Saturday, June 19, 2010

the heart of life

We're back in milk and it feels good. She's a very different cow. She has a LOT of milk but lets down very slowly.

There is nothing bad, but everything is different. It has reminded me of the times I've run across people who know already exactly how everything is going to be. The funniest ones were going to raise chicory for their goats to browse on, and when goats proved too difficult for their pansy rears, they got a cow and failed at that too.

Not that there is anything wrong with failure. If you aren't failing at something, you aren't trying at very much. But success just isn't all that difficult either, so if you aren't succeeding at something, you aren't trying at very much either. By any measure, we've failed at most things we've tried in one way or the other. But we've always kept at it, and that is a good measure of success.

The other day a tree blew down across our road, about half-way between the house and the road. Luckily one vehicle was out already because moving it took several days -- although if no vehicle had been on the other side of it, I'm sure we would have worked a bit earlier and more diligently to get it moved. My point, at any rate, is that to most people a downed tree would be nothing but a liability, especially across their road. But to us, it was only a very mild inconvenience and in the end an asset as it becomes the beginning of next winter's firewood. That is because when you shift your perspective, everything looks different. Scratch that, everything IS different.The down tree was a heavy sugar maple. Cutting it into pieces with a bow saw proved an exercise in how many ways one can get a saw bound, and a lesson in levers. There is still one big piece down there that wasn't in the road so we didn't haul it yet, and a bunch of smaller pieces to be worked into lengths there and brought up on the cart. It was fun to hook and work the horse. Then we went on down to the garden and harrowed a bit.

The kids and I came back up to milk because right now it takes the whole crew (at least three people, preferably four). She's getting the routine but we've still got the calf running around loose, and, well, it can get complicated. Luckily our children know what chores are.

Chores, for those of you who might not know, are work that really does have to be done, no excuses, no make work, nothing decorative, no complaining, period, even if you are on your deathbed. Some chores, like doing the dishes or hoeing, can be put off for a day or two but you'll pay for it. Others, like tending to day old chicks, must be done on time or the chicks will die. Milking you get to slide and hour or two but otherwise, it simply has to be done. I think a lot of adults don't understand the nature of chores as they've never dealt with them -- they think it is an imposition instead of a centering, a grounding, a basis for all of life and living. Busywork is the basis of schooling -- it would be my posit that meaningful work is the basis of unschooling.

For the time being we've converted the old shoeing stock into a milking stanchion, and two of us milk her from opposite sides at the same time. She isn't fixed in the stand yet by a head stock so she can leave when she wants too and yet we're still getting lots of milk only milking once a day and not yet having taken the calf off at all. We have tentative plans for an eventual milking area but until this cow, I never would have made plans to be able to have a milker on each side. I may never have another cow that requires it, but one never knows these things.(see that rope-like thing on the bottom of her belly going to her udder? That's a vein! I think that is the coolest. Her teats are really small, her udder huge, those are a daughter's hands, and a cat catching milk from the quarter that had a little mastitis and so it being milked to the cats and not in a bucket.)

(pps I actually have not forgotten the dish rags folks, this is just my normal slowness)


Madcap said...

I'm curious, not living in the right countryside for it - when you burn sugar-maple, do you get a hint of maple-syrup in the smoke?

Your picture reminded me of the cows I drove past the other day, new calves at their sides, and legs almost splayed with the size of their udders. Lovely abundance.

Wendy said...

You should add to your chores list the garden. You can let some things slide for a little while, but at some point, if you don't take the time to go out and take care of the garden, you lose the crop ... and once the harvest is in, if you don't take care of it pretty quick, the food will go bad.

My kids know about day-old chicks ... and gardens. It has to get done, because it has to get done or something dies.

Awesome on the firewood! There are some things like that for us - not a liability, but an asset, and something that we can end up using in a different way. It's very cool to have a "possibilities" rather than "limitations" attitude.

Anonymous said...

CG, I admire your abilities and your desire to tread lightly on the land but after reading one of your posts from last winter and now this one here's an idea: turn some of that tree into a load or two of firewood, sell it and purchase a chain saw and a couple accoutrements. You'll be free to continue to choose to use the bow saw but you'll also be free to choose a more time efficient method of clearing the road so that downed trees are never more than just a mild inconvenience. To paraphrase Eleutheros, choice is the best sauce. After a strong blow and with a young one requiring emergency medical treatment, facing downed trees with only a bow saw could be more than just a mild inconvenience.


CG said...

Jake, we've had chainsaws and we don't want them. A bowsaw is not our only option -- we also have sharp cross cut saws, a two man saw, and a sharp ax or two.

And the reasons include that these are all easier, faster, and safer than chainsaws, not to mention cheaper.

What you do not understand is that a chainsaw really does not speed things up. There would be no sooner emergency treatment with a chainsaw then a bowsaw. You'd still have to hook the horse and pull it out of the way . . . oh, unless I needed to come up with enough cash to maintain a diesel tractor too. And a downed firewood tree isn't going to come up with enough cash to buy even a small chainsaw so now we're talking about a whole 'nother lifestyle, one which is cash based, not living based. And like I said, it isn't faster anyway -- that part is an illusion. We've lived it so we know. People can't imagine that but that is their lack of imagination, and experience, and skill.

Another thing that is interesting to me is the concern about emergency medical treatment. I am a person who can think of everything bad that can happen and make contingency plans all around and yet I don't live my life based on how I can get emergency medical treatment in a hurry. You know, if you need the police out here, it will usually take them at least an hour to get here. Despite possible convenience, I don't want to live beside the hospital or the police station or the fire dept. I'll take precautions, but they will be other precautions and sometimes feces happens anyway and there ya are, you handle it. But it would not be best handled with a chainsaw anyway.

CG said...

oh, mc, maple is very good smoking wood, we use it a lot when cooking on the hibachi. It is a maple flavor but not exactly maple syrup flavor if that makes sense.

And garden work is definitely on that chores list of things that get worse, or get lost, if put off too long. Preserving the harvest is even more immediately pressing because a lot of times you can still have food under the weeds but once it rots on your counter . . . .

Also got to thinking about how this green tree was all spring loaded and how a person with a chainsaw could get himself into big trouble quicly by not cutting cautiously enough. Not unlike last winters tangle of evergreens.

Anonymous said...

First thing I thought of is how many accidents there are with chainsaws.

Anonymous said...


Since my name was taken in vain, I should perhaps clarify. A chainsaw does not open up choices, it limits them.

The paradigm you suggest of selling the firewood, purchasing a chainsaw, and thus freeing up some time is the indoctrination of the consumerists culture. It is in place for the benefit of those who want you to convince you that using money to buy gadgets is always more 'efficient'.

Likewise you have accepted as real the notion that in getting someone emergency medical treatment, clearing a road with a chainsaw vs. hand tools would make a critical difference.

All of those are illusions. With my hand tools leaning against a downed maple tree and someone with a chainsaw in the case, the difference between clearing the tree witht the former instead of the latter is a matter of minutes, if that, if all goes well for the chainsaw. Chainsaws balk and foul. If you hit a stone, the edge is gone and it must be resharpened. Chainsaws bind requiring wedges and hammers to free them.

In an emergency with a tree blocking the road, I'd pick up neither crosscut saw nor chainsaw. I'd pick up the child and run to the neighbor's and use their vehicle. The situation requiring a chainsaw is a strawman that in reality never exists.

A direct use economy is always more efficient. Always. It always provides the most choices.

Selling firewood you have in hand in order to buy a chainsaw, and viewing the chainsaw as a choice added to your other choices of hand tools, would be like selling our stored corn and beans and cheese in order to open a restaurant, and viewing that as choice of how we were going to eat.

Wendy said...

I've actually seen two children using a bow saw cut through a small tree in about five minutes.

I would never give a small child a chainsaw to cut a tree, but they can do so easily and safely with a chainsaw.

Wendy said...

I should clarify that by "children", I mean children aged seven and up.

Wendy said...

Ugh! And editing would be a good thing.

I wouldn't give a child a chainsaw, but they can cut trees with a bowsaw.

Anonymous said...


O.K., let me try to clarify my earlier comment by giving some context.

On January 8th CG wrote:

“That much cold starts making things hard. Wood is frozen and sawing frozen wood is, well, imagine using a bread knife saw through frozen steak. When bucking up a big log with only a buck saw while snow’s on the ground, a chainsaw begins to look tempting even to us. …

And here’s what we’d have to give up to have it. Everything. Because to have the chainsaw on the one day it would come in handy, we’d have to live to afford it every other day of the year.”

What I got from those words is that CG thinks that having a chain saw would “come in handy” at certain times and by extrapolation would, in certain circumstances, make cutting wood faster and easier since the chain saw ”begins to look tempting even to us”. Why would it be tempting if it weren’t faster or easier? From these statements, it appeared that the utility of the chain saw was not in question but rather the cost of acquiring and operating the chain saw.

Maybe not where you are, but around here a truck load of cured hardwood firewood goes for $75-$100 in season. So if a couple of loads of firewood were cut and split now and set aside to cure till this winter it could be sold and the proceeds used to purchase a chain saw and some accoutrements; I’ve done it. No, it will not be a brand new Stihl but it will be a good used saw sufficient for “the one day it would come in handy” whether that is from frozen wood or from, as I suggested, an emergency. There might not be enough tree there to cut a couple of loads of wood, you didn’t say how large the tree was, but my point is still that you could take this unexpected asset and put it towards the acquisition of a chain saw; it need not take making a lifestyle change. Got Hickory? Got barbeque restaurants? Heck, you might even find an older person with a nice saw who, no longer being able to handle the saw, would barter it for some firewood. CG, you’re creative and you’re not a purist so I think you can find a reasonable way to afford a chain saw if you want to. However, now that you are stating you don’t want a chain saw it’s a moot point.

As for hitching up the horse or purchasing a diesel tractor, naw, my mini-van and a tow strap did just fine during our last ice storm. And as far as a manual saw being easier and faster, I’ll even give you the first cut but seriously, after several cuts, how are your arms and shoulders feeling? Breathing hard? Still think you’re faster? After an ice storm around here, chances are good that you’re dealing with multiple trees and dozens of cuts. But as I stated earlier, my point is not to argue the utility of the chain saw. Oh, and as for getting in trouble with spring loaded trees, it’s the cut not the tool that gets you into trouble and skill and experience that keeps you safe.

I too don’t live my life based on how quickly I can get emergency services but I do try to plan for contingencies which include the ramifications of the fairly common winter ice storm. Police response around here isn’t as long as what you have there but to me being self-sufficient includes being able (equipped, trained, willing) to defend yourself and your dependents without immediate assistance from the police as well as having a plan for escape if necessary. I have the utmost respect for most law enforcement officers and the job they do but they just can’t be everywhere at once.


Anonymous said...


If you took offense to my referencing a post on your blog, I apologize. Yours being one of my top three favorite blogs, I find an abundance of wisdom in your posts and wish you posted more often. From CG’s post of January 8th I took away a flawed understanding of her opinion of chain saws from which I considered the chain saw being analogous to electricity as mentioned in your post. At the risk of further offense I will paraphrase a section of your post and substitute chainsaw for electricity to try and make my point.

Our household is set up so that it is not dependent on a chain saw at all. Make no mistake, we enjoy our chain saw. We like being able to use it to cut frozen wood or to clear the roads of downed trees in an emergency. But we also are equipped to live without it. Which we have done using our bow saws, crosscut saws, two man saw and axes. Ours is a true choice, it is to use our chainsaw or not as is prudent by the circumstances.

I took from your post that once one could employ a self-sufficient, sustainable method of operation one would then be free to choose to employ other methods even if these new methods bring with them a level of dependence. But it is from that independent base which the freedom of choice is derived.

In the second paragraph of your comment, how would the purchase of a manual two man saw be any different? What about electricity?

I do think in certain circumstances, time is of the essence when it comes to medical attention, a stroke, an acute appendix attack, and internal bleeding come to mind. A single, relatively small tree may not make much of a difference but that might not be the situation.

Yes, chain saws need some maintenance from time to time but with a little preventative maintenance they can run flawlessly. Mostly, the problems I’ve seen are from the user letting the saw sit up for a period of time with fuel still in the carb or by using a bad fuel mix. A couple of extra chains and a spare spark plug are always in my saw box. Any saw, including manual saws can bind, that is just a matter of the skill of the user.

Well in your situation you may have a neighbor within a reasonable distance but you are then dependent on the neighbor being at home, their vehicle being available and their road not being blocked. I’d at least call ahead. And, you’re assuming the road is only blocked near your house and not a mile or two down the road. We have lots of pine lined roads around here that play havoc during ice storms so I don’t think I’ve set up a strawman. Maybe it’s different where you are.

Your last paragraph leaves me scratching my head. If I produce something useful to someone else, whether it be firewood or a musical instrument, and I sell it to them and then take the proceeds and purchase something I can use but do not necessarily need whether that be a chain saw or electricity how is that anything like the analogy you use?


Anonymous said...

Jake, no offense taken at referring to the post, only disappointment that apparently you didn't understand it.

This computer I am using here runs from electricity. No electricity, no computer. There are no substitutes. Likewise my guns operate from gunpowder (of one sort or another) and my truck runs from gasoline. [Don't of course, bother with the French fry oil or home distilled ethanol the silliness of which has been addressed elsewhere].

I can do without electricity, get my news from the library and such. I can do without guns, if I were to choose, and trap the varmints or shoot them with the bow. I can do without the truck and use the horse wagon or walk.

But in each of those cases, I am doing without a whole radical different way of doing things and adopting another.

Not so with the chainsaw. I can already cut wood with hand tools and nearly as fast as you could with a chainsaw. For the skilled person, the difference between managing wood with or without a chainsaw is minor, although the modern gadget mindset persuades most people otherwise.

The notion of a chainsaw being necessary in case a tree blocks the road AND a medical emergency occurs at the same time (odds of which are a billion to one) is very much like the poor fools who swagger about with a pistol on their hip which is so necessary in case they come upon a poisonous snake from which they cannot escape. How many times in your life have you ever heard of someone suffering from a snakebite that would have been thwarted if only the person had been packing (and was a cool enough and expert enough marksman to hit a snake from which they could not otherwise escape). Same is true of the strawman of the tree on the road occurring at the same time as a medical emergency that would require you to drive the patient to the treatment rather than wait on EMS.

And even at that, I'm probably going to get the tree cleared with my ax faster than you are going to with a chainsaw.

I cannot communicate with you by computer without using electricity. Now I might need to do without such communication or want to, and I'd be fine.

But I can do without a chainsaw forever and never make a bit of difference in what I accomplish.

Anonymous said...

"Your last paragraph leaves me scratching my head. If I produce something useful to someone else, whether it be firewood or a musical instrument,.... how is that anything like the analogy you use?"

I can only take from this, Jake, you've never tried to earn money selling firewood. Even with a chainsaw. Around here a cord of seasoned firewood of the best quality sells for about $200 delivered and stacked. It would take about five of those maple trees in question to make a cord.

Can't go into it in detail right here on CG's blog, but there is a great economic advantage in the direct use economy ... cutting the firewood yourself and burning it yourself for heat. As soon as you change something you could have used directly for cash, then use the cash to buy things you need, you've placed yourself at a crippling economic disadvantage. Doubly so, once for each transaction.

So we will cut firewood for our own use to gain that decisive economic advantage, but we will not do it for money, because that would put us at an economic disadvantage and would be foolish.

Oh,I know that through Babylonian eyes it looks as if it is a wash. If the wood from that tree is WORTH $40, then $40 is $40! What's all this 'economic advantage' stuff?

Well, as long as it looks like a wash to you, people will continue to exchange your life to gain their wealth and they will be very happy you do not see the ploy involved.

So,no, it's not the same. Couldn't possibly be more different.

CG said...

I'm glad we're getting to discuss this, but I too despair sometimes. We've had a chainsaw. We probably have relics around here. It is experience with them not being faster or easier (and certainly a lot more dangerous) that led to our true choice to not bother with them anymore.

You see, we've been doing this a long time (20 years on this farm, plus any experiences we had in lives lived before that), and we've done it a lot during that time. So when I say, our experience is that chainsaws are not faster than bowsaws, all things taken into account, and you scoff, well, I do take some offense at that. Because in real life you don't just get to stand there at the tree and go at it, you have to buy them and maintain them and saw with them and pay the medical bills they cause or enjoy the health they produce and everything else. And because I'm speaking from experience. I'll be happy to learn from yours but I've not met many people with more experience with providing for themselves directly than us. I've met some people who are more gung ho about it, more purist, but not people who have actually done it more.

Now, if the chainsaw works for you, great. But I'm "tempted" because that's what "temptation" is, a lie, an illusion, not the real thing.


Anonymous said...

One difference I see is that with electricity, it's nice for lots of different things. But a chainsaw, well, it's pretty much a one-trick pony.

CG said...

and is this just me, or is this like mining previous posts to find something to use against me? I mean, just because I am paranoid does not mean they are not out to get me!

But seriously, in posting I've tried consciously to not just document, say, how to kill and dress a chicken or bake bread or make cheese, but what the life is like, which includes the things that don't necessarily go "right" and sometimes the frustrations or the questioning. You know, it really would be easier to live a more conventional life, and there are times that "easier" might look tempting, but really, I couldn't live with it at all. And I try to document on here all that.

And Jake, I really feel like you are not listening . . . which is fine, no one has to listen to me, but this is my house so to speak.

Anonymous said...

And well, there's another thing I thought of. Even before I came back and read CG's last comment. I may be speaking out of turn here, but what the hell.

The way I see it, the CG's are doing pretty danged okay to say the least. And come on, selling some of their bounty for monetary gain is pretty straight forward. It's not like that's something that just wouldn't occur to them. And frankly, suggesting that they might want to "think about it" is pretty perplexing (read: annoying), especially this far into their game. If you prefer to do things differently, fine; do it your way. I'm sure many people do.

The point is, suggesting things YOU KNOW have already been thought out and decided on is useless. I mean what do you really think the answer's going to be? Now, if you were to suggest that you've tried regular bowsaws, but prefer the Saturnian Hobblegate Water-wedge blades and Bob Hicok handles, then you might just have something more like meaningful exchange rather than petty contention or endless rehashing.

Well, that's my three cents anyway.

Anonymous said...

"You see, we've been doing this a long time (20 years on this farm, plus any experiences we had in lives lived before that), and we've done it a lot during that time."

I do sometimes wonder what people are thinking ....

A household that has heated the house exclusively with wood and done nearly all the cooking with wood for years and years. People who used chainsaws years before that ....

Is the expectation that when we hear a 'why doncha?' that we'd smack ourselves on the forehead and say, "Sell our firewood and buy a chainsaw ... now why didn't we think of that ... all this time and that never occurred to us!"

Anonymous said...

While it does take some skill and conditioning to do well, most people are surprised how, after one demonstration, it really is quite easy to cut wood with hand tools.

Very few people have felled a tree with an ax, or scarcely know why there are two bits on a felling ax. Or have considered the huge amount of wasted motion there is to using a chainsaw.

My question, though would be this: Why stop at a chainsaw? If that tree over the road had to be cut with a chainsaw (a myth within itself), what if the pieces are too big for you to move by hand. In order to be safe, do you not then need a Bobcat? Yet, those things are pretty weak, better make it a bulldozer or backhoe. If you feel unsafe without a chainsaw with which to cut your way out of a predicament, then how can you possibly feel safe without a bulldozer?

Doesn't it stand to reason that if a chainsaw cuts wood more "efficiently" and a roto-tiller prepares the garden more "efficiently", then why stop there? A tractor is surely what you need. Oh, if you insisted on digging the garden with a spade, well then ... but if you also bought a tractor with a 3pt hitch plow and harrow, you'd have a 'choice' ... right?

Sure you can knead bread by hand, but if you had a bread machine .... but wait, following the philosophy we're pursuing, you need one of those industrial Hobart mixers. You know that's got to be easier than kneading by hand ... if you had one of those, you'd have a choice.

So why draw the line at a chainsaw?

Probably because it is the level of hype the sellers can talk most people into without their becoming suspicious.

One Leg Larry said...

I hate chain saws.

CG said...

snort! I think I smell kmoo around here somewhere.