who swears by biodynamic practices.

Farming by signs goes far beyond moonsigns and astrology of course.  It includes timing farm activities around what nature is doing, rather than just the date on a solar calendar.  Older farmers here, for example, might say to plant a certain crop “when the dogwoods bloom,” or “when the oak leaves are as wide as your hand.”

And of course there are traditions based on solar calendar dates (planting Irish potatoes on St. Patrick’s day or planting garlic on Columbus Day, for example) and other traditions based on the lunar calendar, but unrelated to specific moon signs (such as the common tradition here to plant one’s garden on Good Friday).

I wish I’d paid more attention to the way my grandfather followed these practices. Some of his superstitions I remember well (“Never start a job on Friday,” for example), but most I’ve forgotten.

Maybe in 2014 I’ll experiment some with taking moon signs into account.

Our farming ancestors have consulted the moon and stars for thousands of years.  It would be a pity, I think, for that practice to die out completely.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a day filled with joy, peace and gratitude!

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“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart

Happy Thanksgiving

Big Tents

Years ago, back in my lawyering days, I had to go to Israel to meet with an Israeli scientist who was a witness in one of my cases.  Even though I was extremely busy, and anxious to hurry off to my next destination, he convinced me to stay an extra day for sightseeing.

In hindsight, of course, I’m really glad he did.  We spent a wonderful day exploring the sites in and around Jerusalem.  He and I had become friends over the years and he brought his wife and 12 year old daughter along.

One of the places we visited was St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter, a popular tourist attraction.  It is a beautiful ornate church, supposedly on the site of the tomb of St. James.  While we were there a priest came into the church, chanting and swinging a censer of burning incense.  The priest had a long gray beard and was wearing a black hooded robe.  Behind him was a procession of boys wearing robes and chanting beautifully.  It was an amazing sight and I’d ever seen anything like it. (I later learned it was the Vespers service and the boys were seminarians from the Orthodox seminary there).

My friend’s young daughter was standing next to me while this was going on. She leaned over and whispered to me, “What are they saying?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered back.

Then she shot me an embarrassed glance and said, “Oh, sorry.  I thought you were Christian.”

I think of that often.  She imagined that if was Christian, then naturally I could understand and relate to what these Christians were doing and saying.  She had no idea how diverse a lot we are.

Many years later I recall a friend who grew up in an extremely strict conservative ultra-fundamentalist family talking about being in an English class when he was in college.  Somehow the subject of Epiphany came up. The professor, knowing my friend was a Christian, asked him to explain Epiphany to the class.  Although my friend was a pastor’s son (and was eventually to become a pastor himself), knew the Bible well and no doubt could easily recite the tenets of the church he was raised in, he was embarrassed to say he had no idea what Epiphany was.  The professor didn’t mean to embarrass my friend.  He just didn’t take into account the diversity of beliefs among Christians.

I suppose we all do that–sometimes assume that people who share a particular religious, ethnic, or social identity all have the same beliefs. We may even take our observations about a group (usually negative and derived from observing a very tiny fraction of the group) and project them onto the entire group.  That’s called stereotyping. Even when done innocently (as it probably most often is) it results in error.

The error is worst when a person who has developed negative feelings toward people of a particular religion, race, ethnicity, social group, etc. (perhaps justifiably) then projects those negative characteristics onto the entire group.  That error has done a lot of damage across the centuries.

Whatever identifying labels are attached to us (religious, ethnic or otherwise), the chances are good that they merely place us inside a very large tent.

CSA Break and Breaking Ice

The weird weather we’ve been having all year continues.  Last week we had snow flurries.  Sunday night’s low was in the teens.  This morning we’re getting freezing rain (the meteorological euphemism is “wintry mix”).  It’s just too early for that here.  The last few years we’ve nursed our fall gardens all the way to spring.  This year I’m not sure they’ll make it to December.

Our CSA is winding down, perhaps just in time.  We do three drops during the week and we made the last delivery of the year to our Monday members yesterday.  It’s been a trying year.  The summer was lean at times but we managed to keep the CSA bags filled every week.  It feels good to be closing strong, with lots of great veggies in the gardens.  I love our members and especially love being able to get delicious nutritious organic produce to them every week.  But I am ready for a break.  It will be nice not to have to worry about picking and packing so often.

On the way back from our delivery yesterday we stopped at a nearby farm and bought 22 pullets (young hens).   They’re a motley crew.  It was too dark to take pictures but I’ll try to post some soon.  I’m sure our young barred rock pullets are pleased to no longer be at the bottom of the White Flint pecking order.

A few years ago Cherie read about a farm that had a heated chicken waterer.  I remember her laughing about how her life had changed, so that now if she envied something someone else owned, it was a heated chicken waterer.

We still don’t have one (and I don’t expect we ever will).  So while I’d rather not venture out into the wintry mix this morning, I reckon I’d better go break the ice in the chicken waterers.

Fracking Boom

Reading an article recently about fracking in North Dakota piqued my interest and sent me down an internet rabbit hole.  It’s a fascinating story.

Hydraulic shale oil fracturing (more commonly known as fracking) is having a dramatic effect on the U.S. energy industry.  As a result of fracking U.S. domestic oil production continues to skyrocket and experts are predicting that the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer within the next few years.  U.S. oil exports are four times greater than they were a decade ago, shrinking the trade deficit.

North Dakota is at the epicenter of the fracking explosion.  Last year it passed Alaska to become the second largest oil-producing state in the country and some experts predict that within twenty years it will surpass Texas.

Fracking has brought an astonishing economic boom to North Dakota. Thousands of new wells are being drilled every year.  Fracking is estimated to be responsible for creating 2,000 new millionaires per year in the state.  In a recent post I mentioned the skyrocketing prices of farmland in the Dakotas.  Many landowners are receiving royalties of $50,000 to $100,000 per month.  The average annual income in Montvail County has doubled over the past five years and is still rising.  It is now among the top 100 counties in the nation in income per person.  The state tax surplus for this year alone is close to $2 billion.

Of course booms like that come with a price, overcrowding highways, schools and hospitals and driving up prices for everyone.

Describing the fracking boom town Williston, a journalist wrote:  “There’s not a motel room to be had in the city, housing prices are double what they were a year ago ($300,000 for a two-bedroom home), and the daily onslaught of new arrivals is reduced to living in their cars, RVs, sporadic tent cities or the rapidly proliferating “man camps” – clusters of trailers in an open field that pack in oil patch workers dormitory style, sometimes six to a room. Access to running water and simple sanitation is so rare that public businesses have had to lock their bathrooms to discourage makeshift sponge baths or the dumping of wastewater.”  Another reporter describes the effect on Watford City in similar terms, “A population that in the past two years has soared from about 1,700 to at least 6,000 and perhaps as many as 10,000. A housing shortage so acute that men—and it’s still mostly men—are forced to sleep in their trucks or in overpriced motels; pay “gouge-zone” fees to park their campers, RVs, and house trailers; or live in one of the expensive prefab, dormlike “man camps” that serve as instant but sterile bedroom communities for towns and work sites. Streets clotted with noisy, exhaust-belching tanker trucks, gravel trucks, flatbeds, dump trucks, service trucks, and—the personal vehicle of choice in the oil patch—oversize, gas-gorging pickups. More crime, more highway accidents, more medical emergencies. People on fixed incomes forced to move because they can’t afford steep rent hikes. Overtaxed water and sewer systems. Prostitution. Registered sex offenders at large in the community.” A resident of Stanley commented, “When I graduated in 1970 my class had 70 students.  Now the high school gets 120 to 130 new students each year.”

Obviously there are also concerns about the environmental consequences of fracking. Many worry about contamination of the water supply, seismic dispruption and the emission of vast amounts of carbon.  So much natural gas is being flared off the wells that from space North Dakota is lit up like Chicago these days.

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Recently some reports have come out questioning the previous estimates on of the amount of oil that can be extracted from beneath North Dakota. Whatever the amount, it is finite.  All booms end eventually.

Talking About It

When advocating simple living and healthy sustainable lifestyles, it’s easy to come across as unrealistic and naive.  I’m OK with that.  We will never have a better world unless we are first willing to imagine one.

It’s also easy to come across as judgmental and self-righteous.  I’m not OK with that. The world doesn’t need any more self-righteous judgmental know-it-alls.

A critique of the industrial food system is not necessarily an attack on those who participate in it.  Objecting to a system that has created an obesity epidemic need not be perceived as shaming people who are obese.  For those of us who feel called to challenge the industrial food system and the food choices our society makes, avoiding turning people off by the perception that they’re being attacked personally can be tricky.  That’s partly because we live in a culture where folks take offense easily.  But it’s also because the way we make our case comes across sometimes as personally insulting.

I struggle with this.  I passionately believe that it is imperative that our culture change the way it eats.  But I also know that folks get very defensive when you start talking about their food choices.  Once, in a conversation with a pastor, I analogized it to the the ways people get tense and nervous when the subject of money comes up in a sermon.  My pastor friend responded that while that is true, it’s even more true if the subject is food choices. The most controversial and divisive sermons he’s given, he said, was when he preached about eating well as a part of healthy living.  So how can we criticize the food culture (and thereby hopefully improve it) without turning people off (or worse, being jerks)?

I don’t know.

But something I read on D.L. Mayfield’s blog (HERE) has helped me.  In a post about downward mobility she wrote:

For the people who critique downward mobility, the practice:

This is probably not the series for you.

For the people who feel guilty, or shamed in regards to conversations about downward mobility:

I’m sorry. Nothing good ever comes from guilt. But everything beautiful comes from love.

I really appreciate the way she put it.  I guess I’d have to say that for those who critique or object to the lifestyle I advocate, then you probably won’t enjoy this blog. And if anyone feels guilty or shamed by anything I post, then (borrowing her words), I’m sorry.  Nothing good ever comes from guilt.  But everything beautiful comes from love.

Everything beautiful comes from love.