Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Christmas Monster Concert

More than 110 partygoers joined four pianos and four pianists for this year's holiday "monster concert." We gathered in the expansive music room of a home on top of Elliott's Hill.
In this after-dark picture, note the large windows. When the sun is shining, they offer 360-degree views of the surrounding Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.

Here's a brief excerpt of "Winter Scene" from the Nutcracker Ballet, arranged by Margo Richter for 4 pianos, 8 hands.

The pounding of four pianos tends to bring out the voice in everyone.

We tried to settle things down a bit by adding a short piece with our favorite violinist.

"No dancing?" says Virginia.

Thanks for asking. "The Christmas Waltz" set the stage for our host and hostess to lean into "The Merry Christmas Polka."
Maybe next year you'll join us for the 5th Annual Christmas Monster Concert.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Arrowhead Lodge: 2013 Running Review

Opossum Run races past Arrowhead Lodge, joins Elk Creek, and rushes by Elk Cliff Farm and into the James River. My favorite view of the cabin looks up Opossum Run from the neighboring cottage.
The lodge has been drawing me lately, as a base for running, practicing piano, and writing.

"So what happened to your plan of a year ago?" asks Virginia. "The idea of cutting back on weekly mileage?"


The plan has been executed. As of yesterday, my feet have carried me about 1330 miles, or 26 miles per week. Some of those are walked miles, so I'm right on track. As for the 7:30 per mile maximum speed, I can assure you that I only violated that "rule" a few times, such as when the mugger tried to run me down in Bear Hollow. Or was it a bear? Adam gave us a GoPro for Christmas, so next time maybe we'll know for sure.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Look in A Mirror

Each month I attend a manly meeting. One member presents a "paper," the others listen and ask questions, then we visit around a table of refreshments. We leave the meeting knowing a little more than before.

At first I feel awkward, out of place (except for being male), almost hypocritical, anti-intellectual. Then I relax and see myself speaking, focused on a narrow line of inquiry, normally of little interest to anyone else. Gotta smile, so self-possessed, somewhat peculiarly dressed, sounding passionate about something arcane, listening like a ghost from a ceiling corner.

A long time ago a mentor suggested that if I don't like someone when I first meet him or her, I should try to identify what it is that bothers me. I might discover in that thing, that feature, something I don't appreciate about myself. This insight has served me well, and bad first impressions sometimes have developed into valuable relationships.

"Ah," says Virginia. "In a way, this turns on its head the accepted importance of first impressions."

I recall a conversation I watched 15 to 20 years ago. Someone began, "So you're a runner?" I nodded. Another person said, "Have you ever noticed runners are never smiling?" I said, "Well, if you ever see me running, maybe you'll notice something else."

So, this person is driving his car and sees a runner, for three seconds. The runner isn't smiling. He thinks, runners aren't happy people.

Okay, so Tom the window-peeper sees this fellow hunched over his stamp collection, not smiling. He thinks, stamp collectors aren't happy people.

"I drove past the ninth hole yesterday," says Virginia. "And the four-some was laughing. Maybe I should take up golf."

Let me just say, think about it...and a mirror might come in handy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Are you becoming more open, more accepting of different views? Many years ago, I thought people saw the world pretty much the same as I did. Then I heard the term "world view" and learned about personality types and it dawned on me that eccentricity appeals to me nearly as much as wisdom.

For years, I've enjoyed reading opinions written by Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. I often don't agree with his conclusion, but I like getting there. 

And then, several months ago, when I mentioned him, a friend pretty much said he's out there. In fact, she said, critically and not with admiration, that he's the most reversed federal appeals court judge. I don't know if that's true, but ever since, I consider his opinions with closer skepticism. I wonder if my friend has any idea how influential she is.

Today I read one of his recent decisions. He considered the meaning of this phrase in an Illinois statute: "[D]eeds, mortgages, powers of attorney, and other instruments relating to or affecting the title to real estate in this state, shall be recorded in the county in which such real estate is situated." 

What do you think it means -- that if someone gives you an Illinois mortgage, you must record it, or if you want to record it and obtain the protections of the statute, you may do so? I asked my most influential friend, Karen, and she said you may. As it turns out, she and Judge Posner agree. 

Here's what he said: “[S]uppose a department store posts the following notice: ’All defective products must be returned to the fifth floor counter for refund.’ Obviously this is not a command that defective products be returned; the purchaser is free to keep a defective product, throw it out, or give it as a present to his worst friend. There’s an implicit ‘if’ in the command: If you want to return a product and get a refund, here’s where you have to return it.”  The statute similarly may mean that if you want to record your property interest you must do so in the county in which the property is located. In the context, that is the better meaning.

I had to Google "shall." One of the first hits was a law professor's blog, where he said "shall" is the most misused word in legal terminology. 

As I considered this, I thought of one of my pet peeves. I hate it when someone says, "We can't do that," as in "Would you take $50 instead of your stated $55 price?" and they answer, "Oh, no, we can't do that." Or, "How about if I send you an email authorizing that?" and they answer, "Oh no, we can't accept an email; we need a fax or a letter." I want to say, "Yes you can; you just don't want to or you aren't willing to." 

Virginia says, "We lie, we're used to lying, that's what people do."

I'd like to disagree. They're not lying when they say "can't." They're just using a different definition from my definition of the word "can't."

Although my friend has prompted me to be more critical of Posner opinions, she may have helped me like them even more. I think Oscar Wilde is credited for saying, "Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong." If Judge Posner is, in fact, the most reversed appellate court judge, then that may be all the more reason to revere him.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Out of the Mainstream

When I worked at a traditional job, with a typical 8-6 workday, I had no idea what subcultures thrived in nearby neighborhoods. I guess I didn't have time, or find time, to discover what other people do.

The story changed when we moved here. I still don't use enough of my time to socialize with folks who have slipped through the cracks of conventional work-a-day living, but I've spied some of them. Out here in the rural mountains of Southwest Virginia we've run into a woman who schedules the payloads of huge ocean freighters, someone who counsels and trains truck drivers with tarnished driving records,  a registered lobbyist and fundraiser for a large university in another state, a water treatment plant consultant, an extremely fine furniture artist, a biosecurity expert, and many others, including the "usual" types of folks you find working from home such as web designers, IT experts, composers, authors and concert musicians.

"Don't forget some of the characters down the road," says Virginia.

Okay. I saw a strange bird on my run this morning. I guess it was a bird.
And a big bug crawling up a nearby tree.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Hassle-Free" Gardening

A number of writers describe "hassle-free" gardening or "how to garden without work." I appreciate the thought, but question the premise, which brings two things to mind: (1) TANSTAAFL? "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." (2) President Clinton's statement, "It depends on how you define alone."

After watching a movie last night (Unfinished Sky), I struggled to my feet. Leaning over to fill the wood stove tempted me to call Karen for help. It's probably not a good idea to spend nearly two hours in one position after running a marathon or putting gardens to bed for the winter. Anticipating two fine days for writing inside a warm house had motivated me to pull up the garden covers.

Yesterday began humbly. Donkeys, unlike many farm animals, seem to care about their masters' convenience. As I transferred donkey piles onto my pickup, I thought it might be a useful exercise for pampered law students. Forced average grades of 3.5 may mislead them into thinking they're exceptional. "Nonsense," a professor told me, "It's just re-scaling; now a 3.0 is a 'D.'" "Phooey," said Virginia. "Grade inflation is like economic inflation. You'll have a hard time convincing today's retiree that a 0.5 percent return on her hard-earned portfolio is a 'B' in light of today's slowly-rising Consumer Price Index. It'll stay a 'D' or 'F' in her book based on her past experience."

I pulled weeds for an hour or so before investing the rest of the day in manure, wheat seeds (I know it's probably too late but they're infested and won't last much longer anyway), and mulch. The day warmed more than expected, ideal for this kind of work. Up, down, up, down for eight hours.

My general plan is to work outside on gorgeous days, inside when the weather is frightful, and both in and out at other times. This way, "work" becomes a relative term; it can become "play." This is one of my biggest bonuses for leaving the corporate rat race.

I must admit, though, that yesterday I got carried away. Hence, the sore muscles after watching Unfinished Sky. But today I can admire the result.
I also can look forward to spring, when planting my garden will be almost hassle-free. I'll simply push aside the mulch, pull a hoe through the soft warm soil, sow my seeds, and wait for them to sprout. I won't need to pull weeds, till, or wait for a long-enough dry spell to allow me to prepare the land for planting. Well, maybe a few weeds will tease me, but a few is "fun," not "work."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bottom Feeders

Tragedy Strikes Arnolds Valley

A story twisted like a frozen pretzel had local law enforcement officials scrambling. A couple once rumored to be among the poorest residents of this rural community -- they didn't even have a working furnace in their 150-year old home -- died while entertaining their neighbors. 

In a setting eerily similar to death by lemonade, everyone at the feast succumbed to severe gastric upset or worse. Officials are now testing the leftovers.

Rumors blame the fiasco on the couple's pigs, Roxie, Mickey and Wendell, famous garbage disposals for the entire region, which may have some truth, according to Deputy Sheriff Earle Austine. Reporters spotted him leaving the scene of the massacre and followed him to a large farm on Forge Road, where he collected ice cubes for analysis.

Ice cubes? Not quite. Ice chunks would be more accurate, as in a malfunctioning freezer.

A Forge Road neighbor, a famous author of juvenile horse fiction who asked for anonymity, overheard Sheriff Austine speaking with the National Security Administration. The NSA apparently had recorded a call made from the Forge Road farm several hours earlier. "We cleaned out our freezer yesterday. Would you like the old food for your pigs?"

Within minutes of the call, signs appeared in the couple's pasture, "EARLY THANKSGIVING MEAL -- JOIN US TONIGHT!"

The Forge Road farmer later confirmed that, yes, the Thanksgiving menu bore remarkable similarity to the contents of his freezer: mini-quiches, peanuts in the shell, mahi-mahi, turkey, ham, Chinese chicken strips, conch, hot dogs, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, celery, casava, sherbet bonbons, cherries, and apple and peach pies.

"They were meant for the pigs!" he insisted, as Sheriff Austine handcuffed him and pushed his head  down into the backseat. "In fact, as our friends were leaving, he said, 'if we die, you'll know why' and I laughed in response, 'Yeah, I'd feel bad for two days.'"

"Friends! Two days!" the sheriff was heard muttering. "Fifty years at least!"

"What on earth is this all about?" says Virginia.

Let's just say Roxie, Mickey and Wendell had an excellent dinner tonight, thanks to our Forge Road friends.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Importance of Contrasts

Do you start the day with a smile? Or a frown? Or something in between? Many argue that attitude affects life. Some go so far as to say that life, itself, is a creation of our minds which, if true, would stress even more the significance of a positive or negative perspective.

The adage, "Variety is the spice of life," comes to mind. Someone who has never loved a person, an animal, an occupation, or a pastime probably cannot know the depths of despair into which a rejected lover can descend or understand the high the lover experiences when a new love blooms. Someone who thinks his or her life is a continuous stream of happiness cannot truly know the joy of a good day that follows a bad.

Have you noticed the rash of gratitude lists that appear in the month of November, often under the guise of "mindfulness?"

Virginia says, "I'm grateful for my partner, my pet, my children, my thoughtful neighbors, the rising and falling sun, the multitude of stars in the heavens, my heart, my lungs, my smooth skin, my rich lips, my low cholesterol reading, my indoor water faucets, my clean underwear, and my ability to gather, cut and split firewood. Or maybe, I'm grateful for my productive laying chickens; our recent warm spring, summer and fall; my kind, thoughtful friends; our home-grown meals; our healthy livestock; our gentle animals; our bountiful pasture; our large stack of split firewood; and our elderly, ever-loving dog."

Yes, it is good to be mindful of those things. To be truly mindful, it's also good to remember the things that did not make these lists.

Virginia says, "I think I know what you're up to. You have a feeling many readers have not recognized the subtle intellectualism of your most significant other."

Perhaps. I'm not grateful having to leave my cozy couch to trek a hundred yards through a brisk wind to close up the chickens for the night; meddlesome folks offering uninvited advice; hypocritical eaters who only buy feedlot meats and coconut milk that have traveled thousands of miles to the dinner table, killing countless living creatures along the way; sick goats and donkeys that make me feel guilty for not calling a vet; a milking machine that stutters in frosty weather; hunting for hay in late winter; the filth firewood drops on its way to the wood stove or the obstinacy of a cold hearth; and a whiney pet that follows me everywhere; or the fact that her blog is more interesting and much more popular than mine: [Actually, I do like that.]

"Ouch," says Virginia.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fiddling on the Roof

My new shop is nearly finished. All I need to do is install a floor, add a couple walls with insulation, find a good wood stove, and arrange for Fred to put in some receptacles.

Here's the carpenter finishing the metal roof.
"Is that Karen?" says Virginia.

Yes, well, uh, she's up there thinking about how we're going to train the GOS pigs to weed my garden beds. If they can find truffles, certainly they can learn which plants to dig and which to leave.

Meanwhile, I took a 10-mile run around the neighborhood. Our local billionaire moved an old church from Canada to his backyard. Someone said it serves as his wife's studio for the few days per year she finds herself in our county. If you click on this picture you might see its steeple behind the house.
The fellow spent a few dollars on a long black fence. Do you think I should tell him what's wrong with this picture?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Winter Gardening

Many gardeners have called it quits until spring. That's okay. Some golfers have, too, and swimmers, but not squirrels. They're busy collecting nuts.

This nutty squirrel finally planted lettuces, spinach, and kale in the greenhouse today. First, I had to clean away the dead tomato plants that made the place look like a dismal, but dry, swamp. Then, I sprinkled rabbit gold here and there. Now, having placed seeds in little rows, I must remember to keep them watered. It's important to keep lettuce seeds moist until they sprout. Forgetting to water them daily leads to the failure of many lettuce plantings, and it's even more important in a greenhouse where it doesn't rain.

I'd taken advantage of a seed saver's fall sale, so now I'm looking forward to pretty lettuces, like Yugoslavian Red Butterhead, Mascara, Red Leprechaun, and Rossimo, to brighten up old green favorites such as buttercrunch, buttercos, and romaines. I'm anxious to taste Crisp Mint, which is supposed to have leaves like mint. Will it be minty in flavor as well?

Meanwhile, three (of ten) of my garden beds have pretty well settled in for winter. One of them contains ancient barley and wheat sprouts from seeds provided by the Kusa Society. Think waving fronds of grain as the Lion King roars from a cliff.

Kusa Society millet sits in buckets in our bedroom, the result of 50 seeds of each of several varieties planted in the spring. What will we do with millet? I recently tossed some into a bread recipe, for extra crunch.

Garlic sprouts rim another bed filled with organic hard red winter wheat, something that's not easy to find around here. I surfed the Internet and paid nearly as much for shipping as for the bushel of seeds. Did you know a bushel of wheat plants about 2 1/2 acres? Like free mulch from Boxerwood Gardens, that bushel has found its way into several other gardens.

"And like the sweet potato slips you bought last spring?" says Virginia.

Let me mention my 2013 sweet potato story. In 2012, I planted about 50 slips. This year, I decided to order 100. Just as my finger aimed at the final click, I noticed that for only $8 more I could get 200 slips. Certainly, $8 would make the giving away of 100 slips worthwhile. I changed my order to 200.

The instructions called for 8 bunches of 25 slips each, 4 different varieties. When they arrived, I discovered that each bunch had about 37 slips. Whoa! After planting 125, I still had more than 125 to give away. Our next door neighbor, for one, seemed pretty happy about that.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Almost every closet contains skeletons, which is one reason many good people aren't politicians. Why open the can of worms and embarrass yourself and your family?

Instead of running for Congress, some people do other things.

A little art, perhaps:

"What is that?" asks Virginia.

Our latest skeleton.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Equalizer

Our son attended one of the first public middle schools that required uniforms. Two basic lines of thought emerged. One, that forcing children into the same clothes was undemocratic, regimental, and not conducive to creativity. Two, that identical outfits would breed school solidarity, alleviate some of the common conflicts such as obvious class differences, and focus attention on more important matters than dress.

For us parents, the uniforms proved convenient. No arguments about what to wear.

Like those middle-schoolers, every few months I pull this uniform from  my closet and just get dressed and go.
I could be off to my job waiting tables, a gig on stage, an opera, or a White House ball. Whatever the function, the choices are easy, underneath, unseen.

"Yeah, right," says Virginia. "You don't think people in the know notice whether your suit is off-the-rack or tailored, the plainness of your shirt or its ruffles, or the quality of the bow tie and shoes?"

This country boy has never heard 'em squawk, probably never will.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Risky Business

 Our most-expensive-ever pickup load of firewood:

"Why do you say that?" says Virginia.

I'm not allowed to go into details. Suffice to say, if my good friend who helped me harvest this and carve it with a log splitter were a piano player, he would not be touching any keys for at least several weeks. We're hoping that the UVa orthopedist he's seeing right now, this minute, will set things right.

Even on a day like today, when mountains bathe in a light blue sea and every breath tastes as fine as your favorite, a moment's lapse can prompt the question: "Is all this work worthwhile?"

Yes, I say, although I'm not the one in an operating room. Perhaps some future day, a condominium will call me home. And then what will I do? Finally finish Virginia's story, perhaps.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years ago, actually about a year before that, I went on vacation and never returned. Or so it has seemed. If I were to wish one thing for our son, this would be it.

Before that, my inclination was to play it safe, exceptions aside, as people who knew this guy back then would attest. Last week, a recent acquaintance observed, "You and your siblings seem to be strongly grounded." That may be true, but like almost every young person, at least I among them made some decisions with no serious thought to their implications. A few of those, thankfully a few, with a bit of luck, set me on track to safety and, maybe, firm grounding. I suppose one never knows for sure. A superstitious person might knock on wood.

Then, about twenty-six years ago, things changed. Someone taught me to assess each day and change if something didn't seem right, and to not look back. Well, sometimes I had trouble not looking back, but never for long. Today she's reading The Happiness Project and, though she doesn't say it, from what she reports I'd say it's old hat to her. Some of the books you most admire simply confirm what you already believe.

Let me think. How did Karen show me the way? Here's an example. She earned a promotion at work, one that some of the MBA management associates envied, but before she started the new job, she told me, "I'm going to The Broadcast Center. I tested well and got accepted." "What about your job?" I said. "I'm quitting" was her answer. That was that. Before long, she landed a plum internship at Channel 5, KSDK, an NBC affiliate in St. Louis. It ended on a Friday. As I've since learned, her timing is impeccable. She delivered Adam in a hospital the following Monday.

We began talking about redoing our bathroom. No matter what we did, we couldn't get rid of mold growing around the tub. A "professional" advised, "You'll have to replace this with modern tile. No one could repair this without breaking them." I returned from work soon after to find a pile of carefully numbered glassine tiles outside the bathroom. "I guess you're remodeling the bathroom." And each tile found its way back home.

Our kitchen was next. Those who know me can guess how the planning would have proceeded if I had anything to do with it -- very slowly. I came home one day to find the ceiling down and the sink disconnected. "I guess we're remodeling the kitchen?" I said. (Of course, "we" weren't.)

My teacher was a good one. We saw a home advertised in a newsletter of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a town in North Carolina we had visited several years before. I had a week of vacation available, so off we went. We looked at it, signed a contract the next day, and on the drive back to St. Louis I said, "I guess this means I'm quitting my job?" Karen smiled.

"Did you notice the similarity in the titles of your blog postings?" says Virginia.

Not until now. Check out

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


A recent dinner found me sitting between a thirty years younger me, on my left, and someone I might have been, on my right. A mix of metaphors confused me, a right-hand man and a left-of-center nonconformist, misplaced on either side. If you're confused, welcome to the crowd.

I used to dream my eulogist would say, "He was a man of integrity." A whole man. Yes, that would be fine. But a moral man? By whose morals? Those of the beer salesman in his suit with side vents or those of the medical marijuana master? Those of the corporate toad who thinks a tattoo means trash, or those of a hare krishna bearing side curls? The fellow with blue Bud Light or the Phish groupie?

That night I dreamed I was trying to return two books to my 4th floor Manhattan office. I'd just met with two lobbyists and given them a great idea. Then I remembered I'd moved to the 6th floor. I looked up and saw it smoking, "Grab Karen and Adam and get away from here?" We ran onto the street as a building several blocks away imploded. "They're all going to fall," I shouted. We wound our way through blockade after blockade, dust rising everywhere. "To the farm!"

"I guess you had more fun talking about growing marijuana?" says Virginia.

What's wrong with her, always trying to interpret things? Cannabis has little to do with farms and soil and sunshine.

Today my suits hang in closets. I haven't thrown them away. They might come in handy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goodbye, Mac

Goodbye Mac. The field looks much emptier without our gentle giant grazing. He decided to rest instead.

Karen has blogged about Mac on numerous occasions, the latest being:

Mac helped me better understand why some of our friends rescue animals. We must remember that many people need rescue, too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Weather Views

A friend recently commented that she had visited Taos, London and Vermont. Everywhere, she said, the weather was "better" than here in Virginia. Double-take! "Better than Virginia?" I thought about how wonderful our weather has been this year and then, boom, I realized, some people don't like all the rainy days we've been having.

Virginia says, "I wonder what the farmers near Taos would say."

Well, Virginia, those farmers probably plan and plant for little rain. A lot of water might ruin them.

Here at Elk Cliff Farm we couldn't have asked for better weather (okay, some rotting has occurred, but begging for better would be, um, downright ungrateful). Everyday our gardens urge us to fill baskets. We've plugged in a third freezer. Perhaps we should buy a generator just in case. And we've canned and dried as well.

The thing is, the season's only half over. Our fall gardens have just begun. Here's a bed with fall green beans (Blue Lake), round zucchini (Ronde de Nice), French wax beans (Buerre de Rocquencourt), beets, eggplants, Brussels sprouts, snow peas, and summer holdovers of kale, St. John's wort, lemon balm, stevia, and pennyroyal.
As I carved a Pear melon for breakfast this morning, I remembered I had a blog, so I added a few vegetables some folks might find unfamiliar -- long green beans and a black brandywine tomato (our favorite juicy sweet tomato).
Perhaps you'd like to see where the long green beans live. They grow on the tipi-shaped trellis, right rear here.
Our blackberries have been especially prolific for three weeks. They're finally winding down. Let's see one of the paths I've worn to the interior of our patch.
Looking east toward our house you can see a little bit of most of our beds. Some young parsnips grace the foreground, in our tree-shaded garden with lettuces and Egyptian walking onions. Tall asparagus "trees" block our view of two beds. Mostly corn grows on the left, planted in succession with the intention of providing ears through the first frost. Butternut squash, peas, beets, tomatoes and cucumbers hide underneath.
Oh, I almost forgot, this is the Year of Basil. We have five varieties, but most of all, holy basil has sprouted everywhere like weeds. If anyone wants basil, let us know.

Speaking of weeds, some of you have heard me complain about the rain in this respect, good-naturedly I'd like to think. After all, if I didn't get this exercise, what would I do? Weeds can be good for mulch -- in-ground, pulled and laid on the ground between desirable plants, or later, after aging in a pile like this one.
Of course, rain can't take all the blame. Some fingers point to what else makes a garden grow, gifts of rabbits and goats:
Before we say goodbye, here are a few more pictures.

Thank you, Marion, for the pomegranates. Our grove appears to be doing very well.
Eggplants are coming along.
 Here is a Cambodian Green Giant eggplant.
These eggplants find their home in a thin garden that runs along the south side of our greenhouse.
Finally, credit also must be given to millions of friends, including this Swallowtail butterfly.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Listening

Very few of us sit at the top of our vocations or avocations. We may envy the few who do, but imagine how tough that must be. Fail to stay current, take a break from practicing, and the fall can be immediate. Having lost top place, it may be impossible to recover.

The rest cluster underneath. 

Take music, for example. The top performers tend to be geniuses with talents we the people cannot comprehend. Charisma plus marvelous marketing make them “unbeatable.”

The next level lacks something, if only the marketing that tends to focus on the top.

Each pond has its big fish, from countries to regions to states to counties to towns.

Then we come to the parlor, where at the beginning of the previous century, someone could do at least a little bit with an upright piano and the rest could sing. Most music happened there or in the yard or woods...or even here.

Recordings changed everything, providing everywhere-access to “perfect” performances. Almost everyone became a critic. “He was good, but no Rubinstein.”

In our area, the Krantzes are famous for their twice-per-year music megaparties. Folks (everyone is invited) gather in their music room, where three grand pianos, over a hundred seats, 360-degree views of the Appalachians, and complete openness invite music-making. A couple months before the next party, the host and hostess invite people to sign up for 10-, 15- or 20-minute performance slots, first-come, first-served.

The lack of discretion makes these parties unique. Anyone can perform. Anyone does. Natural selection does or does not take its course.

“I suppose this results in some very bad performances,” says Virginia. “On the other hand, I’d bet it frees some who might otherwise be reluctant and yields some very fine sets?”

That’s the point, I think. It attempts to release attendees from definitions like “good” and “bad,” to allow them to view music in different, more generous ways. To be “fun” and “funny,” and at the same time “serious” and “grave.”

“Ah, maybe even to see some music as the hoax it is?” says Virginia.

Yes. Even the stuffed-shirt might leave a bit tickled, realizing that each level of music-making is golden.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

More on Aerial Views

don Juan, commenting on yesterday's blog entry, asked if viewing Elk Cliff Farm from the sky has changed my perspective on the place. I've been thinking about his question ever since.

I'm reminded of Wendell Berry's essays on community. It's easy sometimes, going about your life on your property and in your house, to live on an island, separate from the people who live on the other side of the creek, lawn or wall. But whether or not we like the idea, we are not independent.

The aerial views of our farm point out very clearly that our home is part of a landscape of homes. The James River, Elk Creek and Arnold's Valley Road surround our property and, as the deed to our property will attest, physically delineate it. The higher you go, the less clear those boundaries become.

Without my help, you probably wouldn't recognize the borders of our farm. You'd notice clusters of homes -- our neighbors and us. A higher, broader view might see Natural Bridge Station, then our zip code 24579. If we'd gone higher, perhaps Rockbridge County, Virginia, the United States, North America, Earth, and beyond. An economist might call these macro and micro perspectives.

All of these are communities, in a sense. In the warmest view, our neighbors and us make a community. We know, or quickly learn, what happens in our neighborhood. Some of us interact almost daily, sharing talents, the bounties of our gardens, tools, carpools. Others choose to stay apart or to note our presence in limited ways -- waves as we walk or drive past, lawnmower and weed-whacker whines, the bangs of target practice.

Of course, we also relate in communities not based on geographies. For example, we belong to a community of farmers (if you define this term loosely enough) -- goat farmers, donkey farmers, organic farmers, tractor-less farmers, farmsteaders, etc. Musicians. Runners. Gardeners. Outdoor lovers. Writers. Raw milk users. Aerial views aren't very helpful here.

This morning, as I foraged for wineberries below Thunder Ridge, I came across this fellow:
"You put him there," says Virginia.

No, I didn't. It's hard to tell from this aerial view, but that snail is about 3 feet off the ground. How did it get up to that leaf and why?

I realize this is stretching things a bit. Indulge me, please, and forgive me if need be. Aerial views show only a little bit of anything. We use them at great risk of oversimplifying. So, dear donjuan, know that I'm very skeptical of drones.

"You're droning," says Virginia.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Aerial View

Today we sprouted wings. Here's a picture of Elk Cliff Farm:
And another:
And yet another:
Here's our field:
A little closer. See the pig-aerated garden in the right bottom corner? (Click on the pictures to make them bigger.)
"All right, cough it up," says Virginia. "Whose plane had that wing?"

Our neighbor. Here he is taking off with the next load.
[Note: After I originally posted my photographs, my good friend Jerry Tovo, a master of all things camera (and internationally known for that), worked his magic on 4 of them. Can you guess which four (hint -- not the last one)? If you can't, go to jail, do not pass go.]

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Disordered Garden

A couple Ronde de Nice squashes await picking tomorrow. Says Baker Heirloom Seeds:

"50 days. This is a delicious French heirloom variety. The flesh of this round, green zucchini is very tender and fine flavored, making it an ideal squash for stuffing. A popular variety for home gardens and specialty growers. Vigorous, quick-growing plants."

I'm looking forward to a bountiful harvest, assuming a derrecho doesn't whisk things away tonight.  Green beans and wax beans, also found in my pig-aerated garden, are coming in, a sure sign of summer. I think Sunday may offer my first picking of wineberries for the year, two weeks later than last year.

My college roommate may be arriving this week, just in time to help harvest our winter wheat. That could keep us busy from dawn to dusk every day he's here. When i plant wheat this fall, I may have to specify in advance which will be a cover crop and which will grow to maturity. As it is, we may have wheat berries to sell.

Or maybe he'll want to work on the sailboat deck. He's a sailor after all, unsure what he thinks of a permanently beached boat. I think he felt a little better when I said someday it may float away in a flood.

"Where are the pictures?" says Virginia.

I'm not about to post pictures of my weedy gardens. Things started out well, neatly organized, well-intentioned. Then I hemmed and hawed. Meanwhile my closely planted rows grew together even more, with weeds crowding in between. 

Now I need an intern.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Busy or Not?

Several people have commented that blog posts have a direct relationship to free time available. I'd like to point out that time is not free. Time is limited and, as with almost any choice, one's use of time involves trade-offs. Nothing is free if you forego something else to choose it.

People who are not busy blog. Very busy people also blog. The only way to determine whether a blogger is "busy" or "not busy" is to examine his or her use of time. I don't believe "busyness" is something Google or the National Security Agency can determine. In fact, I don't believe I can determine whether X is or is not "busy," although I might develop an opinion based on my own prejudices and priority decisions.

Looking at today, June 12, for example, if I had to answer the question, I would say I've been "busy." I did not devote the entire day, or 8 hours of it, to the work I get paid for doing. I chose instead to run, freeze peas, weed garden beds, eat, read a little bit in "A Forager's Harvest," work on a book update for a few hours, and a few other things. Other days this year I have allocated as much as 16 hours to the work I get paid for doing, yet I would not say I was "busier" those days than I was today. Even on some of those days, I blogged.

So let me offer an alternative explanation. Blog posts depend on the time one chooses to make available for blogging. Today, after a day full of other activities, I decided to relax for a few minutes and write this blog post. On another day, I might have chosen instead to read part of a book, play piano, work on a poem or story, walk around the field, or sit on the front porch. Obviously, blogging is not something I must do.

Most days, even on days I'd call "busy" days, I choose to use at least an hour for writing, and I don't mean writing I get paid for doing. I mean worthless, self-indulgent writing. Of course, it's not really worthless or useless. I dream that some day people will pay to read it. But even if they don't, it's an essential, useful part of my life.

"What is this, an apologia for time-wasting?" says Virginia.

Of course, she's an artist who knows better.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Going Home -- Part 4

            The stale air of evening, or every time of day, begs me to open windows, which seems to be verboten. When the occupational therapist brings brownies for lunch, my mother informs me that she made them, with applesauce and pasteurized eggs. “They didn’t look right,” she says, and I have to Google what is a pasteurized egg, reportedly required in nursing homes.
            Bingo. On the sixth day this slow learner understands bland food. Litigation avoidance apparently mandates serving the least common denominator, so as not to offend the least of the fittest. The rest have fully documented their allergies. Maybe eating in the dining room would offer a smorgasboard of additives to tease taste buds. Mother, staying in her room, must ask for salt.
            Another college classmate visits today and the room is full of yesterdays. “I’m ahead of you,” the visitor says, who turned 91 in January. “I might catch up,” says the June baby. Indeed she might. The roommate told me she is 94. Today I heard her tell someone she is 97.
            Mother is ready to take a walk. Only after we head toward the door do I notice a chair obscuring the pathway. For the umpteenth time I appreciate the efficiency of aides who do this many times each day, repositioning call button cords and heating pad cables as fast as I type another word, without a misspell. I don’t even notice when shoes are missing.
            And so, the time has come to take Mother home and hand my baton to a sister-in-law.
            I have apportioned my half-gallon of raw goat's milk so carefully I have some left to drink on my way home, reminding me of home.
            "That's one generous sister-in-law," says Virginia.