On Sundays I do more reading than usual. Yesterday I was reading through Wendell Berry’s Life is a Miracle, his extended essay on the limits of knowledge and science as modern superstition. At one point (well, at many points, really) Benjamin climbed into my lap and demanded that I pay attention to him rather than the book, which I did. Mostly we played around or talked, but once I just looked at him for awhile, after which I had to agree: life really is a miracle.
Last week our neighbor finished wiring the barn. Thursday the inspector came and gave the work his blessing. This morning the electric coop sent someone to install a meter and do the final hookup, and now we have power.
So this evening the kids tried out the portable milker for the first time. The fellow who sold it to us said that it would take about ten minutes to milk the average cow. That is probably right, except that they stopped about halfway through and milked the second half by hand because one of the front quarters had gone dry early and they weren’t sure what to do.
Since then a bit of research suggests that it is OK to leave the teat cup on the dry quarter while the rest are milked out, as long as it stays on solidly. So I think next time they will be able to milk Puzzle completely with the machine.
During our Plain Talk interview John VanDyk asked why I seemed to think it would be good to turn back the clock, and in particular back to the early 1800s rather than some other time. I don’t remember if I gave a decent answer, but I’m sure it was wordier and less focused than the answer I just found in Wes Jackson’s book Altars of Unhewn Stone. Here he is speaking of 1935 in contrast to 1990, but I think the point is the same:
Nevertheless, where we were then was a better takeoff point for where we need to be than where we are now.
The 1810 America I read about in Eric Sloane’s Diary of an Early American Boy is nowhere near ideal, and even there a few of the seeds of modern destruction have taken root, but I think on the whole it provided a solid foundation for building a good and godly life, while I think that modern industrial culture can only support castles in the air.
We really like our wood stove, which heats the whole house and used only $150 worth of wood this winter. But it is lined with some sort of firebrick that seems to be disintegrating. There is a cleanout plug in the floor of the stove, made of this firebrick, which lets you scrape ashes into a drawer underneath; a couple of months ago a corner fell off, and we had to get it replaced. Then a few days ago I was feeding wood and suddenly a sizeable chunk of the ceiling firebrick fell into the ashes.
We’re still using it, since the heating season looks to be over, but we need to talk to the seller about what is going on and whether the warranty will cover new firebrick.
During this cold snap we have kept Puzzle and her calf T-Bone in the barn at night, which means that the stall needs mucking out daily and we’re running through the remaining hay (which doesn’t interest the cows anymore) as bedding. Chris thinks that sawdust would make better bedding, and I suppose I agree—the wonderful compost we bought last year is a mixture of horse manure and sawdust. So Chris and Matthew and their friend Jacob are off to a nearby sawmill in the pickup truck to pick up a free load of sawdust.
Towards the end of Wendell Berry’s book Hannah Coulter we find out that Hannah’s daughter Margaret is being divorced by her husband Marcus, who found himself a soulmate and moved out. Hannah is furious:
But after Marcus left Margaret rejected and alone and Virgie mostly without a daddy exactly when he most needed one, I kept fuming in my mind about men. I could hardly stop long enough to fume about Marcus’s girlfriend, soon enough his bride.
One night I said to Nathan, “What are we going to be, just a bunch of livestock? Are the men just going to breed from one to the next like buck sheep?”
In my anger, I thought he might offer some kind of apology for the nature of men or, even better, defend it. I was ready for a fight.
But of course he didn’t do either one. He was reading the paper and for maybe a minute he went on reading it. And then he laid it on his lap and folded it ups, looking straight at me the way he would do. He said, “That would take a world of time and trouble, Hannah. It would have been better for Marcus if he had been tireder at night.”