Monday, May 11, 2015

An Open Letter to Fiona

As you know, we just got back from one of our infamous drives “around the block” - about two hours plus worth. I so enjoy these drives and the time spent with you. We talk about all kinds of things and we solve all the worlds problems. The world just won't listen to us! You have such keen observations of the world around us and what people could do for themselves, if they just would. We talk of our life and our plans and see our life through the works of others. We see what we want to do and what we don't want to do. And why. This helps us refine our desires and plans. To recap some of our talks:

We want a larger parcel of land so we can have better security, privacy, and self-sufficiency. Between attorneys and government taxes, we are going to have to scale back our plans, but there is nothing wrong with our plans. Years ago, I heard a radio program on computers. He told his listener to buy all the computer he could afford. He said that in a couple of years, it would be the equivalent of a cheap computer and would just barely run the new programs coming on the market. Land is somewhat the same way. Buy all that you can afford. If you want to expand, you have the land to expand. You don't have to find a neighbor that is willing to sell a parcel five miles down the road. You have the land you need on your land, not the neighbors land.

In twenty or thirty years, if we need money, we can sell off some of the land. It is a growing bank account for our future needs. Financial security!

We don't want neighbors living in our back yard. We want privacy. I tease people. When I was growing up, we had no neighbors. If we were outside playing, working the garden, hiking, or just being and doing kid things and nature gave the “urge”, we just found the nearest bush and let it fly. Not any more. Neighbors! Too many and too close! And, they are too busy to talk to you. And always too ready to “share” your things. Garden produce, a ham, a nice turkey, your tools. You name it. And it is usually a one way street. They “forget” to return the tools. And they never have time to help with canning, loading livestock, etc.

Size! Size does matter! Dirty minds – get back on topic! On our drive today, we saw several places with too many critters – usually horses or cattle. The grass was eaten down to the dirt. What are they going to eat later this summer when grass is stressed by the heat and lack of rain and isn't growing so lushly? What are they going to eat during the winter? Can you spell “money”? That is what they are going to be eating – your money. Money that you bought hay and feed with. Those GMO's you bought! We want to grow as much of our own food and feed as possible. We have to feed the animals as well as our selves! How can you be self-sufficient if you can't raise your own animals? And how can you raise your own animals in bad times if you aren't raising their feed – all of it? Dirt fields will not nurture your critters. If our fields will nurture 150 animals, then it will do for our twenty or thirty animals, even in a bad year. But, if it will only nurture 10 animals, then those animals are going to be eating our money. Every time we go to the feed store or a neighbor for feed or hay, our money is being wasted. If you have that much money, why didn't you buy a bigger place and sweat a little more for your animals feed? I worked for a smart man once! He said: “Lack of planning on your part, does not constitute an emergency on my part!” I read years ago that an engineer figures in a safety factor of something like 100% when designing something. So if he is designing a bridge to handle 100 vehicles per hour, he will design it to handle 200, just as a safety factor. Life is the same way. Plan in a safety factor for the bad times. If you think you need 5 acres for your dream and “what if” scenario, get 10 or 15 acres – as a safety factor. And then get to work growing corn, hay, or whatever for supplemental feed and for winter feed. Cut out the feed store and that neighbor. Let them milk that other guys wallet. Plan and act on your own behalf!

A larger piece of land is not for production, but for “what if”. It is for contingencies. It is nice to have in a “if needed” way. It is a way to keep from being boxed in. But don't go to excess and be wasteful. Know your needs and planned for realistic future needs and buy accordingly. With a small safety factor. Remember, you can grow as many animals on 50 acres as you can on 5 acres, they just have more places to visits (Increased fencing costs here.)

It was a beautiful day for a beautiful drive with a wonderful person. A person couldn't ask for anything nicer. We had even stopped to bring along a couple of snacks and drinks. Caution: can you say a trip into the woods, or a mad dash home? It was a fun and wonderful drive! (Note to self: Next time, bring along some Charmin! Do NOT use the poison ivy leaves!)

These new fangled cell phones have voice recorders! They are nice for quick notes while on a crooked road. They don't do much for continuity of thought. So, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for a real dose of scattered thoughts from the recorder.

Our drive was all on back roads.

As I am wont to do (and as there was no traffic), I pulled to the side of the road to investigate some mistletoe growing on a tree. On the way back to our vehicle, I reached down and picked a single wild geranium flower for Fiona ( for those of a legal nature, I did not pick any flowers within 300 feet of the highway – that would be illegal. That is my story and I am sticking to it.) She was duly impressed with my little gift. Three extra brownie points for me!

Today is Mother's Day. Mother's Day presents from children? Fiona and her brother wanted a guinea pig. Her mother said no! For Mother's Day, she and her brother got her mother Thistle. Thistle was a guinea pig! What could momma say? It was a Mother's Day present. And they got their guinea pig. But, it turned out well. Momma learned to love Thistle. Thistle had the run of the house. Thistle learned that when the refrigerator door opened, it meant food! When the refrigerator door opened, Thistle would come running and whistling. Momma locked Thistle out of the kitchen. Guineas have excellent hearing. Whenever the door opened, Thistle would start whistling from the rest of the house. Thistle became a fat little piggy! Conniving little whipper snappers.

We got to talking size. (Stay on topic, now!) Fifty acres on a steep hillside is almost useless. All of your goats will have shorter port side legs and the sheep will have shorter starboard legs. It will be harder to access the property on the hillside. And it will be more susceptible to trails and erosion. Fifty acres of bottom land is much nicer (if it isn't a flood plain). But expect to pay many times the price of the hillside for the bottom land. For us, rolling land to hillside will do for the animals, while we need bottom or near flat land for the garden. A combination works great for us.

From today and from years past, we saw numerous fields with old apple trees growing in them. Many of the trees were in bloom. But, our experience is that they are wasted. The cattle or deer eat them or they just rot. No one picks them or picks them up. No one cans them. No one eats them. These are the apples of our grandparents. They ARE eatable! But today, they go to waste.

As we passed one field, Fiona commented about one old apple tree. She said: “It is losing the war”! It had lived its life and was slowly dying. It had only one branch left with life. As we age together “gracefully”, we also are losing the war. For all of us, our days are drawing to a close. Are we prepared for what comes after?

We got to talking of the sights changing. There were rock outcroppings. They would change shapes and colors. The flowers would change from fields to woods and by altitude. Even the age of the woods had an impact. The species of trees changed from one side of a mountain to the other, from the north to the south, and by altitude. Everything impacts everything, just like our lives. Some trees were tall and straight, others were gnarled. A big, old, thick tree would have a young sapling growing next to it. Like grandparents and grandkids, the old tree had its replacement with it, close by. Not necessarily the same species, but the future is there. The replacement is not necessarily better (or worse), it is just there. Like our replacements. That is the way of the past, and, I hope, the future. Or, is it time for the test tubes?

Even way out in the country on back roads, we saw big houses with big yards. I am reminded of the prodigal son eating with the hogs. If things get really bad, what are these people going to do with their big mowed and manicured yards? Get out there with the deer and rabbits and eat grass? Why can't they grow their own food? We talked of the richer, more well to do having fewer gardens and smaller ones. As you get in to poorer or not so well to do places, the number of gardens goes up. And it is cyclical with the economy. When the economy is good, the number and size of the gardens is down. As the economy gets worse, the number and size of the gardens go up. And the economy is always on its way up or down (and sometimes, it depends on who you are listening to). Remember Joseph way down yonder in Egypt and the 7 years of plenty that are followed by the 7 years of famine. During times of plenty, put up for the years of want. You will always have one or the other (or both). Be prepared and plan ahead. And the ones that didn't prepare will come begging or stealing.

Take Baltimore or Ferguson to nationwide. If the trucks stop moving, the stores will empty. And there will be no incoming truck loads of food. No fuel. The electrical grid goes down. No refrigeration. Spoiled food. What are people going to eat? Now, skip this next part! Think of newborn mothers. Their mothers have fed nothing but formula to the infants. The stores are empty. Mother is dry! Can you say wet nurse? Does anyone know what it is? Can you say infant mortality? They won't even be able to get fresh cows milk.

On this entire drive, we saw only one family outside. About 300 to 400 yards back off of the road, up on a hilltop, a family was out sitting on lawn chairs looking down on the valley. The children (or grand children) were out playing. A scene missing out of todays lifestyle.

Ignorance is bliss! We passed several nice streams. Clear water. You could see the rocks and/or pebbles in the bottom of the stream. A beautiful, clear stream. But I wouldn't drink out of it. Not knowing what is upstream. Has a farmer buried his old chemicals and/or containers where they are leeching into the water? Is someone dumping their sewer line into the stream (or into a ditch that drains into the stream)? What kinds of bacteria are in the stream? Is there a hog lagoon upstream? What chemicals from industry or farms or other agricultural concerns or mining operations are in the water? A lot of things happen “upstream”.

Gross out time! Speaking of upstream: When I lived in North Carolina, at work we would get to bantering about and they would be trying to give me a hard time. I would remind them that they needed to remember that every time I went to the bathroom, they drank it! Someone would ask what I meant. I would remind them that I lived upstream. When I went to the bathroom, it went down to the sewer plant and they dumped it back into the river and it went down to the next town and they took it out and run it through town and dumped it back into the stream where their town took it out and sent it to their house where they drank it. When I went to the bathroom, they drank it. That usually got them quiet. I don't like public water systems, either.

On our drive, we saw “homes” from over a 100 years old to last years' model. We could see the evolution of style changes. From the old, simple, functional style to the modern nook and cranny models. Just because they can put in a nook or cranny, it doesn't make it better, just more expensive. We saw trees just barely breaking dormancy to trees in full leaf. We saw fruit trees in full bloom to already out of bloom to a couple of weeks to blooming. Ecclesiastes says there is a season for everything! God shows us that in nature. I heard that asparagus is one of the most mineral rich vegetables we can get. And it is one of springs first gifts. Just when our bodies are needing it after winters depletion. (God is great. God is good?!!!)

We saw one, and only one, garden that really caught our eye! It was a pleasure to see. It was fenced against deer. But inside was a large garden! Oh! And what a garden. First of all, it was a large garden. Annuals and perennials. To our left was the annual portion: corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc. To our right was the perennials. We couldn't be sure. We had to do a lot of guessing (and dreaming?). There appeared to be rhubarb, asparagus, blackberries or raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and several fruit trees. These people were planning for the long haul! Our congratulations to them on a nice project!

 The economy came up again. Times good equals no garden. Times bad equals plant a garden to make up for the money crunch. Our budget needs cutting. Cut the food budget. Plant a garden to make up for the food budget cut. But, when times get better, the garden is no longer needed. They go back to the supermarkets and their no taste food with no nutrition that comes from GMO's and causes cancer. I work at an upscale bakery. We take flour that has had almost everything taken out of it and we start adding this and that back to it to get it to bake right and to taste good enough for you to buy. Fresh ground flour and corn tastes better and is more nutritious. That would seem the obvious choice. I believe our diet is the largest contributor to our high cancer and heart failure rates. It is what we are taking in.

Hay! Hay is looking good. It is just about ready for the first cutting around here. But not our farmers. They wait for it to head out and dry and it is past bloom. They go for tonnage, not nutrition. Then they cut and bale it to feed to their animals and wonder why they don't put on weight and have to feed so much to the animals and have so much wasted hay. It is past prime and tastes bad. We aren't versed in the local traditions. Fiona's family were rebels. They were always the first one to cut and at a younger stalk age. They didn't get as much hay, but the cattle liked it better and wasted less of it than the neighbors cattle. Fiona's cattle also had better weight gain/maintenance. Here, you see a lot of cattle bedding in hay, but thin. Fiona says when someone is complaining of thin cattle, her first consideration is the hay, not the cows age. Older cattle may be thin, but poor hay accounts for a lot more thin cows!

Ahh! Names! Heavenly Haven Drive. Pleasant Valley Road, Rich Patch Road. Three Oaks Road. Barbours Creek Road. Mountain Laurel Lane. Maggie Maw Lane. Wild Cat Hollow Road. Red Neck Drive. Some of the roads we saw. What's in a name? And What is the history of that name?

Back near home, we came to the camel crossing sign. This was Clyde's home until his demise (death). Ride, Clyde, ride. They now have a replacement for Clyde. His name is Otis. They also have one Long Horn with horns over six feet long, his name is Coal Bucket. They have several highland cattle (black and red). They have a belted Galloway. Some spotted donkeys. And a Suffolk Punch Draft Horse (or a Belgian – it swings both ways). There was a calf laying in the field. Fiona thinks it was a Highland calf. With a Long Horn father? They're almost as messed up as we are.

As we went down the road, we had a dragonfly escorting us. At other times, a bird would jump up and lead us down the road. A momma goose was getting the kids away from the road, and us. It was a nature day. Just the two of us, our conversations, our dreams, nature, and, of course, God.

This was Fiona's Mother's Day request. For a drive in the country. Sometimes, you can get more than you give. Like with God. I was blessed to have a good woman by my side and a great God over us as went for a drive. Can we say: “Memories are made of this”?


Ralph sent me this email tonight after our drive, he is always surprising me with sweet gestures and I am blessed with this cantankerous, kind and observant man.


  1. Sounds like a great day filled with dreams and memories. Thank you for sharing it with us.


    1. It was a great day and Ralph always keeps me on my toes...This is the kind of email he would send me when we were dating and he was on the road hauling juice or milk! Full of interesting information, expressing opinion and sneaking in sweet bits!

  2. hi, r and f,
    just a line about abandoned apple orchards.
    husband involved in church camp for over 35 yrs.
    driving there over this span of yrs i have noticed the lovely apple orchards of western penn. being abandoned until there are very few left that are cared for.'
    i think they are amish orchards that are kept well.
    then i looked in the cooler at camp a few years ago.
    the label on the apple juice said product of china.
    now this angers me in more than one way.
    the orchards of states famous for apples--rome beauty,cortland, et cetera-- are ruined.
    chinese factories do not have the FDA, which is so corrupt that we may as well not have it either.
    what is in the chinese juice and why are we giving it to our children?
    on another note, we are told that our carbon footprint is too big and that all of us must tighten our belts, buy expensive hybrid cars, not bathe so often and on and on.
    what sort of carbon footprint is made by shipping apple juice across the pacific ocean and all of north america?
    look out for the transpacific partnership-- it will make it much worse.
    read your seafood also. product of china. i don't buy it.

    1. Excellent comment! When I meet Ralph he was a long haul truck driver [a job he wanted to use to see the country]. He drove for a food grade tanker company from Florida. They hauled things like milk, juice concentrate, wines and the like. I met him at the truck stop where I used to work. He hauled South American
      orange juice concentrate from a seaport in Delaware to a plant in Alberta, Canada. Because the juice is super concentrate it gets mixed with enough water to make regular concentrate then it qualifies to be labeled as a product of Canada!
      We have picked wild apples as often as we can and use them for fresh eating and apple butter. It is an opportunity too few people take. We used to enjoy fish but it is hard to find fish that is not farm raised from overseas, The TPP bill was passed quietly and is horrible!

  3. What a lovely tribute to you and to love.

    1. I don't call Ralph Mr. Adorable for nothing :)

  4. You both had a very blessed day! :-)

  5. We still go out for rides on Sunday when we feel like getting out. It's a good time to think, and put things into perspective.

  6. The best days in life are spent with a favourite person out and about, talking, ruminating, planning, exploring and discussing that which concerns us all.

    You and Ralph had one of those days and made good use of it.

    btw, here too apple orchard and other orchards are lying fallow because nobody wants a fruit picking job and it is just not viable for farmers to run orchards and produce their products, juiced or fresh. A fact of modern consumerism I’m afraid.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I wish the two of you every success in your joint endeavour and will come back to see what progress you are making with your plans.

    1. We always feel sad to see lonely old standard apple trees towering over cow pasture...They grow to such a size. The cattle seem to enjoy the windfall though. There is an ancient "Old Smokehouse" apple tree on one of the roads we drive on...we pick its apples as it is not on private land. They are big and a bit blemished but the flavour is fabulous! They make super pie filling, great apple butter and are good fresh eating too.
      I am quite enjoying your blog now I have found it.

  7. Excellent post (loved the part about Thistle :)

    I don't think land prices will come down. I don't think "they" want us to have land. Housing prices can bottom out but land stays high. I don't blame you for wanting as much as you are able. I wish our circumstances and location was different, but at least we have something and I have to remind myself to be thankful for that.