The Deliberate Agrarian Update
30 September 2010

Our 2010 Flock of Chicken Gizzards

September was a fine month. With excessive heat and humidity pretty much behind us, I felt more energized, which is good because cooler nights are a signal that it's time to get the firewood split and stacked. That’s man’s work around here. Meanwhile, Marlene has been busy with canning—mostly tomatoes. This year she made ketchup for the first time, and we are well pleased with it. No more factory-made ketchup for us. We have achieved ketchup freedom.
Marlene also made another fine batch of sauerkraut with some of our homegrown cabbages. She makes it in a large (2-gallon), clear, crock-like jar in the corner of the kitchen where we can keep an eye on it. The process of shredded cabbage and salt fermenting itself into sauerkraut is not very attractive. There is a bubbly scum that forms on the top. And an unpleasant odour surrounds the jar at times. But in the end (after about three weeks, in this instance), when the kraut is brought forth, it is something special—firm, crunchy, tangy and good.

We bought ten face cords of seasoned firewood from the same neighbor we have bought firewood from for many years. Total cost was $450. It will be enough to supply our woodstove and keep our home warm through the cold days to come. What could be more simple, dependable and satisfying than firewood in a woodstove to heat one’s house? This is how we have done it for the past 25 years.

If you have the internet capability to watch YouTube movies, check out This Short Excerpt from a 1977 documentary about Helen & Scott Nearing. Scott would be around 94 years old in the movie and he’s still splitting firewood to heat their home. I hope I’ll be able to do that if I make it to that age!

This season of the year also generates within me a compulsion to read. Perhaps it is the shorter days and darkness coming earlier in the evenings.

I’ve heard that Teddy Roosevelt read one book a day for many years, even during his presidency. Another source stated that he read 500 books a year. That’s more than one a day and that’s a voracious reader for you. Yet Teddy wasn’t a bookish nerd. He was a man’s man; a proponent of the vigorous life.

Of course, Teddy (born in 1858) grew up in an era without television, movies, internet, iPhones, computer games, texting, and so on. Reading was, among other things, a form of entertainment.

Kids today don’t read like they once did—they are too captivated with so much visual media. My own sons have fallen into this cultural snare. They would rather watch a movie than read a book. It grieves me. 

This subject of reading brings to mind a conversation I had with Ron Sampson a few years ago. Ron was an old timer who ran a secondhand store in a little rural town not far from me. “Ron’s Corner Store”  was in a large old, clapboard building on main street and the place was crammed with used furniture, glassware, tools and books—stuff like that.

Ron once told Marlene and me that his best customers were the many Amish families that have moved into the area in recent years. He joked that some people called his place “Ron’s Amish Wal Mart.” Anyway, Ron told us he was amazed at the number of used books his Amish customers bought. “They’re big readers!” he said.

“What kind of books do they buy?” I asked.

“All kinds.”

It is my understanding that Amish children are schooled to eighth grade. That’s it. By modern standards, the Amish are not a very educated people. Yet, as a culture, if Ron’s observation is correct, the Amish are voracious readers. It’s my opinion that if you can read, and you love to read, and you are curious to learn about the world around you, you will educate yourself better than any government school can educate you. And you will certainly be educated better than the visual media will educate you. 

In the case of the Amish, it helps that they deliberately choose to live without all the visual media of our popular culture. Don’t let that eighth grade education fool you. 

It looks like I’m beginning this month with a rambling discourse. So be it....

There is a new Christian and agrarian blog. It is called Reformed Yeoman. Please check it out, and if you like what you read, perhaps you could post a note of encouragement to Christopher Patton, or sign up as a follower of his blog. 

Michael Bunker has posted a decent historical overview of how the once-dominant agrarian economic system gave way to a mercantile economy (Read it Here). In time, the mercantile economy gave way to the industrial economy. He points out in his podcast that both mercantilism and industrialism are flawed social and economic systems. It looks to me like the flaws of industrialism are as clear as the daily news and stock market reports. Here’s a quote from around the end of Michael’s commentary:

”The organizing principle of [the] modern American economic system is consumption—greed covetousness and consumption. It’s impossible for that to continue for very long. You cannot consume yourself to prosperity, but temporarily. It’s a Ponzi scheme. Eventually the middle class disappears ... and revolution ensues.”
Our dog, Annie, passed away in September. She was 14 years old, lame, deaf, and going blind. She was a pound mongrel that we got as a pup, and as fine a dog as I’ve ever known. The man who drilled our well years ago, an avid coon hunter, told us he thought Annie was part Cur. It was the first I had ever heard of a Cur dog. After doing some internet research I concluded that when Annie passed on, we would replace her with a yellow Blackmouth Cur. Such dogs were common to the working homesteads of early America—real country dogs. Our plan is to get a Blackmouth Cur pup in the spring.

I had a dream a week ago that has been stuck in my brain ever since. I was in my stepfather’s barn—part of the property Marlene and I bought this year. The barn fell down a long time ago and all that remains is some rotted wood and rusty metal junk, with a laid-up stone foundation wall on the back side. In my dream it was impressed upon me that I should look in the southwest corner of the barn, in the stone wall or in the ground. In my dream I was encouraged (by who or what I do not know) to search that area because there is a cache of something valuable there—so valuable that it will be enough for us to be able to afford to buy a section of  land. But in this dream I did not search. I was only directed to the spot and encouraged to search. Then I woke up.

I don’t usually put much stock in dreams. But, then again, I don’t usually remember the dreams I’ve dreamed, and this one stuck. Crazy as it sounds, I think I’m going to take a shovel and a digging bar and follow up on this thing sometime in the month of October. I’ll let you know what I find. 

I heard that Oprah Winfrey once gave a new car to every member of her television audience. Well, I can’t do something like that (I don’t think my dream treasure will be that significant) but I do have a surprise for you—something unusual and special. It is something that I’m sure you do not already have. And I’m also sure that no other blogger IN THE WORLD has ever given this to his or her readers. In fact, I’m quite certain that no one else in the world has even CONCEIVED of making, let alone giving, such a gift as I will give you in this month’s blog. 

Yes, it is agrarian, but that’s all I can say for now. I will present this gift to you at the end of this month’s blog installment (no peeking). Just remember... it’s the thought that counts. :-)

Whizbang Cider on YouTube

My thanks to Nick LaDieu for posting a review of my Whizbang cidermaking system on YouTube (if you watch the movie, please give Nick a thumbs up on it). Also, Nick has written about the Whizbang press at, which is a web site you should check out. I am really inspired by How To Build A Traditional Clay Oven at

Anticipating Chicken Gizzards
As mentioned in last month’s blog post I decided that this would be the year my family stops tossing out organ meats when we harvest our annual flock of meat birds (that’s them in the picture up top of this page). 

My primary objective was to save the gizzards and prepare them like my clam-bake-catering friend does. His name is Chris and he learned how to do clambakes and cook gizzards from a guy named “Smokey.” Fact is, Chris started working for Smokey when he was only 12 years old. That was four decades ago. Smokey died some years back and Chris took the business over.

I’ve been thinking about chicken gizzards a lot since last month. I’ve been thinking that gizzards are a versatile organ meat, and there are all kinds of ways you could prepare ‘em. You could barbecue ‘em, boil ‘em, broil ‘em, bake ‘em, sauté’ em. Then there’s  gizzard-kabobs, gizzard creole, gizzard gumbo. Pan fried gizzards, deep fried gizzards, stir-fried gizzards. Or how about pineapple gizzards (or even pineapple upside down gizzards), lemon gizzards, coconut gizzards, pepper gizzards, gizzard soup, gizzard stew, gizzard salad, gizzards and potatoes, gizzard burger, gizzard sandwich, spaghetti and gizzards, gizzard pizza.....
But first you have to harvest the gizzards, so to speak, and that’s what my youngest son, James, and I did a couple weeks ago. We processed 25 chickens in just under three hours. It helps when you have a Whizbang chicken plucker and an automatic Whizbang chicken scalder, and a nice outdoor sink as I’ve shown and written about in This Old Essay. By the way, James was 11 in that essay. Now I understand he is about to turn 16.... and get a driver’s permit!

I saved the gizzards, hearts and livers, I also saved a few feet for chicken feet soup. After the chickens were all packed into a cooler of cold water, awaiting disassembly and freezer packaging, I turned my attention to the gizzards...

That’s me with a gizzard. I’m comfortably seated in front of the sink, scraping fat off the gizzards, then cutting them open...

Inside the gizzards you will find chicken feed and small stones and whatever other hard little bits the birds might have pecked off the ground and eaten. If you raise your birds in a chicken tractor on the front lawn, as we do, the critters will have grass in their gizzards too. Do you think those factory-raised chickens in the supermarket ever had a blade of grass in their gizzards? Not a chance. Do you think that chickens that don't eat grass are as good for you as those that do? Not a chance.

After cutting the gizzards open and rinsing out the contents, it is necessary to remove the tough yellow lining inside the organ. This isn’t hard to do. Once you get it peeled up along the edge at one spot, it pretty much peels right off. Then, after a final rinse, the gizzard is ready to cook.

Smokey’s Gizzard Recipe

I let the chicken gizzards age in the fridge for four days. Aging is supposed to help tenderize meat and I figured my gizzards needed all the tenderizing help they could get. Then I proceeded to cook and prepare the meat according to Smokey’s gizzard recipe. Keep in mind that my friend Chris, protégé of Smokey, has cooked and served literally TONS of gizzards to folks in these parts over the years, and people love ‘em.

First, put your gizzards in a pot, cover with water and boil. How long? until they’re tender. Chris’s exact instructions to me were: “Boil the hell out of ‘em for a couple hours until they’re tender.”

Not wanting any hell in my gizzards, I boiled them for a long time. Once I got them going, I actually forgot about them for awhile. Then I remembered about 1-1/2 hours later and pulled one out of the pot. It was pale and rubbery looking but my not-very-sharp knife sliced through that thing like it was going through a stick of butter. Chris told me boiling is the way to get gizzards tender and he was right.

Next, I got a couple onions and a green pepper out of our garden and chopped them up. In a frying pan I sautéd the vegetables. Then I added a pint of Marlene’s just-canned ketchup and some of her canned tomato sauce. I let the mixture cook a few minutes.

Chris calls this “red sauce.” To the red sauce I added some salt and pepper, and then some red pepper to give it just a little heat. The cooked gizzards were cut into quarters and added to the sauce. Then I added some butter. Chris says margarine is actually better than butter for enhancing the flavor of this recipe, but we aren’t margarine people. I let it all cook on the stovetop for awhile.

Right here I should confess that when I say “I” did all of this I really mean Marlene and I. It was a team effort because I’m not much of a cook and she is. We all have our specialties in this family economy.

So there you go. That’s the gizzard recipe. Chris told me that gizzards, thus prepared, are better the next day, so I let it all cool down and put it in the fridge for the next night’s dinner...

The next day Marlene asked me what else I wanted with the gizzards. I thought mashed potatoes might be nice. We also had some applesauce, some fresh salsa,  and some of Marlene’s mustard pickles, all of which was homemade. The only thing not homemade was my personal stack of Ritz crackers. Yes, they are industrial crackers—out of the box, golden round, every one exactly like the other. I suppose I have been heavily influenced by my younger days of media indoctrination to believe that everything is better when it sits on a Ritz.

Marlene served herself one puny little gizzard piece but I put a mess of them on my plate. A “mess of them” is a small pile. I didn’t count, but there were probably 20 gizzard sections in that mess. Marlene ate her piece and I ate every gizzard on my plate.

The gizzards weren’t bad. But I didn't think they were really good (though they truly were better on a Ritz cracker). Later, James came home from helping a dairy farming neighbor with the evening milking. The neighbor’s grandson came with him. Marlene fed them....gizzards. I was working on my computer in an adjoining room, listening.

James: “Just the texture of them is nasty. Uhhh! They’re horrible.”

His friend: “They’re good. I like them.”

The next day, at lunch time, my son Robert came home from work and had himself a mess of the gizzards: "These are great, Dad."

Okay, so after all of the anticipation and time and effort I put into cooking gizzards, here’s my concluding opinion.... Been there, done that. I would eat them again, but I don’t think I will eat them again, unless I really have to, meaning unless I’m real hungry and gizzards (and, hopefully, a few crackers) is all there is.

However, I can tell you that I will not go back to throwing gizzards away every processing day. Instead, I will clean and boil them until tender and feed them as treats to our dog(s). It turns out that Marlene’s beagle, Lucy, loves boiled gizzard treats. Fact is, I think that dog would do anything within it’s intellectual and physical ability (which isn’t much) to get a little bit of boiled chicken gizzard. 

 We love Lucy

If I offer that little mut any other kind of treat and tell her to “sit," she just cocks her head like she doesn’t understand. But when I hold a chicken gizzard out and say “sit,” her back end drops instantly. She is clear-eyed and rapt with attention, anticipating that gizzard treat. It is remarkable the effect that boiled chicken gizzard bits have on a beagle.

That Great City Babylon

In the previously-mentioned podcast, Michael Bunker states that most Christians today do not see themselves in the book of Revelation, Chapter 18, which speaks of the “great city Babylon.” I’m not a biblical scholar by any means but I can’t help thinking that our industrial culture, with the worldwide economic system it has produced, is as the great city Babylon mentioned in Revelation 18. I mean, if ever there was a modern Babylonian system it’s the centralized, corporate-industrial system that now dominates the world. Fact is, Modern Babylon is more Babylonian than ancient Babylon ever was. 

Clearly (from Chapter 18) the great city Babylon has exploited creation and masses of people with its centralized economic system. As a result...

The merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
God judges this great city/system of Babylon by destroying it in a day, and the “merchants” don’t take it very well.
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.
What was the merchandise of these weeping and mourning merchants? Well, the list is long. Take special notice of the last two items:
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

So, in addition to all the material wealth, and all the food supplies, these merchants dealt with “slaves” and the “souls of men.” Wow.

As I have pointed out here so many times in the past, the industrial system seeks to make all men dependent on the goods and pleasures which the industrial economy provides. There is no need to grow your own food because the industrial suppliers will provide. There is really no need to labor over making anything to supply your needs because the factories and stores (the merchants) will provide.
But dependence translates to slavery.

Industrialized man is encouraged and directed to find his own little hamster wheel within the system and start running. Perform your narrowly-focused division of labor specialty faithfully every day and all these things shall be added unto you— a nice big house, new cars, vacations, gewgaws galore, never-ending amusements, comfortable retirement, etc.  In short, play your part in the Babylonian economy and you will reap the “blessings.” Until, that is, it starts to fall apart. Then what?

Well, then, I suppose those who have been slaves to the Babylonian system and given their souls over to it will mourn and weep right along with the merchants as they watch the artificial, arrogant, anti-biblical system they have created fall apart under the judgment of God.

People who don’t believe the Bible will shrug off this kind of thinking. But so will a lot of people who assert that they do believe the Bible. They will reason that our centralized industrial/economic system isn’t Babylonian because industrialism has done so much good for mankind. After all, we’re all better off because of industrialism, aren’t we?

What these people do not understand or care to think about is that industrialism has exploited and destroyed people, families, communities and the earth in it’s quest for never-ending profit and domination. And it continues to do so. In other words,  it has  done so much bad. But so many people are so immersed in the system, so enslaved, and so fully enjoying their slavery, that they don’t see or can’t see the bad. Or they just ignore it as insignificant.

The economic system at play in the world today is totally Babylonian. It is centralized. It controls global markets and commodities (natural resources) for it’s gain. It manipulates the lives of the people in all nations for it’s gain. It works with and manipulates the governments of all nations for its gain.

Then again, there are some people who will see this Babylonian system for what it is and they will ask, “What can I do?” The answer to that is found in verse 4 of Revelation 18:

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
I ask you... When do you come out of that city of Babylon so that you do not receive of her plagues? Do you come out in the hour of destruction, when it is all falling apart? No, certainly not. That’s when you are out of luck because, along with the merchants, you have partaken of her sins. 

The time to come out is before that. The time to come out is when you understand the biblical warning is being directed towards you—when you realize that you are enslaved by that great city Babylon.

How do you come out? I submit that you come out by getting out of financial debt to Babylon, by simplifying your life, by rethinking your needs, by limiting your dependencies, by learning to work with skill to provide your basic life requirements apart from the industrial suppliers, by returning to the land and small communities where you can best do these things.

How do you know you are not of that great city?

It seems to me that you are not of it when the thought of its destruction does not bother you.

And the thought of the destruction of the Babylonian system does not bother you because you know that, if need be, you can live and provide for yourself and your family without electricity, gas, or even money—not as “survivalists” when the collapse comes, but as a chosen-and-deliberately-lived way of life right now.

How many  modern Americans today could continue to live and provide for their needs if Babylon collapses tomorrow? No electricity. No public water supply and sewer systems. No food supplies. No fuel. No heating oil. And paper money as we know it is worthless.

How many?

Precious few.

Those who will make it are those who have  taken steps of obedience to God’s call to extract themselves from their dependencies on the Babylonian supply grid. They have land, tools, knowledge, and experience at growing food, putting it up, and supplying their heating needs. They know how to hunt and fish and fix things. They know how to do without and still be content and thankful for life's little blessings.

Now, if modern Babylon the great of Revelation 18 is indeed the centralized, worldwide, industrial complex which supplies and controls people and resources and nations through it's financial influence and its vertically integrated manipulations, then we come to a really difficult question. Clearly, God does not approve of this accumulation of man-centered world control. It is the culmination of mankind’s rebellion against God’s decentralized agrarian mandate for his creation. So (and this is the difficult question),  if God is against the Great city Babylon and He is going to destroy it, is it not proper that God’s people should likewise desire this destruction?

Christians are, after all, called to love what God loves and hate what God hates (and, yes, God does hate—it’s scriptural). Would it be going too far for a Christian to desire the destruction of modern Babylon?

It’s just a question.

Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

Off The Grid
(a book review)

I have just finished reading Off The Grid: Inside The Movement For More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.

That subtitle is what got my attention. The book’s author, Nick Rosen, a Brit, spent some time traveling all over America visiting a broad spectrum of people who live off grid. The book (published early this year) is mostly a recollection of those visits, along with Rosen’s impressions of the people he interviewed. It is not a book about the specifics of living off grid.

There is a particularly insightful early chapter titled, “How The Grid Was Won,” which chronicles the rise and centralized control of electrical generation and distribution by a few large power company corporations. These giants, as Rosen puts it, “have a privileged monopoly position, and with that kind of a license to print money.”

I learned from the book that Thomas Edison installed the first central generator in Manhattan in 1882 to provide electric lighting to Wall Street. He initially charged his customers by the number of incandescent light bulbs in the building. Then Edison got the idea of charging by the amount of electricity used to power the lights, and that’s how we ended up with metered electrical usage.

Rosen contends that the introduction of the meter eliminated any incentive for Edison to improve the efficiency of his light bulbs.

In the early days, electrical generation and distribution was decentralized, with many small private and municipal power suppliers. But this was contrary to the corporatizing spirit of the age. here is an excerpt from the book:

Historian David Nye, in his book Electrifying America, says that managerial capitalism was possible only “in a large integrated market which allowed one company to produce in quantity at a few efficient sites and to sell the product to a large market.” There in a nutshell is the rationale and the justification for the grid. It was not to help the consumer, not to give communities more control over their own lives, nor necessarily to guarantee a more reliable flow of energy—that was a byproduct. The grid came into existence to optimize efficiency (and hence profitability) for the producer. Society has organized itself around this approach to business, and in doing so, I believe, has tied itself into knots.
From my perspective, one of the best parts of the book was Rosen’s visit to a successful Amish machine shop in Kentucky. The business is powered by a sweep...
A sweep, I learned later, is contained in a circular area about the size of a fairground carousel, but with real horses. The animals clip around smartly, attached to a central spindle, and the movement generates power. “It’s real green energy,” Ammon told me. “The horses eat grass, and they turn it into energy.”
The same Amish family powers its house with a one-horse treadmill:
The horse stands on a treadmill, an upward-sloping machine made of wooden boards with  metal reinforcements between the boards. There are rails on each side, so the horse cannot fall off, and the whole affair is covered, so rain or sun won’t affect the animal. Once the horse was moving at speed, Ammon brought me through his house to the room where the motive power of the horse is transformed into mechanical power, via a spindle running from the treadmill and into the building. I watched as Ammon switched off the power, which meant shouting “whoa” and drawing on a pulley that set a brake on the treadmill. When he wants to turn the power back on, he shouts “giddyap” and yanks on the other pulley to release the brake.

He showed me how he can run a washing machine, a corn thresher, and an “ice bank,” as the family calls their primitive refrigerator, a Coleman cooler filled with water that is charged (by the horse) three times a week for four hours, until there is enough ice in the bottom, and then recharged when all the ice has melted. It stores milk and meat to feed the family
Equally of interest to me was the author’s visit to Eustace Conway in western North Carolina. Conway was the subject of a 2002 book titled, The Last American Man. I found myself attracted to the thinking of this hitherto unknown (to me) person.
As the rain intensified I headed back to the SUV, where I spent a couple of enlightening hours with a glass of wine and a copy of The Last American Man. I learned that while Eustace had been living in a tepee as a university student, elsewhere in North Carolina he had held natural-living courses for his fellow students. He had told them that “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a good concept. “But first,” he would say, “apply two other often-overlooked principles: reconsider and refuse—do you really need this consumer product?”

Indeed! Reconsider and Refuse. Those are words to live by. I can see this slogan displayed on bumperstickers and t-shirts (but, of course, I would reconsider and refuse to buy such things). 

Then I discovered that Conway and I share some very similar beliefs about modern mankind’s sorry state of dependency and helplessness.
To put it simply, he believes that the American social system is in terrible shape.... As he sees it, Americans have become a herd of sheep marching compliantly to their own destruction. “The economic and social structure of North America today is succeeding beautifully in producing non-thinking, incapable people—the perfect candidate to be the mindless consumer who doesn't even see who they are or what they are doing.”
He went on. “The mass of people in North America are extraordinarily incapable on many levels. I am almost afraid to tell people how horrifically incapable they are. They don’t know how to grow a garden or plant a seed—they don’t even know what a seed looks like. The higher level of corporate leadership is succeeding in getting us where they want us.”
We are set up to be slaves who look after ourselves. The government doesn’t want people to know how to grow their own food. If you know how then you  have freedom; you are not dependent on the system. The corporations that control the government tend to lose money if the masses are not tied into their system.”
As for the rest of the book, Nick Rosen doesn’t hold back when it comes to saying what he really thinks about the many people he meets. It makes for an entertaining read but I must say that I was totally turned off by his frequent sexually-related comments about some of the people. Rosen also appears to have a special interest in off-grid pot growers. And, being a secular book, there are cuss words. 

In the final analysis, Off The Grid is, as I said, entertaining, but it is not edifying or particularly informative.

The Last American Man

Having learned of Eustace Conway from Nick Rosen’s book, I decided to read The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert. It begins as follows:
By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. By the time he was ten, he could hit a running squirrel at fifty feet with a bow and arrow. When he turned twelve, he went out into the woods, alone and empty-handed, built himself a shelter, and survived off the land for a week. When he turned seventeen, he moved out of his family's home altogether and headed into the mountains, where he lived in a teepee of his own design, made fire by rubbing two sticks together, bathed in icy streams, and dressed in the skins of the animals he had hunted and eaten.

This move occurred in 1977, by the way. Which was the same year the film Star Wars was released.

The following year, when he was eighteen, Eustace Conway traveled the Mississippi River in a handmade wooden canoe, battling eddies so fierce, they could suck down a forty-foot tree and not release it to the surface again until a mile downriver. The next year, he set off on the two-thousand-mile Appalachian Trail, walking from Maine to Georgia and surviving almost exclusively on what he hunted and gathered along the way. And in the years that followed, Eustace hiked across the German Alps (in sneakers), kayaked across Alaska, scaled cliffs in New Zealand, and lived with the Navajo of New Mexico. When he was in his mid-twenties, he decided to study a primitive culture more closely in order to learn even more ancient skills. So he flew to Guatemala, got off the plane, and basically started asking, "Where are the primitive people at?" He was pointed toward the jungle, where he hiked for days and days until he found the remotest village of Mayan Indians, many of whom had never before seen a white person. He lived with the Maya for about five months, learning the language, studying the religion, perfecting his weaving skills. But his coolest adventure was probably in 1995, when Eustace got the notion to ride his horse across America. His younger brother, Judson, and a close family friend went with him. It was a mad act of whim. Eustace wasn't sure if it was possible or even legal to ride a horse across America. He just ate a big Christmas dinner with his family, strapped on his gun, hauled out an eighty-year-old U.S. Cavalry saddle (rubbed so thin in places that he could feel the heat of the animal between his legs as he rode), mounted his horse, and headed out. He reckoned that he and his partners could make it to the Pacific by Easter, although everyone he told this to laughed in his face.

The three riders galloped along, burning away nearly fifty miles a day. They ate roadkill deer and squirrel soup. They slept in barns and in the homes of awestruck locals, but when they reached the dry, open West, they fell off their horses every night and slept on the ground where they fell. They were nearly killed by swerving eighteen-wheelers when their horses went wild on a busy interstate bridge one afternoon. They were nearly arrested in Mississippi for not wearing shirts. In San Diego, they picketed their horses along a patch of grass between a mall and an eight-lane highway. They slept there that night and arrived at the Pacific Ocean the next afternoon. Eustace Conway rode his horse right into the surf. It was ten hours before Easter. He had crossed the country in 103 days, setting, while he was at it, a world record.
Well, it would appear that Eustace Conway is not your common helpless modern man, and that kind of a start drew me right into the book.

Gilbert tells of Conway’s youth in North Carolina. He grew up in a typical suburban home but Eustace was not a typical modern child. Though his 5th grade teacher once told Eustace’s mother: “I don’t think Eustace is capable of learning,” it turns out the boy was very capable of learning and pursuing knowledge of things that interested him. He was active and especially motivated to learn about the natural world. He read biographies and adventure stories and spent much of his childhood outdoors in the woodlands around his home. It is notable that young Eustace did not conform to the popular culture around him:

Eustace didn’t have a lot of friends. He wasn’t much like anybody else, and he already knew this, even at the age of ten. When he looked at other boys his age, he saw kids who spent hours watching television, talking about what they saw on television, and imitating characters from television. None of their references made any sense to him.
He also watched boys in his classroom fritter away whole semesters by drawing pictures of race cars in their school notebooks.... These boys just seemed so damn bored. All they could think of doing was to fight and wreck stuff. But Eustace could always think of something useful; there weren’t enough hours in the day for all he wanted to do and learn.
Unfortunately, the story of young Eustace Conway takes a sad turn when we learn of the abusiveness of his father, Eustace Conway III. The father is described as an unusually brilliant man—a veritable mathematical genius. But when his high expectations for his firstborn son were not met, the father became abusive. It is heartbreaking to read.
Mr. Conway decided that his son was goading him by acting stupid out of “stubbornness,” and that what the boy needed, therefore, was more discipline. So it was that Eustace remembers—and his mother and siblings confirm—an upbringing that was more like a stint in a POW camp than a real childhood.
Much of the book, chronicling the life of Eustace the son revolves around the dysfunctional relationship he has had with his father from a very early age.

As for the mother, we learn that Mrs. Conway is a sincere Christian. And it happens that her father, Eustace’s grandfather, is described in the book as “a rock-solid Christian man of blindingly intense morals.” The mother, like all good mothers, has always been an encourager, especially during the difficult father/son trials of Eustace’s childhood.

The Conways were a churchgoing family—Southern Baptists—and we are told that “Eustace had excelled in church as a kid.” But.... he grew older, he became disillusioned with the congregation and leadership of his church. He smelled insincerity and deceit everywhere. He would sit between his parents every Sunday as they bowed their heads and took in the pious sermon. Sunday after Sunday, Eustace became sadly aware of what an act this was, and how grave was the contrast between this public image of familial sanctity and the reality of the familial discord—a savage discord that was packed away in a hidden container every Sabbath so as not to disturb the neighbors. Soon, he took to looking around at the other holy-seeming families in their pews, all nicely dressed, with their heads bowed, and he couldn’t help wondering what horrors were hidden behind their hymnals.”
So (and this is where I must opine) we see the sadness of Eustace Conway’s story deepen when he makes the tragic mistake of judging the truth of Christianity, not by what the Bible teaches, but by the hypocrisy he saw in sin-flawed humans who called themselves Christians. And this error on his part was to be further compounded by yet another conclusion Eustace came to, as explained in the following quote, which is evidentally from the mind of Eustace:
How many times you gotta read the friggin’ Ten Commandments before you get them right? Stop sinning! Live the way you’ve been taught to live! Then you won’t have to come to church every Sunday and kneel and weep and repent. And you’ll have a lot more time to spend outside in the forest, where, as Eustace believed, “there is only one truth to be found—no lies, no shams, no illusions, no hypocrisy. Just a truthful place, where all beings are governed by a set of perfect laws that have never changed and never will.”
Eustace, for all his youthful ability and brilliance, did not understand that the Ten Commandments are not so much rules to live by as they are an object lesson in our inability as fallen creatures to meet the righteous standards of a holy God. The Ten Commandments make it clear to us that we have all fallen short—that we are sinners. The Ten Commandments underscore the reality of our status before God. The Ten Commandments serve to prepare our hearts for the only hope any of us has to know God, which is through His son, Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sins (death) at Calvary. That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about.

But Eustace Conway thinks he can just top sinning? What are those Southern Baptists teaching? :-)

It is predictable then that Eustace, like so many others, decides to come up with his own “buffet-style” religious faith—something he feels more comfortable with. wasn't long before Eustace refused to go to church and started looking for his own answers. He spent his teen years studying every religion he could find, keeping the lessons of Christianity that he liked and adding to them bits from other beliefs.
The story gets better (sort of) when, at 19 years old, Eustace decides to hike the Appalachian Trail with a friend, north to south, Maine to Georgia, 2,179 miles, starting early in the spring.

When the two got off the bus in Maine, park rangers warned them it was too early to start hiking. Too much snow and ice were on the trail. They ignored the warning.

Eustace and his friend hiked 25 to 30 miles a day. The ground was solid ice. They subsisted on a morning cup of oatmeal. No edible plants were in sight and there were few animals to eat. But...

When they got to New Hampshire, half mad with hunger, Eustace spotted some partridge in the underbrush. He whipped out a length of string he’d been keeping in his pocket, fashioned a noose about eight inches in diameter, wrapped the string around a long stick, and sneaked up on the partridge he spotted. He dropped that noose over the bird, tightened the string, made a grab, and ripped off its head. Frank was screaming and dancing and shouting and hugging and kissing Eustace while the still-flapping bird sprayed blood over the packed, white snow. “My God,” Eustace recalls, “but we ate the hell out of that bird.” They ate its meat; they ate its brains; they ate its feet; and, still famished, they ate every last one of its bones.”
...and together they scrounged the trail as they headed south. They also took to eating crawfish and trout and berries, nettles, anything. They killed rattlesnakes and opened them up to see if there were baby rabbits or something else yummy inside the bellies; they’d eat the snake and whatever the snake had just eaten.
I hiked the Appalachian Trail for one week in southern Vermont back in 1976. I was 18 and went with two of my best friends from high school. It was a great adventure but it was nothing like Eustace’s hike. We had backpacks full of food and sure didn’t cover 25 miles a day in the rugged mountain topography. If Eustace Conway really did what this book about him says, he did something truly amazing.

Eustace earned money giving presentations to school groups. He appears to have created his own economic opportunities and pursued the business with the same intensity that he applied to hiking the AT. He was driven by a vision for land.

”God only made one person in the world like you,” wrote Eustace’s mother, who was always right there on the scene to remind her son of his singular calling. “And He has a special job for you to do, to use the talents He gave you.”

Eustace couldn’t have agreed more, and by the time he was in his mid-twenties, he was on fire with the desire to found his own utopia. The will was there; all he needed was the land.
In 1986 Eustace found what he was looking for.
What he found up at the end of that rugged dirt road was perfection. It was 107 acres of what Eustace describes now as “a classic Southern Appalachian reclaimed hardwood forest,” and it was mind-alteringly beautiful. It had everything Eustace was looking for...
In the following excerpt, Elizabeth Gilbert describes Eustace’s neighbors:
The woman at the door was Susie Barlow, a member of the interconnected network of Appalachian families who were soon to become Eustace’s neighbors. The Barlow clan, Carlton clan, and the (quite literally named) Hicks clan had all lived in this craggy mountain holler for as long as remembered history. They were kind, reclusive people, who still yanked their teeth out with homemade iron pliers when the need arose. They raised hogs and made the most magnificent fifty-pound salt-cured hams. They bred hound dogs for hunting and for sale. They kept their dog litters in their living rooms, the pups staggering about blindly in a big wooden crate, peeing all over a faded handmade patchwork quilt, which could have surely fetched several hundred dollars at auction in New York City. The Carltons and Hickses and Barlows were poor but deeply religious people who honored the Sabbath with reverence and handled the Bible with humility.
Eustace named his land Turtle Island but the 107 acres was just a beginning... he earned money over the years he slowly bought the peaks of each hill that surrounded the valley. The peaks of a hill are the most valuable real estate to developers, after all, since everyone wants a home right on top of a mountain. By securing these peaks, then, Eustace had made the hills below them much less attractive to any roving land speculator and therefore much less likely to be sold to someone else before he could afford to grab it.
Once he owned the crests, he filled in the gaps, buying the slopes that connected his valley to the surrounding mountaintops. In this way, he guarded his watershed. What he was doing, actually, was transforming his holdings from a small, flat, low-lying basin into a large teacup...
Over the years Turtle Island has grown to around a thousand acres and is a camp where children and adults can learn numerous hands-on skills of self reliance.

There is much more to the book and the story of Eustace Conway. His record-breaking horse ride across America is another truly remarkable feat. But as much as I like reading about Eustace’s abilities and accomplishments as a man, I must confess that I was very disappointed with one aspect of this book, and of Eustace Conway’s example.

The Last American Man is full of too much personal angst. In addition to the difficult father/son relationship, we who read the book are presented with too many details about Eustace’s failed relationships with women. He has never married but has had intimate relationships with one woman after another, for decades. Some have lasted longer than others but all have been temporary. Eustace attracts beautiful women like a light bulb attracts moths, or so the author leads us to think. 

In the end of the book we find Eustace in his 40’s (he would be 49 today), longing for a wife and family and lamenting that he can not find the woman of his dreams with which to raise a large family (13 children, we are told)—a pseudo Amish vision, if you ask me.

I dare say that Eustace can not find the wife of his dreams precisely because he has known so many women in the way that only a husband should. Evidently his little-bit-of-this-and-little-bit-of-that religious beliefs do not prohibit fornication. It so happens there are some immutable natural laws (God’s laws) that are not found in the forrest.

In this regard, Eustace has played the part of a fool, fulfilling the lusts of his flesh, eschewing the commitment of a relationship with one woman for life. This isn’t how you establish a solid marital relationship and I feel sorry for the man because of it. I sincerely hope that he will see the error of his course. Perhaps he could learn from his rural neighbors, the Carltons and Hickses and Barlows, who honor the Sabbath with reverence and handle the Bible with humility.

Humility is not something we see in Eustace, at least not in the book. But why would we see humility from a man who thinks people (like him) can just stop sinning. Humility comes when you realize you are a hopeless sinner, then comes repentance, and surrender, and then, maybe, comes a godly wife and a long, happy, committed marriage relationship, or so it seems to me.

In all fairness to Eustace, I am making statements based on a book about the man that was written by someone else. Elizabeth Gilbert’s impressions and expressions of Eustace Conway were filtered through her personal worldview. This happens in any biography, just as it happens in any media news story. We don’t know what Eustace and his family think of the book, or what they might say to correct any of Ms. Gilbert’s writings.

The question in my  mind as I began reading this book is if Eustace Conway really is a fine example of a man. He is far more capable and confident than most modern men. That is for sure, and I admire this masculine quality in him. But I’m sorry to say that, just as surely, Eustace is a terrible example of what it means to be a man in the biblical sense of honor, integrity and commitment when it comes to his relationships with the opposite sex. That  is my take (filtered through my own worldview).

You can read the first chapter of The Last American Man at this link: Chapter One (Please be aware that this secular book has some bad language in it)

You can learn about Eustace and Turtle Island at this link: Turtle Island Preserve

Andy Catlett

I seldom read fiction but I have decided to read a collection of short novels by Wendell Berry, beginning with Andy Catlett. The story is an older Andy Catlett's recollections of when he was nine year old (in 1943) and rode the bus (by himself) from parents home ten miles away to visit his grandparents in Port William. The story spans just a few days in the boy's life.

Andy's father’s parents are farmers out in the countryside, still using horses. His mother’s parents, also farmers, live on the edge of town. They have motor vehicles and electricity. Andy experiences a world of close-knit rural and small-town life. It is a way of life that was once common in much of America, but not any more.

Wendell Berry is truly a masterful writer and Andy Catlett was, for me, pleasant read. I also read Nathan Coulter, another in the Port William series. Nathan Coulter is much different—more dark and hard and gritty. It takes place approximately ten years earlier than Andy Catlett and is about a boy (Nathan Coulter) who grows up the son of a tobacco farmer. Nathan faces harsh realities from a young age. Though different, Nathan Coulter, it is a well written story and I am anxious to read more of the Port William series.

Here is an excerpt from Andy Catlett that I like because it speaks of the home economy in America's past, which is something I wrote about here last month. This is Wendell Berry at his best and it is, without a doubt, the best book excerpt I have read this last month:

Though the Feltner house was far more modern in its appliances than that of my Catlett grandparents, the same household economy of home production and diligent thrift prevailed there also. Everything that place could provide, it did provide, and in abundance. Like Grandma Catlett, Granny Feltner still made her own lye soap for the washing of dishes and clothes.

I think often now of that old economy, which was essentially the same from a farm household that was fairly well-to-do, like that of Granny and Granddaddy Feltner, to the household of Dick Watson and Aunt Sarah Jane, which would be classified as poor. For many years now that way of living has been scorned, and over the last forty or fifty years it has nearly disappeared. Even so, there was nothing wrong with it. It was an economy directly founded on the land, on the power of the sun, on thrift and skill, and on the people’s competence to take care of themselves. They had become dependent, to some extent, on manufactured goods, but as long as they stayed on their farms and made use of the great knowledge that they possessed, they could have survived foreseeable calamities that their less resourceful descendants could not survive. Now that we have come to the era of cheap petroleum, which fostered so great a forgetfulness, I see that we could have continued that thrifty old life fairly comfortably—could even have improved it. Now we will have to return to it, or to a life necessarily as careful, and we will do so only uncomfortably and with  much distress.
Increasingly over the last forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals, was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theatre. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy f fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets. And I fear, I believe I know, that the doom of the older world I knew as a boy will finally afflict the new one that replaced it.

The world I knew as a boy was flawed, surely, but it was substantial and authentic. The households of my grandparents seemed to breathe forth a sense of the real cost and worth of things. Whatever came, came by somebody’s work.

My Special Gift To You

Chicken Gizzard Montage
By: The Deliberate Agrarian

(click to see enlarged view)

That picture above is something special that I have composed as a gift for all of you, my readers. The idea is that you can take this picture and use it on your computer as the background image (you will, however, have to figure out the specifics of how to do that for yourself). 

When I told Marlene of this free gift idea, she said, and I quote: “You're crazy.” Well, I suppose that’s better than, “That’s stupid!” which you may recall was her response to my wonderful  idea for how to best enjoy lavender (you can read it here if you missed it). 

Well, whatever.  I’m going to go get my shovel and digging bar now. See you next month.....