Saturday, May 31, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Managing the Wild and Cultivating the Feminine

I hoped my posts would stay inside their boundaries, but life is not that neat and we need to give up our illusions of mastery, especially in a male dominated society. I've said it all, now I just need to put it in the context of Farm and Country bulletin number two.

Weeds. Go easy on them. That's my advice in a  nutshell. Or go easy on yourself, because what is the mania for weed obliteration if not a masked male inferiority complex easily manipulated by the forces of Wall Street and Madison Avenue in a gruesome combination. Go easy on the weeds.

In my case, I spent several years eliminating milkweed from the fields, It took a fair amount of aggression and even hatred channeled into long afternoons of walking and hand pulling to get out the plants by the roots. I knew I was giving in to the forces of Madison Avenue and Wall Street in gruesome combination as referenced earlier, but I did not care. I was determined. I wanted green grass and that was it for my sheep. No offending and unsightly presence of the amazingly productive and almost magical flowering and swaying stalks that produce sustenance for the migrating monarch butterfly. Today I regret what I did and wish we had more monarchs. We used to get swarms of them. Maybe they'll come back. Maybe they won't.

Another example staying with the sheep. They are beautiful animals but prey to many including a parasite known as the barber pole worm that is endemic anywhere there  are sheep. I used to dose like crazy several times a year experimenting with combinations of medications, but then i learned the barber pole was developing massive immunity to all the known medications and I stopped trying. I lose less sheep now. Why? I let them graze on the fields that have not been mowed or weeded. When the grass is longer than four inches there is less chance of the sheep ingesting barber pole larvae. As a culture we need to step back from the impulse to dominate nature with our technological prowess and learn a knew approach. Of course I'm not trying to make a living from the land. As soon as you introduce market forces and you need to maximize profits you have to give up on the Tao of farming and it's open warfare a la Colin Powell with massive infusions of capital, technology and hatred for the wild in order to come out ahead. Is that what's happening to us as a society? We need smarter approaches across the board.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reaping the Sacrifices

Memorial Day is a great day because it's about memory. And living in the present. And feeling good and feeling sad at the same time because people died for us. And when we feel good and do fun stuff we don't have to feel guilty about it because it's what they died for and would have wanted.

This morning I took one of my daughters down town to watch the parade, It was one of those perfect days, windy and not hot and the town felt clean and fresh as if the summer had not really started and that's largely because it was such a brutal winter people are wearing their tank tops and stuff but not quite believing it can be the right time for it and so being very appreciative of just the simple fact that it was a nice day and the river was running full of water you could tell below the stone bridge and the old people in the Drum Corps with the funny red hats and tassels and scarves wrapped around their too large bellies who march every year looking as immortal and nerdy as ever. Then the parade started and veterans marched by in their uniforms and then followed the town mahoots in the jeeps who came down the street waving followed by the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts and then the little league teams throwing candy. After they marched to the town hall and the little cemetery in the back and fired off some volleys we all adjourned to the bandstand to hear a speech from the high school principal, a 26 year military veteran who graduated from RPI on an ROTC scholarship, married someone from his hometown in Massachusetts and served in the two Gulf Wars before retiring as a colonel on the same day as his 16th wedding anniversary. In other words this was a man you could like and his speech was an exegesis of the Star Spangled Banner complete with facts about Francis Scott Key I did not know, such as he was a successful lawyer with a commission from the US Navy to negotiate the release of US prisoners on board the British warships blockading Fort McHenry. They released the prisoners to him and told him to sail behind their lines as they continued to bombard the fort through the night. So he watched the battle from the decks of his ship out on the water wondering whether the fort which stood between the British and the city of Baltimore could withstand the attack. I didn't know that. And the principal tied this in to questions we all have about whether our missions will succeed in life and whether the sacrifices we make will be worthwhile and remembered by others. It was a good speech as far as Memorial Day speeches go. And plus I saw a couple of people I hadn't spoken with in awhile, so there was that good feeling of reconnecting in the place where I live and liking probably almost all of the people that were there.

Thank you Memorial Day, for making us be appreciative of the need to remember.

Next week: A hike in the Minks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Writing the Vida Loca -- Truth and Fantasy

All right, I said I would do it, so I am. A man of my word, here is the truth about the writing life. If I told you it was no life at all, I would be lying, but not by much.

In my younger days I was enamored of being the man of letters. I imagined a life of high adventure and interpersonal relationships marked by camaraderie and a code of honor shaped by bullfighting and deep sea fishing. You know what I'm talking about, that 1950s cultural icon that somehow survived into the seventies despite taking a beating at the hands of folk music and drugs and the sneaking suspicion that people cared more about the Mary Tyler Moore show than the latest tome from Norman Mailer. When it became apparent that the writer had been relegated by the culture to a sideshow, a carnival attraction, then for me writing became an underground war of attrition, a personal quest that kept me sane by clinging to a juvenile obsession that had not only marked me for life, but determined all the major choices I ever made: college, career, life partner,  etc. It was kind of like being a secret monk, scribbling away nights, typing up drafts of novels and stories from varied locales that all had in common a resolute distance from the centers of literary opinion.

And then last year came the breakthrough i'd been waiting for. A publisher willing to take a chance, put my name on their brand and launch me out into the world of legitimate writerhood, (authorship?). Despite the slap in the face of a contract that specified marketing and publicity would be up to me, I told myself that was just the state of play in the "industry" and I went all in, applying the marketing lessons gained from self-publishing previous titles, and when SAVIOR came out as a Kindle Ebook in April, I was like a proud parent, beaming with the new presence in the world of my book. The reviews were good, some were excellent, and sales have been solid, if not spectacular to date.

So how has my life changed and what have been the benefits and drawbacks of the experience? These are legitimate concerns and despite the fact that i know nobody cares, I'm going to try to spell it out anyway.

In most visible ways, nothing has changed. My kids still think I'm a doofus and remind me of it. My wife would rather I not spend as much time as I do on extraneous Twitter like marketing activity which she does not understand and does not want to understand. A couple of my Spanish students have asked me about my book and how it's doing and one even got excited when I told him it would be on sale in a couple of weeks. So I am that high school teacher guy with the mildly interesting hobby/sideline. (I remember my algebra teacher in 9th grade, Mr. Mucarzel, and his leather handbags.)

One of my neighbors won a free copy of SAVIOR in exchange for helping out with crowd funding, and another neighbor asked me at my daughter's soccer game how the book was doing.

My mother refuses to talk about my writing and changed the subject on Mother's Day when I brought it up in desperation. My father, who actually went out and bought a Kindle so he could buy a copy of SAVIOR, said I was improving but said he's not into dystopian fiction.

So that's it as far as the people around me and the impact the book has had.

Next week: Social media - Benefits vs. Pitfalls

SAVIOR is available as an Amazon Kindle Ebook.

Monday, May 19, 2014

MONDAY FARM AND COUNTRY -- The Garlic and Blackflies

As of today we have succeeded in tilling the garden, planting out potatoes, greens and some peas, mulching most of the blueberries and moved about half of the horse manure to the pile in the north field from the horses' fields below the sheep fold. The garlic has made a great start and the hay mulch should keep the weeds back for a month or so.

As one of my early farming mentors told me about 20 years ago, (has it really been that long, Francie?) most of farming consists of moving things around from one pile to another. It's called nutrient management. I wish I had a tractor but I don't. What you can do with a wheelbarrow and a plank of wood is pretty amazing, add a trailer and a vehicle, in my case a Kia Spectra hatchback, folks, yes I am talking making do, and you are good to go.

Now that it's half way through May, the only way I can work outside is with the full body armor, head and upper body netting, with tight collars at bottom and sleeves to prevent entry for the blackflies which invade at this time of year and swarm around faces and eyes and anything moist and heat giving. Their bites can inflict an amazing dose of toxins given their minuscule size, and the irritant can be so bad that infections develop and blood poisoning ensue. That's how bad they are. One of the confounding things about nature for many folks is the sheer itchiness of being outside in it. Why did God make blackflies and mosquitoes? That's easily one of the key questions to be able to answer for all the doubters in our offspring. For an answer just point to the sky at evening and the swooping blue and white arcs of gravity defying beauty known as swallows. Their aerobatics are more than just pleasurable, although they are surely that as well. It's feeding time for them all spring and summer long, payoff for the long trek up from Central American as they make nests and prepare for breeding. And the moist fields and swamps of New England provide the insect life they count on to live.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Little Eddy in the Tunnel of Love

Coming out of the tunnel of book marketing for SAVIOR, it's an opportunity to take stock of where we are.

The book seems to be selling. It hasn't snowballed into best seller status, but has held its own in the Kindle rankings over a month period. Yay. Thank you reviewers, in particular Diane Bylo of Tome Tender, Stacie Theis of Beach Bound Books, Dianne Nelson of Sand In My Shoes Reviews, Roberto Mattos, and Diane Donovan of Midwest Book Review.

I doubled my readership on the blog here during the April A to Z challenge, a byproduct of having daily posts on a current subject and flagging that subject beforehand. Like weapons technology that produces positive spinoffs for the civilian market, so book marketing has taught me a thing or two about blogging. I need to set up a schedule to get out more blog posts. So, presuming there is a readership that cares and takes note of these sorts of things, and you have to presume that there is or you'd go virtually crazy, here is what that schedule will look like going forward:

Farm and Country Monday (posts on land, sustainable living, farm life, animals, vegetables --including myself, etc.)

Fishbowl Thursday (looking out at the panorama of the world through the lens of my little life)

Writing Weekend (reflections on The Process, guest posts from fellow writers, reviews. etc.)

Suggestions for posts, submissions and rants can be sent to me in the comments section or if you prefer and find email easier, then by all means have at it:

 tcaplan (at) mcttelecom (dot) com

The sun is out after heavy rains last night. I can feel the current picking up. The tunnel of love is calling again. Gotta go.

(Overheard at Edmund's this morning.
Tourist: When exactly do the blackflies go away around here.
Shopkeeper: When the mosquitoes come out.
Me thinking to myself: Just in time. LOL)