Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feathered Gallantry

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

Yesterday the neighbor's dog, a beagle, escaped his bonds at home and came trotting across the road to my little farm.  By the time I was aware of his presence, he had already killed one of my little red hens, caused another to disappear and was savaging the second of my roosters.  Both roosters survived, barely, but had all of the feathers on their rear ends ripped off by that monster of a little dog.  Now the poor roosters can't fly, and they may or may not survive the ordeal.  Both appear to be in a state of shock.

I will miss the roosters terribly if they die.   They were actually given to me by the same kid whose dog wreaked so much havoc yesterday.  Those roosters, both Arcanas, constantly watch over the hens and are their protectors.   When I give the hens their daily treats, small bits of bread, the roosters stand back and let the hens eat.  I have no doubt that when the craziness started yesterday, the dog grabbed one or two handy chickens, snapped their necks, and then before he could catch more, the roosters intervened and flung themselves at the dog.    I arrived on the scene as the second rooster was being mauled.  After using some military vocabulary on the beagle, I grabbed a shovel and gave him a glancing blow on the backside and he ran like hell for home.

Beagles are pretty much a worthless breed.  When confronted with a small, helpless animal, a beagle will do what it is bred to do - chase that sucker down and kill it.   Beagles go absolutely insane whenever a rabbit is nearby, hence we have no rabbits in our lovely sylvan dell.  When it comes to beagles, give me a pit bull anytime.

To frost the cake, another of my baby bantys also died last night.  Now I am down to five of those fowl.

The peacocks ran for cover in the barn when they heard the commotion, and they stayed inside for the remainder of the day.  They are smart birds.

And as to my chicken flock, the adult Rhode Island Red hens are at nine.  Eggs are going to be getting scarcer until the new chicks start laying in September and October - and I have no idea how many of the ten little Rhode Island Red chicks will turn out to be hens.

Farming can be a brutal business - some days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Train Is Leaving the Station

by Pa Rock
Rock of Ages

My graduating class was very small, just twenty-two young souls, and, not surprisingly, we were very close.  Five members of our class (or who were closely associated with our class) have passed on, and one other has been battling a serious disease for a long time.  I learned yesterday that two more of my classmates are gravely ill.

With all of that as background, please allow me to relate a few notes about the colonoscopy which I underwent this morning.  First of all, I woke up early, hungry, realizing that I had overlooked one very important step in the preparation.  After taking the initial laxative - triple dose three times - and that awful bottled stuff (three times), and fasting for a complete day, I had completely forgotten the final laxative - two servings of four tablets each.  I was really depressed heading in for the procedure, realizing that I would probably be turned away and told to do the same horrid drill again in a couple of weeks.

But I was honest.  I asked to see a nurse when I arrived at the surgery center, and I carefully explained my stupidity.   Apparently they had faced this issue before.  She asked me several questions and then said that the colonoscopy would proceed as scheduled.  (She obviously had some training in senility issues.)

I had been flustered leaving the house and consequently forgot to bring along a copy of the mystery magazine which I am currently reading.   Finding myself third or fourth from the front for the assembly line  colonoscopy, I asked for a magazine and was given a copy of People.  That particular issue from last year featured an article on the life and death of comedian Joan Rivers, and told about how she had died after undergoing a routine medical procedure.  I knew that would give me something to think about as the anesthesia was kicking in!

However, all's well that ends well, and I awoke feeling fine.  The doctor came in to visit and said that he didn't see anything of concern.  The nurse asked about my follow-up visit to his office, and the doctor said that I didn't need one.  He said that normally I would have another colonoscopy in ten years, but since I am sixty-seven that probably wouldn't be necessary.

Somehow I feel like the train is beginning to leave the station.  Look for me in the club car!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Supreme Court Prepares to Catch Up with Society

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Supreme Court of the United States has two-and-a-half hours set aside today to hear oral arguments in the case of Obergfell v Hodges, the result of which, many believe, will be the basic legalization of same-sex marriage across the entire nation.

The actual two questions that the Court will be pondering are these:  Does the Constitution give states the power to ban same-sex marriages - or is that an infringement of civil liberties?   And, do states have the power, again according to the Constitution, to  refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed legally in other states?

There appears to be a strong sense, at least in the mainstream media, that five or six of the nine justices will find the strength and wisdom to tune out the religious claptrap and boldly take the rest of America where thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have already gone.  A decision on the matter is expected in June, just in time for the wedding season.

Currently Nebraska bans gay marriage by constitutional amendment, and the following twelve states ban it by constitutional amendment and state law:  Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

(Eight of those states have had their bans overturned by court action, but those decisions are currently under appeal.  Appeals are pending regarding Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas.)

In related news, former congresswoman Michele Bachmann knows a sign of the apocalypse when she sees one - and is home packing for the Rapture!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "The Death of the Hired Man"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Farms are little worlds of their own.  Life happens on farms, often from beginning to end.  Lots of new life emerges in the nooks and crannies and stalls and pastures of farms, and just as naturally many creatures breathe their last on farms.  This week one of my little banty chicks died, and the poor little fellow took a long time to expire as he (or she) made a quite dramatic exit.

That sad occurrence got me to thinking about death and dying, particularly deaths on a farm.  That ground, I assumed, would be a rich one for poets to have run their spades and shovels through.  But instead of an ode to a farm animal's death, I came across Robert Frost's The Death of the Hired Man, a classic that the poet penned a century ago in 1914.

This poem is a story of sorts.  Warren and Mary are an old farm couple in Frost's New England.  While Warren is out one day, a former employee, a farm hand who left at a critical time in order to earn some "pocket money" (and whom Warren had told not to return) shows up at the farm and Mary, feeling sorry for the decrepit old man, takes him in and lets him sleep by the stove.  Warren comes home and a discussion ensues between him and Mary.   The Death of the Hired Man relates the gist of that discussion.

This is a beautiful poem that has quite a lot to say about the human condition and what exactly "home" is.  Silas, the hired man, had other choices, but he chose to make a long walk in cold weather to reach the little farm that he regarded as home.  Mary believes he has come "home" to die.  Warren ponders why Silas considers their farm his home, and concludes:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, 
They have to take you in.’

(Yes, considering that last week's selection, Mending Wall, was also by Robert Frost - and written in 1914 - it feels like I have some sort of Frost buzz on.  Perhaps The Death of the Hired Man will get it out of my system.  We'll just have to see if it does!)

Please enjoy this work by one of America's greatest poets.

The Death of the Hired Man
by Robert Frost

Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage
To meet him in the doorway with the news
And put him on his guard. ‘Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door
And shut it after her. ‘Be kind,’ she said.
She took the market things from Warren’s arms
And set them on the porch, then drew him down
To sit beside her on the wooden steps.

‘When was I ever anything but kind to him?
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said.
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I?
If he left then, I said, that ended it.
What good is he? Who else will harbor him
At his age for the little he can do?
What help he is there’s no depending on.
Off he goes always when I need him most.
He thinks he ought to earn a little pay,
Enough at least to buy tobacco with,
So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.
“All right,” I say, “I can’t afford to pay
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.” “Then someone else will have to.”
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself
If that was what it was. You can be certain,
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,—
In haying time, when any help is scarce.
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’

‘Sh! not so loud: he’ll hear you,’ Mary said.

‘I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.’

‘He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove.
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here,
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep,
A miserable sight, and frightening, too—
You needn’t smile—I didn’t recognize him—
I wasn’t looking for him—and he’s changed.
Wait till you see.’

                          ‘Where did you say he’d been?’

‘He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house,
And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke.
I tried to make him talk about his travels.
Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.’

‘What did he say? Did he say anything?’

‘But little.’

                ‘Anything? Mary, confess
He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me.’


              ‘But did he? I just want to know.’

‘Of course he did. What would you have him say?
Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man
Some humble way to save his self-respect.
He added, if you really care to know,
He meant to clear the upper pasture, too.
That sounds like something you have heard before?
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look
Two or three times—he made me feel so queer—
To see if he was talking in his sleep.
He ran on Harold Wilson—you remember—
The boy you had in haying four years since.
He’s finished school, and teaching in his college.
Silas declares you’ll have to get him back.
He says they two will make a team for work:
Between them they will lay this farm as smooth!
The way he mixed that in with other things.
He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft
On education—you know how they fought
All through July under the blazing sun,
Silas up on the cart to build the load,
Harold along beside to pitch it on.’

‘Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot.’

‘Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream.
You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger!
Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him.
After so many years he still keeps finding
Good arguments he sees he might have used.
I sympathize. I know just how it feels
To think of the right thing to say too late.
Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin.
He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying
He studied Latin like the violin
Because he liked it—that an argument!
He said he couldn’t make the boy believe
He could find water with a hazel prong—
Which showed how much good school had ever done him.
He wanted to go over that. But most of all
He thinks if he could have another chance
To teach him how to build a load of hay—’

‘I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment.
He bundles every forkful in its place,
And tags and numbers it for future reference,
So he can find and easily dislodge it
In the unloading. Silas does that well.
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests.
You never see him standing on the hay
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.’

‘He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be
Some good perhaps to someone in the world.
He hates to see a boy the fool of books.
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.’

Part of a moon was falling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw it
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard some tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.
‘Warren,’ she said, ‘he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’

‘Home,’ he mocked gently.

                                       ‘Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’

                                      ‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

Warren leaned out and took a step or two,
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.
‘Silas has better claim on us you think
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles
As the road winds would bring him to his door.
Silas has walked that far no doubt today.
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich,
A somebody—director in the bank.’

‘He never told us that.’

                                  ‘We know it though.’

‘I think his brother ought to help, of course.
I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right
To take him in, and might be willing to—
He may be better than appearances.
But have some pity on Silas. Do you think
If he’d had any pride in claiming kin
Or anything he looked for from his brother,
He’d keep so still about him all this time?’

‘I wonder what’s between them.’

                                                ‘I can tell you.
Silas is what he is—we wouldn’t mind him—
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide.
He never did a thing so very bad.
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good
As anyone. Worthless though he is,
He won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.’

‘I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.’

‘No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge.
You must go in and see what you can do.
I made the bed up for him there tonight.
You’ll be surprised at him—how much he’s broken.
His working days are done; I'm sure of it.’

‘I’d not be in a hurry to say that.’

‘I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself.
But, Warren, please remember how it is:
He’s come to help you ditch the meadow.
He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him.
He may not speak of it, and then he may.
I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
Will hit or miss the moon.’

                                      It hit the moon.
Then there were three there, making a dim row,
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.

Warren returned—too soon, it seemed to her,
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.

‘Warren,’ she questioned.

                                     ‘Dead,’ was all he answered.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Olive Comes to the Roost

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

My granddaughter, Little Olive, and her parents came to the Ozarks yesterday for a brief visit at Rock's Roost.  The day was warm and we had a lot of fun exploring the farm.  Olive got to see my new baby chicks and even went into the Peacock Palace.   The peacocks, who always gather around me expecting food of some sort or another, were surprisingly shy around my company.

Last night Olive's Uncle Nick and Aunt Christy came over and we all had a nice cookout in the backyard.  Rosie was beside herself running around looking for dropped food!

Tim brought me something called a "Roku" which attached to my television and is now providing me with some excellent movies, television, and music selections.  It is astounding how many good alternatives to cable and satellite are available.  I have learned so much since banishing Direct TV from my home!

Our company left early this morning and are now on the road to Kansas City.  Rosie and I miss them already!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jim Walton Bought My Lunch!

by Pa Rock
Proud Member of the Proletariat

As I've mentioned in this space numerous times, I have not set foot in a Walmart store in over twenty years.  I have also given up two other common addictions:  cigarettes (over forty years ago) and carbonated beverages.

I quit Walmart for several reasons, but primarily I resent the fact that the giant retailer of Chinese junk essentially shut down Main Street and cut the heart out of every small town in America.  Norman Rockwell, rest in peace. To add insult to injury, the Walton family is known for being less than a good example when it comes to charitable donations - and the American taxpayer is often called upon to supplement the sub-minimum wages of Walmart "associates" through public assistance.

But Walmart is not the only business enterprise owned and operated by the Arkansas Waltons.  Jim Walton, one of Sam and Helen's spawn, bought the old Bank of Bentonville (Arkansas), changed its name to Arvest, and commenced buying small banks all over the Ozarks and placing them under the Arvest banner.  Over the past twenty years Arvest has spread like liver cancer and extends across the Missouri-Arkansas Ozarks and as far south as Little Rock and north to Kansas City.  It is quickly eating its way into becoming a major banking corporation, one that will rival the big boys like Chase and the unpleasant Bank of America.

I do my banking with Arvest, something which may seem odd considering my antipathy to Walmart.  I didn't join forces with Jim Walton's bank voluntarily - my business was "acquired" when Arvest purchased the State Bank of Noel (Missouri), the institution where I had banked my entire life.  History aside, I would have again severed ties with the Walton family if not for the fact that the staff at the Noel Arvest was so darned personable and nice.  When I retired to West Plains last year, Arvest had just opened a branch here - not far from my little farm.  And wouldn't you know it, the staff at the West Plains Arvest turned out to be extraordinarily nice (and helpful) also!

So I guess I am stuck doing some business with the Walton family.

Yesterday Rosie and I went to the drive-thru at our local Arvest.  Rosie loves going there because the nice tellers always give her a dog biscuit.  In order to get her treat, I deposited a rebate check from one of my health insurers in the amount of eight dollars and ninety-nine cents.   After that business was concluded, the teller asked if I would like a hamburger or a hot dog.  She said they had a cookout at lunch and had leftovers.  Not having had my own lunch yet, I opted for a hamburger - which I consumed as we were driving off.

Thanks, Jim, for the burger and the dog biscuit.  Something tells me that the big, smelly camel standing at the gates of Heaven contemplating the eye of a needle just got a fraction of a hair smaller.  Sadly, pal, you still have a helluva long way to go.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Adelburt From Auntie

by Pa Rock

On Christmas Day, 1924, young Adelburt (whose last name has been lost to history) received a special gift from his "Auntie" (whose entire name has been lost to history).  The present, a hardbound copy of the first in a series of new books for adventurous boys titled The Radio Boys on the Mexican Border had set Adelburt's aunt back sixty-five cents.  The gift was a first edition.

Adelburt may or may not still be around today, but if he is he is in the neighborhood of one hundred-years-old and he no longer has the book that was given to him by his beloved "Auntie" all those years ago - because I do.  It's pages have yellowed and brittled, but the inside cover still proudly bears Auntie's beautiful penmanship where she inscribed it "Adelburt from Auntie Dec. 25, 1924."

During the 1920's when book series, especially for young boys, were so popular, three different publishing companies were promoting their own versions of a series of books called "Radio Boys," each featuring adventurous lads, somewhat like the Hardy Boys, who got involved in mysteries and adventures that revolved around the new medium of radio.  Two of the series were written by a variety of individuals using a common pseudonym, but one was authored by a journalist, Gerald Breckenridge, who published under his own name.  The book that Auntie chose to give Adelburt for Christmas was the first in the series authored by Mr. Breckenridge.

I first became acquainted with this series last year when I came across the fifth volume, The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition, in a flea market.  I read the book and commented on it in this space.  The "boys" in the book were college students with quite a bit of technical knowledge and operational skills with radios.  While their adventure in Alaska was Hardy-boyish in many respects, it departed company with the boys from Bayport when the Radio Boys got into a shootout with some desperadoes in Alaska and actually killed a couple of men.  (If Frank and Joe Hardy had ever killed anyone, accidentally or even out of necessity, they would have surely had to answer to Aunt Gertrude!)

I was so impressed with that book that I started collecting the entire series - and have just recently finished reading the first in the series, Adelburt's prized copy of The Radio Boys on the Mexican Border.  In that volume the boys, who are still in high school, live on Long Island where between them they have a radio station and an airplane - two assets that come in mighty handy for adventure-prone youth.  One of their group has gone to New Mexico with his father to work on organizing some independent oil drillers, and the father is kidnapped by forces in Mexico who want to stir up conflict with the United States in an attempt to overthrow the sitting Mexican president.  The two remaining Radio Boys and one of their fathers head to New Mexico to set things aright - which they eventually do.

This volume, being the first in the series, contains a preface explaining "radio telephony" and giving instructions for installing an "amateur radio receiving telephone."  It is a good, and very simple guide, as to how radio transmissions actually work and what young readers would have to do to get connected to the fast-growing new medium.   Being able to transmit and receive messages using radio waves was the 1920's version of being "on-line."

The characters in this book are overly polite and quite respectful of their elders - and corny and standoffish where the opposite sex is concerned - and they are also brave and good-hearted.  One suspects that they are they type of young men that Auntie hoped Adelburt would adopt as role models.

Perhaps he did.  I hope that Adelburt grew into a fine man and had a few grand adventures of his own - and that he made Auntie very proud!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jeepers Peepers!

by Pa Rock

The new baby chicks arrived at Rock's Roost this past Tuesday and the place is rockin'!  It's quite a "peep" show!

I had placed an order for ten Rhode Island Reds (straight run of mixed cockerels and pullets) to add a bit of vitality to my remaining Rhode Island Reds from last year's order.  They are my egg producers.  I also ordered five bronze-breasted turkeys (straight run of baby hens and Toms) to replace the beautiful turkeys that I lost to predators last year, and seven banty chicks to keep my lone banty hen company.  The order was rounded out with seven Red Jungle Fowl, a novelty item that sounded like they might be fun and educational to try and raise.

The Red Jungle Fowl did not arrive with the order, and they may or may not follow along at a later date, but everything else is here and doing just fine.

I have a small "nursery" attached to the coop that is compact and easy to warm with a couple of flood lights.  The new babies are living there temporarily in two kiddie pools lined with wood chips.  The bantys are in one and the remaining chicks are in the other.  I put the banty hen in the warm enclosure hoping she would adopt the little bantys, and she seems to like her new quarters - but has not kicked into the motherhood mode yet.  She struts around supervising both containers of babies, but is reluctant to take them under-wing and get too attached.

The chicks, on the other hand, seem to have triggered Rosie's mothering instincts.  Anytime the door to the nursery is opened, she rushes in to check on the little ones.  Rosie is transfixed by the little fuzz balls and can stand and watch them for long periods of time without ever trying to get into the kiddie pools or posing any type of threat to our new arrivals.

Granddaughter Olive will be here this weekend to see the baby chicks, and Pa Rock will have a great time showing them to her!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spaceship Earth Sails On, but for How Long?

by Pa Rock

The Earth, our little mud ball of a spaceship, has been hurtling through the universe for billions of years, cooling and evolving, forming oceans and continents, and giving rise to multitudinous forms of life.  And for the most part, Earth has done well - that is until the very recent advent of man.  The once majestic and abundant home for all has fallen under the control of man - particularly European man - and now harbors a greedy few who try to control all of the Earth's resources to the detriment of the many.

How many obscene fortunes have been made off of oil, gas, coal, furs, fish, jewels, lumber, and even the land itself.   Water is also becoming a scarce and valuable commodity in some areas, and many urban communities are on the verge of being uninhabitable because of worsening air quality.   All for the profit of the few.  It's not about sharing in the bounty of the Earth anymore, its about greed and the obscene stockpiling of wealth.

Today is Earth Day, a very good time to reflect on what we are doing to our mud ball, and how we must change if the family of man is to survive.  Earth Day was a hippie-generated observance launched in 1970 to celebrate and focus on our environment.   The celebration of Earth Day takes many forms from picking up trash to planting trees.  It is a call to action to stem the tide of environmental damage and neglect.

Living on a small farm it is easy for me to feel that I am doing work to advance the habitability of our planet.  This week alone I have mowed the yard, planted a flower bed and a large planter, picked up trash and aluminum cans along the roadway, moved and spread chicken manure, and provided a clean, warm, and safe home to 22 baby chicks who will eat bugs, lay eggs, and fertilize the yard for years to come.

I can take care of my tiny piece of the planet, and will leave it as well as I found it.

Now if the Fortune 500 would do the same, dirty air might disappear, clean water might flourish, and the things which Earth provides so freely might be shared and enjoyed by all.  If not, and if the rampaging madness of mankind prevails and destroys the Earth, we will have destroyed us all.

What a sad legacy that would be.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Bunch of Good News for Parma, Missouri

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The small southeastern Missouri community of Parma (population 713) made national news last week after some city officials reacted childishly to the election of the town's first black female mayor.  According to recent census information, Parma is approximately one-third black and two-thirds white.

The new mayor, Tyrus Byrd, had formerly served as city clerk of the little town and by all appearances is fully qualified to run the place.  She defeated Randall Ramsey, a man who had held the position for thirty-seven years.  But controversy struck before the mayor-elect could even be sworn into office.

Five of the city's six police officers resigned, and the out-going mayor said that their resignations had to do with "safety concerns."  The city attorney, clerk, and water supervisor turned in their resignations as well, and the city computers were "cleared" before the new mayor could take the helm.

Some local residents appeared to be relieved at the resignations, and noted that a town of just barely seven hundred people probably didn't need a police department of that size anyway.

Now the new mayor will have the opportunity to assess the town's actual needs free of all of the noise of entrenched individuals looking out for their own interests, and she will have the opportunity to put together her own competent team.

Best of luck, Mayor Byrd.   Enjoy writing on your clean slate!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Mending Wall"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Yesterday I posted a bit about a couple of my "good neighbors" who came to my aid on a particularly hectic and frustrating Saturday.  One had come over and helped me finish up mowing after my riding mower had quit, and the other helped to move the peacocks to their new, roomier home.

(As of yesterday, one of the male peacocks was missing, but I had hopes he would return - and he has!   I found the noisy fugitive roosting in a treetop near all of his friends in the new coop.  He was way out of reach, so I left him alone - assuming that he would eventually come down and I could then direct him to his new quarters.  Later, while I was in town on an errand, I received a telephone message from the neighbor boy telling me that he had gotten the AWOL peacock safely into his new abode.  The kid is a natural peacock-whisperer - and a good neighbor!)

So I have been thinking about the words "good neighbors" lately - and even remembering an old British sitcom of the same name - and I thought of an old line, one that I was sure came from Robert Frost, though in which poem I had not a clue, that declared:  "Good fences make good neighbors."

The Frost line on fences is from his "Mending Wall" which was written in 1914.   "Mending Wall" is the story of two old farmers, each walking along his side of a stone fence that has been torn down by hunters.    As they walk, the farmers pick up the stones, each on his side of the fence, and slowly rebuild the fence.  One mentions that his father often said that "good fences make good neighbors," while the other, the narrator, ponders what that means.

(Interestingly, at least to me, Henry David Thoreau once asked, "Who are bad neighbors?"  He then answered by saying they were the ones who suffered the neighbor's cattle to roam at large because they would not risk incurring the neighbor's ill-will by saying something about it.  Or, bad neighbors are the result of not having fences.)

"Mending Wall" is  one of the beautiful vignettes of rural Vermont so carefully crafted and preserved by Robert Frost.  He was a good neighbor to us all.

Mending Wall
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Good Neighbors

by Pa Rock
Country Bumpkin

First, an update on the damned peacocks.  Seven are safely in their new quarters - six hens and one of the males.  The other male is on the lam and has not been seen since late yesterday evening when he was perched atop the barn.  He has flown the coop.  Peacocks are known for having a good homing instinct, so I am hopeful that he will show up in a day or two.

And now a word or two about mowing.

I enjoy mowing, I really do.  That thought struck me as I was riding along on my mower for over two solid hours yesterday afternoon giving my enormous yard its first mow of the season.  I was happy - and singing every song that popped into my old gray head.   Thankfully the mower is so loud that the neighbors just probably assumed that I was talking to myself.

I could keep my big yard mowed and looking decent all summer - if it weren't for the machinery involved.  Two hours into my big mow yesterday I turned off the mower and got off to pick up a large rock that was in my path.  When I got back on the mower, it wouldn't start.  I quickly discovered that all of the oil had blown out and was covering the deck.

Today I will be initiating the process of finding out how to get the mower repaired.  It has a warranty through Lowes, but as I discovered last year with my push mower, their warranties cover everything except whatever particular malady my mower has suffered.    And, to make matters worse, the Lowes store is fifty miles away and my 24-horse rider would not be easy to transport.  I will figure out a solution, but my inner-pessimist tells me that it will be expensive and I will be without a riding mower for weeks.

Mowing is fun.  The crap that goes with it isn't.

The mower quit at the far end of the property, several hundred yards from the garage it calls home.  The forecast was for rain, and I wouldn't leave the expensive mowing machine outside even in good weather - so I began to slowly push it across the rough yard toward the garage.  As I was wheezing along, my good Samaritan neighbor rushed over to help - and it took the two of us working together fifteen minutes to get the mower back to its shelter.

My neighbor grew up in the house that I currently live in, and he has a lot of personal investment in my home and yard.  (His father, a professional carpenter, built the house back in the 1960's for his young family to live in - and they were here for nearly fifty years.)  The neighbor insisted that he would like to bring his mower over and help on the yard for awhile, and I told him only if I could pay for his work.  Doug wouldn't accept any money - and he wouldn't take no for an answer.   He said that he would appreciate being allowed to mow his old yard.  Doug came over and began cutting grass with his rider, and I got out my push mower and did as much as I could.  By dark the lawn was finished.

Thanks, Doug.  You're a good neighbor.

Another neighbor spent his day helping me corral and move peacocks.

There are definitely some good things about living in the country!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Peacock Wars

by Pa Rock
Bird Chaser

I remember a program on television many years ago (perhaps a segment on Sixty Minutes) that focused on an urban activity called "pigeon wars. "   Old farts in New York City would raise pigeons on their apartment building rooftops and then at certain times let them go simultaneously.  The birds of the different owners would proceed to mix it up in the air for quite awhile, and eventually return to their own cages.  Some however would get confused and go home with the wrong pigeons.  So the object of the war games was to let your birds loose to join in the airborne commotion, and then hope that your birds made it home safely and perhaps brought a few friends along.  Each flock would supposedly increase or decrease depending on how smart your birds were - and how dumb the other guy's were.

I sort of empathized with those pigeon people today as the neighbor lad and I tried moving the peacocks into their new home.  My original plan had been to catch each one in their old pen and move them one-by-one to their new digs.  At the last minute, however, I changed my mind and decided to try walking them over to the Peacock Palace.

That was a big mistake.

I began by coaxing three hens out of the old coop.  One changed her mind about halfway along and rushed back to the little pen.  The other two eventually let themselves be guided to their new home.  That seemed simple enough, but the next two decided they would rather fly - one went east and one went west.

(The poor birds had not had the opportunity to fly before, and I think they really liked it!)

Then I reverted to the original plan and caught the following two, one at a time, and managed to get them relocated.   When all of the dust settled we had four hens in the new coop, one male on a low branch of a tree out away from the barn, a male and a hen in a tree overlooking the new coop, and a hen sitting on the peak of the barn like a very proud weather vane.  We managed to get the male on the low branch out of his tree and walked him to the new coop, but the other three remain at their posts keeping watchful eyes on their captive friends.

I am hopeful that tonight the three rebels will head back to the safety of their little pen, the one they grew up in - and if they do, I will grab their sorry carcasses and haul them kicking and shrieking to the Palace.

This is war!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Deaths on Pleasant Street

by Pa Rock

Three questionable deaths and a series of other near fatal ailments befell members of one of the most prominent families in the Midwest in the fall and winter on 1909, a series of incidents which culminated in a sensationalized murder trial that captivated the people of Kansas City and the nation.

The Swope family is best remembered today for the generous bequest of over thirteen hundred acres of land in Kansas City for its nationally renown Swope Park and Zoo.  (At the time of the bequest Swope Park was the third largest municipal park in the nation.)  The park also contains the mausoleum of "Colonel" Thomas Hunton Swope, the multi-millionaire who bequeathed the park to the citizens of Kansas City in the late 1800's.

It was the deaths of "Colonel" Swope, his cousin, "Colonel" Moss Hunton, and Swope's nephew, Chrisman Swope, all of which initially appeared to be of a standard medical nature, as well as the sudden serious illnesses of other family members residing in the household, that eventually led some to conclude that there were too many unusual medical maladies in the Swope house for it all to be coincidental.   Eventually Dr. Bennet Clark Hyde, a locally prominent physician who was married to the niece of Thomas Swope, became the target of suspicion in the rampage of death and disease that swept through the Swope mansion in Independence, Missouri.  Dr. Hyde was indicted on several counts, including three murders, and eventually brought to trial on the charge of murdering Thomas Hunton Swope.

The book, Deaths on Pleasant Street, by Giles Fowler is a meticulous recounting of the alleged crimes and the trial and its appeals which followed.   Professor Fowler uses family correspondence, newspaper articles of the time, and court records to piece together an exhaustive accounting of the troubles that besieged the Swope family as well as the legal proceedings which ensued.  The book is extremely well written and presents facts (many of them medical in nature) in a way that is accessible to the reader.  The author crafts a careful case in much the same way as the lawyers of the time, both prosecution and defense, had to do in trying to convince a jury of the guilt or innocence of Dr. Hyde.

Professor Giles' work presents essentially three views of this story.  It is examined from a medical perspective with lots of information on the diseases and standard medical practices of the time, a legal perspective with meticulous accountings of how the attorneys prepared for trial as well as a thorough overview of the trial itself, and an intimate view of the inner-workings of one of the more prominent families of the era.   It is medical, legal, and deeply personal.

Deaths on Pleasant Street does, however, have one crippling flaw - it is inexplicably un-indexed.   How a historical tome with so much information could be prepared and sold without an index is as perplexing as it is annoying.  The omission makes it much harder to find specific information and immediately lessens the book's value as a historical reference.

But, index aside, Deaths on Pleasant Street is a tightly-written true crime piece that is worth a read - just don't expect to be able to easily use it for a quick reference.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Peacock Palace

by Pa Rock
Man with a Hammer

For the past month or so I have been involved in the creation of a new home for my two nearly-adult peacocks and six nearly-adult peahens.  What we are building is actually a very large coop that will be completely enclosed in chicken wire and will butt up against an ancient barn.  The peacocks will stay in the barn during inclement weather and at night, and will emerge into the large, airy outdoor cage on nice days.    The coop, or cage, is about 30-feet in length, 15-feet wide, and 10-feet or so tall.  It is - or very soon will be - completely predator proof (hopefully!).

My son Nick dug the holes and planted fifteen very large posts in the ground that serve as basic support for the new structure, but then Nick was called out of town for a couple of weeks - leaving me to complete all of the necessary framing around the posts - much of it ladder-work.

My work tools consisted of a yardstick, an old hammer that I found, a trusty electric saw that has needed a new blade for over twenty years, and the ladder - "Old Wobble."

For awhile it felt as though the project would never end.  Every time I thought I had nailed on the last two-by-four, I would see something else that begged to be added - or changed.  It seemed like each day I had to make yet another trip to the lumber yard for something.  (Of course now the whole sales staff knows me by name - and Rosie, too!)  It got so out-of-hand that I began to fear that the county assessor would drop by and declare my creation to be a house - and then tax me for it!

Finally, this past Monday, I nailed up the final eight boards and called it finished.  Well, not finished exactly, I still had to wrap the whole thing in chicken wire and convince the peacocks to call it home.  As luck would have it, Nick returned to the area the same day, and he and a friend have begun the process of putting up the wire.  So far it is looking very nice, and if things go well today, the Peacock Palace could be ready for occupancy tomorrow.

I probably ought to get someone to film the peacock removal and resettlement.  It could be quite a YouTube moment!

My friends, Rusty Pails and Heck Frye, drove over from Sprung Hinge one day last week to watch me work.  As I was swinging from the rafters trying to drive nails in over my head, they were plopped down in their lawn chairs drinking root beer  and offering an endless stream of advice.   Rusty pointed out that the big cage would be an ideal setting for a daycare center.  He reasoned the kids could play in the coop to their hearts' content with just a minimum of eyes-on supervision, and then climb into the barn and take their naps on the straw.

Heck then came up with the notion of a selling peanuts and popcorn in case tourists began showing up and wanted to feed the kids through the chicken wire.

There's a reason those guys never reproduced.

Hopefully the peacocks prove to be smarter!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mandatory Voting

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last month President Obama floated an interesting notion when he brought up the idea of making voting mandatory - with failure to vote resulting in a fine of some sort.   Mandatory voting is in effect in a couple of dozen countries worldwide with varying degrees of success and acceptance.

The impetus for the idea of mandatory voting is that it would diminish the effects of big money in the election process.    The emphasis would shift away from identifying certain segments of the population likely to vote for certain candidates and positions, and instead shift (presumably) to focusing on the message.

Republicans seem to have three primary concerns with the concept.  First, they automatically reject anything put forth by this President.  Second, they seem to fear that the result will be an increase in rabble at the polls - Democratic rabble instead of their own tea-party rabble.  And third, it would be a major and perhaps insurmountable shift away from their long-standing policy of fostering schemes to keep people from voting.

Some Democrats, myself included, have noticed that the poor and downtrodden sometimes have a tendency to vote against their own self-interest, so there are concerns from Camp Blue regarding this fundamental shift in the voting process as well.

Still there ought to be some way to shake up the public and get them involved in their own governance.  A country where only half (or sometime less) of the eligible voters go to the polls is something short of a democracy.  As democracy fades we wind up with a growing pool of public servants who are in politics for power and personal gain rather than serving the public.  Sometimes it even devolves into little more than a poorly run family business.

While forced voting would increase the number of people casting ballots, and might or might not improve the quality of the officials we elect, it would have the benefit of giving more of us ownership in what our votes create.  That would be an improvement of sorts.

One thing is certain, we need to do something.  President Obama was right about that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ready for Change

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I'll admit it:  I'm not ready for Hillary.  Come November of 2016 when I am forced to choose between the inevitable Hillary and whatever dangerous and greedy white male moron the Republicans have placed on the ballot, I will more than likely suck up my pride and vote for her - but right now, at this moment, I am not ready for Hillary.

Sadly, the Obama respite between America's obsession with the Clinton's and the Bush's is coming to an end, and the country is preparing for the resumption of reality television out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

While Jeb Bush is not a shoe-in (yet) for the Republican nomination,  Hillary Clinton is definitely trying to appear as though she has the Democratic nomination hogtied, nailed down, and in the bag.  After her announcement this weekend on social media, my email was clogged with messages from party bigwigs begging me to send money and sign petitions in support of Hillary.  The sheer number of pleas indicated that without a doubt Hillary has the nomination completely secured.  Resistance would be futile.

America has a long history of political dynasties - proud families like the Adams', Roosevelt's and Kennedy's  - people who made significant sacrifices in their personal lives simply to be of service to others in the betterment of mankind.   But today's dynasties have morphed into something far less noble.  Now the objectives seem to be personal financial growth for those in power and the betterment of the already well-off.  To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, we have known Adams', Roosevelt's, and Kennedy's - and the Bush's and Clinton's aren't them.

The Democratic convention has not been held and the nominee has not been chosen - despite what those groveling sycophants who crank out email for Hillary would have us all believe.  There is still time to calmly lead old Hillary out to pasture and bring a new horse to the starting gate.  There are more than two families fit to lead this great nation.

Elizabeth Warren, maybe it's time you stepped forward and answered the call.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday's Poetry: Passing Through Albuquerque

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

My intent today had been to share Walt Whitman's poem, "I Hear America Singing," until I came across "Passing Through Albuquerque" by John Balaban, a poem which bears similarities to the Whitman classic.

I have passed through Albuquerque on several occasions, both by car and by train, and sense from my own observations that the poet featured here today has captured the essence of the city in just a few lines.

John Balaban is a gifted American poet of Romanian extraction.  He is also a recognized authority of Vietnamese literature.

I hope you enjoy his passing view of Albuquerque.

Passing Through Albuquerque
by John Balaban

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing “The Mississippi Sawyer” inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Northern Exposure: An Afterword (or Two)

by Pa Rock
Television Junkie

Since canceling my satellite provider last month, the odious Direct TV, I have had to become rather inventive in the ways that I manage to get my television fix.  I am watching some programs on the free version of Hulu, and others are from my collection of DVD's.  Shortly before going to Okinawa in 2010 for a two-year stay, I purchased several television series on DVD because I remembered how awful television selection had been when I lived on the same island in the early 1970's.  Fortunately, this time I was able to get satellite service, and I returned to the States in 2012 with several of my DVD series unopened.  Northern Exposure was one of those unwatched shows.

Northern Exposure, essentially the tale of a young Jewish doctor from New York City who heads to Anchorage in the first episode as part of an agreement for paying back his student loans by working in the large Alaskan city for four years.  Unfortunately for Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) he is re-routed at the last minute to the small town of Cicily, Alaska - population around 800.  Dr. Fleischman is not happy about his new assignment, but he is unable to break his contractual agreement and is forced to become a functioning part of the community.

Northern Exposure ran for six seasons, 1990 through 1995, with 110 episodes.  That was a busy time in my life, but I was able to watch the series occasionally and knew that it was one of the better television achievements.  My father and I seldom agreed on much, but Northern Exposure was one of his favorite programs and several times we sat and enjoyed the show together.

I am now viewing the series, episode by episode, and am about halfway through the fourth season.    Not only am I amazed at how well it has held up over the past twenty-plus years, I remain extremely impressed at the top-notch writing and acting skills that went into the show.   The story lines, though somewhat quirky, were always exceptional.

A few weeks ago while listening to my car radio, I heard an advertisement for Walgreen's.   I immediately recognized the voice of the announcer as Chris - "Chris in the Morning," the philosophical radio disc jockey who woke the folks of Cicily from their slumbers each morning.   A quick check of the Internet showed that John Corbett (Chris Stevens) had indeed become the voice of Walgreen's.  Further reading showed that Corbett (born 1961) actually is a native of Wheeling, West Virginia, the city that Chris Stevens always claimed as the setting for his troubled youth.

After Northern Exposure ended, John Corbett continued his acting career.  He has appeared in several movies and was a featured actor in the television series Parenthood, United States of Tara, and Sex in the City.   Corbett has also been involved in a long-term relationship with actress Bo Derek.

Barry Corbin (born 1940) played former astronaut Maurice Minnifield on Northern Exposure.  After leaving the astronaut program, Maurice became a successful businessman who owned quite a bit of property in and around Cicily and got a good deal of satisfaction out of trying to exercise his economic muscle over the town's other residents.   Corbin still appears in film and television, and he has been featured in episodes of Anger Management and Modern Family.  He currently lives with his daughter on a horse ranch in Texas.

Janine Turner (born 1962) also lives with her daughter on a ranch in Texas.  Turner played the role of Maggie O'Connell, a young, independent pilot in the television series.  Maggie had had a series of unfortunate relationships in which each of her boyfriends wound up dead in freak situations.   Boyfriend number five, Rick Pederson, played by Grant Goodeve, was with her when the series began,  but he was killed off in the second season when he was struck by a falling satellite.  Such was poor Maggie's luck with men.   Janine Turner still works in films, and she had a regular role in two more television series:  Friday Night Lights and Strong Medicine.

John Cullum (born 1930) was Holling Vincoeur, the owner of a tavern/cafe called "The Brick."  Holling, a mature and somewhat rough character in his sixties, was in love and living with Shelly Tambo, his beautiful waitress who was somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty.  In real life, Cullum has been married to the same woman since 1959.  Since leaving Northern Exposure he has appeared in film and on television.  Some of his television credits include The Middle and Law and Order:  SVU.  I had the pleasure of seeing John Cullum on Broadway in 2009 where he appeared in the stage production of August, Osage County.

Darren E. Burrows (born 1966) portrayed Ed Chigliak, a Indian foundling who had grown up in Cicily and become the town's handyman, deliveryman, and amateur filmmaker.  Burrows was married in 1993 and is now the father of four.  He has appeared in film and on television in recent years, and had roles in Steven Spielberg's Amistad and John Waters Cry-Baby.

Cynthia Geary (born 1961) was Holling's young girlfriend and waitress, Shelly Marie Tambo.  Ms. Geary has done occasional film work since leaving Northern Exposure.  She is married with two children.

Elaine Miles played Marilyn, Dr. Fleishman's very quiet and thoughtful Native American office manager.   She also has been involved in film and television work since leaving the series.

Peg Phillips (born 1918) was the oldest member of the cast.  She portrayed Ruth-Anne Miller, the owner of the local general store.  After leaving the series Ms. Phillips worked in community theatre in Washington state until her death in 2002.  An interesting footnote about Peg Phillips is that she was a Navy wife living on Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Rob Morrow (born 1962), was Dr. Joel Fleischman.  He continued working in movies and on television.  Morrow is perhaps best known for his work as the lead in the hit TV series Numb3rs which ran from 2005-2010.

Over the six-year run of the show there were numerous individuals who directed the episodes of Northern Exposure.  The writing, as mentioned earlier, was excellent and managed to sustain its high quality and originality throughout the run of the series.  But it was the actors, the ensemble cast of characters with whom we all could identify, who held the show together and gave it the sparkle that made Northern Exposure one of the most memorable and entertaining television programs of its time - or, indeed, of any time.

Northern Exposure is well worth a re-visit.  It does not disappoint.