Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lost in Transition


Somehow beer supersedes blog posting. For 3.5 years. Tricky. 

This morning was a flutter of activity preparing to receive a large batch of wood, spare oak rounds from a friend whose wood-coffers are full. The wood is for the oven. "What oven?" you ask. The mothafukkin cob oven. You eat out of it. It's badass. When the revolution comes, I will live in my cob oven. 

Still wet, but pretty much finished, late-June. It is now functional.

Speaking of revolution, I keep hearing that's on its way. Something is going to snap, the power will go out, streets will be taken to, and shop windows will preemptively smash themselves. I'm glad to know people with skills; welding, woodworking, food preserving, music making. The latter will be especially important, because how else are you going to enjoy burning your cedar shingles to keep warm?

Speaking of cob building, I've just caught wind of a Neighborhood Permaculture Design Course in my neighborhood. Like, just now I received an e-mail about it. One weekend per month from September through April, for a fairly affordable price. I just might do that. 

Of course, every day I plot a different course for my life. Am I dissatisfied working at a home-brew supply shop, teaching people to make good beer and learning more and more about doing the same? No, certainly not. I take pride in helping people, as well as selling quality ingredients and equipment. I'm happy to create lower-sugar sodas for kids and non-drinkers at the pub (though I'm still making sugary drinks, which is dubious). It's a fact that I'm in a growing marketplace of beer, and that beer is the foundation for civilization. I might just be ready to apply myself elsewhere, on an even more local level, with less focus on selling, more on community; same amount of beer. 

When I first started farming, at Even'Star in St. Mary's County, I was at the farm from January through early June. Most of my days involved weeding, cutting salad, collecting eggs, and preparation for planting. It wasn't until my last day that the strawberries were ripe, and I never got to taste any of the tomatoes I transplanted. My second farm job, at Fern's Edge, I saw through a full four seasons, which included breeding and birthing (though in reverse order, since I came to the farm right before kids were born, and breeding was done late summer). It occurred to me on Sunday that, in order to feel fully connected and see the circuit fully closed, you have to be there for five seasons; think Ouroboros, the snake eating itself; think Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, which is an outstanding Korean film that really gets this point across. Any new job, lifestyle, location, you enter it childlike, and it's not until you have seen five seasons through that you have absorbed its nuance. By seasons I am more or less referring to actual seasons; the passage of time. You can think of it differently, but my experience at farms and in retail is sliced into seasons. 

I met a man a few days ago who is working on his fourth degree. And I thought I was indecisive. I feel fairly empowered knowing there are people out there who don't want to be categorized into a job, who continually build their knowledge, skill, and experience; the resumé may be a grab-bag, but it sure shows a capacity for learning.

My stars, it's time to go to work. I hope to post here more often. I may have a house and chickens keeping me in Eugene, but I'm still Lost in America. And so can you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My variety rack is full!

I wear lots of hats nowadays. You know, Hats. That old cliche, the metaphor for "I am fulfilling more roles than that of Supreme Couch Potato, thankyouverymuch." It's been a pretty active month past, and as the weather changes, my activity level will increase at a mathematical (rather than grammatical) rate. This is because I do things outside, like play in the dirt and pretend I can garden and haul 140 lb. bales of alfalfa in a cart with flat tires up a trail of mud 6 inches deep and heft little goats back over the fences they jump. I may have lost some weight, despite the amount of food and beer I consume (though the latter is less than it was at this time last year...).

This is no excuse (it's a reason) for my not posting in a while. I will try to articulate some of the things that cross my mind on a typical day recently.

I had a daydream/nightmare while milking the other day: background: there are a bundle of goats that have CAE, which is basically goat HIV which is transmitted through milk (but not to humans), and they are kept separate from the other, socially accepted goats. My daydream involved the CAE girls getting into the main milker pen, and that I would find them all having a crazed, unprotected-teat-licking lesbian goat orgy, and they would all be infected and have to wear red collars and be goat pariahs.

I am reading a book called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and it's getting to my head. The chapter was on musical hallucination, and I've started hearing music in my head right before I go to sleep. I can see the way it's played on the guitar, and the sounds are catchy and original-sounding, and I want so badly to remember, but I'm too tired to wake myself up and be the hallucination.

I have planted peas and rhubarb and a little grafted plum tree, and I hope they grow big and yummy. It's the first time I've actually gardened for myself, and it's a different world. I (and Liz, who has put numerous hours into weeding and pruning our rose bushes) get to manage this yard. The landlord told us we have free reign, that he was glad to have the yard put to use. I don't think he knew what he was getting into. That whole damn yard is going to be beautiful, if not entirely edible (including eggs...), and grass-free by the time I can make a down payment on some land. The yard hadn't been tended in two years, so there are more weeds than grass in all the wrong places. But I'm learning how I garden when left on my own, which is basically to have a rotation of tasks that I do all at once and never quite finish. Edging, weeding, tilling, and braiding some baling twine were my tasks today (aside from planting rhubarb and potting the tree), and I went from one to the other until I felt satisfied that I had made a visible impact. It also hailed a bit, and rained, and hailed, and got sunny, and all the while it was about 60 degrees. Freaking Oregon.

On top of that paragraph, I have three jobs. The one I am going to use as inspiration for short films that nobody will understand. Another is doing landscaping for a pregnant woman who can't lift heavy things, and she pays me well. The other is a more serious, careerly endeavor. I am a "junior manager" sort in the home office of San Diego Motorcycle Training, run by my neighbor Joe. Joe deserves his own blog post. He's great, and he hired me. I'm on a salary for 8 hours of work per week until I'm sufficient enough to do more. It's a hard job for me because I'm not used to "office work" and "phones" and "efficient methods of communication" and "business practices." It's not a job I will have any stories about, but it is a job that could eventually offer paid leave and benefits. The only benefit the goats provide is the white, fat-infused substance that keeps me from getting very skinny. And stories.

These three jobs mean that I work six days a week, which is too much. That's the bummer here: there's just not enough days in the week. You know, Days. It's that old cliche that moms use when the house is messy. It's a metaphor that means, "my damn kid plays video games 6 hours a day." Or is it "not enough hours in the day," or "days in the year?" Whatever.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On S.N.O.B.B.E.R.Y.

On being a Supporter of Native Oregon Beer and Being Exceptionally Rank and goatY:

I am an ol-factory, a synaptic, smelly mess. I've begun to detect anomalous odors amidst clouds of organic fumage. The scent of beer and raspberries mingles with capric acid and ammonia, causing much confusion in my sniffer. I've been smelling so much lately, I don't know where I stand, where to stand. My friend and fellow goatherd Alex gave it to me straight:

"People who judge beer... they're snobs."

I turned a sensory corner, began to learn the art of beer-collage, the synesthesia of aroma and adjective. Things described as "horse blanket" and "dimethyl sulfide" now have, by popular vote, an ascribed smell, and vice-versa. Caramel, chocolate, nut, grass, citrus, and flower are now things that come in the form of beer. I already knew it was a meal in a bottle, but this is ridiculous, right? And for all my eschewing of labels, I find myself taking on the label of "Snob" with a capital S that rhymes with Mess that stands for TROUBLE.

It could be worse, you know, and I am swearing to myself that I will use my new powers to educate, not criticize; to learn, not spurn; to brew well, but not balk if you hand me a Rolling Rock.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Goat Sects

Renata came running up to the fence, bleating, with her one stubby finger-like horn bent the wrong way. She's a skinny girl, brown, relatively cute, and out of place at the lower barn. She had been put in a sick pen for some reason, and when an ailing old goat took hospice in one of the sick pens, Renata was displaced to the main part of the lower barn. Being small, she was automatically placed lowest in the pecking order and bullied away from the feeders, even maliciously headbutted in the ribs when she was just hanging around. She took to hiding on the outside of the wall of the enclosure. The past couple days when I went to feed them, she ran up to me and pressed her body against my leg and bleated. When I went to leave, she tried to come with me. I felt bad for her, forced to live in an unfamiliar place with testy, exclusive barn-mates.

Today I tossed a couple flakes of alfalfa (the good stuff) into the pasture space, just to get some of the goats out of the hay'n'shit they live in, and she ran over to the fence and gave me very pathetic eyes, about as pathetic as a goat can look. Since she's from the milking group, I brought her onto the wooden milking stand, put her head in the headlock, and gave her a scoop of grain (the really good stuff), which she began to devour. I sat down behind to milk her, gave one squeeze, and noticed a drop of blood on the ground by her legs. It wasn't from her teats. Apparently she had been pregnant and aborted, probably because of the tormenting and lack of food.

I let her finish the grain and put her back in a sick pen with a fellow milker, Hillary. Renata started headbutting Hillary away from the food.

Getting to know another species is pretty strange. To the extent that they're dumb animals, I'm a source of food and water, and they follow the grain bucket around like a hungry school of fish. I communicate with them through that, in a way. The milkers know what to do when I wake them up at 5 in the morning, and don't give me trouble any more when I "tsch, tsch" them down the muddy path to the dairy.

It's another thing to have animals that realize that you are a source of protection, or some sort of deity. One milker, Jardin, likes to rub her face on my leg when I'm leading goats up the ramp to be milked. The little cutie we call Rebecca's Kid comes up to me and tries to nibble my fingers, accepts my petting and the strange noises I make at her. I take these things as a sign of affection or tribute. And Renata, who sees humans and realizes that we're the ones to tell when something's wrong with her, except we don't know how to interpret pathetic eyes. It's almost impossible to tell when a doe is pregnant until a couple days beforehand, which is why breeding is pretty regulated (you don't want random goats dropping kids without warning).

A couple does have died in the last month; one of old age, the other of some illness that resembled the flu. Two now have aborted. I suppose those are standard statistics among 200 goats. However, there are a dozen or so does who are due for their first kids pretty soon, so the cycle will continue. Perhaps I'll get to name one. Names I would choose for a goat would include:

Albert Einstein, H.W. Longfellow, Rammstein, Her Majesty, Dinah Mo Humm, and Leonora

Thursday, January 15, 2009


It's one of the teenage answers:

"How are you, honey?"

"Would you like M&Ms on your pastrami sandwich?"
"I guess."

"What did you do today, honey?"

The secret word for tonight is "STUFF." Except for its form as a verb, stuff is a pretty ambiguous word. If read enough times in succession, one may find its meaning to cease altogether. Stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff. Just a bunch of symbols. Now no longer ambiguous, "STUFF" enters the realm of the absurd. Read it again with me: STUFF?

We've all got it. Some of us are it (in adjective form: stuffy). It happens to our noses (verb: stuffed). We acquire it, lose it, deal it, and heehaw over its value in our lives. I got my stuff back recently. Previously it was across the country, and I acquired lots of stuff during my separation from stuff to partially replace the stuff I had been using, but which was so far away. I now have an abundance of stuff. Most of it is useful, and some is just for decoration.

Now the questions: Is it good to have all this stuff (AGAIN)? Well, what was it like without it?

It is nice to see most of this stuff again. Without it, recently, I had been proclaiming at random the things I was going to have in the near future (an apron! a pizza peel! a regular-sized pillow!). However, except for the upgrade in quality of stuff (the old, had-stuff as opposed to the newer, replacement stuff), I could have gotten by quite easily without all this stuff, as I had been for the last four months (plus three months on the road with even less stuff and even more excitement; is there a causative relationship here?).

The option of selling all my stuff and starting from scratch had been considered, tossed up and down like a baseball while determining the best pitch. It's full count (toss up), this guy's not the greatest hitter (catch), but it's the eighth inning and I'm tired (toss up), and the next guy's so good I'll just walk him (catch). It was just like that, come to think of it. The option was overridden by the potential energy spent selecting the items to be sold, assessing their value, selling them, then reacquiring similar items without sacrificing quality over price. Complicated. Such are the mechanisms of stuff.

So now I have stuff all over the house (the house itself does not count as stuff; I think stuff is inherently plural). Lots of it has become unpacked and strewn about in a fashion that is more than disorderly but less than symmetrical. It has been creatively arranged to divide space and indicate a particular activity that is designated for that space (large dining room table is reserved for accumulation of stuff; constantly-unraveling rug in the bathroom denotes bathroom activities, etc.). I am of a mind (of whose mind, I know not) that there is actually TOO MUCH STUFF in the house. This is a condition that can develop several plot lines:

1) Disease/virus: symptoms include growth and multiplication of stuff. If left unattended, normal operations may become affected or cease altogether.

2) Profit: stuff is sold, marketed cleverly on Craigslist. Example: "Coby DVD player, nearly new, with box, manual, remote. $20."

3) Stasis: due to constraints of time and willpower, stuff is stuffed. Closets will be relatively organized, but full. Stuff may stick around until it is decided that stuff will never be used or seen again.

Such are the infinite possibilities of stuff.

Some of the stuff I have is nostalgic. Things from my grandmother, Mona: a rug, painting, spoon, ice cream scoop, enameled cast-iron cookware, coffee table, a photograph of her as a beautiful young woman, a pair of sunglasses, a ceramic sign that reads "Casa Mona." That's most of the nostalgic stuff. I got a very strange feeling when I saw some of those things again, so far removed from the memories I associate with them, with Mona; a mixture of sadness, loss, holding-on, relief. The emotional weight of stuff.

Also, a marvelling at seeing some of this stuff: a very sharp knife, my stereo system and DVDs. Owning DVDs has been rendered a trifle these days, but I like the fact that I can watch The Fifth Element for the 77th time whenever I want, as loud as my ears and bass-thumped torso can stand.

There are so many philosophical aspects to stuff; I'm not going to bother un-cocting this matter any further because we all know this stuff already. Here is a short list of stuff that I claim, by gift, monetary procurement, or common-law possession, as my own:

a console TV that weighs close to 300 lbs.; 3 copies of In Stitches, a film by Mark McAllister; The Jewish Book of Why; a college diploma in leatherette folder; a pair of black leather boots handmade in Chiapas

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I woke up this morning!

Emphasis on MORNING. Not "this predawn, ultradark, sun-on-opposite-side-of-world" sort of morning, which is the tail end of the day for many people. Nope, I woke up this morning. Liz was out of bed before me! I was able to follow through with my dream (which contained a lot of hugging of friends; a theme that's been turning up every couple weeks since October or November. It's nice!)!


I suppose I hadn't worked a "full week" at anything since the last week of May. Please don't fault me for sounding so relieved; those goats really know how to permeate. A hypothesis of mine was laid to rest: it takes fewer than five days to get every layer of my work uniform (sometimes up to 5 on my torso) insulated with the sweet-sour smell of the farm life. By the fifth morning I could smell my clothes when I walked into the spare room (I sure as hell don't keep them in an area of common passage) and though I didn't gag, my eyes rolled a little from the stench and the irony. My coffee smelled like farm sleeves, tasted kinda like coffee. I have whole beans that I won, er... stole... from a white elephant party. I have no bean grinder, but I do have a mortar & pestle. I don't recommend it for grinding coffee.

I woke up this morning! I will wake up tomorrow morning as well and I will make crepes and put pear/anise and blueberry/ginger goat cheese on them and I will lounge in my boxers and I will play scrabble and go to bed at a reasonable hour (after 9:30) and I will have more hugging dreams and I will play my guitar and I will be done with this post. Hurray!

Monday, December 22, 2008

In Teats We Trust

I know I am not getting out enough; I spend my evenings cooking and zoning out to primetime TV (it's free!), my afternoons playing guitar and doing crossword puzzles, and my early mornings talking to goats as if their floppy ears and misshapen pupils process my silhouette and the sounds that emanate from my mouth into a comprehensive personality with which they knowingly interact. I refer to them as "people" and "folks," apologize to them when I slice off parts of their hooves, and thank them when I return them to their pens. I am grateful to them for providing me with both a meager income and all of the near-expired cheese I can imagine consuming.

Biding my time at the farm is giving me time to work on my bilingual comedy routine; my audience is perfect: contained, relatively sedate, and a hair smarter than a chicken. They listen especially well when I wield a flake of alfalfa or a bucket of grain. The latter is the best; while my fellow goatherd sneakily fills the grain tray I can guide a flock of hungry kids in circles with an empty blue bucket to avoid her being trampled by extremely cute hooves. You see, I get very excited about the blue bucket as if there were grain in it, and the silly kids think it's true.

So I've done a lot of goat-related things lately. I have more goat friends than people friends. My right hand can now be officially described as "bigger than my left." My relationship with poop has become more intimate than I think it's reasonable to imagine. When I feel a nibble on my pants or have my hand slammed against a wall by the hoof I'm trying to clean, it's just another day at the office.

I talked to my brother on the phone the other day; he's still in that "disposable income" phase, the phase that would be heaven if not for the hormonal imbalances. He asked me why I had worked on so many farms (3), and why I was doing it. My response was, "well, I have to pay for food and housing and stuff." Something in the way he repeated what I had told him tipped me off: "So you mean you have to pay for housing and all your food and stuff??" He is in Fiscal Flatland; the third dimension of money is a nonentity to him; all he knows is that money is gotten and spent in straight, easy lines. The third dimension, obligation, has yet to be imposed upon him, and is finally coming upon me in ways I had hoped would never furrow my brow.

When I realized his cluelessness, I remembered being that way, giving my paychecks from Olsson's right back for CDs without worrying about gas or food money, much less rent money. Even after being bailed out by my folks for fiscal irresponsibility, it took a few years (and paying rent) for the concept to dawn. This last year I had a job and a living situation that afforded me plenty of extra money for both saving and spending proudly; I left that job and that house and that money (that three-month-long trail of money) to seek a fortune, and my fortune's embryo is a goat. Life is a goat. I'm not dismayed. I like goats well enough. My only hope is that my fortune's larva makes a little more money.