Saturday, January 11, 2014

Olden Ways

Today, as Karen and I crossed the road that divides our farm into two sections, a fellow in a van rolled down his window, unsmiling. I was afraid he was going to complain about our chickens wandering in the road, so awkwardness hid behind my smile. When he said, "I'd like to talk to you about your goats and chickens," I thought "Uh-oh" until a memory nudged me.

"Do you mean you're thinking about getting chickens?"

He nodded. "I just came from time in the woods. I built myself a little shelter from the rain, gathered some wood, chiseled it down to dry kindling, and used a bow-starter to smoke up a fire."

"Good for you," I said. "I've thought of doing that, but never have."

"About 25 times," he said. "Each time I've felt as though I've done something very special, proud of myself."

"Understood," I said. "Reminds me of what we try to do here." I pointed around the farm. "Like make ice cream with our own milk and cream. Each time is special."

We spoke a while longer, then he began to drive away as Karen and I resumed our walk around the field. "He wants you," Karen said, pointing.

I headed back to the gate. He handed me a DVD, "The Last One." "You might like this," he said. "About Popcorn Sutton. I thought it was pretty funny."

"Thanks," I said. "I'll return it sometime when I run by your house."

Virginia says, "What on earth is 'The Last One?'"

Popcorn Sutton caps off a lifetime in the moonshine trade with a final trip into the wilds of Southern Appalachia to make one last batch of illegal liquor. As he shows how it's done, he reminisces about moonshine glory days.

So I've been thinking. Maybe it'd be fun to gather a bunch of these folks we've met who are trying to resurrect some of the "olden ways" -- folks we don't know well, whose everyday paths don't cross often, but may have some common objectives and some stories to share.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


What acquaintances say sometimes astonishes me. Friends are different. Relationships with friends have gone beyond first impressions. I expect friends to say things without thinking them through. I suppose I shouldn't expect acquaintances to be any different, but I do. I like to think that with acquaintances, I consciously choose whether to blurt out a true feeling or bite my tongue, and that they do, too.

Two contexts come to mind: (1) our choice to live in Arnold's Valley; and (2) our decision to gradually turn "Elk Cliff Farm" back into a farm.

Very soon after we moved here, a physician we met at a dinner party turned up her nose when we answered the question, "Where do you live?" She said, "Ambulances don't go there." She was so certain about this that I had to laugh, "Really? What are those sirens I frequently hear, and those trucks with red flashing lights?"

A retired policeman at another gathering shook his head, "Whoa! The police are always making calls to that area." Funny thing, just before this year's 'monster concert' holiday singalong, a fellow in the fourth row asked me, "Where is it you live again?" After I answered, he repeated the words of the retired policeman. Now, what was that about?

I tend to answer defensively. "Oh, we pay them to say that; we like to keep the place for ourselves," "Things have changed in 20 years" or "Don't you think we have too many policemen, and have you noticed how many of them are related to each other?"

Even more recently, someone reported that he ran into a neighbor who said, "[The previous owner of Elk Cliff Farm] must be turning over in his grave. He was so meticulous about that place. Now animals are everywhere."

Several other people have made that "turning over in his grave" comment. I realize it's just an expression, but my defensive response might be, "Really? That must be a noisy graveyard," or "Well, you should have seen the house he lived in."

"Have you noticed that you don't think any more than they think, before saying something?" says Virginia.

She's absolutely right, and I always -- I mean always -- go home wishing I hadn't sounded so defensive.  Why can't I just laugh it off?

I'll tell you why. Because like most people, I react like a child under stress, and deep down I'm as insecure and jealous as the next person.

No matter where you live, you're bound to have a picture in your mind of a place you wouldn't want to be. That's how we build ourselves up.

No matter what you've chosen for your life, you're bound to be glad, at least in your own head, that you didn't choose what someone else chose. That's how we build ourselves up.

Hey, it's a new year. Be it resolved, I will try to bite my tongue even when I'm taken by surprise, and I will try not to demean other people's choices.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Same Day Delivery

I'm optimistic about the new year. That's me, almost always smiling.

But....I guess I've been so buried in regulatory analysis the past week that I missed Mr. Bezos' announcement of a grand scheme for Amazon -- same-day drone delivery. Buy AMZN. Perhaps. I now know that I missed the boat in the late 1990s when a student in one of my investment classes presented a sales pitch for the company.

I did not miss the November notice that Amazon and the United States Postal Service had contracted to provide Sunday deliveries in several markets.

I groaned then and I'm groaning now. When will this need for speed bubble burst? In a way, I'm already offended when merchants assume I must have my order delivered in 2 days, much less offer to ship it overnight for a premium price.

I remember my parents saving for months before replacing a clothes washer. Do you think they would have insisted on 2-day delivery?

Does Amazon expect your latest book order to land on the top of your reading stack, or the pile on your donee's desk? Does it even suspect that you or s/he might already be reading one and have at least another volume or two next in cue?

"I think you may be losing it," says Virginia. "Many, if not most, people don't read books any more."

Okay, I got off track. Have we lost all patience? Are we unable to plan ahead?

I'm sorry, I'm still being a drama king. Neither of those is my real point.

What if every person in the world, or even one-tenth of them, signed on to this same day delivery scheme? Would we have traffic jams of big brown trucks, and drones crashing into front yards?

Energy implications? I'm too myopic to make a reasonable prediction. But oil prices will rise; they'll have to as the supply dwindles -- unless, maybe, it prompts research into alternative sources. Solar-powered drones?

Pray not, irrational exuberance squared? Might 2014 be the new 2008, as the rest of the world joins this rush to ultimately unquenchable self-indulgence?