Is it that time of year again?

That time of year when, filled with spring energy but foiled by stubborn snow-drifts, one paces around the house, catching up on chores, until all the chores are caught and subdued, and then… and then what? Then you start doing silly things like Googling yourself, only to discover… Damn, that’s right, I had a blog, once.

And for once, I wasn’t too embarrassed by what I found.

Actually, I found that this Feral Vermonter thing makes as much sense as it ever did. I started this blog during a period of unemployment, to keep the wheels turning, to conjure a little inspiration, and maybe, just maybe, to encourage someone else in my situation, someone broke, and feeling bleak. Well, through many twists and turns I do have a job now, but like so many of us out there I’m still just making do.

Since my last post here, we got married, and then I went back to school, and then we moved. A lot has changed! But as they say… much remains the same. Life in southern Vermont’s still pretty tough. The poor are still getting poorer, and the rich are still getting richer (but don’t get me started). Worst of all, most people I know, including myself, seem subtly ashamed of where they are in life: unemployed, under-employed, or employed but totally overqualified for the job they’re doing (notice I didn’t say what sort of job I had?). We say these things like, “it’s just for right now,” or, “it’s only until I find something better,” but in our quiet moments of doubt, we ask ourselves, what’s wrong with me?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and maybe we’ll get to it in later posts. The main thing here, the problem, is that we think it’s all our fault. But here’s the thing: it’s not. Sure, maybe history or creative writing wasn’t the best choice as a major. Maybe we’re sorta lazy, or spend too much on clothes or wine, or we have a nasty habit like smoking. Maybe we should have applied to that job after all, maybe if we were better at writing resumes… But these aren’t the reasons why we’re poor. I’m not going to unpack that right now either, except to say that there’s a great big world out there, full of great big things that we can’t control, and for the most part, these are the reasons why we’re poor.

Say it with me, now:


 It’s not my fault!


Am I right? Shouldn’t anyone working an honest forty hours make enough to live on? Shouldn’t anyone willing to work be able to find it? It’s not our fault that the factories closed up and left town. It’s not our fault that the big-box stores came and sucked all the life out of main street. It’s not our fault that modern-day robber barons crashed the world economy. The point here is not to make some grand thesis about the true causes of our economic woes–you can replace the list above with any great big things beyond your control: after all, it’s not your fault the locusts came this year. If locusts were the cause of all your misfortunes, you’d be crazy to think it was your fault–so why do we think it’s all on us when it comes to jobs?

So, go easy on yourselves, folks, and good luck out there!

PS: I’m not gonna make any grand pronouncements about my plans for this site, but hopefully over the coming year you’ll see some more posts: more recipes, more wild gardening ideas, more musings on how to live the good life, when you’re barely making ends meet. If you find you like what I’m doing, drop me a line!

The Annals of Brattleboro

For the last six hours, I have been utterly absorbed in the history of my small Vermont town, in the form of the Annals of Brattleboro, 1650-1895, compiled and edited by Mary Roger Cabot.*

It’s difficult reading, because it truly is an annal, and not a “true” history.  Historiographers make much of these distinctions, but put quite simply what distinguishes an annal from a history is narrative.  Histories take historical evidence and form a narrative of it, while annals just pile it all together.  This happened, and then this happened.  Just one damn thing after another.  But this is something more: a historiographer’s annal, if you will, since it’s not just a big pile of loosely chronological historical information, it’s also a collection of documents, essays and articles written by many different authors, at different times and at different levels of historical or literary sophistication.

I have always loved Vermont, and I have always loved history, but somehow those two loves never quite intertwined, a mystery that I simply cannot explain.  Chalk it up to the perversity of the human mind.  I have always wondered, though, how old my house is.  The construction is pre-Victorian; the root cellar positively primeval.  My failure to research this, the history of the place I call home, was felt all the more keenly for the fact that I pretty much live on the same block as the Historical Society.  It’s right down the street.  Not even five minutes away.

Throughout reading the Annals I’d experienced one shock of recognition after another.  I knew these places, in a way that I’d never known the places before.  In the past few years I’ve taken to traveling the old back roads, and sighing over old farmhouses, but in fact I live in an old farmhouse, it’s just a farmhouse that was overtaken by a forties-fifties suburban-styled neighborhood.  This is the place that I know better, probably, than any other: one of the two houses that I grew up in, and the house I returned to in adulthood.  It’s the place that I started my life with my lady love, and now it’s the place that I garden, the land that I work, a bond that needs no explanation.

On page 185:

No settlement was made in the valley of the Whetstone Brook above the Estey Sawmill till 1798, when William Harris began one where the old road to Marlboro turns up the hill at West Brattleboro.

(I’m not saying for certain that this is my house, but it does seem likely!  Further findings to follow with the Historical Society Expeditionary Report.)

*Thanks, Google Books!

Update: A Solitary Bee

A while ago, I imagined the cultivation of solitary bees, for the keepers of small greenhouses in winter.

So imagine my surprise, then, when one appeared in the final months of the season.

I have yet to identify with any certainty what sort of bee this is, but with casual uncertainty I think it’s a Mason bee, in which case their cultivation might be as easy as working out what sort of wood they like to nest in, and pre-drilling some holes.

Found #6

Asexual or clonal propagation of plants may be as ancient an art as sexual propagation by seed.  Recent achaeobotanical evidence has uncovered carbonized figs on the outskirts of Jericho that push the dawn of agriculture to 11,400 years ago.  The figs were grown on sterile female trees that could only be propagated asexually, by stem cuttings.  For migrating populations to carry with them a branch or rooted portion of a prized tree or fruit-bearing shrub, such as these Neolithic figs, to their next settlement and to bury that branch or root system in new earth, keeping it moist until a new plant springs up from the old clone, is a great and compelling mystery enacted throughout horticultural history.

Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World, Wendy Johnson, p. 285.

Found #5; Double-Found

In his classic King Solomon’s Ring he (Konrad Lorenz) describes the “courteous chivalry” of male Greylags, evident in the devotion of Martin the gander toward his partner, Martina:

In Greylag geese, the bridegroom follows literally in the footsteps of his bride, but Martina wandered free and fearless through all the rooms of our house, without stopping to ask the advice of her bridegroom who had grown up in the garden; so he was forced to venture into realms unknown to him.  If one considers that a Greylag goose, naturally a bird of open country, must overcome strong instinctive aversions in order to venture even between bushes or under trees, one is forced is to regard Martin as a little hero as, with upstretched neck, he followed his bride through the front door into the hall and then upstairs into the bedroom.  I see him now standing in the room… shivering with tension, but proudly erect and challenging the great unknown with loud hisses.

The Bird, Colin Tudge, p. 266.

Found #4

Now, it is probably true that every job entails some kind of mutilation.  Working as an electrician, you breathe a lot of unknown dust in crawl spaces, your knees get bruised, your neck gets strained from looking up at the ceiling while installing lights or ceiling fans, and you get shocked regularly, sometimes while on a ladder.  Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw.  But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself.

Shop Class As Soulcraft: an Inquiry Into the Value of Work, Matthew B. Crawford, p. 134

Found #3

Do human beings live together in large communities because they have to or because they want to?  By “have to.” of course, we could be referring to biological drives or instincts, economic or environmental necessity, or cultural pressures.  Yet as humans, we know that we are capable of making exceptions to most every rule: the occasional desert island survivor or cave-dwelling hermit proves to us that we can shun society if we really “have to” or “want to.”  And if we “want to” live in communities, does that mean that we do so of our own free will?  Or have biological instincts, economic necessity, or cultural pressures made us think and feel that we “want to” when, like it or not, we really “have to”?

The Goddess and the Bull; Çatalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization, Michael Balter, p. 173