The Daily: 7 March 2023

Participatory Democracy

Today is Town Meeting day in Vermont. For the uninitiated, this is the day when Vermonters pack themselves into school gyms and various meeting halls to vote on town governance for the upcoming year. Officials are elected. Laws are debated and passed. Budgets are assigned.  If there are complaints or disturbances, these are given voice and discussed. Resolutions are adopted. This is the primary assembly of town governors, the town citizenry.

In a world that extols the virtues of democracy, Vermont remains one of a very few governing bodies that is, in fact, democratic — that is there is a ruling body, a kratos, composed of the people, the demos. Vermont does have representational democracy. We have a governor and we elect representatives to both state and federal legislatures. But the main business of running each town — deciding how funds are allocated, deciding what laws will be implemented, deciding who will be responsible for implementation and how that will be done — this is largely accomplished through direct participation at Town Meeting. 

These meetings can be contentious. It is not unusual for them to go on for the whole day and late into the evening. But most are surprisingly efficient, wrapping up before lunch (at the local watering hole, of course). To begin with, townspeople are “warned” on the business to be discussed. Town warnings must be publicly posted a month in advance of the meeting. It is the civic duty of the people to read and familiarize themselves with meeting business before Town Meeting. Procedures at Town Meeting are designed to focus each item of business. Few words are necessary to conduct the vote, and everyone knows the rules. They’ve been the same for hundreds of years. 

Town Meeting predates the representational democracy this country adopted. This is how New England colonists arranged their lives. This direct form of governance flows from the ideas of community and commons that saturated New England life. From the beginning this region governed itself.

This is not always a good thing. Outsiders have a very difficult time even today. And there are few protections for minority ideas or people. But it is much more difficult to manipulate or corrupt this system than in representational democracy because no one person holds sway. Local needs are better addressed as well precisely because it’s difficult for outsiders to have much influence. So there are trade-offs. But if you live in a direct democracy, then generally you have more of a voice in how your locality is run than if you merely vote for someone to be your voice. For one thing, you aren’t going to turn your back on yourself — but politicians will turn on you.

I believe that we need more local politics. We need to govern ourselves. I can’t say I know how to make it so that minorities have a voice in majority rule. This has been a problem for thousands of years and I’m probably not going to solve it. (I suspect that it’s unsolvable, actually.) But I also think that small regions operating under majority rule have a better chance of making sure needs are generally met than under any other system. I might even go one step beyond Vermont and do away with elections altogether. Make a system wherein officials are chosen by lot or mandatory public service. This might have the advantage of smoothing over minority issues by giving everyone a chance to be somewhat above the majority vote. But in any case, I think Town Meeting is a good system to adopt for the daily operation of a small community. 

If you need a good introduction to real democracy, there’s no better than Vermont history — because plebeian rule can be highly amusing. “The laws of the hills are different from the laws of the valleys”, a long line of plucky underdog victories and, shall we call it, independent thinking makes for splendid theatre. Info-tainment that actually is just that.

The Full Hunger Moon

The Snow Moon, also known as the Hunger Moon, is full today at 7:40am. I consider this the last of the winter moons, no matter when it falls. And this year it is late. Only two more days and this would be a Sap Moon — but without the sap. And there is quite a pile of snow out there… and hunger.

In fact, there is not always snow on this fourth moon of the lunar year, but there is hunger — in both belly and mind. In most of the northern world, it is time to tighten the belt. Take stock. If you’ve planned well, you still have half of the food you stored from the harvest. If not, well, you need to eat less. There is also hunger for the vigor of spring. This time of year many of us become restless, wanting to be more, do more. Luckily the Snow Moon and the season of Early Spring are traditional times to clean and cleanse. Make soap and household cleaners. Get out those rubber gloves and give your home a good scrubbing. Start that exercise plan and get your health back. Donate and recycle all the stuff you haven’t used in the last year, excepting mementos of course.

There are also good reasons to take on some form of spring fasting during the Hunger Moon, not in self-abnegation, just as a matter of practicality. In a loca-vore’s life this is still the tail end of winter’s dearth. Greens and yummy brassica roots are just starting to come into season. Still, though you may have to dig through the snow to get to the veg beds, if you’ve put up some form of row cover there will be roots to harvest. Sadly, nothing of the nightshade family can grow in my climate during the Hunger Moon, nor much in the way of carbs. So it’s a good time to focus on healthy eating, mostly by “giving up” what is just not available and eating plenty of what is.

The season of Early Spring slides into Mid-Spring around now. Whereas Early Spring is still subdued, still white, still cold, the middle part of spring is when life starts to spring forth. The principle feature of Early Spring is the frost and melt cycle that turns all driveways to mud and then freezes everything solid. Repeatedly. Mid-Spring is when the mud comes to stay. But also the first buds start to open, early bulbs start to bloom, and birds are definitely nesting. Noisily. At dawn. Which is by this time of year rapidly shifting earlier and earlier each day as the sun nears the equator. Mid-Spring is the season of eggs and seeds, buds and running sap. And of course, maple syrup!

But that’s a tale for the next moon. Today we’re still hungering. And there is all this snow…

Full Moon Tales

Of Ruminants and Oats: 14 Winifred Mumbles

Woke to white this morning. Days of cobalt skies with nary a rooster tail of warning and then this. Ploof! Howling wind all night long followed by a cold, silent morning. Only other evidence of the storm’s a few raggedy clouds scurrying over the horizon… and all this drippy white stuff plumped on every surface. Like elves visited in the night and left… droppings. Weather forecasting is boring in February but for these arctic invasions. Good for the garden though. Snow doesn’t run off like rain. Sinks into the dirt as it melts. What doesn’t just go right back to the skies anyway.

Had to spend much of the storm in the barn. Too many new lambs out there for a restful night’s sleep in cold weather. Fired up the rocket stove and made a bucket of root tea instead. Nothing happened. But it would have if I’d stayed in bed. Murphy’s law.

Still, Luni’s looking poorly. Sounding worse. I’ve delivered my share of lambs and all, but maybe this one needs the doctor. She’s, what, ten summers now? Getting up there for a churro. Probably her last breeding season. And too bad, that. She’s bred all the best milkers here. Cream so rich, turns into butter if you accidentally jostle it.

Reminds me: time to make more soap.

Still have time though. She bred late, just after All Hallows. Shouldn’t be dropping for at least a few more days. Don’t know why she’s so uncomfortable already. Probably means there’s more than one in there. Probably neither of them coming out the right way. All those tiny hooves poking in all directions. Horrifying when you think about it. But that’s mammals for you. Best check to see how much of Frida’s colostrum’s in the cooler. Nobody’s popped out more than one in a while. Luni’s a great dam, but she can only suckle one at a time. And both are going to need that first drink quickly. Because kids suck.

Ah well, Luni won’t have to do this again. Time to pass the baton. Means I have to name more ewes. Frida’s definitely not going to breed again after this year’s still born. Third one for her. Didn’t think Frida would come out of it this time. But she pulled through. Churros are endlessly amazing. Alice is also about done, but she never was a great milker anyway. Lovely coat though. Got some heavy Merino in that one. Can even make socks that don’t itch, no mean thing in this cold.

Things to be grateful for: warm feet.

Time does move on. I was old when Luni was born. And wasn’t her dam annoying! Heavy cream was not worth that one. Only… it was, I guess, because I kept putting her in the breeding pen. No name though. Not one that can be said in polite company anyway. Vet wrote down some of the more colorful appellations. Thought it a grand joke. Vets don’t have much cause for humor in lambing season, I guess. And every damn year, it was something with that ewe. Couldn’t push out poop unassisted. Still, she gave me a decade of Luni.

Grudging thanks to the unnamed dam.

I’m too old for naming things. Luni’s daughters will outlive me. And then what? Suppose the council will step in and this all will get assigned to someone else. Hope it’s someone competent. That turbine takes sweet talking every day. And the hens will just walk all over lax attention. Course anything living has its own mind. Sometimes people forget that. Just assume that smaller heads and predictable habits means stupid. But chickens and sheep are anything but biddable when they get ideas. And you never know when an idea will strike. Especially with that walk-about Ameracauna. Best you pay attention.

These days between winter and summer, days unnervingly calm after the midnight winds, make one as ruminative as the sheep. Not much happening in those solid blue skies. But for all the snow, you’d doubt your own mind. Was all that noise real? Did I imagine arctic weather in the desert? At least the March lions haven’t started blowing sand all over the porch yet. But is time happening when nothing else is? Well, there is the snow. And there’s the lambs. Though that’s mostly done by now. That’s maybe what’s bothering me. Maybe Luni too. That feeling that I’m mostly done. And may not be starting up again. Just melt away with the freak snowfall.

Now then…

Should keep busy. Go call on the vet, tell her we may be in for a duo. Get the honorary nephew to help with the heavy lifting. Make up that soap for payment. Maybe some cheese also. Air out the bedding in the extra room, just in case it’s needed. Lambs do seem to like joining the world between midnight and dawn.

Stopped by the oat field on the way back from errands. Soil’s nice and moist with snow melt. Seeds are fat and green, but not quite milky. Not quite time to harvest. But it is time to think about it. Need the honorary nephew for that too. Though he’s getting on like me — though not nearly as far as me. Still, not much for spending the day bent over the scythe. Then again, field’s not that big. About eight houses. If the nephew’s kids help, we can all get it mown in a day. 

Things to be grateful for: concrete foundations.

About all those extra houses are good for is gardens. Last generation figured that one out. Clear off the ruins. Pay particular attention to the toxic bits — because the rusties did love their toxic bits. Mix manure into the inevitable sand drifts. Channel whatever comes flowing off the mountain or falling out of the sky into the square. Add a hedgerow of cane fruits and sunflowers on the windward side to keep it all in place. And voila! you’ve made a verdant miracle. Some of these square fields even have space enough in between for barrows and wagons. (Don’t know how they lived like that, all so close-packed together, breathing each other’s exhaust and all…)

Look out from the foothills today and there’s unnaturally angular patches of green all the way down the valley. And where there were basements, there are orchard trees now. Best places for peaches. With strawberries growing amongst the roots. Only place where water lingers into March. To the point that there are squared-off bogs in the desert. Not sure what the rusties would think of me sowing oats in their erstwhile boudoir, but then I’m not sure what I think about them growing so many houses where there just isn’t water. Me and the rusties would not see eye to eye on a great many issues, I’m sure.

Got the churros and chickens living in another of these concrete squares. Keeps the raccoons out of the eggs and the burrowing rodents to a minimum. Though I’m pretty sure there’s a pack-rat metropolis underneath the foundation. Stands to reason. Cozy shelter that’s not likely to wash away with the next storm.

Wouldn’t want to breathe the exhaust down there, that’s for sure. Plague and hantavirus and malaria and who knows what all. As long as they stay under the impermeable divide, I’ll abide them. Barely. Naught I can do anyway. But there’s traps all over the turbine shed and the summer kitchen. And I leave the wildcats alone, knowing they’ll take any rodent that strays into the open. Usually painfully from the sounds of rodent screams. Lessons are learned in that hunt, for sure. Still, terrified mice and a chicken or so every now and then is a small price to pay for disease control. (Kind of wish they’d take that Ameracauna… despite the loss of her blue eggs…) I’ve also seen more than one red-tail stoop over the garden to come up dangling a rangy rat. Not sure what the hawk gets out of that. Not much more than fur and bones in that meal. Anyway, the rats get about. Makes that colostrum all the more needful. Don’t want Luni to go through all this and then lose the lambs to some flea-bite disease.

And there’s the rub with the concrete. Only place water lingers. But also only place it pools. Don’t know what the rusties did about breeding bugs. Probably one of the main reasons the rusties went extinct. Trick these days is to keep the squares filled with amenable life. Amenable to humans, that is. Pernicious to the pests. Soil. Oats. Strawberries and peaches. Mint and lavender to really annoy the bugs. Nasturtiums too. Plus… add in a bit of pot marigold and yucca and you have everything you need for soap.

Probably related, that. Which came first, I wonder? Did we grow calendula because we knew it drove off bugs of all sizes and scales, or was that just a serendipitous incidental to our love of pretty flowers? Probably both. Like eating chile. Eat it because it tastes good leads to it makes us more healthy leads to we learn to think it tastes all the better. Positive reinforcement works in strange ways. Not all of them good, of course. But we have calendula and nasturtiums and chiles out of the bargain.

Another thing to be thankful for: iteration.

Suppose I should sharpen the scythe and go down to the library to check out a few more for whoever comes to help. Promise of oat-milk and cream soap is probably enough to get the kids here. Maybe I should be teaching those kids how to make it themselves. Mel at the library keeps telling me as much. But then she would with her tools and books and skills lessons. She’s all for preserving the past to pass it on to the future. Me, I just do what works. No philosophy behind it. Or not much anyway. Though maybe works is subjective. Still, I don’t try to qualify it too much. Not my way.

But I can’t help but see a dilemma in this: if I teach them now, why would they come to help with the harvest? Well, guess I still have the oats and churros… And I suppose they are good kids. As far as adolescents go anyway. Maybe Mel’s right. Time for me to pass on the baton as well. Make sure someone after me will be turning concrete foundations into lavender soap. And oatmeal to chase away the cold. And blue eggs and new lambs to grace the spring I’ll not be seeing.

Well, then…

Good thing there’s life to keep these hands busy in the meantime.

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

3 thoughts on “The Daily: 7 March 2023”

  1. Local politics sound relatively simple where you live – compared with the shouting, deceit, rioting, shooting stabbing and broken promises that characterise ours.


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