This Month, But Not Yet

I should have made a note of the exact dates to expect our kids. I recall that our buck became amorous at a time that would assure April births, but I don’t recall exactly when. I used to be more careful about keeping track of that. In any event, we’re still waiting.

The two that were born a month ago were the products of one or two of our little bucklings, just before they went to market.

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One month old

Meanwhile the kids who were born last fall are nearly as big as their mamas now. We’ll take the bucklings to market next month and keep the doelings.

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Growing up

The good news is that it’s warm and dry now. So when these mamas finally get around to having their babies (and from the looks of things that could be any day now), we shouldn’t have to worry about weather-related complications.

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Her name is Dolly. Really. And this was taken a couple of days ago. She’s even more Dollyesque now.

 

 

The Poem that Changed my Life

I was miserable. Angry and stressed out. My law practice was so “successful” that it left me little time for anything else. I felt like I was wasting my life.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but one morning while I was leaving home for the office my wife Cherie handed me a copy of something she’d copied out of Orion Magazine. It was a poem by Wendell Berry.

I’d heard of Wendell Berry. I knew him as a moderately well-known regional novelist, but I’d never read any of his work.

I took the poem with me and read it at my desk that morning. It rocked my world. I think it’s fair to say that the poem changed my life.

Inspired by it, I began to read more of Mr. Berry’s work, beginning with his essays and poetry. I had found a voice that made sense to me in inexplicably profound ways, amid what I recognize in retrospect as a deepening mid-life crisis.

Not long after Mr. Berry lit (or revealed) a fire in me, Cherie told me that he was going to be speaking at an event in Louisville called the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Without hesitation I said we should go to it.

At that time I had little interest in agriculture. I grew up on a farm, working in the fields from when I was seven years old. I knew from an early age that I didn’t have the aptitude for farming and that I was destined and designed for something else. And I couldn’t have defined “sustainable agriculture.” So the subject of the conference didn’t interest me much, but the chance to see and hear Wendell Berry did.

Mr. Berry was the keynote speaker at the conference. Southern SAWG, as it’s called, is a conference for farmers of a particular sort. I passed the time waiting for the main event by attending two days of breakout sessions. The focus was on practicalities, not philosophy. While the “why” overlaid everything, the emphasis was on the “how.” Quite unexpectedly I found myself inspired. My deep desire to return home to the farm where I grew up, my yearning for a more meaningful purpose in life, and the intense appeal of agrarianism, all collided. We had already bought the family farm at that point, to prevent it being sold. Now I understood what I should do with it, and with myself. It was a watershed turning point in my life.

In hindsight it’s funny that the Wendell Berry appearance itself was sort of anti-climatic. He gave no fiery exhortation to the faithful (as I had expected). Instead, he began by saying, “They asked to me to speak. I told them that I will not speak, but I will read,” (if possible, try to imagine that as Wendell Berry would say it) then proceeded to read a humorous section from one of his novels.

But the inspiration I found at that conference snowballed and within a few years I left my law practice, at the peak of a hard-earned career, for a life raising goats, pigs, chickens and vegetables. A couple of years later Mr. Berry spoke again at the conference, this time delivering something like what I had expected the first time. We even got to meet him at a book signing.

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But it all began with a poem Cherie thought I would enjoy. I kept the copy she gave me on my desk and read it hundreds of times over the years. It inspired the the title of this blog.

So, with that long-winded introduction, here it is.

Manifesto:
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Andrew Jackson, 1832

“Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.

“In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.

“There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

Andrew Jackson
1832

Even Now

I recall reading once that our ancestors thought of early spring as “the starving time,” rather than the dead of winter. Just as spring would begin to arrive, the world turning green in promise of coming abundance, the food stored for winter would begin to spoil or run out, before the bounty of spring and summer had appeared. It seems a cruel time to be hungry.

Of course very few of us go hungry these days while waiting for nature to start generating food again. If early spring was once considered a starving time, that’s a thing of the past now.

No one is starving here on White Flint Farm, but this is the time of year when we have the fewest fresh things coming in. We still have plenty of great food in storage, but our overwintered veggies are gone and the veggies we planted in March aren’t mature yet.

So what’s a seasonal eater to do?

No problem. The hens know spring is here so they’re laying like crazy. Thanks to the rains we have shiitake mushrooms blooming on our logs. And, best of all, the asparagus is coming in strong.

An asparagus and mushroom omelet perhaps?

Take care of a place and it will take care of you. It feels good to be in a relationship like that.

The Genealogy of Morals

In his book On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche examined the history, or what we might now call the evolution, of morality. Most famously he argued that the moral framework of Christianity is a “slave morality,” invented by the weak out of resentment of the powerful, as a way to justify their condition as being morally superior to that of those above them. Nietzsche claimed that the original human moral dichotomy was good/bad, with the condition of the powerful being “good” and the condition of the poor/weak being “bad.” According to his argument, in order to find virtue in their condition the weak inverted the dichotomy, making the condition of the weak and powerless “good” and the condition of the strong and powerful “evil.” Essentially Nietzsche imagined the poor/weak reasoning that “because we are weak, weakness must be morally superior to power and the powerful must therefore be morally evil.” And to explain why they (the morally superior yet weak) seemed to have worse lives than those of the evil, they created the notion that justice isn’t immediate, but is deferred to the afterlife, where the weak/ poor will receive the reward of their superior moral condition and the rich/powerful will be punished for being evil.

Leaving aside the specifics of Nietzsche’s controversial argument, which is easy to critique, it seems to me that his general idea is good food for thought. To what extent does a dominant culture (even if only numerically dominant) create a moral code to conform to its circumstances, so that its condition is necessarily “moral” in opposition to other cultures? To what extent are the things we consider virtues, simply things that are culturally preferable in our social condition? Are the things we consider virtues necessarily universal?

Of course these are the questions pressed by moral relativists and post-modernists.

Even for those who believe, as I do, that there are a set of objective and universal moral truths, it is interesting to ponder their origins. And trying to imagine a culture functioning under a completely different set of values is an interesting thought experiment.

Just some food for thought, for any so-inclined.

Chicks and Kids

For any interested, and who didn’t notice the postscript to yesterday’s post, the hen has happily adopted all twelve chicks now.

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She huffs up like this to make herself look more dangerous

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Here she’s settled down

Isn’t it interesting that these hatchery-chicks, who were hatched in an incubator and had never seen a hen, recognize a hen and understand what they are to do? She clucks and they come running to her for protection and warmth. Makes me think of the hundreds of millions of chicks (nearly every chick hatched in the developed world these days) that never see a hen or have the opportunity to act on those instincts.

It’s pouring down rain this morning, so I fully expected to find shivering newborn kids in the pasture. But, alas, still waiting.

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Postscript

Following up on yesterday’s post, last night when we went to place fertilized eggs under our broody hen we were surprised to discover a chick beneath her wings.

It seems that when we removed the chicks after she rejected them, one was inadvertently left behind and then taken under wing.

Great. So we took the remaining eleven chicks and reintroduced them to their adoptive mama, who seemed pleased to have them. Problem solved.

Well, not so fast. As insurance I put a heat lamp in the brooder coop, so that if there was a problem with the new chicks they wouldn’t die of exposure.

This morning when I went to check on them, I found one chick happily peeking out from under the hen and the other eleven huddled under the heat lamp. Good grief.

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Chickens.

Checked on this motley crew too, and still no new babies.

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Any day now.

Postscript to the Postscript:

I cut off the heat lamp and guess what? All twelve chicks are now huddled beneath the hen, who is clucking with satisfaction. Problem solved after all.