Saturday, March 29, 2014


Went to the farm yesterday and did some tree climbing to get cuttings. I was going to do some pruning as well, but the wind was a little higher than I would have liked for that, so I left it for another day.

Here in FarmFamVille, the trees are at that early spring stage where they're ready to jump on it the moment the nights warm up enough long enough to get some leaves out. It's as if all of the buds are at a starting gate, going "All right, it's coming. I can feel it, it's coming. Get ready! Get ready! Wait for it.... waiiiiit for iiiit...."

We're still getting cool enough at night often enough that the buds are holding out for a little better weather, outside.

Inside, on the cuttings, is a different story. Bring em in out of the weather (because there's nowhere outside that I can put them that they won't get windblown all to hell... facts of life here are just that if I want cuttings I'm going to have to get em started inside) and give em good water and the buds swell and green like crazy. 

I have some from last week, from the lone surviving mulberry at the farmhouse, that the buds look like they're gonna hatch little pod people soon. This is a good sign, I'm cautiously optimistic. Yesterday I hit the trees at the old ranch house, by the range pasture. There once was a whole enclosure of trees, though many of them have died over the years. Lack of care, lack of water, they were just old, really it's all of the above. I'm working on getting the surviving trees back into shape, but it's a slow process since I'm new to all of this and I'm just one person. I mostly worked on the trees near the Farmhouse last year, this year it's the ranch trees' turn.

No one lives there, and the house is in bad enough shape that no one is going to live there, but I still want to do what I can. For one, trees are rare enough on the plains that I want to do what I can to preserve the ones we have. For another, those mulberry trees make a decent additional food source for some of our wildlife, and since I'm pro wildlife, I'm all for that.

But a big chunk of it is just heritage. If I'm lucky I'll be able to trim these up and get em healthier, and they'll last several more years. But we've lost enough trees around the Farmhouse especially that it looks... bald. Since that's not how it is in my memory, I want to get some more trees back in, and mom wants fruiting trees. For a small investment in materials and a large investment of time I can hopefully get saplings started from cuttings. More time on my side but less money, and I'm enjoying the time I'm spending on it. 

Plus, if I'm extra-successful with the cuttings, not only do I get to start rebuilding the picture in my head of the Farmhouse some, but I can turn any extras to good use. Either as bonsai (come on, tiny fruiting tree? That's just cool...) or as trade goods/repayment to folks who have helped me out in this ongoing project. Like the wonderful mother of a friend who sent me a bunch of her leftover gallon size nursery pots from the stuff she's done in her garden over the years. And then donated currant bushes from her garden when she learned that I was trying to figure out how to get some for Farmmom.

I've also got several cuttings from what I like to call the Miracle Pear Tree. In certain areas, you hear lots of stories about how Great Grandpa Willy tossed a peach pit, or a pear seed, or a plum pit from his midmorning snack and bam! There grew a tree! 

It does happen here, though not as often. We've got a couple of those types of trees, one is far less surprising, being located right up against the side of the shop. Sheltered from the wind, watered with the runoff from the roof of whatever moisture we do get, it's pretty believable. The other.... is not in a place you would expect such a thing to happen. Not here, anyway.

It's out in the middle of an open patch over at the old ranch house. It's got some shelter from all the other trees, but it's not like the other one. This area has been opened up to the pasture and grazed off and on over the years, too. So this tree sort of survived against the odds, to start with. And then it produced fruit. Farmdad can remember one of his horses that loved the pears from that tree. He says that this gelding, who was built a lot like Monkey in the long and leggy pattern, would rear up to reach the fruit on the higher branches to snack on. It's still hanging in there, though I don't think it produced any fruit last year, not enough water. I've got cuttings from it from this spring as well, with fingers crossed that they do well.

Ok, enough babbling, have some pictures with (brief) explanations. 

That's one of the mulberry trees at the old ranch house. Don't throw things at me, I didn't have a fork with me to clear out the tumbleweeds. It'll get done, it just didn't yesterday.

The Miracle Pear. As you can see it sort of stands off by itself. Like I said, it's got some shelter, the three sides not pictured here have trees in a sort of three-sided box, but they're 50 yards away or more, and most of them are dead. 

This is sort of an illustration of one reason I find bonsai such a challenge. I haven't really gotten into styling yet, but I've been reading a lot on the subject, and most of the bonsai artists that I really like their work seem to say the same thing: Look at the trees in your area, and make your bonsai look like them. Well, sure, you want that natural look, but honestly around here most of the trees either look scraggly, or have the wind-blown lean to the north. Or both.

Which is not to say that we don't have trees that I think are beautiful This one at another location is one of them. Yeah it could definitely use some cleaning up, but I like the way it looks. Oh, and all of these are living trees, I promise. They just haven't started leafing out yet. They're all in that "wait for it" stage of spring.

And last, but certainly not least, the ever helpful Thomas Cat. I never would have expected him to get as big as he has from the teeny kitten that he was, and he's retained all of the snuggliness and love that he had as a kitten.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oh Hey, I'm Still Alive! Also, Have A Couple Book Reviews.

Not much blogworthy (and bloggable) has been happening here lately. Some frustrations, some good stuff, but none of it really pops out at me as something I really need to write about.

I will say that an event at work last week influenced me a bit on this post. I've been spending some time on the jail side of things down at the SO, and as you can imagine there are always those who don't like the fact that they're in jail. Can't really blame them there, though it does seem to be easier on everyone if all parties concerned can manage to be civil, if not pleasant. I haven't had any problems in that area myself, but I have had those situations where things are just a little bit strained. One gentleman had been something of a mystery to me, since he never really struck up a conversation or said much of anything to me at all, just stared at the TV and slept.

Until I saw him reading On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony. Now, I've read it and I liked it, but this tale isn't about that book so much as it's about the ability for books to forge a connection between people. Because of that book, I was able to make a small connection to someone who hadn't really had any way to connect to me before that. A stone faced yes or no answering man became a man who was capable of smiling. And he had something to smile about. It was, honestly, a very brief interaction, but it was important to me, and it reminded me of the impact the written word can have on us. And of the serious (and sad) decline in reading in our society.

So, I decided to do a couple of book reviews/promotions, to do my part to encourage literacy and connection. First up, in order of the beloved nature of the author:

The Grey Man

This is OldNFO's book, and if you read me and don't read him, you should fix that. I've always loved NFO's stories, and while usually I hear them over the phone or in person, I was delighted to get a fictional one in print. I've been privileged to read some of his writing before he got serious about this particular story, and despite some bumps in the road (once you get into a habit of writing in a certain style, it's really hard to break it even when you want to, I give him major kudos for the work he put in on this book) The Grey Man has finally arrived as a finished book.

I'm gonna confess right now that I haven't read the finished version yet. I did get to read earlier versions and provide my meager input, but I just haven't gotten to reading the finished one yet. Part of it is that things got a little hectic around here, and part of it is when I realized I could sit down and go through it again it was too late for me to be any help in the editing process, so I decided to set it aside for a while to come back at it with fresh reading-for-fun eyes instead of the same catch-all-the-typos eyes. I will be buying a paper copy, and probably a digital copy.

It's a wonderfully twisty tale with a little bit of everything: mystery, drama, humor, romance. I don't want to give away any spoilers so it's hard for me to talk about the book itself, but the story always had me coming back for more.

No matter what NFO might say about his alpha and beta readers being the ones to make the book any good, I maintain my stance that all we did was come along after and help polish it. Buy it, read it, review it yourself. I'm personally hoping that this is the beginning of a beautiful series. (And I will encourage and nag and poke and prod as necessary to make that happen.)

Next up is K.B. Spangler, and her two books Digital Divide and Maker Space.

Ms. Spangler (or Otter, which is name she started the comic under and how I still think of her) writes and draws the webcomic A Girl And Her Fed which I already adored. Almost from the start she realized that there were aspects of the story of this fantastic world she'd built that didn't quite fit into the comic, so she wrote a few short stories and sold them in her store. I haven't got them all, though I will eventually. What I do have are her two books that have spun off of the comic: Digital Divide and Maker Space (at the top of the comic page there's a link that says "Books!" and you should click it.)

Otter has some amazing fans, folks. Periodically someone will donate some money to her cause with the earmark of having it provide copies of the short stories or books to those who really want to read them but can't afford to buy them just now. She's run specials of her own for providing pdfs of her work to fans who are in a bad place financially, too.

Being in one of those hard financial spots myself, when I saw that someone had donated ten copies of Digital Divide two hours previous, I asked if there were any left. I was pretty sure the answer would be no, but miraculously I seem to have slipped in under the wire. Then I dove into the story and could barely come up for breath. When I finished it, I promptly went about (metaphorically) scouring couch cushions for loose change so that I could buy Maker Space.

If you're not familiar with the world, here's a quick overview: the back story occurs in the comic. A Girl And Her Fed is chock full of fantasy elements. The ghosts of dead Presidents, a genetically engineered smart ass evil thinking koala (god, I love Speedy) and a pair of protagonists that you can't help but root for. It's also chock full of social commentary, just heads up. The comic pretty well stands on a solid base of it though, and builds from that core premise, which makes the commentary far less of a metaphorical scream in your ear. I've plugged the comic here before, so I won't jabber on it any more than that.

The books expand the world that Otter built in the comic. She takes some of the side characters and builds their stories up, fills them out, and makes you adore them. The main protagonist of the book is Rachel Peng, who I was prepared to like from her brief appearances in the comic, but who swiftly became one of my favorite characters in that world once I got a chance to get inside her head a bit more.

The books are less fantasy focused than the comic. No ghosts, no Speedy, but you're still dealing with a world in which a few corrupt government officials have managed to come up with a chip that goes inside a human being's brain and connects them to every computer in the world, get it installed in a bunch of the best and brightest volunteers from across government service, and proceed to try to turn them into depressed, barely functional machines of human beings to control them.

The books tell the story of the Agents after they discover what was done to them and try to heal, and get on with doing the wonderful, awesome things they were told they'd be doing to serve their country when they volunteered. It's a tale of good trying, struggling, fighting to overcome the same kind of petty me-first evil that we see every day, on a grand scale.

You will find yourself rooting for the Agents, sometimes in spite of what they do, because they're wonderfully whole people, and they're functioning in basically the same kind of world that we are, where the right thing isn't always easy and we sometimes have to not do the right thing for one person because it would hurt a lot of others.

Highly recommended, both books. I gladly backed the Kickstarter that let Otter turn Maker Space into an audio book before I read either of them, and I'll gladly read anything else she puts out in the future.

Go forth, my minions, and read. Share a book with a friend, a family member, or a stranger. Make a connection, or just revel in the joy of a good story on a beautiful day. Or a nasty day, curled up with a hot drink and a warm blanket. Or a very late night when you didn't intend to stay up because you just have to know what happens next. Or... you get the picture.