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L. Neil Smith's
Number 803, January 4, 2015

The marvelous civilization of antiquity
perished because it did not adjust its
moral code and its legal system to the
requirements of the market economy.

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Year's End: A New Beginning in Greater Appalachia
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Beautiful Saturday morning and I'm torn.
Between my calling as a writer and the calling of the Great Outdoors like on many a day this time of year when nice days such as this are the exception rather than the rule. Though I have often repeated myself in various essays this season—it is probably safe to call this December 27th "the last perfect day in Greater Appalachia"; for the year—given the last time I glimpsed the forecast the weather turns yucky tomorrow and there are not many days left after that until New Year. It looks like a last chance to tie up loose ends so I will be writing it as I go along.

It was 50 degrees already when I let the chickens out to forage before breakfast around 10ish. It will be a good day for shredding leaves and cutting wood and other outdoor things. And the weather is easy on my existing stockpile of firewood as I use up a recent windfall from some trees that the men from the power company cut away from the incoming line—mostly from a White Pine and some Box Elders—low BTU stuff—but perfect to consume while the weather is mild and conserve the remaining stockpile of wood from the sawmill until I can get another delivery. That should happen sometime shortly after the New Year along with some good Pittsburgh coal Bruce the Historian has found a source of. Of course that is contingent upon how soon the guy who is going to haul it can get his truck fixed—sheesh! Hopefully it will be soon but if not—I can manage on what is already on hand plus what I can get delivered or cut on the property. Plenty of tops still laying around and the coal is more for a cushion and a 4 ton load will last me a couple winters when I just shovel a little on top after loading the firebox with logs. And that's mostly for the coldest nights.

And at least I can count my blessings that this year though less perfect than hoped for has turned out pretty well and is not ending as badly as last year- which was the prelude to a rough winter due in part to natural forces and some poor decision making that put me in a precarious position that required some scrambling to keep my head above water for a month or so until things got better.

This time around things are a little out of whack because (my current excuse) the logging operation delayed delivery of the larger logs many of which got used up before they were even moved from where they were dumped on the ramp. Mainly because the weather turned cold early and they were sitting close to the point of use which is very convenient if I'm loading the firebox on the way out in the morning and I'm in a hurry. Plus inflation. The loads have been smaller lately so two loads of 24 inch logs to one of 18"s is probably going to be necessary to get in place early on in the season. Plus some additional stuff cut opportunistically through the season, or extra fuel oil to burn through early on which would have been a big help this year. Small stuff, branches, garbage wood—even old pallets are options for the warmer transitional weather. Someday I'll perfect it as I am working to perfect the other things in my life. Will probably never get there completely but maybe close to some semblance of ideal order and happiness in an imperfect world. And the endeavor itself is enjoyable most of the time.

It's the pursuit of happiness.
Which turned out to be my main focus for the day once I set out to get a few things done and look into the possibility of getting my generator repaired- or maybe just get a newer model which might be more efficient and easier to operate than the one my brother tried to fix last winter. First order of the day was to check the furnace and feed it a couple logs. It still had a fair amount left from last night which is why I will continue to insist to my dying breath that warming is better than cooling despite all the winter lover's who drive my friend Ray crazy in Wisconsin—and the Historian's wife today who lamented the lack of snow for the holiday season. Aside from being pleasant—50 and 60 degree days are not unprecedented this time of year and always to be appreciated. I always liked the Heat Miser song "He's Mr green Christmas, He's Mr Sun"! From "The Year Without a Santa Claus" *
And I've been known to joke about locking Frosty the Snowman in my greenhouse and using him to water the plants!

That's where I started out late morning laying the big square of plywood that usually serves as a shelf for a turtle enclosure down on the soft surface of the soon to be winter salad garden. As a temporary base to stand a step ladder and install some more ceiling hooks to suspend plants. In this case a basket with a jungle cactus and a clamshell orchid on a log mount. Also put some air plants and other things in the pond to soak for a few hours and feed on nitrates from the fish. A good way to safely feed them since I find no matter how careful I am I still manage to burn one from time to time overdosing them on commercial plant food.

Then I was off to check out generators at the hardware store in town and pick up some tools to expedite the installation of the bulkhead drains in the fish tubs which I started earlier this week using a wood burning pen to melt out a hole a few inches below the rim of a 300 Gallon Rubbermaid stock tank and used a combination of reaming with the pen and sawing with a steak knife to enlarge the opening enough to pass the threaded part of the bulkhead and tighten down the outside piece for a snug fit. The files I used the previous times to do this for a biofilter system and some turtle tubs were missing so I decided to get some new ones along with a scribe or awl which works better at marking the outline for the hole—using the rubber gasket of the bulkhead as a guide.

The hardware store—an affiliate of Ace—is one of the few good mom and pop operations left in the area and has a really decent selection of things you might not find so easily elsewhere. They even have oakum which rhymes with hokum and is something you might read about in Victorian age literature about nightmare jobs and working conditions of the day and Bruce the Historian might know what it is—but I never imagined it would still have uses in the modern world of the 21st Century—but it does. According to one of the guys it comes in handy for packing old pipe joints and a few other things. But it looked sufficiently filthy to horrify Charles Dickens. And of course I forgot to mention it to Bruce when I stopped by for a late afternoon visit after an unsuccessful attempt to visit the saw shop on top of the mountain which I forgot closes at noon. The Redneck Chateau was just a hop skip and jump from there across the edge of the Rooftop of Greater Appalachia—Chestnut Ridge- which is the westernmost of the Alleghenies.

Rooftop of Greater Appalachia; I sort of coined that phrase today as I beheld the flatlands on the top of Chestnut Ridge which are a mix of farmland and forest near the interface of northern Fayette and Westmoreland Counties where you can often see for miles in places—all the way to Laurel Hill that is just a few ridges away from the Allegheny Front and the Atlantic drainage. The climate is at least one zone colder and often the land is snow covered this time of year. Last weekend when I came to pick up my saw that was there for servicing—the trees were all coated in hoarfrost like a winter wonderland. This week the ground was bare and only a glimmer of white on a distant slope—probably Seven Springs ski resort where they have had enough cold nights to make artificial snow. Under the current weather patten we are not getting much snow so far. Which is alright by me. As for the land up top—it is a pleasant ride in any season- so long as the roads are passable. In winter it often gets like the Back of Beyond in Somerset County mentioned in last winter's trials and tribulations. And I'm hoping I ever have to go there again anytime soon. At least not until spring.

Crossing the flats I turn onto the road that runs the ridge to Connellsville though the minor dips and hollows to the gate of the Redneck Chateau, past the L configured red shipping containers with an overhang that serves as a stable for sheep, miniature donkeys and ridding mules and up the graveled lane to the house where I see Bruce's new dog "Sporticus"—Sport for short-romping and I know his owner cannot be far away. And there he is as I pass between the house and another shipping container that is the "shed"—also spray painted barn red to match the siding of the house- it doesn't get much more redneck than that!

And then the dog.

Though I have often talked to him in his kennel pulling in on previous visits this is the first time I got to meet Sporticus, an ash colored Lab / Boxer mix favoring more the latter up close and personal. This dog was rescued as an emaciated half grown stray pup and has turned out very well having no major issues so far and very fun and playful. We spent a good bit of time tossing small logs and a rope toy for him to chase while talking at the overlook- sitting on some big chunks of firewood since the furniture that we normally sit on during fireside chats and informal history lessons was packed away for the winter.

There was not much talk about the usual stuff this time around. Maybe because we're both a bit burned out over politics and it was much more fun to play with Sporticus and talk about more pleasant things like my turts and chicken flock and our latest private conservation project- bringing back chestnuts to Greater Appalachia! Not the pure American species but the Timbur hybrid and the Allegheny Chinquapin which I ordered seed of earlier this fall. They say that scientists at Penn State and other institutions and private foundations are close to producing a blight resistant chestnut but life is too short and trees take a long time to mature. We'd like to gather some nuts in our lifetime so we are settling for something less than pure. If only they had these Timburs back in the 80s when I was on my first tree planting kick. Might have had a decent harvest of saw timber and firewood by now in addition to the nuts! But the thought of having stands of almost real- American Chestnuts again on Chestnut Ridge as well as a few down here in my woods and pasture in the foothills is an intoxicating dream. The pursuit of happiness doesn't get more redneck than that!

And speaking of things redneck—I forgot to mention a tidbit found on the web this past week that would probably have made the heart of Bruce The Historian sing with delight. A good old southern boy of Japanese heritage who calls himself "Redneck Hiro", and apparently likes to do redneck things like chop wood and even play a prank on a friend by getting him to reach onto a bag and grab a live Corn Snake! This led to a whole thread of emails this week with Ray telling me similar stories about Hmong immigrants in Wisconsin!

Makes me think of what Bruce said about how people of diverse backgrounds assimilated into the Scotch-Irish frontier culture of Greater Appalachia. Living on the land as a freeholder is an attractive way of life with an appeal to some that even the promise of a free lunch can't beat. Asian immigrants are the latest newcomers but I find out they've also got "Rednecks" in Japan turning Toyotas and Mitsubishis into monster trucks with oversized wheels and loud exhaust pipes and I'm wondering if our friend Hayasuii the turtle guy might not also be a member of Japan's Country Class living with one foot in the city where he has a regular professional job and spending his weekends with family out in the countryside where he shoots turtle videos in the creek across the road from the home place?

This is another of his videos where he treks up the course of a smaller tributary stream to unblock the end of a plastic pipe in a small dam that feeds a courtyard fountain. Not unlike the arrangement I have to divert a spring flow on occasion to refill my ponds. If only my water source flowed that freely!

And he's also into drag racing!

Maybe Japan's version of NASCAR?

You have to admit Hayasuii and other reptile keepers in Japan are just as creative as American rednecks when it comes to utilizing the most unconventional designs to compensate for limited resources. Keeping turtles in inflatable kiddie pools or whatever they could get hold of. I did a lot of stuff like that when I was a kid! Shower curtains and drop cloths for pond liners and to this day the perimeter fence around my ponds is rolls of 4 foot galvanized hardware cloth!

And of course there's Rubbermaid stock tanks—indestructible over years of outdoor exposure that make the best breeding tubs for raising fish outside in the summertime and I use the smaller 50 gallon troughs for keeping small turtles indoors and as in-ground ponds in the wooden pens I build. And that's where I ended my day after saying goodbye to Bruce as some high late evening stratus clouds threw a chilly shadow across the top of the ridge and the Redneck Chateau.

Regrettably darkness was already falling in the hollow when I got home. Should not have tarried so long so I chose getting the bulkheads installed over shredding leaves and other projects. With the new equipment—the awl and a couple round files the process went much quicker and I started out with a little more daylight left than when I did the first tub at the greenhouse site between the row of pines and the new turtle pen under construction. That was the one for the Flagfin Shiners which was already rolled back into place. I rolled the other one up belonging to the Apalachee Shiners and marked the spot with the awl and then used the wood burning pen to cut out a hole that I evened out and enlarged with the files until the threaded end of the bulkhead would go through and I tightened it on. Then onto the other two at the other site. It was getting darker but I decided to push on and at least get the part involving the wood burning pen done and over because it would not be a good thing to do in the rain tomorrow. But I ended up getting both done all the way with bulkheads installed in the dim evening light and then by flashlight looking up on occasion at the moon shining through a thickening layer of mackerel scale clouds. A sure sign of a change in the weather.

Getting the job done is something to be glad for with what is coming. As I told the Mrs when she came over to chat with us up on the ridge—we'll be paying for this lovely weather days from now when it is 11 degrees! Four of the six bulkheads are now installed and the two remaining are for pending acquisitions—when I get my new backup saw that is currently on layaway paid for—I'm going to do the same for two more tanks in order to have them in place this spring. From the new Rural King outlet where I can get them a good deal cheaper than Tractor Supply.

It must be said—it has been a good though less than perfect year with so much time tied up in projects like new turtle pens and home improvements and no time to do so many of the things I planned and promised at the beginning of what became the year of the Renaissance Summer. And now like it has always been at this time in years past I begin looking for the end because tis year has been used up. Winter much as most sane people loathe it—is the time for reset and renewal. And lately I've been thinking the same about the historic time in which we live that is also a lot like winter.

As I hunker down to survive I am looking for ways to get as much done as possible in the way of improvements so there is less to do later and maybe I can relax and enjoy life a little more. The pursuit of happiness is an eternal hope.

Let it go on.

End Notes:

* A politically incorrect assertion is that happiness is a warmer planet.
Those who are skeptical of the notion may be more inclined to rethink their dogma that the Heat Miser is a bad guy next time there is a power outage and it's 3 degrees outside!
That was also one of Jim Quinn's favorite theme songs for his global warming updates on the late America's Morning Show!

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