Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The closing of another season

You see, for us, it's too easy. The past couple of years (and this one is playing out the same) we have finished up with the main tasks on the farm and have gone on with our lives. We've left behind many of the odds and ends that get done in the less busy times--all those chores you put off for one reason or another.

We take a few bagfuls of food and find other employment. Winter passes. Then spring comes and, voila! we're at the farm, and it's ready to go, all the little things taken care of. It's not how I want it to go down, but that's how life has played out so far. We're hoping that next year will end differently.

Yeah, it's hard leaving the farm. I need to be there to change the oil, care for the animals, chop more wood, start new projects. I need to be there to come up with next season's plan, buy seed, work around all the little obstacles that arise. But our country doesn't seem to really care about having small farmers (and stopped caring a long time ago), so we're learning the best we can.

All in all, it was a helluva season. So much rain, so many pests and plant pathogens. It really was educational.

The autumn colors were spectacular as they made their way down to our cove. Now it's mostly muted reds, browns, and yellows out there, which have their own beauty.

This week we pack up and move on out. We'll head up to the northeast where we'll work with trees and enjoy a little downtime with some family.

I'm going to miss these mountains while I'm away. And Asheville, too, because it's a great little city to visit a couple times a month. And there's the music, and all the trails, and the great food, and wonderful people. Shit, whatever happens, at least I got to live here and enjoy it all for awhile.

We hope to find some land--to own (somehow), lease long-term, as part of a partnership, or whatever, we're open to anything really--for next year. So, if you know anybody who wants to help out a couple of poor wannabe farmers/homesteaders with a place to settle, we'd love to hear from you (preference for southern Appalachia). If we can't make that happen, we'll be searching again for another apprenticeship opportunity, with an eye toward learning more about farming with animals, seed saving, and basic construction.

So, it's transition time. I'll be posting again soon, probably from a different location--with more random rambles though, less farm talk (for a couple months at least).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Handling your hoe (rural version, ch. 1)

A couple days ago I was out weeding our two remaining beds of leeks. It was an odd weeding job because the deer had been grazing on the weeds they like to eat, leaving shortish weeds with fairly stout roots (hard to hoe and pull because of the deep-set roots, hard to pull, also, because of the lack of grip space to yank 'em up). Deer don't like to eat leeks (at least these don't), and most of the rest of the field has just recently been put into a cover crop of rye, vetch, and clover (all of which are mere seedlings), leaving the nightly congregation of deer in that field to munch on nothing but weeds. The main weed was a yellow-flowering fast grower (whose name escapes me) that just absolutely dominates our farm throughout most of the year; deer seem to love it, but they left others, like dock (deep, stubborn roots), to grow unabated. So, hoeing was rough. And the inevitable hand weeding that left many broken roots in the ground was discouraging . It was slow going.

I find that when you have such a weeding job in front of you, it's nice to slap on a pair of earbuds and let music help you along. For instance, Modest Mouse assisted me in the leek-weeding endeavor. The schizophrenic vocals over a steady funk-like beat helped rhythmize and energize my hoe strokes to efficiently uproot (or at least chop off sufficiently until the first frost comes) those pesky bastards. Neko Case helped me slow it down a little--let me feel the cool, pleasant breeze under the completely blue and sunny Carolina sky, helping me find some odd grace in my hoeing technique. Because, what's weeding without a bit of contemplative, sensual pleasure? And then Paul Simon brought me back to the rhythm, giving me that final push of energy to get the job done. Plus, there's no not liking weeding when Simon inquires about the 50 ways.

Sometimes I don't need music to accompany me. Often just being outside, doing real, meaningful work to survive is enough. But there are days when you'd rather be doing nothing, or else something easy. Though it's tempting to just give in to laziness (which happens sometimes), certain things just have to get done. And I really wouldn't want it any other way.


The trees are really coloring up now in the higher elevations. The reds are out. But yesterday our high temperature hit 80, which was, um, perfect. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, they're expecting snow and freezing temps. Love it here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


It has gotten a bit cold here. Smells like fall. One night we go from the fan sucking cool, sweet mountain air into our room, to the next night having the whole apartment closed down--us draped in sweaters, smothered nightly in a heavy comforter, me cursing my lack of a good pair of boots for farm work (thus relying on the old trusty sandals in the 40-degree dewy morning). But don't get me wrong, it feels good.

Basil and pepper plants are pissed. Basil hates the cold; sweet peppers also hate the deluge we've been getting of late. Even some of the lettuce, the cool-moisture lover that it is, is rotting in the field. But arugula is happy. Napas and bok choi are trying hard. Kale would probably be happy if not for the plague of harlequin bugs. But we can take heart that the flea beetles have seemingly left us for the year. And we haven't gotten flooded like some of our unfortunate WNC neighbors.

We've got a bit over a month left at this farm, where we'll keep tending our fall/winter crops for market and, most importantly, CSA members. It's a bit of an unwinding time, at least in my mind, despite all that's left to do.

In other news, the blueberries are still plentiful up on Max Patch, as of last weekend. We were picking amongst the roaring wind and the cries of the haint (or a flying kite; or a creaking tree--I'm not sure).

The near future brings visitors from afar and, maybe, if things fall right, a trip into the backcountry (our last camping excursion near Mt. Mitchell left us soaked, a couple additional inches of rain away from being devoured by a rising river, and within several hundred feet of being crushed by a toppled tree--which is what I call an adventure).

In the meantime I'll be happy to watch the trees slowly transform as the cold sets in and daylight contracts. Already we see the 4,000+ foot peaks that poke into the sky around our cove hueing toward orangish-yellow. The vegetation on the creek banks is thinning to the point where we can see the road again for the first time since May. The ragweed has pretty much done its thing (ahhhh... relief). Sumacs everywhere are blushing mightily.  They're calling for a less than stellar fall color show this year because of all the rain we've had. But I wouldn't heed what "they" say. Because, well, the spring leafing was beyond words, in it's spectacularly subtle green gradient, and hardly anyone even touches on how beautiful that is--ever.

How's fall on everyone else's land? Fruits and veggies still going by you?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blueberries laugh at the tractor

We spent part of the last two weekends picking wild blueberries on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Graveyard Fields--it ain't no secret). There were so many bushes to visit, and lots of ripe berries--much more than I expected. All told, we picked several pounds, stopping only because of my fatigue. They've gone good on cereal and pancakes. We froze a bunch of 'em for future sustenance.

It's enrapturing, this wild bounty. Earlier this year it was morels. We've had elderberries, strawberries (not really comparable to the domesticated crop, but edible nonetheless), and blackberries as well. All without cultivation of any sort.

Yeah, nature is pretty good at growing things. I try to remember this when I think about having our own farm in the near future. You can't really go wrong trying to emulate nature. Of course, as humans, we are a part of nature as well, and we've got some nice tools to enhance things.

We're learning lots these days, but, for me, the biggest lesson is in seeing anew how things move of their own accord. It may be good or bad for people, but when all is said and done, life continues in one way or another. Which is something to notice and appreciate.

The days are getting noticeably shorter as summer wanes. Ragweed and lamb's quarters are trying to make babies (sneezes are in full swing). Only the occasional optimistic mateless lightning bug still sparks just after dusk. Non-conformist locust and cicadas groan loudly in the heat of the afternoon. The swallows that successfully avoided the acrobatic black snake have moved out. The Perseids recently made their spectacular fireworks, even under the gaze of a persistent moon.

Though we generally anticipate what's coming up for us, it's hard to say what shape it will take. Transitions are tremendous. Not knowing is half the excitement.

I'm content with not knowing; I try to get a feel for the movement.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

It's August?

Time is certainly flying around here. You'll have to forgive me, friends, for not posting with any regularity. We've been busy. Those who farm and garden know that midsummer is about as hectic as it gets, with your heavy producers like tomatoes, squash and beans in full fruiting mode. And then there's the corn. Yeah, we're not in the greenhouse starting plants as much, or out in the fields putting in many new transplants, but we're picking like mad, and weeding, and dealing with the heavy harvests.

You'll be sad to know that our onions and garlic were devastated by all the spring rain, and we pretty much lost a good majority of the two crops. I mean, there's garlic and onions galore curing, but they look like little wrecked balls, most of which are unsuitable for selling. But it's a lesson learned. And hey, we're still providing plenty of other stuff for the CSA and making good sales at market. Gotta appreciate the crop diversity of small farms like ours.

On the other hand, our greenhouse-grown tomatoes are so prolific that we are having a hard time keeping up with them. Summer squash, which started out terribly in the wet weather is producing well. And green beans, the pain in the ass that they are to pick, love to fill up several bushel bins with each harvest. Our first crop of sweet corn was pretty damn good, too, despite the corn ear worm invasion. Luckily the folks at market mostly understand what it means to grow and eat things organically.

Elsewhere, we've been entertaining lots of visitors from out of state, which has been a pleasant surprise during our time here. We attended the fun Bele Chere in Asheville, where I drank plenty of local brews and enjoyed several bands I had never heard before. Spent some time exploring the Smokies, including a grueling hike up to the top of Mt. Sterling in my crappy sandals. We've visited several farms in the area, which has been a great educational experience. Started taking yoga once a week. And in our downtime we've been kicking back with some beers, enjoying these amazing mountains that surround our cove, watching the occasional movie, and reading some good books.

Yep. It looks to be busy for the next several weeks as well, with more visitors expected and the final big push to get fall crops in the ground and tended to. However, I'll try to be better about updating this thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What happened inbetween rains?

Bushhogged some of our cover crop down. The rye was tall and the vetch was clingy. Mmmm.. taste the organic matter and soil nutrients.

Harvested some rainbow chard, among many other things.

Sold our goods at the market.
Watched frogs and toads do it in the puddles. A lot.
 From tadpoles to little hopping toadpoles with tails. 

The ghost of Max Patch.

We were eventually blessed with 10 minutes of spectacular views when the fog temporarily blew out.

Finally, a shot from the Blue Ridge Parkway, somewheres between Asheville and Waynesville. The laurels are in full bloom.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Did I mention it's raining?

Yep, it's still raining. We're approaching 10" for the month, which is nearly a third of our yearly average. In one month. And last month was rainy too. And so was the previous month. Standing water in some of the fields. Lots of slugs. Temps this month have fluctuated from lows around freezing to highs in the low 80s, which has caused a bunch of our field crops to bolt and try to go to seed early, thus shortening their lifespan and ruining their quality in some cases. Affected: broccoli, arugula, radishes, cilantro, tatsoi, and probably some others I'm forgetting. The lack of sun has really slowed down our second succession of crops and stunted early planted peas, beets, turnips, strawberries, and spinach. On the other hand, we're producing monster heads of lettuce, beautiful mixed greens, vibrant rainbow chard, mustard greens, and kale. These things are loving the rain.

All our greenhouse crops are doing pretty good. Cukes are huge sellers at market, but they've reached their peak and are starting a downward trend. Eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes look promising.

New crops in the field: summer squash, parsley, basil, sweet corn, and flowers. Fruits are forming on the squash already. So far so good.

Potatoes and onions are looking healthy. Pests are up. Now seeing potato beetles and cucumber beetles out and about. Boo those.

It's busy at this point in the season. More to come soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A little on the ethics of gardening

We're just relaxing today after one hell of a Saturday. We had a huge plant sale yesterday down in Waynesville. The day started at around 3:30 a.m., and, aside from the car ride there, I didn't sit down again until around 5 p.m.; then my head didn't hit the pillow until around 11 or 12 last night. Yeah, it was busy. We sold lots of beautiful plants though, which will find cozy homes in the gardens of lots of folks. We hear from the media and see firsthand that gardening is on the increase this year. Which is great.

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
That quote is from Aldo Leopold, one of the great forefathers of environmental ethics and ecology. A Sand County Almanac is his masterwork, wherein he philosphically and beautifully documents a year of living on a small farm he reclaimed in south-central Wisconsin. Key to Leopold's work is his Land Ethic, which, in a nutshell, says humans need to face the undeniable fact that we are part of the natural world, not separate from it and, therefore, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

The book was written in the 40s. Leopold was worried then about Americans' tendency to focus so much on being "productive," rule-following, patriotic citizen-consumers, leaving the bulk of important decisions to "others," notably the government. In other words, Leopold felt that without direct, individual obligation--an ethical relationship--to the preservation of the land and everything on it, we could lose all that sustained our lives and made them worth living. An obligation without personal commitment and conscience is often an unfulfilled obligation.

Could it be that 60 years after A Sand County Almanac was first published folks might be embracing the land ethic?

Yesterday I sold plants to people who have never gardened before. And I hope I sold them good, strong plants and gave them some useful tips. Because it might be that their livelihood--or at least their comfort--depends on our plants providing their family with some sustenance. Some people spent $50 on little vegetable and herb plants. That's 20+ plants. For their home garden. All these folks--and apparently they're out in record numbers all across the country--have decided to take a little bit more responsibility for their own existence, closing the door just a bit on the destruction caused by mechanized petrochemical agribusiness and government subsidies. They know (or will see soon) that viability springs from the soil, from other plants, from animals, from the sun, and from other people.

I don't know if people are doing this out of necessity, if they're being pragmatic, or if it's the start of a new era in this country. We'll see. But no matter the motivation, this year's gardeners/farmers (the two words can be interchanged in my opinion) will gain or solidify valuable skills for the necessity of the near future. 'Cause I don't think it will be long before people need to grow at least some of their own food. Same as it almost ever was.

From The French Broad, by Wilma Dykeman:

It would be difficult to find a dozen people who have a family history in the French Broad country who don't count at least one farmer, and more likely several, among their ancestors. Even professional men by vocation were also farmers by necessity until recently, and savings were often deposited in lands rather than in banks.
In the rugged Tennessee county of Sevier, bordered by the Smoky Mountains and sliced by the Little Pigeon River, there were 1,071 heads of families listed in a census of 1850. Of these, all but 89 were designated farmers, with the exception of one or two candid souls who admittedly "did nothing." Of this eight percent of nonfarmers, blacksmiths (14), millers (11), and Baptist minsters (9) led the list. Half-a-dozen carpenters and wagon makers, five merchants, three each of physicians, tanners, shoemakers and horse traders, a brace of lawyers, coopers, Methodist ministers, hammermen and saddlers, and a single hatter, miner, wheelwright, navigator and cabinetmaker just about complete a fairly clear picture of the pre-Civil War life of that and many a neighboring county.
And I'd venture to guess it was like that in most of America a century-and-a-half ago. When I read those numbers, I was shocked, and proud of our ancestors; almost everyone was a small farmer, and many non-farmers provided people with the products and services they required to live a decent life. It's been like this on most of the planet for most of human history. People knew what it meant to work and survive. Most everyone possessed skills that mattered. And, in many cases, that direct, knowing dependence on the biotic community for one's livelihood automatically led to an ethical obligation to care for the land. That obligation slowly eroded; but maybe we've reached the valley.

Mainstream media and politicians at the federal level will probably not admit it until the very end, but the American lifestyle haphazardly erected during the past century or so is just about over. I don't know if I'd go as far as Jim Kunstler, who says that the demise of our deeply embedded irresponsible stuff-based culture will lead to a "national psychotic breakdown" or that "the current mood of public paralysis will dissolve in a blur of blood and spittle sometime between Memorial Day and July Fourth," but I like the way he tries to lay it all out bare on the floor. Sometime in the near future, life in America is gonna be very different. People are gonna have to relearn nearly lost skills. Thankfully some folks have preserved old knowledge and have worked to adapt them into usable, modern, ethically based skills.

Gardening is the best first step in our recovery--a real stimulus. I admire all those folks who came out yesterday to start their gardens for the season.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

It really begins

Things are really gaining steam on the farm as all the potential energy built during the last two months jolts into the kinetic. This weekend is a huge plant sale down in Waynesville; we are preparing for that. Our direct-seeded greenhouse is cranking out the greens (and completely unmanageable weeds). Most of the field crops are doing good, aside from the few that got decimated by flea beetles. Cukes in the greenhouse are huge, but the fruits are getting chomped on by some mysterious burrowing creature. It's hard keeping up with all the flats of seedlings sitting in the propagation greenhouse. We've had the local TV news out of Asheville out here to take moving pictures of the quaint farm life and ask why in the world some young folks would willingly spend their time learning to farm. The cameraman irked me.

Aside from all that, it looks like morel season is done here. We got several decent harvests though. The recent weather has been rainy again (so much for the beginnings of that supposed drought, huh?), but it was preceded by several days of really warm, dry weather, which was perfect for outdoors fun. We also had our first visitor from back home, so the past weekend was spent cruising the area. We got to see some spectacular things at Max Patch and Cataloochee and out exploring our own holler, and spent some quality time in Asheville.

Lately it's been hard for me to sit back and reflect enough to write a decent post or unload pictures from the camera. Got lots of good shots to share.

How's everyone out there?

Friday, April 24, 2009

On missing things

Probably for the first time in over a month, since we've moved, I'm missing some of the old stuff. It's probably 'cause I was looking through pictures from the last two years. They hold lots of good memories. I miss Sunny Sky Farm. I miss our Wisconsin friends. I even miss the flatness (and rocklessness) a bit.

I mean the me that is now was born there. And place always matters.

Love where I am now though. Just miss some of those things.


  • helping farm and learning what I need to know at the longest-running CSA in central Wisco
  • Keith and Carie and Gavin--hangin' and occasionally tryin' to fish
  • spring hiking the beautiful glacier-touched lands, despite those nasty ticks
  • graveyard drunkenness
  • Point beer
  • easy, mostly level bike rides
  • quick walks to Charlie's
  • Feel Good
  • really bad TV newscasts
  • Wisconsin Public Radio
  • and everyone out there trying to expand local agriculture--it's amazing what you all are doing in such a small population center
 Just to name a few.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A respite from rain?

It's been busy. I can't even remember what happened at the beginning of the week. We did have another snow scare, but it never actually fell. It only dropped to 35 last night, and now we're looking at several days in the mid- to upper-70s. Crazy mountain weather.

The last couple of dry (finally) days have been reserved mostly for bed prep and transplanting. We got lots of onions out and some mustard greens. Some beets and snow peas didn't germinate well, and the direct-seeded arugula in the field was destroyed by flea beetles, so we tilled all those in and we'll reseed them probably tomorrow. Since some of these crops were in partial beds, I had the opportunity to hone my skills at precision tilling on the tractor. It went ok, aside from one solitary plant casualty.

Tomorrow will probably bring lots of direct seeding, which we're behind on, and more transplanting (scallions and who knows what else). It's nice to finally have some dry weather.

This weekend is Trailfest in Hot Springs. Many of the Appalachian Trail hikers who do the whole thing (from Georgia to Maine) in one season make it to Hot Springs around this time. And they have to pass through the downtown, which is the first real population center they hit on the trail, so many of them pause here to stock up on provisions or catch a breather. Anyway, Meagan is gonna try to sling some of her jewerly as a vendor at the fest, and I'll be there for moral support.

More photos up soon, hopefully.

Edited to add: Oh yeah, bagged a whole bunch of morels yesterday. They might be peaking in our holler right about now. Also, the farm tour down in Saluda was cool. Met lots of nice folks from nearby farms and then had dinner and a couple brews at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. Good pizza; pretty good beer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The tractor dilemma

Sometimes I'm an insomniac. Like right now. I've been up for a few hours, and I really have no need to be up. In other words, more sleep would probably be good. But there's no use fighting what you can't fight, so here I am. At least I can be productive in some way.

We were transplanting yesterday using this transplanter (see right for a picture of the old single-seat setup) that attaches to the tractor. A description of the equipment is a topic for another post, but in a few words, it automates something I've been used to doing by hand. Transplanting by hand involves pulling seedlings out of the trays they were started in, dropping them in the field, and getting your hands (and usually many other parts of your body) dirty by securing the plant in the appropriate spot. The tractor transplanter does the actual spacing and planting for you.

It has its pluses and minuses. A big plus is the actual time to get the plants in the ground is fast: it took about 10 minutes for four people (one driver, two transplanters, one quality control person tailing the tractor--three people would suffice though) to do two rows in one 275 foot bed. That's blazing fast. A big minus is that it's a piece of equipment, and therefore it doesn't always work right, which leads to frustration, backtracking, and tinkering.

When we first used the recently improved transplanter (two seats now) yesterday, it went perfect, and I was truly impressed. If it could save that much time, then, I thought, it might be the thing that convinces me that a tractor is something really worth having. But further transplanting proved to me that the perfection was fleeting. And while the transplanter always saved time (compared to hand transplanting) no matter what, I'm not sure that the time savings itself is worth the money and effort to have and maintain the equipment.

Besides, I've been wanting to avoid machines, because, well, I'm not sure the infrastructure and resources are gonna exist for much longer to allow us to continue to use machines the way we do as a society. As oil becomes more scarce and prices go through the roof (and don't fret, it will go back up in the not-too-distant future), I'm not sure tractors are going to make sense.

And on principle I find many machines ridiculously wasteful when I can do the very same things with my own body (often better) and simultaneously reap the benefits of pushing myself physically. In that case, time is not a cost, it is a benefit. As the subhead of my blog attests, I'm trying to live a simpler life, because simpler is good for me and is the only way that we as a community are gonna even begin to get on track to healing the clear-as-day wounds inflicted by our longtime hyper-consumerist ways. So, usually it's a no-brainer: I'll take manual labor over machine labor when it makes the most sense, which is most of the time.

But there are fuzzy areas. Both organic CSA farms I've worked at use tractors, for good reason. Both are about the same size at around five acres, which is small, but big enough that it's easy to see why a tractor comes in handy. For instance, manually preparing the soil for planting five acres would probably kill you before summer's first harvest (someone tell me if my perspective is limited on this). So as I see it our options when we have our own farm are three: buy a tractor (a used one, obviously, and biodiesel powered), secure the services of an animal (horse, mule), or scale down to where manual labor and small machines suffice.

The last two options are most appealing to me, for many reasons I'm sure I'll get into in future posts. But they beg some questions: Can we farm an acre or two and still make a living? Can we make the transition from machine-based labor to animal-based labor (I prominently include myself in the animal category) in a season while knowing very little about how to work with draft animals? Or maybe we should make the bulk of our money other ways and just have a garden plot big enough to mainly feed ourselves for the whole year and therefore not worry at all about non-human labor?

These are critical and difficult questions for a wannabe sustanainable farmer today. We hope to come up with some satisfactory answers in the next year or two.

Friday, April 17, 2009

scavenging and growing

The last couple days have been dry, warm, and sunny. Which means that our backlog of way-too-big greenhouse plants could get transplanted into the fields. Chard, choi, brocolli, lettuce, potatoes (seeded), kohlrabi, and cabbage all escaped their plastic prisons. It was a good feeling to get 'em all out. Here's a shot of the lettuces and some of the brassicas right before they got trucked out to the field.

How about the greenhouse cukes? Click to see the detail. Those tentacles are beautiful and strong. And notice the fruit in the first pic. Hopefully we defeated the soil disease problem.

The arugula and other greens we direct-seeded into the greenhouse our first day here? They're coming along, and some should be ready for next week's tailgate market.
Here's potatoes being planted. The implement is called a dragsetter. Two folks sit on the thing and drop potato pieces while one person pulls it with the tractor. A shoe digs a trench, and those wheels you see pack in dirt over the dropped potato. I was the driver. It was my first time doing potatoes like this. It was fast and easy. This dirt is plowed and disked, but there was really no need to till it up.

Then we found these yesterday admidst a stand of poplars on the ridge (thanks Molly!).
That's four yellows and three greys. They were all solitary; that fact combined with the mounds of deer shit and disturbed leaves make us think the deer are devouring all the morels. But it's just a theory. Oh, and we found that turtle shell that the morels are laying against. Not a bounty of morels, but it was so satisfying to finally find them ourselves and cook 'em up in some butter and eat 'em. They were yummy.
Also came across this spike morel that was too dried out to harvest or eat. Ugly mutha, right?

Beautiful tulip we saw during our foragings.

First market of the season is tomorrow, so we'll probably be heading down to Asheville to check it out. Then we get to tour a farm down in Saluda Saturday evening as part of our apprenticeship learning experience. And then we get a roommate on Sunday (the third apprentice). So, it's gonna be a busy weekend.
Most of the photos in this post were taken by Meagan. All the credit for the pretty pics should go to her. Plus she contributes about half of all the other photos on the blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another trip to Asheville

I've got some free time. Let me give you a few quick hits about the time we spent in Asheville this past weekend.

The Laughing Seed Cafe serves up some tasty vegetarian fare. Not only was it delicious, but their offerings are super creative. I had the tempecado, which was tempeh, avocado, sprouts, and a bunch of other veggies, with a side of jalapeno and cheddar fries. I also had a Green Man porter, straight from the kettles of Jack of the Wood public house, which is just down the street from Laughing Seed. Awesome sandwich, awesome (but just a bit salty) fries, top-notch porter. I thought Green Man might be named after crazy, tripped-out Charile from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I was wrong--it's named after some sort of European god of fertility associated with May Day.

We perused this old Woolworth store downtown that has been converted into sort of an art gallery for local artists. It still has the old-school Woolworth lunch counter and soda fountain, but the rest of the two-story building contains three-sided display booths (each booth contained the works of one artist) of paintings, pottery, jewelry, clothing, photography, and other various things you can buy that were produced by the exceedingly diverse and prolific community of creative individuals in the vicinity of western North Carloina. I was impressed; we went home with a couple things.

We did some general walking through downtown Asheville, which was once again enjoyable. The chess players weren't out this time, but plenty of street musicians entertained us along the way.

We did go to a candy store, The Chocolate Fetish, which supposedly gets rave reviews here in Asheville; but for me the real candy store was Bruisin' Ales, which has hundreds upon hundreds of beers, from local brews to imports. It was some hard decidin, but I finally broke through my unwillingness to commit with a half-gallon jug of organic porter from Pisgah Brewery, and a mixed pack of 22s from French Broad Brewery--both local operations. So far I've had the Kolsch and Wee Heavier Scotch Ale from French Broad. Both were very good, but I especially enjoyed the Scotch Ale. I'll try to report back on the others later.

We had to run some various errands, and by the time we headed back home, it was dark. Which was scary for me. My first long drive in the dark through the mountains. It ain't bad at all until you get past Marshall; then it gets twisty, and oncoming vehicle lights temporarily blind you to the curves ahead. This sucks for us flatlanders (or maybe it's just me) who've only travelled the roads a few times. And it doesn't help that the lane markers aren't painted the best in some of these areas. Anyway, we made it back unscathed. And I was thinking that at least we didn't come back over the steep and even less familiar Doggett.

Must make breakfast now. And then I think it's off to the dump. And then maybe a little diskin if it doesn't rain. I'm getting a little sick of this rain. But some clueless city official (I think) in a Citizen-Times article said the Forest Service is predicting three to four months of no rain starting in May. I think that's one crazy-ass "forecast," but it reminds me to at least be thankful for the rain we're getting now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If you're short on rocks...

we're thinking about instituting a u-pick. Nevermind those other leafy things.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April snows bring May...uh...?

Photos, as promised (kind of).

The snow begins. You may have to click on the pic to see the flakes.

Almost post-accumulation. From right to left: See how the cover crop (a mix of rye, vetch, clover, and field peas) doesn't get blanketed. You can also see the row cover over the strawberries. Finally, a field road, covered in snow. Also, we still think that's Bluff in the background (poor AT through-hikers must've had a couple miserable nights, because they got something like six inches up there, so I'm told).

Sunset before the storms.

This is the greenhouse we direct seeded on our first day here, photo taken about a week and a half ago.

Same greenhouse--a few days ago. Somewhere in the vicinity of when this photo was taken, we weeded (most of it)!

Preparing a different greenhouse for tomatoes, which, if everything goes right, we'll start harvesting in June! All the straw-colored stuff is dead rye and mustards, which we chopped up with a giant weedwacker. This here is a no-till operation. We just used shovels to loosen up the soil between the giant t-posts, where we'll transplant our ready-to-go tomato plants. The dead rye will be mulch, which will hopefully inhibit the growth of weeds. Not pictured are the cattle panels we installed. The tomatoes will have lots of opportunity to grow upwards.

Same greenhouse. We needed to replace the aged and holey plastic, and do some repairs on the baseboards (the difference in the clarity of the plastic is astounding). Oh, and scaffolds and front-end loaders are fun (if you're crazy). Don't try this at home.

Finally, today's glimpse from the top of Max Patch. Max Patch sits at about 4,600 feet on the TN/NC border, and the AT passes over it. 360 degree views let you see something like four states on a clear day. It is treeless thanks to years of cattle grazing. Now someone maintains its prairie-like setting. If you can handle the twisty, largely unpaved drive up to the trailhead, it's only a short, mildly strenuous walk to the summit. It was a hazy day today, but what I saw still made me thankful for being alive. (Also see my new profile pic for another shot from the top of Max Patch.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Indoor farming

It's been a week of mostly indoor farming, thanks to some schizophrenic weather. I wish I could post some pictures, but we're in the midst of some major storms, and our internet connection is super spotty.

Last Saturday we met the folks from the neighboring farm and another neighbor from over the mountain. All super nice, enjoyable people. We shared some homemade wood-fired pizzas with some local and not-so-local brews. Local being a variety of Highland beers, which are always delicious, as well as some homemade IPA that I find to be the tastiest IPA I've ever had; but I'm not really an IPA connoisseur, so I may not be an adequate judge. The not-so-local brew came straight outta the Midwest, representin' Wisconsin--the best cheap beer you can get here, in my opinion--PBR. Anyway, the beers, the pizzas, the company: great all.

Before the get together we spent Saturday exploring a bit of eastern TN. It's amazing how fast you leave the mountains once you get outside of Newport. And someone really has to explain to me the whole deal where people kind of just set up on the side of the state highway in TN and display and sell their wares. Right there on the shoulder. Is this a thing? Or are these people going rogue, kind of like moonshining, but more conspicuous and less tasty?

So Sunday, after a bit of recovery from Saturday, we had to put row cover over our strawberries in the field because the temps were supposed to drop into the 20s. Sunday was gorgeous, in the 70s. We went huntin for morels and came up empty. But we did find an awesome little waterfall lost way up the holler.

Monday saw temps dropping fast and wind picking up mightily. We wrestled with more row cover and were able to blanket about 1100 feet of transplanted veggies. It took us several hours to do that, and entailed gathering rocks that we had previously removed from the field and hauling them back in to hold the row cover down. Stupid rocks.

Then it snowed for a couple days. A lot. All snow globe-like. Only a little bit stuck to the ground, enough for me to make ultra-mini-snowmen, whose demise I delighted in with great pleasure. Needless to say, we did lots of seeding and greenhouse work over those couple days; I think we're nearly back on schedule in that department. And it looks like almost all our plants survived the freeze, so the tedious covering paid off for our CSA members and future market buyers.

Thursday brought nice weather back to our little cove. We worked on replasticizing one end of one of the greenhouses. I ended up hurting my back in some mysterious way (I didn't even know it was hurt until much later in the evening). Which meant that I would spend today (Friday) doing more seeding and such in the greenhouse. But I'm doin ok.

Today brought our first thunderstorms of the season. I love me some t-storms. It was thundering all wicked-like at various times today. We got lots of water from the sky, which I'm sure the plants outside are happy for.

Not sure what this weekend holds, but I'm going to try to get some recent pictures up here. Hope everyone has a good one.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Iffy cukes

Those cucumbers we transplanted in the greenhouse beds had mixed fates: some are starting to grow boldly up the fence, but several quickly keeled over all limp-like and died. A sample a couple years back from this greenhouse revealed pythium in the soil, a hard-to-get-rid-of fungus-like organism that destroys the roots of plants. Further tests will reveal if it's still pythium. In the meantime, we'll see if some biological controls will give us the edge, and we're rooting for the survivors to stay strong.

Elsewhere, we did lots of transplanting in the field; several beds are now growing little greens. We cut potatoes to plant next week. Applied some fish emulsion to the strawberries, which are flowering and even setting berries already. And we keep potting up in the greenhouse.

And I need to point out that the flat seeder (the wand thing with all the needles) is not all I thought it could be. It is useless when seeding eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes (nightshades), and extremely aggravating when seeding little tiny seeds (flowers). With the nightshades, it can't pick up the large seeds. With the flowers it either sucks the seeds up into the needles, picks up too many seeds, or can't pick the seeds up (depending on which needles you use). But my fingers almost always work when it comes to seeding. Lesson learned.

This morning we're heading to town to run some errands. Then we're gonna hunt some morels and cook up some pizzas from scratch in an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven for a little get together. Somewhere in the mix of activities we might plant some hops. Mmm... hops.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A non-farm ramble

I know some of you probably don't give a flying fuck about the details of our farming operation, which is cool. I get it. Nobody farms. It's long removed from what matters in our society. Who needs food anyway, right? Really, I'm not trying to be a dick when I say that. Just a smart ass. I'm like that sometimes. It might make you hate me.

But seriously, as an alternative to droning on about seeding and transplanting and all that, some might wonder what life is like after two weeks of Southern mountain living for a couple of TV news anchor-sounding (not really, but close), Midwestern flatlanders.

I would say that I'm loving it, if McDonald's didn't co-opt that fucking phrase and put it in the most ridiculous commercials ever made. But yeah, it's been great. Don't know what made me pick this farm initially, but I've been looking at it for nearly a year now, and it looks like it was the right intuition.

And as far as McDonald's commercials go, I haven't seen one in more than two weeks, nor any other commercials. No TV means no garbage. It also means doing without a few cool things, like The Office and opening day of baseball season, but these are small sacrifices. Now we read, or watch the occasional movie, or hike the mountains, or drink some homebrew and shoot the shit. And the few radio stations we get in are good.

Occasionally we head out of the cove and venture into general population. And that's cool too. It's just far.

So far, it seems the local breweries have good beer. A bonus. Most other Southern beers I've had previously were subpar. But the Asheville area loves its beer. I've heard it's been declared Beer City, USA by some website or something. I'm looking forward to drinking them all.

The air smells great here. I can't get over how warm it feels already. I can't get over the creek in our yard.

And then there's the tales and the sups. People are very welcoming here. I feel at home.

But, you know, I don't forget my roots. Just today I was boasting about Midwest sweetcorn. Represent! Let's hope I'm right about this. Who wants to back me up?

Anyway, it's been a long day. Tomorrow might be a short one, capped with a homemade IPA or wine. The rest of the week calls for rain (we'll take it while we can get it), but the weekend is supposed to be beautiful. We're probably gonna meet some neighboring farmers and their interns. And maybe we'll be checkin' out Max Patch.

How's everyone out there?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rain and white lightning

It's been rainy here, but warm (to me at least). We've been doin lots of seeding and transplanting. But it ain't all business.

So, you know the greenhouse where we're propagating; well, half of it was planted in a cover crop of mustard greens, like so:

We tilled these mustards in as a green manure to add organic matter and help combat what we believe to be some sort of pathogen in this particular soil. After a few days of watering and waiting for the greens to break down, we transplanted these cukes:

So far, so good (we only lost one of the transplants). As you can see, the cukes are gonna be growing up those cattle panels we installed. And let me tell you, it took some major pounding, grunts, and sweat to get those t-posts in.

Our first seedlings have germinated well. Not sure if this is a picture of the kohlrabi or one of the other brassicas. This is a shot taken three days after seeding:

And here's a pic of one of the other greenhouses, where we planted those greens I talked about in a previous post. I think that's arugula poking out (you might also see that we have lots of weeding to do already). Photo was taken on 3/27, 10 days after seeding.

Here are lots of flats of potted up flowers, herbs, and veggies sitting on pallets next to the beds of cukes. We're running out of table space.

And then some extra-curriculars. We caught these trout:

In these ponds:

Then we cleaned 'em and ate 'em immediately. Best fish I've ever had.
And then there was happy hour. All I'll say is that it was so smooth and would be one hell of a drink on a cold night.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seeding "precisely"

Yesterday we spent most of our day out in the field direct seeding various greens and roots using what our neighbor over the mountain calls the "stupid fucking plastic thing." Yes, it is stupid, and plastic, and makes you want to fucking swear at it. And we enjoy it so much we had to add "piece of shit" to its name. This ain't an exact replica of our model, but here's what it pretty much looks like, courtesy of Tiny Farm Blog.

It seems it worked for Let It Grow this year, and Tiny Farm Blog finds it to be a good tool for the price, but here in our rocky soil, the Earthway was anything but precise. While I was fighting with it up the rows I multiple times mumbled angrily, "I"ll show you precision!" along with some random expletives. Beet and spinach seeds didn't really work with the provided plates for beet and spinach seeding. Any lingering cover crop or vegetative matter laying in the soil would get caught by the shoe and hinder the "precision" of my seeding. Sometimes seeds would drop out sporadically or in bunches. The thing has no heft, so it isn't really drivable in less than Plato's ideal of soil. I could go on.

But hey, it apparently worked well at the farm I was at last year (though I never got the opportunity to use it there). And really, it is in a price range all its own (less than $100 compared with $300). And I'm just a rookie with it, so I may not know what I'm talking about. Nonetheless, we're looking to find a different seeder.

In other news:
  • you should see the rocks out here 
  • put trellis up for the peas (seeding today)
  • mid-60s here all this week
  • the eggs are delicious and plentiful
  • the brassicas we seeded in flats in the greenhouse are germinating nicely
  • the greenhouse direct-seeded greens are germinating as well

Sunday, March 22, 2009

We're rural

It takes a long time to get anywhere from where we live. Twenty minutes gets you to the closest population center (about 900 people). Then it's another 20 minutes or so to find a regular grocery store. Another 20 minutes gets you to Asheville.

We went to Asheville for the first time yesterday to pick up some odds and ends. Spent a little time downtown and ate lunch at the Early Girl Eatery. For a small- to medium-sized city, Asheville sure has lots going on. The food we ate was delicious (and mostly locally sourced and/or naturally raised), the streets seemed full of energy (not in the New Age sense--just the energy of activity and purpose), and the scenery was about as good as it gets inside a city (Asheville is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains). People were playing chess on the sidewalks and musicians were strumming on the corner with their cases open for donation. I wouldn't want to live in the city proper, but it seems like a great place to visit.

Other than that trip, we've spent almost all our time on the farm. It was a great first week, aside from the death of the dog who guarded the goats. We seeded lots of flats and a whole greenhouse. We started direct seeding in the field, but the rain stopped us. Now I look forward to seeing what we've planted germinate.

We also spent some time hiking the 130 acres that we live on. It was a nice vigorous hike up the ridge overlooking our cove. The land around us has lots of remnants of previous lives, including a cabin originally built in the late 1700s and an old springhouse (both of which are on the neighbors property, but you can glimpse them from our trails). The views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking at this time of year because of the relatively bare tree canopy. But even when the leaves spring, beauty will still remain. I can't wait to see the rhododendrons pop.

Next week brings the building of a greenhouse, more seeding, maybe some repair work, and who knows what else. One of the neighbors brought us down a bag of frozen ramps and morels from last year's foraging, which we plan on eating this week for lunch. I really can't wait to try 'em. Ramp and morel season is close upon us here, and I hope to go out and gather my own.

So, it's never dull.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Super seeder

We did lots of seeding today, and look at this badass toy.

And then:

Those are 128 cell flats. It takes just a few minutes to seed one flat once you get the hang of this thing. It uses a standard compressor hose attached to a simple PVC contraption and some needle-like suction tubes to accomplish the task. You dip your wand of needles (each set of needles sized for a general seed type, and the number of needles is adjustable depending on the cell quantity of your flats) into a tube full of seeds while holding your thumb over an air hole. It does a fairly good job of picking up one seed per needle. Then you place the needles at the appropriate spot, take your thumb off the hole, and, voila! the seeds are in the soil. Fast and easy, and a rather simple solution to a common small farm problem.

For those who aren't familiar with the process, this saves a whole lot of time and frustration when compared with seeding your plants by rolling seeds out of your hand or by using those shitty little plastic seed dispensers. The contraption is a bit pricey (in the neighborhood of $300), but might be worth the expense for a decent-sized propagation operation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A few pics of our new home

Just a brief post to give a quick picture of the place. You can see our home on the right with the red roof. And of course the beautiful foggy ridgeline in the background. It was overcast, humid and relatively warm our first couple days here. It's been a bit of a process for my cold bones to adjust. But I love being smack in the middle of spring right now.

Below is Meadow Fork, which runs through our "front yard" and makes that soothing rushing river sound that I just can't get enough of.

The propagation room. That there is lots of onions growing in the schizophrenic heat of the springtime greenhouse. They got a few weeks to go before moving on out. Today we transplanted hundreds of tomatoes, peppers, chard, and eggplant from smaller to larger cells (or, as we say here, we potted 'em up). Further to the back you can see the shiny insulation that cuts the greenhouse in half. The other side is filled with a cover crop of mustard greens and doesn't need the heat that these seedlings crave.

Goats! They're friendly and one of 'em likes to escape.

One of many views from outside our apartment. I think the peak on the left is Bluff Mountain; but I'm still getting my bearings and landmarks down.

Direct seeded this greenhouse the other day with salad crops (lettuces, spinach, arugula).

Our cats being naughty on the table. They're adjusting pretty well.

So much is not pictured here. Strawberry plants are growing. Garlic is poking up out of the soil. Daffodils are blooming. Trees are budding. Horses and chickens are roaming the slopes. Coyotes are yelping in the night (so I'm told). Frogs are making weird high-pitched sounds I've never heard before. The air smells sweet. The neighbors are super friendly. The food is delicious. And the roads are always twisty.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We're here

Our new home is gorgeous. It's really unbelievable. The farmers we're learning from are amazing people. Pictures and other info to come soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting there

Well, we're almost moved out. There's about a carload (hopefully just one more) left of stuff to remove from the apartment, which I'll be doing tomorrow.

The last few days have been busy, and it doesn't look like it's letting up anytime soon. It might be that the next time I post, it will be from North Carolina. If you see some psycho driving an obviously undersized-for-the-task vehicle eastward on the highway with a beat up old car topper on the roof and something resembling a bike rack lashed to the trunk, you might want to keep your distance--ya know, just to be safe.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The home stretch

Moving time is approaching. This week is going to be unfun. We hope to have everything pretty much packed and done in the next seven or eight days or so.

I read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy last week. Damn. Breezed through it in about two days. If you thought the movie was good, read the book. And I thought the movie was superb. But the book is even better (though they are pretty much true to the original in the movie, but you can't get it all on film). McCarthy has a way of expressing profound things without being preachy or one-sided. I mean, in general, it's pretty bleak with him (the novels set in the American West at least--I haven't gotten to his earlier works yet), but he always gives you a taste of hope somewhere along the line. But really, I think McCarthy is gifted like few others. You can read him and, if you have a bit of patience, you will find something that strikes you deeply, no matter your worldview. He's a living master.

In other news, packing sucks. I went through a box of stuff filled with crap from my youth and beyond. Bad poetry, old letters, random trinkets with vague significance. Funny: I found a high school report that I wrote on a typewriter. Damn, does that make me old, or what? Well, not really, and no offense to anyone else. But it's a revelation to me. A typewriter. I still remember typing on that thing, using those shitty little whiteout tabs to erase mistyped letters. Oh, delete key, how I love thee. But despite the shittyness of the stuff I found, I had a real hard time getting rid of most of it. The sentimental value of some things still holds strong. Even some of the garbage poetry: it reminds me of my disposition during those years of angst, and helps me remember how I got from there to here--which has some interest to me, though a significant part of me doubts it has any real personal value. But here it is, going back into the box, and I likely won't see it again until the next substantial move, which will be who knows when. Do I really need to recall the terrible poetry written in my freshman year of high school or even the terrible poetry written post-high school? Do I need to keep the letters I received from my first serious girlfriend? I don't know if I do. But I'm keeping them for now.

Moving makes you think; at least it's got that going for it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Changes to the blog

Regular readers will notice I've been making some changes to the blog lately. Been playing around with the way the sidebar looks, changing the way I link to my favorite blogs, showing links to related posts in a widget after each post, messing with the html code to tweak things, etc.

Everything looks good on my end. But if anybody sees anything that looks haywire or off, please let me know. Also, if you think my blog could use something different or would function better with some kind of adjustment, tell me. You want me to focus my content on some particular aspect of living the rural, poor, biological farm life? I'm all ears (no corn pun intended... seriously).

Though I do this blog partly for my own personal satisfaction, it's also about communicating with and sharing ideas with other folks, both those I already know and those I've yet to correspond with. So, let me know if you've got some ideas or thoughts. Comments are a good way to do it, but email (ramblinjoe[at]gmail) works as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Economy: It's hard work

You've been hearing it all over the place, probably every single day for the last several months: the economy sucks. Everyone says it. And it sure looks like it, with people losing their jobs left and right.

I know a little bit about this. I've been looking for work on and off for the past several months, and I can tell you that the available employment situation in central Wisconsin has worsened considerably--and it wasn't even that great to begin with. In the middle of '08 I would say there were plenty of jobs available, albeit not-so-desirable jobs, but still, plenty of jobs. Now, well, it's slim out there. Back then, a non-specific job search on the local daily newspaper classifieds yielded about 15-20 new job postings a day. Now you get that many new job postings every five days or so.

Still, in 08, wife and I combined made more money than we ever did as a couple. But we still struggled to make it at the end of the year. I don't exactly know why. For one, we probably spent more in general (that tends to happen when you make more money). For another, food and fuel costs were way up (though, we were less impacted by food prices because of our involvement with local agriculture). Regarding fuel: since we've lived in this apartment (it's been over four years now) we've managed to, on average, cut our electricity usage year to year. Electricity runs everything in our apartment (heat, stove, hot water, etc.). And yet, our electricity bills have continued to rise, this past December being the highest bill ever. Granted, it was cold, so heat was being generated at a high rate. But still, what kind of encouragement is that? People learn to use less, people cut back, but costs continue to rise. What's that? It's a dysfunctional economy.

That's right, the economy isn't bad, it's fundamentally dysfunctional.

I understand there are holes in my examples above. I do admit that we probably spent more in general. But ask my wife, she thinks I'm pretty extreme about avoiding purchases, so my idea of increased spending is probably a bit overstated. And I do admit that the winter has been cold. But if you look at the raw numbers provided on our little electric bill you can see that we've done a pretty damn good job of cutting our kWh usage in relation to heating/cooling degree days.

I think it has gotten to the point where if you live most of your existence in the mainstream American economy, you have few options to control your own livelihood--unless, of course, you desire money, pursue it, and are good at attaining it (the shortcomings of money coveting is a topic for a different post). For the rest of us who hold different values, our only opportunity for making a living, in my opinion, is to reject the dominant economic paradigm.

(What I'm about to say, I'm fully aware, is not anything new. It's all been said before. But now's the time for us to really consider viable alternatives to an economy that's been broken for so long. Perhaps this is the first time in several decades where a critical mass of people is willing to really question the way things are run and how it affects their daily lives. I'm just a messenger trying to straddle the divide.)

So, if I want to cut costs, take gentle steps on the Earth, and live a more satisfying life, I need to either change the deeply entrenched economic system (which many people much smarter than me have been trying to do for so many years now, to nearly no avail) or a bunch of us need to opt out and make our own economy (which is already happening successfully in small patches throughout the world). Whichever path one chooses to take to an alternative economy, it's gonna involve a rededication to good old human labor.

In the alternative economy I'm directly responsible for my heat, for example. If I'm using wood, the biggest "cost" is personal labor, which involves me and my neighbors actively managing a forest, cutting down some trees (or clearing dead timbers), hauling wood, and maintaining a heating system. But (here's a major key) it's not a cost in the traditional sense, with the proper mindset, because my labor is enjoyable. I get to be physically and mentally active (it keeps me healthy in more ways than one), in many cases I get to be outside (which I think is a built-in human desire), and the cash money I need to spend on such an activity is minimal. No doubt, physical labor and active, meaningful problem solving aren't always a "good time," but far worse is paying the utility provider, who you have absolutely no sway with. (And really, we pay money to go to college or work out at the gym, when a good majority of both meaningful education and physical wellness can be provided through truly productive personal labor.) If I'm providing my own utilities, on the other hand, I guide the entire process: I make the decisions that affect me--not some faceless, sprawling company who doesn't have a meaningful relationship with me or have my interests at heart.

Two things about this economy. Despite the way I describe it, it's not an "I" economy; it requires people consciously working together. Imagine that. It requires community. In that sense, it is much more like the way we have lived for the majority of our time on this planet. The other thing: using wood for heat is only a convenient example; this economy is a modern and forward-looking one that can utilize (when it comes to the example of energy use) things like solar forced-hot-air, earth-rammed construction, passive solar, and, really, anything you can think of that is not energy intensive.

So, I have a real stimulus package for you: we should learn to do things and make the majority of our decisions on a small-scale local level. But let's not be ridiculous about this. You don't have to be some jack of all trades, some complete do-it-yourselfer. It's the 21st century, and we've learned a lot, invented a lot of useful things. Specialization makes sense, but only if we have a general understanding and awareness of the system that makes it possible for us to live a good life. We need to make the system accountable to what we value. Then the possibilities expand.

But we can't be afraid to do a little bit of hard work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Down the Canyon

With spring just around the corner and our imminent move to one of the most beautiful areas in the country just a few weeks away, I thought I'd post about our short adventure into another beautiful area of the country that occurred this past May: the Grand Canyon. Plus, this blog needs some pictures, and I got lots of decent shots of the Canyon while hiking from rim to river.

It was an experience. Six of us rented a van in Vegas and drove to the South Rim, knowing full well our backcountry permit had been denied in February because the corridor trails (South Kaibab and Bright Angel--the most maintained trails in the whole park) into the canyon are so popular. But we figured we'd get on the in-person waiting list and hope for the best. If we weren't successful, we'd just explore the upper regions of the canyon with several day hikes.

We made it to the South Rim, gear and people smooshed into the van (I told the annoyingly skeptical rental counter guy we could do it--that naysayer), and it was cold at night. Snow was still on the ground. Some of us were freezing in our tents. I was pretty warm though.

The next morning, we got on the waiting list, and we received the last available permit to do the hike. Some of us were a bit freaked out; some of us were pumped. We'd be going almost a vertical mile down and then up; in actual walking distance, it would be about seven miles down and around nine miles up. Not all in one day. Hike down, camp near Colorado River. Wake up next day, and hike out.

Next morning, we had to catch a 5:30 a.m. shuttle to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. Backpacks were loaded with clothes, quick-energy, high-protein foods, and various camping supplies. I had almost two liters of water clipped on to my pack. It was a chilly morning on the rim. But that would change.

The South Kaibab has some spectacular views. There ain't much in the way of trees or shrubs to impede your vision, which, as we would find out, makes for a warm sun beating down on you later in the day. But it was amazing to see the river get closer as we trekked onward.

We had several encounters with the NPS resupply mules and their rented bretheren that carry the non-hikers down to the bottom and back up. Give the mules room! Stay close to the inside of the trail!

The downward hike is more vigorous than one might think. It takes a toll on the legs always going down, down, down. And down (the South Kaibab is pretty consistent across the length of the trail when it comes to elevation change). And we shed layers as we went.

After the mainly desert/steppe environment of the South Kaibab, the bottom is like an oasis. The dammed-up Colorado is wide, tranquil, and beautiful. Bright Angel Creek, which roars down from the North side of the Canyon into the Colorado, makes you want to jump right in and cool off. Our rugged campsite was about 10 feet from the creek, and we enjoyed the sound of the rushing waters and the beautiful riparian flora.

Phantom Ranch is up the North Kaibab trail a piece, and after setting up camp, we headed that way. They have a small general store there (best lemonade and Snickers I've ever had), a kitchen (you must reserve a meal--and it's pricey), and park ranger workshops, as well as some cabins/rooms for those who don't like to camp. People who work in this remote village, live there. The rangers who work there live there for something like seven days at a time, then they get something like six days off, where they must hike up the canyon in some form or another, whether it's the backcountry or the rim. This consistent ascent and descent keeps them fit in case they have to run up the trails to help an injured hiker. You should see their calves.

So we took in a couple great ranger talks and then fell asleep early. We woke up early and hiked up the Bright Angel Trail. The Bright Angel is much different than the South Kaibab. There were several streams flowing across this trail in May, which is a welcome sight because you go through so much water during the heat of the day. I still was only carrying my nearly two liters of water, but because of all the flowing water (and my water filter), I wasn't really concerned about not having enough. Anyway, the Bright Angel is a much more lush experience than the Kaibab, but the tradeoff was that there were less grand views (but still lots of good ones).

So, the trail seemed easy at first (despite it being a much hotter day). We blew through the first half of it in no time, which made us a bit cocky about the ascent. But by the time we hit the Three Mile Rest area (that's three miles from the rim) we experienced a shift in the terrain. Those last three miles, and especially the last 1.5 miles, are a near constant climb. Frequent rest and food breaks were the norm.

But we made it back to the rim after several hours (I can't remember the specific time now). (And, just so we're clear, there were lots of people doing this hike. People of all ages and sizes. It just takes a little mental toughness and some sound preparedness.) We ate a large, warm, delicious meal at the surprisingly good Grand Canyon cafeteria, and then we took off for out-of-the-way places in Arizona.

The night ended in a cheap, rundown, dirty (did I say cheap?) hotel in Kingman, Arizona, where we treated ourselves to a sink full of beer on ice, Taco Bell, and The Flight of the Conchords.

One to remember.

(Note: Nothing I could do about the inconsistent formatting in this post. Blogger wasn't letting me put pictures where I wanted, so I did the best I could.)