“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
I was in a rather good mood until on Thursday morning I heard that it had been ‘decided’ to send boat refugees to Rwanda of all places – a country that only last year the UK had accused of just about everything you can think of being said about a Central African country.
That marvellous character Victor Meldrew would have uttered that splendid line “I don’t believe it”, but then I heard on the family grape vine, Johnson has been described as ‘a criminal surrounded by idiots’. I truly despair! To make it worse, our criminal PM describes himself as a man ‘of infinite compassion’. In fact, it reminds me of the title of one of Tom Sharp’s books ‘Blott on the Landscape’. On top of which, that bizarre creature Nadine Dorris aims to privatise Chanel 4 and destroy the BBC, and all this to distract from the law-breaking behaviour of ‘certain’ ministers’. I appreciate I should apologise for that rant but enough is enough.
A positive and interesting week on the farm. All this cheerfulness on my part is very much due to not only getting around the farm a couple of times, but also to a successful week on many counts. Starting with what you just might think uninteresting news.
Though the rain of last week did little good, since it was followed by a fierce drying wind, the more gentle rain of this week has not only put water in the ditches, but together with this week’s warmth, has made a significant difference to growth on the pastures. All rather a relief as we had a worried conversation at the start of the week about the state of a number of our fields over sown as part of our Higher Tier Stewardship agreement, much of which centred on the possible negative effects of the small percentage of the mix being seeds of ‘yellow rattle’.
Negative effects because that plant, using a common farming term, is antagonistic to grass. It was part of the mix we used because it was required of us – just why, only DEFRA know, mind you the association of DEFRA and knowing is, I agree, contradictory.
Of one thing we were certain those fields had neither been overgrazed or not well composted.
Lambing has been in full swing, and Alice and Tim have proved to be a very effective team. We are tagging lambs this year shortly after birth, and the lambing book is being faithfully completed. This year our breeding flock is almost as small as it was in 2009, and things are accordingly less hectic than when we had a flock of 230! So far about 20% of the ewes have lambed.
Aside from that, Dot has been away at residential school for basic training in sheep control. Although a very soft housedog, she has it within her to be rough with sheep, and that needs to be stopped in its tracks. Flash, for all her virtues, could, if irritated by a sheep, resort to ‘gripping’ – effective may be but not wanted.
Next week we have to cope with the tension of the whole herd being tested for TB. These days I try and stay away since I find it impossible to be relaxed about the outcome and having added tension is unhelpful to the process. At least this year we will have Alice and, on the Friday, our eldest grandson Brendan, who is an old hand at this, will be available to help.
Before that there is still a hope that the calendar, weather, energy and time will permit the first spraying of 500 for the year.
Post the TB testing there is of course some uncertainty, but hopefully all the cattle will be out thereafter, which will enable the complete clearing out of the barn. Lambing is unlikely to be completed by then, and the next major event of the month is the pollarding of the very large willow trees by the barn.
Again, we have a goose on the island in the scrape, sitting on eggs. It also looks possible that we may have herons’ nest building in one of the trees on the bank of the brook. We clearly have collared doves and jackdaws nesting near the house. I know I am often rude about the jackdaw, but it really is quite a handsome bird with its grey neck distinguishing it from other corvids. One I saw the other day actually made me wonder if we had a hooded Crow on site. I realise I have failed to mention that our several bird boxes around the house buildings have all had occupants for some time, I have also omitted mention of the blackbirds nesting in the pyracanthas, and the wood pigeons that nest every year in the wisteria. Sadly, the number of Guinea fowl on the farm has fallen, but that is inevitable given the fact we are not fox free.
The palette of colours in the garden is surprisingly rich given that we are only in mid-April. The soft rain over the first three days of the week probably helped. The lawn is now a vibrant green, the tulips provide purple, red, white and yellowish white, as do the Easter daisy’s, the yellow primroses are everywhere, the wallflowers a brownish red, and the contrast between the colour of the grape hyacinths and that of the ‘forget me nots’ is very clear – delightful!
This week the vegetable garden deserves a mention if only for the fragrant smell of the citrus blossoms coming from the green house. Of course, there is much else to be pleased about, especially the salad crops which occupy space in both the greenhouse and outside. Tim has erected a small fruit cage to give us a better chance of outwitting the birds, and enjoying some, at least, of the soft fruit we grow.
Being at this moment rather Anglo-Saxon oriented, it crossed my mind that many of the areas we colonised are becoming less and less safe to live in. Australia fluctuates between terrible drought and floods, and for good measure, killing fires and absurdly hot temperatures. New Zealand is prone to earthquakes sitting as it does on a major fault line. North America has all the above to which can be added volcanic activity and extremes of cold. South Africa has floods, droughts and extreme temperatures. Of course, climate change can be claimed for much of this, but vast population growth in areas which previously had provided life for much smaller populations surely has something to also take into account.
Our time in Saskatchewan made us aware for the first time that in winter the cold could kill. Early British settlers were at first fortunate, but then came the winter of 1906/07 when humans and oxen froze to death. A story held firmly to be true by Saskatchewans and taking up a whole chapter in the marvellous memoir by Wallace Stegner called Wolf Willow, and faithfully reproduced in the locally produced History of Radville.
Or so I too believed, however an article in the Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal published in September 1999, though apparently not the first to effectively debunk the whole story, revealed the whole story to be untrue.
Amazing the effectiveness of ‘Chinese whispers’, the media and its love of sensationalism, and our unwillingness as human beings to give up on a good myth. Well, it is a useful lesson.
But despite finding all that, it is definitely true that living on the prairies through the winter requires heated accommodation in which to live and work to survive, and car journeys in winter require ensuring you have blankets, food and drink should you break down, and in our time there, ensuring your journey was known to others.
Of the three words I have referred to a number of times, I now attempt to explore the first – free will is, in my view, by far the most difficult to agree on, and I make no attempt to do more than briefly explore some issues. I write the above very deliberately since prior to thinking about the topic I referred to the Routledge tome on freewill. It runs to many hundreds of pages and requires the use of all one’s ‘grey cells’.
Liberty and freedom present their own challenges but are issues directly and clearly in front of us every day.
The hearings for the nomination of a Black woman to be a member of the Supreme court showed both the worst and best of behaviour. For my purposes it is an excellent lead into my discussions of freewill, liberty and freedom.
Were the Republican members driven by ‘free will’; was their behaviour a demonstration of ‘liberty’, or a reflection of what is understood by ‘freedom’.
Of the three concepts, it is perhaps the notion of ‘free will’ that for centuries most troubled theologians, and today plagues modern philosophers. I suppose the arguments could be divided between those who believe our lives will work out in a certain way, and that we have no ability to change this – que sera sera! – or those who believe what we make of our lives is of our choosing. Determinism or free will.
For theologians and people of faith, the question is centrally this:
If God made the world and everything within it, did ‘he’ then lose interest and sit back and, possibly with interest, see what the outcome would be, or did ‘he’ actually programme or pre-set the way in which things would develop, and if so, how could he allow so much grief and suffering. If he watches the death of every sparrow without intervening, what kind of God is this?
There is little agreement either within Christian sects or other faiths as to the answer to this question.
Throw in the question of what happens after death and the waters become even muddier – what is it to be? Purgatory or heaven or, in due course another life or lives in which to improve one’s chances of becoming one with God.
People of faith have really only two options, believe God gave us free will, or decided before we were born what our fate would be.
In determining your personal position, it seems all hinges on how one understands the story in the Old Testament of God’s creation of first Adam, and then Eve and, then the fall from grace, inevitably the fault of the woman.
All this can be argued in two very different ways (I leave to one side the possible aims of the storyteller) and I do not see how to make the choice, other than through personal inclination.
The first scenario is that from the beginning humankind had freewill, which Eve then demonstrated.
The second scenario is that God, being all knowing and powerful, had already written the script, and as in a play, the actors were merely following the script and free will did not enter the equation.
In fact, in one of the Gnostic gospels found in 1945, but kept under wraps for many years, it was the serpent that was the key player.
Many also are less blatantly chauvinistic. These by the way are from the Nag Hammadi collection rather than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Whichever, the sensible option is clearly to believe the former, because the alternative is total chaos.
Moving forward to the knowledge we have now, derived from science, the arguments about freewill become both different, and even harder to form a view on.
Modern scientists take one of three positions: Free will does not exist: Free will does not exist but without belief in it society would collapse: A minority believe despite our new knowledge free will does exist.
So, what is this new knowledge? We now know so much more about our DNA and the influence of that in influencing both our health and behaviour. The question as to the balance between nature and sociality still exists, and is entirely valid in most circumstances, but not all.
Secondly, neuroscientists now are speculating as to whether the brain determines what we say or think, rather than us controlling these functions.
I repeat what I wrote earlier in a slightly different way, if free will does not exist, nobody can be said to misbehave in any way. The possibility of judgement goes out of the window.
For example: The lovely Putin behaves as he does because his behaviour is predetermined – so trying him before a court is just a waste of time, which leaves only execution, as would be the action taken against a rabid dog.
I have gone on at such length that I will leave liberty and freedom for next time, but leave you with this thought:
The United Nations Charter of 1947(?) lists a vast number of inalienable freedoms all humans should expect to enjoy. All of course wishful thinking and made the worse by ignoring that all this might only be arrived at if there was an equal emphasis on responsibility – fit freewill into that in some way!
To keep myself sane while engaged in thinking through some very tricky concepts I have relied on Mozart, or more particularly his piano sonatas. Personally, I think I still in general enjoy those of Haydn more. Perhaps that is because they were written for different purposes. Those of Haydn were written for amateurs to play at home, those of Mozart, particularly the later ones, were written for a brilliant pianist to display his wares. An identical feeling, I have for Liszt, just too much noise and virtuosic requirements of the pianist.
Before leaving literature and language I have also recently read David Crystal’s trio of books on ‘Spelling’, ‘Punctuation’ and the history of our language. Short snappy chapters, particularly useful for those who forget our language is in constant motion, and that this should not be regarded as the end of the world. Not that he suggests anything goes, but the point is well made that the language used should fit its context and purpose.
A recent edition of the ‘Oldie’ celebrated two authors, one of whom seems little read today. Whatever we may think of Somerset Maughan as a man, he was a great writer, particularly of short stories, not now I fear still in print. The other was C.S. Forester, who today is probably best remembered for his series about Hornblower. O’Brian and his Audley series is no match for Forester at his best.
Forester also wrote other novels of which “Brown on Resolution”, ‘The General’ and the ‘Gun’ stand out for me. Indeed, when talking about leadership and management I often cited ‘Captain Hornblower’ and the card game Bridge as indispensable preparation.
The poem I have chosen references my paragraphs on life in Saskatchewan – from 40 below in winter to 40 above in summer, and a constant wind blowing – temperatures in Fahrenheit of course!
Connie Kaldor “Harsh and Unforgiving”
“I come from a land that is harsh and unforgiving
Winter snows can kill you
And the summer burn you dry
When a change in the weather
Makes a difference to your living
You keep one eye on the banker
And Another on the sky
‘Cause that big old flatland
She doesn’t suffer fools lightly
Watch your step if you’re new around
Brown broke down in a blizzard last winter
Tried to walk and froze to death fifty feet from town”