Friday, February 04, 2011

a wonderful man

My good friend John Brian Becker died yesterday morning. I say "good friend" but in fact he was a cherished friend: a teacher, mentor, brother, and kindred spirit. Many others could say the same thing because his heart and spirit were so expansive. Like Whitman, he was large, and he contained multitudes. I love him and I will miss him very much.

With the support of his lover and partner Jason and his loving family, he battled cancer for upwards of three years, an exhausting stretch of treatments, surgeries, and medicines. A cancerous downward spiral that had relatively good and starkly terrible moments. So now my heart breaks for all of us, losing such a wonderful soul. Jason has been an amazing man and partner, expending every ounce of strength within himself to continue to support JB in these last few years, and I respect him tremendously and am so grateful for his courage and levelheadedness, even with the certain knowledge that JB's death was around the corner at any moment.

Now JB can rest in peace after so much suffering. The question in my mind is "Why did such a wonderful soul have to die so young, and why did he have to experience all of this suffering?" Most likely this question will go unanswered forever, but as an evolved ape with a big brain I will ask it until I take my last breath. I want to rage against the dying of the light, but I know it is our common bond as living creatures. We will die, but why?

I met JB when I was young and in need of shelter. He provided that and much more. He showed me you could be a strong man and not have to be macho or cruel. He showed me that you could open your heart to others and not be afraid. We shared many philosophical ideas and good walks. There are a lot of lessons I learned from him over the years, but the main one is to never be afraid of life. We have this precious gift of life, and we have our bodies, minds, and souls. Make of it what you will, because tomorrow is today, yesterday is gone, and here we are together somehow. Be yourself always, because that is all you've got, and what you are is what matters, not what you think you are or what you want to be. There is no point in putting on a show (unless it's for fun!). And JB liked to have fun, which is a part of what makes the last few years so hard.

JB was an athletic person who loved his physical existence, and he appreciated the beauty of the human form in all of its diversity. He liked to walk and play soccer and do fun things whenever possible. He introduced me to buddhism and eastern philosophy, to opening yourself to the universe and enjoying good conversation and delicious food. When we were young he demonstrated a conscious hedonism that I feel is a sensible reaction to this short life we have to live. He was a wise man who had a light spirit, a thoughtful man who like to play and laugh. I take heart that a man like him existed, and I strive to achieve such a balance of soul.

We mourn. but he lives on within us, changed human beings because of him. All we can do is honor his spirit.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I would like to announce that my lady and I are engaged to be married next year, as of Sunday. Love is in the air here on the a farm and I am a happy man. Hard to really add anything to that little nugget of information. Obviously I am not posting very often here, as more and more of my life is about the farm, but I am sure I will be back with my observations and philosophical musings every now and again. 

Take care of yourselves this winter. Enjoy the beautiful warm sunny winter day. Much love to you all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

woke up to white snow covering everything out there
it's wet and cold and the stove is silent
the chickens are frozen to the tree
so much to do and it's all put on hold by the snow

Monday, November 08, 2010

Do we know anything? I don't think we know anything. Nada. 

Okay, we know we like food, shelter, clothes, and companionship. Anything else? I don't think so...

Monday, November 01, 2010

shifting mosaics

The bones of the earth are stones and from those stones comes soil and from that soil comes life. And life grows and spreads seed and dies back, and feeds the dirt. Here we are in this vast theater of biological mosaics spreading and shifting across the planet. Water and wind move us around like galactic puppet strings, and we hustle and bustle here and there to make some sort of mark on the universe, our own special note. Why is it that we strive to leave something behind, is it because we fear the vast darkness of the night or are we simply biologically programmed to procreate and produce offspring of one sort or another? In this mystery we wander.

How do we go about our days as if they are endless? Maybe because they are, as each moment stretches onward forever beyond what we understand with our animal bodies. How does the small sapling or tiny yearling survive in this maelstrom of cold and dark, hunger and pain? The sunlight warms it up and it grows, and with the growth comes strength, and the strength renews commitment to life.  In this interglacial period we do not see the awe of endless ice, but we don't know what the earth has in store for us after so much tinkering with the climate by mankind. We think we are strong with our steel infrastructure, but a howling breeze can bring it all down in a second. Like the christian bible story says, don't build your house on sand, build it on rock, but the problem is that all rock will become sand at some point. In the long scheme of things we all become bits of stardust floating around the universe. How is this so?

I watched the dried out grass stems waving in the breeze yesterday as the earth slowly turned my little patch of land away from the sun. The enlightened trees became dark and the cold crept up from the earth into the bones of my hand, and I began to walk back to the house to warm up. As I walked I reflected on the impermanence of all things, and how we think of the dead as apart from us.  But what we are really is the sum of all that has gone before us, the dead live on within, a part of us, nourishing us in different ways. The grass can become fodder for the goats and their milk and meat can nourish our bodies, their hides can warm our flesh, their bones can provide us with tools. The old tree, after years of hard endless work, producing carbohydrates and converting oxygen to carbon, after years of work and endless infinitesimal organic actions in this world, shading, sheltering, blocking wind, directing rain, the trees gorgeous symphony of life ends but does not end. It continues onward in the life of the soil, the bacteria and fungal webs, it topples over and we can go out with our metal machines and cut it up into pieces to burn and keep us warm through our mini ice age. Here we have eternal life, all around us, every day. 

And when those we love pass on we mourn, our hearts heavy as boulders. But they live on within us as long as we live on with them in our hearts, and the nourishment they provided with their love, grace, compassion, friendliness continues on in our lives...even the negative things about them enlighten us so that we learn to not let those things live in our lives, as our lives are to precious to waste on garbage. We need to ferment ourselves to a perfect compost that enriches everything around us, but it is so easy to get out of balance. 

Friday, October 22, 2010


Time to unwind is important. Even with ten thousand things to do, I feel like I need to take a moment to relax my soul so that I can be a kinder, more thoughtful person. Even when everything seems crazy I need to realize that my life is like a speck of dust in the wind. I love my life, but it is as transient as anything that exists in this world. Even the hoophouse that we are building, with a bunch of help from other kind people, is simply an ephemeral stirring in the wake of this cosmic canoe of reality. Every moment is simply there, and seizing it is the seminal practice that seems like it should occupy most of our lives. But mostly we seem to float along in a series of events, cause and effect as a giant snake eating it's own tail. To take a moment to ponder where you are right there and then is probably the most amazing gift we have, our human sentience.

Munching on blood sausage and cracklings from our pig is such a weird head trip. She lead a wonderful life, and had a very quick and hopefully painless death. Our two pigs were so gentle and rude, funny and annoying, hilarious and loving, hungry and lazy. They were such gentle beasts and they have already given us a plethora of foodstuffs, even before we have butchered their carcasses. One thing that is for sure, is that they we treasured their lives and their antics, but when the bullet went into their brains, they were dead and then became a meat and fat and bone and blood, and now we treasure those things as they enrich and sustain our lives.  I think it will always be a strange thing, to commit to raising an animal to eat it. But like I have said before, this is what we do as humans, we domesticate beast and vegetable, and are sustained by these relationships. 

Well, as usual, it is time to go out and get a bunch of stuff done. Happy trails to you in your journeys today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the heart is smarter

It has been awhile since I last posted and I'm sorry about that, mainly because writing is definitely a helpful activity that helps me sort out all that is going on in my life. There is so much going on right now that I don't even feel like summarizing it, but suffice it to say that I am living on the new farm with the missus and we have moved all the animals here in paddocks that we have fenced in with good new fencing. We also have the hoophouse up partially, just need a couple more days to get the metal frame up and then onto the plastic covering and then I will be framing in the ends. It is impossible for me to do so on my own so we are working on it on days off when we can. Yesterday was a whirlwind of driving, dropping off shares in the city, getting new glasses, getting supplies from Fleet Farm and a restaurant supply store, setting up a new business checking account. We got home later then we had thought we would, and we tried to decompress by doing some chores and random stuff. All the animals were fine, the house was still standing, and we had just accomplished a lot on our lists, so life was good. 

I am amazed at the beauty surrounding me. The goats and pigs, the oaks and rustling leaves, my gentle lady cooking rice and doing chores, the grasses swaying in the winds, the sunlight slowly fading off the fields, the cold dew in the rye grass early in the morning. The ducks squawking, their quack boxes getting a good workout in this warm fall weather. The pigs oink and grunt and root in the soil happily, the moon seems more gentle then I have ever seen it, hanging like an icicle in the sky. 

I think that in farming, gardening, or just plain living, beauty is always balanced by that which could be considered not beautiful. We have an infestation of ladybeetles in the kitchen that like to drop on your neck when you're cooking or eating. The roof is showing serious water damage and needs to be overhauled in the spring probably. The basement floods in the rain, and a floor joist seems to be unattached to anything. And that's all just problems with the house. We really have little room for our operation without outbuildings. We have tools and feed and boxes of jars stuffed into our pumphouse, and the chickens don't have a coop yet. No indoor room to store the firewood for the winter to keep it dry, no room for me to work on small projects. We have a refrigerator and the washer outside because there is no room inside at this point. But all this is not to complain, it is to show you that the seemingly idyllic nature of any farm or homestead is underscored by the many problems and projects that compile a long and comprehensive honey-do list. But this is what I signed up for, what I was looking forward to while planning to move to the country and start farming with my girlfriend. It has been a long time coming and I can safely say that I am almost where I want to be. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will always almost be there, but as in all things in life, the journey is what counts. It's hard to remember that sometimes, when you sort of wish the journey could hang on a second while you take a nap. 

So soon we are going to be killing our two pigs. We are both quite a bit nervous about this whole process, but we have hired a (hopefully) skilled man to take care of the killing and skinning part. Of course we will be there to watch and learn, and next time we will do it ourselves like homesteaders, farmers, and herders have done for as long humans and animals have had this most intimate of connections, that of mutually symbiotic sustenance. That is the main thing on my mind these days. 

The relationship we have with these animals that delight us with their personalities and sustain us with their very bodies is probably the most intense ethical dilemma that I have had to try to comprehend in my life. What it all comes down to for me is that in this world we really do eat to live, and when we eat to live we eat some form of life. The idea that an animal has more inherent life then a plant does not sit well with me, it seems to smack of a hierarchy that doesn't exist in nature. Nature seems to me to be a circle, and without us animals to complete it, it is incomplete. We identify with animals because we are animals, or more to the point, we identify with mammals because we are mammals. It seems easier for most humans to kill a chicken or a fish, then a pig or a goat I would say. Our mammalian history bonds us to those who share our fondness for mother's milk. In the end, we are engaging in a wide range of speciesism ( although I am not using that term in the way that is usually used), implying that species closest to our genetic heritage are more sentient and important than the vast array of living species on this planet.  My point is that we have to eat to live, and we eat life, so the only ethical way to consume life is to raise species with the utmost of care and with the best of lives and then to end their lives swiftly and as painlessly as possible. What else is there to do in this world of eating living creatures?

Of course animals and plants feel in different ways. Most animals can't regrow limbs like a tree can, for instance. Mostly we don't recognize that plants have intelligence, but I would argue that what we call intelligence could simply be survival mechanism, i.e. the brain has evolved to react to various stimulus by firing synaptic connections and releasing chemicals that change physiological conditions in the animal body, but who is to say this is a better evolutionary technique then that of the plants which could be said to react to various stimulus by increasing growth, releasing seeds, growing extra runner roots, etc... The one kind of intelligence is mobile and the other stationary, relatively speaking. With all our running about, do we actually ever get anywhere, though? Maybe the plants have figured something out that we should pay attention to...

I feel deeply that you should never stop considering these ethical dilemmas that face us as human beings, just as you should never stop working on your relationship to your family, friends, and partner. There is no real ultimate conclusion to all of this really, there is nothing really new under the sun. Our intelligence can only get us so far and then it is all feeling, and even though the brain denigrates feelings and emotions and intuition as base behaviors, perhaps the brain has it's own agenda? Who can say, but I feel in my heart that what we are doing here on LTD Farm is as ethical and humane as raising livestock can get. Each animal is loved for it's essential nature, and each animal is treated with care and given the best life we can give it. When that animal has reached the end of its useful life, and/or it is suffering in some way, its life is ended. It is a rough analogue of wild nature, wherein the wolves job is to cull the caribou herd of weak or sickly animals for the overall health of the wolves and the caribou. In our case as clever human beings, we have bred domestic animals to be dependent on us, just as we have bred wild plant species to be weak yet produce much food for us. 

Perhaps harvesting wild species as food is inherently more ethical and sustainable then domesticating species for food, and I will always be interested in this idea as well. But in a world where some people think potatoes come from trees and steak comes from the freezer, I think we have one misconception and disconnection from the natural world at a time to overcome. 

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