Just a Glimmer

It is a fine spring morning here at the farm. Wind and rain have taken a rare holiday. A few whisps of clouds dot an otherwise clear and deep blue sky. It is just cool enough for a cap and jacket.

The eastern field smells green. Absent for the moment are the artificial smells of diesel and man-made fertilizers, even the mousey scent of poison hemlock. There is only green, and for just a moment a whiff of wild mint so strong it cools the tongue. Then… just green.

On the ground are the early signs of ironweed and thistle mixed with grasses and budding raspberry brambles, the fading yellow of last year’s ground cherries and the fine leaves of early Queen Anne’s lace.

I don’t hear the highway. Instead there are only the calls of the redwing blackbirds staking their claims to space and females. The creek, swollen by rain the day before has settled down to a contented and subtle little laugh.

For the space of a brief walk, there is a glimmer of peace on this little bit of earth, a peace I wish for everyone.

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Mixed Signals

March 1, 2017

I saw my nemesis twice today. The first time was by the fence which separates the yard from the east pasture. The chickens had sounded their ground-based threat alarm, which sounds suspiciously like their “I just laid an egg” call. I had all but started ignoring those similar sounds, but decided I needed to go investigate this one. I’m glad I did. The coyote looked at me for a while to see what I was going to do. Only when I started towards it did it run into the field.

The second time I took Layla and Mr. Pickles for a walk in the field. I saw the coyote (who needs a name at this point) on a well- worn game trail on the hill across the creek. She looked at me and then at the dogs. Discovering that she was invisible to the dogs, she returned her attention to me. I told her again to leave my chickens and dogs alone. She just looked at me. I took a couple of steps. She took a couple. We repeated this little dance a couple of times. Then she grew tired of mocking me and ran up the trail. The dogs never saw her.

I’m not sure she isn’t a hybrid. She sure is fluffy. I think I’d like to pet her, lure her over with some tasty treat, so I can rub my face in her fur. Then my imagination heads south. I become an obsessed psycho who sucks her in just to get revenge for lost chickens, ducks and dogs, only to be devastated by guilt and haunted by a beating heart in the floor boards. So, I shake my head and come back to moment and hear the roosters from a distance.

The roosters send her mixed signals. While they warned me when she came up to the fence, they seem to invite her to the yard from afar.  From where I stood at the creek it sounded like “Here we AAAAAAAARRRRE! We are HEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRE! We are all ALLLLOOOOOOOOOOONNNNE! We taste really GOOOOOOOODDD!”

Maybe the chickens deserve their fate.

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Chasing Spurtle

It’s not in my nature to be mean, or tough, or even assertive. It’s part of why I left teaching. I just tired of telling kids what to do. It’s why my dogs have no manners and don’t listen when I give them instructions. Well, two of the three. The third one is deaf, so she just doesn’t hear the instructions. Although I’m sure if she did, she would also ignore me. In truth, I just have no desire to control anyone or anything. Oh, sure, I’ll snap at someone if I’m tired or something, but mostly, I just let it (whatever “it” is at the moment) roll.

That’s why Spurtle is such a problem for me. If she’d leave my animals alone, I’d probably set a bowl of food out for her, but I know that acclimating her to humans is a bad idea, as much as I just want to scratch her behind the ears. So, I know I can’t be her friend. To that end I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to get rid of her.

I know there are a host of you out there who would simply raise your rifles or shotguns or assault weapons and take your best shot. It would be easy to do with her, because she lets me get pretty close. But I’ve said before if I kill her, another would just take her place. And if I won’t step on a spider, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot a coyote.  I just want to co-exist with her peacefully. I’d also really love to get a good picture, but my phone doesn’t take great pictures and I’m too cheap to go get a really good camera. It pains me to spray the ants in the house, much less go out and shoot what looks like a big woolly dog. I’m a vegetarian because I watch videos of goats, pigs and cows leaping for joy when they get into wide open spaces and believe the only reason we don’t eat our dogs is because of our own perceptions, not because there is any real difference.

So, shooting a coyote is out of the question. I thought about getting a sling shot or a bb or pellet gun just to scare her away by non-lethal means, but I did some research on that, and most hunters thought it was a bad idea. They, who  would shoot the animal and kill it because they just didn’t want it around, were concerned that using a slingshot or pellet gun might put an eye out or inflict a festering wound on her which might cause her to suffer a long agonizing death. I figure if hunters are concerned for her then it’s a bad idea.

Instead I’ve learned that I just need to wave my arms and shout or shake a can of coins at her, throw objects at her, and keep going after her until she is gone from the area I want her to avoid. So, that’s what I’m doing, or have done.

The other evening I heard the chickens raising their alarms, so I went out to investigate. Sure enough, Spurtle was lurking near the fence of the east pasture. I wouldn’t have seen her, but she made a noise as she sought cover in the dead hemlock. I saw her then crouching against the fence separating our pasture from the neighbor’s field. As I moved toward her with an old lemon, a rock, and a blue enamel coffee pot full of coins, she started north along the fence, so I mimicked her move. She stopped and headed south and back into the open field. I followed her, shaking my coffee pot of coins.

Let me just stop and let you know there is nothing magical about the blue enamel coffee pot or the lemon. My wife collects the stuff (the blue enamel, not the old lemons), and there is one by our door, in which I placed some coins just for noisemaking to scare off animals. The old lemon just went bad in the fridge and made for a nice throwable object, although for those who have seen me throw, you’ll know the coyote was in no mortal danger.

So I headed south and east into the pasture after Spurtle, who continued to glance over her shoulder to see if I was following. I picked up my pace and rattled my coins, hoping she didn’t consider me a bit of undercooked potato as Scrooge saw the ghost of Marley. She picked up her pace and bolted through a gap in the fence. I continued to pursue my parallel course as she continued east.  She stopped when she saw I was not getting closer, and I pondered my options. Fortunately, I discovered a gap in the fence and went through it. This moved her along again.

But it was about this time I began to feel bad. Previously, on other days I had called to her, even whistled, wanting her to stay close so I could… I don’t know what I wanted. To pet her? To get a good picture? Now, here I was chasing her and rattling my magic coffee pot of coins and threatening her with an old lemon. When we began our chase, her ears were up. She was perky. But as I pursued her further east, her head began to droop and her ears fell. It was like she was hurt that she wasn’t wanted.

When she stopped again, I threw the lemon in her general direction. It was only close enough to hurt her feelings. She turned and began to trot off, and I realized how close we were getting to the highway. At the easternmost point of our field, it is separated from the highway only by a drainage ditch filled with riprap. The neighbor’s field ends in a triangle between our field and the highway. In my head I saw visions of the coyote running onto the highway and getting struck by a car, or cars swerving into ditches trying to avoid the coyote. All the while, her head continued to droop and she glanced back at me with those big sad eyes.

I stopped my pursuit and lowered my coffee pot. I took the rock from my pocket and dropped it where I stood. I watched her for a bit, still heading east.  She paused and looked back over her shoulder one more time.  Instead of sitting to see what I would do as she normally does, she simply turned east and continued on her way. I wondered if she saw in my face that I did this only out of obligation and for her own good. I felt like the kid in that old movie who had to throw rocks at the dog to make him go away.

We were too close to the highway for my comfort. Night was falling. She was not stopping. I waved goodbye to her unseen and turned for the long slow walk back to the house, hoping she’d head south away from the road and back into the comfort of the copse of trees along the creek in our field, hoping I’d not find her dead on the highway in the morning light. I counted my chickens, and checked their water and food. I closed the run knowing they were all safe for another day.

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The Golden Spurtle

I learned this morning from reading a package of oatmeal that there is a porridge contest in Scotland. The winner of this contest wins “The Golden Spurtle.” I liked that and thought immediately to name an animal Spurtle.

As it turns out the coyote now roaming the eastern field is a pleasant golden color this time of year. It provides her excellent camouflage against the tall dead grasses of our winter fields. It’s not so good when she is traversing the deep green of young wheat as she was this morning in the field north of us. I saw her as I walked the dogs along our usual path. Her route paralleled ours and I assume she was there after scoping out the chicken run, only to find the three dogs and I all going out to open the run together.

Last evening I’d gone out to see what the roosters were complaining about. As I got nearer the woodpile in front of the run, I heard rustling just beyond the fence between the yard and field. Taking a couple of steps toward the noise, I heard more, then saw Spurtle stepping out from the dead ragweed and burdock that crowds the fence. She paused and looked at me, as she does, to see if I would chase her. When I took a couple of steps she walked….walked! mind you…down the hill and toward the field, stopping every few yards to see if I was still behind her.

I followed her down the hill and into the path and stopped. Then I whistled for her. She stopped, and I made that noise one makes when calling a dog, pursing my lips and making a kissing sound. She turned and looked at me and sat down, looking at me as if wondering what I was up to. I whistled again and she sat looking at me, debating. Ultimately, she must have decided it was a trap, and she loped off. I followed her a little ways. She only runs as far as she has to, turning once in a while to see if I’m still in pursuit. If not, she slows to a walk and goes on about her business.

This morning I saw her first and kept pace with the dogs, which never, ever seem to see this coyote. Maybe this is all a figment of my imagination. “Spurtle” seems an even better name for a figment. When she finally saw me she slowed. I slowed with her. She increased her pace, as did I. She quickly grew tired of this little dance and stopped. I stopped and looked at her. Then she looked back towards the house, and I just know she was wondering if we’d continue on our way, so she could circle back to the house. But, seeing through her plan, I didn’t move. The dogs continued sniffing about and eating grass nearby, still oblivious. (I’m pretty sure they will never get promoted to guardian animals.)

Spurtle continued to watch me and glance back towards the house. I remained. She sat down and waited. I remained. She lay down and waited. I remained. Finally, I decided to head back to the house with the dogs, because I figured she would head back there knowing the coop and house were unguarded. She remained in her spot. Even after I went into the house with the dogs, she lay in the grass. Only after I’d made a trip to the greenhouse to water some plants did she rise and continue on her journey east, and then south, entering the field from an open area where an old gate had fallen between the fields.

She would be easy enough to kill, this Golden Spurtle. The more we interact, the less likely she is to run, the closer she lets me get, particularly if the dogs are absent. But I’ve come to enjoy our little dances. Even knowing that she would kill a chicken if given a chance, she would only do so as a means of surviving. If I kill her another would quickly fill the void. To me she is another of Nature’s wonderful beasts, and I admire her no less than I do the hawks and herons and other animals which inhabit that eastern pasture. I have no desire to kill her, only to protect my own animals. Perhaps one day I’ll get a sling shot or salt pellets and warn her off. But for now I’ll keep  a watchful eye and enjoy all of the nature of the field.

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Honky Tonk Hens

Even if the calendar says otherwise, spring is in the air here. Most evident are the calls of the red wing blackbirds, staking their claims to space and women. It’s like a big ol’ honky tonk out in the pasture right now. Come to think of it, I expect the chicken run isn’t much different. I should hang some neon lights out there and put in a keg for decoration, take out the straw and put some sawdust on the floor. Hang some pictures of Jones and Strait. It’s already pretty rustic, and I imagine the attitudes and goings on aren’t much different.

The boys all straighten their combs and perk up their tail feathers trying to impress the ladies. Meanwhile most of the hens are sitting on their roosts watching the boys make fools of themselves. Some of the girls are a little more forward and start to follow one of the boys around. Others stay in groups clucking among themselves, only occasionally casting an eye towards the roosters. Still others, wanton hussies that they are, just walk up to the roosters and crouch to be taken.

It’s always ladies night at this bar though and there are plenty of hens. There are only four boys. One is just old enough to be interested, but not old enough to be interesting. I imagine the girls laugh at his opening lines or his naivety. One is the little guy trying to compensate for his diminutive stature. He goes after the biggest girls and ignores the ones that are interested in him. He’s brash and cocky (go figure), may have a good sense of humor. It’s hard for me to tell though, not speaking chicken. The bigger girls flirt with him and like him because of his boldness, but inside they probably laugh at him too. Personally, I wonder about the mechanics, even if the girls were interested.  Generally, the larger roosters pay him no mind because he’s no real threat. Not sure why he’s always after me, except the girls like me better. Maybe after I leave, he tells the girls he chased me off.

But the two biggest roosters are always putting on a show for the girls, and if one of them gets too close to a group, the other one goes after him. Neck feathers ruffle and spurs fly.  There are no wing men here. (Well, maybe there are, but I really don’t know what roosters see in hens. Maybe they’re all breast men.)  It’s every man for himself, and even though there are five hens to every rooster, the target rich environment does not offer enough to share. It’s as if Maverick and Iceman opted to kill each other rather than split the girls up between them.  (Hmm, I think I just figured out names for the next two roosters we get.)

The chickens are all free range. They don’t spend the whole day in the honky tonk, and with 25 acres to explore they find there’s room for all of them. But then night falls, Hank’s on the jukebox again as the neon lights up the sky, and everyone heads back to the bar. The rooster king gathers the hens he wants in the fancy coop and the second takes who’s left into the run after he takes them in the yard. He settles for the other girls, because apparently, in the chicken world at least, old Mickey Gilley was right and the girls all get prettier at closing time.


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On Messrs. King, Sheen and Thorn

I am not a man of faith, nor have I been for many years, although I was baptized before witnesses in the Sanctuary of Congress Street United Methodist Church when I was in my late teens. I carried a bible with me from the good folks at Gideon whenever I wore my military uniform, and I read portions of both the Old and New Testaments. Of course I read the books without guidance or context, which probably was a partial cause of my departure from the faith, but that is not the subject of this essay. No, this concerns one of my big questions as I read the rantings of John in Revelations (or some such. That just sounded dramatic, so I’ll roll with it.)

When my  religious reading was limited to the bible, and even as I began exploring the world’s religions, I often wondered how we would recognize the Great Deceiver if he was so clever that his lies would be indiscernible to those not well educated in the words of God. How would we know the truth from the lies if he was so good at deceiving us? Would our faith be the only way to see through the lies? Would it only be those of purest faith who would understand the deceits for what they were? Of late I’ve come to realize the myopia of my thinking. “Great” might not be interpreted so much as “he’s really good at it”, as it could be “he does it a lot, in a big way, with impunity.” What if the Great Satan is not some mullah hiding in a cave in the Middle East somewhere, but is rather the leader of the Free World, and not the slick, well-polished and clever Damien Thorn type, but instead is some sociopathic, narcissistic, blowhard, who simply follows the top twenty-five quotes of Goebbels on some quotation website?

Now, I’m not saying our current leader is the Anti-Christ. All I am saying is that my interpretation of what I understood has been single minded. My limited understanding of biblical prophecy has been colored by popular culture and writers of fiction.  Certainly there’s a lot more to it than what I’m presenting here. There’s a lot of history I don’t know and a lot of popular fiction I haven’t read, but I’ve seen enough to worry me.

During the campaign of 2016 I watched the politicians doing their thing, shaking hands, giving speeches, holding babies. But one candidate held a baby, not like Mr. Obama, against him, nurturing and comforting the tot, but rather holding him out, arms extended, as if he wanted the world to see he was holding that baby. (or that he was afraid closer contact night give him cooties) He waved him around like some prized trout. “Look what I caught, Dad!” It was quite a contrast to watching Obama quieting kids with the patience and calm of what must be a terrific father. But as I watched this candidate showing his prize to the audience, I had a flashback to another bit of popular culture.

In the movie version of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, (apologies to Mr. King, the book on which the movie was based is one of those pieces of fiction I’ve not read), Martin Sheen’s character (Greg Stillson) is giving a speech when Christopher Walken’s character (Johnny Smith) tries to assassinate him. Stillson picks up a child and waves him around at arm’s length using the child as a human shield to ward off the assassin’s bullet.  This was not a conscious thought process on my part.  This was just a flash in my mind, much like Smith’s “dead zones.” Again, I’m not saying our current president would do such a thing, but the physical similarities were striking in my mind’s eye.

The reason for the assassination attempt is also troublesome. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Smith can see glimpses of the futures of people with whom he comes into contact. Stillson is a former bible salesman who wins a House seat through evil means, and has designs on higher office. When the two come into contact at a rally, Smith sees Stillson ready to push THE BUTTON, because it is “his destiny.”

I don’t think Trump sees ending the world as his destiny. However, I have begun to wonder what would happen to a narcissistic psychopath when he is faced with abject failure, and his fragile ego has to come to grips with the fact that his people no longer want him. Let’s suppose that he does something which violates, not just ethical standards, but law, and Congress decides to proceed with impeachment. Further, let’s suppose that as the trial wears on it appears that Trump becomes aware he is going to lose and will be removed from office.  We’ve all seen his rants on Twitter; his lies about things that are recorded on camera for all to see; his attacks on those who disagree with him. What happens when those who are closest to him begin to turn? What’s to keep someone like him, who throws tantrums without thinking about the consequences, from saying “Fine! If I can’t be president, then no one is going to be president!” while heading for his bunker and reaching for the football?

It would not be suicidal for him. A narcissist rarely thinks “the world is better off without me”, but he is likely to say “I am better off without the world.” To him he would simply be getting rid of his detractors….all of them.

Now, do I think all of this is going to come to pass? No. I’d like to believe that when it comes right down to it, he’d step aside. But if he does reach for that football, I wonder if the boot-licking sycophants around him will have the guts to stop him, or if they’ll follow him straight into Hell. Or will we have to rely on a rogue secret service agent to save the world? In the end, it won’t be up to us. We have let this genie out of the bottle, given him the switch and trusted to whatever powers that be that we will be safe.  Or maybe there is a God and maybe he has a plan for the US, even if it’s not the plan we expected.

Or maybe I’m just a dumb country boy, born and raised in a small town, tending his chickens on a small farm in a flyover state, letting his imagination run wild and hoping to write a piece of popular fiction.

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A Different Classroom Analogy

I have seen on my Facebook feed an analogy in which a professor  “destroys” an argument by challenging his students to “give their As” to a student who spends all his/her time in drunken revelry, rather than working towards a grade. Of course all these horrible students are immediately swayed by the professor’s argument and likely become conservative economists who staunchly defend trickle-down economics.

The professor did not destroy my beliefs. Ultimately he did not alter my thinking. He did give me pause. I set forth the following without any expectation I might “destroy” someone’s thought processes or beliefs, or even that it might change a mind. I merely hope to give the reader pause.

The author of the referenced analogy begins with the mythical “welfare queen.” He sets us up by pointing to a lazy, unmotivated student who wastes his/her gifts and talents, expecting a free handout. When we begin with this perception of a welfare recipient, we are primed to deny help.  But perceptions are everything and a more realistic look at college grades helps.

First, let’s understand and agree that grades in a college classroom are based on an accumulation of points. Let us suppose that in this classroom one might accumulate 1000 points through papers, tests, quizzes, labs and such. Therefore, to get an A, one might have to accumulate 930 points. For a B it might be 870 points, etc.

Let’s assume too that the student in question is not a drunken partier, but rather a widowed mother of four, who did the “right” thing and stayed home with her kids until their father was killed, and before the insurance runs out she is in college to develop the skills she needs to take care of her kids. She now works two jobs to pay for household expenses and daycare, and attends classes part time. She rides the bus to save money on the ownership of a car, and daycare is in the neighborhood and relatively inexpensive, if not high quality.

Needless to say, she is exhausted, but she does what she can to accumulate the points she needs to do well in the class, but she just can’t keep up. The professor now suggests that the students do not simply give her their grades (because that doesn’t make any sense). He takes five points from each of them. In a lecture hall of 50 people that adds up to 250 points. She now has 750 points or more, and the other kids, who gave up a mere five points each are not affected at all.

That, however, is a pretty regressive system. Some people in the classroom have barely enough points for a C as it is, while others have over 990 points. So, the professor does this instead. He takes 20 points from those with over 950 points, 10 points from those with over 880 points and fewer still from those in the C range. Those with As still have As, but fewer points. Since the only thing that matters when they graduate is the grade, not the points, no one is worse off and those who need the most help are better off.

There will be students who won’t care. They earned those points. They aren’t giving them away, even if they still maintain their A. Other people can just suck it up. They just aren’t working hard enough.  Of course these might be the same kids who would keep all their points in a “legacy” system.

Let’s suppose the college operates on a legacy system. A kid goes to the same college his parents attended. His parents got straight As and accumulated a lot of points.  When the kid starts college, he inherits all his parents’ points. He’s got As before he starts. When he finishes the class he’s got 1850 points. But he still doesn’t want to donate any points to the working mom who is struggling to make ends meet, even though he did nothing to earn 950 of those points except be born to the right parents!

And let’s put this on a curve and make it competitive, so the kid with 1850 points drives the curve way up.  Those at the bottom have to earn more points just to pass, even though enough points to pass aren’t available. Now we’re having some fun!!!

Instead, what if the professor took the 900 points the kid inherited (read “did not earn”) and divided some of it up among those who struggle to make grades?! The curve is no longer stretched beyond the means of those at the bottom, and those at the top lose nothing they can’t afford to lose! The top grade earners keep their grades and merely give up a few points, some they didn’t even earn (something they don’t mind denying to those at the bottom because they didn’t “earn” it). Those at the bottom struggling to keep up get a little boost, and a sense of relief… and hope, I’d wager.

I understand that many will feel that grades should reflect learning, so this doesn’t make sense. That’s fine. In that case it makes no less sense than the original analogy. But some caveats; first, I don’t believe that grades actually reflect learning as much as a need to quantify something. Nobody asks what you learned in school. They just demand transcripts so they can see your grades. Secondly, I don’t believe the work one does in life is necessarily reflected in the wealth one has either.  Otherwise there would be a lot of wealthy janitors, housekeepers, coal miners, factory workers, garbage collectors, clerks, nurses and teachers.

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