Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Monday, October 24, 2011

There's no substitute for experience... (or, how a 70 year old man put me in my place)

My dad wrangles the plow while Noah samples the dirt

This past weekend I had the chance to go to the Heritage Day festival in St.Geniveve, MO with my dad and brothers. The weather was gorgeous, and there was a lot of interesting stuff to see. It was, in some respects, a lot like the fall festival that my parents run at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial. This event didn't pertain strictly to the mid-1800's, though. They had farm implements there that ranged from horse-drawn equipment all the way through 1950's era tractors. There were old time craftspeople, cider pressing, and hog butchering, as well as demonstrations of corn picking/chopping and threshing.

There was also a small field where teams of horses and mules were plowing. Most were using riding plows, but one old man was there with a team of mules and a walking plow. He was working his way up and down the field, and we were admiring the way he handled his team and the ease with which he controlled the plow. He was walking offset from the mules, using only his inside hand to expertly guide the plow to create a straight and even furrow. Dad struck up a conversation with him, and asked if he might try his hand at it. Bear in mind that my father has more experience working with draft animals than I could ever hope to have. Still, he himself hadn't used a walking plow since I was about 5 (that's 27 years ago). Dad grabbed both handles, walking in the furrow, as the man drove the team. They struggled down the 100 yards or so, backing up occasionally to start again where things had gone awry. They rested the mules a bit, and then came back in much the same fashion. Dad asked if any of us wanted to take a crack at it. I figured, "What the hell, this opportunity doesn't come along very often".

I don't know that I had any delusions about my abilities in this area (especially after watching dad), but by god if this old man could do it, I figured that I could too. From the get go, it was plainly apparent that this was not the case. The concept seemed so simple: Tip the nose down to go deeper, up go shallower, use the left handle to make it go right and vise versa. Nevertheless, the plow seemed unaware of my attempts to steer it. One second it was too deep, the next it was popping out of the soft ground. We veered right, then left, all the while I struggled to keep the plowshare from inadvertently cutting off the old man's foot. We backed up frequently. At multiple times, my teacher would take hold of the one handle, and magically the plow would go right back where it was supposed to. He would then tell me something that I've often told students who were trying to learn to throw on a potters wheel - "I know what it feels like, but I'm not sure how to tell you how to do it." Few things will let you know where you really stand like watching someone old enough to be your grand parent effortlessly do something that you can barely manage. We finally muddled our way back, and thanked the man for putting up with our incompetence. Shortly after, we noticed him going back and apparently fixing the plethora of mistakes that we made.

This guy really knows what he's doing

At some point, I would love to do farm work with horses or mules. It's pretty obvious, though, that an interest in something is a far cry from actually having any real skills in that area. This is true of cooking, gardening, painting, or playing an instrument. Going into a future where things like growing your own food (or plowing with mules) is likely to become more and more a necessity, it would seem to make sense to develop and hone those skills now while we still have the luxury of time.

Here are some more random pictures from this weekend.