Vermont Baked Beans (because I said so)

Ready to serve

Ok, a bit of a departure here for me, but it is the time of year when baked beans are very popular, at least with me.

My grandmother made baked beans and always brought them to every family gathering. I loved them, and I asked her to teach me how to bake beans. I wanted to make sure the tradition of baked beans would continue in our family.

This is what she taught me (recipe to follow): but here are a few things that you will need but I do think some folks make baked beans in a crock pot – seems like cheating to me, so I will stick with the old fashioned method and tools:

My bean pot and a 2 lb. package of yellow eye beans
The roasting pan or beaner that I use to soak the beans overnight before cooking the next day
The main ingredient – “State of Maine Yellow Eye Beans” (2lbs)

Ok, I am not one of those famous tv celebrity cooks, just a dub in the kitchen, but I can manage and I have a couple of dishes in my resume, baked beans being one of them.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

State of Maine Yellow Eye beans (2 lbs.)

1 cup of molasses

1/2 cup of Vermont maple syrup

1/2 pound of salt pork

1 medium onion

2 tsp of dry mustard

a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper

To start, the night before you plan to cook, soak the 2 lbs. of yellow eye beans in the beaner/roasting pan overnight in water. Make sure you submerge the beans as they will soak up some of the water overnight so I like to have a good inch of water over the beans when I start them soaking.

The next morning after the beans have soaked overnight change the water in the beaner/roasting pan and put the pan on the stove to start the beans par boiling. The beans will be ready when you can take a few in a spoon and blow over them and see the skin on the beans blow back or sort of peel off the bean. Now you are ready to move to the bean pot and get your beans ready to bake.

I start by taking the medium onion, peeled, and then I put it in the bottom of the bean pot. Next, I transfer the drained beans from the beaner/roasting pan to the bean pot.

Now, I take a small mixing bowl and add the maple syrup, molasses, dry mustard, and salt and pepper. I like to use this heavy ceramic glass bowl or a nice pottery bowl would work too. I start some water boiling in a tea kettle on the stove and add some boiling water to my mixture of molasses, maple syrup, dry mustard, and spices in the mixing bowl. This will make the mixture more liquid so I can pour it over the beans waiting in the bean pot.

Now, I take my half pound of salt pork and score the rind with a sharp knife taking care not to cut all the way through the rind. I make a checkerboard pattern of scoring (about 1/2 inch squares) on the rind. I like to choose a leaner piece of salt pork at the store for this – be fussy, it’s ok.

I place the scored piece of salt pork, rind side up on top of the beans in the bean pot. Now, I am ready to add more hot water from the tea kettle to submerge all of the contents in the bean pot. This is important – make sure you add enough water to submerge everything in the bean pot. It will be baking in the oven for about six hours and you may need to add more water later on to keep the beans from boiling dry at the top of the bean pot.

You should now be ready to put your bean pot in the oven and start the beans baking at 300 F. for about six hours. It will be worth the wait, believe me. Your kitchen will fill with the most delicious smells while the beans are baking. Check on the beans after about three hours and every hour after that to make sure they are not boiling dry at the top of the bean pot – add more water if you need to. The last hour of baking I will take the top off the bean pot and this helps them to brown.

Ok, you might like to get some brown bread (comes in a can) to warm and have ready when you serve your beans. Not everyone likes brown bread but I do, especially with lots of butter. Use real butter, not the fake stuff – this is real food here so real butter, ok.

One last thing, my grandmother, by the way, she was French Canadian and my bean pot comes from Canada, cautioned me not to get carried away with the Vermont maple syrup – just the 1/2 cup as in the recipe. She said too much sugar will make the beans mushy so be careful here and stick with the 1/2 cup of maple syrup. You also are getting some sweetness from the molasses.

Alright, I think you will be happy with this recipe. I love these baked beans and I hope you do too.

Take care.

Lost Valley

During the “war” my grandfather bought an old Vermont hill farm in Washington. Gas was being rationed and it took more gas to go to his camp on Joes Pond so the hill farm in Washington was a good option, at least for him, and later, for me too.

This hill farm was soon for us, “the farm,” and going to “the farm” was my greatest joy. The farm was about 600 acres of old fields, antique apple orchards, black berry patches, an old sugar bush, a couple of brooks, several beaver ponds, and lots of just woods. And true to form, being a hill farm, there were ups and downs, big hills and small hills. My dad used to tell me when we were deer hunting, “We are only going to climb this hill once today so bring your lunch and plan on being up there all day.” No problem for me, I loved eating lunch in the woods and I could rummage in the leaves for hours looking for beech nuts to eat. I might has well have been a bear cub or a deer, I was in my element.

There was a hidden valley on the other side of a long ridge. This hidden valley was big, lots of old meadow, some old apple orchards, a brook with beaver dams and beaver ponds down in the middle of the valley, and an old cellar hole with a couple of lilacs planted a long time ago, maybe a touch suggested by a farm wife. We called this valley, “Lost Valley,” and it truly was a valley that time forgot. When I was young, as the summer came to an end, I would walk up an old logging road over the ridge and hide in a clump of scrub brush around a big rock out in the old meadow. My purpose was to watch for deer coming out at dusk and observe them until it got dark and I needed to head back to the house. I was probably about ten when I started doing this and I often did this at the end of every summer so I could get a good idea of the prospects for the coming deer season. I saw some wonderful big bucks , antlers still in velvet coming out into the old meadow with lots of does and yearlings too. I would do this again in a minute.

Finally, when it was time to leave from my hiding place I would try to be very quiet and not disturb the deer in the meadow. I felt guilty spying on them and then my presence would quickly bring the deer to attention as I made my way back to the house. I tried not to do this too frequently as the deer deserved some places and times when they were safe and not being disturbed.

At the far end of the our ridge bordering Lost Valley, there was an old road that went up through a notch between our ridge and the next ridge. The brook that flowed through Lost Valley and the beaver ponds flowed down through this notch and emptied into the Third Branch of the White River on its way to Chelsea along Rte. 110. Both were just brooks at this end – it is no secret I love brooks and the fish that live in them, but that is a story for another time.

Sometimes, I would walk up this old road between the two ridges and hike up to Lost Valley. There were a couple of old plank bridges on the old road where the brook crossed under. You had to be careful and pick your way across the bridges as the planks were mostly rotten. I would try to stay on the part of the bridge supported by a beam underneath. The woods were always cool going up to Lost Valley this way.

This old road led to the long abandoned farm with just a cellar hole and a couple of lilacs to mark its existence. I used to imagine what it was like back at the time when there was a home here and a family. There was also the remains of a foundation for a small barn near the house and apple trees up in back on the hillside. I am not from that time, but I must confess to often thinking that was a time I am comfortable with.

Further up the hillside from the old farmhouse there was a big granite boulder that had a good portion cleaved off with a square face remaining. I asked my dad about this once and he said that during tough times, farmers would “quarry” some field boulders if they could and get them to Barre to sell to the granite sheds in town if the stone was good. My father reminded me that it was the quality of field boulders that pointed my great grandfather to buy the land he would develop into one of Barre’s granite quarries.

I cannot help but admire the grit and hard work my ancestors and others like them had as part of their lives every day. Granite quarries and Vermont hill farms required lots of grit and hard work.

I have tried to paint a picture of “The Farm” and “Lost Valley” in words. I wish I had the pictures to share. The Farm was my version of paradise and I have spent the rest of my life missing it.

Something I Have Noticed About Rural Vermont (and I am a lifelong Vermonter)

We all like and enjoy the pastoral and country images that are brought to mind when we think of rural Vermont. For years, publications like “Vermont Life” and “Yankee Magazine” have depended on all the enjoyment their readers got from the simpler, peaceful, and nostalgic way of life these images have conveyed on their pages.

I gladly admit to having strong desires for a simpler way of life. Most of my adult life has been an attempt to do just that. I like the old ways of doing things. I like working with my hands and avoiding as much as possible the noisy power equipment of today. I recognize I am sacrificing efficiency and convenience with my insistence on working with my hands, but it is my choice. The noise from all of the wiz-bangers is hard to take anyway and I am a Luddite if there ever was one.

My bigger argument is with the disconnect I find in many of the more recent arrivals to rural living. I notice a sense that they have moved to a place where consideration for your neighbors is not part of their view of life in a rural community. Whether they live in a village like mine or miles out on some back road, the attitude they seem to share is that there are no rules, no law out here, and I can do whatever I want. This really gets to be a problem when they cannot distinguish the villages from a location miles out on some back road. The attitude is that anything goes, it’s my land, and there are no laws to say I cannot do whatever I want.

Our villages, like the one I live in, are a cluster of homes, often a church, a post office, and sometimes a general store. The homes are close together just like any neighborhood you would find in a bigger town or city in Vermont. We are, in fact, a neighborhood.

When we moved over to my village of West Topsham 37 years ago this past September 1st, we were greeted by our new neighbors and welcomed. We both thought what a wonderful place this will be to call our forever home and raise our family. Our new neighbors became good friends over the years. They were all part of our community and we appreciated and helped each other when there was a need. We were a community and all of the caring about each other was part of living here.

Something has changed in the last few years. Many of our old neighbors have passed. We miss them. But there is a bigger change to our way of life than just losing our neighbors. The bigger change is the disappearance of a sense of community and consideration for each other. I think this is a sign of a culture that is hurting and breaking down.

Even in a rural community in Vermont, we have villages and neighborhoods. Moving to “the country” is not all about living on some back road with no one to be impacted or affected by your actions, especially if your new location is a village. Many of our town governments have not caught up with this either and tend to be examples of some sort of libertarian thinking that does not want to distinguish between the village and some location five miles out on a back road.

This last night, a soon to be new neighbor was burning the debris from a house and structure he has been tearing down on his new land. We are all glad to see the place cleaned up and taken care of. We woke up this morning to our home being filled with smoke. I could see smoke rolling across our yard from the debris burn next door. I went up there to find a fire unattended and burning with a piece of construction equipment, an excavator with a blade, parked tight to the fire. The equipment was in jeopardy of being burned as well as whatever the fire decided to burn next. There was no one there.

I called 911 and the local fire department responded. It was evident that along with old boards, vinyl siding was also being burned and other debris from the demolition of the structure. It is no secret that some of this may be toxic.

The fire department arrived and put out the fire. I went up to talk to the owner when he showed up to let him know I was the one who called 911. As I expected, I am the bad guy now. I was told by the owner, “I can do whatever I want on my own land.” I could see he wanted to fight and I started to walk away. This infuriated him more. He told me to stay off of his land (gladly I will except when he is trying to burn us all down).

My point for writing this piece is in the last comment from my new neighbor, “I can do whatever I want on my own land.” Isn’t this lack of consideration what is driving and hurting our society and culture all over?

Some of us live in villages and towns. We are not all out on some back road and it is not ok to be a bad neighbor.

The absence of consideration for each other is what I am noticing is a growing part of rural life as well as life in our bigger communities. I guess I will have to accept being the bad guy when I smell smoke.

More of a local issue, but maybe bigger – atvs

Fair warning: I have submitted this piece to the “Times-Argus”

Something not considered in the atv story – the homeowner

This piece will create a pile of opposition, but I am sorry, it needs to be said. Just like there are good motorists and bad motorists, there are also good atv users and bad ones. The difference is we have police protection and enforcement of highway laws and rules of the road when we get in our vehicles and head down the road. There is not much, if any of this kind of enforcement and protection when atv users are on public roads and highways, especially in our more rural towns where the atv use is very popular. It is legal for an underage unlicensed atv operator to be driving an atv as a sole operator. There is supposed to be an adult on a nearby machine accompanying the youth operator but the key word here is “supposed.” It is called a recreation, but I think that is a stretch as most of the riding is in done on town roads and is very sedentary. I am going to talk more about this and other problems with the atv explosion here in Vermont.

There is a critical piece in any town contemplating allowing atvs and other recreational machines the use of town roads and highways. The critical piece is the ability to enforce laws and provide police protection to the residents because it is going to be needed. I reached out to the VTRANS Secretary, Joe Flynn last year and his advice was our town should have some sort of police enforcement and protection with the growing use of town roads by the atv community. The Town of Topsham has no interest in providing this to its residents. This is not my opinion. I was told this by a select man last year. His statement when asked if the town would contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. for policing of our roads and town, “…then we would all be getting ticketed for whatever and we do not want that in our town.” Our only enforcement of proper and legal atv or dirt bike use is a game warden. This poor game warden is stretched mighty thin as you can imagine. The bigger issue is what does this say about the Town of Topsham? It is not a compliment for sure.

We moved to Topsham from Barre 37 years ago this past September 1st. We knew we were losing services like water, sewer, police, a town library (although the Corinth library is wonderful), a full-time fire department, etc. We thought we were trading all of these lost services for peace and quiet and the pleasure of enjoying our home in a rural setting.

For most of the 30 years our trade was as we originally intended, but all has changed in the last few years with the advent of atvs and now dirt bikes. Without any means of enforcement, a town is really giving away the property rights of home owners to the the users of atvs and dirt bikes. To add insult to injuy, the local atv club is a member of the state atv organization, VASA, which opens up our town roads to the entire state atv population as our own roads have become merged with the VASA state trail system.  We have experienced weekends when we were seeing more than 300 atvs go past our house in a single day, noise, dust, and the whole shooting match included.

Williamstown recently took back the use of most of the town roads as the select board stated the noise and dust created was not fair to the residents. The Williamstown Select Boad was also quoted as saying, “…The atv users need to start using off road trails as their travel lanes like the snowmobile users have done for years and not rely on town roads.”

Barre Town has never granted use of the town roads to atvs and this was recently reported in the “Times Argus.” The Town of Topsham cannot see this at all. Home owners and our rights are lost in the bargain.

I am very upset with the legislation that made this all possible. Our legislature never considered home owners and residences in this bargain they set up with the atv community. My village of West Topsham and the piece of Vermont Rte. 25 that passes through our village have become a major trail artery. Our town is an atv magnet and we get many atv users coming from outside towns and areas to use our town roads and the State Highway. I have counted more than 300 atvs riding past our home in the village on a single day. We begged our selectboard for some help last year and after several meetings, finally got the selectboard to give the village a 9:00 pm curfew for atv use. Good luck with that as again, there is no ability to enforce any regulation. 

I believe strongly that a home should have a much higher priority than the use of a toy that is not essential transportation. The noise level put out by the atvs far exceeds what would be legal on a car. The car would never pass inspection with an exhaust system producing the level of decibles that most of the atvs produce. What I can find out about the legislation is that the justification for it was to support the business community of atv dealers and general stores selling gas and beer. Sorry, but both gas and beer seem to be essential fuels for this sport. You can go on line and find lots and lots of pictures of partying right here in central Vermont that support my statement.

I wlll say the local atv club and Chris Putney, its president, have given us much more help with the problems of atv use and the conflict with residences and home owners than our Town of Topsham selectmen have. The impression I have gotten from our Select Board is one of casual dismissal like we are just some pests taking up their time. I was told, “Face it, you live in an atv town,” by one of the selectmen.

Shame on the State of Vermont and the Town of Topsham for their little regard for the taxpayer/home owner. They want our taxes but it seems that the relationship is very one sided. My wife and I worked all our lives to buy and pay for our home and keep it up. We dreamed of the day when we could retire and find some peace and enjoy the home we have  – such a disappointment is what we got instead. Thanks (not) to the State of Vermont and The Town of Topsham.

Edward W. Pirie

West Topsham, Vermont

No, We Are Not Exceptional -spoiler alert – (I am bitching about our health care insurance system)

Yesterday, I spent over 3 hours (closer to 4 hours than 3) on the phone trying to dig out of a health insurance debacle.

This tragedy started on Sunday when I went to pick up my wife’s prescriptions at the Walmart Pharmacy. The pharmacy tech asked me if I was prepared to pay over $300.00 for the scripts. I said, “No, I filled these same scripts in June and my out-of-pocket cost was just over $25.00.” She said, “Well, you are being charged for your deductible and some copays.” I said, “We would have paid the deductible at the beginning of the year as the Blue Cross Prescription Drug Plan has a calendar year and we get hit with the deductible in January the first time I fill scripts. “She said, “Well, maybe you fell into the donut hole.” I said, “No, I set up my wife’s insurance supplements so we would not have to deal with the donut hole.” She said (I know, a lot of “he said, she saids) Well, you had better call the insurance company on Monday and we are having problems with people’s insurance numbers changing.” I went out to the car and brought in Susan’s insurance cards to make sure they had the right numbers and they did.

Ok, my first call on Monday was back to the Walmart Pharmacy to ask them to run the scripts again and see if the numbers/costs came out any different – they did not. I then called the number on the back of the Blue MedicareRx (PDP) card for customer service (by the way, this number is answered out in Colorado, not in Vermont).

After lots of digging on the Colorado end of the phone (a company called CVS Caremark that processes the claims for the Vermont Blue MedicareRx (PDP) plan subscribers) I found out that all of my wife’s scripts had been going to the wrong claims processor for the last 3+ years. I was told that CVS Caremark has not had a prescription claim on my wife’s insurance since May of 2018. My wife has had this insurance for almost 6 years. I have no idea if any of the claims were processed correctly or what is going to come out of all of this. For some unexplained reason, this past July CVS Caremark got re-involved in my wife’s insurance. CVS Caremark is sending this problem to their problem research team and I was told it may take over 30 days to dig all of this out as there is over 3+ years of incorrect claims submission that they know nothing about.

I asked CVS Caremark where and to whom should I be pointing fingers at. They were reluctant to answer but when I insisted on being passed up the line to some level of supervision, I was told that Walmart is to blame.

Ok, it seems odd also that our Vermont Blue Cross would not have picked up on this??? I don’t get it. Lots of finger pointing seems to be ok here.

Alright, now the more painful part, I have to pay the deductible already paid once this year AGAIN! Why? Because CVS Caremark was not the recipient of my earlier payment of the deductible. I paid copays that I should not have been charged also. I was told that “eventually” when they dig all of this out I might be reimbursed for all of this – meanwhile, just eat it.

You know, I will be 70 years old this November. I still have enough wits and stamina to try to do combat with these insurance companies, but I worry about the day that will come when I am not up to it. How many others have already reached that day? We did nothing wrong and yet we will pay the penalty for their malfeasance. And why is Vermont Blue Cross contracting out the processing of these insurance claims? It seems like some Vermonters could have had some good jobs if this was done right here where the insurance is sold and bought.

I am exhausted once again from all of this. My last call with CVS Caremark ended last night (our time) at 7:00 pm. I know on Tuesday I have to get back on the phone with the Walmart Pharmacy and also with Vermont Blue Cross. I am not happy as you can tell and I will be all over some folks like ugly on an ape. I mean it – we just went through a different version of the same fight last month getting my wife her new insulin pump.

Over my adult life, I have waisted days, yes days, fighting with health insurance companies. This goes with the territory when your spouse has a chronic health care problem (Type 1 Diabetes). What has helped me over and over is taking good notes in my conversations with the insurance companies and insisting that the calls be recorded. More than once I have directed the insurance rep to refer back to a prior call/conversation and listen to what they told me then. At one time, the Vice President of Vermont Blue Cross wanted me to call her directly to get problems fixed. I am just tired of all of this. I don’t think it works like this in other developed countries with health care. Too many people are trying to make a profit off our health care. It makes it more expensive and nobody wants to pay if they can avoid paying.

Sorry for the rant – I am just tired and I know I have another day of fighting ahead of me. So, don’t give me that horseshit about America being “exceptional.” We are far from exceptional – not even close and losing ground all the time. (sorry for the “horseshit” language but it fits)

Pointing Out Some Hypocrisy

I noticed that the state of Louisiana has issued evacuation orders to its citizens in the path of incoming Hurricane Ida. These orders are being made to protect the citizens of Louisiana and provide for public safety. This can easily be described as an order that restricts or takes away individual rights.

Historically, states in the path of direct hits by hurricanes have issued this kind of public safety order, and yes, they restrict individual rights when they do this in the name of the common good. By the way, Louisiana has about a 40% rate of vaccination and its health care system is on the verge of collapse. As a nation we are now over 1000 Covid deaths per day. We are back to the horrible numbers of the worst period of the pandemic.

Ok, what is the difference between ordering vaccinations in the name of the common good and for the safety of the public and issuing evacuation orders for citizens in the path of an incoming hurricane? It seems there is a huge contradiction here about a state being able to restrict individual rights in the name of public safety and the common good. Louisiana just torpedoed the argument made by so many of the states in the South. This exposes the pure partisanship and politics of states like Florida, Texas, and other southern states refusing to require vaccinations, masks, and other means of protecting the public.

It is not hard to see through this hypocrisy. I am tired of the South and southern politicians. They can all go to hell in a hand basket. Maybe they can get a job in hell handing out masks to the other residents.

Riding with Paul Revere and Such…

All of us would like to think we can return to some sort of a pre pandemic normal. I am not so sure we can – just yet.

I have been to at least one social event this summer where my suspicions of many attending not being vaccinated proved to be correct. So all of us were made part of the non-vaccinated bubble of connections and social interactions whether we wanted to or not. The choice was not to stay at the event and we exercised our choice and left.

For many, not getting vaccinated seems to be like donning the cloak of extreme patriotism. For them, it seems to be synonymous with having rode with Paul Revere, or having been there when the tea was dumped in Boston Harbor. I don’t get this, but the choice to not be vaccinated for many seems to be some exercise of patriotism and faith as well. Some churches have made their flocks proud for refusing to get vaccinated – the trust in the Lord thing and society be damned.

Well, I think there is something of equal value and it is the common good. When we choose to live in communities and leave the caves of hermits we are part of a community of fellow humans. We meet and provide for the well being of our communities and provide schools, roads, hospitals, libraries, fire departments, police forces and try to meet the needs of our communities. We do all this in the name of the common good.

Like so much that is dividing us today, the concept of the common good has been a victim of hyper partisanship.

I am old enough to remember how thrilled we all were when the polio vaccine came out. I remember society shedding a fear that we were constantly reminded of being real and genuine as we saw many in our communities suffer from the devastation of polio. I had classmates that wore braces every day so they could walk. I knew folks confined to wheel chairs for the remainders of their lives, and of course, President Roosevelt was a reminder of the reality of polio as a ruthless disease.

We have all seen the devastation to our communities and around the world this pandemic has brought. We have seen how our health care providers and workers have burned themselves beyond total exhaustion and some have paid with their lives trying to give us care, yet some deny the pandemic as real and refuse vaccination. They defend their choices through their faiths and some sort of false patriotism promoted by a bad president and many others.

I get tired of all this. I get tired of the divisiveness, and I get most tired of the lack of care for the common good. I get tired of the willingness to throw our communities under the bus.

I wish I could say I see things getting better, but I don’t.

A Man At Peace With His World (me and power tools)

This is a hard post to write, not because it is dripping in some sort of partisanship, but because it is about me and the stage of life I am now in.

For those of you that know me, you know my age is 69 and I will be 70 this November. I am far past the spring and summer of my life. I might have a tenuous grip on late fall, but in reality, I know I am kind of staring down the winter of my life. A long winter, who knows, only God can answer that question, but, and this is a big “but,” I have my suspicions.

I have noticed lots of little changes in the last few years, I drop things, especially from my left hand, my fine motor skills are not quite what they used to be, and sometimes my reaction speed is a little slower than it used to be. The dropping things drives me nuts and I sometimes have a problem with my hands not being quite where I thought they were so I knock things over and bump into things. When visiting elderly relatives in a nursing home, I used to notice some bruising on their hands – now, I think I know how those bruises get there as I am sporting some of my own.

The reaction speed problem scares me some – this is all about driving and operating a motor vehicle. I am not sure if the message from my brain to my feet to operate the brake is just getting there more slowly or what. To compensate, I drive slower and in doing so, I am annoying the world. So many cars pass me when I am on the road. The odd thing is I am usually going the speed limit or just a little less. I am traveling at a comfortable speed, but the world is passing me by. Oh well.

I mow my lawn using a tractor and I am ok with this. At least for now, I can sit on the tractor and not fall off while I am mowing. The same goes for snow blowing the driveway as I use the tractor for this in the winter. I do pick up a snow shovel, probably more than I should for my age, but there is a certain comfort in the rhythm of shoveling snow, and it maintains the quiet. I crave quiet now days and will do almost anything for peace and quiet, even if it means more work for me.

Last summer I had some downed wood to cut up, not big trees, but some good sized limbs off a couple of the maple trees. I never went for the chain saw, but used a hand buck saw to cut up all this wood. I like the quiet and the idea that it was me that was powering the saw, not an engine. And also, I don’t quite trust myself with the chainsaw anymore.

I have kind of come to some peace with the weed wacker. It didn’t want to start last summer. Some sort of a problem with me leaving fuel in the little gas tank all winter – oh, another thing to try to remember at the end of the season – get the fuel out of the tank and put in some winter stuff that is supposed to keep the carburetor from gumming up.

Well, I really didn’t miss the weed wacker last summer and I am glad my friend Joe had it most of the summer while he tinkered with it and then eventually, he ordered and put on a new carburetor. In the meantime, I did my clipping with my old grass clippers and I enjoyed it. My wife thinks I am silly when she sees me using the hand clippers. I have tried to explain to her where I am with all of this but she sees me forsaking the speed and convenience of the weed wacker. I am forsaking the noise and the fumes I breathe in and lugging the darn thing all over the yard. Oh well, some arguments are meant to never be settled. I never liked weed wackers anyway. I am not adverse to using a scythe when I need to and I have a couple snaths and scythe blades hanging up in the barn if the mood strikes me.

I have set up my garden in raised beds and I can broadfork the beds or even use a garden fork to lightly work the soil. I have added lots of compost to these beds and the soil is nice and not compacted. The soil turns easily with very little effort. From what I have read, I am actually doing the soil a favor by not getting too violent with it and using a tiller on my tractor or a roto tiller. I am sure the world looks at me and thinks, he is making this job harder by not using power tools or his tractor. Well, I actually thought about this ahead of time in the design of my raised beds and the way I built up the soil. No, I will never have a truck garden this way, but I am not trying to be a commercial grower, just a man at peace with his world.

So, you will see me reach for a hand tool when I start some task, maybe a hammer, maybe a shovel, a rake, or whatever. I am being deliberate here. I am a man at peace with my world – (and I know my limitations). And, I am probably a Luddite at heart.

Take care, that’s what I am trying to do.

What I Think About Where We Are At This Time With The Pandemic

To dispel the idea that a large part of the labor force is choosing to sit at home and live the good life on unemployment:

A significant number of Americans in the age 50 and older group chose to retire since the beginning of the Pandemic; for many, the choice is having some quality time in their lives over working until their last breath; this group is no longer in the work force.

Many young families are desperate for day care for their young children. Without day care and preschools, many of these families are reordering their lives so one of the parents can stay home to take care of children.

Wages are still low although the Pandemic and the resulting labor force reduction has put labor in a much better bargaining position for better wages and benefits. If you think wages were great when the Pandemic started, keep in mind it only took about 3-4 weeks for most of the country to go broke and exhaust their resources. There are huge backlogs of potential evictions and foreclosures on hold right now. Getting behind on rents and mortgages was never a predicament Americans were wishing for or hoping to have happen.

Women in the work force were hit the hardest by the Pandemic. Again, for all the reasons I have cited above, it has been hard for women to return to the workforce. Also, for the first time, they can command better wages and benefits. This is especially true in the hospitality and food services industries. Also, many schools are still in some sort of a hybrid remote/in person learning model. Like it or not, our schools also perform a huge day care function for families. It seems like the availability of day care and preschool will be big challenges to the restoration of our workforce. I know of many young families that are trying and have figured out how to reorder their finances so one parent can stay home with their children.

Americans are not the vast lazy bunch as some would like you to believe. This is simply not true. I can think of some equally poor generalizations to make about the more affluent in this country, but that will not help anyone either.

I always said, even when some did not want to hear it, that the other end of the tunnel in this Pandemic would not be the same as the end we entered the Pandemic from. Things will not be the same. We will have to find solutions to problems and compromises that work. We are a good people and we can do this if we put our minds and hearts to the work ahead.

Our Gun Culture

And yes, we do have a gun culture.

I grew up in Vermont and my family were hunters. The annual hunting seasons were looked forward to every year. It was another time for cousins and relatives to get together and enjoy each other’s company. For us younger cousins, it was more time with our best friends that also happened to be our cousins. Family was like that. Most of our socializing was with cousins and relatives. I could look around in my classroom at school and always see a couple of cousins.

That point in time where us younger folks graduated to carrying a real rifle or shotgun in the woods and uplands was a mile marker in our lives. Often, the firearm was handed down from one generation to the next. Firearm safety was drilled into us long before we carried a real firearm. It seemed the age most of us graduated to a real deer rifle or bird gun was about 12 years of age. And, at least in our family, it was not about killing some game. The younger hunters all wanted to get their first deer, the older hunters seemed to be less serious about the kill and more appreciative of the time together. I swear the hunt was more just an excuse to be together with the people you loved. That time when we started carrying a real firearm represented a time when us younger cousins were officially part of the gathering afield. And, there were the stories, the stories from past years and the current year too. The stories were often as good as the hunt was. We all got to know the punch lines on the old stories and these would be loudly contributed by the chorus of listeners. There was a great oral tradition that was part of these family hunts.

After the hunting seasons were over, the rifles and shotguns were carefully cleaned, oiled, and put back in some gun cabinet where they were proudly displayed. I say “displayed” because these rifles and shotguns were beautiful examples of the American gunmaker’s craft. They represented the fine skills of the craftsmen of Winchester, Remington, Browning, and Marlin firearms. Later, Ruger would join the group of great American gun manufacturers. All of us awaited anxiously the new catalogs from the gun manufacturers displaying their latest offerings each year and something new we would be proud to carry in the woods of Vermont.

These were sporting arms and the culture they were part of was a sporting culture. The wood on these guns was beautifully checkered and the more expensive guns had fancy and skillful engravings on the metal. They were utilitarian and beautifully made at the same time.

Now, the difference between then and today. We were not very conscious of the 2nd Amendment, and probably, in all honesty, not conscious at all. Yes, sometimes a gun was used in a robbery, but the use of guns to commit crime was not that prevalent in the Vermont I grew up in. Where guns were used in crime, we usually thought of the gangster days of Prohibition and then the more recent Mafia crime families in the big cities.

I just do not think we really had much of a gun culture then. The frontiers of this country were settled, the country had grown to 50 states and the continental United States was pretty complete and settled. The days of the Wild West and the Indian Wars were something we saw Hollywood give us on television and in the theaters, but these were portrayals of a time long past for most of us. Our battles were in far off places like Vietnam and later the Mideast Wars.

But something changed – and it is hard to understand, but the change came, and with it a gun culture we didn’t use to have. We became much more sensitive to our 2nd Amendment rights. Some of this resulted with the handgun and “Saturday Night Special” laws that grew out of a country that turned to assassination of our leaders in the turmoil of the late 20th century. We also developed a drug culture and a gun violence that seemed to be part of the illegal drug trade. Guns grew the power of those that needed to project more power, usually for the purpose of committing crime or to defend against some imaginary enemy or threat.

The growing concentrations of poverty in parts of our country also have been places of higher levels of crime and gun violence. The market for high quality sporting arms was gradually replaced by a market for weapons of war, military style firearms designed to kill people. The gun manufacturers saw the sales of these military type weapons explode and they used their influence and lobbying efforts to promote this new gun culture and sensitivity to the 2nd Amendment. Now, we see assault style weapons as the guns used in gun violence all around the country. And, we see a culture very protective of the right to have and use these arms. The 2nd Amendment is now a bigger part of our consciousness than since the Amendment was adopted at part of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Today, we view the 2nd Amendment politically as a weapon in urban warfare. It is how we arm ourselves against ourselves. This is the gun culture we now have. We kill each other with the guns we fight to buy and own so we can be ready for urban warfare. You heard this on the lips of those that attacked the Capitol on January 6th. They are ready for armed revolt and even invite it.

I hardly recognize us anymore, and I thank God for every day that I live in Vermont, a state that always seems to stay out of what is not so good about us, a state that usually has one foot in the past, and for good reasons.