I needed some photos for an application, and Veki, who happened to be passing through town from France and Hungary, agreed to give it a try.

Although photography exists as a general skill, I think most photographers develop a certain style of photograph that they seek out and capture. Veki has a good sense of colour, and seems to enjoy human faces and candid, unexpected shots. Alas, this wasn't conducive to the "professional profile" pictures I was seeking, but the inability to take anything but a happy photo is hardly a disability. Thanks, Veki!

You're probably only interested in these pictures if you're my Mom, but she reads this too, so here they are.

It'd been a while since I'd taken a walk by the river, so I set out to do just that one night. I was also seeking a photograph myself. In an earlier entry in this blog, I set out to Cumberland Island and have to make a choice while on the ferry about where to spend the next year. It was easy to go through my pictures of Alaska and finding dripping beauty in every one of them. But I just couldn't find a pretty picture of Minneapolis. I had many pictures depicting beautiful events, things, and people I'd encountered while spending time there, but no pictures of the place.

I think this photo might be as close as it's gonna get.

And that gives a person something to think about.

The next weekend, the Coop decided to spend the day visiting a farm just North of the Cities. C.P. from the Coop drove me out there. CL, KD, and I spent the first couple of hours wandering around through the patch of woods and surrounding prairie. At one point, we rounded a corner and found ourselves passing through a huge clump of tall weedy things. CL made a gasping sound: marijuana! Plucking a leaf he began chewing it idly as we walked around, commenting that it tasted pretty bad, for weed.

And now, dear Reader, I must tell you of a fantasy of mine. Hemp of all varieties is banned in the U.S., but not all hemp induces effects on its users. There is the marijuana-variety of hemp and the non-marijuana variety. One will get you high, the other won't… even if you smoke fields full of it. And, of course, the two varieties look almost exactly the same. For whatever reason, I find this vastly amusing and imagine it would be a really great time to plant non-marijuana hemp all over the place knowing that somewhere, someday someone would make a silly mistake.

As I watch CL spit out the weed and pluck another, commenting again on the bad taste, I begin to laugh. Turns out someone's already been doing this!

The next few hours, we clean and bundle garlic, surrounding our heads with perfuming clumps. The farm is very particular about how this is done and I'm reminded of the time I spent farming with Beth—that farmer was also grumpy. Maybe it comes with the job?

Later on in the day, I catch a ride with KC down to Northfield for a Young Farmer's Association mixer. The Wild Goose Chase Cloggers (who host the biggest and best of Minnesota contra-dance weekends) are rumoured to be playing. We stop at Northfield's Coop on the way and our lost expression draws concern; soon, we're following someone as they drive out to the farm.

When we arrive things are already in full swing. A potluck's underway and the lawn is covered with future farmers. I've entertained thoughts of doing this myself one day, but it's not an idea I'm hugely enthusiastic about, unlike some of the people around me. And, after working with animals, I feel like I'd probably be running an entirely plant-based operation.

Dinner's followed by clogging in the hay-loft of the barn…

…and some wandering about on the farm. When I was farming with Beth, the chicken coop was one of the first places we went each morning. If we didn't, the chickens might get around to breaking their own eggs and eating them. Sometimes you'd be staring into a nest box and a chicken would be staring back out at you. Sometimes they'd let you reach under them and take the still-warm eggs; other times they'd start pecking at your hand (those were the good parents, I imagine).

We'd get to the coop again as one of the last things we'd do out on the barnyard. You'd open the door and this awful stench would come rolling out. Then you'd open an interior door into a place where all the chickens lived. They be crowding the floor and jumping around in the air, so you had to try to avoid crushing them when you opened it. Then you'd have to get it closed before they'd escape, dodge chicken droppings from above, and get out the water dishes. Clean/scrap the poop from the dishes, refill them with water, and give the chickens their food.

When we went to market, we always put stickers on the eggs explaining that they came from "Happy, Free-range Chickens". Maybe happier and free-ranger would have been better terms.

Later, Beth trekked out to Oregon and told me that the chickens there were happy. Given my limited experience with the birds (chasing one down in New Mexico and working with them on the farm), I didn't know what to think. So it was a good thing I came to the Mixer, because I got to see a lovely mobile-chicken coop and happy chickens strutting about their enclosure. It made me feel sorry for the other chickens.

My professor and I have spoken about this a few times, both of us referring back to Aldo Leopold. He feels that, even in his life, there's been a tremendous change in ethics regarding animals. When he was young, the older boys would throw the worthless fish they caught (every area has some fish which is absolutely "worthless", a bother to catch, and always thrown back or despaired over) into the fire. Live. And they would flop around. But the older boys said that "fish don't feel pain". Today, that would be unquestionably wrong in many places and we think about whether coral reefs feel "pain".

Perhaps farmers have a different relationship with the animals in their lives.

We also talk about the farmer who beats his cow. Naturally, the cow produces less milk when it's beat and probably dies sooner. This farmer is a bad farmer, but, the way we see it, he's a bad farmer because he beats the cow, not because he fails to maximize profit.

These two kept trying to have a romantic moment, but the little boy kept shoving the door closed with his stick. Finally, the man was leaning half-way out the barn to keep it open with his leg. I'm not sure if they ever got their kiss in.

The night ended with square dancing among fireflies out on the grass, with puppies racing hazardously between people's legs. The whole band was smoking up a storm with their cigarettes, trying to keep the mosquitoes away. The dance ended when the caller couldn't see us any more. K.C. let me drive the car home into the face of a lightning storm.

Veki (on the right) has gone back to Hungary after breakfast at the Hard Times. It's sad to see her go, but she tells me that if I can ever get there, I'll be made welcome by an endless succession of relatives.

Up to Grand Rapids with my aunt and uncle to visit with my parents and grandmother. Tall Timber days are going on, so we watch the lumberjacks do their stuff. I'm told I can't compete in the spar-pole climbing contest. Sadness.
There's not much to do up there, except read, do projects, enjoy nature, and forage for berries.

It's a great place to go.
My niece has, cunningly, had another birthday and is almost a teenager. She does not (yet?) share my family's opinion of the cabin.

We're sanding and refinishing the floors in the Coop. Members are responsible for 12 hours of maintenance work during the school year and 8 during the summer. I've surpassed those numbers by a considerable margin and am being actively discourage from doing more work: other people have quite a few hours left to go.

I'm excited about having a "dance-floor" in my house. Anyone know where I can get a decent piano?

Spending a fair amount of time on the mad cow disease models lately. It's reached the point where I need someone—a real expert—to verify some of the assumptions being made. With this in mind, I set out to the U's vet school.

Inside, the school resembles a Spartan hospital (reminding rather of a hotel I stayed in in Denmark once). The first thirty seconds of time with the receptionist put me in a state of inward-despair: she seems grumpy. But, as we continue talking, I discover she was merely confused… I guess people don't walk through the door without an appointment to talk about mad cow disease every day. She picks up the phone and, a few minutes later, I'm talking with the director.

He picks up on the idea quickly and begins directing me towards a "very bright guy". The conversation meanders. "We have a dual-role", he says. "On the one hand we're here to support agriculture; on the other, we're seeking the truth."

"Oh!", I say, surprised. "I don't have to tell anyone where I got my information [referring to the guy he's suggested]."

The director chuckles. "He's a researcher, he doesn't care. I'm talking about me!" And then he gives me more than enough contact information. So I learn that researchers can do most anything, but directors have to be careful to balance competing interests.

I'm glad there's that insulation for the researchers. At some level, every scientist must be a politician because the world runs on politics. That's why it's important to have some funding sources which are not political or subject to the machinations of others (tenure, Minnesota's LCCMR, et cetera): some truths are difficult to accept.

On the other hand, it's good that researcher aren't entirely insulated from reality either. Big companies, corporate interests, inefficient (and sometimes unethical?) practices have all played their part in producing benefits to society. Their motives are different from those of a researcher, but both motives have a part to play in producing usable knowledge.

Afterwards, I walk over to another department to talk about the current regulatory structure surrounding cows. The person I end up talking with is very careful about discussing these and pointing out voluntary practices the industry engages in to further shore up the system. It's good information. I'm always vaguely shocked by who you can just go in and talk to; given the probable value of this person's time, our brief conversation's probably worth between $62–$125. Such a bargain!

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