Free Advice, Enjoy the Methodical       

One challenge I give myself each year, dutifully written down in my new year’s resolutions, is to enjoy the methodical; those tasks we hurry through or avoid altogether, simply to get to the free time that we then squander. Whether it is washing dishes, shoveling out a stall, splitting or stacking wood, there is a fulfillment to be found in a slow physical and repetitive work. But, the act of slowing down is at odds with the demands of our frenetic modern world. Which, in its turn, spawns a desperate populace of chasers after an elusive serenity, roaming our streets.

An afternoon spent with a manure pile might just provide the corrective spiritual focus. Hold that pitchfork and who knows where the thought currents might take one.

“Like” vs. Writing Letters

Here is a confession, I no longer write letters. For most of my adult life I typed out letters, put them in an envelope, and sent them off. Then, over the past fifteen years, I completely embraced the email format. Although I don’t get the satisfaction of finding the reply letter in the physical mailbox, the essential pleasures are still observed; me and a friend taking time to share thoughts and experiences.

But, by entering the world of social media three years ago, most of that fell away. I now have more interactions but less contact. It is analogous to walking down a busy street and saying hello to friends and nodding at acquaintances, hearing arguments and avoiding fights, without engaging in a proper discussion.

I’d like to get off that busy street. Perhaps turn off into that leafy park, sit on a bench and continue/begin that longer conversation with a friend.

Last One to Read, Turn Out the Lights

I’ve alluded to my off the farm job in the past. A job that occasions some flying. Over the past twenty years I’ve observed the gradual darkening of the planes. Years ago, most passengers, upon sitting down, pulled out newspapers, magazines and books. They kept the window shade up. Now, the first thing passengers do is close the shade. And, then the next two hours are spent sitting in the dark (except for a few lone lights marking the outposts of those who still read), playing video games and watching movies. This seems a sad surrender.

This Blog

This blog is an act of engagement, my effort to keep the lights on. You may “like it” and I will appreciate that acknowledgement. But, taking the time to sit on this bench and share a written reply is also welcome.


Reading this weekend: the short stories of Ernie Hemingway.

12 thoughts on “Engagement

  1. Dear Mr. Blogger:
    This appears a nice bench sir; do you mind if I sit a spell?

    Have you noticed the advent of even closer attention to the individual electronic device? I speak of the earbud. Now not only has ‘the other’ focused their eyes to the screen, but now their ears to the sound that emanates from it. If I were even more cynical I might suggest they are not merely trying to get more from the device… but are actively choosing to get less from the rest of us. A screening out of the world. Pity.

    Young person on a plane, aisle seat, earbuds plugged in. His carryon bag has fallen sideways to spill its contents into the aisle. He is clueless. A fellow passenger walking past looks down at him, shrugs shoulders, steps across the mess. A woman across the aisle looks around at others with the questioning countenance – what does one do?? Finally, another passenger a couple rows back gets up, approaches the young man, places one hand on the device screen and with the other points down to the spillage. I’d almost expected some sort of angry outburst from the clueless, but not a word passed between anyone. The possessions were reclaimed, and life went on. The earbuds were back. One reflection – this is modern civilization. Another – good grief.

    But let us not spend the rest of this fine moment wallowing in despair for what is being lost. I see a cardinal perched on the lower limb of the oak tree over there. The sun feels nice upon the skin today, and I imagine the cardinal appreciates it as well.

    Someone has recorded Wendell Berry reading his eponymous story from his latest anthology – The Art of Loading Brush. There is a video of it on the web. You have the book, you know the tale. Andy’s anecdote of the fence repairing and the subsequent cleaning up of the leftover mess. A very nice story, one worth the read. But now comes a rub… the story, as useful a story as comes to mind on short notice, can now be “heard” both by the reading or by the watching of it being read (by its own author).

    Where above I would be judgmental concerning the youth plugged into his device so as to ignore the rest of the world… what if he were watching Wendell read his story. Would this change my judgement?

    And this rub – this conundrum of a sort – reminds me of a different conflicting idea. Do I now choose to not reflect upon or seek out and listen to an episode of The Prairie Home Companion because Garrison Keillor has been accused of sexual harassment? For a very long time I have enjoyed The Prairie Home Companion. I get that I should not look for new editions of Garrison’s works. And I get that availing oneself of his past works can offer a sort of support. One reflection – this is modern civilization. Another – good grief.

    I see the cardinal has flown off. I wish him well. That chirping just now – is that a finch? It really is a nice day for sit on the bench. I’m grateful to whomever thought to put it here. Nice person. Modern civilization could do with more nice people.

    Well sir, I must be moving on. Thanks for your time. Have a great day.

    • Thanks for sitting on this particular bench, Clem, glad for the company. I must say, your response would sit nicely as a stand alone post over at the G.P.

      Interesting thing about earbuds, I just discovered them this past year. Using them for phone calls and listening to podcasts. But, like all technologies, they have a host of side effects not listed in the medical journals. Being plugged in and being disconnected at the same time, surely is the hallmark illness of our age.

      Allow me to change gears in our conversation, did you hear that soybeans have now eclipsed corn as the dominant crop in US agriculture? Apparently, this is the first year that has happened: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/12/01/567791446/the-soybean-is-king-yet-remains-invisible

      Does the GP plan some sort of coronation? Do we fear a War of the Roses conflict in the offing between the two great Commodity Houses? Are do they live in quiet conflict, content to divide the spoils?

      And, alas, poor Keillor. Not being privy to the “hand on my back” and knowing whether this should be elevated to the status of a serial aggressor. And, loathe to step into this minefield. I will say that one should be careful about setting anyone up on a pedestal, for it is a well-known fact that all statues are made with feet of clay.

      Well, I must leave you here on the bench. It is reported that there is some seriously cold weather coming in this week. So, I’m off to finish some bush-hogging of fields and draining field lines and hoses.


      • On the matter of soy dominance… this latest movement needs a bit of context. The dominance they speak of is for the whole of the U.S. Soy has been the dominant crop in smaller geographies for a while now. In Ohio for instance, soy surpassed corn back in 1985. We (the soy folks here in OH) had a bit of a scare a year ago as the corn to soy price spread favored corn so heavily that we thought corn might win Ohio for the first time in many years… but as close as it came it still fell short.

        Missouri has been a soybean state for a few years now, and there are some others – mostly around the margins of the “corn” belt.

        The statistic for 2017 is a bit jaded. There were more acres of corn planted. The article claims there were fewer acres of corn harvested… but I think the detail here is that there were fewer acres of corn ‘harvested for grain’. There were significant acres of corn harvested for silage… and so the total acres of corn harvested still passed soybean I believe. The entire harvest is still not complete (though it is getting pretty close finally).

        But for the soybean crowd there is comfort in knowing that regardless of how you carve it – the bean is not just here to stay, but it will eclipse corn for total acres planted in the U.S. at some point. Obviously I’m way too biased, but given that confession there still are grounds to offer that this is actually good news. Corn is a marvelous crop – I won’t take that away from it. But beans are better.

        To your point of the 2 crops living in quiet conflict – content to split the spoils… that does seem to fit the status quo (perhaps too well and not necessarily for the best). Wheat has been losing ground to these two for many years now and even though I still cheer for soy to be number 1… I am concerned that there is such an enormous gap between #2 and #3. And the reason is fairly simple – if you are a soybean cyst nematode your host is planted for you every other year. Like clockwork. What could be more convenient?

        Thanks for the link – hadn’t seen it yet. Will still be striving to make the humble soybean even more spectacular in the days and years to come. And if that makes the corn folk jealous… well – they’ve had a good ride.

        • I too am wearing the absent-minded cans over my ears, for absent-mindedness is all around me, and the podcast within me.
          (Noise cancelling helps, too.)

          But I’ll gladly swing by your bench to ask you things.
          How will I cut that polycarbonate glazing which keeps cracking under a boxcutter without a wall socket in sight?

          • Sort of. I have to trim off the edges of that sheet in situ…several metres of it. Or leave it for the next storm to break it off for me. Maybe the battery powered drill has the power to drive a cutting disc.

  2. Some of the best conversations reflecting the status of life were with my full-blooded German uncle, a bachelor horse farmer named Dave, while pitching the winter’s manure into the horse drawn spreader. I named my son after him.

    What I wouldn’t give for a day spent with him again.

    • There is a world contained within that statement, “my full-blooded German uncle, a bachelor horse farmer named Dave”. Hopefully you have written down some of these experiences to pass on to your kids.

  3. Earbuds. Gawd. I used to sometimes wear over-the-ear headphones but then got wise to the danger of the sound source too close to my eardrums. In-the-ear sound is even worse, and I fear the effects of long-term exposure will be the same as that experienced by habitués of club venues operating at a continuous 100+ decibels. Just last night, I was at a fundraiser with the obligatory DJ and sound system roaring over everyone so no one could hear anything else. Provided BS pulse and energy, I suppose, but the cost is too great. I wore earplugs to protect myself. Indeed, I’ve heard that earbuds are often now also used as protective headgear to ward off potential conversation with strangers. Those with social anxiety retreat into their media bubbles. We are turning ourselves back into gesticulating, insensate barbarians.

    • A few weekends back, we joined friends at an old fashioned pickin’ at a community center. Various local bluegrass bands got up in front of the enthusiastic, if aging crowd. Truly great vocal harmonies and acoustic instrument playing, all accomplished at a wonderful front porch noise level.

      We left, to go grab a beer and some food at a nearby BBQ joint (any dining option is slim out in the country). Saturday night and they had a cover band playing inside. Since there wasn’t anywhere else to go, we went inside. The band was fairly accomplished at turning out classic rock covers. Turning them out a level I haven’t heard since the early eighties, at perhaps a Rush concert. We resorted to conversing with hand signals and frequent shouts of “WHAT?”, while we dined and sipped.

      What a contrast in musical styles and in noise level.

  4. As you know: No earbuds. No cellphone. No podcasts, Sirius, streaming, GPS, texting, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. Never was much for writing letters, but I do still savor eating a great meal (fixed by you!) and watching the full moon rise over our hill with friends.

Any thoughts or questions?