Thursday, November 28, 2019

Old-School Tools: My Favorite Stick-Um

Contact cement is nothing new; many cyclists have mended an inner tube with one. After airplane glue and white glue, it was my first encounter with the magic of adhesives. The superpower of contact adhesives, to me, is precisely the  relatively long working time before the glue sets up. The repairer has the freedom to make certain the bond is solid before going back to work. Rubber cement does set up quickly, at least for bicycle repairs.  Super glue, in its many forms, works great for many applications, but it sets up nearly instantly.

For Barge Cement, however, the miracle occurs long after the DIYer walks off, leaving items in a clamp.

I found this glue highly recommended online, especially for shoe soles and other nonporous uses, but local stores didn't carry it and the big-boxes would have to order it. So I went online and did that, getting free shipping. My original plan, one to be carried out this holiday, was to glue think leather over plastic seatbelt-retractor covers on a 1974 Buick Apollo I am restoring.

Then my expensive Wellingtons, a must for muddy time, blew out a sole, right at the toe. After cleaning up both sides of the rubber, I put a thin layer of Barge All Purpose on both surfaces, waited about 10 minutes, then stuck them together, using furniture clamps to hold the bond overnight. A month later, the boot works good as new, as does a pair of shorter Cabelas slip-ons that lost a sole. I had forgotten them and went to another chore. An hour later I came back, saw the boots, cussed a bit, then decided to clamp them overnight, as I had done with the first pair. They are holding up well after a week, in wet and dry conditions.

I don't know that shoes worn daily would hold up; I'm willing to try as long as I have a spare pair at work.

Give Barge a go, whenever everyone associated with Black Friday wants you to buy something new; it's not expensive and may save many hundreds of dollars lost when an item gets discarded. Let me know how it works for you.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

All Things Must...

Why a skylight? What on earth does that have to do with rural life and DIY projects?

Last month, I learned that Om On, a little Yoga studio near my job, will close in December. It's a sweet space, and Kelly the owner has made us all feel welcome for the better part of a decade. My time on the mat there helps ease the aches and pains of both my physical work on the farm and the sedentary life in the office. I don't know the reasons for the closure, but the studio lacks space to expand, rents high, and competition fierce. I do know that I'll miss the skylights.

The skylight shows the changing late afternoon sky when one is doing reclined poses. At times the view is such a deep, clear blue beyond the skylight that it makes my heart break. There's something spiritual there, a letting go of the sort I suppose we all have to face (or ignore, at our peril).  Given those feelings, I selected a spot so dear to me for a skylight view that I get to the studio early to set up and stake my claim. My usual teacher on Friday, Twyla, knows about my crazy ways and I've explained to her that I just don't like change all that much, at least when it comes to physical space. I hate it when old buildings I've known vanish; every change of that sort seems a slow erasure of one's very life.

When my old pal Steve Gott passed in October of 2013, I consoled myself by playing George Harrison's opus, All Things Must Pass, almost constantly. I highly recommend it as perhaps the strongest project album of the early 1970s. That's a lot coming from a guy who was always more a Stones than Beatles fan.  Harrison's deep Hindu faith led him past the end of the Fab Four into considering the very erasure I just mentioned. I'm no Hindu, but I see a real appeal in the cycles of death, rebirth, and evolution of the soul there. As with the monotheistic notion of an afterlife, there's a sense of renewal present.

We can, of course, hoodwink the Reaper, a bit. I've had a health scare that put me on a low-carb diet; 40 pounds lighter, all aspects of my life seem renewed. It's an extension rather than a reprieve, like the sturdy low tunnel I built to let us finish our butter beans, plus protect tender lettuce seedlings and young broccoli that I hope will take us into and perhaps through the winter. Of course, it only prolongs things until we can plant our Spring crop.  Elsewhere our greens will just have to overwinter as best they can, a type of outdoor veggie crisper for our table.

It's no accident that George Harrison was an ardent, and talented, gardener. I don't know about his Yoga practice, but I suspect he'd appreciate how I feel about that skylight. He'd also remind me to let it go, to cherish the memory without clinging too much. Attachment is something we learn to respect, guardedly, in Yoga, non-attachment a virtue we cultivate.

It cannot always be summer, or even a lovely Fall when the rain finally came after drought. I managed to snag all the last Thai Dragon Peppers, cutting off the plants at the ground, piling them onto a blanket, and hauling them into an unheated building just before the first frost. Then I could harvest them at leisure. The dry weather earlier made them fiery, just what our customer wants.

Paying attention to the weather helped me avoid a disaster. I could have lost 20 pounds of fruit.  But nothing would stop the cold that night. As Winter comes, that's a good lesson. All things must pass.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rain at Last!

One of the saddest facts about human-caused climate change is how easy it is, for urbanites and suburbanites, to ignore its effects on other living things. In Richmond, most folks seem to only notice our ever-more-common dry spells in early Fall when their monoculture lawns die off, or the city limits watering.

In the country, however, those not on deep wells began to fret this year about the time of our State Fair. That's usually when we get rains to break the dry, hot weather.

Not this year. Even our 2000 gallons of stored water did not seen likely to outlast this drought. As of last week, about half of that had been used for garden and perennials, plus some recently planted trees we were struggling to keep alive.

With a high-pressure system the size of a small nation parked over the East Coast, even tropical systems steered around it. That's a salutary side effect, with one aspect of climate change battling another. We living things, both animal and vegetable, got got caught in the middle of this clash of titans. And yet hardly a drop of rain fell in my part of Virginia for eight long weeks.

Now, thankfully, we have a real soaker, just in time to save the small trees that have been so stressed on our property. We've lost a few, but others we kept going with watering bags of various sorts.

I hope we see more rain like this, on and off and not in deluges, in 2020. This recent day of rain may have broken a pattern but it did not do more than dent the drought. I checked a six-acre field that I needs to till this weekend. Below an inch down, the soil seems as dry as the deserts of Mars. Yet there's more rain in the forecast for Sunday. Hope, unlike rain, does seem to come upon us through an act of will.

We need other changes, too, if we are to address climate change's pernicious and, ultimately, civilization-ending dark promise. Let's get busy on that and vote for sense. Virginia has an election in a month, an I plan to vote against the party of environmental destruction. I hope  you do, too.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why Bother? Well, Why Not?

I have written here before about my near-obsession with metaphors and sayings that relate to time.  I will circle around to what this has to do with sustainable land-management in a bit. Meanwhile, let's rocket into the future. The far far future.

Call my collecting phrases about time a favorite pastime. I often hear in my ear what Paul Bowles, one of my favorite writers, calls "the hiss of time." Just so, yet if you think long and hard about how time works, it can make you batty. Consider the idea of Deep Time: those eons when no human walked upon the Earth and those eons to come when we shall not longer walk here.

Claude Albritton's book The Abyss of Time, a 1981 finalist for the National Book Award, showed me how insane a few influential folks got, when presented with the facts: that the age of Mother Earth is so vast as to stagger the imagination and put our hubris right in its place. Those misguided folk who think the Earth to be 6,000 years old are prime examples of the sort of anti-rationalism that a confrontation with a hard truth can bring. Their intellectual first cousins deny climate change.

We should perhaps all show a bit of humility. As an article in The Atlantic Monthly by Peter Brannen shows me rather conclusively, these deniers and I need to just get over our ridiculous squabbles. In time, in fact, to a future geologist:

The clear-cutting of the rain forest to build roads and palm-oil plantations, the plowing of the seabed on a continental scale, the rapid changes to the ocean and atmosphere’s chemistry, and all the rest would appear simultaneous with the extinction of the woolly mammoth. To future geologists, the modern debate about whether the Anthropocene started 10 minutes ago or 10,000 years ago will be a bit like arguing with your spouse on your 50th wedding anniversary about which nanosecond you got married.

Do yourself a favor and read Brannen, then go pick up H.G. Wells's masterful The Time Machine. The novel has an ending so difficult for President Roosevelt that he demanded that Wells tell him that the future would not turn out that way. I do not know how Wells replied, but it must have been delightful to have a President who read books, and it would be delightful to have one again.

My little plan, Deist and reader of Stoic philosophy that I am, is to is employ whatever time I have to making things better for those who come after me. Yes, we'll all end up a millimeter-thick stratum of organic and inorganic matter, unrecognizable in geological time. If Brannen's claims are correct, as the geological record tells us they must be, I think we still have a moral imperative not to inflict suffering needlessly. By trashing the land, we make life more difficult for those who follow us.

This alone should let us get through this time of a catastrophically bad President, a culture "war" in our nation, and a parade of bad news globally. Yet to do nothing because our species is ephemeral seems tragically short-sighted.

By improving the land and teaching others how to tend the land, eat well, leave camp better than they found it, we are doing something meaningful, even though our names, deeds, possessions, nation, language, civilization, and even species may be gone sooner than we could imagine. I would like those who come after us to love and respect us. Not curse us.

In an odd way, one of our most nihilistic of writers would agree. Bowles wrote, in The Sheltering Sky, "There is a way to master silence. Control its curves, inhabit its dark corners, and listen to the hiss of time outside."  This is not a call to inaction. Bowles was a thoughtful mentor, talented composer, and careful writer his entire life, not a decadent. He helped other writers. He employed one of Morocco's last traditional story-tellers as his helper, then recorded and published the stories. It helped preserve a tradition that seemed doomed to vanish like a city buried by the Sahara.

Given that you are a speck riding about on a speck that circles a glowing speck hurtling through infinite darkness, how will you, my fellow speck, listen to the hiss of time?

I'm going to keep testing some reusable canning lids and report back to you. I hear they may fail a bit more often than the metal sort. How's that?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Rock those strata!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Year of the Snake

If only the snakes were like the little Black Racer in my garage. Him I talked to.

But Copperheads, whose bite can make you lose a leg? In 7 years in the country, I have had 3 encounters with them too close for comfort (on the steps, in the yard, in the garden). Now, I've shot three right by the house or in the garden, plus another right beside the house we restored in Buckingham County.  And one of our livestock dogs was bitten, and though she made an excellent recovery, that means one more venomous snake is in the vicinity.

I have what a friend calls an "atavistic" reaction to snakes: I really dislike them. Unlike a neighbor who slays every one he meets, however, I understand that snakes keep down the rodent population.

Our solution to this population explosion (maybe from a very large snake that eluded me last year, in our butterbeans) has involved cutting the grass short, going out at night with powerful flashlights, and using snake repellent around the house. A snubnose revolver stays on the hip, full of snake shot, when I'm weed whacking or clearing garden beds.

The flashlights saved us one evening, when checking the chicken coops. A young Copperhead showed up in the beam, coiled up right in front of us. I shot it with a revolver at 15', using snake shot. I kept thinking "just five paces more and it would be time for the emergency room and a painful recovery."

Snake repellents are controversial. One widely available one, Snake Away, contains Napthaline, a carcinogen (read the EPA's page before the Trump Administration orders them to declare it safe). It smells like moth balls and I will not link to it or encourage you to buy it. We have used it sparingly, mostly to get rid of what we have on hand, and nowhere near food or animals. There's a video of tests with Rattlesnakes, who were not excited or prodded, moving casually over the product. It was an utter failure. The snakes also did not mind mothballs, crawling right over them to find a shady spot.

My go-to is Snake Stopper, an organic product far safer but also more expensive and short-lasting. The effectiveness of both products gets questioned by bloggers. That said, the hardware store does not sell spare legs.

Ortho makes a natural product called Snake Be Gone. That may be promising as it has longer-lasting crystals.

In the end, I'm not sure we'll know if they work. When I was using Snake Away regularly after my first near bite in 2016, I saw no snakes for a while. But was it the product or the weather? This year, without an April freeze, snakes emerged in did not perish as they often do in other years. And we did not have a wet, cool winter. That, some old-timers claim, causes a fungus that kills snakes.

Whatever the prognosis, the chickens have to be checked after dark. So what to do? Lights and slow walking. Be careful out there! And above all, do you know how to identify venomous snakes? Virginians might start here. Check your state's extension agency for a similar page.

Snakes have a long association with healing, rebirth, and immortality. I'll let the mystics judge that, and welcome harmless snakes into my yard and garden. I have a tetanus shot.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Still Insanely Local

I try to avoid all big-box stores though I'm not immune: Home Depot stocks a store-brand Behr wood stain that I find superior to more expensive brands. Lowes is a good place to find Rustoleum paint and cheap, mediocre-quality lumber for projects (though I found that a local mill, Siewers, beat Lowes on prices for trim...they make it themselves and it is superior). I hit the big boxes for good prices on things like cement board that I use occasionally.

In the end, however, nothing beats a small local firm, Pleasants Hardware. Their midtown store closed, a tragedy for those with old homes seeking obscure hardware. I recall how it opened, on generator power, and endured thefts of saws and generators, during the craziness after Hurricane Isabel. I bought my first Stihl saw from them that day, using it while living in town; my mom had a huge elm come down in her yard and it needed clearing before the power came on; it pulled down the power company's main service line!

Some Pleasants' alums opened Anthony's Decorative Hardware, a place I can still get wrought-iron details like shutter dogs and hooks, since Nan and I make our own working shutters for our house.
Though that great old midtown store is gone, a cooperative (Do it Best) kept the branch stores and the Pleasants ethos alive: you'll find well staffed locations where the folks know tools, supplies, and other products. Unlike a big box, an employee will come up and help you find what you need. Look around and you'll find True-Value and Ace hardwares. Go in.

Lots of folks shop online; I do, too when I cannot find what I need locally. Shipping is often free. Yet recently on two occasions, Pleasants had something I could not verify online and would have cost me to pay shipping. Just yesterday, I discovered that I'd stupidly over-tightened the bolts holding the bar on my larger Sthil chainsaw. The studs are set in heavy-duty plastic, not steel, and the threads stripped out. Stihl, knowing about dunces like this writer, makes larger-sized studs, but they cannot be had anywhere online. Finally I found a Web site, but then I decided to call Pleasants: they will have the parts for me, for the same price in a week, perhaps two. The same thing happened recently when I needed new bars for both saws. Pleasants actually beat the price from several online dealers!

If brick-and-mortar retail wants to survive in the age of Amazon, merchants need to provide something the giants cannot: bespoke service, deep knowledge, and instant advice. They need to remember you with more than an algorithm based upon your past purchases and some cookies stored in your browser's cache.

Some locals don't get this: there's a NAPA nearby with a notoriously grumpy staff, unless you have lived here all your life. They get a bit nicer when you pay them in cash (I always do). But usually I order what I need online or at a big-chain auto store. Some of them are franchises of Car Quest or NAPA, and I fast learned which have the best staff. They get my money.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Early Season "Pesto"

Why wait for the basil? Though we have a lot frozen from last year, I wanted something fresh on my pasta this week. I need the treat: 30 pounds lighter than I was at the turn of the year, I remain on a low-carb, doctor-ordered diet to combat high blood sugar. I found a chickpea-based pasta, however, that lets me enjoy pesto, one of my garden favorites, once per week.

Back to the basil. We usually harvest the first batch in early June, so I've a few weeks to wait. Meanwhile, my chard, lettuce, kale, collards, and mustard greens are so tempting. Here's the recipe, based on my old-school Waring blender, but a food processor will get the job done. The color of the resulting sauce is stunning, an emerald green that keeps its color better than basil-based pesto, especially when refrigerated. The extra garlic punches up the flavor profile, too, since the greens have a milder bite (save for the Mustard!) than basil.

The recipe:

  • Fill a blender's bowl with 2 cups olive oil. Add more as needed to achieve the right consistency as you blend.
  • Peel and process 7 (yes, SEVEN) cloves of garlic in the oil. Use more if you dare.
  • Wash and chop a LOT of greens. I filled  gallon bowl tonight, removing big stems. A surprise delight was mustard greens, as they add a real punch to the "pesto"
  • Add 1/2 cup nuts and process. My recent pick was unsalted pecans, but I've used walnuts, pine nuts, even peanuts! I'd prefer the unsalted.
  • Add 1/2 cup or more grated Romano or Parmesan and process. The better the grade of the cheese, the better the pesto. 
Serve over pasta. This recipe freezes very well. I sprinkle my plate with flaked hot pepper, adding salt and pepper to taste.

You'll almost forget that basil. ¡Buen provecho!