Farming in the Dark

One of the advantages of living on a farm (and in this context I’m defining advantage as curse) is that farming often happens in the dark. Such as 4 in the morning, when the harvest prep crew fires up their machines about two hundred feet away from my bedroom window. Which is what happened last night.


A field of broccoli is thriving away on the south side of the house. Green, sturdy, healthy–just waiting to be cut, boxed, cooled and shipped off to a Costco near you. But that means time for harvest. And I’m not always at my cheeriest when woken up at 4 in the morning, startled awake by the rumble of a John Deere. At least, this time, the crew considerately did not turn on their ranchito music as well.

I threw on a jacket, glasses and boots, went outside to have a terse word with the crew, but then thought better of it. Perhaps I was calmed by the beauty of the night sky. And it certainly was beautiful, with the moon low down over our roof. I stopped to marvel and take a photo. Of both the moon and the machines. I said nothing to the crew. They probably would’ve been bewildered by me. Everyone on a farm gets up early, they would’ve been thinking. 4 am really isn’t that early.

Just think of all the work you could get done if you got up at 4am every day.


A long time ago, I spent some time working in Thailand. One of my housemates was a Thai fellow who got by on three or four hours every night. He told me he’d lived like that for years. Very cheerful, energetic fellow. Seemed to be in good health, as far as I could tell. His eyes didn’t twitch. No tremors. Not that I’m a doctor, but I can usually detect when someone is criminally insane, has broken limbs, or has a sucking chest wound,  so I’m somewhat competent medically.

24-4 is 20. 20 hours of productivity. Think of all the broccoli I could pick in 20 hours. Think of all the broccoli you could pick in 20 hours.

Backyard Tractors

The backyard on a ranch can look a bit different than other backyards. Such as your backyard in Georgetown, downtown Chicago, Manhattan (may I never live in Manhattan), or Santa Monica. May I never live in any of those places. If there are a high number of tractors in the surrounding fifty square miles, then I will probably be good.

Here’s what is currently living in my backyard. Tractors. Pretty big ones. Not that big by Midwest commodity standards, but big enough for coastal California farming. My boys are pleased, that’s for certain. These New Hollands are pretty cool. They also come in a double-tire version which is great if you need to roll over a large battalion of gophers at one time.

In epic fantasy terms, these tractors are the equivalent of ogres, large trolls, small dragons, or even mid-sized giants.

Gotta love these track Cases. They’re cooler than the Challengers that Caterpillar makes, but people around here tend to use Challengers more.

Rearrange Dirt

garbageMy life revolves around farming. It has to, of course, because I certainly don’t make a living from writing books or any other sort of creative pursuit. I live on a ranch, I work on ranches, I drive through and past ranches every day. I have mud all over my car, in my car, in my house (no matter how often we vacuum). Dirt everywhere. The dirt is important, if you haven’t caught my focus yet.

From the dirt we came, from it we were formed, and to it we shall return.

The dirt is where most of our lives originate. At least, in one sense. Food grows from it, whether you are an herbivore or an omnivore. In the case of omnivores, we also eat a plant-based diet, merely one step removed. Building materials, elements for computers, batteries, cars, dishwashers and windmills–it all comes from the dirt.

Dirt is inexorable. That’s not much of a surprise, as different aspects of creation tend to reflect different aspects of the creator.

However, even though this humble refrigerator, which someone so kindly decided to share with us by dumping it on a ranch (along with a bonus suitcase), originated from the dirt, I’m not that happy to see it return. Not to this particular dirt.

I suppose some might wonder if the abandoner was simply an artist creating art. After all, there’s a good argument that this superbly placed refrigerator, with accompanying suitcase, is more artistic than a banana duct-taped to the wall. But then again, there are many crazy people in the world.

One of my favorite winter pastimes is chasing away teenagers who come to go off-roading in their four-wheel drives. They rearrange the dirt a little too aggressively. They dig gouges in the roads. They spray mud all over the place. They also seem clueless, either deliberately or from true ignorance, of private property rights. I’ve caught a few of them, during which I lecture them on the error of their ways, pointing out that the farmer must spend time, labor and fuel (all equating to money, of course) on regrading the roads they’re ripping up.

And would the teenagers like me to come drive around on their front lawn? They usually stare back at me with glazed eyes, mouths slightly ajar, as if some crucial spark exited that door several months ago and never bothered to return.

Dirt. From dirt we come, the dirt we rearrange, and then to the dirt we return. Thank God there’s more to it than that.

Lie of the Land album

The Lie of the Land is an album I recorded back around 2007 in response to the general plan update battle in Monterey County (that’s my county). Things got heated. I figured music might be a good way to get people thinking. It didn’t work, as far as I could tell. Anyway, feel free to download the music files and pass them around.

ticket to kansas

get your hands off this town

love song for an environmentalist

view-shed ted

move to nome

poor louie’s bull

mr. environmental saviour

lie of the land