Monday, December 27, 2010

Not quite Luddites

We don’t think of ourselves as Luddites, the weavers who destroyed mechanized looms in England in the early 1800’s because they had lost their jobs to mechanization. In fact, we don’t destroy machinery at all – Dave actually spends a lot of time fixing it. I guess I have been guilty of occasional destruction. The hay chopper comes to mind, (see, June 20 2010), but that wasn’t willful, and certainly wasn’t related to fears of unemployment. I actually wanted to use it to make my job as a farmer easier.

We don’t hold technological improvements in disdain. We both did our Masters research with some of the first computers, back in the early 1970’s when a computer took up the entire floor of a building and both the programming and the data entry were done with 3” X 7” cards punched with little holes. Interestingly, the Jacquard loom was developed in 1801 and it used cards with holes punched in them to create many different weaving patterns on a single warp. This made complex weaving a job suitable for an unskilled low wage person, not just a master weaver. It is ironic that one of the looms that created the Luddite movement, is an ancestor of the computer we use so gratefully today. Dave and I have had a personal computer since the first Apple II and we both use them daily for our work.

But the newest technologies seem to proliferate and become extinct so rapidly, that we have made it a policy to buy only what we absolutely need until forced into the next step up on the technology merry –go – round. We have a desk top and a lap top and use all the programs easily. We have a land line phone and FM radio. Since the television went digital, we haven’t had television reception because we live in one of those third world rural areas that was left out. We have DSL internet access and that keeps us connected with the world and its libraries. We’ve been perfectly happy without cell phones, Ipads or touches, Facebook, texting or tweeting.

We practice old fashioned farming. We don’t do pregnancy testing or computer assisted shearing. We don’t have a video camera in the barn to check up on the sheep at night during lambing. We don’t use a GPS system to plow the fields or aerial photography to spread fertilizer or herbicides. In many ways, we farm like Dave’s Grandpa Roy farmed fifty years ago.

Finally this fall we succumbed to the cell phone craze. With a six month old grandson and a second on the way, we wanted to be able to talk to our kids and our grandkids whenever they called. I have to admit that the cell phone has turned out to be an asset. However, the learning curve was tortuous. I still announce the obvious to the world in general when my cell phone rings;. I haven’t figured out how to turn it off yet, so it rings in places it oughtn’t; and I wander around the house to find the best signal. I still feel very obvious when I answer the phone, and am pleasantly surprised when a call actually goes through.

With lambing fast approaching, I have considered going digital.. I can carry my cell phone in my coveralls pocket and if I need Dave’s help, instead of trudging back into the house, I can press menu, people, contacts, Dave and he’ll answer. Isn’t progress amazing? Guess we really aren’t Luddites at all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas miracles

December 1996.

“If you get all that knitting done, it will be a miracle.” My daughter Amber said to me.
“I know, I know. I always have too many ideas and not enough time. But I only have this last pair of socks to finish. Just the foot part. If I knit the whole way down to the cities, I ought to be almost done. Why don’t you go help your dad pack the car.”

“If we get all this stuff in the car it will be a miracle.” Dave said. “How could we have so much to pack? Presents for all the aunts and uncles and cousins. Wish we had a bigger car.”

“If Claire remembers to feed the sheep during her hectic Christmas morning, it will be a miracle.” Laurel said. “Don’t worry about Claire; did you feed and water the cats?” “Yes.” “Christmas tree watered?” “Yes.” “Outside birds fed?” “Yes. Can we go now?”
“All that’s left is to check the sheep.”

Lists cycled through my head as I walked to the barn. Would the fruit for the salad freeze on the trip? Maybe I should unpack it and wrap it in blankets. The family would kill me if I started unpacking. Did I have a good enough present for everyone? Would Tyler like his truck or was he out of his truck phase? Bob was always so hard to make things for. What would he think of the vest. Wonder if the kids gave the cats enough water. Really hope Claire remembers to feed the sheep tomorrow. Hope the sunnies will last the chickadees until we get back.

I turned the lights on in the barn and the ewes surged to their feet; all but Clooney who was lying in a corner. Something was wrong! Clooney wasn’t a solitary sheep; she should be dashing about the barn with the rest of the flock. I pulled the string on the light above Clooney’s head, throwing her corner of the barn into bright relief.

Clooney lay on her side, head stretched out, lips curled back, teeth bared. Her mound of a belly was hard in contraction. As the rest of the ewes quieted, I heard her panting.

Lambs weren’t due until the end of January. Either this would be a premature birth with lots of problems, or Clooney had spent some time with the ram before I formally introduced them. Clooney relaxed and maaaed.

Baaa, a soft voice echoed her. From the shadow behind Clooney’s massive body, rose a small black lamb, long legs shaking as it stood. I dashed to the supply cabinet, grabbed towel, knife and iodine, and rushed back to Clooney’s corner. She was concentrating on another contraction. And then another. I dried her lamb, cut the umbilical cord, poured iodine on the cord, and moved the lamb to her mother’s udder. Clooney labored. I waited. The lamb nursed. Clooney labored. Kneeling behind Clooney, I lubricated my hand and slid it into the birth canal. The tips of my fingers felt the ridges and hollows of the lambs skull. It was a huge head, filling the opening between Clooney’s pelvic bones. My fingers circled the head. No front hooves.
No wonder Clooney was laboring so hard. Carefully, slowly, I pushed the lambs head back deeper into Clooney’s body. Then I eased my hand in and felt for two front hooves. There! Against the pressure of Clooney’s contractions, I teased the hooves out into the coldness of the night barn. Slowly, the head followed. When the head was free, I tugged on one leg. The lamb’s big white body twisted, hesitated and then oozed out onto the golden straw covered barn floor. Clooney turned around and sniffed her new lamb. Her tongue began licking the membrane away from the lamb as it struggled toward her mothering gurgles. When the new lamb was licked clean, I carried both lambs to a clean pen and turned on the heat lamp. I toweled the second lamb dry and trimmed his umbilical cord. Soon, both lambs had nursed well and were sleeping curled at Clooney’s side.

I stepped out of the barn. The air was cold and crisp. Stars glowed in the night black sky. I could hear the sheep muttering in the barn; they had already resettled for the night. I took a deep breathe and realized that my worries were gone. The lists had evaporated.

The socks would be finished (or they wouldn’t. I could finish them tomorrow after we opened presents.) Everything would fit in the car (or it wouldn’t. My suitcase was still in the bedroom. If it didn’t fit, I could borrow clothes from my Mom.) Claire would check the lambs and feed the sheep (she’d probably come out to see the new lambs as soon as I called her, and we’d be home tomorrow night.) The real miracle had just happened in our barn. A baby had been born. A new chance. A new beginning. A real Christmas miracle.

Since this was first published in December 1997, we’ve had countless miracles large and small. The most recent and one of the biggest was the birth of our second grandson, Jasper.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild turkeys

photo by Roland Jordahl

7:32 a.m. Wednesday
From the kitchen sink, I watch a wild turkey skid to a snowy landing in the clearing behind the house. And then another, and another and another.

7:45 a.m. Thursday
I sit in a plastic lawn chair dressed in a white camouflage suit I made for Dave, with the long neck ribbing pulled up over my head. The only color is my face, my gloves and my camera. I hope that I look enough like a snow drift to fool the turkeys.

Several chickadees flit from branch to branch in the lilac hedge. Chickadee dee dee. I recognize their distinctive call. I can hear the turkeys waking. First a single voice, then another. As the sky lightens I see the large black mass of a turkey high up in the trees to the west of the house.

The day is crisp, with very little wind here, sheltered by the woods and the house. Wood smoke drifts languidly above me, scenting the winter air. My butt and my fingers are cooling, but the wait was worth it. Lots of turkeys are talking in the trees. Deep voices, shrill voices, complex calls, simple squawks. They drown out the chickadees.

A black shape lifts from a tree, spreads wings and tail and soars across the barnyard and onto the driveway. Another. Another. A few birds land out of sight, north of the house. The mass of the flock lower their feet and settle onto the driveway just beyond the pickup – well out of camera range. Each bird lands in front of and just beyond the previous bird, so they work their way from the pickup toward the spot where my camera is focused. Finally, two birds skid to a stop in front of me –still to far away for a good photo, but definitely not bothered by my presence.

They ruffle their feathers, the long tuft of feathers on the chest of the male birds stands out as a display. They move on the ground with a clunky, bobbing walk, as if the deep snow has broken their normal gait. Two turkeys explore the woods for a few minutes and then move back toward the rest of the birds and out of my camera range.

I stand and walk slowly toward the bulk of the flock. I am dressed in camouflage, but don’t walk in camouflage. The snow squeaks under every step. Walking turkeys can be completely silent. The crunch of my feet in the snow is distressingly loud. I round the corner of the house in time to see the turkeys flow up the driveway and into the woods, not at all clunky in their movements.

My half hour sitting outside on a winter morning has produced a crappy photograph taken from too far away of a pair of small black turkey shapes. But the process was much more important than the product. I don’t often take the time to sit outside on a winter morning and watch the sunrise fill the sky with gold. I should do it more often; watching wild turkeys, watching the sunrise, or just watching.

8:00 a.m. Saturday
The winds whipped through our yard. I want to get closer to the turkeys, but not enough to sit outside in a -9˚ wind chill. I sit down in front of my computer instead to email a friend, Roland Jordahl, asking for permission to use one of his wonderful wild turkey photos. I can hear the wind. But I also hear a scratching just outside my second story study. I look out the window. Nothing. The scratching comes again, from above me. I look up. Two large bird feet scratch at the snow on the window, struggling for balance. A crab apple falls onto the glass. A yellow turkey beak stabs through the snow and gobbles the apple. The clawed feet scratch at the window again and then disappear as the bird steps onto the roof and out of sight.

This bird was certainly close enough for a picture, but two large feet, viewed from the underside are not what I wanted either. My photos just didn’t do the wild turkey justice. I called my friend Jordy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Big cities and small towns

I like living in a small town.

Last week we went to the big city and had a great time – but also because of things that big cities have and small towns don’t. mostly because we were visiting our kids

The architecture always interests me – new housing styles, a huge office building covered with glass that reflects the sky, a green building with gardens and rank after rank of solar panels all on the roof. I love the light rail and the riverfront, the lights on a bridge at night, the Christmas decorations glittering in the rain.

We visited fabric stores, touching fabrics, matching patterns and colors, running strands of yarn through our fingers. My mind opens up in that situation and I dream of new projects – clothes to create, knitting projects to try. I love working on projects with the kids – quilting, knitting, wood working and lead abatement.

In the city we eat wonderful Chinese dim sum, authentic shrimp tempura and okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes) and drink freshly roasted Peace coffee. But that is just the beginning of great tastes because we always make adventuresome tasty food with our kids - mud pie, bittersweet chocolate bread pudding, Indian nihari and bhendi, sweet potato turkey hash, and Sunday morning pancakes.

Our kids musical tastes have expanded beyond ours. They’ve introduced us to Rockabye Baby by Radiohead, Putamayo, and Stravinsky done live by orchestra and chorus, a chorus in which I swear I could pick out Laurel’s voice.

I love visiting big cities because of the way they tantalize my senses, take me out of the tastes, sights, sounds and smells in which I am normally surrounded and offer me new experiences, and because we spend time there with our kids. I love big cities; but I am glad to come home to my small town where I know what will happen tomorrow and who I will talk to next Tuesday at 8:30 am. Where we have comfort food left-overs in the freezer and the scent and warmth of wood smoke in the living room, and Oolong, the cat, who purrs all night long beside us in bed. And where the sheep laze in the barnyard, content in the winter sun.