Archive for ‘Other’

May 27, 2013

by Cynthia

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Princess with her head stuck through the fence. Again.


This is my little goat, Princess, who really does believe that the grass is greener, and tastier, on the other side of the fence. Never mind that she has ten acres of good grazing at her hoof tips. Perhaps she was lured by the faint scent of wild honeysuckle growing along  the fence row in the next field. Maybe she spotted some poison ivy, a goat delicacy, creeping up a sumac and she couldn’t hold herself back. She never learns.  God love her little bitty goat brain. She acts surprised every time she gets stuck, crying out to her buddies who nonchalantly look her way and keep on chewing. Our Great Pyrennes, Harry, has begun to ignore her. When she was younger,  he would do his good goat dog duty and go sit beside her until Tim or I arrived to wrangle her free.  I think he has finally developed compassion fatigue.  Princess gets herself into this predicament so frequently that we have moved her into a pasture with electric fencing.

The problem really isn’t that she sticks her head through the fence, it’s that she can’t keep on going. She can’t get her whole self through.  She sees something she wants, she heads in that direction, then she gets stuck.  Princess is a walking metaphor for what we psychotherapists call Ambivalence.  She has lots of desire, but not enough follow through.  Trapped by her own bulk, she is unable to move forward.

I realize I have my own ambivalence about being a better citizen of the planet. I decide to drive my car on a day when I could easily take the train. I order a chicken dish  in a restaurant that has Tyson written all over it.  I get enraged by the squash bugs annihilating my zucchini, and I buy some Sevin, “just this once.”

These petty environmental crimes won’t have a big impact on the environment, but neither will my efforts to live green and eat clean. Global warming is bigger than all of us little organic gardeners out here no-tilling and composting and recycling and picking bugs off our plants at sunrise. But we are making a difference.

Growing your own food reduces your carbon footprint in at least two ways. Think about this finding in a recent study of organic versus traditional farming methods;  “Recent studies of the US food system have shown that most (50–70%) of the average households‘ carbon footprint for food consumption comes from farm production and subsequent processing, with transport accounting for only an average of 11%, respectively, across all sectors or food products.”   Sustainability 2011, 3, 322-362

The more food we grow in our back yard, or buy from our local organic CSA,  the more we reduce our carbon footprint.  And we get much better food.

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us are passionate about the planet, and we make enough noise, the rest of the world will pay attention. Maybe our collective ambivalence about making the kinds of changes that DO impact the environment will begin to shift. Then those folks who refuse to believe that humans are negatively impacting the global climate might get on board. They might realize they are not as smart as they once thought, might second guess their assertions about hard science and recurring patterns.

Meanwhile, the garden is planted and the fruit trees are full of tiny apples and peaches and cherries and pears. The berry bushes are heavy with green fruit. The animals on our farm are making us lots of rich fertilizer and we are moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle. I will get stuck now and then. Caught in my laziness, or ignorance, or ambivalence. Seduced by a Big Mac. If you see me, give me a push



December 18, 2012

It Makes No Sense

by Cynthia

December afternoons in Tennessee can be mild and breezy or damp and frigid depending on what is blowing in from the southwest. Last Sunday was a warm and sunny one.  I was in the garden for the first time in weeks, pulling the curly dock out from between the rows of spinach and tossing lettuce long gone to seed into the compost. The house and garden are positioned on the top of a ridge overlooking a valley of other small farms. Sounds that originate anywhere around us roll up the hill, seeming to come from just behind me, or a few feet away when in fact they may have begun as far away as half a mile.  Stratton Bone’s cattle sound as if they are bellowing from right behind our barn even though they are grazing down the hill and across the road. Gunshots are a sound to which I have become accustomed as I weed and hoe and try to bring up some goodness out of the rocky limestone soil.   Usually it is someone shooting at deer or dove.

Lost in some thought, I was tossing weeds into a bucket when somewhere from behind our hill came the sound of a semi-automatic weapon being fired. This is a sound to which I am not accustomed, a sound which ripped through the winter air like small knives, the reverberations hitting me in the chest over and over and over.  The relentless gunfire was such a violent contrast to the soft damp loamy soil and the bright green of the spinach and the simplicity of a sunny afternoon in the garden. Two days earlier a weapon like that was used to murder little children and their teachers. I’d spent the hour in church that morning fighting back tears, imaging the unbearable despair of the parents and grandparents. I thought of my own sweet Luke and Lilyanne and the preschool they attend. The whole nation was in shock and mourning. But not the person shooting this gun. This person was somehow cut off, disconnected from our communal horror by something I cannot understand or even name.

Guns do not frighten me. I know about guns. I grew up around guns and think of them in the same category as  fishing poles or bows and arrows;  a tool used to put food on the table. I haven’t bought a roast in years, as my freezer is full of the wild game that some man in my family killed with a gun or a bow.  When I was a girl, each Saturday night in the fall and winter my father would take his guns down from the gun rack that hung in our den and lay them on the coffee table where he methodically cleaned them. He poured the oil on a clean cloth and ran the bore rod down through the barrel, explaining to me how a speck of dirt in the barrel could affect the trajectory of the bullet. He was a fanatic about gun safety and made sure that we knew how to tell when a gun was loaded and when it was not.  After he finished cleaning the guns, he locked them into the gun rack and began shining  everyone’s shoes for church the next morning. The smell of gun oil will forever make me think of my father and wood smoke and clean leather.

My husband owns several guns. And we own a gun safe to which he and I alone know the combination. I do not fear guns, and I support the rights of individuals to own guns. I am a country girl after all.

I am also a psychotherapist. I see what happened in Connecticut in that small town elementary school as a disastrous convergence of two of our country’s pressing social problems; two of the problems about which we have the most ambivalent response:  the legality and accessibility of assault weapons (weapons of mass destruction) and our denial ( as a society and also as parents)  about the importance of mental health treatment.  Much of the current conversation about the need for accessible mental health resources focuses on the “severely mentally ill”. We need to expand that focus to include those whose mental illness creates limits on their healthy participation in community life; the paranoid loner, the social outcast, the kids whose behavior causes his peers to avoid him.  A tiny number of these young men become violent. Their easy access to powerful weapons creates a ghastly combination of instability and deadliness .

The question of a ban on the sale of military style assault weapons is not a question of freedom. It is a question of common sense. It is difficult to take seriously the outcry of those who insist on access to assault weapons for “sport” purposes. Where is the sport? What skill is involved in blowing something away with an assault rifle? One of our favorite family activities is skeet shooting. There is skill involved in shooting skeet, skill and sport involved in hunting, skill and sport in target shooting. But the value of semi-automatic assault rifles as instruments of “sport” seems inflated by those who oppose any restrictions on their ability to purchase and fire any kind of gun they choose.

Semi-automatic weapons are designed to kill people quickly and efficiently and en masse. Their use as weapons of war makes sense ( as if anything about war really makes sense). But civilians have no business owning these kinds of guns. I am not allowed to keep a tiger on my property because society has decided that keeping a wild, meat-eating predator puts the people around me at too much risk. Yet any adult without a criminal record can keep an assault rifle in their home. It makes no sense.

October 21, 2012

Save a Seed

by Cynthia

       I’ve been like a confused bear,                 hibernating at the wrong time of the year.     A stubborn illness kept me  indoors for much of September, and I’ve emerged from my den to find the world awash in the vibrant colors of Autumn. The woods on our farm are decorated in the soft burnished gold of the maple trees and  the crimson of the wild vines meandering          up the trunks of big  trees and fence posts. The persimmon trees are heavy with pale orange fruit, and I’m hoping for an early frost so we can make some persimmon jam before the deer get all the goodies.

I finally got the summer garden put to rest, all the raised beds enriched with a big dose of peat and covered with the cardboard I’ve been saving all year.  The cardboard protects the soil and by next spring will be decomposed enough to turn into the soil as compost.

In my former life as a city dweller, things like cardboard boxes, newspapers and plastic jugs went into the recycling bin. Egg shells and coffee grounds and used paper towels went into the trash. Now that we are farmers, those kinds of things have become valuable commodities. Rainwater, manure, paper and wood scraps all get re-used and re-purposed.  It’s amazing how wasteful we humans can be when we aren’t keeping the big picture in mind. Or when we don’t have a garden in the backyard, which I’m hoping all of you do!

Perhaps our most valuable commodity is our seed supply, and it’s in peril. I’ve been reading Janisse Ray’s new book, The Seed Underground- A Growing Revolution to Save Food and I’ve been convicted to stop buying seed from the Big Three of Big Ag: Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta. These three multinational companies own the majority of our food supply in that they own our seeds.  Most seeds we buy are genetically modified and patented by one of these companies, and the Big Guys do not like seed savers!  From now on, I intend to only purchase and plant heirloom seeds and to save as many of my own seeds for replanting as possible. Seeds from my favorite tomato, a little yellow gem named Garden Peach are drying on a paper towel in the kitchen right now. My grandma would be proud. She would also laugh at the idea of seed saving as “revolutionary”. It was standard practice in her day.

Gardeners revolt! Join the revolution to save our food supply from manipulation and control. Heirloom fruits and vegetables may not look as pretty as those rubbery beauties you find in the grocery store, but guess what? They taste DELICIOUS.

Go to to find out more about seed saving, and to join a network of other gardeners dedicated to growing real food.  Now that fall is here and the winter greens are in the ground, there is finally time for sitting on the porch listening to the wind rustle the leaves before they finally dry up and let go. A reading rec for your porch sitting time is Janisse Ray’s memoir Anatomy of a Cracker Childhood. It’s a great read!

September 4, 2012

Confessions of a Part-Time Gardener

by Cynthia

The heat wave of early August finally subsided and the rains came. Long, steady, melodic rains that drenched the withered woods and carried the gravel on our steep drive down the hill in increasingly deep crevasses. I did not complain. The rain revitalized the grasses and now our pastures are waist-high and need to be cut again. The weeds took off too, and herein lies my lament. I am a part-time gardener. With eight-hour work days and a two-hour commute, the gardening has to wait until the weekends. The weeds, however, are on their own schedule. They grow like the dickens all week, making it difficult to keep the garden and yard looking well-kept. The vegetables keep growing too, thank goodness. They grow and ripen and fatten up during the week so that weekends are all about harvesting, cooking and canning.  Needless to say, I don’t do housework. Or laundry. And my social life is a bit lean in the summers. But the eating is good!

On Saturday I bought forty pounds of tomatoes at my local farmer’s market. Those forty pounds ended up in 6 quarts of okra and tomatoes, 9 pints of salsa and 8 quarts of diced tomatoes. I have officially resigned from growing my own tomatoes. I am a pathetic failure at growing tomatoes and I am blaming it on my job. Here’s my fantasy: If I were home all day, I could lavish attention on my garden and stay a step ahead of blossom end rot, and early blight, and aphids and fungus and all the other culprits that  rob me of big fat juicy tomatoes every year.  I’m done. I mean it.  At least for now. At least until I start getting seed catalogs next February. Then maybe just a plant or two.

July 4, 2012

Hot Potato

by Cynthia

How hot is it where you are? It was 108 in my backyard last week, close to 100 today.  HOT! Thank goodness global warming is just an elaborate ruse cooked up by reactionary, pseudo-science spouting  liberals who want to throw daggers into the capitalist heart of all that is American: big business, consumerism and entitlement. I’d hate to think the earth is really getting hotter, (can anyone really still deny it?) and that our relentless lack of concern for how we use the planet  is beginning to bite us in the butt.

One significant evidence of climate change is that the USDA hardiness zones have been adjusted to reflect increasingly hotter weather, affecting gardeners and commercial farmers alike. Each hardiness zone represents a ten degree difference in average minimum temperatures and are used to help us know how cold hardy a particular plant will be.  Here in middle Tennessee we used to be in Zone 6B.   Now we are in hardiness Zone 7A. Someday, they’ll be growing lemons in Anchorage.

It’s so hot that the blossoms on my Arkansas Traveler tomatoes are falling off before the fruit can develop which makes me very sad.  The bush beans are doing well, and the little heirloom yellow tomato, Garden Peach looks great. It must love hot weather.  The Colorado Potato Beetles were making an endless banquet of my potato plants, so I just dug them up. Well, actually, I turned them over. I grow potatoes in those big bags that Gardener’s Supply Company sells. I line them up along the garden fence, saving the garden beds for other crops. My garden consists of eight twenty foot by four foot raised beds, so my space is limited. I harvested thirty-five pounds of potatoes, now where in the world to store them?  Oh, for a root cellar!


Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake pole beans

Here is what awaited me in the garden after I’d been gone for a week to a writing workshop in Iowa. A bushel of green beans. Speaking of Iowa, it is such a delight to fly into Cedar Rapids during the summer. The corn fields grow right up next to the runway, and the corn is so picturesque as it sways in the wind as the plane is landing.  Unfortunately, the extreme heat and the lack of rain is putting this year’s corn crop in peril. Most of the corn is grown in the Midwest, where irrigation is not typically needed, so no rain and high temperatures means no crops and no profit for American corn farmers, who had planted 96.4 million acres this year.

John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said those in the southernmost sections of his state “are close to or past that point of no return,” while in the other sections of the state, “there’s a lot of praying, it’s hanging on by a thread. These 100-degree temperatures are just sucking the life out of everything.”  Amen. So get your corn from your local farmer’s market and not the grocery store, where it is going to be more expensive than usual. And pray for rain!

This pile of beans turned into 7 quarts of canned beans and one dinner.

June 16, 2012

Good Bug, Bad Bug

by Cynthia

   Good Bug!

This little guy was busy pollinating my garden the other morning as I was patrolling for squash bugs.  There seem to be more bees this year, which is encouraging. Honey bee populations have been plummeting around the world in recent years, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Environmental stresses are suspected to be the culprit.  United States beekeepers  began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives back in 2006.  Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health provides strong evidence that CCD is caused by imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides. The study will be published in the June 2012 issue of the Bulletin of Insectology. (from Wikipedia)

We need our bees! Remember the Bee Movie? No bees, no flowers. No bees, no fresh veggies. So instead of using pesticides, I stroll through the garden twice a day smashing, capturing and stoning bugs.  The bees are so generous, not only do they pollinate plants, they sweeten the world with their golden honey.  Antonio Machado wrote a lovely poem about magical bees.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping   Antonio Machado   (version by Robert bly)

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—-marvelous error!—

That a spring was breaking

Out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,

Oh water, are you coming to me,

Water of a new life

That I have never drunk?


Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt–marvelous error!—

That I had a beehive

Here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

Were making white combs

And sweet honey

From my old failures.


Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

That a fiery sun was giving

Light inside my heart.

It was fiery because I felt

Warmth as from a hearth,

And sun because it gave light

And brought tears to my eyes.


Last night as I slept,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

That it was God I had

Here inside my heart.

   Bad Bug!!

Look on the leaf in this photo and you will find my nemesis, the disreputable Squash Bug. Its scientific name is Anasa Tristis, but when I run across one in the garden ( an everyday occurrence) I call it something unprintable. Each morning, I inspect the leaves on the squashes and zucchini for squash bug eggs. When I find them, I smash them by rolling my thumb and forefinger over them until they burst. Consequentially, my squash leaves are full of holes, but an army of newly hatched, ravenous baby squash bugs can decimate my little crop in a matter of days. If I find an adult like the guy in the photo, I smash him between my fingers. Squash bugs are a great outlet for repressed homicidal urges.  The Japanese beetles are another issue. I collect them in a wide mouth Mason jar where they careen around madly until they finally succumb to asphyxiation or shock, I’m not sure which. I actually feel a little bit bad about that, but a swift death is not an option. Smashing a Japanese beetle only signals more of their comrades to show up.  In spite of my efforts, they are making lovely lace doilies out of the leaves on my pole beans.  A healthy, chemical free garden is not always a beautiful garden, as beauty is traditionally understood. But a few scars and chewed up leaves is a fair price to pay for food I can put in my body without a worry about what chemicals I might also be eating.  There aren’t many poems about squash bugs given their less than inspiring nature.





October 23, 2011

Introduction to Walnut Ridge

by Cynthia


Introduction to On Walnut Ridge

 Seven years ago, I convinced my husband we should buy a farm.  Having come from a long line of country folk on both sides of my family, the rural gene had been working its way up to the surface for years. We named our place Walnut Ridge because of the black walnut trees that are so abundant and the fact that our property sits at the end of a long limestone ridge that rings the valley below us. Our log house faces east, and we love sitting on the front porch with a steaming cup of coffee watching the sun rise. 

The first thing I did when we moved here was put in a vegetable garden.  The following summer, I canned forty quarts of tomatoes. All those glass jars of ruby tomatoes lining the pantry shelves like good food soldiers inspired me. Now all of the vegetables we eat and most of the fruit we consume comes out of our yard.  The pleasure of eating fresh, organically grown food has been as motivating a reason to keep investing time and energy into the land as the knowledge that the food is better for us than what we can buy in town.

 Wendell Berry writes about the  calming effects of being in contact with the “peace of wild things”.  The peace of wild things is missing in the lives of most people. The result is a poverty of experience that dulls the spirit and fogs the mind. I believe that everyone can have an enriched connection to the natural world and that it can make us better people and better neighbors. Even if you live in a small apartment and your gardening space is limited to a stoop, a patio, or a porch, you can grow fresh herbs and a tomato plant or two.  Eating a home grown tomato and eating one you bought in a grocery store are completely different experiences. Eating a store bought tomato is a bit like kissing your lover through a screen door.

Practicing some of the fundamental skills that literally kept my grandparents alive makes me feel more alive myself. On Walnut Ridge we do things like collecting rainwater, growing and preserving fruits and vegetables  harvesting and preserving wild game, and keeping a herd of goats and a flock of chickens. Not everyone is interested in the hard work and blood and poop involved in going home grown. Not everyone has access to a piece of land. But why not take a step away from your dependence on the business of agriculture and grow as much of your own food as possible?

You can support a local farmer’s market. You can join a CSA (community supported agriculture) You can stop eating processed, dead food that came from far away in trucks powered by fossil fuels and has compromised nutritional value. You don’t need fifty acres.  Just eat something that you pulled out of the ground with your own hands.