Tuesday, July 17, 2012


For the immediate future, we won't need about two-thirds of the south pasture for animals. Our fencing plan will cut off the eastern portion of it, open land to be enclosed later.  It's not only far from the house, it's out of sight, and tucked in to the woods in such a way that the foxes, and sometimes coyotes and bears*, make as much use of it as we do.  When we do get around to using it, it will be for larger animals, and may require a guard animal.

There used to be a good bramble hedge between us and the farmland to the south, but the man who leases the field -- we call him Chemical Ali -- tells me that glyphosate herbicide is "so safe you can drink it -- my son is a biochemist** and he says so."

So I now avoid the surviving blackberries that grow just past their deceased hedge-mates on the edge of the mutant soybean desert.  Where the hedge is thicker, the ones on our side are okay.

I'm managing these acres as a blackberry meadow.

Berries are borne on two-year-old canes -- the thorny shoot forms from the root runners during one growing season, flowers and fruits the following year, then dries out and forms the dead tangle that catches your arms and legs and eyeballs as you try to pick fruit for the ensuing years.  It also allows bigger shrubs and noxious plants such as multiflora and poison ivy to take over, and can hold funk in wet years, contributing to mold and rot that damages plants and ruins berries.

There are ways of getting to the berries high on the bramble headwall. 

So I am mowing 1/3 of the reserve portion of the south pasture every year -- in late fall or winter, when I get to it and no critters are eating it or nesting in it.

This is the first year the practice has borne fruit. And how.

Despite drought conditions, the crop this year is vigorous.  Plenty for us, for the birds, the Pope, our friends.

So we hosted an impromptu Blackberry Day on Sunday.  About sixteen people and six dogs went pasture-picking.

Yes, during berry season, everyone eats berries and poops seeds. (Thanks to Scott Jackson, AMRG teammate, for catching Sophia on his phone.)

Okay, there are some high-maintenance individuals who don't get with the program ...

After a shift out in the blazing sun, adults, kids and dogs were all ready to come in to the shade of the porch and enjoy some of Eric's blackberry crepes.

Followed by a brief, blessed thunderstorm, followed by:


* Either that or the Pope has been dropping by at night.

** I don't think he went to, you know, a good school.

Perfesser Chaos has a PhD in biochemistry from Harvard. His response to the notion of having Ali pay us for the right to kill every green (and otherwise) thing in our hayfield -- just above our water well -- with an environmentally persistent poison, and inject GMO corn and soybeans there, is not printable.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making Lemonade

I partner with English shepherds in my work.  I breed and raise them to be as intelligent as possible -- no prudent stops on cognition, designed to make the beasts easier to live with.  You want to live with an English shepherd, it's your job to make it easy by co-opting that brain, not suppressing it.

So I am not easily impressed.

This video left me gobsmacked.

It's a cute two-minute clip of a goofy dog playing with the hose, right?

This canine engineer is the prophetically-named Sagan.

You may know him as Garrett, son of Rosie.

He went home to live with Eric and Braveheart in Connecticut.  A third (genetic) or fifth (cultural) generation dog trainer's assistant.

And he knows how to position a hose so that the water makes the arc he wants.  In fact, without resorting to opposable thumbs, he does better at it, with fewer errors, than I typically do when I'm trying to water something in the garden and want to put the hose down for a spell.

Most "experts" will tell us that dogs are not cognitively capable of the kind of calculation that Sagan performs here.

And consider -- he is a teenage dog, very recently introduced to the joys of hose-play, and is in an excited and slightly frustrated frame of mind.  Not a recipe for successful rocket surgery.

No one screwed around with a clicker and treats to manipulate Sagan into picking up the end of the hose. Nobody manipulated successive approximations towards an arc of flowing water.  Eric just gave his puppy the latitude to find what he enjoys and experiment with it.

A dog who is selected to be intelligent, and then empowered to be intelligent will always exceed the expectations of those who have dismissed them as "lemon brains."

Sometimes he will even leave his proud grandma with her jaw hanging slack.


The video is starting to go viral, with over 5400 pageviews in the last 16 hours.

And has been picked up by MSN.  Where they employ someone who understands English shepherds astonishingly well.