Thursday, July 21, 2016

Of Ruffed Grouse and Voyageurs

Say, "fromage"!
So anyway, the girls and I visited the Folle Avoine Historical Park over last weekend. I highly recommend it if you happen to find yourself near Danbury, Wisconsin, for some reason. Well-designed and interesting little attraction with a couple of museums and a very nice blacksmith who gave my dad a fire steel for free.  But the coolest thing was the reconstructed fur post, which was actually two fur posts - one from the Northwest Company, one from the XY Company - that were built literally 90 feet from one another*. In these posts, Voyageurs - Frenchmen usually from Quebec - picked up Algonquin wives and traded trinkets and tools for furs and meat with their new families.  At the end of the trading year, they'd load it all up into 90-lb packs for the walk/ride back to Canada, only to come back next year and do it again.

The fur post might have been the coolest thing I saw, but it was not the strangest. That honor belongs to a plucky little ruffed grouse who made his home along a 1000-year-old portage between the Brule and St. Croix Rivers.  My dad and I were walking the trail when this runt jumps out and starts strutting and fanning in front of me like he's some old, proud tom turkey.  Now for those of you who don't know, a ruffed grouse is a game bird that weighs about a pound, maybe a pound and a half. I used to hunt them when I lived in Minnesota - they never strutted but they would loudly burst out of the snow behind you and fly away, and by the time you caught your breath from the scare they were safely buried somewhere else.

So here's this little turkey about the size of my fist spreading and strutting and squawking until I stop for a look, then he flops off into the brush and continues to make a racket.  My best guess is that he was probably trying to distract me from a nearby nest. I'm not sure if male grouse do that sort of thing, but I was certain he was trying to get my attention, and just as certain he expected me to follow him. At least for a little while.

Sorry, bird, I've got more important things to do.  Like thank God I don't have to lug a birch bark canoe across 17 miles of northern wilderness to get to work like the Voyageurs did**. 

* I suppose it's not unlike Taco Bell following McDonald's around and building one of their own restaurants as close as possible.
** One the way back, Dad and I passed a mother black bear standing on the side of the road with her three cubs in tow. I am also thankful that she was not on the trail, nor trying to attract my attention.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day

While it is fashionable among many commentators to bemoan the fact that the United States is not the same nation it was 240 years ago, it's also silly and short-sighted.  No, America is not the same was it was in 1789. Neither was it the same in 1865, 1913, 1938, or 1964.

Because of changes in population (both quantity and quality), technology, religion, and even language, there is not a single nation in the world that is the same as it was two centuries ago. Most of them do not even have the same borders. Those pining for some sort of social and political stasis wish for what never has been.

Still, we are much less free than our fathers were, no?  When Obama throws Joe Wilson in jail for saying "You lie" publicly, we will have just as limited a government as did the Americans of 1798, when Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon was jailed for four months for criticizing President Adams under the Sedition Act. When the state legislature of California puts a bounty on the head of Phyllis Schlaffly for being anti-abortion in the same way the Georgia legislature did on William Lloyd Garrison for being anti-slavery, we will have just as much liberty of conscience as those of 1837. When citizens are forced by law to assist private "government" agents in rounding up anyone they point the finger at - even if it's obvious those people are being railroaded - we will be just as free as the men of 1850.  Yes, we pay for far more government than our fathers did, but the government they paid for was just as dismissive of the rights of life, liberty, and property as is the current one.  And even moreso in many specific instances.

Independence Day celebrates our independence from the British - we were Brexit long before Brexit was cool. And there's never a bad day to celebrate liberty. It, like the Rights of Englishmen, is an ideal to which we should always and everywhere aspire. But if a man wants to complain on Independence Day that he is not free to do completely as he wishes, then he is pining for something that never was and likely never will be.  The best he can probably do is to move to a place where no one will bother him all that much. There are probably 2 million square miles in America where this is possible*.

Still, a liberty-loving man lives free despite the rules that surround him, while others live as slaves even in Utopia.  Freedom cannot be granted a man. Either he takes it for himself, or he lives without it.  And not just on the Fourth of July.

* If you are within hailing distance of ten million people, you are not in one of those places.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pepper Problems

Cat proof
So anyway, late last fall I hit one of those deals that can change your entire year. It wasn't like winning the lottery or losing a kidney.  I just found a merchant on ebay who had .99 seed packs for sale and offered combined shipping.  So I bought like 15 kinds of pepper seeds and some other curiosities for less than $25 dollars delivered and figured I'd spend this year growing tons of pepper plants.  As of July 1, I have exactly six.

I planted a wonderful variety as soon as the frost was past, but they really don't do much until the ground temp rises, so the tomatoes quickly outpaced them and monopolized the best garden spaces.  Then Obie and Kross 'weeded' a whole bunch of the seedlings for me, which is to say they pulled them out of their planter(s), dropped them on the deck, and danced on them.

The lovely and gracious Rogue bought me a rectangular fiberglass planter (pictured) that I started many others in.  Digging Dog™ decided that potting soil would work better spread all over the deck. Then the kittens decided that planter would work really well as a litter box.  Neither is conducive to the growth of seedlings.

Finally, for some reason I cannot explain, half of the peppers that I thought were peppers are actually cock's combs. So I have half a dozen of those in the garden in spots I had kept free of tomatoes. And I have no idea what kind of peppers the half dozen surviving peppers plants will produce.

But I am undeterred*. Today I refilled the planter and devised a cunning , 2-level protective steel shield for it. The top, which is clearly visible, ought to convince Digging Dog™ that she has easier targets, like my comfrey bed, which is apparently a really nice place to nap. But beneath that is a bit of steel fencing with 8 or 9 pokey-proddy wires of different lengths sticking up in various directions, which I hope will convince the kittens to go crap somewhere else. Then I planted three dozen peppers seed of a dozen varieties in it.  If any sprout, they'll get replanted into beer cups and eventually the beds, and we may get peppers after all.

If not, there's always next year. I'll start them indoors to avoid animal problems. I already have my seeds.

* Or as my wife puts it, insufferably stubborn.