Wednesday, September 4, 2013


  He went out the side door that faced the pasture. Coffee in hand he drained and set the chipped cup down onto the oily, sagging table next to the door and stepped into the torn rubber muck boots that he kept meaning to replace. Stretching, he looked as he always did at the mountain that defined his horizon. Still dark in it's somnolence, the sun rising opposite not yet touching it with light.
  They were waiting at the fence for him as they always did. Some at least. The young. The aggressive. The older and more passive still down, working on the last of the night's cud. Deer-marked, their flat brown and white striped faces and erect ears watched him.
  He crossed to the chicken yard that bordered the pasture and closed the gate and strapped it to keep the more creative from bulling their way in and bingeing on chicken feed. Then he went around to the pasture gate and opened it. They lined up in their inscrutable order to leave the pasture and access their morning treat; browsing bits of Cypress bark off the trees to which they were otherwise forbidden access. He greeted each as they came out, feeling a suspect udder here, looking at noses for signs of illness, touching ears to gauge body heat. Giving each a final pat he let them go one at a time. The curious one went right away nose up  to the chicken yard gate to see if he had forgotten to strap it shut. Foiled, she joined the others.
  Carrying a bale of cedar shavings and a hay fork he first went to the pen of the old crippled one. The others were all her progeny but they would try to kill her now in her weakness and so she stayed protected and alone in her pen. Years before he had stubbornly refused to put her down during an ugly illness and they had bonded and she had recovered and given birth to two healthy twin does. Arthritis now crippled her and he could find no cause for it and worse; no cure. It ate at him. He cursed it's unfairness. The not knowing.
   Her ears perked and she motioned to him with her nose, waving him in. He unstrapped the gate and opened it and set the fork and the bale of shavings to one side, out of her way. She struggled to rise and he bent to help her, pulling her weaker left front leg up and out and helping her to her knees. While she kneewalked around in a leftward circle he forked out the old, wet bedding and replaced it with fresh cedar shavings just as she lunged her self into position and groaning in either pain or frustration or both laid herself down in her fresh bed.
  He knew she was unhappy. Not free to roam and browse with her offspring, not free to do what she was born to do and yet he could not put her down. Not yet. While the light in her eyes shined for him, while she still perked her ears and tossed her head at him each morning he could not do it. He imagined her taking that last breath and shook his head to rid himself of that awful picture.
  He bent to wish her good morning and still panting heavy from the effort of movement she licked his face all over and his hair too. He rubbed her ears and patted her flanks and stroked her neck.
  He went out of the pen and strapped the gate shut. The others in their hunger had begun to push and shove each other and argue over bits of leaves or tree bark or other unseen and indecipherable offenses.  
  He took a leaf rake and swept the previous night's wasted hay up into a pile and forked it into the wheel barrow and hauled it out to the far end of the pasture and dumped it and spread it around. Then he hauled the hose to the water buckets and troughs and filled them with the day's water.
  He went out the pasture gate and shut it behind him so none could get back in and went to the hay shed and began to parcel out the morning's feed. Then he carried it back through the pasture gate and again shut it behind him so none could follow.
  They grouped at the gate, butting and pushing and some became angry one with another. He stopped inside the gate and waited and they looked at him. He allowed them back in only if their backhairs were down and there was no sign of trouble. Fighters would have to fight outside the pasture and not be allowed to trample the fresh feed. When all were in and calm and eating each in her own place he carried a flake of hay to the old one and entering her pen he broke off a piece of hay and set it before her and put the rest in the back of the pen where she would not spoil it should she decide to move. She looked at him and out at the others and back at him. He told her it was alright and none would take her hay and she buried her nose in the hay and pulled out a great clump and began chewing it. He went out of the pen and out of the pasture and put the clip and the strap on the pasture gate. Then he went to the poultry house and unhooking the eye hooks securing the door let the chickens out. They came out one by one, the old one-eyed rooster first. He counted them and looked them over for any signs of illness or distress. When they were all out he left the poultry yard and walked back to where he could look over the entire scene one more time.
  The sun had lit the mountain and crept down to the level of the barn roof. In the morning cool the light on the metal roof had drawn a congregation of flies warming themselves. He thought he should spray them but he did not.
  Shucking off his boots outside the door, he went back into the house to feed himself.  In desperation a fly buzzed  in the leavings at the bottom of his forgotten cup.

  In the end it was neurological. During the last few weeks she had spells where she seemed not to know him. Fearful. On his approach to her pen she would scramble up onto her knees and if he appeared to be about to open the pen gate would turn and scramble as if trying to get away. He would let her settle and then try to approach her again and she would once again try to escape. Two, three, four times this would happen while he spoke gently to her and finally she would relax as if she knew him and would take her treats and her water and finally dig into her hay. Then she would have several days happy to see him and waving her nose to him again like always.

  On the last night her back legs would not work and she didn't seem to know where she was or who he was. She tried to rise and could not and screamed. In pain no doubt but worse; in abject fear. Wide eyed and head cocked at a disturbing angle. He tried many times to approach her without success and at last tossed hay over the fence to her, let her be and went in to try and sleep. Getting up in the night he watched her from the porch. Her ears cocked to his throat clearing but he could tell that she wasn't quite looking at him. He knew it was to be her last night.

 In the morning he took out a pan of her favorite treats; tomatoes and grapes, bread smeared with peanut butter. He approached the pen but she would have none of it, writhing and whipping her head trying to get up and get away. Untrimmed hooves digging her into a hole. He moved around to the side of the pen away from the gate where she knew he could not enter and she calmed. He tossed her treats to her through the fence and she grabbed them and ate as greedily as ever. He spoke to her. He told her he never meant for her to suffer this long and how sorry he was for being so selfish. She looked towards him eyes wide. Spooked. He went and broke a good sized bough off one of the cypress trees and poked it through the fence and she began to chew on it happily. He let her be.

  The vet came and they stood outside the fence and he said she's out of it, look at the cant of her head no wonder she's acting scared I bet she's gone at least partially blind. Throwing clots or having strokes, it's probably why her back legs have failed as well.

  His wife came to help and they entered her pen and he knelt on one knee and managed to get her head in his hands resting it on his knee. He stroked her neck and spoke to her and she seemed to know who he was and calmed. With her neck exposed the vet was able to find a vein without difficulty for the initial shot that would put her out but not down. He held her and felt the pain and fear flow out of her as she relaxed. Her breathing eased and became shallow. He kissed her nose and told her goodbye and thanked her again.

  As the vet sought the vein again, he briefly wondered at the incongruously happy pink color of the solution that would end her life. Barbie Doll pink. Little girl's purse pink. Double-Bubble pink. Then again, what better color for a serum that would bring peace and an end to suffering? She took one last deep sigh and slumped completely against him. Silently as he laid her head to the ground he thanked her again and bid her goodbye. He watched as the light left her eyes.

  Later as he cleaned her pen, the others browsed, uninterested. Her eldest daughter, who had begun to limp as well a few years before, pawed a spot in the newly disturbed dirt the backhoe had left and laid down. He thought it was just the cool, damp new earth but still, he wondered.

  Good bye Samantha, god bless you.

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”  - Cormac McCarthy

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So Long, TomTom

  Way back about 8 or 10 years ago, when Josh first started out in 4H, we decided that we were more interested in dairy goats than market animals like steers, pigs and sheep. Market animal raising is a nice, clean, short term deal. You buy a steer calf (or lamb, or pig), you feed it and raise it for a few months, you show it, you auction it, it goes to the processor and the buyer gets his animal in nice little frozen packages. You count your money. You don't learn very much.

  Dairy being in our blood so to speak from way back when I was a kid (the family dairy farm my aunt and uncle managed) , we chose goats. Raising dairy goats is a labor of love. In order to show a dairy goat doe, she has to be in milk. The only way to get her in milk is to breed her and have babies.  A youngster involved in a dairy project learns a whole lot more about the cycles of life, breeding, birth, and finally, death.

  We bought our first two does, Samantha and Rita, from someone we knew well who had a pretty well known herd of Toggenburg Dairy Goats. Samantha and Rita were supposedly already bred to a good buck. Samantha had a false pregnancy that year and did not, ultimately, give birth. Rita however, let us know late one night that she was in labor, and we hooked up lights and got ready to sit it out with her. I will never forget the look on young Josh's face when Rita's single birth; TomTom, flopped out onto the straw all gooey and struggling. Rita, a veteran mom already, dutifully licked him dry and got him to his wobbly feet and pushed him to the teat for his first sip of life giving milk outside the womb.

  I will never forget the look on young Josh's face 5 days later, when the poor guy had his little horn buds burned off with cherry hot dehorning irons heated on a wood stove, and his testicles sliced and scraped off with a razor blade and butter knife by June Meacham, our aged and wise goat guru.

  TomTom grew like Topsy. Rita's milk made him strong and playful and it wasn't long before he was jumping in our laps and pestering his mama and aunt Samantha and becoming the devil incarnate for our poor old sheep. He loved to goof on the sheep. Sheep are kind, passive, gentle and not very intelligent creatures, and TomTom delighted in finding new ways to bedevil them.

  There were times when we thought of selling or giving TomTom away. A wether (castrated male) is really of no use to a herd. He can't breed, and of course he can't be milked. He was our first born here, and as a result wasn't ever going to see the butcher's knife or the freezer. One family wanted to have him for their kids, who rode in 4H horsemanship and rodeo events. The kids would use him to practice for an event in youth horsemanship called, "Goat Roping". I won't describe goat roping, but my answer to their interest in him was a polite, but firm, "you're kidding, right? I LIKE this goat. NO, you can't have him."

  In spite of his lack of hormone producing gonads, TomTom became quite the ladies' man. He dutifully flirted with and tried to boyfriend all the does who joined the herd after him. He only tolerated Josh and me because we were the ones with the hay and treats, but he adored Kate. She would sit outside and once he got too big to be a lap goat, would amble over and lay his big old head and horns (which had regrown in spite of our efforts) in her lap while she scratched his ears and rubbed his nose. Not only Katie, TomTom loved all the girls with equanimity.

  The Toggenburg is normally a medium sized breed. TomTom, as a result of stealing milk from his indulgent mama WAY past the time he should have been weaned, grew into a 200+ pound giant. The does, who usually only barely tolerate castrated males and will take every opportunity to push them around, gave him a wide berth, and never questioned or argued when he decided he preferred to eat THEIR hay.

  Late in life, TomTom became afflicted with what we believe is a congenital arthritis. His joints slowly began to fail him. No supplements, no vitamins, no miracle cures helped him. In the last year, he had become a liability to himself and we knew it was only a matter of time before he would break something and be downed permanently.  Still, he persisted in bossing everybody around. Persisted in being the surrogate boyfriend for all the girls who had no buck during their heats, persisted in tormenting the sheep and snuggling up to human women who couldn't resist his clumsy, sometimes stumbling charms.

  Friday morning, Veteran's day, Josh and I found him down. He'd been actively involved in the amorous adventures of two does in heat the night before and had apparently hurt his back legs and gone down. He'd dug himself into a mud hole struggling to get up and was cold, shivering, hungry and weak. We got him up and he shakily gained his footing but it was clear his back legs were injured. For the next two days we got him up every few hours to eat and pee, and he'd lay back down in a few minutes, no strength left in his spindly old  legs. No apparent connection between his joints and the muscles and connective tissues that should have strengthened them.

  The ruminant animal, the cud chewer, the multi-chambered stomached goat, sheep, cow, alpaca, deer, bison, giraffe and others have in my opinion the most highly developed digestive system of any furred creature, including us. They're able to convert indigestible plant tissues into digestible nutrients, largely through the process of fermentation. Their first stomach chamber, the rumen, is nothing more than a fermentation tank, more similar to the fermentation tanks that give us beer, wine and whiskey than they are different. This fermentation gives off a lot of gas, which has to escape the animal in the form of burps. I like to sit outside at night with a beer or glass of other fermented beverage, and listen to the contended animals happily burping and chewing their cuds. Sometimes in the air is a whiff of those burps, not unlike burnt cabbage. It's the smell of contentment, nutrition, caprine and ovine happiness.
  For all their evolutionary perfection, a ruminant that can't get up and move around is destined eventually to bloat. Bloat is a condition in which the rumen fills with gas which can't escape. The ever swelling rumen causes pressure on the animal's lungs and hearts, eventually leading if not remedied to to either suffocation or heart failure.

  I went out to check on TomTom Sunday night- Monday morning about 1:30 a.m. It was clear he was bloating. Baking soda is sometimes a remedy. TomTom had always loved it and would eat it out of our hands, but Sunday night he wouldn't have any. I massaged his rumen trying to get him to burp. I got him up, he tried and then went down. I got him up again, again he went down. Short of unacceptable extreme measures, there was nothing to be done. In the end, he gasped a few times, his big beautiful head in my lap, and finally relaxed. I'm sure his heart had stopped. I went in the house, woke Katie up and told her TomTom was dying, and we held him and told him goodbye. And we cried.

  Earlier on Sunday,  Josh had said his goodbyes to TomTom before leaving to go back to NAU. He knew the old guy wouldn't last the week. We talked about all the things he had taught us about himself, about goats, and about ourselves. And we cried and were grateful.

  Alan Watts has posited that god is playing hide and seek with himself in trying out the various guises of different living things. It escapes me why he kept going after trying out being a goat.

  There are eleven goats and two aging sheep in the pasture still. There is no doubt we'll be crying again sometime, and it'll be all right. So long TomTom old bud. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Very Spirited 25th Anniversary

 Twenty five years ago yesterday, about 125 people came together at L'Auberge in Sedona to help us celebrate our marriage. It was a big old time for sure, but we're a tiny bit more "mature" now and decided to celebrate in a somewhat more subdued fashion.
  We first thought to return to L'Auberge for dinner, but the place seems to change staff every two months and the current management have the reputation that ogres aspire to, so we demurred. The Yavapai Room at the Uber NewAge Enchantment Resort had a very interesting menu. We "applied" for a reservation (I am not making this up) and upon being accepted were informed in no uncertain terms that "resort casual" attire was required for men. "Slacks, closed shoes, and a collared shirt." I emailed them back and cancelled the reservation saying  "sory but i don own no shirt with no collar and at yer prices i darn shore can't aford won, pleez give my table to sum other sumbitch".
  We realized that in the times we'd been to The Asylum restaurant up at the Jerome Grand Hotel we'd never had a meal that we could find fault with. I can find fault with almost any meal, in 25 years' marriage I've learned to keep my criticisms to myself until after the meal so as not to spoil things for Kate. She's much more forgiving. I'm sure that aspect of her personality is a big part of why she's still putting up with me.
  Our friend Tony, who manages the place, got us a great table. For those unfamiliar with the Grand and Asylum, it's the creepy old Jerome hospital where countless miners and other residents of the Verde Valley were "treated" for generations. There are unsubstantiated reports of people actually surviving the experience and getting better. The hospital rooms have been converted to hotel rooms with antiques and period furniture. The old lobby at the hotel's side entrance has been re-imagined as the Asylum Restaurant. It's beautiful inside and there are tables facing the windows which at this time of year are open to the breezes and look out over the valley lights at night.
Somebody say mojito? Arrrrrrr matey
  Reputedly haunted, the staff has gone WAY overboard decorating for the season. Tony tells us that doors regularly slam, books fly across the room off shelves, bar bottles are rearranged over night to some other-worldly tippler's preference. Maybe the ghost is looking for Rye Whiskey. See below. It's been on a number of TeeVee ghost hunter type shows.
  The menu doesn't change much, but everything is well done and though pricey, first rate.

  While we chatted with Tony, Kate had a nicely made Mojito. Personally I don't know what the big deal is with Mojitos, but the're apparently all the rage right now. Rum, sugar, club soda, mint. Meh, it's like an unblended daquiri. Sadly, our server didn't know what rye whiskey is and when sent to find out, came back with the news that there wasn't any behind the bar. Not surprising. You can't even find Old Overholt in stores around here. So I settled for a very well poured Knob Creek. I don't know if it was because the manager was sitting with us or what , but that straight up bourbon was at least a double and a half. Knob Creek isn't bad for corn likker.

  I had a top notch 12 ounce New York, grilled to the extremely rare way I like my steaks. Around here; reputedly beef country, a grill man who's not afraid to cook a rare steak rare is rare indeed. Kate had a prickly pear jam glazed and grilled pork tenderloin. Again, sometimes it seems like all the cooks who didn't get the memo about pork no longer needing to be cooked into shoe leather to be safe live in the Verde Valley. None of them work at the Asylum. Kate's tender was just barely pink and very juicy. Both meals came atop great garlic mashed potatoes and nicely done local sauteed vegetables. Mine had the additional crunch of deep fried sweet onions and a tasty horseradish sauce. Our wines were a glass of a decent but forgettable Syrah for me and a new discovery for Kate. Monkey Business Zinfandel. A fruity, spicy Lodi, California zin that I've got to get into the store. At a suggested retail of 16 bucks we'll sell a lot.

  A nice meal well prepared and served. I've heard complaints about service there. Maybe from people who expect to be chatted up by their wait-person. Our server was competent and blessedly silent. I don't want to know my server's life history or hear about the book he's writing or the locavore gluten-free restaurant he's getting ready to open. Bring the food. Be invisible until we need you. If I want to gab with a server I'll sit at the bar or go to Denny's.

  The Asylum turned out to be the perfect place for Kate and I to celebrate a quiet, peaceful 25th. If I make it to our 50th, chances are someone will be feeding me gruel with a spoon, so we won't wait that long to go back. Here's a link to the Asylum's website. Take a look at the hundreds of wines on their wine card. Impressive by pretty much any standard but a real rarity around these parts, where supposedly everyone's a wine connoisseur.  I'd recommend it to anyone. Salud!

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Last Corn Post, or I Have Sweet Corn in October and You Don't

I may have mentioned in a previous post that I only bought corn from Hauser Farms in Camp Verde once this summer. It came to my attention through the grapevine or something that Hauser's was planting Roundup Ready Corn, brought to you by The Satanic Monsanto Corporation of the World. When I found out it was true, I decided Hauser's could take a flying jump before I'd ever again grace their cash box with my money.

I hadn't grown sweet corn since forever because Hauser's corn was so good, and so reasonably priced there was no profit in spending all the water and time and angst over growing my own. Not anymore.

This year, on a sort of lark, I decided very late at the end of July to plant some sweet corn in a little plot next to the giant Red Corn That Isn't Red Anymore. That plot had steadfastly refused to produce any beans and was just sitting there. I'd always heard that you could get two corn crops in a season around here but never really thought much about it.

A trip to the nursery here in Cornville yielded empty seed racks and puzzled looks on the faces of the guys at the nursery. "Nobody buys corn seed in July, it's too hot". A bit later in WalMart I found a rack gathering dust that was full of jumbo bags of Golden Bantam Late Season Heirloom Hybrid corn. Late season,...hmmmm....It was dirt cheap and clearly not a single pack had been sold and the little spinny rack the packs were displayed on had been gradually relegated to a dusty corner in the garden center.

So into the ground it went a day or two later. Must have been around the 29th of July or so as Josh was in the canyon and I planted by myself. It came right up and flourished. You can see it about half grown in the foreground of the picture I took of the red corn in the post below.

Today I started picking. It's been so long since I grew corn that I'd forgotten how to know when to pick so I've been peeking the last few days. You can carefully peel back just enough husk to get a look and not hurt the ear much. I strip off a piece of green husk and tie it around the end of the ear after I've looked if it's not ready. Keeps the ear tip from drying out before the rest of the ear is ready.

A little reading turns up that this variety goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century and predates all the modern super sweet hybrids. Personally, I like my corn to taste like corn. The modern stuff tastes like it's had sugar dumped on it to the point where you can't taste the corn, or maybe there's nothing to taste besides sugar. The modern corn also, to me, has no "tooth", there's no body, no substance. I'll take it crisp but a bit chewy thank you very much, and hint the sweetness to me will you? I don't need to be slapped in the face with it.

Anyhow, there's a lotta corn out there in the 6 little rows I planted. Looks like it's going to come on in nice stages of eight to twelve ears at a time over the next week or so. Perfect. I'll be planting this again. The photo here was taken today, right after I brought in the first ten ears. Katie and I immediately steamed up two of them and sat down at 9 in the morning and chowed them down, making all sorts of Homer Simpson eating sounds. All you people lamenting the end of sweet corn season, eat your hearts out!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Willie Nelson, Two Beers You Won't Get To Taste and Kate Hikes the Canyon

  As I've said before, there is no better time than right now in the history of this country to be a beer fan. New beers come out daily. Two that I've had the pleasure of trying lately are in very short supply and unless you've got a beer store on the mega scale of BevMo or a dedicated specialty store like Plaza Liquors nearby, you're unlikely to get your hands on them. It's worth trying. Really it is.

  The first is New Belgium Brewery's Lips of Faith Dunkel Weiss. "Weiss" is German for wheat. Most beers are brewed almost entirely from barley malt. Wheat beers contain some barley but a majority of malted wheat. The Belgians probably have the oldest tradition and widest variety of wheat beers. Some are made using indigenous wild yeasts that float around in the air in their ancient breweries. The vast majority of wheat beers are pale and cloudy with residual yeast. They're very refreshing, low alcohol and often served with lemon. Great summer beers for lots of folks. NB's Dunkel Weiss is a different animal. Dunkel is the German term designating a dark beer. In this case, REAL dark. This wheat gets it's darkness from the addition of dark roasted barley malt along with the wheat. The yeasts use give off a lot of fruity flavors. Dark fruits and clove flavors come through with a distinct black pepper finish. It only comes in 24 oz. bottles and checks in at 9% ABV. Share one with somebody if you can find it.

  Alaskan Brewing Company has been making tasty brews for 25 years. One of their beers was voted Best Beer in the U.S. some years back in a big competition. In celebration of their quarter century mark, they've introduced a limited edition big bottle of a very special brew called Perseverance Ale. This is a Russian Imperial Stout and thank goodness it's in short supply. Imperial stouts are strong, dark and on the malty side, just the way I like them. The brew is made with Fireweed honey and Alaskan Birch Syrup. The syrup adds a tartness that is unique. It's produced in Wasila, across the bridge to nowhere. It's real nice to now have something pleasant come to mind when Wasila is mentioned, but I digress. This stout pours dark and chewy, with a lasting head and many layers of flavor. It also clocks in at 9% ABV. I happen to know where the last two bottles of this stuff in the Verde Valley are, and as soon as I post this I'm going to go and snag them. My go to beer store was only able to get a dozen.

  In other news, Willie Nelson played the Stargazer Pavillion at Cliff Castle Casino last Friday. Josh came down from Flag and we went and had a big old time. He played all his hits and a lot of new stuff for an hour and a half to a packed house. The guy is 79 years old and has a concert schedule that I'd bet would put the typical superstar rocker in rehab in no time. My kid is no music snob, and will listen to almost anything that's well done. He enjoyed it I think. I know I did. Here's a shot of him playing that Josh took.

  Katie wanted to see Willy, but she was finishing the last leg of what seems to be becoming a semi-annual Grand Canyon hike. This time she and a group of friends did the plush route, hiking down to Phantom Ranch and staying two nights in a cabin there before hiking back out. They had a lot of rain and some group dynamics issues, but it was, like any Canyon trip, unforgettable and worth every sore muscle. Here's a slide show of some of her photos. For larger versions you can click on the center of the photo and it will take you to my Picasa album where you can watch the full sized slide show. Cheers and happy fall!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Corn Resolution

  Let's see, this is supposed to be a beverage blog, so how to be on topic..... got it. Bourbon is made from corn. It's corn whiskey. There, it's all connected now. The corn below however, is not whiskey corn. Whiskey corn is the same corn they feed to cattle and hogs.

  Some time back I wrote about planting our friends' red New Mexico corn they grew a long time ago down on the Verde. Well, it came up and grew with great gusto. Some of the stalks were close to 15 feet tall. People driving by slowed down to gawk at it. One guy even pulled over.

  "Hey what kinda corn izzat innyhow?"
  "It's red grinding corn".
  "Izzit sweet?"
  "Well then what's it taste like innyhow 'fit ain't sweet?"
  " tastes like corn."
  "Oh, well innyhow it shore is purty!! You gonna feed it to them goats?"
  "No. I'm going to grind it and make cornbread"
  "Ooooh Corrrrrnnnnnbreeeuuud, now I like me sum cornbread!"

  Just having it out there made us feel good whether it actually made any corn or not.  The picture above is from earlier in the summer when it was only about 7 or 8 feet tall and hadn't begun to tassle yet. Here's another picture of it standing tall behind the bantam sweet corn I planted just a few weeks ago as an experiment. I took that shot just a few days ago. It was finished at that point, dried silks and leaves beginning to dry.

  This wasn't a big plot of corn mind you. We planted 200 seeds in a plot about 12 or 14 x 25 or so. Yesterday Josh came down from NAU and we harvested it. I wasn't planning to pick it so soon but after picking a few test ears I could see it was ready and I was worried about mildew with the high humidity we've had and are still having, so down it came.
  I'm pleased to report that it produced splendidly. We had ZERO worm damage. It's nicely productive and most plants produced two ears with many reaching full maturity. We haven't counted, but we picked I'm sure well over 200 ears. It's drying inside now on a really inconvenient rack in the living room, until I can figure out some raccoon proof place to keep it. Last year's puny blue corn harvest provided the party snacks for a club of raccoons that invaded our neighbor's barn where it was drying. Not going to happen this year no. 
  Truth be told though, it's not red corn anymore. John and Susun grew a variety of grinding corns that summer back in 91, and it appears they all got together and pollinated each other! We can see traces of the Hopi White, Yellow and Chin Stripe corn that were neighbors to the Red. We don't care really and aren't terribly anal about seed purity, although we know we probably should be. Heck, every year I can't resist planting more than one variety of heirloom squash and then save the seeds. Sometimes the next year's plantings are edible and sometimes they're not. I think that old monk Gregor Mendel would have loved to see the outcome this year. Much more interesting than the silly Sweet Peas or whatever it was he was experimenting with. 
This one is worth clicking on for the larger version
  This picture is of some of the exemplary ears we saved to look at for a while before they're ground. Now Kate has to take it all up to Moencopi when it's dry and run it through the sheller and grind it and we'll be baking cornbread for John and Susun's return in November. 
  There is the barest hint of fall in the air. The morning light is softer, the air the tiniest bit crisp. When the sun gets up a bit higher it doesn't slap you in the face. The does have begun their morning fights, pushing and shoving and bloodying each other in the annual fall ritual of pecking order determination for the boyfriend who this fall won't appear. The poor girls are gonna be date-less all winter.It's been hideously hot this summer and unbearably humid. For once I'm kinda looking forward to fall, if not winter.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nature, Nurture and Shit From Shine-ola

photos are clickable for bigger versions
  Today Josh moved to NAU to begin his college career. It's only an hour away, and with today's modern communication even if it was across the country, he'd still be only a tweet, a text, a cell call away. And yet, tonight the house, the pasture are strangely empty.  We took this pic this morning during packing. His first car and his new car. First cars and first loves are almost interchangeable for boys; they both ultimately break your heart when they go, and leave a hole that is never quite filled. Here his beautiful old classic Benz poses alongside Josh and his more utilitarian Subaru. The Benz is saved from the ravages of the salty winters in Flagstaff and the Subaru will carry him safely on his new adventures.

  We raised Josh in nature. Rather than showing him nature through parks where you have to pay a fee, follow a trail, read signs and stand around looking at nature as an outside observer, we put him right in the middle of it. When he was four, he got his flock of chickens. He watched babies hatch and old or sick hens die. He gathered eggs and learned all he needed to know about managing money from selling eggs. As he got older, he moved across the taxonomic order and began raising sheep and dairy goats. He learned his birds and bees at a real early age watching goats go after it in the fall, and came face to face with the realities of birth by pulling gooey babies from their mamas and encouraging them to take their first hungry sips of milk. He dealt with the death of babies and learned to come to grips with the realities of physical ailments about which he had no control. He learned that all living things have their place in the wheel of life and his interest in the science and spirituality of life was born. 
  When he became a man in the Hopi way, he began to participate in the activities of Hopi men. The cycle of ceremonies and helping in the fields with weeding and harvest taught him the fragility of life and the intimate connection to the earth that he is heir to. The Hopi way has awakened in him an interest in the connections to the infinite that science cannot reach. Through his music, art and writing he explores that inner connection. 
  Today, shortly before leaving, Josh and I went out on the porch. Borrowing from one of the all-time most quintessentially philosophical movies ever made, I asked him to show me the difference between Shit and Shoe Polish. He passed with flying colors:

  He's done well, and we know he will continue to do well. He can tell shit from shine-ola and has a deeply personal sense of what's important and what's not. Tonight as he embarks on the next leg of his life's journey, our only wish is that he finds his joy. We are heart-fillingly proud of him, and heart-breakingly lonely. God bless him.
Sacred Mountain, the view from Josh's Dorm room