Drama at the Cat Sanctuary: Social Cats and a Fire

For once, a long me-me-me post that may interest someone outside my immediate family…November 14 and 15 were quite a weekend.

First, Heather, Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, negotiated a successful labor strike. I am not making this up. You can see, even from this image of a half-grown kitten nonverbally expressing “How could you take Ivy’s picture first,” that Heather is a cat you don’t meet every day.

Last spring Heather gave birth to five kittens. Two of them, Tickle and Elmo, remain at the Cat Sanctuary.

“They’re six months old now,” I said. “It’s time they moved on to permanent homes. I don’t want tomcat odor in the house.”

“Their permanent home is my permanent home,” said Heather, nonverbally, “and you will let them in the house, and you will feed them, or I’ll move out. I may have been born in a house but I can revert to being totally feral any time I want to. I can live on wild squirrels…there are enough of them in the woods this year!”

So for ten days, while I searched for her and thought she might have been killed or petnapped, Heather skulked in the woods, and Ivy was able to catch one of the recent gray squirrel irruption. The only evidence of Heather’s survival I could find was a steady decline in the squirrel overpopulation problem.

On November 14, Heather came home, waking me around 2 a.m. After watching to see that Tickle and Elmo were fed too, she ate another meal and agreed to be friends again. I didn’t get back to sleep that night.

After the cat family drama, November 15 started out to be a bland, even boring, sunny autumn day. I put the trash in the wood stove as I usually do. I usually burn just one piece of wood with one bag of trash. I saved truckloads of scrap wood from construction jobs in 1993 and in 2006, and have almost half the total volume of wood left, today. On November 15 the trash (mostly used tissue) was on the damp side so I put in a larger scrap of wood than usual, a piece of a 2×4 instead of the usual skinny slat. I did not anticipate a need to watch the fire. I expected that about half of the trash bag and half of the wood would be in the stove, cold, in the morning.

If I’d stayed in the older part of the house (it has three distinct sections, old, new, and in between) I would have noticed that something different happened with that little trash fire. What happened was a chimney fire. If you keep your chimney nice and clean, chimney fires burn out harmlessly. If you let soot and creosote build up, the fire in the chimney can be hot enough to ignite wood or paper near the chimney…especially if the wall near the chimney is insulated with the pre-asbestos kind of petrochemical stuff that burns faster than paper.

On November 15 I learned that this can also happen if you inadvertently burn a scrap of wood that was once, long ago, treated with creosote. That wood burned bright and hot, drying and consuming the damp tissue, blazing straight up into the chimney.

All these years I’d never even wondered what the walls in the older part of the house were insulated with. Only when I smelled smoke, ran into the kitchen, and saw flames flickering inside the wall, did I find out…it was the bad stuff all right, and the fumes when that stuff burns are horrible.

When I was growing up in the house where I now live, everybody knew that the fire engines couldn’t pump or haul enough water to spray on a house that was not on a town water system; the county fire department wouldn’t do anything. You fought your own fire, and your neighbors’ if you didn’t want their fires to spread to your property, or you just stood about watching your house burn to the ground. I stayed in a house across the creek, and watched a poor old lady watch her home burn, when I was six years old. I helped save our house, and contain the fire after a neighbor’s house was lost, as a teenager. Even my depressive sister has some fire-fighting experience.

So I knew not to panic. The air was damp, the wood was not very dry, so despite the blaze from the insulation the fire didn’t spread fast. I had time to run in and out sloshing bottles of water on the flames, but the insulation kept blazing up again, and also I found out that I’m not tall enough to climb up on the roof from the ladder that was available. About that time a neighbor passed by. I asked him to try climbing up on the roof. He’s taller than I am, but fatter, and didn’t get onto the roof either. The fire was getting ahead of us. Well, why not call the fire department, I had said. On a lazy Sunday afternoon one of them might be willing to take a bottle of water up on to the roof.

About that time the county fire engine rolled up, and to my surprise the county fire department did take over fighting the fire. That is why the house is basically intact today. Inside, there’s a big hole in the wall between the two oldest rooms, a small hole in the ceiling, some damage to the chimney, some damage to the stove, and some further damage to the wiring I hadn’t dared to use since the 2011 cyclone anyway. The house still has an intact floor that will support seven large men, an intact roof that will support one of them, and mostly intact but unconnected electrical wiring. The neighbor and I might have put the fire out without professional help, but the damage would certainly have been worse.

I had planned to go into town and post that long reflection on sustainable organic gardening on November 15. I had wanted to stay home and enjoy the relatively warm, sunny afternoon. I had actually prayed about the matter and felt led to stay…at least a little later…when the fire started. So when it was over I was actually saying, “Thank you, God.”

Well, by then, it was time to call the cats to dinner…and where was Heather? I think she seriously considered going back to the woods. The other cats had missed her, too, and we all spent a lot of time roaming around in the woods, calling Heather. Then Heather took some time making up her mind whether she could stand the smell in the house. In the end, though, I think she took pity on us.

The sun was down; the temperature went down. I had considered myself over bronchitis, finally, on November 14. Deep breaths of chemical fumes followed by deep breaths of cold air brought the bronchitis back worse than ever.

On the whole, though, I think the Cat Sanctuary was better off than November 16 than on November 13. It may be a while before anybody can either cook or burn trash in the kitchen…but at least we do have Heather.

Organic Gardening and Farming, Continued

Last year +Jeff Sullivan started a debate that got into, among other things, the hazards of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural bacteria culture that causes slow, apparently very painful, death for caterpillars but usually doesn’t bother humans at all. (Individual monarch caterpillars are vulnerable to BT; the species as a whole was not endangered by it.) BT is organic. Right. But we’re talking about three different possibilities with BT:

(1) The bacteria are naturally transmitted among insects, at a relatively low concentration. Humans are exposed to very few bacteria unless they eat or handle insects daily, which nobody we know does, right?

(2) The bacteria are cultured in laboratories and the culture is sprayed or poured, in much higher concentration, on vulnerable plants at the key time of year. Humans are exposed to more bacteria than they ever were before microscopes and systematic bacteria culturing were invented, but that’s still relatively few bacteria. (Human volunteers have demonstrated the ability to eat a cupful of live BT culture at a time without showing symptoms.)

(3) DNA from the bacteria is spliced into one or more foods that humans then unknowingly eat every single day over a period of years. Arguably humans are exposed to fewer living, “natural” bacteria than in the first two situations…but reality is that a small minority of humans (who apparently ate a great deal of BT-DNA-enhanced corn) have developed chronic symptoms that they describe in terms similar to the early stages of death-by-BT in infected caterpillars.

It’s not scientifically rigorous to say that pesticide A is “worse” than pesticide B; you have to specify how much of each pesticide under what conditions–and obviously the article linked below is comparing apples and oranges, in terms of the ways serious organic gardeners and small farmers use these pesticides. On the other hand, if we’re talking about commercial “organic” agribusinessmen thinking they can just substitute concentrated tobacco juice for “Roundup” or plant BT-spliced corn instead of spraying the corn with “Raid,” we could be talking about a serious health hazard. Potentially. If they’re trying to plant acre after acre of the same thing, year after year, and “protect” it by poisoning it instead of rotating crops the way serious organic farmers do…


Protecting our environment is not merely a matter of substituting one poison for another poison. We have to learn to raise food crops efficiently enough that nobody has to rely on poison.

This can be done, but it’s not a quick, easy process. Vegetable gardeners and “organic” farmers need to be prepared for a long haul.

Helicoverpa zea, the Corn Earworm Moth, used to be a rare species. This drab little moth is, perhaps surprisingly, not nearly so well protected against predators as the showy Monarch. The Monarch’s vivid colors warn most predators that they don’t want to eat it. Birds, bats, bugs, wasps, and other creatures prefer to eat the Corn Earworm Moth, which apparently tastes good to them. However, when humans started spraying insecticides on whole fields, Corn Earworm Moth populations exploded! The insecticides were killing predators more efficiently than pests. The Corn Earworm Moths reproduced faster than poisoned birds and bats did, and when the next generation of moths hatched, there weren’t enough predators to thin their populations.

(Credit: “Pollinator” at Creative Commons.) I grew up in a world that had probably ten times as many Corn Earworm Moths as the world had a hundred years earlier. According to Wikipedia…


…the caterpillars infest one ear of corn (or sorghum) apiece. This, I learned as a child, is not necessarily the case. The first year we tried planting corn without spraying a field that had been poisoned every year for several years, we hardly found an intact ear; three and four earworms per ear of corn were not uncommon, and the chickens got more of our fresh, organically grown corn than we did. It took about ten years for predator populations to recover, even locally, to the point where anybody could count on having intact ears of organically grown corn for dinner.

This is typical, Gentle Readers. The first year you stop poisoning a field, you’ll be raising insects and will need to find Green ways to kill the ones you can’t just throw to the chickens. It will take time to rebuild predator populations. You’ll need to rotate crops (sustainable agriculture involves rotating crops anyway) and hand-pick a lot of pests. We used to go out to the vegetable garden with a little jar in our pockets to pick up all the insects, so we could burn or drown them all at once instead of having to squish them on the ground. We tried all kinds of dodges like tying nylon stockings over ears of corn to discourage those corn earworms.

After ten or twenty years, though, all this effort will pay off in beautiful, healthy food. If you want an organic garden, don’t give up too easily. Organic gardening does work, even though the local ecology will need time to recover from the Vicious Spray Cycle. Most of the corn grown in my corner of the world today is earworm-free.

Phenology: Monarch Butterfly, Gardening, Farming

(This was written on November 13, originally scheduled for November 15; it’s been separated into two posts due to length, and will have to appear on November 16 and 17, due to drama at the Cat Sanctuary on November 14 and 15.)

Not last night, but the night before, rain washed most of the leaves off most of the trees. The predominant color of the hills is now drab, with a few lingering patches of oak, beech, pine, or cedar. Nevertheless, we’ve had only one or two brief dips below the freezing mark, and insects remain active. One of the spring kittens managed to pick up a dog tick last week.

And yesterday I saw a monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. This is one of the best known and best loved butterflies on Earth…

(Credit: “Monarch In May” by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_In_May.jpg#/media/File:Monarch_In_May.jpg )

They’re popular because they tour. The one I saw was heading south for the winter, and may come back in the early spring, when milkweed begins to sprout. The female Monarch is restless in spring, and lays only one or two eggs on each milkweed plant. On a quiet day you can hear her wings flap as she flits from plant to plant. Monarch caterpillars eat nothing but milkweed; more than one or two of them might kill their host plant. When they reach their full size, which can be a little over two inches long, the caterpillars often look for a plant other than milkweed on which to hide while they rest and turn into butterflies.


They spend ten or fifteen days pupating, during which they don’t spin cocoons and are visible but don’t look like living animals, and then emerge–as adolescents. Monarch butterflies reach full maturity only when they’re ready to reproduce. In summer this takes four or five days; for the alternate generation, who hatch in winter, it takes the whole winter season.

For hundreds if not thousands of years, monarch butterfly populations were stable. The species became threatened only recently. Efforts have been made to rebuild population levels…


However, the species has been severely threatened by humans’ abuse of chemicals. Monarch butterflies are harmless to plants humans can eat, but they’re vulnerable to poison spray.


Despite the science fiction in the novel Flight Behavior, monarchs are not seriously believed to be endangered by global warming…although, if some of the global warming scenarios scientists have projected were to come true, they would be. The butterflies are most seriously endangered by herbicides that are sprayed, or drift on the wind, onto their host plant milkweed. They are also vulnerable to insecticides, although they tend to scatter themselves widely enough that population levels were not threatened by insecticides alone.

Are the “organic pesticides” discussed below really more toxic than glyphosate or DDT or whatever? Depends on the concentration in which they’re used; water could be “more toxic than DDT” if we’re talking about a trace of DDT on the peel of a peeled apple versus enough water to drown in. Thing is, if you really get into sustainable organic farming or gardening, the “organic pesticides” are going to be like that rifle I didn’t actually buy, last summer, for the purpose of killing a nuisance animal–you don’t even think about them every year. I’ve recommended the oil-and-vinegar treatment for poison ivy, but do I myself use it? No; I dig up my own poison ivy by the roots, which is a better option I’ve recommended for long-term poison ivy control. Another good option is owning (or renting) a goat; they can become lovable pets, and they eat poison ivy.

(More about sustainable farming and gardening forthcoming…)



Can Solar Energy Save You Money?

Here’s an article I wrote for someone who didn’t give a very specific description of what he wanted to publish. Six hours after I’d written it, he replied with a more specific description of how he wanted it to be different. Specifically, his audience already know most of this information. Many people in my part of the world do not already have this information, so here, for the lurkers, is why youall should consider investing in solar energy at this stage of its development. Stealth entrepreneurial and investment tips follow:

We’ve been hearing about solar energy technology for years. We’ve been waiting for the technology to reach the point where switching to solar will actually save people money. Has that time come? And, do new buzzwords like “solar power purchase agreements” (SPPA) and “solar leases” mean that using solar energy can be as low-hassle as using conventional electric energy?

Why is interest in solar energy growing?

Solar panels basically run on sunshine. When sunshine hits a semiconductor, like a sliver of silicon, inside a photovoltaic cell, electrons are jolted out of place in the semiconductor material, generating an electric charge. This charge can be harnessed to power heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, computers, even batteries for electric-powered cars.

The first working photovoltaic module was built by Bell Laboratories in 1954, but was too expensive for mass marketing. Tiny photovoltaic (PV) modules have been powering solar-powered watches, calculators, etc., since the 1980s and, as anyone who had a solar watch in the 1980s knows, the technology has improved dramatically. Bigger and better arrays of multiple PV modules can now turn rooftops into generators.

People are saving money by going solar.

In Arizona, where there’s plenty of sun, little other potential for roof damage, and a huge need for air conditioning, businesses that have invested in a lot of solar panels are raving over their savings. If you glance at a web page titled “Solar ROI,” you’ll probably need to remind yourself that (a) these are good-sized businesses with room for lots of solar panels, and (b) there’s more solar energy to be harvested in Arizona than there is in Oregon.

How much you can save depends on where you are.

Rachel Bennett calculates that a typical homeowner saves about $50 per month. That’s a national average. Obviously, the more sunshine you get, the more each solar panel can do. The more roof space you have, especially if it gets a southern exposure, the more solar panels you can install. Some solar panels are rated more efficient than others. Solar panels can be vulnerable to stormy weather; if you get a lot of rain, snow, hail, and wind, you might want to put your solar panels over the pool or garage area rather than above places where people live or work.

(Don’t have a roof over your pool or garage? Why not take advantage of the tax incentives and add that luxury now? You already knew a roof could save you money on pool and vehicle maintenance. Now it can save you money on electricity as well.)

Simple arithmetic.

Solar panels are rated according to how many watts of electricity they’re designed to harvest in a typical year: 240, 320, etc. Companies multiply the number of watts per panel by the number of panels to be installed, then subtract that from the number of watts your actual electric bill shows that you use, to estimate how much you “ought to be” able to save by installing solar panels. In the Southwestern States this estimate is quite reliable.

Become a producer, not just a consumer.

It’s possible for solar panels to collect more electricity than you actually need. In fact, if the panels are installed on a building whose peak use is not in the middle of the day, you can plan on collecting more electricity than you need.

You could go off the grid, but for those of us who are not electrical engineers, it’s simpler to let the electric company “buy” this surplus electricity, then “sell” it back as credit for the times when you use more energy than the solar panels produce. “You buy low and sell high!” a California company assures.

Electric companies are planning to jack up prices.

Even if your electricity consumption declines in the next few years, your bills could still increase. However, if solar panels make you an electricity producer, you should see rewards on every monthly bill.

Solar panel maintenance can be, almost literally, a breeze.

In a dry climate, about all you have to do is dust off the solar panels every year or so. The photovoltaic cells are designed to last for twenty years.

What if the climate isn’t dry?

Many ecologically concerned homeowners have heard horror stories about older style solar panels damaging roofs. In the Eastern States, storm damage to roofs is a fact of life anyway. Some companies claim that new, improved solar panels can actually protect the roof. In any case most Easterners own a roof that’s pretty much a luxury, and panels installed above the garage can still save money for a home or business.

Cloudy, misty Buffalo, New York, has invested in solar energy in a big way. M.I.T. reviewer David Rotman worries that this investment may not pay off well for Buffalo, but expects it to pay off for individual Easterners…especially if they need the tax break they’ll get in 2015 or 2016.

Tax incentives to go solar are scheduled to drop after 2016.

You might call it government’s reward for helping develop this technology. In 2015 or 2016, 30% of the cost of installing solar panels can be deducted from your federal taxes. In 2017, that 30% is scheduled to drop to 10%.

There may be more, depending on where you live and what you do. States like New Mexico, with lots of sunshine and not much water, offer page after page of potential rewards for participating in the switch to solar energy.

Going solar feels so right.

At the same time that going solar reduces your carbon footprint, it helps send displaced coal and steel workers back to work. It can increase your property value, too. And, depending on how many buildings are involved, it can give a noticeable boost to the local economy.

So why aren’t more people switching already?

Once solar panels are assembled and installed, they cost nothing. Buying and installing solar panels is not cheap. Companies are coming up with creative financing options to help more people find out whether solar energy is for them.

A Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) allows an investor company to own solar panels they store on their customers’ property. A city or town, such as Pendleton, Oregon, may be the “solar service provider.” Customers then pay the company for the electricity they use, while the company retains ownership of the panels, collects the tax benefits, and, if necessary, reclaims and relocates the panels. Benefits to the customer can include a positive cash flow “from day one” with little or no initial investment.

A solar lease allows customers to pay a fixed monthly fee for the use of electricity from solar panels stored on their property. The company that installs the panels retains ownership of the panels. The fee offers a substantial reduction in monthly energy cost, so many homeowners in places where solar leases have been offered, like California, have chosen solar leases.


Solar energy technology has reached the point where it’s safe and affordable for your home or business to switch to solar. If you can’t afford to buy and install solar panels, you may be able to save money with a Solar PPA or solar lease.


Semiconductors: NASA Science News, https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2002/solarcells/

“Solar ROI”: https://www.svssolutions.com/testimonials/before-and-after

Bennett, Rachel. “Can I Really Save Money by Putting Solar Panels on My Roof?” https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/save-money-putting-solar-panels-roof/

“Buy low and sell high”: https://www.solarcity.com/residential/lower-electricity-bill-with-solar

Buffalo, New York: Schlager, Eric, in Buffalo News, https://www.buffalonews.com/business/can-you-afford-to-eliminate-your-electric-bill-with-solar-energy-20140830

Rotman, David. “Paying for Solar Power.” https://www.technologyreview.com/review/540226/paying-for-solar-power/

New Mexico: https://energy.gov/savings/search?f%5B0%5D=im_field_rebate_state%3A860096

Pendleton, Oregon: https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/buygp/solarpower.htm

California homeowners choose solar lease: https://www.sunrun.com/solar-lease

Morguefile’s Charlesa46741 illustrates how to go solar with zero risk to the roof ( www.morguefile.com/archive/display/982278 ) (I want this):

solar final

Favorite Fictional Characters (#2)

The first of the Favorite Fictional Characters series is here:


Although most fictional characters may not seem to most readers like people we’d like to know, I came up with a list of a few dozen. Number two is also a creation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s: Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.

I have to admit that the way Mary’s described in the first chapter or two of this book put me off, when I was seven or eight years old. That, and the dialect. If all those characters lived in England, why didn’t they speak English?

But eventually the library acquired an omnibus edition of A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy together, so eventually I borrowed the omnibus edition and read Burnett’s other two “classics.” Fauntleroy I could take or leave alone, but I was impressed by the way those two weepy little weeds, Mary and Colin, improve themselves by working on their garden. I came to suspect that they were based on the experience of some real children, somewhere, and that I would have enjoyed knowing those real children.

It seems as if Burnett wrote this story by imagining a character who starts out “quite contrary” to the way she appears at the end of the story. Children don’t usually like Mary at the beginning of the book. Understanding that she’s the sole survivor of a plague has to develop as children’s capacity for compassion develops. It is probably no use to tell a child under age ten that there are times when it reminds older people of sick, jaundiced, mean-mouthed Mary-at-the-beginning-of-the-book.

But Mary improves steadily throughout the story. She becomes healthier; she takes an interest in things outside herself; she learns respect for other people. She develops a spirituality that is, of course, childish–well, she is a child–yet sincere. She becomes a nurturer rather than a user of other people.

Around the turn of the century I read a grumpy feminist critic who claimed that The Secret Garden made an anti-girl statement by “subordinating” Mary’s healing process to Colin’s. I’ve never been able to read the story that way…possibly because I’d read Heidi before finishing The Secret Garden. In both stories we know that the sad, sickly orphan is maturing into a Real Heroine when she claims her power to help others as well as herself. Boys are supposed to be stronger than girls; Mary is strong enough to help Colin. Older children are supposed to be stronger than younger ones; Heidi is strong enough to help Clara.

Instead of being pushed into the pseudo-empowerment of a Teen Romance, both Mary and Heidi are allowed to experience compassion. I found this idea empowering, as a girl. I suspect that it’s why many book lovers say they preferred The Secret Garden to A Little Princess.

Here’s the Morguefile blog cat:


Book Review: Another Turn of the Crank

A Fair Trade Book (hurrah!)

Title: Another Turn of the Crank

Author:  Wendell Berry

Date: 1995

Publisher: Counterpoint / Publishers Group West

ISBN: 1-887178-28-7

Length: 109 pages

Quote: “[C]onsumers…are beginning to see that a sys­tem of food production that is dependent on massive applica­tions of drugs and chemicals cannot, by definition, produce ‘pure food.’”

The thing I can’t understand about Wendell Berry is why his books seem to be better known in Washington, D.C., than in my home town. I suspect prejudice may be involved. Virginians who didn’t go to Berea College can form a habit of looking down on Kentucky. Big mistake. By way of correction, I’ll disclose that Berry is one of the few contemporary thinkers (as distinct from reporters) George Peters used to read regularly; when I miss working on his FacTapes, I read Berry. It would be hard to think seriously about the role of farming and hand crafts in the twenty-first century without reading Berry.

Wendell Berry wrote many different kinds of things: biography, fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and practical essays about his farm in Henry County that used to be published in Organic Gardening & Farming; but Another Turn of the Crank is a sort of quick summary of his philosophy.

It’s a Green book, of course. Finding myself frequently out of step with people in the Green Party, I’d even go so far as to say that Another Turn of the Crank is, for me, the Green book. I’ve written about Sick Greens, Bitter Greens, Hazy Greens, Poison Greens, Fluorescent Greens…this book defines what I’d call True Green ideas at their best. Except for the last one, the points made in this book repeat ideas Berry has written about at greater length in other books, but this is the book that pulls his politics and philosophy into a coherent order:

  1. “Nothing that I have written here should be construed as an endorsement of either of our political parties as they pres­ently function…The ‘conservatives’ believe that an economy that favors its richest and most powerful participants will yet somehow serve the best interest of everybody. The ‘liberals’ believe just as irrationally that a merely competitive economy, growing always larger in scale and controlled by fewer and fewer people, can be corrected by extending government charity to the inevitable victims: the dispossessed, the unrepresented, and the unemployed.” (Pages ix-x.) “Communists and capitalists are alike in their contempt for country people…Moreover, the old opposition of country and city, which was never useful…is, in fact, damaging to everybody involved.” (Pages 15-16.) Berry predicts that the real political issue of the twenty-first century will be between the current powerful support for an unsustainable global economy and the efforts of small farmers to preserve a sustainable local economy.
  1. “A reader would also be in error who concluded, from this book’s reiterated wish to restore local life by meas of local economies, that it is ‘antigovernment.’ On the contrary, one of the fundamental purposes of these essays is to serve the cause of democratic government as established by the Consti­tution…[C]entral planning is of a piece with absentee ownership and does not work…The proper role of a government is to protect its citizens and its communities against…economic conquest just as much as conquest by overt violence.” (Pages x-xi.)
  1. “I believe that for many reasons—political, ecological, and economic—the best intelligence and talent should be at work and at home everywhere in the country. And therefore, my wishes for our schools are opposite to those of the present-day political parties.” (Page xi.)
  1. “Now that the issue of sustainability has arisen so urgently…we can see that the correct agri­cultural agenda following World War II would have been to continue and refine the already established connection be­tween our farms and the sun…Instead, the adopted agenda called for a shift…to the expen­sive, filthy, and limited energy of the fossil fuels…It called also for the displacement of nearly the entire farming population.” (Page 2) “[F]armers…must learn—or learn again—to farm in ways that minimize their dependence on industrial supplies. They must diversify, using both plants and animals. They must produce, on their farms, as much as the required fertility and energy as they can. So far as they can, they must replace purchased goods and services with natural health and diversity and with their own intelligence…If farmers hope to exercise any control over their markets…then they will have to look to local markets. The long-broken connections between towns and cities and their sur­rounding landscapes will have to be restored.” (Page 5.)
  1. “Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth? Always include local nature—the land, the water, the air, the native creatures—within the membership of the community. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources…Always supply local needs first. (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others…Develop small-scale industries and businesses to su­pport the local farm and/or forest economy. Strive to produce as much of the community’s own energy as possible.” (Page 19.)
  1. “To say that the right of private property has often been used to protect individuals and even global corporations in their greed is not to say that it cannot secure individuals in an appropriate economic share in their country.” (Page 49.)
  1. “[N]ot just forest land but allland, private and public, farmed and for­ested, is ‘natural.’ All land is natural and all nature is a com­mon wealth.” (Page 54.)
  1. “[Y]ou cannot get good care in the use of the land by demanding it from public officials…If we want the land to be cared for, then we must have people living on and from the land who are able and willing to care for it.” (Page 55.)
  1. “We have tried…preferring ourselves to the exclusion of all other creatures, with results that are manifestly disastrous. And now, conscious of those faults, we are tempted to correct them by denigrating ourselves…[W]e cannot be made kind toward our fellow creatures except by the same qualities that make us kind toward our fellow humans. The problem obviously is that we are not well practiced in kindness toward our fellow humans…especially, I think, toward human children…who are being aborted or abandoned, abused, drugged, bombed, neglected, poorly raised, poorly fed, poorly taught, and poorly disciplined. Many of them will not only find no worthy work but no work of any kind.” (Pages 78-79.)
  1. “I am moreover a Luddite…not ‘against technology’ so much as I am for community. When the choice is between the health of a community and technological innovation, I choose the health of the community.” (Page 90.)
  1. “Why should rest and food and ecological health not be the basic principles of our art and science of healing? Is it because the basic principles already are technology and drugs?” (Page 98.)
  1. “[W]e had better under­stand: sex and fertility are joined…sex and the world are joined.” (Page 81.)

Obviously, any book that tries to make these points in 109 pages is going to be a slow, dense, serious read even for True Greens to whom the ideas are familiar. This book includes some witty remarks and some anecdotes, but it’s much “heavier” than its small physical size suggests.

There are points on which it’s possible for True Greens to disagree with this book. Berry complains about the plight of small farmers and small business owners trying to obtain loans and credit from big-chain banks. George Peters would have said, and now I would say, that these individuals’ problem is their need to remain independent of the banks in the first place. Berry thinks the Internet destroys communities; online readers probably think it helps build communities. Minor points, these.

Then there’s a point of word usage on which Berry disagrees with most of the English-speaking world. All the English-speaking countries had a postwar baby boom. While the “Baby Boomer” generation in the U.K. was shaped by growing up in economic hardship, and the “Baby Boomer” generation in the U.S. was shaped by growing up in economic “boom times,” there is at least a general agreement that “Boomers” are people born between 1945 and 1970.

Berry, who was born in 1934, learned the slang word “boomer” at the time when it referred to the semi-nomadic lifestyle of those who always rushed toward the sites of the brief economic “booms” created as Americans discovered and exploited our natural resources. He opposes “boomers” to the “stickers” or “nesters” who wanted to stay in one place, use its resources prudently, and form social bonds with neighbors. He admits that these tendencies probably coexist in most of us, and feels that morality requires us to check any “boomer” tendencies we have and strengthen our “nester” tendencies–our topophilia. What Berry means by “boomer” is fairly close to what I mean by “greedhead,” what some other Greens mean by “land-rapers,” and what several people, a hundred years ago, seem to have meant by “capitalist.” In any case, it’s not a demographic defined by date of birth…and it’s not a thing anybody wants to be.

So far as I know, every time Berry has used the word “boomer” in this idiosyncratic, obsolete way he’s taken a page or two to define what he means, so confusion is not possible for those who read the whole book or article. I mention this point for the benefit of those random readers who try to judge a book by reading a page somewhere in the middle, who may have thought Berry was insulting their age group. He’s not…we’ve been his best students and biggest fans.

I’m tempted to say that everyone needs to read Another Turn of the Crank, because I wish everyone had already read it, but no. This is a book for adults who’ve had a fairly extensive, fairly liberal education, and some work experience. In previous books Berry built up his evidence in support of each of his points, and cited his sources; in this book he gives readers an overview of what he’s already studied and concluded. If these thoughts are at all new to you, Another Turn of the Crank would be a challenging place to begin learning about them. Everyone may need to read this book, eventually, but not everyone is ready for it yet.

So, if you’ve not read earlier Berry books, where should you begin? Home Economics and The Gift of Good Land were written earlier, for a more general audience…I think that might still be a general audience of university students, but at least he identified and recommended the supplemental reading that can help you understand his True Green thought.

At latest report Berry was still alive (“They tell me I have a web site, but I didn’t do that”–his publisher maintains a book sale site, and a fan maintains a site for fans) so Another Turn of the Crank is a Fair Trade Book. To buy it online, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and from this total of $10 I’ll send 10%, or $1, to Berry or a charity of his choice. (If you want four copies, send a total of $25 and I’ll send Berry or his charity $4.)