Something There Is That Doesn’t

Yesterday, in the dark wee hours of the morning, I woke to what I swore was the sound of glass breaking.  The wind had picked up followed by torrential rain, as promised by that day’s weather forecast, and our old house shuddered and whined as the newest wild weather system crashed into it.  I went back into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up early these days, 4am.  Bundle I has a half-day in the public school kindergarten, and Bundle II’s pre-school days end at 2pm.   My progressive, “we’re all about life-work-family balance” employer doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, and is apparently large enough that it needs a policy in order to accommodate a lone individual with a 70-mile round trip commute, two young children in school and a job that is, let’s face it, 99% about remotely managing servers.  Lionel now works three days a week; someone has to get the kids to school, and someone has to get them back out again.  So; he goes to work at 10am and finishes up his day at 6pm, and I go to work at 5am and finish my day at 2pm, where upon I scramble around to pick up the kids from their respective places (Bundle II at her pre-school, which has a robust aftercare program, and Bundle I at the at-home child care provider, since her publicly funded school does not).  If I’m lucky, I might be in bed–and asleep– by 10:30pm.  Suffice to say I’m not getting the long end of the stick at the moment.

Yesterday upon waking up, the wind and rain lashing the house,  I uneasily ventured outside to retrieve items from the car which inevitably get left behind from the previous day, and was greeted by a moist, warm, evil blast of air.  I checked the thermometer.  57 degrees F.  The tiny bit of snow pack we’ve managed to accumulate this winter was rapidly disappearing.  I shivered despite the warmth, grabbed my items and ran back inside.  Finally I was ready to venture back out, and slowly made my tedious way through the rain and gale force winds to my job.

As I finished up my day in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature had dropped down to 38 degrees and was forecast to go back down into the 20s by sunset.  I complained about the crazy commute in and the weather in general to a colleague and their comment was “Yeah, well, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Yeah.  Okay.  Trite Twain platitudes aside, the weather pattern was actually breaking temperature extreme records all over the place, and was a direct result of a misplaced jet stream and stratospheric warming, causing tornadoes further south and forcing flood and gale warnings up and down the eastern seaboard.  And furthermore, just the week before we had seen temperature records falling on the other extreme, dipping well below zero.  Eventually, gentle reader, if it looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  And the carbon that I was spewing into that warm, unseasonable, extremely high force wind at 4:30am on my mostly unneccessary-but-for-policy commute wasn’t helping the situation at all.

When I was in my 20’s and reasonably endowed with a strong education, I believed the solution to problems was pretty much black-and-white.  Don’t enjoy your commute in the morning?  Move closer to your job.  Or get a job closer to home.  Or, don’t work.  Case closed.  But with the passage of time, a few small children and a whole lot of brain cells dying every minute of my day, the situation has gotten a lot more complex from a whole bunch of different angles.  The need to be employed in order to obtain adequate healthcare.  The reality of needing to pay out for electricity and phone services and taxes and food.  The fact that the town I live in has no industry and furthermore has no interest in having any industry.  My children’s future educational needs.   The ties that bind us to the land we live on.  Each angle has its own, sometimes even relatively simple, solution, certainly.  But the solutions we  arrive at might not add up to a coherent whole.

When I got back home yesterday after navigating around downed branches and trees and rapidly freezing puddles, I pulled back into my own driveway with some relief  to see that the only visible damage was one chicken coop which had blown over.  Even though I had woken to the sound of shattering glass, we could find no evidence of it.   The wind continued to howl outside, the audible, tangible roar of a climate officially gone awry, a human populace officially failing to navigate its way out of the hole it dug.  It blew long into the night and finally departed in the wee hours.  The shattered glass sound?  Maybe it was just the sound of clashing possibilities.

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If Money Did Grow On Trees…

No one would think it was worth anything. 

Since this is our first PYO season we’ve been proudly sending out invites to come pick berries to family, friends, and neighbors, with the understanding that as a business, the expectation was that said family, friends and neighbors would come experience our PYO for the set price of blueberries which, for this year at any rate, we set at $2.50 a pound.  A number of family, friends and neighbors took us up on this and came bearing cash, containers, and compliments on our accomplishment.  So imagine our surprise when word got back to us that one family member expressed dismay that we would actually charge family for a “small amount” of blueberries.  A small amount, in this case, was approximately 8 pounds of fresh blueberries.

 To put 8 pounds of blueberries in perspective, that is approximately 10 pints of blueberries which retail at the farmer’s markets around here for $4.00 a pint if picked and packed by the farmer.  That’s $40.00 of product which we were apparently expected to give away to family.  After all, it was just blueberries.  It wasn’t a wad of cash or a $40.00 necklace or a resource that we might actually miss, right?  They just grew there on those there bushes, right?  Where do we get off charging anybody at all for blueberries?  I mean you might buy blueberries in a store, but they’re in a store…that’s where you buy things.  But blueberries off a bush?  The time, effort and money placed into the orchard was just a hobby that we did on our free time instead of going skiing or going to Europe, right?  I mean, who expects to make food for a living?

 These same family members would gladly feed us lunch or dinner and host us for a night and possibly even give us a guest pass to a local attraction they have access to, just as we do when they come to visit us, but they would never hand us 40 dollars in cash simply because we’re family and we came to visit them.  That’s absurd.  And they certainly don’t get their food for free.  That’s why they work at some service oriented job from 9 to 5, after all.  So why treat the food you might pick off of carefully cultivated bushes as some kind of lesser commodity than the pesticide treated, plastic wrapped, force-ripened substitute you might find in Stop and Shop? 

 Aside from my obvious resentment at the offhand statement and growing anger at the dismissive tone of this remark which discounts pretty much everything that we here at LLARCS have been working to accomplish for the past ten years, I am truly baffled.  Are my suburbanite brethren really so far removed as to be that fucking clueless?  Do they really begrudge the cost of food as a necessary evil which takes away from what they truly earn money for—large TVs, overpriced cars, membership to a facility in which you jump up and down for an hour,  and brand named clothes?  If so, we’re doomed.    We’re all going to sink fast into the ever rising sea.  And we’ll deserve it.

 At least we here at LLARCS live on a hill and have a ready supply of food near at hand.   By then we’ll be the only ones on earth who can identify food which isn’t pre-packaged, so we won’t have to worry about the roving, hungry, hoards.  They’ll all dine out on rampaged Cheezits and die from over-exertion before they ever make it out of the city limits.

Turkey Parts

It’s March, and the LLARCS larder is barer but not down to the bones yet.  We still have the following left over from our hard labors of last spring, summer and fall:

Cranberries, frozen
Pesto
Tomato sauce
Canned and frozen tomatoes
Rhubarb, frozen
Chicken (whole, parts, innards and feet)
Garlic
Sauerkraut
Onions
Potatoes
Carrots
Wild Cherry jam
Apple butter
Grape Jelly
Cranberry wine
Apple cider, frozen 

Not bad, considering we live in the northeast and we’ve still got three feet of snow on the ground despite recent attempts to drown us out.  We’ve been able to supplement with local meats, yogurts, honey, bread and eggs.  However we’ve run low or out of many items, including maple syrup, frozen berries, and cooked vegetables.  Cranberries and rhubarb are nice but they require a certain amount of preparation to be palatable, and usually end up in pancakes or muffins or some other sweet item and don’t really lend themselves to, for instance, making fruit yogurt for The Bundle I’s school lunch, so I broke down the other day and bought “organic” frozen strawberries from an outfit calling itself Woodstock Farms.  On the back it has a wholesome little blurb about its sustainable practices and family farmers and it pretends to be out of Connecticut, but on closer inspection the actual frozen strawberries in question were – get this – a “product of Turkey.”

Immediately suspicious of both its “USDA certified organic” qualifications and the reason for not growing these strawberries in Connecticut and freezing them there instead of outsourcing the labor and produce to a third world developing country over which the USDA has absolutely no control and therefore no oversight over the daily practices of what are likely poor subsistence farmers in Turkey, Lionel and I looked at each other and vowed to order more strawberry plants this week and expand our strawberry bed next spring so we wouldn’t have to worry about it any more.

 Honestly, Corporate America.  Do the LLARCS have to do everything ourselves?  Can’t you get anything right?  Product of Turkey, my ass.

Burning the Midnight Oil

We burn wood.   We burn lots of wood.  Probably all told, between the sugaring operation and our heating and hot water needs, about twenty cords of wood a year go into the basement or wood shed and don’t come out again.

Before we burned wood, we burned oil.  We live in a big, leaky brick house in the cold Northeast, and in the colder winters we’d burn almost three thousand gallons of oil a year.  That’s 69 barrels of oil we’d burn in a year (according to several sources, Americans on average consume about 24 barrels a year), not counting the rest of our considerable carbon footprint with our cars, electrical needs and fondness for fresh vegetables in February.  It’s also $8000-9000 a year, depending on the price of oil.  Then there’s the fact that oil doesn’t get produced around here.  There is no local benefit to buying it, save from the oil company, and the cost of getting it to us is huge, economically, socially and environmentally.

About 8 years ago during an excessively greedy gouging by oil speculators, we took a look at our oil bill, the number of gallons we seemed to be draining down a never ending hole, and the constantly cold house despite our efforts, and then we looked out our window, and finally saw oil in the form of ash and oak growing up all around us.  So we bought and installed a TARM woodboiler.  And we haven’t looked back since.

In general society’s increasingly distant relationship with the origin of our basic needs such as heat, food, water and shelter has lead us to believe and operate in simple models of black and white good versus evil products; tag lines such as “gluten free” leading an ignorant public to believe in a product’s inherent goodness, somehow glossing over the fact that only a relatively small portion (1%) of the population actually requires gluten free products in order to battle celiac disease.  (The rest of us can eat the naturally occurring protein with no problem. )  The tag extends to items such as corn flakes and rice cereal, which though technically true, are misleading in that neither rice nor corn ever contain gluten in the first place.  And so the public becomes fixated on a phrase to tell them what is right and what is wrong, when really they need to have a clear idea of what their goal is–and then–however slowly, move towards that goal.

Take the apparent controversy of burning wood in fireplaces, for instance.

To be fair, we think the author meant to confine her story to the use of fireplaces in urban or suburban settings, and not to imply that burning a renewable resource such as wood to heat one’s house was always and always wrong, environmentally unfriendly and automatically bad for one’s health.  And we tend to agree that using a fireplace in Tribeca is not only a ridiculous mis-use of resources but logistically awkward.  But unfortunately the author goes on to implicate woodstoves in the country as part of the problem, without really realizing that woodstoves and fireplaces work in fundamentally different ways and that when you are not connected to the urban steam pipe you have limited choices on how to heat your living space.

Also, we don’t care how many “country homes’ you own.  Unless you are doing more than visiting or retiring here, you don’t live in the country and you don’t have any expertise in it.   The very fact that you feel you have to justify your heat source by saying the trees you cut and split were dying anyway marks you as an outsider who doesn’t understand the balance of the ecosystem you have taken away from.  What makes you think the downed trees in your forest weren’t doing anything?  What about the porcupines who won’t have anything to hibernate in now that you’ve cleaned up?  What about the bugs, worms and lichen who would have enjoyed a few thousand meals off of the log you burned?  Where do you think new soil comes from?  We take from the land knowing that something will miss it.  There’s no excuse for it.  It just is. We will always leave an imprint on the land just by living, that is the nature of life.  The trick is to try and not take too much.

As for the potentially dangerous side effects of wood smoke, we rather think that the particulates from wood smoke are the least of any New Yorker’s breathing worries, and that any city dweller who might become allergic to a certain smoky particulate was probably already compromised by their chosen environment anyway.  So it isn’t really relevant.  But just to be clear, while fireplaces might place into the atmosphere a larger amount of particulates which may or may not be carcinogenic but have been with the human race for thousands, if not millions, of years, the newer woodstoves and wood boilers place virtually nothing into the atmosphere. 

The unfortunate part about this article is that it came from the New York Times, a normally respectable organization, and was picked up by numerous other media outlets within twelve hours.  The average college educated American will skim the news and pick up this important but mis-represented fact:  burning wood is bad.  Since the average college educated American has been found not to have picked up basic critical thinking skills in their very expensive four year education, they will not read the entire article or question its foundation, but will carry this along in their heads as fact.  Unfortunately they will then be faced with Gulf Oil spills, sky-rocketing gas prices, an increasingly cranky climate, and high unemployment, and they won’t be able to figure out how to pay their heating bills or why it’s always cold and raining, and if they turn to the New York Times for information they’ll only get more yokel-local missives from the Big Apple and fireplace woes in Tribeca which have nought to do with the rest of the country. 

We however, will be increasingly busy cutting and splitting wood for our various operations.  Heating with wood doesn’t make sense for everyone; especially not a high-rise dweller in a bustling metropolis.  But it does make sense when you’re sitting on top of your heat source.  And since we’re going to make an impact on our world anyway, we’d rather it be a local one and not exported to Iraq.  It just makes more sense, Times or no Times.

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