Sunday, June 26, 2022

Farm Rules

These are excellent guidelines
We don't have a lot of rules here on the farm.

We live in a (mostly) benign environment, after all, where guidelines and suggestions are generally adequate to ensure domestic tranquility. 

The rules we do have, though, we take seriously.

In no particular order they are:
  • Be kind
  • Don't eat the animals
  • Respect the environment
  • Abortion on demand without apology
That's it. See how easy?

I'm not going to sit here and tell you Singing Whale Farm was founded on all these principles. The first three, for sure, but the fourth was added only recently, to reaffirm the fact that women are fully realized people whose bodies belong to them.

We're sad and angry that the last one had to be added at all. We mistakenly thought that in this day and age, in "the greatest country in the world," decisions about one's own body were fundamentally not subject to debate. 

In a country teeming with hard-right authoritarians and fanatic religious disciples, though, that belief was naive. 

For millions of women, the right to self-determination has suddenly evaporated. Changes to long-standing laws by corrupt political figures will effectively turn women into breeding livestock controlled by government.

Across multiple states, officials who believe their religion and status as legislators give them divine power, forced-birth laws have gone into effect. These statutes make felons of women and clinicians who believe laws like those are retrograde, immoral, and contrary to the standards of first-world healthcare.

We agree with the women and clinicians. So we're declaring Singing Whale Farm a sanctuary for people who prefer "farm rules".

We are fortunate to live in a state that more than 50 years ago literally led the nation—by being the first to decriminalize abortion. A state where the constitution protects the right to privacy, which includes the right to an abortion as part of comprehensive reproductive healthcare. 

Our farm will always be a place where a woman has the inalienable right to make decisions about her own body, and act on them. If you need help achieving that, we'll be here to assist, no questions asked.

If our government enacts laws to the contrary, we will continue to support women and clinicians by whatever means necessary.

Women will never be someone else's property here on the farm. 

We don't have a lot of rules...but that's for damn sure one of them.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Dear Abby

I'm seeking advice on how to deal with an armed, potentially drug-addled neighbor.

Background: the neighbor (and his pack of dogs) hunts feral pigs. He uses a rifle for this purpose, and isn't afraid to discharge it at dawn in an area where people, cattle, horses, and other domestic animals are well within range of a rifle.

I know he isn't afraid to do these things, because he did all of them this morning ON OUR PROPERTY.

Additional background: another neighbor, with whom we have a cordial relationship, has shared that hunter-neighbor used to be a capable tradesman, doing drywall, carpentry, and handiwork for a living. That was before the (unspecified) drugs, though, and before the local police allegedly had to come to his home and confiscate his firearms a couple years ago.

Rational, urban me says to contact the police, file whatever kind of complaint one files in situations like these, and let them handle it.

Recently no-longer-urban me believes:
1. The cops aren't likely to prioritize this situation since we live in a rural area where people do this sort of thing all the time and have done so for generations
2. Even if the cops take some kind of action, its effect would likely be temporary since guns are easy to come by and have more rights than people
3. Hunter-neighbor would likely deduce we were the source of any police intervention, since he saw me watching him traipse across our property

Full disclosure:

My knee-jerk reaction this morning was, "We need a gun."

Fuller disclosure:

1. I hate guns
2. In an armed confrontation I would 100% be the guy who hesitates and ends up on the ground bleeding out
3. Even writing "We need a gun" and "armed confrontation" gives me a rhetorical brain bleed
4. We're not getting a gun

Pacifist me thinks I need to have a conversation with hunter-neighbor and in a calm, neighborly way let him know we don't want him hunting on our property.

Rational me thinks a rational person wouldn't be out at dawn on other people's property under any circumstances, let alone firing a rifle. Rational me thinks that kind of behavior is irrational.

Therefore, rational me knows I would be incapable of having a calm, neighborly conversation with anyone who behaves in the erratic, antisocial manner described above.

SO, dear Abby, what do you think of all this? Is there any advice that accounts for all these variables and achieves a positive outcome in today's world? Or do we just have to put up with an irrational gunman occasionally wandering our property, putting us at risk of sudden morbidity and mortality?


Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Often A Dull Roar, Never A Dull Moment

"Hoo would do such a thing?"
FFA — Future Farmers of America

FFS — (something else entirely)
Activity-specific training can be very effective.

You want to get in shape for basketball? You play basketball.

You want to run a trail race—you hike and run on trails.

You want to herd cattle on foot? Well...that's just silly. 

Seriously, no one wants to herd cattle on foot.
Background: our neighbor to the north has cows. In the literal, rather than the Bart Simpson sense.

The herd has grazed the slopes of Mauna Kea, including our little speck of it, for many years. And until recently, there were few limits to where they could go.

But then we moved in and started messing with them. 

We started by planting trees, each inside its own little protective fence. The cows tolerated those minor inconveniences—leaving the fencing intact (mostly) and the trees standing (mostly). 

This encouraged us! So we built a larger, more substantial enclosure for geese and chickens.

That too was accepted by the herd, which made note of the change and began walking around it (though we know they could walk right through it any time they choose to). So far they've chosen not to!

It was all going so well.

Recently the dogs and I returned from running errands in town. We were heading down the hill toward the house when I saw the cows, at least a dozen of them, inside the fenced acre around our house.

"No. No! NO, HELL NO!"

Note: yelling at cows from inside a truck is ineffective. Additionally, yelling at them from *outside* a truck is pretty much a waste of time as well.

I parked the truck near the house and pointedly did not let the dogs out. The last thing the situation needed was three dogs gleefully chasing cows around until getting gored or kicked or stepped on.

My first, hyperventilated attempt to herd the herd out the gate went poorly. Turns out waving one's arms and saying "Get the fuck out of here!!" is not tactically sound—though it did briefly cause some low-key havoc as cows peeled off this direction and that, ending up all around me instead of in front of me.

It occurred to me then that the neighbors to the south were probably looking down the hill at the situation and laughing hysterically. And who could blame them? Still, the thought made me self-conscious enough to stop flailing around and at least try to be smarter than the cows.

You know what I needed? A shepherd's stick. I mean, obviously.

Unfortunately, we don't own a shepherd's stick—but we did have the trunk of a long-defunct Christmas tree laying around. No, I don't know why.

I picked it up and started wielding it like someone who doesn't know what he's doing, but knows *something* must be done.

I opened the gate and, using the holiday-themed tree trunk, coaxed not one, not two, but three cows out the gate!

"This is gonna be easy!" I thought, 100% incorrectly.

The thing is, in order to coax additional cows out, the gate has to be open. But if the gate is open, the cows on the outside COME RIGHT BACK IN.

So much for plan B.

Fortunately, we have another gate. It's situated downhill from our lone, small outbuilding, and opens out, partway across a little gully. Which means, when it's open, cows wanting to get back into the yard have to go across the gully and up a slight rise. They can still get in but it takes time, during which I'm already encouraging another cow or two to leave.

Also, the presence of the shed effectively creates two downhill chutes to the gate, preventing the cows from peeling off and back into the yard. I now had A Systemin place, and it was just a matter of time before the cows were on the outside looking in.

That's when I glanced over at the other gate, just in time to see Bambi, the bull, force his way in between the gate and the post it was hooked to. Dude just decided he wanted in and viola! He was in...along with a couple of his lady friends.

In that moment, I became grouchy. I was tired of chasing cows around and definitely did not want to re-litigate cases I'd already won.

The cows expressed their appreciation for my concern by walking through flower beds, bulldozing banana trees, and pooping everywhere.

I brought The System™ to a halt, yelled at Bambi, and re-secured the gate top AND bottom. Later, I had to smack him on the butt when he parked himself halfway in/halfway out of the gate—for a second time. He was oblivious. Bambi is an imposing figure in the pasture, but he's not very bright.

TL/DR, eventually all the cows were repatriated to their homeland. The last one to go was Poppy, who is completely endearing and completely blind. Poppy startles easily, and telling her "We're going this way, Poppy!" is futile. Hard to believe, I know.

Nevertheless, she and I eventually found our way to the proper side of the fence, and she later ate sweet cob out of my hand. So I guess there were no hard feelings.

The entire exercise took nearly an hour, and it was exhausting.

So, we've decided to offer the experience as a cross-training workout to future guests!

No charge, bring poop-proof shoes.
Epilogue: our *other* neighbor, to the east, also has cows.

Recently several of them broke through *their* fence, causing a red alert from the neighbors to the north, who headed out on ATVs like a swarm of bees. Separating individuals from each herd via ATV was akin to herding cats—but eventually the riders got the job done on foot! 

We'll 100% be referring them to our instructional video, now in pre-production.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Heart to Hartley

"Sir, this is a tiki bar."
Hi, Dr. Hartley.

I'm fine, thanks. 

Well no, it's not entirely true, but it is kind of the socially expected answer, isn't it. Most people who ask aren't really looking for the truth.

Thanks, I appreciate that. Yes, it probably will be helpful if I answer your questions honestly. 

Wait...before we start, I'm curious how you're doing. Yeah, a lot of people need help right now. I don't know how you keep up. Who do psychiatrists talk to when all the psychiatrists are anxious and depressed?

Their bartender. Ha, of course. No, that was good.

Right—well, the past several weeks have been...challenging. And I've put off thinking about it to stay focused on things that needed to get done. Yes, we have talked about that. I know...blocking out something today can manifest itself later, and at really inconvenient times.

"Serenity now, insanity later." That line will always be funny, Dr. Hartley.

But yes, you're right, and I'm, you know, working on it.

Here's the thing, though—if I had taken the time then, the family project I was in the middle of would have failed—and I'd be even loonier than I am now. 

No, of course...we don't say loony. Can we say chronically frantic? Or frenzied? Or frenetic? Yes, I'm aware those all mean the same thing, and they'd all apply.

Dr. Hartley, our schedule literally left no room for error. If even one of the things on our list hadn't gotten done—when it was supposed to and in the order it was supposed to—the whole plan would have hit the floor.

Yes, I have heard that—"a plan built on the best-case scenario is no plan at all." But this time, honestly, it was best-case or nothing.

You know, before I met you, I didn't worry about things that were out of my control. I said, "I'll control the things I can control, and the other things will have to take care of themselves." 

Yes, I know that's denial—but it worked.

Did it really work? I don't know...maybe? Maybe not. But at the time, it sure felt like it did. I definitely had more peace of mind.

Nothing is ever really under our control. Yeah, that's funny-not-funny, isn't it? Yes, I'm familiar with the butterfly effect. It doesn't really make me feel any better. 

Well, because the butterfly effect is just another term for "chaos," and there's too much chaos loose in the world right now. I'm feeling the need to bring some order to our little corner of the pandemonium. Yeah, that's turning out to be harder than it used to be.

"Let's just do today." Yes, I like that idea. Let's do that.

The good news? It's that this part of our project is just about over. Definitely.

And that some people we had no expectations of came through in ways we never imagined. Really amazing ways. 

No, I'm not sure why they stepped up the way they did. I mean, if they had done nothing it would've been perfectly reasonable—and I wouldn't have thought any less of them. But that's not what they did. It was...something.

The bad news?

Well...some people we did have expectations of are longer capable of living up to them., it's not their fault. It's mostly mine for being oblivious to it for too long.

No, it's okay. It's just that it's shocking how fast things can go upside down. Right? Yeah, it feels like we were incredibly lucky, under the circumstances.

I don't even want to think about it.


Anything else today? Give me a second...yeah. 

I guess it's that we can do hard things. I wish I personally didn't have to learn that over and over, but apparently I do.

"We've done it before, we can do it again." Yeah, you would think. 

I'm always more like, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." Thanks for laughing at that, doc. 

Right! I don't take things for granted any more. It feels like it just invites attention from the irony gods. Yeah, they have a sick sense of humor.

Already? That went by fast—again. Thanks for listening, as always. Okay. Will do. 

You take care of yourself, too.
"Only a crisis makes me feel truly alive. When the crisis is every day, though, I feel numb and fatigued. And that’s what I was watching happen to the people around me."

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Nine Days

The app told me I’d be riding to the airport with Theogene.

I briefly wondered how to pronounce Theogene, and if he went by Theo or Gene or something else entirely.

I looked out the door, half hearing the fraught conversation in the kitchen, half thinking Theogene was running late. He wasn’t, but my bags were there at my feet and I was ready to go.

“I love you,” my mom said, walking toward me, crying.

“I love you, too. I’ll be back soon.”

“When??” she asked, though I’d already told her several times since seven a.m.

“Nine days, mom.”

“When is that?”

“February ninth.”

Theogene pulled up in his little Nissan sedan, and my mom threw her arms around my neck. “I don’t want you to go,” she said, sobbing.

“I’ll be back soon.”


My brother picked up my bags and waited by the door, while I eased away.

“Soon, mom. February ninth.”

“When is that?”

“Nine days,” I said quietly.

“I don’t know what to do or where to begin!”

“Mom, you don’t need to do anything, it’s all taken care of.”

“I feel like I should be doing something, but I don’t know what to do!”

“It’s okay, mom. See all these boxes? This is what we’ve been doing the past few days. You don’t need to do anything.”

My brother went out, and I caught the screen door just before it closed. Walking down the curving red sidewalk toward the car I glanced at the app again. “Theogene” it reminded me.

The trunk popped open and my brother hoisted my bags inside. He closed the lid and then pushed on it to be sure it was closed—and then I pushed on it to be sure it was closed. Because trunk lids always want you to think they’re closed when in fact they’re secretly still open.

We hugged, tight.

“I love you, man.”

“I love you, too.”

I reached for the door handle, but then my dad was there, looking for another hug.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Then, the door handle, and the back seat, and the inside door handle, and quiet.

I fastened the seatbelt and caught Theogene’s eye in the rearview mirror.

“Good morning, Theogene,” I said, hoping I got it right.

“Good morning, Michael,” he said, with an accent that suggested he had been born somewhere far from where we were.

Without further ceremony, we rolled away from the house my parents bought fifty years ago and will be selling soon.

It wasn’t until just now, hours later and over an ocean, that it hit me—I didn’t look back. Or wave. Or…

I’ll be back soon, mom. Nine days. 

See? It’s written down right here.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

This May Take A Minute

Example of the local pre-dawn light
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world

And you may ask yourself
Well, how did I get here?
And you may ask yourself
"My god—what have I done?"

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Once in a Lifetime—David Byrne/Brian Eno
Sitting here in the quiet and the pre-dawn light, I have no idea how we got here.

And the more I try to pry open that oyster, the more it resists scrutiny.

I stare at the array of photos and the list of steps we took lurching toward this goal—but collectively they don't seem to add up to "moving halfway across an ocean."

And they don't reflect the overlapping roiling that took place (gestures at the entire world) while we anxiously plowed ahead.
In January we moved our daughter into her own apartment at the University of Washington. Classes there were still entirely remote (hi, pandemic), but there comes a time when a girl just needs her space.

The next day we moved our other child to Hawaii for many of the same reasons—and really, there are few better places to ride out our current viral storm because this state has done things right from the get-go.

A couple days later, the outgoing president of the United States incited a mob to subvert the transfer of power to the president-elect. The attempt failed, but if you keep up with current events you know the people behind it haven't given up. The Former Guy may still get the Ceaușescu moment he's thirsting for.
Throughout the winter we figured we were a year (maybe two) from picking up and moving. But as the PNW dark grudgingly turned to light, there was a seasonally affected shift in our thinking.

The pandemic had a lot to do with it ("anything can happen to anyone at any time—what are we waiting for?"), as did an underlying sense that after 17 years in Seattle it was time for a change.

The decision happened in increments, with stretches of ambiguity in between:

(March, contemplatively)
"We could live part of the year here and part of the year there."

(April, more than once)
"We could rent out this house as long as home prices keep going up."

(May, shouting over a frenzied seller's market)
"We should sell this house ASAP!"

(ASAP turned out to be September, and the house sold in three and a half days)
Like an invisible predator, covid-19 quietly and constantly sat with us during every conversation about our future.

At the beginning of January, 2021, covid had killed more than 375,000 Americans. At the end of the last day of 2021 it will have taken another 445,000 of our neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones. More than 820,000 people gone, with no end in sight.

The point being, while covid didn't always get an overt mention in our discussions, its implicit presence impacted every one of them.
Let's talk about something else like, IDK, the weather. 

The dry (west) side of the Big Island is *very* dry, averaging as little as 10 inches of rainfall a year. Meanwhile, the wet (east) side of Maui is *very* wet, averaging up to 115 inches of annual precip.

The distance between the two coasts is equivalent to a Jesus marathon (26 miles across the water).

Microclimates, man.
Yes, it's a metaphor.
Significant changes will continue to roll over and through our family in the near future.

Here at Singing Whale Farm we'll be tearing our kitchen down to the studs and building it back up again.

Almost simultaneously a solar energy system will be installed on our roof, freeing us from the hobgoblin of Big Oil.

Most importantly—the house my parents bought 50 years ago will be going on the market soon. They'll be moving to an assisted living mise en scène a long way from Colorado (but very near my brother and his family).

These are the things we know about at the moment. As always, there will be far more things we don't know about that we'll deal with as they arrive on our shore.

Today's example: at 6:30 a.m. we received a text from our friendly PO Box people. They wanted to let us know that they're closing their doors and that their last day of business will be...


Don't send us any mail for a while, I guess.
In closing...

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

―Pema Chödrön
(h/t Erin Earle, LMHC)

Monday, November 08, 2021

News From The Farm

This X every room in the house
It's the sweetest thing I know of
Just spending time with you
It's the little things that make a house a home
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove
The light in your eyes that makes me warm

Hey, it's good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again

—Back Home Again, John Denver
The news isn't all bad.

I mean, sure, we're completely inundated with things we have no room for, but that's just logistics.

What's required is that we start making hard choices about what we need here vs. what we want. And if the gap between those thing is currently vast, well whose fault is that, anyway?

There's a Habitat For Humanity nearby, and a Salvation Army Outlet store. Farther away, in Kona, is the Re-Use Hawai'i architectural salvage store. Our loss will be their gain.

The paring process began yesterday, with a much-needed trip to the transfer station. We loaded up the truck* with as much non-salvageable stuff as possible and dumped it into an enormous bin. My soul felt slightly lighter, but to be clear there are many such trips in our future. It's either that or we bring in a 20-foot container, park it next to the house, and fill it up with things that won't fit in the house. I'm not saying that's the aesthetic we're going for here, but it is an available option.
Juxtaposed with our visit to the transfer station was our trip to the Hāmākua Harvest Farmers Market. We love a weekend farmers market (or two) and this one features fresh produce, arts and crafts, food trucks, fresh-made ice cream, live music, and a commercial nursery—all with an amazing ocean view.

We're hoping/planning for a Singing Whale Farm booth at this market one day. What we'll be selling is very TBD, but it'll start with the things we have experience with—eggs and honey. 

I joke about selling recreational weed as well, but since that's not currently legal in Hawai'i (and we have zero experience growing weed), that'll remain a joke for the foreseeable future.
Not a joke: this very busy weekend ended with me sleeping in the car with our resident polar bear.

After a long day running around barking at cows and turkeys and the neighbor's tractor, our 10.5 year-old Great Pyrenees jumped into the back of the car for a well-deserved bark-break. As the evening wore on, though, her nap turned into a full-on lethargy that we couldn't diagnose. 

Rather than drag her out of the car, I climbed in with a pillow and a sleeping pad. I'm no veterinarian, but I felt like the least I could do was monitor her for obvious distress during the night—or be there with her if she decided to leave us.

I fell asleep to the sound of her breathing—and woke up many times in the darkness listening for that sound. Eventually, gradually, finally dawn arrived, and she was still with us. She still seemed a bit groggy (or maybe that was me), but the lethargy was gone, and she ate a good breakfast. Afterward, in the morning light, I noticed a large welt on her nose. It looked like a reaction to a bee- or yellow jacket sting—which may explain her other symptoms.

Consulting this morning with the vet about anaphylaxis in dogs and a supply of canine epi-pens. Just in case.
In closing, the news from the farm can be summed up as somewhat vexing, occasionally worrisome, with a side of uncertainty—but not really bad. 

Sitting here this morning, we'll take that and be grateful.
(*Rhoda—for future reference, the truck's name is Rhoda, after Valerie Harper's character in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. "Tough, with a good heart.")