Gene's Contrary Countryman blog

Heartwood Hamlet

Heartwood Hamlet

An Eco-Haven in the Missouri Ozarks We have an opportunity within our 130 acres, nestled in a forested valley of the Ozarks. 4 plots of 5-10 acres are for sale to couples of similar values. It is now the time to bring Heartwood Hamlet to […]

A Writer’s View

A Writer’s View

When sitting at the computer I have only to look slightly left to see a substantial part of my rural kingdom. The view is through a window original to the house, double-hung, a single pane below and the top with two mullions, a three-over-one, one […]

Soil mineralization beyond NPK

Soil mineralization beyond NPK

Organic gardeners know about soil replenishment beyond nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. Plants may well grow with a shortage of micronutrients but their food quality will be diminished. For optimal human health, optimal soil health comes first.

Unless we adhere to the closed-loop paradigms of permaculture and biodynamics we need to replace the various nutrients that are lost from our garden soil by wind, sale or gift of produce, and sequestering human waste in septic tanks.

I first became aware of the issue of soil remineralization in John Hamaker’s 1982 book, The Survival of Civilization. Hamaker’s thesis is that human activities are accelerating the current interglacial period and we should remineralize soil, as glaciers do, by applying mineral dust to our soils. By doing so we cause vigorous vegetative growth and thereby reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. (Yes, there is a connection between global warming and glaciation, but that is for another day.)

In addition to obtaining and applying mineral dust we can grow plants with deep root systems that mine minerals from depths far below typical garden plant roots. These include alfalfa, dandelion and trees. While most tree roots are within fifteen feet of the surface, certain oak tree roots have been found in caves nearly 200 feet below the surface. It follows that the yearly dropped leaves and remains of deceased oaks may well contain a store of essential minerals. I typically place a thick layer of fallen oak limb pieces in new raised beds and the last mowing of grass areas each year includes collection of fallen leaves.

Gardeners may easily verify the efficacy of mineral dust application by preparing various soil mixes in identical-sized pots and seeding with fast-growing plants such as radish. I did this about twenty years ago using dust from beneath the rock crusher at Trappist Concrete Products where I was the marketing guy. The monks dug rock and gravel from Bryant Creek and used the screened results in concrete block production. The dust below the crusher was considered waste. I found it to be brown gold.

Soil remineralization works. Who knows, remineralizing your garden soil may revitalize you. Enjoy the journey!

Monsters among us

Monsters among us

The modern corporate model is the Mafia. Make the family as large as possible, make the family interests diverse and widespread and kill anyone who offends the family or its interests. Modern corporations do this barely within the law through advertising, mergers, buyouts, lawsuits, payoffs. […]

Finding home with the first move

Finding home with the first move

There can be no vulnerability without risk;there can be no community without vulnerability;there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.M. Scott Peck Since moving from California to the Ozarks many years ago I have talked to and read about hundreds of urban […]

Spouses working together

Spouses working together

Can these marriages survive?

There’s a new rumble in the land. It’s the sound of men and women working at home, 41 million of us, according to At Home Professional magazine. A substantial part of this group is spouses doing the entrepreneurial two-step in dining room, bedroom or basement. Business plans are now implicated with marriage plans. “For better or worse” has special meaning when spouses share a home office. Home businesses are burgeoning, telecommuting is mushrooming and marital stress is, well, stressing. These conditions are related.

Having a modicum of experience in this arena (a little goes a long way) and seeing the need, I feel compelled to help as I can. First let’s look at attributes common to all spousal home co-workers. If you are a successful home-working couple, here are some of the characteristics you possess.

1) During long drives, when conversation wanes then stops, neither spouse considers there might be a problem with the relationship.

2) Neither of you would think of interrupting the other, no matter how brilliant your thought.

3) Experts say you must balance work and play or face burnout. So, you and your darling are both workaholics but only for twelve hours each day; after that much work you are ready for serious play for the remaining twelve hours before work resumes.

4) Both of you are skilled selective listeners. A phone conversation a yard away is never heard. When he is blowing a deal you would never think to write a quick note and wiggle it in front of his face or place it on his desk and then wave your arms and point to the note. You both also have selective vision, which filters out slovenly apparel and hair design or lack thereof.

5) You both love to prepare meals, wash dishes, clean house, take out the recyclables, but you are willing to allow your partner to do so for half the time.

6) You can mentally erect imaginary but soundproof walls, hear a clicking keyboard as a musical instrument, interpret a belching chair as a sign of focus, concentration, effectiveness, a harbinger of tropical vacations. 

7) If you have an infant, you both live to change diapers and wipe spit-up. If pets, you look forward to dealing with accidents, regurgitations and hair balls, especially when the phone is ringing, the doorbell is chiming, lunch is burning on the stove and your spouse has been reading in the bathroom for an hour. You relish times like these as they allow you to show your potential.

8) Neither of you cares who gets the newest computer, the largest desk, the window position or fetches the mail or answers the phone.

9) You both instantly recognize who can best make each important decision.

10) You never keep sexy pictures on your computer screen, even when she says she doesn’t mind. Especially when she says she doesn’t mind.

11) When both of you are on the phone, you never speak loudly, even if the script-reading caller is trying for the ninth time to persuade you to change long distance carriers.

12) When both of you have an off day on the same day, you always flip a coin to see who takes the day off. You do this no later than nine ayem and you are both happy with the result.

Spouses working together have unlimited opportunities to play to each other’s strengths. My cousin, Chicago Keith, tells how the husband-and-wife owners of a mail-order marketing company play good cop/bad cop with slow vendors. After the wife, let’s call her Attilia, finishes her version of persuasion and pauses for breath, Timmy picks up on the same line and interrupts to whisper that a gang of men are stealing their car and would Attilia please make them go away, then asks the vendor how is your day going, how are the kids, and would it please be possible to move our order to the top of the pile, and, by the way, those rumors are unfounded, Attilia almost never makes surprise visits.

A new workplace requires a new lexicon. “Home office” no longer means a giant commercial structure; it may in fact denote a cleverly disguised walk-in closet. “Cocooning” is a word and concept coined by Faith Popcorn, describing the life structure of those of us who live nearly complete lives behind closed doors. In today’s vernacular, successful home enterprises are “killer businesses.” Participants perceive potential double entendre.

On days when you need to remember why you are doing this, consider that the ultimate result of working at home may well be a balanced federal budget and world peace. How, you ask? Work at homers/stay at homers drastically reduce oil consumption, which decreases the need for billion-dollar rocket spitters to ensure the oil supply. Surely that result is worth any personal sacrifice.

Decide if your health or your marriage is more important. You can’t have it both ways. If the marriage is most important, do not eat foods containing lots of fiber, like broccoli, except on days when perfect weather allows all doors and windows to be open and street construction drowns out all other sounds. The other option is to place desks front-to-front and aim exhaust at open windows. This of course means facing each other but not seeing each other. It can be done.

Who gets the mail and opens it is directly related to checkbook condition, creative blockage, imminent deadlines. If the mail run changes from maneuvering for your partner to do it to outracing each other it may be time to reconsider the entire venture. Oh, I almost forgot. Never read the other guy’s mail, including e-mail, unless clearly instructed to do so, preferably with a notarized writing. Think of mail as sacred spiritual manna.

Working at home means other household members are able to share more of your day. Children, cats and dogs are delighted that you are available for frequent, meaningful interplay.

Speaking of pets reminds me of Cool Lips. No, she’s a human friend whose real name is Susan. I call her Cool Lips because she blows sweet reeds and has male aversion syndrome. Susan’s stories illustrate the epitome of spouses working together—long-haul trucking. She relates the time she refused to get back into their behind-schedule truck at a Wyoming rest stop until her then-husband apologized. She now forgets what it was he said that so offended her. And the time she threw him out of the sleeper in Colorado. No, not by hand. She reached down to retrieve the cat’s dish from under the seat, drove onto the shoulder and jerked the wheel to avoid taking the eighteen-wheeler over a cliff. Cat: one; marriage: zero.

There is one question that this article is helpless to address: Should your marriage survive? Some wits speculate that working together saves big counseling fees by speeding up the inevitable. I understand that some pre-nuptial business plans include property divisions upon termination of the business or marriage, whichever comes first.

I hope I have not dissuaded you from working at home with your spouse. I understand that nearly half of all such marriages survive. Since that’s not a lot worse than national averages for marriages as a whole, I say go for it. Who knows, you may be one of the lucky ones. Especially if you possess the Right Stuff. Allow me to demonstrate.

“Honeybunch, just in case you’re ready to stretch your legs, when you return, oh, any time you decide, could you pretty please bring me a cup of coffee? No? That’s O.K. sugarplum, my legs are actually feeling a little stiff anyway. Oh, one for you, too? Of course, darling.”

Gene GeRue and his wife, Christina, have worked at home together in the same room for two years, seven months, twenty-nine days, six hours and three minutes as of the time of this submission. Chris does not think this article is funny.

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden

“Find the shortest, simplest way between the earth, the hands, and the mouth.”Lanza Del Vasto  Nobody enjoys fresher food or a more satisfying vision from the kitchen window than those who keep a kitchen garden. Yes, the kitchen window, for no window in the house […]

Finding old-fashioned community

Finding old-fashioned community

“The common complaints of our time—loneliness, loss of values and meaning, lack of personal fulfillment, emptiness, disillusionment, powerlessness, and fear—are all symptoms that reflect our loss of community.”Kathleen Smith, Rebuilding Community in America If you seek traditional community then flee the city, escape the suburb. […]

Country neighbors are more important than city neighbors

Country neighbors are more important than city neighbors

“If you can’t use your neighbors, what’re they good for?”
Farrell Berry, 92-year-old, self-described “hillbilly dirt farmer”

I bought my first house in Concord, California, in 1963. I was the stereotypical proud new homeowner. The first Saturday morning, as I caressed trees, admired shrubs, delighted in details missed during the house-hunting inspection, I saw my neighbor puttering in his front yard and happily hailed him. No response. Figuring his hearing might be impaired, I filled my lungs and boomed a “Good morning, neighbor!” (Think Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam.”) My neighbor turned, looked at me briefly, and walked around the corner of his house. I lived there five years and for five years he ignored me.

I bought my second house in a new subdivision. All fourteen families on our cul-de-sac made an effort to be neighborly. We were nearly all of a kind, young parents, and we happily introduced ourselves. Early on, even before lawns were planted and castle fences erected, we gained permission from the fire authorities, blocked the entrance to our street, set up BBQs and tables and chairs and a beer keg and a tub of soft drinks and had games and prizes for the youngsters, much food and camaraderie. “This will be an annual event!” we grinned. We had another block party the following year and then we sank into normality, waved as we drove off to work, exchanged pleasantries during weekend lawn mowing.

After I bought this old Ozarks homestead but before I had moved here, my caretaker left a smoldering campfire which later flared and started a yard fire in the dry grass she had neglected to mow—nearly burned the house, did burn the garage and about twenty acres of oak forest. The house was saved because Henderson Boatwright was returning from church, saw smoke from his house two miles away, drove here and stomped out the burning grass near the house. In his Sunday best. Then he rushed home, called the conservation department and neighbors, who all came and worked the rest of the day to kill the fire.

Two years ago our nearest neighbor, Rayma Carter, lost Mike—the epitome of a great neighbor—to a fatal heart attack while she was visiting her mother in California. By the time she was able to fly back home the house was spotless, clothes and bedding washed, food prepared. Soon relatives were being shuttled in from the airport two hours away. On learning of financial embarrassment, a handmade coffin was constructed and a handmade quilt donated to line the coffin. Small cash donations occurred. A heart-shaped memorial stone was cast and lettered in concrete. In the months that followed, groceries were picked up and delivered, firewood and kindling was dropped off, and, yes, many donations were simply hugs. All from neighbors.

In addition to helping to handle deaths and putting out fires, neighbors are good for big harvest jobs, picking up a few things in town, feeding pets and livestock during vacation, celebrating holidays, going fishing, explaining the life cycle of a bug that you’d otherwise import into your garden on grass clippings and leaves, telling jokes, sharing insight, receiving surpluses, pulling vehicles out of the ditch, borrowing and lending tools, raising rafters, discussing issues, attending summer potlucks and playing croquet and volleyball and horseshoes, commiserating over gardening losses, taking walks, bragging about the first tomato of the season, and showing where you have morels on your land in a place that you’ve been walking past for years.

Robert Frost penned the oft-quoted, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but also “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The town neighborhoods I most admire are those where yards flow one into another unobstructed, parklike, without territorial markers. When I pass such a sermon I always muse that good people must live there, confident, content, caring neighbors.

Country neighbors are more important than city neighbors. Homes are often far from sheriffs, fire departments, ambulances. City amenities such as trash pickup, delivery service and taxis are often nonexistent. Citizens are more independent of the system but more dependent on neighbors. This being an understood equation, rural neighbors tend to be civil and supportive even when there are obvious values and lifestyle differences, a ubiquitous condition in areas with large urban refugee populations. In such places, old-timers and newcomers learn from each other, but old-timers give more than they get.

You don’t pick neighbors—they come with the territory—they’re pot luck. And they’re different from other friends because they stay close to you whether you like them or not. So dealing with neighbors is an opportunity for personal growth. If you can become an accomplished neighbor then you can become a vital part of your community.

Rayma had her auction yesterday. The tide of strangers slowly carried off tools, furniture, collectibles. The auctioneer worked on the raised front porch of the building Mike built to hold his collections, under the big sign with the brilliant rainbow swirled across it, the words “Rainbow’s End” and “Mike & Rayma Jo.” All the neighbors were there but I didn’t see any of us buy anything.

Rayma will be leaving her house and forty acres Tuesday and moving to Utah. It’s a nice house in a beautiful setting, certain to sell soon. I wonder what the new neighbors will be like.