25 February 2006

Argument for a professional military

A light entry into United States military history:

"By an Act of the Legislature, approved in April, 1841, it was required that the several battalions of State Militia should rendezvous for inspection, drill, service and martial exercise, in each county, between the first days of May and November of each year.

Pursuant to this, in the latter part of October, 1842, all the able bodied white male citizens of Cass County between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, were notified to rendezvous at Cassopolis for the purposes set forth in the Act.

The day proved exceedingly unfavorable, being cold and inclement with a mingled fall of rain and snow. Still, nearly one thousand sturdy yeomen assembled on the public square to receive their first lessons in the art of national defense.

They were as motley a crew as ever perplexed a drill sergeant, with shoes and without, with coats and hats, or without either. Some of them armed with rifles and shot guns, but the majority with clubs, broom-sticks and cornstalks. There was nothing uniform about them – excepting variety.

The “martial exercise” developed into the broadest burlesque on the art of war, and its glaring absurdity was evident to officers and men alike.

The instructors proving totally unqualified to teach, and the pupils soon being in no mood to receive instructions, resort was had to an exercise in which honors were easy and responsibilities equal.

Informal, but effective requisitions being made upon the officers, whiskey in barrels was rolled out on the public square and each Captain required to provide a pail and tin cups for the use of his Company.

The fun soon grew fast and furious. Friendly wrestling gave place to bellicose fisticuffs. Political and neighborhood quarrels were put in a way for adjustment, bloody noses and cracked crowns became the order of the day, and the first and only military training in the history of Cass County terminated in general debauch.”

From History of Cass County, Michigan from 1825 to 1875 by Howard Rogers (published 1875)

There are many county histories like this one available. The early westward pioneers were dying, and enterprising historians began to collect their stories, as well as the history of the towns and counties they’d founded in order to commemorate the nation’s Centennial. People were tremendously proud and were much closer to the history of the United States and its founding.

 A great-grat grandfather, Abner Kelsey, was part of this rendezvous of Michigan militia.  He made his way to California twice during the Gold Rush, and one of his sons settled in Tulare County where he opened a butcher shop.  Two other sons fought in the Civil War, and one, John, was killed.  It may be that the other son fought for the Confederacy, though I have yet to confirm.  Abner was an early Michigan settler, though the whole family apparently had wanderlust.  I can't imagine traveling all the way to California from the Midwest in the 1840s- twice.  Amazing.

08 February 2006

Spring songs

Illustration by Allan Brooks
About this time of year I start listening for the cardinal on sunny mornings. He is readying his claim to a nesting territory and impressing the ladies. It is one of the most beautiful sounds in nature for those of us who might have cabin fever or snow fatigue. This year (so far – always must qualify in the unpredictable Midwest) winter has been modest, so perhaps we can expect a timely spring. Another possibility is a cold May followed by a 90-degree June. Still, the memory of warm breezes scattering the apple blossoms on the orchard floor and morel mushrooms sprouting up after a rain invites even skeptics to imagine a joyous rebirth.

This a.m. I did hear not only Mr. Cardinal but a robin in the distance. He no doubt is a year round resident, as fewer robins migrate than they used to. However, we’ll take his song, even if it means he’s just in from a nearby woods.

In Michigan there is a tempest in the state legislature over the state bird. It has been the robin from the beginning. Others advocate for the Jack Pine, or Kirtland’s, warbler because its only nesting ground on the entire planet is the scrub pine lands in the north central region of the lower peninsula. Still others are pushing for the chickadee. It takes a cold heart to reject a chickadee.

Predictably, the grumpy among the elected representatives claim that the state has more important business to attend to. That position is guaranteed not to stir controversy.

05 February 2006

Studying seed catalogs

We’re back to winter in the old Midwest. January was like March. My parsley was still green, my volunteer bachelor’s buttons were healthy looking, cabbage plantlings I’d put in and forgotten about were still alive. Without any snow cover, if the temperature had been normal, they’d have been iced. Snow is a wonderful insulator, and I believe the soil is still moisture deficient, although there was quite a lot of rain in November.

It’s blustery outside and the type of winter evening seed catalog merchants count on to boost sales. Even though I am likely to be a transient once again this summer, I am damned well going to have some plants – somewhere. I love seed catalogs. Select Seeds in Union, Connecticut for heirloom flowers, Cook’s Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine and Seeds of Change in New Mexico fro vegetables are my favorites. Shepherd’s used to have wonderful seeds, as well, but I believe they were acquired by the White Flower Farm and then deep-sixed. They never disappointed me. Burpee’s is always reliable, too.

If I had my way, I’d turn my front yard, if possible, into a space to grow edible crops, as well as the back. At the very least native plants would take the place of some of the turf grass. I’d leave some dandelions, although I have a dandy tool with which to dig them out. The bees need the early pollen, starting with crocuses. When they’re spent, there can be a lag before the really good stuff blooms.

For several years I have dreamed of buying some land for a market garden. A handy water source and excellent soil fertility, sun (natch) are all I ask. Farm land around here runs around $5000. per acre. Agriland that’s been Dowed and Monsantoed is easy to come by, but I want land that hasn’t been wrecked by chemicals. My late uncle’s assisted living facility was built on an old orchard. Last June I walked around the property and found German Chamomile growing everywhere. Those old fashioned farmers knew what they were doing. There isn’t much of anything that German chamomile won’t help, because it attracts beneficial insects. I’m sure the farmer sprayed the trees, but the soil might not be as compromised.

Incorporated areas nearly always have restrictions on the type of dwelling one can situate on his land. Consequently I may have to go away from civilization and into fundie/survivalist country. They might appreciate someone like me. Who knows? What’s the name of that book? Oh, yes. Jesus Land. Well, that was Indiana. World of difference between Michigan and Indiana. (apologies to any I may have offended. Indiana is beautiful and the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been there.)

For the immediate future I may stick to hybrid tomatoes. The heirlooms need excellent soil conditions, and some don’t yield nearly as well as the hybrids. The last two years I grew a rare heirloom, red calabash, which I bought from Seeds of Change. It is prolific, but small, about twice the size of a good size cherry tomato, but does not hold too awfully long on the vine. My purple Cherokee did nothing last year, but I think the soil is the reason. Marmande, a 6 ounce heirloom, was also good.

Among the F1 hybrids, Juliet is a definite winner – prolific and good tasting. I ate dozens right off the vine. Nothing like a sun-warmed tomato. It is a plum variety.
The best all-around hybrid for my neck of the woods is Better Boy (Burpee). It is great for canning, eating, has a good shelf life and is very tasty.

A neighbor wants me to find him some certified Rutgers seed. Rutgers is a parent of the tomato Cambell’s soup uses. My brother always grows them. If I had a large enough space I could experiment.

There is something wonderful about being able to grow some of one’s own food. Work never runs out, but the effort is worth it, especially if you can preserve something for winter. Home canned tomatoes over pasta with a little Parmesan cheese is a divine concoction. My parents used to give me home canned tomatoes for Christmas. As good as a bottle of Champagne – better – and I am a Champagne girl.

There was an organic herb farm for sale around here a few years back. It was one of my favorite businesses in these parts, and they even had a little lunchtime restaurant. The proprietors’ children didn’t want to carry on the business, so they had it on the market for about $550,000. They worked seven days a week about 10 months a year, but it was spectacular. Heaven.

Well, I am bookmarking sources. Michigan has a land use institute. The cooperative extensions also can be good resources. I have one of Eliot Coleman’s books. Who knows. One of my ancestors – a great great grandmother, I believe - walked to market a couple of miles each way when she was in her ‘80s. Many such lived to be 100. My heart is in the city, but owning land is a big deal to me. Irish. Wasn’t that what Scarlett’s father told her?