On this day, the last of January, 52 years ago, I was born. My mother once told me I was a forceps delivery. So, it turns out I was pulled (with an instrument of cold steel clamped on my head), kicking and screaming into this world. She referred to me as a “poor little thing” because I was left so bruised by the rough handling.
My father was then a student at Bowdoin College in Maine. He would go on to Tufts medical school in Boston and, like his father before him (also a Bowdoin graduate), distinguish himself as a doctor.
I wonder... what hopes and dreams and expectations did my parents have for the battered little me so many years ago? Did they suppose I would go on to graduate from Bowdoin too? Surely they would not have imagined that I would barely graduate from high school, go into the building trades, and eventually distinguish myself for writing a book that tells people how to make their own chicken plucking machine. Life is funny like that.
Well, silly me. I was wrong.
I was hoping to be playing Shady Grove like Doc Watson by now but (and it pains me to admit this) I can’t even play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I am an utter failure as a banjo player.
I now realize more fully that people who play the banjo particularly well—people like the Bartlett boys up in North Dakota, or Chris Saenz in Kentucky, or Ricky Skaggs, wherever he lives—are musical geniuses.... and I am not. Clearly, these people were not delivered with forceps.
I am cognizant of Thomas Edison’s famous quip that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Such insight—from a man who was labeled as “addled” by his grade school teacher—has been a ray of hope to me for many years. I’ve never been averse to hard work. I am persistent. And I’m sure some have thought me addled too, though they would not have used that particular term. But, I ask you, could Thomas Edison play banjo? I doubt it.
Truth be told, when spring rolled around last year, I laid my banjo aside, focusing instead on the work of my garden, and my home, and of selling chicken plucker parts to people who read my book.
However, on rare occasions, I will take my banjo out of its case, tune it up, pluck the strings for a half hour or so, and marvel—not only at the beautiful tones that come from precisely tightened lengths of wire, but at the incredible ability of some people to make intelligent and beautiful music come from such a simple instrument.
Hambone & HarmonicaNot only am I musically inept, I’m also woefully ignorant of musical things in general. For example I never realized that slapping your hands on your body in rhythm was referred to as playing the “hambone.” And this “instrument” can be downright fascinating to watch, as you will see in this YouTube clip.
So I did some more looking around and found This Classic Hambone Performance From an old episode of HeeHaw.
And it turns out that some really talented people can play hambone and sing... at the same time.
(Check it out Here)
Robert E. Lee’s Perspective on The Future
I’m an admirer of Robert E. Lee—so much so that I named one of my sons Robert E. Lee Kimball. So I was delighted to read the following quote from the great Southern general and Christian believer in Franklin Sanders’ daily e-mail report. This perspective is something for us all to keep in mind:
"In spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair the future? The truth is this: the march of Providence is so slow, our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense, & our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope."
Robert E. Lee These Days
On the weekends he cuts loose with his four wheeler. I can’t stand the noisy thing, but the kids have fun with it, as the picture above attests. And the machine has been a real learning experience, as Robert has rebuilt the engine a couple of times.
The Honeybee-Evolution Conundrum
But anyone who has honestly looked at the evolution perspective understands that evolutionary science is as faith-based as creation science. I’m inclined to think it takes more faith to believe in evolution than to believe in creation, and honeybees are a case in point. It takes a whole lot of creative “scientific” theory to make honeybee evolution work. Here’s what I mean (this involves a bit of introduction)...
Honeybees function and thrive only in a colony. You can not keep a single bee as a pet. It will die. It must be part of the colony, and within a colony of 50,000 or so bees, there are three distinct kinds of bees.
Worker Bees: Worker bees do virtually all the work of the colony. They gather nectar and pollen, make honey, feed and nurture the young, protect the hive, and much more. These worker bees do everything except reproduce. They can not and do not lay eggs that become the next generation of bees.
Drone Bees: Drones are the male bees. There may be a couple thousand drones in a colony. Drones do none of the work of the hive. Their only purpose they serve is to mate with the queen when this is needed.
Queen Bee: A healthy bee colony has one single queen bee. She is a female with reproductive capacity. In fact, the queen’s only purpose in life it to be bred by one or more drones in a single mating flight early in her life, then to spend the rest of her years laying eggs that will be the next generations of workers and drones. She will also lay the egg that becomes her replacement. That is all the queen bee does. And despite the title of queen, she is not in charge of the hive (science can not account for the pervasive controlling “instinct” that guides the colony).
Now, knowing all that, the conundrum arises: How can evolution possibly apply to honeybees when there is no genetic transference between the worker bees (those that do almost all the various tasks of the hive) and the next generation?
Restated: Faith-based evolution explains to its acolytes that many small, favorable, genetic changes (i.e., mutations) that occur in a species are passed to the next generation, again and again, over millions and millions of years, adding up to big changes in the organism and its ability to survive (survival of the fittest). But this just doesn’t hold water with honeybees because if there were favorable genetic mutations in the female worker bee, it is impossible for these to be passed on because the female workers do not lay eggs.
I heard this explained once when I was a teenager (a long time ago), have read nothing about it since, and could not find any information about it on the internet. Only now, as I’ve been reading about beekeeping, has it “popped up” in my thinking.
My new unit is also a Nissan Sentra. It is a 2002 with low mileage (146,000). I paid a bit more than $600 for it but not much. The important thing was that I was able to pay cash, and that’s a good feeling.
My new car is a sedan, which means I’ll be able to cram more stuff more easily in the back seat. I use my car for getting to and from work every day and for hauling things that I used to haul with a pickup (years ago). I like my “new” car but it is way too quiet, and it’s a boring gray color.
So Little Red is for sale. She’s rusty, and rattles driving down the road, and the sunroof leaks, and the dvd player doesn’t play, and it still doesn’t have a fifth gear, and it’s really loud (but it sounds really cool). My family can hear me coming home from a mile away. Here’s a look under the hood:
Make me an offer :-)
Planet Whizbang Garden Tote
I decided to make a nice garden tote for Marlene. It is pictured above with some Copra onions from last year’s garden.
I actually made four other totes before I got to the design shown above. And there will be a couple more minor modifications to the design before I’m satisfied and ready to officially reveal this new product to the world.
The tote is a simple, practical homestead tool that is built to last for a good many years. These totes are attractive and useful and would make a fine gift for any countrywoman on your gift list.
I even think an enterprising person with the tools and skills could make these totes and sell them for a reasonable profit at farm markets and craft shows.
If you are halfway handy, you can just look at the picture and make your own garden tote, but my plans will provide you with and intelligent approach to easily and successfully get the project done—one that guarantees you a very nice finished product made with a minimum of trouble.
[Update: April 2014—The tote plans are now available at This Link]
—More Yeoman Furniture—
My Shaker-inspired towel rack is made entirely of common 3/4” pine. It has a layer of red milk paint with a layer of black over it. Then it was sanded and sealed with linseed oil. I intend to give it a few coats of spar varnish. The rails are secured to the upright posts with pegged mortise and tenons. Here is a close up:
The bottom looks like a block of solid wood (as the Shakers would have used)...
...but it is really just hollow 3/4” pine and I put some lead weights inside:
A few years ago my family visited Hancock Shaker village in Massachusetts. There is a room with several informative displays where you can read about the Shakers before going into the village. Most people breeze through this area because it takes some time to read the information. But I stayed and read.
I’ll never forget standing in front of an old drawing showing the Shakers doing their worship dance. As I was reading about their religious beliefs and outward expressions of worship, a family was standing behind me. The mother read the same information that I was reading, but she read it out loud to her husband and children. After she was done reading, I’ll never forget her comment: “Wow. That is sooo...(long pause while she thinks about the right word to use)...Satanic.”
Here is an excerpt from “Making Authentic Shaker Furniture.”
The incongruity of sober, orderly and industrious individuals, so completely cutting loose in the guise of worship, defies explanation. For once their Sunday ceremonies started, all inhibitions of their everyday lives seemed to escape in wild outbursts of song and dance with overtones of the mystical fanaticism which was part of their religious worship.That sounds like a blend of hyper-Pentecostalism and Spiritualism. I have read elsewhere that Spiritualism (which was in vogue during the mid 1800s, as I mentioned in last month’s blog essay) was, indeed, integrated into the Shaker belief system. They tended to adopt different ideas, and their theology underwent changes over the years. But they sure did make some nice furniture.
While, later on, the Shaker dances and rituals were rehearsed and became more formalized, the fanatical nature of their worship was laced with hallucinogenic apparitions and a sort of spiritualism which seemed to induce mass hysteria. They joined in emotional outbursts of prayer for salvation and violent denunciations of the devil who lurked in the “outside world.” They exhibited their “gifts” of song and movement as well as the “gift of tongues” which enabled them to sing in unknown languages and conduct mumbled conversations with St. Peter, John the Baptist, Mother Ann, and even General George Washington.
Some Investment AdviceAn investment is something you put money, time, or other capital into with the intention and expectation that a benefit of greater value will eventually be realized. Most people, when they think of investment advice, think only of money and ways of making their money make more money. I’m not qualified to give you that kind of advice because I’m not a successful investor in that way. But I would like to offer one bit of investment advice that I have been successful at. Here it is.....
Grow a garden. Many of you reading this already have gardens and I don’t have to tell you about this. But you may consider what follows as a midwinter pep talk (perhaps you’ll want to grow a bigger garden). In any event, here are the benefits that investing in some seeds and plants and tools, and focusing on growing your own food will bring:
Food— A few seeds, planted in the ground and carefully husbanded, will yield a LOT of food. This is God’s economy in action. Since it would otherwise cost you money to buy food, you are, in a sense, growing money when you grow a garden. And this is an economic benefit that you can enjoy in the midst of economic inflation, deflation, prosperity, or a total crash.
Good Food— When you grow your own food, it is fresher and more wholesome than what you can buy in a store. And it’s not mystery food from who-knows-where. It’s food you can trust to be good in a world full of food you can not trust.
Security— People who grow their own food (even just some of their own food) have a measure of personal security that those who do not garden will never have. Don’t be one of the helpless masses of non-gardeners.
Exercise— People with sedentary modern jobs spend a lot of money on exercise club memberships trying to make up for their lack of physical activity and keep their bodies in shape. Gardening provides you with an excellent opportunity for free outdoor exercise: digging, hoeing, hilling and so on. For a little exercise, grow a little garden. For a lot of exercise, grow a lot of garden.
Sunshine— Most moderns don’t get enough sunshine and that’s unhealthy. Then there are the legions of people who spend money getting an artificial tanning-booth tan. Save the money. Garden. Get a real tan.
Satisfaction— Modern men, women, and children are conditioned by the media (in collusion with the industrial providers) to be dissatisfied unless they can buy the newest so-called convenience or nifty gadget, which is soon broken or outdated or familiar and less satisfying. So we pursue the acquisition of so much material stuff, again and again, even though we know the satisfaction from these things is fleeting.
Genuine satisfaction rarely comes from buying something. True satisfaction comes when we pursue an objective that is constructive, productive, and creative, using our minds and our hands. This kind of satisfaction comes when you plant a seed, nurture it into food, harvest it, and eat it. Your body and, in a sense, your soul are both nourished by homegrown food.
Wonder, Beauty, Excitement— A simple garden has more wonder and beauty in it than any movie or video game or museum or cheap thrill that is offered by the industrialized culture. Agri-culture is your ticket to partake in the awesomeness of God’s creation.
My One Gardening Book Recommendation
Over the years I have bought all kinds of gardening books. I have gardening books by Eliot Coleman, John Jeavons, Mel Bartholomew, Leandre Poisson, Dick Raymond, Reader’s Digest, and others. All of them are good in their own way. But last year I bought a copy of Steve Solomon’s, Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times.
Steve Solomon, founder of the Territorial Seeds company, has an approach to gardening (based on decades of experience) that is down to earth, which means it is simple, practical, and intelligent. Last year around this time I mentioned "Gardening When it Counts" and posted several excerpts from the book. You can read them at this link: Gardening Bits For Hard Times
In my gardening bits essay, I mention Steve Solomon’s Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) recipe. Last spring I bought the ingredients for this fertilizer in bulk. They were all at my local agricultural supply store and, except for the kelp meal, everything was relatively cheap.
I mixed the proportions and used the fertilizer in my garden and I can tell you that I was very pleased with the results. I have enough COF left over to use in my garden again this year, and maybe even the following. Give Solomon’s methods and his COF a try and I think you’ll be pleased too.
A Home-Based Seed Company RecommendationWe bought most of our garden seeds this year from Wood Prairie Farm up in Bridgewater, Maine (population 612). The Gerritsen family has been farming organically there for over 30 years. They happen to live a short way down the road from my mother’s sister (Aunt Irene). I’ve written here before of this family farm in my essay titled: Aroostook’s Wood Prairie Farm.
What I happen to like about their seed selection is that it is limited. There are not so many mind-boggling choices. But the seeds being offered strike me as exceptionally fine varieties. Unfortunately, some seeds were sold out by the time I ordered.
Even if you have your garden seeds, or you decide to buy somewhere else, I suggest that you click on the link above and check out everything that Wood Prairie Farm offers, especially if you have aspirations of having your own successful farm or homestead business. Wood Prairie appears to be another exemplary farm, which is to say, a fine example of a small family farm that is surviving and thriving when so many small farms in the countryside are not.
Edison’s advice comes to mind—This hard working farm family is doing an exceptional job of marketing their diversified line of wholesome products, and they are doing it from all the way up in Northern Maine. One thing I was surprised to see is that Wood Prairie sells root crops by mail through the winter months.
Potato Pickin’ POWs
My mother grew up the daughter of a Potato farmer in Aroostook County Maine. As a girl, she picked potatoes. Just about every kid up there picked potatoes during harvest time. They would pick the potatoes off the ground into baskets and then carry the baskets to the end of the row and dump into a wooden barrel. They would be paid by the barrel. The public school would be shut down for a couple weeks so kids could help get the harvest in. It was long, hard, cold work, but it was work done in community and it is a part of that culture that is now virtually gone. Too bad.
With that in mind, my mother once told me that she remembered German prisoners of war helping to pick potatoes. I recently found the above picture that shows two such POWs in 1945. My mom would have been 10 years old when that picture was taken.
The picture came from the web site at Maine Memory Network. By the way, I’ve heard it said that Maine is a small town spread out over a large state. I like that.
The following YouTube video does an exceptional job of telling the story of raising potatoes in Aroostook county, and it also shows the Wood Prairie operation:
Further Insights Into The Pilgrim Story
In my teen years I spent a good portion of two summer vacations at a rustic little camp (no electricity or running water) on a small pond not far from Plymouth, Massachusetts. During that time I became better acquainted with the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims who landed and settled in Plymouth in the winter of 1620.
As a result, I developed a special regard for these brave and devoted Christian separatists. Later on I attended a series of lectures by Peter Marshall, co-author of The Light and the Glory: 1492-1793 (God's Plan for America). Then I found out from my Grandmother Kimball, keeper of the family history, that I am a Mayflower descendent.
Many Americans claim such lineage and it is not an outlandish thing because it has been calculated that more than 35 million Americans are, indeed, Mayflower descendants. It should be noted that not all the passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims, so it is possible to be a Mayflower descendant and not a Pilgrim descendant. Whatever the case, there is a good chance that your kin and mine shared in the adventure and tragedy of that amazing time in America’s history.
And so it was with great anticipation and interest that I read the book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick this last month. The book drew me, not only for its subject matter, but for its author. My mother was a Philbrick of New England ancestry.
“Mayflower” turned out to be an exceptionally fine historical narrative. In fact, I found it riveting. If you have an interest in Pilgrim history, you must read this book. You’ll learn many things you did not know about the Pilgrim story. But I must warn you—some of it will disappoint.
The historical account begins with who the Pilgrims were and why they fled to America. Philbrick aptly presents the incredible hardship and providential events (though he does not attribute them to Providence) that the dedicated Believers encountered on their way to Plymouth, and in the beginning years of the colony. Then the book goes into the story of the Pilgrim/indian relations and culminates with a fascinating chronicle of King Philip’s War, which, hitherto, I knew almost nothing about.
You may already know that the original Pilgrim settlers made a peace treaty with the indian sachem, Massasoit, of the Pokanoket tribe (later known as the Wampanog), and that this peace treaty lasted for more than 50 years. But you may not realize that the Pokanokets were only one tribe among many in the Cape Cod area, and Pilgrim relations with these other tribes was not always rosy.
In one particularly fascinating part of the book the story is told of the Pilgrims, led by their military leader, Miles Standish, making a preemptive military move against an unfriendly tribe to the north. They had heard that this tribe intended to attack another English (not Pilgrim) settlement, then sweep down to Plymouth.
Standish and his small band of Pilgrims lured two indian warrior leaders (with the invitation of a meal) into a building in the English settlement. Once the indians sat down to the meal, Standish grabbed a knife that was around the neck of one warrior (the leader) and proceeded to stab him. While Standish and the indian fought it out, the other Pilgrim men fell on the other indian. Both indians were killed.
The story goes that the indian Standish killed had boasted to him the day before that he would one day kill Standish with the knife around his neck. The indian had taken it from a French sailor who he had killed. Though the indian was much bigger than Standish (a noticeably short man) Standish was a stocky bulldog of a man who wasn’t afraid of a fight.
The Pilgrims brought the severed heads of the two indians back to Plymouth and mounted them on poles for all other indians to see. This image doesn’t seem to fit with the usual image of the Pilgrims, and the event was a matter of great concern to their spiritual leader, Pastor John Robinson.
As for King Philip’s War (which occurred many years after the preceding incident), it turns out that King Philip was an indian sachem, the son of Massasoit. He led an indian uprising against the sons and grandsons of the original Pilgrim settlers in June of 1675. For the next 14 months all of southern New England was involved in the brutal, bloody war (with lots of head severing).
Philbrick says it was one of the most horrendous wars ever fought in North America, and that comes across pretty clear in the book. Large numbers of English settlers (8% of the population) and indians died. Captured indians were kept as “servants” or sold as slaves and shipped off to sugar plantations.
Out of the drama of the conflict emerged a remarkable historical figure named Benjamin Church, who is described by Philbrick as “part Pilgrim, part mariner, part indian, and altogether his own.” Single-handedly, Church made allies with various indians (an option the Pilgrim and Puritan forces refused to consider—until Church proved it could work), and led them in an unconventional but successful campaign against King Philip.
Mayflower is certainly not a mythologizing eulogy to the Pilgrim era of American history. It is a gritty and human account of gritty and enigmatically human people struggling with circumstances like you and I will never know. It’s worth noting that the historical account is one man’s historical interpretation of events that took place some 350 years ago. So some of the story, like all such stories, is undoubtedly inaccurate and incomplete. Nevertheless, it is clear that the book was very well researched and, though Philbrick is a secular author, his account is probably as honest and fair-minded as you’ll find. I recommend this book to you.
We Discover Road To Avonlea
My thanks to D.A. reader Carmen in North Carolina who wrote to tell me about the television series
Marlene and I have now watched several episodes. We are enjoying them very much on these cold winter evenings, and look forward to seeing them all.
The show focuses on a rural community in turn-of-the-century Prince Edward Island (not too far from Aroostook County Maine). The scenery is beautiful and that is as endearing as some of the characters, particularly the adult actors like Olivia King, Gus Pike and Rachel Linde, who are my favorites.
This is probably old news to most of you reading this, but if some of you, like me, have never seen Road to Avonlea, I recommend it to you. If you like Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons, you will like Road to Avalon—though it is quite different from those programs.
This particular letter was written by Newton “to a fellow minister who was preparing to write an article criticizing another minister for his lack of orthodoxy.” Here are two quotes from Newton:
“There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we think often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.”
“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”
Mathson writes: “Regarding our own hearts, Newton observes that we must contend for the faith, but he also observes that very few writers of controversy have not been hurt by it.” He quotes from Newton’s letter again (and this is the main point I want to present to you):
“Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and the immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?”
.....My Eric Sloane Print.....
Among artists, I’m fond of Eric Sloane, who also wrote many books. I’ve written of Sloane here before in my essay titled: The Christian Agrarian "Awareness" of Eric Sloane. and Diary of an Early American Boy.
Back in late 2008, with the economy at large crashing all around, I went to Ebay and looked (as I often do) for Eric Sloane prints. I knew from previous searches that signed prints by Eric Slaone typically sold for several hundred dollars. As a result, I never bought one. Spending that much money for an art print is not something I’ve ever done and not something I’m likely to ever do. So I window shop.
But, lo and behold, there was a signed Sloane print and the bid was less than $100. It was an artist’s proof of a painting I had seen before and always liked. The print was part of an estate and had never been framed (it has a price of $250 penciled on a back corner). I placed a bid, assuming that I would be outbid, but , amazingly, I wasn’t. All I can think is that all the other Sloane aficionados out there were preoccupied with the economy and hesitant to part with the money.
So I now have this “rare” Eric Sloane signed print and part of me says, “sell it.” But, on the other hand, another part of me says, “enjoy it.” I think I’ll probably enjoy it. I just need to make a frame for it and get a mat cut, and one of these days I’ll get to it. I’ll show you the whole thing then.
I have related this story to you as a lead-in to another idea that I’ve had in my mind for some time, and I finally got around to doing it this month....
How To Make Your Own Eric Sloane Forgery
I have been meaning to draw an Eric Sloane forgery for years. I reasoned that I would never be able to afford an actual Eric Sloane drawing, so I would just make my own. Sloane was adept at painting, but he was a master with a simple black pen on white paper. It so happens that pen and ink drawings are very easy to copy.
I have an old paperback copy of Eric Slaone’s book, “Our Vanishing Landscape.” The first page has a pen and ink illustration that I really like and I decided that would be a fine illustration for my first forgery. The final result, pictured above, took me an hour to “draw.” I bought an inexpensive mat and frame and had the genuine pen and ink drawing on my wall in no time. And I’m well pleased with it.
Which brings to mind my comments about real satisfaction that I penned earlier in this essay. Nice as that “rare” signed print I bought is, the simple handcrafted Eric Sloane forgery I made myself is far more satisfying to me.
If you could see this original work of art up close I think you would be impressed. Now I’ll tell you how to make your own forgery. It’s really easy.
The illustration in the book was fairly small. I wanted my version to be bigger, as I’m sure Slaone’s original was. So I took the book to a copy store and enlarged the drawing on a photocopy machine. Then I simply placed a clean sheet of white parchment paper over the photocopy and traced with a good pen. Here’s a picture that tells the story;
Hens and roosters are wonderful subjects for a budding artist to capture, and that’s me—a budding artist. But as I’ve been considering this idea, I’ve decided that I will pursue my professional career as a chicken artist through the fictitious personage of my friend and neighbor (and, perhaps, something of an alter ego) “Jax” Hamlin.
Mr. Hamlin is an interesting older fellow and he has a local reputation hereabouts as a chicken artist. I’ll have a web site telling the unique story of Jax and how he came to draw chickens. I will broker limited edition originals for my friend through sales on Ebay and the web site.
If all of this sounds a bit zany, that’s because it is. But I’m serious about the chicken art, and am devoting my abilities to this esoteric pursuit almost every day. The way I look at it, if I’m not talented enough to learn to play a banjo, then I’ll be a chicken artist. Marlene is a little concerned about me but it’s okay. I was, after all, a forceps delivery. ;-)
If all goes as I hope, this idea will launch next winter.