Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. The birds are singing. It’s a beautiful thing.
Clive Pettibone once remarked to his daughter, Izzy, “The muse is at my elbow.” Well, mine too; I was struck with the urge to write a poem this last month. Mind you, I don’t really know anything about writing poetry, but I didn’t let that stop me....
By: Herrick Kimball
By: Herrick Kimball
I was having a bad-hair day.
A comb would have helped.
A haircut would have been better.
And I had two days of beard stubble
On my face.
My wife looked at me
From across the room.
Looks like a scrub brush.”
Simplify. Simplify.......So said Thoreau, and I think it’s good advice. After all, stuff and things need to be taken care of, which keeps us from more important matters of life. In time, all that stuff accumulates and becomes a burden; it needs to be cleaned and sorted and packed away. Then you come to realize that so much of your life is dominated by the continual process of managing your stuff.
Most people who accumulate eventually come to the conclusion that they need to purge the clutter in order to free themselves from the bondage. With that in mind, Marlene and I are finally making a serious attempt to clear out a lot of our unnecessary and burdensome possessions.
I started listing things on Ebay this last month, like that object in the picture above. It was a small (6” high) working model of a White Mountain hand-crank ice cream maker. Marlene bought it several years ago at a yard sale. She paid $6 for it because “it was cute.” It has been stored on a shelf in my shop ever since.
To our amazement, that little bit of clutter sold for $285.00
No kidding. I wish all the other junk we have to get rid of would sell for that much money!
It’s easy to sell a little ice cream maker like that, but harder to get rid of an old sweatshirt like this...
I wore that when I was a cute little feller (see last month’s Update). My father was a student at Bowdoin College when I was born in 1958. Had things worked out, I suppose I would have graduated in the Bowdoin class of 1980. But I didn’t. All I got from Bowdoin was the little sweatshirt.
My mother saved it, and then I saved it, all these years. Why? Someone else can analyze that. Will my children have an interest in the thing? No. Not at all.
So I’ll list it soon on Ebay. Who would buy a little 50-year-old Bowdoin sweatshirt with holes in it? You never know.
Then there are the books. I have way too many books (though not as many as some people). I figure at least 3/4 of my books can and should go. If I think they are worth more than $3 each, they will get listed on Ebay. If they don’t sell, I’ll donate them to the local library book sale.
Some of the books I’m parting with were my grandfather’s. He had lots of history books. I inherited the “history gene” from him. It’s not easy letting go of such volumes. But they are packed in boxes in my shop (not enough room in the house for them) and mice have invaded the boxes. I’ve not read most of my grandfather’s books anyway. And, sadly, my children have little to no interest in history books. Thus it is that many (but not all) of the books will be purged.
This simplifying of one’s life by eliminating excess clutter is often complicated by marriage. Marlene and I do not always see eye to eye on the subject of what is no longer needed.
Take, for example, the sealed 5-gallon bucket in my shop attic. It is full of letters we wrote to each other some 30 years ago. I was away at the Sterling School in Vermont, and she was going to community college back here in N.Y. We wrote each other almost every day of that school year. There was no e-mail and nobody had a cell phone back in those days. Pay phones were complicated and expensive to use for long distance calls. So we wrote each other, and all those letters are sealed in the bucket.
I say the bucket needs to go (No, I don’t want to sell it on Ebay). Marlene says we must keep it...for now. Will our children want these? Surely not. But I’m sure they might find them interesting to read. Such letters would be something of a curiosity. Perhaps our children would be amused—or even shocked—by what they read in the personal letters of their parents when we were so young and in love (maybe I would be shocked if I read them now). And that’s exactly why I think they need to go. But the bucket will survive this purging.
Homemade Vinegar UpdateIt has been six months since I made apple cider (using my Whizbang cider equipment), filled three one-gallon jars, tied a layer of porous cloth over the tops, and put them up on a shelf to ferment into vinegar. I wrote about it in my October 2009 Monthly Update and posted this picture:
One month later, in the November 2009 Update I posted the following picture, showing that natural fermentation had begun.
Those three jars have been up on that shelf ever since, and a week ago (approximately six months after I filled them) we took the jars down to siphon off the vinegar. Here is what the six-month-old vinegar looked like:
I suspect the vinegar has been done for some time, but we haven’t been in any hurry to check it. Only when it became noticeable that the liquid was evaporating off did we think we better tend to getting it out and into sealed jars. Here is a look down into the jars:
The material floating on the top of the vinegar was not very appealing to look at. We set the jars, one at a time, up on a couple plastic pails and used a hose to siphon the vinegar into a canning jar, as this next picture shows.
We filtered the vinegar through a coffee filter. But I don’t really think there was any need for this. It didn’t appear that the filter filtered anything out.
The bottom of the jars had a fine, reddish sediment which we tried not to siphon up. The gelatinous layer that was on the top of the vinegar stayed together. It is best described as "slimy" and “placenta-like”
We ended up with almost two gallons of golden cider vinegar. It is POTENT vinegar—a product far more virile and good-for-you than the grocery store stuff. Marlene will use it primarily to make oil&vinegar salad dressings, three-bean salads, and in chicken barbecue sauce. Sometimes Marlene will put a teaspoon of the vinegar in a glass of cold water and drink it. It’s supposed to be good for what ails you. (I've written in years past here of the amazing curative powers of "real" cider vinegar. Read it here.)
After years of thinking I should get a domain name and web site for my Whizbang chicken plucker, I finally got it done this last month. You can see it here: www.WhizbangPlucker.com
Whizbang Progress, And Not
Whizbang Progress, And Not
In last month's blog update here I had only a concept drawing of my new Whizbang T-Post Trellis Fitting. This month I have an actual picture (shown above). But the fitting is still not available to sell, as I had hoped it would be by now. I’ll have much more to say about this new product in the future.
The Whizbang Cider plan book has not been reprinted, as I had hoped it would be by now. But it is on track to be printed very soon. Remaining first-printing copies of the book are still on sale AT THIS LINK.
I was supposed to have 10” wide stirrup blade attachments ready this month for the Planet Whizbang wheel hoe, but they aren’t ready quite yet. I’ll be posting details at www.Planet Whizbang.com early next month (May 2010).
My Whizbang Books business is ten years old this year. It started with the plucker plan book and has grown considerably since then. Nevertheless, it’s remains a relatively small business that I operate out of my small home workshop, while still working a “regular” job.
I dream of having a larger place to house the enterprise and of coming home to work it full time, but I am very cautious. The economy is not good, my financial pockets are not deep, and I've tasted of business failure in the past. So I am letting the Whizbang business grow naturally and slowly.
Can You Hear Me Now?I don’t like talking on phones, and I especially do not like cell phones. But my wife and kids have the blasted things. I fully understand they are really handy and it is easy to justify owning one. But there is also ample justification for not owning one, or, at least, for using them very little if you do have one.
If you are a cell phone user, addicted to the incredible convenience of the device, you won’t want to “hear” what Christopher Ketcham had to say in an article he wrote for the recent issue of GQ magazine. But you really should. Here is the link: Warning: Your Cell Phone May be Hazardous to your Health
How Farmers Became Slaves
To The Industrial MastersIf you have read much of my writings here recently, you have read about the Texas historian, Walter Prescott Webb and his remarkable 1952 book titled, The Great Frontier (I wrote about Webb and The Great Frontier AT THIS LINK). This last month I found out that Mr. Webb self published a book back in 1937 titled Divided We Stand: The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy. I tracked down a copy of the book. It is somewhat outdated but still a worthwhile read.
I’ve written about Divided We Stand and posted a particularly good excerpt from it on a separate page of this blog. The excerpt tells the story of how the American farmer, once free and independent, was enslaved by the corporations, which is pretty much where most farmers find themselves today.
This story is no secret, but it may not be fully understood, and I feel strongly compelled to post it here on my blog. Here is the link: How Farmers Became Slaves To The Industrial Masters
Of Populism & The Tea Party Movement
Thomas Watson of Georgia was the People’s Party Candidate for President back in the late 1800s. The People’s Party was also known as the Populist Party.
I am currently slogging my way through a 1953 book titled, The Decline of Agrarian Democracy, by Grant McConnell. It's a compelling title for any deliberate agrarian, but I don’t recommend the book unless you have a keen interest in the minutia of early 20th century agricultural politics (which I have discovered that I don't). But the first chapter of the book is particularly insightful as it speaks about the Populist movement of the late 1800s.
Every so often you’ll hear a media talking head use the word “populist” to describe something or somebody in the news. The current "Tea Party" movement is often labeled as Populist. What many people may not realize is that Populism was originally an agrarian response to the freedom-destroying advance of corporate-industrial capitalism. Here is a quote from The Decline of Agrarian Democracy.
Populism was a movement before it became a political party. It was a popular movement and, more importantly, an agrarian movement. I t came near the end of the period in which the belief could still prevail, with some justification, that the common man was typically a farmer. According to the census of 1790 the nation’s population was 95 per cent rural; by the census of 1890 it was 64 per cent rural. During the hundred years that intervened, the assumption held that Everyman tilled the soil. The cause of the majority in nearly every instance was an agrarian cause. If the nation was a democracy, it was an agrarian democracy.
From the nation’s beginning to the end of the nineteenth century the character of the farmer’s active participation in political affairs was on the pattern of Populism, sporadic and explosive. For long periods of time he was quiescent, almost passive. The industrial advance and the steady commercialism of all phases of life went on relentlessly in these periods. Then, at regular intervals, when the industrial machine faltered and economic disaster came, the farmer rose and asserted his right to political consideration. His movements were always touched with passion and seemed temporarily to sweep all before them. To some, these interludes of agrarian fury were no more than febrile attempts to bilk the nation’s industrial destiny.
The following excerpt, from the same book, speaking of the Populist movement of over 100 years ago, seems apropos to the current “Tea Party” movement.
...[T]he atmosphere of Populism... combined a deep sense of outrage with a righteousness that could only come from long-standing religious certainty. Bitterness and hate were there too, and all the frustrations of undeserved and unexpected failure, which had descended, many felt, because of the greed of a few and the disastrous course of the business cycle. To some of the Populists, it was evident that the rapacity of corporations was the sole and adequate cause for the ills that beset men. Money and monopoly had usurped power throughout the land, and the common people were becoming slaves.
John Taylor of Caroline
And The Agrarian CourseAs I’ve pointed out here in the past, Thomas Jefferson believed that the American democratic republic he helped to create would be best preserved and strengthened by a population of independent farmers; that the sure foundation of continued liberty was found within the agrarian ideal.
Less well known is another agrarian-minded founder—John Taylor of Caroline (that's him pictured above). Here are a couple excerpts about Taylor from the first chapter of The Decline of American Democracy:
The best exponent of agrarian democracy in our history was Jefferson’s friend and political associate, John Taylor of Caroline. Taylor, like Jefferson a prosperous Virginia planter, was convinced of some inner moral light shining forth from the farmer’s way of life... He was far more clearly an agrarian.
Taylor, however, represented a great deal more than his own simple class interests. His great concern was rather with the “publick interest,” which he saw threatened by a small group of “aristocracies of interest.” The latter consisted of capitalists (a word used by Taylor) who were exploiting the rest of the nation through inflated public paper, bank stocks, and a protective tariff. By conquest and use of government power, the capitalists had fastened a new tyranny upon the common people, that is, upon farmers. The interests of a rising and powerful faction of a few rich men thus stood in direct opposition to the common interest; it was a class struggle between capitalists and agrarians.
The central problem was the power exercised by the newly risen class of exploiters. Its source was economic. No one had ever laid stronger emphasis on the economic base of political power in America than Taylor. His conception has remained basic in agrarian thought. This power, as Taylor saw it building in his own time, was rooted in the inequality that resulted from the capitalists’ rapid accumulation of wealth.
Taylor’s solution lay in restoring the nation to an agrarian course. With its apparently limitless expanses of unoccupied land, America could look forward to a unity of interest, and that an agrarian interest. With a nation of free and equal farmers, there need be no clash of factions, for there would be no diversity of economic interests. Such a society would have no great agglomeration of power, either public or private, to threaten tyranny. There would be no gross inequality. To ensure such a pattern, Taylor demanded expropriation of the exploiters and a thorough division of power, both aspects of the same thing.
Agrarian America DeclinesAmerica once was, but no longer is, an agrarian Republic. Why not? We can point to the rise of industrialism and corporate monopoly control but that is only part of the explanation. There was also the loss of the frontier, which I've discussed here a lot in recent months. This little-understood factor is mentioned in The Decline of American Democracy:
In the 1870’s, half the working population was engaged in agriculture. In the 1920’s the fraction dwindled to a quarter and less....
This shrinkage of the farming sector of the population was dramatic to a nation whose outlook was deeply rooted in agrarian tradition, but even more dramatic was the disappearance of once “inexhaustible” new lands of the continent-wide expanse. It was in 1893 that Frederick Jackson Turner noted the ending of the frontier...
In the twentieth century there was still land to be found, occupied, and cultivated. Yet the era of free or nearly free land was past. The vision of westward movement in quest of independence and a new life was henceforth without substance for more than a few of the nation’s farmers...
The frontier provided much of that connection between democracy and agrarianism which has been so nearly peculiar to America—how much it would be difficult to say. Nevertheless, the time arrived when this presupposition of the historic agrarian democracy—cheap abundant land—became invalid; from this time onward, the problem of agrarian democracy became more difficult.
Agrarian American RenaissanceSo it is that the lack of abundant (and free) frontier land, along with the rise of industrialism and the domination of corporate capitalism has radically altered this once-agrarian nation.
The Republic, founded on agrarian ideals of diversified, family-scale agriculture, personal responsibility & economic independence, along with a healthy distrust of big government, is now history (though there is still a healthy distrust of big government).
Can America ever be an agrarian Republic again? Barring a significant collapse of the economy, communication, transportation and corporate/government control, America-at-large will never return to agrarianism. It’s the furthest thing from most people’s minds.
As discussed here in past months, I happen to believe such a collapse is possible and probable. That said, I don’t consider myself an alarmist or a survivalist, and I happen to have great hope in the future, regardless of any collapse that may or may not play itself out in my lifetime.
The way I see it, agrarian America is gone, but people who understand the wisdom of this way of life and feel the conviction still have the ability to pursue it.... deliberately.
Agrarian-minded people choose the harder way, the slower way, the simpler way, and content themselves with less. Such a choice and such a life is completely contrary to the sweep and surge and of modern life. Moderns look at agrarian life as quaint and interesting, but not something that anyone in their right mind would take seriously.
Nevertheless, agrarian life is the historical norm. Industrial life is not. And in these days of uncertainty, amidst economic crisis and societal transition, I submit to you that pursuing the agrarian lifestyle is one of the most positive things an individual or family can do. Indeed, it is the stubborn, ideological countercultural convictions of such a dedicated minority, lived and modeled, humbly and sincerely, that can make a profound difference—not on the world stage, but within the small circles of local community, and personal relationships.
Of course, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I see agrarianism like I’ve just described it as meshing perfectly with my biblically-based beliefs.
Understanding The CorporationI didn’t used to have a thing in the world against the idea of corporations. But that was because I had no historical perspective and no understanding of the monster.
Walter Prescott Webb’s book, Divided We Stand, does not look kindly on corporations. Professor Webb explains that the rise of corporate control has resulted in the decline of personal freedom and independence. He provides some background into how this came to be with the ratification of the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution.
Webb asserts (as have other historians) that the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to freed slaves after the War of Northern Aggression, was intentionally and nefariously worded by the drafting committee. Later, corporation lawyers (one of which was on the drafting committee) argued that the wording of the Amendment also guaranteed "personhood" to corporations.
In time, the corporation's lawyers managed to get the Supreme court to agree that corporations were "persons" under the Constitution. In so doing, corporations acquired immunity from taxation and regulation by the individual states. How the corporations finagled this unusual status is, in the words of Webb, "..a revelation of the most amazing transmogrification known to political science."
[transmogrify: verb. to change into different shape or form, esp. one that is fantastic or bizarre.]
I've taken the liberty of posting a lengthy excerpt on a separate blog page from Divided We Stand, in which Professor Webb tells the transmogrifying story. In it, he also teaches a wonderful fundamental lesson about what the Constitution is all about. I recommend this story to all freedom-loving Americans. Here is the link: The Dirty little Secret of How Corporations Became "Persons"
Jax Hamlin's Newest Chicken Art
Ol' Jax Hamlin has been plenty busy this past month. But he still managed to create another work of whimsical chicken art. The limited edition original shown here (limited to only 50 copies) will, however, not be available for sale until next month.