Thursday, December 09, 2010

Once Again

I was turning to leave the small room of an elderly woman - waiting for her daughter and son-in-law to finish tying up some family business - when my eye began to wander. The woman had just pointed out to me a series of paintings she had done herself. She took me through them one by one, noting how she had matured and progressed in her understanding and practice of the art. I was particularly drawn to the painting that hung just over her window: a rather whimsical portrayal of daisies blowing in the wind. I could not get past the stark contrast between this endless summer scene in her painting and the stark reality of winter outside of her window.

As my eyes descended from that painting, I turned my face towards the door. And as I did so, my gaze came across a short poem that was housed in a frame right before my face. It was simple in its adornment, and without reading it I read it. I did not need to read it. I scanned the title of the poem, "Footprints," and immediately my mind called up the memory of its message.

It is a poem with which I am sure you are familiar. It recounts the tale of an individual who is caught up in a dream, and in this dream the person is able to see two sets of footprints walking a sandy shore - the footprints representing both God's and the individual's as together they walk the path of life. Yet, upon further reflection, the person realizes that during the hardest times there were not two sets of prints, but only one. This only seems to validate the experience of life: that there are seasons when it seems we must go it alone and that even our Maker stands apart and alone in silence. However, it to this sense of abandonment that the poem's final lines resound: "The Lord replied, 'The years you see only one set of footprints, my child, are those time when I carried you."

The first time I read "Footprints" was on another wall. I was a teenage boy at at a small Presbyterian summer camp called Campy Pyoca. There in the old cottage it hung, and since it was one of the few things of any visual interest in the rather spartan building I found myself drawn to it. It held a comforting and encouraging message for me as I thought myself - like most teenagers - beset by several problems.

Well, in the last twenty years, I have run across this poem a thousand times - many times as adornments hung in offices and in homes. And as happens with frequent exposure, my attention to the poem waned and the significance of the words and the meaning of its message began to be lost upon me. Indeed, so it was this last Sunday when I encountered it again in that woman's room. It held just a fraction of its former power and I paid it little mind.

But, now it comes back to me in a new way, a fresh and living way.

I know why, of course, this long-dormant poem has been at play in my mind tonight. I've been traveling down a path for a while that seems rather solitary, something I've been hesitant to admit to myself or to anyone else. I've been walking down a path that has been rather lonely and hard at times - not always and not overwhelmingly so, but difficult nonetheless. Lonely because anytime a person moves to a new place (even if that place is an old familiar place) there is strangeness and a learning how to be comfortable in ones own skin again; hard because that seems to be the times we live in - people out of work and uncertain about their future. I know - in fact - because of my interactions with others that my own experiences of loneliness and struggle are not solitary. I can see it written on the lives of the people I serve and love.

And for all those reasons "Footprints" - like a good leaven - has been working in my mind and heart tonight. It has begun to invite me to remember the type of Lord I have bound myself to; it has called me to take comfort in a God who has promised to be with me every step of the way and who will carry me when I can go no further.

This reemergence of "Footprints" in my heart and mind - by the way - is the other possibility with over exposure, the positive effect: that repetition will eventually wear something into our soul that we cannot lose or forget. It can be that way with most anything - a beloved verse, a painting we've come to admire, a picture of a loved one. We get so used to it that it runs the risk of becoming common and unnoticed. But, then one day - before we are prepared for it or aware of why or how - that verse comes back fresh into our mind and comes alive with meaning and significance, that painting has colors and shadows we never saw, that picture has details we missed.

So it is with "Footprints." That oft-seen, oft-neglected lesson has once again spoken to this man's heart. The poem I cherished as a teenager has been resurrected to give me fresh hope in mid life.

You are with me, Lord, and for that I am ever grateful.

Wes

Monday, November 29, 2010

Toy Story

A couple of weeks ago, Gramma Lis stopped by on her way home from work. She strode into the door with two plastic bags from Walmart. One bag held plenty of chocolate and the other bag contained a toy Woody from the celebrated movie series Toy Story. Both the chocolate and Woody were gifts given with one singular purpose in mind: to finally and fully potty-train Elise. Elise - you see - has been dangling on the edge of being potty-trained for some months now, and Anna was beginning to see signs that Elise knew full what she was doing.

The chocolate was meant to be a reward. Every time Elise successfully went to the bathroom on the potty, she would receive one piece of chocolate. Fortunately for Wyatt, he somehow became engrafted into this reward system, thereby increasing Wyatt's odds of receiving a piece of chocolate daily.

Woody was something of a reward, too. Actually, he was more like a carrot.

Gramma Lis pulled the Woody toy from the plastic bag and began to unbind him from his little plastic handcuffs. All the while she also began explaining to Elise that this Woody was for Wyatt, which cause Wyatt's eyebrows to raise and mouth to open in unhidden glee. Elise, of course, heard nothing of what Gramma Lis was saying, but instead started walking towards Wyatt and the new Woody doll like a cherub-zombie - arms outstretched, eyes glazed over. Still Gramma Lis went on - explaining to Elise that when she learned to use the potty that she could have her own Toy Story doll, maybe even her own Jessie.

That, in short, is why most evenings after the kids have been put to bed, I will find myself at some point tripping over Woody - himself laying prone and lifeless just as he appears in the movies when Andy comes rushing into his room. Tonight, he's on the kitchen floor, his face staring blankly at the floorboards, his legs buckled at odd angles.

By the end of most days, the floors of this old farm house have become minefields from the children's daily dramas and distractions. Sometimes it's Woody. Other times it is Thomas and Friends, which means that the many tank engines that usually run along the tracks of Sodor in Wyatt's room spill out onto the coffee table and onto the floor. Lately, the toy of choice has been a big bucket of Lincoln Logs that get spilled just after breakfast and then travel through the house like some winter virus - attaching themselves to the kids as they roam from this room to that one.

And, of course, with Christmas coming upon us, it won't be long before new toys join the circus. There may even be a Jessie joining the ranks. It's looking that way. Elise is making big steps on her way to being a big girl who knows how to use the potty.

advent

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

a red plate affair

I felt I should write a quick post post-Thatcher regarding his...ahem, consumption. He was salted a day in advance, stuffed with an organic lemon, slow-roasted and served on our family's celebratory red plate. Quite chicken-y. Quite tasty. And despite his breast looking inexplicably small compared to what we're used to seeing on our occasional Trader Joe's bird, Thatcher provided enough white meat for our young family of four. He did dress out (is that the right way to say it??) at just over 4 pounds, afterall. But quite strange, in all honesty, being so close to your food. I had trouble not seeing the poor guy in my mind's eye while eating...his distinctive personality was a curse for me in that regard. For that reason, eating a freshly gathered egg isn't the same as that once breathing animal crowing about your yard. Future edibles may need to be the dolts of the flock until I can habituate...

On a related note, I've been thinking about an occasional post called "mostly local" where I'll write a quick note about our family's meals and give a recipe...maybe this would answer that question I've heard asked about us before: "What do they eat, anyway?" Well, a week ago, we ate Thatcher. Just like the kids told everyone we would.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Dirty Deeds

My father-in-law, Joe, often tells me that you need to do at least one thing a day that scares you ... just to keep yourself young and fresh.  Well, the last few days, I've met my quota.  Big time.

It started on Thursday evening, when Anna and I went to put up the chickens for the evening.  Our first mistake was to wait until7:00 pm to gather up Thatcher and the girls:  Edna, Betty, Dd, Palma June, Violet Mae, Lucille, and [unnamed bird].  Our second mistake was having moved the chicken coop earlier in the day to an entirely new location; chickens - apparently - are rather dull about finding anything other than their own food.

In any case, that would explain why at 7:30 pm, I was running around our property with little to no daylight remaining, a Petzl headlamp on my noggin, and two tennis racquets in my possession - one in the left hand, one in the right.  This, so I believed, was all necessary gear to catch and deliver the birds back into the coop.  I was joined by Anna - the good cop - who tried to corral the birds by patiently walking behind them while calling out, "Here, chick, chick, chick, chick."  We were also joined by Wyatt - himself armed with a padded Pro Series Junior Bat and his own small headlamp.  He managed to find one bird that was lost, but overall Wyatt was a significant hindrance to our whole mission.  He - enjoying the opportunity to stay up past his bedtime AND swing a bat at chickens - continuously ran the girls ragged and thereby made them all the more suspicious of us other humans.

Nonetheless, just after 8:00 pm we somehow managed to get all of the chickens back in the coop - just in time for bedding down into the straw, which is becoming more and more needed in these frosty nights.

That was Thursday.

Friday's thrilling endeavor was the day we had been talking about for quite some time:  Thatcher's demise.  Sometimes we spoke of it casually, unsure if we truly meant it or could do it.  Sometimes we spoke of "killing" Thatcher as we were being attacked- adrenaline pulsing through our body.  Sometimes we spoke of it just to speak of it, just to acclimate ourselves to the idea of holding a knife or ax to his burnt orange throat - staring into the fire red of his face.  Sometimes, though, we spoke of killing Thatcher as something that would have to be done, that needed to be done.

For the past several weeks now, Thatcher had begun to do his job quite well - all of them:  inseminating the other birds, crowing at the crack of dawn (and at midmorning, at noontime, during the afternoon, when I pulled in from work, and at the close of the day), gathering the girls, threatening would-be predators.  Unfortunately, this last job put Thatcher's masculinity into direct competition with Anna, Wyatt, Elise and myself.  Elise - for the strangest of reasons - was the most bullied by Thatcher.  Anna swore that it was Elise's size - that somehow being nearer to Thatcher's line of vision made her a bigger threat.  Perhaps it was just simply that Elise was the easiest to pick on, or should I say claw on.

In the course of the last two weeks, Thatcher used his fierce talons to make a ruckus with both Wyatt and Elise - leaving a nasty scrape along Elise's right ear and a topical scrape near Wyatt's left shoulder blade.  I also had a few more showdowns with him recently, which by the way is perhaps one of the more intense experiences one can have.  Despite the number of times Thatcher came at me with his neck feathers flared, his head jutting forward, his feet then flying at my legs, I never once felt prepared for the horror this produces - tightening my stomach and my muscles, turning my body and mind into a visceral, primal reflex of fear and survival.

Wyatt and Elise, of course, had not nearly as much height or strength to withstand the bird.  So, when he did attack, they were left to screaming and crying - invoking the help of mom and dad who would coming running (again with that evolutionary rush of survival) to their aid.  In any case, this had happened so much that my own children were beginning to feel tense in their own yard.  They would tip-toe onto the front porch, check to see if Thatcher was around, and then proceed on to their bike or the sandbox.  

On Friday, the kids and I came home from a good morning out and away.  As we rolled into the driveway, Thatcher and the girls were near the front doors.  I knew immediately this might get tricky.  I waited until Thatcher was somewhat removed from our space.  I then released Wyatt and Elise from their car seats and started to usher them to the doors.  However, as we drew close, Thatcher and the girls began to close in on us.  I noticed Thatcher was focused particularly on me.  Something had changed as a result of thatThursday evening corral.  I had gone toe-to-toe that night with Thatcher, finally catching him in the crook of a tree.  He seemed unnaturally subdued by that whole exchange.  But, whatever fierceness he had lost the night before was apparently back.  He strutted and cocked and turned at me every time I made a move.  Finally, after circumnavigating him for a few minutes, I managed to get Elise in the door, but not without having to leave Wyatt for a few moments.  

I thought I was doing well.  But, for Wyatt, the prospect of being left outside while Thatcher was on the prowl was unnerving and terrifying.  He began to cry.  Then, he began to wail.  He had no need.  I was a mere ten yards away and Thatcher was far from both of us.  Still, though, there was no calming Wyatt.  I pulled him inside, but for the next hour or so he continued in his flummoxed state.  

That's when I decided to do the deed.  I decided that things had advanced beyond what was healthy or safe, not that I thought that rationally about the matter.  I just realized that this was the day that I was going to kill Thatcher.

How was I going to do it?

That was the question.  It was now early afternoon, and I knew Anna would not be back until 3 or 4.  I still was responsible for the children.  Somehow, I would need to find at least thirty to forty minutes to catch and kill him.  So, I did what any modern, 21st century parent would do.  I put on a DVD.

I found it impossible to catch him, though.  Our run-ins over the last few days made him evasive.  Whereas he used to meet my own advances with a bullheaded toughness - staring me down - now he just simply turned tail and ran as fast as he could away from me.  After twenty or thirty minutes, I finally gave up, came back inside and tried to forget the matter.  

Still, I was restless.  So, I returned outside - deciding to expend some of my energy on the pile of wood that needed splitting.  I went to work - knocking through five or six logs.  I stopped; I turned around, and there in the chicken coop I could clearly see Thatcher and three or four of the girls.  I had him.  He was trapped - confined to an enclosed area that I could use to my advantage.

By this point, I had also solved the other riddle in the question of how to do it.  I had already prepared a log back near the edge of our woods, and near it I had laid a machete that I hoped would do the deed quickly and mercilessly.  I had also begun a pot of boiling water that I hoped would aid in stripping Thatcher of his regal and beautiful feather coat.

I quickly stepped into the coop, and almost as if they knew what was coming the other girls fled through the door.  "Shoot, I can't let him get past me," I thought to myself.  But, before he could make it to the door, Thatcher trapped himself into a corner.  With him no longer acting the aggressor, I was no longer afraid of him.  I placed my right hand onto his body - holding him to the ground and in doing so remembered all over again how small his body felt compared to the apparent girth and strength he had when he would charge me.  Then, I proceeded to grasp both of his feet in my right hand.  That's when I had him.  For some reason, he went weak and submissive.  Do all chickens do that when you take hold of their legs?

I strode the thirty or forty yards from the garden back towards the log - trying to determine swiftly and accurately how I was going to do this cleanly.  I will not describe these next few moments in great detail.  I will only say that there was a lot of attempting and preparing and thinking - trying to determine how best to lay his head, whether I needed anything to restrict him from wrestling and twisting (I did not, which made the matter all the more emotionally wrenching and today makes me think of that scene of Abraham with his boy Isaac on the altar ... by Rembrandt perhaps?), which hand I should use to deliver the death blow, and - truthfully - whether or not I was capable of doing this.  I prayed for forgiveness for taking this birds life.  I spoke my gratitude to Thatcher, and tried to both connect and disconnect with this bird.  I counted to three - moving the blade of the machete into the air and back down each time and resting it on his neck.  I did that several times, unable to strike down.  Then, I decided to count down from 3 to 1, and that time I did swing the blade.  

Even now as I write, there's a sadness and apology in my gut and in my mind.  I felt so terrible for what I had done.

I walked back into the house.  Wyatt, whom I had told earlier about what I planned to do, asked me right away, "Is Thatcher dead."  I said, "yes."  And he took that news with a type of indifference (perhaps even glee) that can only come from a mind that doesn't know completely the finality of death.

Then, I began to make preparations to pick and process the bird.  But, as I did, I noticed that Elise had pooped in her diaper.  I was still the parent in charge, although I had not been performing well in that regard.

Unfortunately, at the very moment that I had Elise on the floor to change her diaper, Anna and Gramma Lis rolled into the driveway, and before I could stand up and get to Anna, Wyatt managed to burst out the door and proclaim, "We killed Thatcher.  We killed Thatcher."  My heart immediately sunk.

For a long time, Anna and I had talked of killing Thatcher, but we had always done so under the premise and understanding that we would do it together, as a family.  Moreover, in many ways, Thatcher was more Anna's bird than my own.  Anna - as always - saw a beauty in Thatcher's coat and colors that I will never see.  That's why I was not surprised to step out of the house and to see Anna sobbing in her mother's arms - her heart and mind overcome by shock and grief and the disturbing image of Thatcher's once proud body lying limply upon a lone log off in the yard.  It was too much, and it was not something that Anna decided.

I gave Anna a hug, but I knew it wouldn't help - especially from me.  So, instead, I went back into the house - grabbed the pot with the boiling water, and I proceeded to walk back towards Thatcher - now just a carcass and potential source of food.

Gramma Lis graciously and gratefully took Wyatt and Elise up to her house - leaving Anna and I a moment to talk and myself an opportunity to explain myself.  Anna understood it needed to be done.  It wasn't the act.  It was the suddenness and unexpectedness of it, and the fact that it wasn't as she had imagined it:  talking with our children about it, thanking God for Thatcher.  But, as Anna drew near Thatcher's body, she began to soften and to ask more questions.  Then, together, we began the work of processing the bird.

That process is in itself its own story, which I will leave for another time.  But, I will say that it was amazing to me how natural it all seemed and how easily it became to strip Thatcher of his stomach, liver, lungs and heart.  By 5 pm, we had a completely clean-picked and ready-to-eat bird in our kitchen.  In fact, he still sits in a pot in our refrigerator with the plan that he will be roasted and eaten for dinner on Monday night.

Eventually, Gramma Lis did bring Wyatt and Elise back, and we eventually were able to thank God for Thatcher and talk about it as a family - even if it was done posthumously.  We stood in the kitchen, and I asked everyone to think of one thing that they liked about Thatcher.  Neither Anna and I can remember what Wyatt said now.  However, when we prompted Elise, she said, "Where's his teef?  Where's his mouf?"  We started to laugh and cry - trying to explain why Thatcher no longer had a head.  Then, we asked Elise again:  "Is there something you liked about Thatcher?"

Elise - with glee - responded: "His blood!"

Then, Wyatt prayed:  "Thank you God for this day, and for Thatcher, and for his mouth, for his blood, and for his strength.  Amen."

Amen.

It is worth noting as well, that when Wyatt and Elise returned they both wanted to see Thatcher.  So, we pulled the Calphalon stockpot from the refrigerator, took off the top and showed them the naked bird.  Wyatt and Elise both reached in and started to feel him, and Wyatt said in a voice of awe and wonder, "He's chicken now?"  And Anna could only say, "Well, he's always been chicken," thus ending our rather surreal day with the frank, brutal truth.

Wes

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Heaping

The change,
a sweeping tide -
again.

Yet, how much has changed -
from hope to fear,
from promise to frustration. By "change" today we mean "for me" and "mine" and "enough of the common good."

I came home to a house
full of heat.
On the stove, the lime green
dutch oven - the same
we received from the generous excess of family heritage -
held the meal
my beautiful wife had prepared -
a simmering stew
of wild rice,
and kale,
carrots,
and baby butternut.
The heaping abundance spilled its aroma through our airy home.

All day my mind was tossed -
toppled by the news and the agitation,
the talk of loss, the pessimism,
the angry smoldering of wanting,
the fuming of rights lost and selfishness encroached upon,
"Don't tread on me" -

the cramped calendars that have no room
for community,
for home,
for garden,
for neighbor.

We are poor. Poorer than we care
to face, poorer
than our ancestors
could dare fear,
even as they stood upon dirt
floors
and watched their crops
blow into dust.

For our poverty is our aloneness,
our isolation,
our privacy,
our islands of plasma screens and
rights and money.

I, though, am rich. Rich for the woman I have wed.
Rich for the food that has grown
on my land.
Rich for the boy who stayed
awake to give me a kiss.

Are we that poor off?

No. Only in what counts.
Only in goodwill,
in kindness,
in civility
and
hope
and faith
and love.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sniff and Cough, Repeat if Necessary

It's Halloween evening, and the only thing we Kendalls are afraid of are the litany of bugs that have raided our bodies - sending shivers down to our cold toes and a gooey, ugly flow trickling from our noses.

We're sick - thanks to Dad. Seems like I carried a tiny seasonal cold home with me this past week, and the troops held out as long as they could - fighting a valiant battle as my own sneezes and coughs set-up a formidable offensive. Elise was the first to crumble, unable to maintain a strong resistance. Poor thing. It's always the youngest who suffer first.

Wyatt has taken his own tumble, too - perhaps because the sister he insists on tackling and badgering began coughing on him as her lone defense. So, for two days now, Wyatt has been carrying around his little green, blue and white blanket as the world's largest Kleenex - incessantly wiping his nose so that he looks something like Rudolph ... a completely unintended costume.

Anna - so far - has managed to weather the storm, mostly by injecting herself with Zicam and keeping her distance. Actually, I don't know how she isn't yet sick, not when both of our children have repeatedly expelled their viral spray all over Anna's cereal bowl. At this rate, Anna is going to hold out longer than Leningrad during the Germ-an onslaught. Amazing.

Although, she just told me that the real test will come tomorrow when she rises early for her Monday swim. That alone will tell if she is truly well.

As a result of our combined colds, there was no ArtAttack at DePauw this year. That marks two years in a row we've missed this great community event for kids because of illness. Maybe next year.

Hope you're well,

Wes

Monday, October 25, 2010

clarence arthur cooper, jr

A few weeks ago, we lost a dear member of our already small family: Papaw. It was difficult for a number of reasons...it was sudden, we were in the habit of seeing him pretty regularly, and my paternal grandmother had already passed three years ago, so Papaw had carried many memories of them both for us. He had such a sweet spirit, and was a wonderful example to me of what it meant to accept people without judgement of them or their circumstances. After the funeral, I was able to spend some time by myself at his house, attending to the details of that place, soaking them up. That was the beginning of the healing for me...found on Papaw's desk was a scrap of paper with three words in his handwriting: "love you Anna" -- practicing, perhaps, for a birthday card. That piece of paper now hangs above my own desk...and the healing continues.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wild Men

It's Sunday evening. Wyatt and Elise have wound themselves down into rest. The week's laundry tumbles noisily in the dryer, and for the first time in my life, I'm preparing to watch Jeremiah Johnson in its entirety. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.

This classic "mountain man" movie has long been one of my dad's favorites, so to have waited this long is surely a sin of omission on my part - forsaking that particular Sinai commandment about honoring your parents.

"The mountain man is a lonely man, and he leaves a life behind."

Of course, I have already seen this movie - just with another title and in a different era. I've seen it as "Into the Wild." I've seen it as "Dances With Wolves." It's the ancient American tale about finding yourself by encountering a less cultivated world.

My dad and I love these movies, and in our own ways we seek to follow the wisdom and counsel of such tales. My dad is a gamesman and a hunter, so his ventures into the wild have included everything from the seasonal fall trips into the Indiana woodlands to hunt deer to trips to the great American plains and into the vast expanse of Canada to hunt bear, moose, and antelope. I'm not a hunter - at least not yet - so most of my plunges into the wild have come through hiking and camping trips. And it comes now by living out in the country where I can spend my Sunday afternoons walking through the woods with the kids.

About five years ago, though, my dad arranged for a trip that would allow us to both step away from that maddening world and enter into the wildness of nature together. We went fishing up in Baldwin, Michigan - paddling down the Pere Marquette with a guide to fish for salmon running up stream to spawn one last time before the next generation began their cycle of life.

It was a great trip, and so I was excited and grateful that we were to make the trip again this year - a trip we just over a week ago. This time we had more company - some friends of my father as well as my brother-in-law, Kyle. Plus, my dad and his buddies had found a community up at a campsite where we stayed this time.

So, in reality, there really isn't all that much "wildness" in our fishing trips - unless you include the wildness that comes from old men drinking alcohol with nothing but time to tell old stories. Even our fishing was spent mostly in chatter with each other and with our guides. Still, there was enough of the wild to refresh me. It only takes a little.

LIke I said, that was over a week ago. I returned from the trip on Saturday evening, and on Sunday afternoon Anna's mom called with sad, sad news. Art Cooper died. Papaw: Anna's paternal grandfather.

I believe Anna is planning to say more about this kind, loving man and how much he meant to us, so I will not say much more. I will only say that we've been in the throes of grieving - the ups and downs of pain and fond memories. I am always amazed at how taxing is the work of grief, how hollow you can feel after losing someone you love.

This last week has been hard and long. But, it's made me thankful for the time I do have with loved ones - and particularly thankful for my old man.

Wes

Thursday, August 19, 2010

8 years ago...

...Wes and I got married in this little chapel on Lake Wawasee. This picture was taken last month as we walked Oakwood park for the first time since the ceremony. Yesterday (our actual anniversary), we spent the day in true 'Anna and Wes' style: great local food, a long afternoon in an indie bookstore, reading by the lake, ice cream, and a good film. A huge thank you to Granny Becks, who came down to stay with the kids for the day - if you see or talk to her, give her a pat on the back!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lately, we have been daydreaming about our own future version of these way-cool barn conversions...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Hospice medical care for dying patients: newyorker.com

Our mail woman pulls up to our nearly decaying mailbox in her nearly decaying red Jeep and inserts The New Yorker. Then, Anna or I go to the box and take out this one little magazine. It doesn't seem like much, but for someone like myself who lives outside the realm of DSL and cable television (or antenna television!) and inside the realm of small town parochialism this one magazine becomes something like a link to the outside world. It helps me gain a broader picture of the larger movements and events of our nation as well, which I find particularly important as a minister living both locally but called to think globally.

Sometimes the articles are hilarious; sometimes they are enlightening. Often they are thorough and probing on issues that I've long thought about, but don't know how to explore further (like the article I recently read on the fishing industries and the sustainability of our seas).

Occasionally, some of the articles - in my opinion - are prophetic in that good biblical sense of taking away a veil and showing the reality that is truly present in our culture.

This article I am posting below is one of those articles. It addresses many things - including the issue of health care which many people are eager to discuss or debate these days. But, it also goes much deeper to our age old enemy as human beings: death.

It's a long article, but I think you'll find it profitable and enlightening. I hope so.

~Wes

Hospice medical care for dying patients: newyorker.com

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ripe





Perfect for picking ... and picture-albuming.  

Here is a little peek at some of the berries we've been picking over the last several weeks - usually in the fading hours of daylight following dinner, after the kids have gone down for the night and the dew is beginning to collect on the grass again.

We've got a whole row of thornless blackberry bushes that stretch from west to east for about thirty yards.  They've been coming on heavy recently, which means that we should have some good baskets of berries to bring to market this Saturday.

Just as I am excited for the blackberry haul ... I am also excited about this post - created from start to finish by the iPhone:

Picture taken with the great 5.0 megapixel camera ...

Saved and easily accessed in the Camera album, which allows you to select any photo to share via email ...

And published to our blog by simply typing an email that Blogger converts into the post.

Voila!  

If only berry picking was this quick and easy.

Wes

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sweet Surrender

We've returned now from vacation up near Syracuse, Indiana. For one whole week we immersed ourselves in the splash of water, the radiance of that high summer sun, the fresh breeze that goes the length of Lake Wawasee, good wine, sweet corn, and time to "be" as people and as a family.

High upon my list of favorites from the vacation was the discovery of a great local ice-cream shop: Joe's Ice-Cream. They served - much to my delight - a custard that came in both lemon and orange dreamsicle. I took the rare opportunity to get a scoop of each tucked nicely into the friendly confines of a waffle cone. It went to the realm of cream combinations not reached since the days of taro and green tea from our old favorite, Fosselman's.

Now that we're back, we're into the thick of it again. We were so literally when we returned on Saturday - our garden and yard overrun with crab grass and squash vines and sunflowers reaching eight feet in the air. Was it Parker Palmer or Wendell Berry that spoke of the obscenity of summer - with its ridiculous proliferation of life in amounts too abundant to handle or control.

Sometimes there's just too much goodness in life to enjoy.

Wes

Thursday, July 15, 2010

first post from the phone...

...now you all may be hearing a lot more from me. I finally got around to figuring out how to post here from my phone.

Now what happens on the farm won't necessarily stay on the farm.

~Anna

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Summertime


Up above the tree line the dirty haze of a summer swelter lingers into the late evening.
Summertime it is out on the farm. Out on the eastern end of our property two round bales of hay are sitting in the late evening sun, and beyond those bales are acre upon acre of corn. Astoundingly, the corn is already far above our head, creating a natural labyrinth down in the valley. Everything is escaping its bounds.

It always amazes me: This season of uncontrollable abundance. Three months ago we were waiting for life to break forth from the ground. Now, we are overrun. The squash plants are up to two feet in the air; the sweet potato vines are spilling into the lawn. And soon our kitchen will be overrun with green beans and tomatoes. Anna generally looks upon the summer produce as obscene. She already carried away several squash and zucchini to a local food pantry knowing that there’s no way in Hendricks County that we’ll be eating all those “worthless” vegetables. That said: I’m sure we’ll be having our fair share of vegetable lasagna and grilled vegetables in the days to come.

Many evenings, Anna is in the garden weeding, mulching, picking, overturning, and preparing the land for its next production. I think she was getting desperate for help, since last night she let “the girls” and Thatcher out for an evening meal of parasites, Japanese beetles, and plump blackberries. We had not planned for the blackberries to be on the menu, but the chickens had other things in their pea-brained minds. And, apparently, their poorly endowed gray matter is not without some form of honing device that locks onto blackberries. As soon as they were out of the coop, they b-lined to the juiciest, darkest berries and appeared from underneath the canes with the shining gems in their beaks. Anna was none too pleased to see them stealing produce that would fetch a decent price at the farmer’s market (let alone go well in a cobbler, as I might point out), so she has decided to keep the birds in confinement through the berry season. Freedom is such an easily won and lost commodity.

We’ve been pining for some pool time all summer – especially with temperatures topping out in the mid-90’s several times already. We got our chance in the water on the 4th of July. We went up to Denny and Granny Beck’s for the day. It was a blast to spend the day in the pool. Wyatt put to good use the swim lessons he received earlier this summer. Not to be outdone, Elise was mimicking every dive and jump. The girl is fearless, as you can tell from this picture:

I had such a blast catching her and Wyatt over and over again. Wyatt started the fun – walking up onto the diving board with the foam noodle pinned to his torso. This is when he introduced the “jump-dive,” which consisted of him going to the end of the board, jumping up one time; then jumping as far as he could into my out-stretched arms and crashing into the water. Then I’d do my best Hasselhoff, pulling Wyatt or Elise back to safety, wherein the other would be yelling from the diving board, “Catch me, Dad!”

We’ve also been blessed with several visits from good friends and family – including a surprise visit from the newly wedded Adam and Brittany Wishart. What an exceptionally fun and gifted couple they are, and Anna and I certainly wish them well in the fair city of Baltimore.

Before that, Andrew, Lisa and Ellison Smith stopped in for a picnic day. We heartily enjoyed a good meal from Chief’s, the shade under the chestnut tree, and watching our children frolic through the yard. Such frolicking is standard out here on the farm – including those fine family days when the sun isn’t nearly so hot. The kids bounce from place to place – riding their bikes, playing in the sandbox, looking for berries, or just “exploring.”

And, fortunately, we’re also a few days away from our first family vacation of the 2010 year. We’re headed up to northern Indiana for a week of boating, swimming and relaxation. I have a feeling I might be catching some more “jump-dives” off the dock.

~Wes

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Patriotism and Idolatry

As we move closer to the 4th of July, I remind myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ: God's greatest gifts to us are frequently the things we wrongly turn into idols - including our freedom, our rights, our privileges. Be careful that in your celebration of the freedoms you enjoy you do not neglect the Lord of All who has no ties to one nation.

~Wes

Saturday, June 12, 2010

a little ugly...and what we're doing with it

"We're in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture."
-Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms, Inc

I loved this quote from the time I first read it almost a year ago. I love it because it very much falls in line with what we're trying to do here in our nook of Indiana. Case in point: the kids and I were out for a walk early this spring and stumbled upon this:
Mind you, this isn't the only 'dump site' we've discovered on our piece of land. Slowly, bit by bit, we're working to redeem the ugly. We've taken most all of the tires (two truck loads) to the city's tox-a-way day, and Grampa Joe has taken much of the metal (can you spot the old motorcycle in the photo above?) and sold it for scrap. While walking that spring day, though, I spotted these beauties:
Old chimney tiles it turns out. I immediately loaded up three of the best ones, cleaned and painted them, then reused them as a much needed, multi-functional table for our living room:

Apologies for the dark photo, but you get the idea. The top is also a reclaimed piece - a door from a stall in the old barn.
As I've told a good friend, I don't need anymore ugly in my life. I'm determined to help make this land - this life - beautiful.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

reading

For Anna, A People's History of the United States. It's been on my to-read list since I bought it at Vroman's in Pasadena; I'm loving it. Highly recommended if, like me, you haven't managed to get to it yet.
For Wes, The Chosen. I know nothing about this book, except that Wes is really into it. Potok also wrote My Name is Asher Lev, which we both read and thought was fabulous. Sorry for the dated cover photo.
For Wyatt, Casey at the Bat. This is a really neat version with an old-timey, historical feel due to illustrations that all look like newspaper clippings.


For Elise, Kitten's First Full Moon. I dunno, she's in a 'kitty-cat' phase, and will actully sit and listen to this one.





Wednesday, May 19, 2010

tidbits

Just a brief post on the goings-on about the Kendall property...

- First off, it is actually our property now! Very exciting. Grampa Joe gave us a huge 'gift of equity,' which made the whole transaction a possibility and reality for us. Big thanks to Grampa Joe.

- Secondly, we've got lettuce coming out our ears...which is also exciting, though also exhausting to keep up with it all. Washing, rinsing, spinning and whatnot.

- We found out we have a rooster, who will - no doubt - be dinner this fall. I've got to try it out this year so I know if I can process meat birds next year, and Thatcher is going to give me the opportunity.

- And lastly, a snippet of conversation from yesterday in the car. We had just passed several pieces of large scale farm equipment used for spraying crops. Elise thought they were bulldozers, and I was explaining that no, they were used to spray chemicals.

Wyatt: "Why?"
Me: "To kill weeds and to kill bugs."
Wyatt, in sad voice: "But bugs are good for the world..."
Me: "I know; you're right."
Wyatt, emphatically: "They're not using their brains!"

Snow Patrol - Just Say Yes

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I'd Buy That for a Dollar

This one's for you, Adam ...

"Subtle Musings" is now largely about the domestic/farming scene of the Kendall family. But, in ages past, there was some space given over to music/culture ... most notably, a once-a-year "Best of ..." list. Unfortunately, 2008's "Best of" faded into oblivion. It became my spruce goose - except mine never made that final voyage.

Still ... even though I ran out of steam, the music never stops. The beat just keeps on going - especially when that beat is created by Dangerous Mouse (aka Brian Burton) who helped create the Gnarls Barkley hit single "Crazy."

On my way home from work this week, I heard another of Brian's fusion projects: "The High Road" - an eclectic mix of lounge, 80's video game and the voice of James Mercer, who can sound eerie, like David Gray, but also goes falsetto. In fact, it's Mercer's falsetto that carries the song into a funk-train chorus that includes the power of a youth choir - right in step with Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" driving chorus only for the Garden State generation.

The song below reinvests much of the same from "High Road": falsetto, claps, beat.

So, if you're looking for some new tunes, check out Broken Bells - a great album for writing, riding or getting in touch with your urban, hipster self.

Wes

Thursday, April 29, 2010

labor of love

For those of you who are curious, here are a few pictures of the birds in the finished coop. It feels so good to have it completed.


The overall dimensions are 12x8, the door clearance is just a bit over 5 foot - 5'4", maybe. The dolly we're using is on the back enclosed end, and in order to move it, we take the wheels out of their 'storage' position on the front and slide them into braces on each of the bottom corners.


The inside has four nest boxes on the back wall, a hanging waterer, and two three-foot feeders (PVC with the top 1/3 cut out) secured to each bottom side. This means I don't have to take anything out of the pen to move it. The branch you see is their perch, and the top corner is open and wired for ventilation.


They love it - and I (Anna) really can move it by myself - at least forward and back, anyway. By my calculations, it can accommodate 24 birds...though that seems like quite a few. I'm content with eight...for this season.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Chickens

April 27 – We had a brush fire last Wednesday evening. I was riding my bike back from work when I rolled up our gravel drive at just after eight p.m., and as I headed towards the blue garage I noticed a trail of smoke billowing up behind the old barn. The thought crossed my mind that Joe might be back there – burning off some leaves or eliminating one of the many piles of trash on the property. But, then the adrenaline began to kick in, fueled by biology and the hidden memory that smoke of any form is not good for forests and humans … or old barns – for that matter. Old barns that seemed to be precariously close to where the smoke trail ascended.

I hurriedly dismounted from the road bike, switched over to the mountain bike and peddled through the yard. As I swerved to the east side of the barn and stared down into the creek bed and across the way I could see a ring of fire moving outward in all four directions. It looked like what happens when you put a lighter underneath a piece of paper and light it right in the middle: glowing orange at the very edges pushing ever-outwards leaving a black emptiness behind. Uh-oh.

Thankfully, my fears were larger than the present danger. And in the next hour, we managed to contain the fire – thanks mostly to Grandpa Joe deftly maneuvering the Bobcat in between trees and dumping piles of dirt on the source of the fire. I will not mention in this post just how many similar brush fires have been ignited on this land in the last three months.

Secondly only to the excitement of fire is the thrill of now having all eight of our chickens in our A-frame chicken coop. The movable coop is working fairly well, so far. Although, movable is really a relative term. The earth is movable, I suppose. And while the coop is a bit more manageable than that, it usually requires Anna and me together grunting and pushing and lifting. Although, just this morning, I found a new technique which makes the process potentially a solo person job: a combination of pushing the dolly down with the left hand while pushing against the boarded frame with my right. Farmers must exhibit the deftness, strength and flexibility of samurais.

I told our insurance agent about this chicken coop today, and she laughed when I said A-frame. “Why?” I wondered. But, I had forgotten that what is abnormal and bizarre to others is commonplace in our family. I swear that we have not purposefully set out to live the life that falls under the labels of “hippy,” “granola,” and “different.” It’s just what happens when you throw our two lives together: a mishmash of sustainable living, SoCal culture, Christianity, Putnam County, farmer’s markets and living off the land.

Anyhow, the “girls” are doing well – nestled away in the frame at night and pecking at dandelion weeds during the day. They seem to do a good job in mowing down the lawn, although it’s hard to tell given the extravagance of those weeds all over the place (again with the hippie-thing: we don’t spray the yard).

I was not too pleased, however, when I bent down to pick up a slug in the coop – thinking I had found a delicacy for the chickens. When my fingers went to pinch the slimy slug, they instead went through. It was then I realized that this nice, oozing mess was nothing less than – you guessed it – chicken s&%! I mumbled the very same thing as I stepped outside the door.

With still much to learn, this is Wes signing off for the Kendall family. Until next time … be well and live well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

celebrating 4 years

Wyatt recently turned four. We had lots of family out to the "farmette" for the celebration. When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, he promptly replied, "A big brown cake with brown icing and fruit in it." Made to order.

The boys spent a bit of time in the baseball diamond...


We all enjoyed the glorious weather...

The kids had a hard time parting with the golf cart...


And the birthday boy talked for days about how fantastic the day turned out to be.

***Since posting this, I've had a request for the cake recipe I used. It's my own adaptation of the Magnolia Bakery cupcake recipe. I think I've managed to find a recipe the adults like and that I don't feel *as badly* about giving to my kids. Here goes:
Chocolate Layer Cake
2 c. whole wheat white flour
1 t. baking soda
3/4 c. good quality organic butter (or 1 and 1/2 sticks)
1 c. maple syrup
1 c. brown sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk (I actually used almond milk with a teaspoon or two of vinegar because that was what I had)
1 t. vanilla
Combine flour and baking soda. Cream brown sugar and butter. Add maple syrup. Add eggs, one at a time. Add melted chocolate.
Add dry alternately with milk and vanilla.
Pour into two 9 in cake pans and bake at 350 for 30 - 40 minutes or until cake tester is clean.
Icing:
1/2 c. good quality organic butter
powdered sugar (start with 4 c. and add from there if needed)
1/2 c. milk (again, I used almond)
2 t. vanilla
melted unsweeted chocolate or cocoa to desired chocolaty-ness
I iced the first layer, put on a layer of raspberries (reserving three for garnish), then squashed the top layer on and iced the whole thing. Garnish with a dusting of cocoa powder and the three left-over raspberries.





Saturday, April 17, 2010

Signs of Life

April 17, 2010 - We are well into the growing season now, albeit the early pubescent stage. Outside in the garden, little shoots of spinach, snap peas, loose-leaf lettuce, and even a few broccoli plants are snuggled in the rectangular beds Anna has fashioned. Rather than till up a large portion of the front yard this year, Anna has laboriously carved out about ten smaller beds - working in old manure from the old barn as fertilizer, turning it into the soil through shovel, rake, and one of those handy weed extractors that is like a eagle claw at the end of a pole with two handles.

She has also been finishing up the chicken coop this past week - including tacking up chicken wire around the open frame. Much to her dismay, she's learning that the malleable nature of chicken wire makes for one great way to frustrate yourself, especially when your "self" likes clean, seamless, modern lines. I tried to help her a bit this past Thursday evening - pulling the wire down or over or up while Anna used the staple gun to fix the barrier in place.

At one point in this stapling process, Anna said incredulously, "The learning curve is so high with this whole process." And shortly after that, she began talking about how she would build the next one. She is destined to build the world's most efficient, modern, and attractive free-range chicken coop.

I, meanwhile, have gotten back to painting the house ... finally. By the end of last fall, I had managed to make my way around the perimeter of the house, coating the old boards in tan and the trim work in a deep ruby red. However, the ladders I had only extended up to about twenty feet or so - not enough to reach the four corners of the house that come to points at "never eat soggy waffles." So, as winter approached I gave up.

Wise move. Wise move because this week I called Jeremy Black, a friend and man of many talents, one of which is as a general contractor. I asked Jeremy if he had a ladder that could get me up to the twenty-five foot range. "Oh, yeah," Jeremy assured me. "Are you going to be around tonight," he asked while editing about twelve hundred wedding pictures he had taken (one of his other talents).

And so I ended up meeting Jeremy on this past Tuesday just after dinner, and within an hour we had two twenty-five foot ladders up against the east side of our house with a walk board running the length between the ladders - making a perfect platform to finish painting the apex. And after we had the ladders up, I ended up drinking a root beer on the front porch with Jeremy - soaking up the natural leisure of dusk. It's all about the value of friendship.

Yeah, it's been a beautiful week in so many ways. Begun with Wyatt's fourth birthday party - celebrated with family out in our yard - and ending today in an opportunity to ride in the DePauw Little 5 alumni race. In the middle: bright, endlessly sunny days; the discovery of Greencastle's best pizza (in fact, it rivals any pizza slice I've ever had); some great moments wrestling with Wyatt and Elise yesterday; and even the opportunity to say congratulations to Brad Stevens in person on Tuesday.

I am blessed.

Wes

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Cove

Every two weeks or so, a movie shows up in our mailbox (the wonder of Netflix!) and the excitement of the red envelope quickly turns into bewilderment when I realize that this is yet another movie that I have never heard of. Sometimes, it's the other way around, and it is Anna who says, "Why did you put this in our queue? This happens because Anna and I like to add movies that we hear referenced on This American Life, from friends who are even deeper into the world of arts and culture, and from an insatiable desire to watch movies that are amazingly depressing, but also - so we believe - very important.

Last night, I watched one that falls in that last category, what may be called "Depressing Documentary" (the Oscar winner in this category may just be "Deliver Us From Evil" about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church). The one I watched last night is right up there with "Deliver Us ...": The Cove - the story about the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.

I am not typically upset by much, but - boy - this was disturbing, especially the ending. I am planning to never visit a "family-friendly" dolphin park again, and - yes - that includes SeaWorld, kids. Shoot: I even found myself at 11:15 pm last night thinking, "I'm not sure I can eat another piece of sushi."

For me, that's huge.

But, even with that warning, I want you to watch it.

I want you to watch it, specifically, because I think this movie is an incredible lesson on what "social justice" honestly looks like. I believe it heart-wrenching-ly shows you the struggle that any conscientious, concerned individual has to go through in addressing a wrong in the world (and, yes, there are still plenty of those). It makes you realize how truly sadistic and fallen can be the ways of industry, and how inconspicuously communities, nations and even you and me can get caught in the death-dealing gears of productivity and progress.

Plus, you cannot watch this movie without realizing how this is indeed one of the enduring legacies of human civilization: the slaughter of innocents for the sake of human comfort and gain. I know: not something you want to watch with a bucket of popcorn!

But, this is how wrongs are righted. And maybe that would be reason enough to watch it: maybe it would spark some desire within you to make a change. As one of the heroes in the movie said, "Either your an activist or an inactivist."

Wes

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter weekend

Wes and the kids and I spent Saturday coloring salmonella eggs (aka eggs from the grocery store - the only white ones I could find around here) with some natural dyes...very fun. Sunday, the kids scoured mom and dad's yard for them...
...and found them. We also enjoyed good food...


Wyatt's usual intensity...


And some baseball in the yard with Grampa Joe.



Hope yours was fantastic, too!



Monday, April 05, 2010

little ladies

The chicks are now two weeks old. Another week and we hope to have them out in the portable coop. That will be another post once the thing is finished. Almost there. In the meantime, meet Lucylle:
She was definitely one of our favorites from the get-go...named after my beloved great grandmother who we swear still walks around our property keeping snakes at bay and flowers growing in abundance.
And a few more of the girls...they're definitely losing their cute-factor - getting more of their pin feathers and losing their down. I'm now starting to figure out which is which, though - slowly identifying each of the six different breeds, which was somewhat difficult in the first week. For those of you who are curious, I have two Ameraucanas, two Rhode Island Reds, a Welsummer, Golden Buff, Golden Laced Wyandotte, and Black Australorp. That means we'll have blue/green, brown and speckled eggs...how exciting.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

the kitchen after: a detail

When we moved in, I needed something with which to line the cabinet shelves. I decided to use all those old canvases of oil paintings from college. So where do the clean pyrex bowls go? In the cabinet by the stove, on top of the boobs.





before and after: kitchen part 1

This is what our lovely farmhouse kitchen looked like one year ago. Gorgeous, no? I mean, the cave-like feel, the wagon wheel light fixture, the shake shingle ceiling...awesome.

We've done what we can...including painting the ceiling. That was a horrific experience for Wes, but the result is something we can live with until deciding whether or not to tear off the whole thing at a later date.


before and after: kitchen, part 2









Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Gardener

I love to watch
the plants grow,
she said -
her torso draped
in that black t-shirt
and shrouded
by the lingering night.

The sun had yet
to crest
in the valley
below our ridge.

Out of the saturated earth
in the small yogurt cups,
the tender shoots
stretched fragile arms:
broccoli, pepper,
basil, jalepeno.

Tiny miracles,
barely standing
in so much dark,
in the early morning,
in the quiet adoration
of the gardener's heart.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A New Season

March 9th: I slay thee poplar and return thy sage and pale yellow meat from whence it came: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Thus spoke … me. At a quarter to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the splitting axe found the last two hearts of timber, the last to be chopped for this winter.

Choppin’ wood has become a topic of conversation with a few members of our church, and a kind man brought it up in the narthex after the service of worship this past Sunday. He asked me if I was still burning. I told him I was, but the end was near. It was then I, the pastor, made my own confession: “You know, I thought this wood burning stuff was pretty manly in December. But … by the time February rolled around, I was done with being manly.” Once again, I managed to say something that I would never say if I actually possessed forethought. Thankfully, my friend laughed with me, not at me.

I am not the only one ready to disavow myself from winter and its chores. Spring is flirting with our long-buried hopes, and is wooing us with fairer days. This past Friday temperatures reached into the 50’s, and it was its own kind of intoxication. It just so happened that the sublime day was also the day we had committed to being outside and doing work.

Early in the morning, Gramma Lis came by to deliver a heaping bowl of steel-cut oats to our table. We sat mixing berries and syrup into our own bowls, talking and trying to determine what was to be done, who would watch the children, and what we would eat for lunch. Confusion was beginning to sprout, at which point Gramma Lis insisted on taking the kids into town and freeing us to do some work. We were freed by a sacrifice.

Without the responsibility of caring for our children, Anna and I hopped in the truck and in a few minutes we were on Manhattan Road. The chicks are soon to arrive, and we were in search of two necessities: chicken feed and sawdust. After a few calls to grain mill operators, Anna discovered that while Greencastle’s feed store does not carry any natural chicken feed, Cloverdale’s mill does. So it was Anna and I parked our petite 4x4 truck amidst a row of F-250’s and Silverado’s in the chalky gravel lot, and walked into the store looking exactly like what we are: ignorant, eager and overwhelmed. But, despite our foolish searching for chicken feed amidst cat, dog and bird food, we were soon wise enough to consult a man who clearly could help – he decked in Carhartt® overalls and a hat the color of a John Deere tractor and emblazoned with the sort of agri-business logo that stand guard over Indiana bean and corn fields. It wasn’t long after that I was throwing a 50lb bag of Homestead Poultry Developer into the bed of the truck. Do you think me a fool to say I was thrilled … or proud?

It was mid-morning when we returned back home. Still released from parenting, Anna and I stepped out into the yard. I carried a bow saw and pruning shears in opposite hands and headed towards the fruit trees that line a grassy drive between our garden and the eastern field. Anna carried a ladder and a lopper towards the street. For the next two hours we pruned and trimmed bushes and trees – breaking for lunch and then beginning again, this time with Wyatt and Elise playing in the yard and Gramma Lis joining the work.

To me there is such sweet satisfaction in honest labor; it was pure joy to feel an ache in my shoulders as I sawed the tops of the undisciplined and unruly fruit trees – a reminder again of connections so often severed, the vital connections: God, creation, being human.

By grace we now have many opportunities to rebuild and maintain those connections – a work decreed by God, our given discipline in the wide field of grace, mercy and perseverance. It won’t be long for the tiller to be put into action, the hoe to break the ground, the back to bend in the picking of weeds. And, likely, it won’t be long before the thrill of working the land lessens and the drudgery of the work wears me down – like the chopping of wood lost its manliness. Even still, for that first day, there was pleasure in it. Standing in the top of a pear tree, listening to the doves chortling in the near woods and watching Wyatt and Elise chase after each other, I believed that I too could be a farmer, that I could husband the land faithfully.

~Wes

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Spring Chickens

March 2nd: and all of a sudden there is the promise of spring lingering in the air. A week ago, there was still a significant portion of our land covered in snow. Two weeks ago, ice cycles hung in lengths of two and three feet from our gutters. But, today, the snow is only present in remnants, packed hard into ice by tires and feet. Winter’s hold – begrudgingly – is beginning to loosen. I’m sure somewhere a witch has been eliminated and gone too is her ghastly spell.

Accordingly, Anna and I are emerging from the winter doldrums. I was sitting on the couch this past Saturday, consumed with the coming Sunday, when Anna came to me with the calendar in her hand. “Look at this,” she said exuberantly, pointing at one and two word messages written in tangerine. “Monday is March 1st, and you know what that means.” I smiled; if I didn’t know I couldn’t help but see the words “plant peppers” scribbled in that first box of the month.

The entry to our house, which serves as mud room and art room and nursery, now has over two dozen old yogurt cups full of deep dark soil, and in each cup of dirt a seed is planted. They are collected upon a changing table that once used for changing the soiled diapers of Wyatt and Elise, and they sit underneath the warming glow of a heat lamp. Much to the dismay of our neighbors that lamp’s bulb is red, which makes the northeast corner of our home radiate like an Amsterdam brothel. Indeed, there is the promise of sex, but only the botanical kind. Soon – we hope – we will be overrun with the prosperity of life.

Meanwhile, I am afraid that Anna has forgotten her first love. She thumbs through the pages of a magazine that royally displays every different breed and species of laying hens and broilers. She has marked the pages with multi-colored stars, noting special birds like a scout exploring hidden talent. I finally divulged her growing passion the other evening, taking a seat next to her on the couch while she ogled over the poultry. “See, I’m thinking this one will be good for laying eggs, but what’s great about it is that they also can be butchered.” I felt, for the first time, the warm body of a chicken in my left hand, my right holding a knife firm against its ruby throat – trying to steady myself to spill its blood. And I thought digging into the wet muck of a spring garden was going to teach me about the carnality of life!

The chicks are set to arrive on March 28th, which means we have less than a month before we reach the point of no return. The same room that now houses the yogurt-cup planters will eventually house twenty some odd pulsing, squeaking, pillows of fluff. Anna – of course – could give you their names (all derived from our deceased relatives) and their descriptions.

From the day they arrive, we will have essentially two months before we will have to provide them both shelter and forage. The second necessity will not be much of a problem given the open acreage. We also have hopes of using them around our garden – feeding their growing appetites and scratching talons with the bugs and pests that could lay waste to the crops.

Shelter, hopefully, will also be fairly easy to provide. Anna – when she is not looking through the chicken magazine like I use to look at the JC Penny catalogue before Christmas – has been investigating the most efficient, most economical and most resilient forms of movable chicken coops. She has been greatly aided by the experience and tutelage of Joel Salatin, about whom many of you already know and the rest of you would be wise to discover. Anna’s modified design of his transportable coops measures around 10 ft. by 5 ft., and is complete with a back half for the birds to roost and lay in individual houses.

We talked a fair amount about what materials to use the other evening – keeping our mind attentive to both weight and durability. Any of you with experience are welcome to add your thoughts. Actually, that last sentence may as well be applied to the whole of our adventure as we move forward into spring. We are fresh with optimism as the days grow longer and warmer … and very much in need of ongoing guidance, encouragement and wisdom. It won’t be long before those pretty little birds, which have already flown off the pages into Anna’s heart and mind, will land in our laps.

~Wes

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Cost and Value of Wood Fuel

“To me the winter would be well spent if I did nothing but gather wood to burn in an open fire, where I could watch its sublimation into smoke and ashes.”
-Harlan Hubbard, Payne Hollow

The winter has been harsh as has been broadcast upon the television news and in local papers. We have not been immune to the ongoing freezing temperatures, the snow-packed roads and the absent sunshine. Currently, there is a good five inches of snow upon the ground, the third such covering we have received this year. Besides making commutes into town difficult, the cold winter has also meant a greater need for a warm home.

Normally, to heat our home we would be dependent upon some form of gas – run through a pipeline to our home or housed in a tank. Indeed, we have such a tank on the western side of our house, but we have used its gas only sparingly this year.

Instead, we have been reliant upon a wood burning furnace on the eastern side of the house. Or, more directly: we have been reliant upon the dozen or so trees that were felled and cut into two foot long logs. Much of the wood is poplar, but there is also plenty of oak and hickory and even the remains of a persimmon tree that just last winter had left a host of seeds upon the driveway and in front of the porch. That was the first one we cut down. Another fell to a bolt of lightning this summer. Several more were felled to extend my father-in-law’s runway that is just south of our property.

I have found the use of wood as fuel to be a type of good work. It is a chore to be sure (although not nearly as much of a chore as burning wood inside a home or the chore it would have been for the early settlers to fell the trees and cut the trees with only hand tools). On these cold days, it requires either Anna or I to dress in heavy clothes both early in the day and later in the afternoon or evening, to push the wheelbarrow to the wood pile and to gather a dozen or so logs. Sometimes it also requires us to chop a thicker log into quarters. And, finally, it requires us to push the wheelbarrow back to the furnace, to open the metal door, and to deposit the wood – letting the fire do its work of consumption, turning the hard material into energy and heat.
Still, as much as the logs strain my back, there is satisfaction in this labor: satisfaction from having a hand in the whole process, satisfaction from the physical exercise that strengthens my body even in the lethargy of winter, satisfaction from the involvement of my senses.

What I mean by this last satisfaction, this arousal of the senses, is the connection and pleasure derived from all facets of wood fuel. There is the thrill of hearing the heavy axe sink into the log and the true feeling when the blade hits the heart and splits. There is the primal arousal of the smoke’s smell rising into my nose, the hot flames warming the hands and face as logs are placed into the inferno. Finally, there is the witnessing of the fruit of the labor: smoke pouring out in a snake-trail from the stack.

But, perhaps most importantly, heating our home through the use of wood has made me conscious as a consumer of the fuel. There is only one and a half cords of wood left as I write. That is supposed to last us the rest of the winter (if the cold persists, it won’t). We have probably been through another sixteen or twenty cords. I have not been keeping an accurate count. Still, for the first time in my life I have a general sense of the resources I am using and need to survive a winter in Indiana. I am gaining awareness, which is the first step in living responsibly.