Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Laying this Hammer Down

My neighbor Pete Seeger once told the musician Josh Ritter "the most important thing you could ever do is to choose a place and dig in."

I've done the first part, but I've fallen behind on the second part. So I'm taking a break of indeterminate length from Exurbitude.

This past weekend, I went away to San Francisco to see how much farther blogging could take me, and while I was gone the garden went batshit crazy. The tomatoes got heavy with fruit, reared up and fell over, deer ate practically all the leaves off the pumpkins, and the cilantro started to self-sow. My kids got larger. The tolerant, generous, dedicated woman who loves me went to the meeting for the new food co-op, and she introduced the clothesline I put in last week to its first set of fresh laundry. She sent me a picture of the sun shining on our lives.

Of all the things I learned in San Francisco, the one that applies here is that blogging differs from writing, which I’ve been doing all along. Blogging demands more, and writing is just the centerpiece to a world of commenting, flickring, twittering, emailing…what we call building virtual community.

I’ve found incredible people in that community (see partial list at left). And thank you all who are reading this for being part of it, and for your indulgence. But it also turns out that I live in a community. It’s made up of people I like and don’t like, resemble and don’t resemble, agree and disagree with, and whom I can look in the eye and argue with at a meeting, but keep it civil because later I’ll run into them at the convenience store. I haven’t been engaging my community properly, either.

At the BlogHer conference last weekend, there was a panel on following your passion in which everyone agreed that the lamest Internet thing you could do was to raise up your fist and walk off the blogging stage with a grand, gestural post. Eye roll. So I'm not doing that; I don't swear to be gone for all time. My five year old — who found his first loose tooth tonight — says things like "forever." I don't.

Ahhhh, who am I kidding? The grand gesture ROCKS. Anyone needs me, I'll be tending the garden.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moving the Goats

The bait: BBQ at our friends' house. The switch: "Can you help us move the goats?"

I've mentioned these friends before. They live in a large house a couple of towns away, the sort of voluminous newly-built home on a grand scale that has frequently been the subject of derision in this space, but which in their hands feels truly homey. Although the woman of the house calls it the "Plastic Palace," it's been the site of some lovely small gatherings and warm conversation. And they have a freezer full of venison donated by their oil guy. And hell, the man of the house is a Brit, the good kind--he even gets to wear a funny wig and a black robe, like, officially--and they have a kid named after a working man's folk hero, while the lady of the house is worldly and writes for a travel blog and if these two want a McMansion well then let 'em have it.

Another thing you can't argue with is the way they engage with the large meadow that surrounds it. They borrowed goats from a farm up the road.

As we drove up the long dirt driveway across this long expanse of meadow, we noticed that the portable paddock had been moved around to one of the overgrown areas in front of the house. No camera, of course, but the juxtaposition of the two goats (one black, one white), the chest-high weeds, the thick metal tubing of the fence, and the stately home with its Palladian windows and stone facing was quite something.

We entered and had our white wine, natch, and chatted about this and that, and admired the rosemary-covered chickens roasting on the rotisserie on the deck, then our friend casually said that the farmer had called and asked them to rotate the livestock. In other words, pick up the paddock sections and move them to an uneaten portion of the meadow and get the goats back inside.

Naturally the males of the group -- the risk management consultant, the marketing professional, the architect, the college student -- began ritual primate displays and paraded outside (after another fortifying Sauvignon Blanc) to show these beasts who was boss.

It took a humbling half hour, not so much to move the fence sections, but to persuade Mushroom, the more capricious of the two goats, to get back into the pen once we'd moved it. Lured by white bread, the much more tame Seven had wandered in directly. No, the funny bit was each of us trying in turn to get Mushroom's attention or herd Mushroom or persuade Mushroom to go to her home. Things goats don't respond to: clicking sounds, claps, whistles, kissing noises, their name, injunctions to "come on" delivered while slapping both thighs and bending forward. Walking toward a recalcitrant goat may cause a rearing, snorting, and suggestive horn-flinging in the direction of the walker, who, if he is a white-collar professional wearing a polo shirt, will step back in some confusion and utter a single "I say!"

We finally hit on the plan of opening the section of the pen nearest Mushroom really wide, and she walked in.

That morning at the organic farm I'd been talking to one of the local agitators, a man who refurbishes old houses and turns them into sustainable businesses, who railed against one village's unwillingness to envision a future that didn't depend entirely on oil; a self-sufficient future, with local jobs, local food sources, local culture, local commerce. We talked up over and around it for a while then said seeya, and later that evening I found myself moving a goat pen in front of a McMansion with my educated, citified, worldly friends before stepping inside to a delicious dinner and highbrow conversation.

If we're lucky and we plan right, moving the goats is the future. I certainly hope it -- or something like it -- is in my future. Because many of the alternatives are a lot worse.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Encounters with the Wildlife

There's a screen in the upstairs bathroom window, but there are these gnats that have evolved to be small enough to fit through its apertures because they derive some unexplained biological benefit from flitting around on the ceiling, just above the wall sconce, until they die and fall into it. There is a local legend that every time the sconce fills up with the carcasses of dead gnats, a doughty Viking warrior who long ago lost an ill-advised bar bet comes back from the dead, trudges into the house and up the stairs, tears the sconce from the wall and drains it in a single hearty draught, burps, places the sconce gently on the edge of the sink, and calls his friend Larry's brother-in-law who "[can] totally rewire shit."

The day before I caught the pike, my brother and I were fishing for pickerel from the canoe. Nearby, the lilypads began moving of their own accord, spreading apart as though making way for an invisible bride walking upon the water. As I crossed myself and shook my charm bracelet, my brother looked UNDER that water and spotted the snapping turtle. We both peered at it in the shallows, remarking that its mighty legs alone would serve as hams, while its garbage-can-lid-sized shell would make an ideal garbage can lid. So imagine a garbage can lid balanced on four hams, but it's, like, swimming. I wish I had a picture, but the snapping turtle consumed the very idea of my camera before I even thought it -- which is just how big that turtle was.

Next day, I caught my first northern pike. You know, you're just sitting there dangling bits of colored plastic decorated with needle-sharp bent metal barbs into the water and a fucking fish bites your shit. When animals attack, right?

Various deer. Constantly.

Mouse in the grill. Covered that.


Some roadkill.

Oh, right, this morning. They've repaved the parking lot at the office park where I work, and this morning there was a security guard on the hot tar, standing watch over a "snapping turtle" -- I have to put it in quotes because of that one I saw in the Adirondacks last week -- as it crossed from god-knows-where to wherever-the-hell.

I was tucking my son in tonight when I saw a yellowjacket sitting on his window sill, slowly undulating one antenna. I picked up North Dakota, gathered my courage, and thwapped it. It crackled like evil rice krispies. I still don't know if it was actually already dead, or paralyzed or something, but still, the bravery.

Just then I heard the heavy tread of a Viking on the stairs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Making Do

Imagine my delight when I opened the grill the other morning and found this little guy:

I was especially surprised at the amount of meat we got off him.