Thursday, September 20, 2007

The View from Home

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Older son asked for help to get him started on an English assignment last night. His class had studied Old English riddles and they were to go home and write their own. We talked about it for a while and this is what he came up with:

I am dry as a bone and wet like a fish.
I am solid as a brick,
But I wriggle like a worm.
I am cold then hot.
I am both ancient and modern.
I am loved by nerds and college students.
What am I?

Answer is in the comments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day:

My pirate name is:

Dirty John Rackham

You're the pirate everyone else wants to throw in the ocean -- not to get rid of you, you understand; just to get rid of the smell. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Regular blogging to resume shortly. Aargh!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

We are back from the islands and I am back at work. Our actual return was Sunday night. Monday started with Court hearings at 9:00 am 10:00 am, 11:30 am and 2:00 pm. After five days in the tropics the change of pace was bracing to say the least. Sunday morning I was ready to throw away the return tickets and stay on by hook or by crook. Now that we are home again I have to say it is good to be looking out at our own hillsides. The weather is hot and the more nimble members of the flock have hopped the cattle guard and are dozing under the tree in the front yard. We truly have reached the peak of summer when the sheep lying on the cool shaded gravel in the driveway refuse to budge and I have to drive around them. Perhaps our front lawn with its good grass and shade is the sheep equivalent of the picture above. If so, I can't blame them for not wanting to move.
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Thursday, August 02, 2007

This is not a note from a hillside farm. This is a note from a hillside (and beachside) vacation. I am writing from a rented computer in a little cafe on St. Maartens. Blogger is in Dutch. The ocean around is the impossible blue-green I had always assumed came from photo retouching in travel brochures. Getting to the hotel, we had a quick tour around the island as the driver dropped off tourists in a loop around the coastline. Strange mixture of overdevlopment with just plain folks. Sort of like West Virginia with an ocean view. Off the beaten path there are hillside pastures with cattle grazing. The fencelines are clear; scrub and low grass on the cattle side, tropical vegetation on the other. Roads are narrow, drivers are enthusiastic, potholes and speedbumps keep the overall velocity down, causing drivers to run their little hyundais like sprint cars. Dash here, cut there, brake, swerve, stop in the road to chat. The clock on the terminal is ticking so it is time to hit "BERICHT PUBLICEREN" and get back to the business of relaxing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two of our rams who (mostly) coexist peacefully were lowering heads and crashing into one another as I looked out this afternoon. Looks like breeding season is underway. Most of the year our gentlemen sheep walk slowly and eat far more than some of them are worth. This time of year they make their one contribution to our enterprise before returning to their accustomed role as mobile manure producers and living lawn ornaments. Here is one of the few sheep poems I have in my collection. Written by the late New England poet and folksinger J. B. Goodenough, it looks forward to the end of all our rams' labors:

Sheep On The Town Road

Fenced beside the road
Three ewes doze.
The seven lambs, sleepy
With the work of being born,
Lean together.

The ram, in his own pen,
With nothing left to do,
Stands heavy-lidded
In the April sun,
Counting people.

From Milking in November

I found my copy of the book for $1.98 at the Main Bookshop in Sarasota back in June. The poems are spare, with a bit of a bite to them. The book is out of print, but, from the prices listed here, it seems that others value her work as well.

Here is another from the book:


No rum-money
My grandfathers
Were landlubbers all.

They left me
A tilted house,
A broken-backed barn,
And six fields
hung on the hill.

Fifty years
I thought I was poor.
But I learned this:
Good dirt
Is hard to come by.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What's in the cd player these days: Jan Krist. Her voice and songwriting seem to hit me where I have been living lately; music about grief and hope, confusion, faith and mercy. You can download live tracks at her website here and listen for yourself. Try "Wounded Me, Wounded You" or "Spirit So Big." About ten years ago she wrote a piece for the arts journal Image; "Mercy Me: Music, Art, and Real Life."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Yes, it's been a while. The farm, flock and family are still here, with the usual changes that time brings to us all. I turned 52 just over a week ago and my oldest child turns 18 in just under a week. No big celebrations are planned. Nonetheless, it appears that our birthdays have not gone unremarked. On the same day last week he got an envelope from the Selective Service System and I received a postcard from Beltone hinting that someone in my age bracket might benefit from their services. I will pass. So far my hearing is holding out fine, which comes in handy to hear the creaking in my joints or the rumblings in a digestive system that has developed strong opinions about the appropriate food choices for a man in his sixth decade. Life is good though, and any morning that still finds me on the right side of the dirt is not without its possibilities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another picture from the weekend. Younger son takes a break from wrestling sheep to the shearing stand.
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Monday, May 28, 2007

A scene from the annual Memorial Day Sheep Shearing Marathon.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Someone has to be on top of things
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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Things I Have Been Doing Other Than Blogging

Farming (see the picture) The lamb count is up to twenty-four with more expected daily. The weather service is making noise about snow and sub-zero wind chills coming up, so I'm sure the remaining pregnant ewes are already making plans.

Family Like almost every parent in modern America Susan and I seem to spend half our life in a car with a child going or coming from somewhere. Whatever happened to letting kids run wild through the neighborhood until dinnertime? Well, our neighbors are mostly four footed, so I can't blame the guys for wanting to engage in off the farm activities with other humans of equivalent ages.

Reading New in the mail: Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church by Metropolitan John Zizioulas and Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews by Marshall McLuhan.

I have also been enjoying a novel in manuscript (or the pdf equivalent thereof) by Steve "Methodius" Hayes, a blogger, writer, teacher, activist and Orthodox deacon in South Africa. He bravely offered his work to all would-be critics for evaluation and I have been dipping into it as I have spare time in front of the computer. The book is a sort of Charles Williams style supernatural thriller set in apartheid era South Africa and is worth your time if that sort of thing appeals to you. I will be forwarding comments after I finish, but will refrain from posting any here if any one else is interested in becoming a reader-critic.

Dancing Susan and I were back on the floor Monday night for the next lesson. I seem to be improving, but that has more to do with my partner and the instruction than any innate talent. Nonetheless, they may make a Rhumba man out of me yet.

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Monday, January 29, 2007


The View from Home
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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Part-time farmer, lamb and llama on a Saturday afternoon
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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Our first snow of the year.
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Friday, January 19, 2007

If you look back at Wednesday's post, I remarked on our flocks' ability to sync reproduction with the worst available weather. Well, the baby boom suddenly came to a halt for the past two evenings. I wondered why, and then saw these graphics for Sunday's forecast at the National Weather Service page for our area:

I will be getting the pens ready tomorrow.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I met Mark Khaisman while he was designing stained glass windows for a studio near Front Royal. Trained as an architect, Mark has worked in a variety of mediums; glass, paint, animation, classic Russian iconography and now these wonderful evocative works made of brown packing tape layered over a light box. His web site is still under construction, but check out Galleries Two and Three for his revisioning of film noir, telling single scene stories in a medium so impossible that you can only shake your head and smile at his achievement. More images and information are available here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The lamb count tonight is fourteen. Traditionally our ewes choose the worst possible weather to give birth, ice storms a speciality. This winter has been unseasonably mild, so they have had to be satisfied with our recent cold snap with near zero wind chills. At feeding time the lambs hang back while the ewes press in towards the feed troughs. With fourteen to choose from, it takes a while to sort out who belongs to whom. They sort first by ear, the ewes and lambs engaging in a kind of call and response, high pitched lamb cries answering back to the lower voiced ewes. The real test though is smell. The ewe sniffs the lamb, sometimes from head to tail, before being satisfied that she has found the right one.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Susan decided that we should celebrate her getting back on her feet from the summer of surgery by signing us up for ballroom dance lessons. Parks and Rec over in Winchester was offering a six week session on Rumba and Salsa, so off we went. Susan studied dance in college before graduating as a P.E. major, so she was prepared by talent, temperament and training. I, by contrast, have so little rhythm and such a total lack of physical elegance that I might be the anti-Astaire, a veritable black hole of terpsichorean ineptness. It was not always pretty (at least on my side of the proceedings), but I did enjoy it. And I discovered that the basic steps were strangely reminiscent of much of the rest of my life. Quick quick slow, quick quick slow, step away, circle back, you hold each other, side step, side step, walk forward, walk backward, quick quick slow. Hold tight, look at your partner and with a little grace and charity it all comes together. Well, if I can live it, maybe I can learn to dance it.

In farm news, the lamb count was up to twelve at evening feeding.

Monday, January 15, 2007

While loading up the now fully functional farm truck with the household trash to go off to the dump along with a variety of boxes and my mother-in-law's Christmas tree, I heard our local flock of crows making a major fuss. I looked up and saw them getting up the nerve to mob a large bird flapping over the upper pasture. From the size, I assumed it was a vulture, but the set of its wings and the way they moved was somehow wrong for either a black or a turkey vulture. The bird turned, flew closer, and I saw the unmistakable white head and tail of a Bald Eagle.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

It has been my experience that we never have problems with just one car. Like children, they suffer injury and illness either in tandem or work as a tag team, going down one after another. On Saturday, older and younger son reported that the farm truck sounded funny and there seemed to be something wrapped around the drive shaft. I drove it out of the barnyard mud onto the grass and crawled underneath. Sure enough, somehow about four feet of heavy gauge wire had gotten tangled around the drive shaft. Since the drive shaft's sole purpose in life is to spin, the wire had accompanied the shaft on its revolutionary mission, tightening with each turn until it was tangled and twisted around like a poison ivy vine on an oak tree. I got a pair of pliers and some wire cutters and set to work. And promptly discovered that I needed much bigger wire cutters. Fortunately I had bought a set some while back for work on the fence. Unfortunately I wasn't sure where they were. The curse of the part-time farmer is that everything is done at odd times wedged into the rest of the schedule. This results in tools being used and stashed in places that seemed logical at the time but deeply confusing to your older self some weeks or months later. After a lengthy search they turned up in a rack with the branch loppers and hedge trimmers. I guess that day I was sorting and storing by form rather than function. With the proper tool in hand I was back upside down under the truck out in the pasture. After an hour or so of clipping and twisting, we had a sack of grease covered wire snippets and a drive shaft free to follow its destiny.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Friday, January 12, 2007

The car window from yesterday's post is fixed. I learned in the process that 1.) The phrase "roll up your window" is now forever obsolete since all car makers have discontinued hand cranked windows. 2.) The former scissor style of window regulator, rugged and easily repairable, has been replaced with a cable system that is failure prone and must be replaced as an entire unit (a rather expensive unit) when it fails. Ain't progress wonderful.

Turning to farm news, three new lambs have arrived in the past two days. If the rain holds off I will try for pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

This morning we woke up to a world in the teens, frost covered and colder than it's been since last winter. I scraped off the windshield of the Ford while older and younger son gathered their bookbags and headed out to join me. Younger son got to the front seat first and decided that, since you could clear dew off the window by lowering and raising it, it should work on frost as well. About halfway down you could hear the grinding of something going wrong with the works inside. No matter how he pressed the button, all he could do was drive the window lower and lower until it was irretrievably down, with no signs of rising again under it's own power. We were running late to the bus stop, so there was no slacking on the speed. The outside temperature was 18 degrees. Inside the car this was reduced by a thirty five to fifty mile per hour wind chill. Older son in the back was huddled down in his seat, hood up, hands in pockets, lips turning blue while muttering dire threats directed at his brother. I dropped them off, returned home and parked the car in the sun, hoping that the problem was cold related and it would thaw out before my first Court case later that morning. No such luck. I drove back to town, the temperature only risen to the 2o's, hair still damp from my morning shower with the heater on full blast to compensate, unsuccessfully, for the swirling frigid wind from the open window. As I stopped at the first light on the main drag through town, windblown and near frostbit, I turned on the cd player, forgetting that missing window provided a free concert for all passersby. I had also forgotten that the disc in the player was soprano Dawn Upshaw's recording of Broadway show tunes by Bernstein, Blitzstein, Sondheim, and Weill (which would have been a great law firm name if they had ever tired of the music racket). So picture this; a middle-aged man sits shivering in a Ford Explorer, mind on his upcoming misdemeanor trial when, at full volume, a piercing female voice suddenly proclaims to all within earshot that:

I feel pretty,
Oh so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright,
And I pity
Any girl who isn't me tonight.

I feel charming,
Oh so charming--
Its alarming how charming I feel,
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I'm real.

I will not describe the looks I got, except to say with the late Rodney Dangerfield that "Sometimes it ain't easy bein' me."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

While browsing in a bookstore yesterday I noticed that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction had a new story by Alexander Jablokov. I loved his first novel, Carve the Sky, and read anything else he published through the 90's. Sometime at the turn of the century, he dropped off the radar. There was a webpage, but it hadn't been updated in the years since the last novel was published. Intrigued, I bought the magazine, which is now waiting on the bedside table. I also turned to Google and found the old webpage updated here with the following explanation:


I never intended to disappear.

In the early to mid-nineties of the last century, I had a decent writing career, with five novels and one collection of short fiction published. A small but discerning group of people enjoyed my work. After my last novel, Deepdrive, I published a few more stories, and then…nothing.

I was not dead. I was not confined in a secure location for my own safety. I had not decided that text was obsolete as a means of communication or entertainment.

I hadn’t even stopped writing. I was writing less, because I now had a family, which required a demanding day job, but I wasn’t happy with anything I was producing. I even dropped out of my writing workshop for a few years.

But here I am again. I’ve written a number of stories in recent years, just sold one, am close to finishing a novel, have rejoined my workshop, and will be visible here and there in the world of science fiction. Wish me luck!

I look forward to reading the new work, and, as a family man with little enough time even for blogging, I sympathise and, as requested, wish him luck.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Owen over at The Ochlophobist has a long post on the decline of the "common man" that covers sex, professional sports, manual labor, class distinctions, mass media, the ipod, the cell phone, Dostoevsky, stereotypes, rampant consumerism, metal work, male-female roles, the "service" economy, law, drug dealing, G. K. Chesterton, body piercing, Belloc, C. S. Lewis, capitalism, human dignity and, at the end of it all, sanctity. It is uneven, even a bit over the top in spots, but worth your time nonetheless. In the years I have been presenting cases in front of local juries I have been noting a steady decline in common sense as the number of older farmers, craftsmen and small shopkeepers in the jury pool has declined and the number of people who push paper for a living has increased. While some of the first group may not have had much formal education and their experience of popular culture did not extend much past Flatt and Scruggs, their experience of living was far richer than most of the younger folks who only know what they have seen on tv. I miss them. I do not know if Owen is correct in his analysis, but I agree that we will not soon again see their like.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I chaired my first meeting as President of the Browntown Community Center Association tonight. The building in the picture was a country school until it was closed in 1970. My wife taught an aerobics class there a few years back, following in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother, who were both teachers when it was still the Browntown school house. Today it hosts a monthly Bluegrass jam, flea markets, Halloween parties, Christmas caroling, and best little Fourth of July celebration you will find anywhere. The parade through town may only take a few hundred yards, but a good time is had by all. Go to the link over on the right for pictures of past events. The schedule for 2007 will be up in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It is a quiet Sunday evening; steady rain outside, a late supper and old movies on DVD inside. Yesterday, by contrast, was a beautiful day, sunny and unseasonably warm. I needed the break today after taking a tumble off the farm truck at the dump yesterday, followed later by an incident involving a broken feed sack, and a mob attack by hungry sheep. The end result of the day's adventures were a few scrapes, some bruises and a reminder that I'm really not as young as I used to be.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Friday afternoon, sunset, looking south

Friday, January 05, 2007

When we drove up this evening, we had a sheep on the deck waiting for us. Dorie was a bottle lamb and occasionally gets the urge to go hang with the humans.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mother and Daughter. This is the first picture taken of the lamb born just before Christmas. When I found her, she was only hours old, but was up and sucking on her own, quite competent at the job of being a young sheep. Over the past few years, we have been moving away from our finicky, high maintenance purebreds towards a hardier, more self-sufficient cross better suited to our hillside farm and its part time shepherds. And if they happen to have really neat spots and patterns in their wool, well that is just fine as well.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A new set of twins today. No pictures; we went out to feed just as the sun was setting. Most of the flock was clustered by the barnyard after seeing younger son with the feed sack. I looked across the little marshy area below the barnyard spring and saw a ewe hanging back. On one side of her was a black lamb. On the other was a second lamb, black in the front, white in the back, with black spots on the white half and white spots on the black, like a small fuzzy Holstein.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

As you can tell, if you are still checking after the long silence, the new year has brought a return to blogging. You may consider it a resolution, if you wish. Some time off after Christmas has given me a chance to catch my breath and get back to a few things that fell by the wayside this Fall. 2006 was a year that was perhaps a little too full of, shall we say, "interesting challenges" for the family. Coming out the other side of a few of them, it is strange to find, in an odd an unexpected way, it was all blessing.

Last Saturday I was down at the barnyard drilling a hole with too small a drill with too small a bit into too large a post, making a hole for a pin to anchor the hinge on a farm gate. We replaced the old rusted out gate this summer but tried to fit the new gate on the old hardware. Like new wine in old skins, the pieces never meshed properly, but I didn't have the time, patience or tools to fix it. The result was that, by December, we did not have a gate so much as an unwieldy piece of metal waiting to be knocked down by persistent sheep whenever they wished to go walkabout in the upper field. I discovered Saturday that even with inadequate tools, the job could be done when approached with a little grace and a little patience. That, oddly enough is the lesson learned throughout much of the rest of the year. After more than a half century of working at this business of living I have begun to realize that if I wait for the perfect tool, the perfect circumstances, or for myself to finally become that perfect person, I will wait past most of the best opportunities for living. As G. K. Chesterton once put it, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Chesterton of all people was not interested in encouraging bad work. He knew though that the worst work is that which is not done at all and any work, done with heart, soul and prayer has the potential to be good work. This coming year I intend to hang a few more gates.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A few days before Christmas, I headed home early to head back out for some last minute shopping. When I walked through the door, older son told me we had the first lamb of the season. With camera in hand, I tracked down mother and daughter out in the field near the house. The ewe tolerated a brief photo session before heading out with her lamb to graze in pastures free from annoying paparazzi.