Country Living Series

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What if they don't listen?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a YouTube documentary based on Everett S. Allen's 1976 book "A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane."

Largely forgotten now, the 1938 hurricane is "estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at US$306 million ($4.7 billion in 2016)." This tragic event was one of the most damaging hurricanes prior to Katrina, and the book's author was a young reporter, literally on his first day on the job with the New Bedford Standard-Times and wondering what his first story would be. Despite the slightly ridiculous overly-dramatic narration, the documentary --which was made in 1988 -- is fascinating.

It's worth noting one of the reasons the hurricane was so devastating was the lack of early warning system. It struck almost literally from a clear blue sky, and within hours hundreds of people were dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

Remember that point: no early warning system.

What struck me most in this 1988 documentary was an interview with a weatherman named Bruce Schwoegler with WBZ-TV (at about minute 42:00 in the documentary). He makes mention of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, which at the time was described as the "storm of the century" by the media.

Armed with the best technology 1988 had to offer, Mr. Schwoegler says:
The hurricane of 1938 is extremely important because it should have taught us lessons, and it didn't. Some of those lessons involve the media. I've got all the bells and whistles here -- radar, satellite pictures, computers -- and I'm going to be conveying the very latest information on any major storm that comes our way to the public, directly, immediately. That's my job. However ... what if they don't listen? What if, because of scares from the media in the past -- storm of the century! Gloria, heading toward New England! -- what if such scares have created callouses? 'Hey I'm tough, I've lived through Gloria, I can handle this one!' -- or another callous: 'Hey, those weathermen, they're gonna blow it again, I'm gonna keep that house on the south coast here for another week, I'm not leaving' -- what if that happens?

In spite of all the modern technology that I've got here, all the latest knowledge that I'm pouring forth on the tube -- what if they don't buy it because of all this 'Boy who cried wolf' in the past? If that's the case, in spite of all this modern technology, we're going to have a major catastrophe on our hands.

We have more people living along the coast. We have more infrastructure developed along the coast -- real estate, condos, three feet above sea level. What does it mean when a big hurricane like the storm of '38 hits that coastal zone? ... A lot of people just don't understand the tremendous force in nature. ... And in spite of me telling them that it's coming our way, they're going to be out surfing. Not realizing they're going to be blown away, and the water is going to rise 20 feet in the storm surge, and that all their escape routes are going to be cut off. And all this [early warning system] has to be done well ahead of time because if it isn't, they're not going to get out if the waters continue to rise.

So we're facing a very delicate situation. A catastrophic situation. If and when we get another hurricane of 1938 -- and you can bet that we're going to get another one, sometime, who knows when -- you can bet that it's going to be one of the biggest stories, not only of that year, but of the decade and perhaps even the century.
What Mr. Schwoegler is referring to is commonly called the Normalcy Bias, sometimes termed the "It can't happen to me" syndrome.

In a blog post, "Self sufficient man" Tim Young discusses what he calls the "deadly grip" of the normalcy bias:
Normalcy bias is simply the belief that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as it is today, and it has a firm grip on our psyche. When presented with sudden change, unprepared people seize up and the normalcy bias renders them unable to cope. As you’ll see, at no time is this truer than when their lives are at stake, for normalcy bias gets people killed.

I believe it is also the reason why so many people fail to prepare for disasters and life-changing events. ...

[T]he barrage of so many doomsday predictions paralyzes the majority of people. Rather than taking steps to prepare, they simply ignore the threats, essentially burying their heads in the sand. ...

The problem is that “most people go their entire lives without a disaster,” according to Michael Lindell, a professor at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. “So, the most reasonable reaction when something bad happens is to say, this can’t possibly be happening to me.”

We have every imaginable early warning system clanging bells at us regarding the economy and the dangers our nation faces ... and yet people can't even spare the money for a bag of extra beans for their pantry. At what point do we give up trying to warn them?

Take a look at this sobering article on how the middle class in Venezuela is liquidating their life savings just to buy a bit of food to put aside. Remember, Venezuela is currently experiencing 700 percent inflation.

Referencing a young couple named Tebie Gonzalez and Ramiro Ramirez, the article notes, "[W]hen the Venezuelan government opened the long-closed border with Colombia this weekend, the couple decided to drain what remained of the savings they put away before the country spun into economic crisis and stock up on food. They left their two young sons with relatives and joined more than 100,000 other Venezuelans trudging across what Colombian officials are calling a "humanitarian corridor" to buy as many basic goods as possible. 'This is money we had been saving for an emergency, and this is an emergency,' Ramirez said. 'It's scary to spend it, but we're finding less food each day and we need to prepare for what's coming.'"

But of course, this could never happen here, right?

Recently ZeroHedge posted an article entitled "If you can't touch it, you don't own it." Quoting from the article:
Presently, the UK, EU, US, et al, have created a level of debt that exceeds anything the world has ever seen. Historically, extreme debt always ends in an economic collapse. The odoriferous effluvium hasn’t yet hit the fan, but we’re not far off from that eventuality. Therefore, wherever you live and invest, a spike such as the one presently occurring in the UK could result in you being refused redemption. Should there then be a concurrent drop in the market that serves to gut the fund’s investments, you can expect to sit by and watch as the fund heads south, but be unable to exit the fund.

As stated above, excessive debt results in an economic collapse, which results in a market crash. It’s a time-tested scenario and the last really big one began in 1929, but the present level of debt is far higher than in 1929, so we can anticipate a far bigger crash this time around.

But the wise investor will, of course diversify, assuring him that, if one investment fails, another will save him. Let’s look at some of the most prominent ones and consider how they might fare, at a time when the economy is teetering in the edge.

The article concludes by advising, "This evening, take account of all your deposits and investments and determine what percentage of them you do truly own. If you decide that that percentage is too low for you to accept, you may wish to implement some changes... before others do it for you."

There's only so much emergency responders and early-warning people can do. After that, it's up to individuals to take personal responsibility for their health and safety.

Just sayin', folks.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Hi! I'm Rat Fink Barbie!"

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Hi! I'm Rat Fink Barbie!"

Another new avian visitor

I was weeding the corn the other morning when I heard a raucus bird call, and a showy creature landed on the post right near me, not 20 feet away. Unfortunately by the time I reached for my camera, it had flown to a post across the pond, which is a shame because otherwise I could have photographed its very pinfeathers.

At any rate, I was utterly entirely baffled by what this new bird might be.

I noticed it was able to ruffle its crest. It was showy and lovely.

By this point all you avian experts are shouting, "It's a belted kingfisher, you dufous!" And you'd be right. But despite years of working as a field biologist, I'd only seen this species once, from a distance, as it dove for fish. Never up close.

So it was quite a thrill to consult my bird book and confirm its identity.

The description points out the rusty second band on females. I had a brain fart when I first put up this blog post and thought they meant an additional rusty band (see photo at very bottom), but as it turns out what I saw was a female.

The bird hung out around our pond for a few minutes before taking off. Sadly I doubt I'll see many more since we don't have any fish in our pond. No doubt she'll be off to greener pastures, or at least bluer waters. Either way, I'm glad I had the camera on me when she flew close.

Update: Here's a photo off Google images showing a male and female. Yep, ours was a female.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cherry purée

After netting our little cherry bushes a couple weeks ago... was time to draw back the veil...

...and pick some cherries.

This is the first year we've had cherries from these bushes. The fruit was beautiful, but I was disappointed by the taste. These are sour cherries but with a high sugar content, and I was expecting, I dunno, sweet cherries, I guess.

Nevertheless I picked the first crop and re-veiled the bushes until the rest should ripen. I got a solid bowl-full.

Next I had to figure out how to stone them. I don't have a cherry stoner (though I'll probably get one in the future), and a quick internet search revealed a chopstick would work in a pinch. And so it did, though it was laborious.

Not great, but adequate for my immediate needs.

However it was messy messy messy. Protecting clothes (apron) is vital.

Tossing the pits into a large bowl splattered cherry juice everywhere, and poking the pits out of the cherries splattered more juice. Trust me: apron, old shirt, anything.

Next step, the food strainer. I first used this tool last year when straining tomatoes, and it worked beautifully. The instructions specifically state it's necessary to remove the stones before puréeing cherries, hence the chopstick option.

I didn't have many cherries, so this step didn't take long. It did splatter some more, though. I tell ya, don't have anything nearby you don't want stained when processing cherries.

I ended up with a bit over a pint of purrée, so I put it in the fridge until the rest of the cherries were ripe. A few days later I picked the remaining fruit, unnetted the now-bare cherry bushes, and puréed the final (tiny) crop.

Final haul for our first year of harvesting cherries: two pints:

These I labeled and put in the freezer until I have enough fruits to combine into a canning session.

I started out being disappointed by the sourness of the cherries, but after puréeing them I've changed my mind. Sure, they're not the best for fresh eating, but the purée is absolutely phenomenal and the smell is divine. Sweetened just a bit, the purée can used for sauce (ice cream, anyone?) or juice, and it's loaded with nutrients. So, no complaints.

That said, we did some research and found a sweet cherry bush we'll order next year, and give that a try. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

By the way, this was a day's haul last week: last of the raspberries, half of the cherries, and the blueberry bushes are just starting to peak.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

First death, then life

After our week's grim tally of lost animals, we gained one. Yesterday our last calf of the season was born.

Early in the morning, I noticed a lot of interest along the fenceline by some of the herd.

Following their line of sight, I saw a cow off by herself in the deep grass of the neighboring pond property. A solitary cow usually means one thing: birth.

So I walked down and sure enough, saw Amy (Matilda's adult calf) and a newborn.

Amy's first calf was born breech last year, and had a shaky start; so I was happy her second birth went uneventfully.

Don had some commitments in the early morning, so we didn't have a chance to fetch the calf until noon. We strapped the faithful calf cage onto the tractor tires and took off.

Incidentally, this calf cage has been an absolute God-send. It's worked beautifully at helping us fetch back every calf born at a distance this year.

By this point, Amy and the baby had moved to a much more distant point. We left the tractor at the gate to the property and scouted them out first, then I waited with Amy while Don walked back and brought in the tractor.

He parked about 100 feet away from Amy and the new baby, and I walked over and gently scooped up the calf. I staggered back to the tractor, gasping at the calf's weight. "I can't ---" I wheezed, "--believe -- someone -- thinks -- carrying -- a calf -- is an easy -- thing to do," I panted, referencing an earlier comment someone made last May about how hard could it be to carry a calf any distance? I'm a strong woman and can hoist 75-lb. sacks of chicken feed on my shoulder without a problem. I don't know what it is about calves, maybe the awkward way they have to be held, but carrying a 35-lb. calf against my chest for any distance is absolutely devastatingly difficult. And this doesn't count additional problems such as rough ground and a hormonally-deranged mama dogging my heels.

Anyway, I gently laid the calf in the box and took a peek under the legs. "It's a boy!" I announced. That brings us up to 5 bull calves and 2 heifers born this summer.

I climbed on board the tractor and we slowly rolled away, heading for the nearest gate.

Meanwhile, Amy milled around in some distress, trying to figure out where her baby was. Even though she watched me put the calf in the cage, the moment we close the lid the baby becomes "invisible" to the mama. No one ever claimed cows are bred for brains.

By this point the rest of the herd had caught up with us and were bellowing with excitement. We left by a different direction (to take the road) but we were confident the herd would move up to the gate by the house -- which, in fact, they did.

Here we are, driving toward the house.

Once in awhile the baby would peek through the slats of the cage, curious what was happening to him.

Sure enough, the cows went streaming up toward the house...

...including Amy.

We looped the tractor and cage around to the gate where the herd was waiting. The calf was very vocal, so in moments Amy had crowded close to the gate, drawn by the baby's bleats. It was a simple matter to scoot her through the gate. After this it took just a few minutes to put her and the baby into the barn.

She wasn't too pleased with being penned up, but we need to keep the baby close so we can de-nut-ify him in a few days. By the way, we named him "Armour." As in meat.

Amy is a good mama, very attentive.

As with all babies, Armour is darling.

So out of a week of death came a new life. It's never dull around here, that's for sure.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sometimes a veterinarian isn't necessary

We've had some grim moments this week.

A few days ago, Don shot our barn cat. This little lady adopted us shortly after we arrived in Idaho 13 years ago. At the time, she was presumably a young cat but of an unknown age, and for all these years she was Don's faithful companion in the shop. He's doctored her for a few things over the years, but advancing age and a lack of teeth meant it was almost impossible for her to get any nutrition, no matter how much Don tried to alter the consistency, presentation, and variety of food. Essentially she was starving.

When I suggested we take her into the vet to have her put down, he disagreed. She's lived virtually her whole life on the farm. To suddenly get bundled into a box and driven somewhere strange would be more traumatic than to take care of the matter himself. As he put it, sometimes it's the kindest thing you can do for an old friend. Choosing the right moment when the cat didn't see it coming, he put her out of her misery. Then he came back inside and wrapped me in a hug for a long, long time.

Then yesterday, our new neighbors (who inherited two horses with the property) called in alarm, asking which vet we could recommend. They were concerned one of the horses had a broken leg. Don first called another neighbor D., who is a horse expert. While waiting for D. to arrive, we walked over and looked at the horse, who was right at our fence line.

It was unmistakable. This beautiful animal clearly had a horribly broken right foreleg. She stood trembling and breathing heavily in her pain. No one saw how she had attained such an injury, but a horse with a broken leg is pretty hopeless.

When D. came over, he had a .45 strapped to his hip. He and Don went over to the neighbor's pasture and consulted with them, then gave the horse a fast checkup and confirmed she had broken her leg in three places. Calling a vet wasn't necessary.

D. haltered the other (healthy) horse and put her in the barn (out of sight). Then he asked the grieving neighbors to go into their house. Don stayed with D. because, as he told me later, he wanted to see how putting down a large animal humanely was done.

I came into the house and told Younger Daughter not to be surprised when she heard a gunshot, which came within minutes.

Meanwhile I called around until I found someone with a backhoe to dig a hole sufficiently large to bury the horse.

No need to call a vet in hopeless circumstances, especially when there are good men like Don and D. who unshirkingly do what must be done.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Is this a Western Tanager?

Yesterday in the garden I had my camera out while photographing something entirely different, when this bird suddenly flitted into view. I started snapping photos right away.

The bird lingered for just a few seconds, then flew away.

I'm at a loss what kind of bird it is. In comparing illustrations in my bird book, it looks like a female Western Tanager.

(Note how it says "Our only tanager with wing-bars.) I've never seen a Tanager around here before, but that certainly doesn't mean they're not in the area. Their habitat description fits our area perfectly, so it wouldn't surprise me.

So, all you bird experts out there, can you confirm what kind of bird this is?