Thursday, May 31, 2007

Measure and cut

Daughter nails it down

The barn leaked a bit more this last winter than ever, so I bought a few rolls of 90 lb. roll roofing, in a light color, for more reflectivity, than last time around.

This was partly an experiment to see how much of my strength I've retained into my old age: answer, not much. Once upon a time I was able to walk up a ladder with one of these things thrown over my shoulder, but no more. Now it's measure and cut, with most of the pieces under 25 feet long, which is plenty hard enough to deal with as it is.

Daughter elected to pitch in, and we got the entire barn done in one evening after work. She suggested we go get a brew afterwards, but I declined, on the grounds that at my age it takes many more "Miller killers" to erase a beer's influence than it does at hers.

The moon rose full,while we were roofing, so afterwards I sat in the front yard with a pair of binoculars, watching the scarred, silvery behemoth climb into a darkening sky. I believe our summer has begun.

Monday, May 28, 2007

When money's tight

Airing out the ducklings

Granddaughter has been here for a lovely three day visit. I read her a book in Spanish, which was a risk, since all my rusty Romance Languages training is in French and Italian.

I asked her how she liked it and she said, "I think you better learn Spanish."


We read a lot of old Richard Scarry books, on which we we had raised her dad, but which were new to her, and a good deal of time was spent watching Pokemon and Ranma 1/2 DVDs or playing with puppets or painting with tempera. And hours were spent tending the new family members.

There are now almost a dozen Barred Rocks, half a dozen Araucanas, eight or so Khaki Campbell ducklings, and three goslings -- I think White Chinas, though I forgot to ask -- they're yellow right now. Basically the chickens and ducks all remember being wild somehow, but the geese are sweet and trusting and regard Beloved as their mom.

Some drainpipes somewhere in our 18" crawl space have plugged up, so I'm putting in a temporary greywater system by setting a used bathtub underneath the washing machine's drain pipe, which I've opened at one of the unions, and am feeding trees from there by means of a quickly constructed yoke with 4 gallon buckets These one fills halfway (to avoid staggering around sloshing eight gallons of water) and, shrugging into the yoke, one walks with a kind of drunken, measured rhythm, which is dictated by the buckets, to wherever one wishes to go.

It's pleasant to rediscover sensations that have mostly been read about, or that have been disappearing from knowledge, in our rather out-of-touch civilization. The yoke, like the wheelbarrow, easily negotiates tight squeezes and gets quite a lot of water to wherever it's wanted, with a minimum of fuss.

Last Son has also been here, as well as Daughter and her young man, so there has been bread baking and veggie-burrito making and beer-tasting and general bedlam.

In the midst of all this activity, as there are no sheep at present, I have been mowing, an activity Beloved detests and about which I'm ambivalent, as we are still relying on gasoline to get it done. But I console myself by using a mower with a bagger, and windrowing the clippings to make hay. After the hay dries, we gather it into the "barn" (poultry house really) or pile it round all the trees, shrubs, and especially the garden.

We have lots of lettuce, peppers, eggplant, squash of various kinds, and tomato starts ready to go in the ground, but it's Beloved's garden this year (we tend to take turns) and, as she's taking Granddaughter back to the Big City to the North right now, there's a pause in activity on the premises.

After the other two ladies drove off, I napped a little bit, then drove to the Big Box to get five rolls of ninety-pound roofing felt, in light grey, to re-roof the barn and the playhouse after the day cools some. Grey is a compromise. White would have better reflectivity, which we're going to need, but black goes better with our general color scheme. Hence the light grey. Much, much better would be a solar membrane, but one has to do one thing at a time when money's tight.

And why, one may well ask, is the money tight?

It's thus: We're both twenty minutes away from our jobs with no bus route nearby, requiring us to have two vehicles for now. We have have 40 mpg/hwy Saturns, but filling them now takes 35 dollars. Our tanks are lasting two weeks. So that's $150/month for gas (petrol to some of you) or $1800/year just for the work commute. And Beloved has just had to spend $700 on maintenance on her ride, and I expect to do the same for mine within a month (it has 190,000 miles on it).

We're what used to be called middle class, but that seems to be going away now, thanks to peak oil, global warming, globalization, and the policies now in place that won't allow the once vaunted American ingenuity to tackle these problems in time to do any good.

That's fair that it's happening to us at Stony Run; we've had a good turn; but aside from the question of what's going to happen in Granddaughter's time, think about the effect of these things on those who haven't had the margin for economic security that we've had.

Minimum wage here right now is a whopping (to Republicans) $7.50 an hour. If that's you, and your ride is a 12 miles/gallon used Plymouth, the transportation range of $7.50, hereabouts in 2001, was 66 miles. Currently it's 26 miles and dropping. Under these conditions there is no route from here to the American dream for many more Americans than has been true for a very long time.

And that's nothing like the trouble that's brewing elsewhere...

I have always loved the National Geographic, and of late they have been doing even more splendid -- and brave -- work than ever.

In their article on Darwin, they noted that more than 40% of Americans believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. As this is the same 40% that is largely the "base" for current policy, it's a thing to worry about. Other recent articles have noted the continued automobile-dependent paving, urbanization, and suburbanization of more and more land; the fading of oil supplies; destruction to the arms and legs and brains of tens of thousands of good kids sent by the Bush administration's policies to wrest other people's oil from them; the dreadful conditions in Darfur and the specter of genocide; the destruction of most of the fish in the seas; the theft of Nigeria's oil by large corporations and conniving politicians and the desperate resistance of the local people (who are then labeled "terrorists"); the rapid disappearance of millions of acres of carbon-sequestering forests; the intensification of typhoons, tornadoes and hurricanes; and the fading away of glaciers and icecaps at twice the rate predicted by those scientists who have escaped the administration's censorship.

It's a wonder the Geographic hasn't been lobotomized on these topics the way most television networks and newspapers have. I know they have been losing some stiff-necked subscribers, and probably some advertisers as well. Hat's off to them.

But about those glaciers.

The article did mention that seas will rise, which most of us will have heard by now, but it also noted that water for irrigation, power, and industrial and domestic use is disappearing along with the glaciers -- often in very poor regions of the world. Setting aside for a moment yet another brilliant Geographic article that documented the worldwide "corporatization" of ownership (and bottling and sale) of indigenous people'sown water to them--

-- When the lands beneath the peoples of the world's arid and mountainous areas dry up, who do you think they're ultimately going to come after?

And we think we have an immigration problem?

For the wish list...

"The $12,700 CityCAT, one of a handful of planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units; MDI says it should cost around $2 to fill the car’s carbon-fiber tanks with 340 liters of air at 4350 psi. Drivers also will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tanks in about 4 hours." -- Popular Mechanics.
Found at Big Gav's Peak Energy. Popular Mechanics! As in, how much more mainstream can you get?

These vehicles will not arrive in the U.S. any time soon, if ever. You would think Ford, et al., would be interested in licensing the technology and saving their fannies from Chapter 11 (and ours from committing oil genocide in Iraq). Sigh...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Journey to Forever

Having yet again been almost wiped out by a triple-trailer truck at a freeway on-ramp, I offer the following Sunday-morning meditation:

Here is the site of some young people whose energy, vision, and upbeat approach I greatly admire: Journey to Forever:
Journey to Forever is a pioneering expedition by a small, mobile NGO (Non-Government Organization) involved in environment and rural development work, starting from Hong Kong and travelling 40,000 kilometres through 26 countries in Asia and Africa to Cape Town, South Africa.

Our route will take us away from the cities and populated districts to remote and inaccessible areas (usually also the least developed and poorest areas), where we'll be studying and reporting on environmental conditions and working for local NGOs on rural development projects in local communities.

The focus will be on trees, soil and water, sustainable farming, sustainable technology, and family nutrition.

The aim is to help people fight poverty and hunger, and to help sustain the environment we all must share.
The project team seems to be mostly from Japan. Their itinerary looks something like a transect -- they'll be recording environmental and social problems along their route, but also, notably, solutions. They are especially interested in small family farms, subsistence farming, and effective traditional and/or appropriately scaled technologies. The bibliographies they are assembling are quite useful, and show that they've done a lot of homework for the journey. Hats off to them! I wish I could go...

The viewpoint these young people express reminds me of Practical Action, once known as the Intermediate Technology development Group, about whom I learned back in 1970s and have idolized ever since. Here's a post I wrote about them back in 2003.

While the U.S. juggernaut chases gigantic solutions to its energy crisis by building large-scale permanent military bases in Iraq and Africa, near pools of oil, groups like Practical Action and companies like Open Energy are pursuing the doable.

Open Energy has installed a 14.5 kilowatt solar membrane roof on one of our favorite local eateries, making the Sweet Life Patisserie practically energy independent. Visualise millions of roofs with such a membrane.

Practical Action, the brainchild of twentieth century social economist E. F. Schumacher, is almost unique in how it functions. A UK nonprofit, it forms study/action groups composed of scientists and volunteers from developed countries and local citizens from third-word countries, in which the weight of the leadership falls upon the local citizens. Problems are identified, and solutions visualized and tested in a consensus-based atmosphere. No solutions are attempted unless they fit the scale of the local economy, and can be maintained and controlled at community level. Stoves that reduce fuel usage, small-scale manufacturing workshops, agricultural innovations, wind power, water power, solar power, new methods of digging and piping water, and local-built roads have all been part of the mix.

A thread connecting all these thoughts is the notion of relocalization, which is closely allied to the older, better-known concept decentralization. Food or energy or products created, marketed and consumed within the immediate surroundings offers tremendous carbon-footprint savings over globalization.

That's the lesson, aside from its superior taste and nutrition, of the home-grown tomato.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A potpourri post

A mist from the river.

Spring has burst upon us and hurried on toward summer with surprising haste, and I'm caught with my calendar full of meetings, and can't seem to stop by the house to do much more than sleep. Beloved is tending the garden and the new chickens; Daughter has been providing meals and cleaning house a bit when she passes through. I see beautiful mornings on my way out to the commute and beautiful evenings on my return, and that's close to being all. I did make it up to the reservoir last Sunday, briefly, and returned with a couple of trout for Beloved -- but it didn't really feel like down time.


I posted this at the PFLAG blog, and thought I would add it here:

From BRO:

The Constitution Party of Oregon has filed the necessary paperwork to begin gathering signatures to do a referendum on the new Domestic Partnership law (House Bill 2007) AND the comprehensive, statewide Anti-Discrimination law (Senate Bill 2). Both are slated to go into effect on January 1, 2008--but if the signatures are gathered, these bills will not become law until after the November 2008 election…provided voters vote to keep these laws. The Constitution Party is just one of three known groups who are planning attempts to gather the just over 55,000 signatures needed to put you and your family's livelihood on the 2008 ballot.
It's ironic -- here's a group calling itself the Constitution Party, whereas the Constitution itself notes that all rights already exist for all (9th Amendment) and states shall make no laws infringing them (14 Amendment, section 1). The Framers went to great lengths to explain (Federalist Papers #10) that rights cannot be put to a vote. It's actually unconstitutional for majority rule to adjudicate rights. Yet, alarmingly, bigots, legislators, courts, and even civil rights activists regularly forget this.

You have always had the right, as consenting adults, to love and live with whom you will, and to work, establish a domicile, and use public facilities. Be prepared, over the next year and thereafter, to defend these rights at all times and in all places.


Of the things that I have seen concerning the death of Jerry Falwell, I found these remarks by Jim Burroway the most pertinent:
In the 1980’s, as the gay community was facing the greatest calamity it had ever faced, there was Falwell’s visage on television, thundering, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals....”

If I think of it — if I find a quiet moment and if my better nature retains the upper hand — I may pray the Rosary while meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries sometime this weekend. If I do, I’ll pray for Jerry Falwell (my guardian angel has already admonished me for imagining this Baptist preacher’s reaction to a gay Catholic praying for his deliverance from purgatory), and I’ll pray for his family. His family most certainly deserves our prayers and condolences during their time of sorrow.

But I gotta be honest here — and this is not something I’m proud of — but if a parade should happen to pass by, I may get distracted and go outside instead. I don’t think I’d join in necessarily, but I’d probably at least stand in the doorway and watch.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Guest post by Beloved

"I have just finished regrouping baby chickies for day and night lodging.

"It has only been in the last few years that I have recovered from CHICKEN TRAUMA experienced in Gold Hill 1972. I was caretaking an 80 acre kinda farm that had recently changed hands. The place was run by 50+ white leghorn bitches and sundry killer roosters all at large. Everyday I made the rounds feeding American saddle bred horse, jersey milk cow (dry, thank goodness), various dogs and cats. The Flock of Terror followed me everywhere. I stood over each feeder, broom in hand standing guard as animals hastily choked down what they could. No place was safe. The cabin I stayed in had no window coverings. I ate breakfast swatting intruders. My early morning visits to the outhouse took courage only a full bladder can produce as countless beady eyes escorted me.

"About seven years ago we took a motley crew of runaway chickens that had taken refuge at a friend’s place. Sure, why not. We can always eat them (sorry). The raccoons beat us. Although one mama banty did raise a family. Out of five, two reached adulthood. One survived the entire flock. I named her Julia after a character in a movie with Jane Fonda and, I think, Vanessa Redgrave. It was about the Resistance. Every morning I would greet Julia. It’s a good day. If Julia can survive against the Nazi Raccoons I can survive my country’s administration. One day at a time. Over the next several years Julia befriended our turtle and one of our cats. She did not understand why cats got to come inside when she had two legs, same as the Big Folk. She did slip in a time or two skidding about on the linoleum very pleased with her self.

"Julia caused Risa a certain amount of grief over dismantling flower beds. The damage that one small chicken can do! She roosted in a Douglas fir above Gracie’s, beloved cat’s evening napping spot. When Gracie passed on, Julia began roosting on the wood pile by our front door. What a mess! Each morning I fed her. Blue jays and quail figured they were extended family.

"This fall a couple of black labs paid Julia a visit or two. On one occasion Julia crashed into the window. I held her for a couple of hours, put her in a rabbit cage, and kept her inside for a week. She survived though she sustained some neurological damage and was not able to completely hold her head up straight. This spring when I got the baby chicks I moved things around in our tiny barn. Julia was unable to find a place to roost. The poor dear was completely blind. I could see she was using her beak as a cane to tap at her surroundings. What a marvelous adapter. I moved her to an outside rabbit cage and she seemed relaxed to have a predictable environment. She also seemed to enjoy being held and taking walks with me. Julia perked up during daily visits with the baby chicks. Her last day was spent visiting with us on the grass in glorious sunshine. She appears to have died in her sleep and is buried next to Gracie.

"I have learned to love a chicken.

"Next week I will be getting 10 khaki campbell ducklings. I have raised several flocks back in the day. Risa has built a small, but totally netted, poultry run. I can let the chickens and ducks have supervised visits out in a larger area with little plastic baby swimming pools for the ducks to play in. Hopefully, we will stay ahead of the coons and hawks."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Strong hand, weak hand

Sunday, I went to the indoor range at 8:30 a.m., and there were about 18 others there, mostly guys, about eight women. Only one other woman was there alone. We were offered cookies and coffee, and shown into the classroom, where we each had a packet waiting for us with the NRA book on home defense, some paperwork, and a few flyers. We each brought, or bought, hearing protection, eye protection, one hundred jacketed plinking rounds in our caliber of choice, and one unloaded handgun, or rented one.

Our teacher was an ex-Marine who has worked a couple of decades in security, and, sensing an opportunity as CCW permitting became popular, moved into instructing. He teaches at the community college as well as at the range. His style is firm but accessible, and I found I was very comfortable with him. Actually, he's cute, in a kind of Rottweiler way.

We had three hours of instruction and demonstration, with pink plastic bullets and assorted exhibits, including wheel guns, autoloaders, shotguns, exploded shell casings and barrels, all highlighted with the usual cautionary and exhortatory NRA anecdotes. We were a somber lot, which he remarked upon several times -- perhaps the business at Virginia Tech had tempered our attitudes toward what we were doing.

After a lunch break, everyone moved to the range. It has eleven benches, each protected from the others by a bulletproof wall covered with carpeting, in which there is a light switch for one directional lamp and a dpst switch for running out targets and bringing them back.

We formed teams of two, and I paired with the other single woman, who undertook to translate the shouted commands to my wretched hearing and keep me out of trouble. She went first. We had the smallest bores in the room. Her weapon was a borrowed bull-barrelled .22 LR Ruger autoloader, with which she could not possibly avoid being accurate, even though this was a new hobby for her (she did get the warnings about stopping power, working up to a heavier caliber, etc.). Mine was a blued 4" barrel Taurus Model 941 .22 Magnum (or WMR), with an eight round cylinder. One of the other women, who was there with her husband, had a Model 36 Smith and Wesson .38 special snubbie; everyone else was carrying an autoloader in 9 millimeter, .40, .41, or .45.

We fired 25 rounds, in batches of five, at each of four combat silhouette targets. The first was at 25 feet, both hands, isosceles-triangle stance, sing and double action. The second was also at 25 feet, strong hand/weak hand, double action. The third we shot at 15 feet, torso-head-torso, and the fourth was 25 feet, fire-at-will-after-the-command.

I was impressed with the difficulties all the cannons, including the snubbie, were having with recoil and target re-acquisition. Large, heavy men were throwing metal all over the range, not badly enough not to qualify, but badly enough that excuses were being muttered left and right. The snubbie lady had trouble hanging on to her gun; from the sound of it her ammunition was +P, or what we used to call "hot loads" -- not the best combination for a qualifying class.

Perhaps because we had the smallest calibers, my range partner and I had the best scores. About two-thirds of my shots were in the ten-ring, and a third in the nine-ring. I had very few 8s or 7s. One of the head shots was a clear miss, however, and it was a revelation to me, because the instruction had prepared me to notice how this might happen.

A revolver of the type I was using has about a twelve to fourteen pound double-action squeeze, for added safety, I'm told. Whereas the single-action squeeze is a smooth-as-silk two to three pounds. In an effort to get my last shot well placed, I had switched from double action to single action in mid-thought, as it were, with the result that I was applying too much strength to my trigger finger due to recent muscle memory. The revolver fired before I was anywhere near on target, surprising me.

Our teacher had talked about this, and it happened just as he described. It takes practice to get to know the muscles in one's hands; a good eye, which I've had all my life, is not enough.

After we received our certificates of instruction, I went to the front counter to join the range club and sign up for the second-level skills class, to be held in July. I know enough about baking not to pull the loaf out of the oven in half an hour and call it done, y'see.

I'd just spent eight hours with a group of strangers who became practically my friends (through shared stress, perhaps), and was able to participate without a hitch, though most of them drove SUVs and such, with "cold dead fingers" or "only outlaws will have," or Bushie-friendly, bumper stickers. No one seemed to "see through" me to my origins, or if they did, they remained polite and friendly to the end. I went home elated. No, ecstatic. I can do this. I fit in everywhere.

An interesting footnote: our instructor mentioned to us early on that they had free gun-locking cables for us (a county program), and to ask about those during one of the breaks. Late in the day I remembered this, and did ask, and was shown a box full next to the cookies and coffee. I selected mine and took it back to the classroom, held it up in the air and described where they could be found.

Every woman in the room got up and went to fetch a couple of them.

Not a guy stirred.

Now, what is that?

risa b