More Mountain Musings

I made it back from my weekend trip to the mountains near Burnsville, North Carolina.  I slammed that SubscribeStar Saturday post out after being up since 5:30 AM, two hundred miles of driving, and a full day of family fun in Asheville, so I skimped on some details, even if I hit the main points I wanted to address.

It was a very rushed trip, with my girlfriend and I departing around 11 AM Sunday to take in some sights before rushing back to prepare for our busy workweeks.  We managed to spend a little time in Burnsville, which is named for Captain Otway Burns, a sailor and hero of the War of 1812.  A statue of Captain Burns, erected in 1909, stands in the town square, with an inscription that reads, “He Guarded Well Our Seas, Let Our Mountains Honor Him.”

From there, we headed into the mountains, eventually reaching the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Our destination was Mount Mitchell State Park, which provides easy access to the summit of Mount Mitchell.  Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains, and the highest in the eastern continental United States.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: The Mountains

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

I wasn’t sure if I would get to this post today, and originally I was planning on writing about the political implications of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  But because I’m enjoying some time with the family, I thought I’d focus on something a bit lighter.

My older brother turned forty on Thursday, and to mark that middle-aged milestone, he wanted to spend the weekend in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  Most of the clan got up here Thursday evening, but I wasn’t able to make it up until this morning.  High school football dominates my Friday nights, and personal days are a precious commodity.

So, here are some quick reflections about my short trip to the mountains.

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Phone it in Friday XV: Blogger Buddies

It’s been another crazy week, but the rhythms of the school year are beginning to fall into their familiar patterns.  That said, I’ve put in more hours working this week than any in a long time.

Regular readers know what that means:  another edition of Phone it in Friday, now reaching its fifteenth installment.

It’s been a week for shout-outs to other commentators and platforms, so I figured I’d continue with that theme and recommend some of my blogger buddies to you.  I have to give a big hat tip for this idea to one of my best blogger buddies, photog, over at Orion’s Cold Fire.  He wrote a post—“A Word of Thanks to Our Boosters“—highlighting some of those blogs that routinely link to his page or reference his writing, and yours portly made the list.  Thanks, photog!

So on this rainy, overcast Friday, here are some excellent blogs for your consideration:

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TBT: High-Tech Agrarianism

Lately I’ve been heavily focused on yard work, as my lawn and flower beds were resembling an abandoned lot more than a well-maintained lawn.  As such, I’ve had small-scale farming on the brain more lately, even though the only edibles I planted were one forlorn banana pepper plant and some oregano (although the celosia leaves are edible before the plants flower).

Naturally, my mind returned to this March 2020 essay, “High-Tech Agrarianism.”  It’s perhaps a testament to how much we have adjusted to The Age of The Virus that I did not go out and till my half-acre, instead letting it loose to its recent weedy state.

Reading over this essay, which I wrote in the week after South Carolina schools shut down, it’s interesting how much I’ve mellowed on The Virus.  I was skeptical of it beforehand, but when schools were shuttered for the last two months of the academic year, the sense that something big was wrong only grew.  The most remarkable aspect of The Virus is that, even with shutdowns, the economy kept going, and there’s not the same sense of depressing listlessness that reigned during the Great Recession.

Of course, the economic fallout may very well be delayed, and I’m in a much better position financially and professionally this time around than I was in 2009.  The government distributing $1200 checks and propping up businesses probably smoothed out the economic disruption a bit, too.

It’s also interesting that other than wearing masks and sanitizing ourselves and our things constantly, life seems to be marching on more normally.  The True Believers in The Virus scold large gatherings, but people want to be together.  We can limit crowds only so much—people are going to congregate.

The Age of The Virus aside, the idea of tilling suburban and small town acreage is a prudent, if difficult, job.  I still maintain it’s a better use of land than a lawn.  Instead of mowing and edging, put that effort towards watering, weeding, and fertilizing.  Crops look good—and taste good, too.

That last paragraph probably highlights my ignorance about agriculture—something I’m working on as I flirt more and more with the idea of converting my yard into arable square feet.  We’ll see where I am in another six months.

Here’s “High-Tech Agrarianism“:

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

One of my musician friends, a bit of a Sandersnista hippie-dippie type (but attractive enough to get away with it) has been posting Left-leaning memes consistently throughout this crisis.  But one meme caught my eye:

Grandma - Local Supply Chain

Here’s good ol’ Granny tending her garden.  The meme is right:  I know from family lore that my Mamaw and Papaw fed themselves, their children, and a lot of other folks in the mountains of southwestern Virginia during the Depression with chickens and crops they raised themselves.

That got me thinking:  could America see the return of widespread of homesteading, or some modern-day version of Jeffersonian agrarianism?

I was pondering this question on my way to church tonight (yes, yes, social distancing, etc., but it’s a small church, and we had a very small turnout, so I’m sure it was fine to attend), driving through the fields on the outskirts of Lamar.  I began pondering the notion of a society with our level of information technology, but that saw most Americans farming or gardening for at least a small bit of their sustenance.

Such a system would be “high-tech agrarianism”—it would combine modern technology, especially information technology like the Internet, with millions of freehold agriculturalists.  Yes, we’d still have the huge mega-farms, we’d have people working in offices, etc.  But people would be making good use of their land, too, growing crops instead of grass.

Of course, I then began to ponder if such a society could have ever developed organically.  My instinct is no—it required the massive integration of local, regional, and national economies to raise production efficiency to the point that we can have widespread, niche-y specialization in tens of thousands of fields.  Greater efficiency fed into greater technological advancement, which in turn led to greater efficiency—and on and on and on, in a revving upward cycle.

But now we’re staring down this virus, which is leading governments all over the world to close stores, cancel events, lay off workers, turn away elderly patients, and on and on.  Those long, efficient supply chains are massively disrupted.  People are hoarding toilet paper and bread in the hopes of riding out likely (and, in some places, actual) quarantines.

I’m assuming life will return to normal… eventually.  But when?  So far, many of my assumptions about the pandemic have been incorrect (it turns out this time, the media wasn’t just crying wolf—well, not entirely, anyway; it still seems that some of this panicked response is driven by ridiculous media spin and speculation).  If we continue down this road of greater and greater decentralized isolation, people are either going to riot, or figure out how to provide for themselves.

In such a world, maybe high technology and small-scale farming could work keyboard-in-glove.  I’ve long advocated for some return to a simpler, more agrarian, more localized life.

Of course, I’m romanticizing America’s Jeffersonian past.  Farming is hard—and risky (of course, that hardness made our nation great).  I certainly don’t know anything about it—another truth to the meme above.  Also, if we’d continued as a mostly farming nation, we wouldn’t have the means to fight this virus, or to figure out how to fight it.

That said, converting your half-acre lawn into a garden full of corn, squash, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, beans, berry bushes, etc., seems like a far more productive use of your little plot of land, and one that could save your life and the lives of others in a pinch.  That seems sensible.

We could also do with some can-do gumption, like Granny had.

Home Depot is operating on shortened hours, but they’re remaining open.  Maybe now is the time to buy a roto-tiller.

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Gardening

We’re back into the full swing of things after the glorious three-day weekend.  As I noted in various weekend posts, I spent much of the Labor Day holiday gardening.  My house was starting to look haunted, the weeds were growing so high:

Flower Beds - Before

My girlfriend took the weeding with gusto, while I raked out pine straw and debris.  I also pulled and cut some gargantuan weeds from my woefully neglected grapevines (which are, nevertheless, producing big, fat grapes).  After a couple of hours the beds were much improved:

Flower Beds - During

As with many home improvement projects, there’s the tedious part—in this case, weed-pulling—and then there’s the fun part.  For us, the fun part was going to Home Depot and Lowe’s to find plants to beautify the beds.  Over the course of two days, we found some beautiful options, including some colorful mums.

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Music Among the Stars

Back in 1977, NASA launched Voyager I, which is some 14 million miles from Earth.  The super nerds behind the mission stowed two golden records on board.  Those golden records included various selections to represent life on Earth, from “Johnny B. Goode” to nature sounds to classical music.

Over the Labor Day weekend a colleague e-mailed me Classical Archivesweekend newsletter, which includes some musings about why humans developed the ability to create—and their interest in—music.  The newsletter features the blog posts “Can E.T. Carry a Tune?” and “Music for Extraterrestrials… Sampling the Music Selected for NASA’s Voyager I.”

The former explores the possible deep origins of humanity’s music-making abilities.  It posits several theories developed from evolutionary biology.  As  a Christian, I find these explanations ultimately wanting, though they each make interesting points (the second proposed theory, for example, suggests “that music arose because it was a social glue that helped our ancestors bond with one another and with a group”).  Music serves many purposes, even if those purposes are not strictly utilitarian (and even then music can serve that function, such as coordinating workers’ movements via work songs).

Chiefly, though, music is intended to praise God.  Like the other arts, music is God’s grant of a small sliver of His Creative potential to His Creation—Tolkien’s “sub-creation” of Middle Earth serving as a prime literary example.  The highest form of musical expression, then, lifts up songs of praise to God.

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Memorable Monday IV: Happy Labor Day [2020]!

It’s Labor Day 2020 here in the United States, and it’s been a productive weekend for yours portly.  My girlfriend and I completely recreated my weed-strewn flower beds, and I felt like my parents—wandering around the garden centers of Lowe’s and Home Depot looking for cypress mulch and discount flowers.

Today, I put down some more mulch, and the beds are looking quite nice.  I also swept out my barn—filled with the corpses of roaches caught in the latest defogger blast—and did some light vehicle maintenance.  The in-cabin air filter in my little Nissan Versa Note SV desperately needed replacement, and I can now breathe easier knowing a clean filter is in place.  I vacuumed out the car, too, and took the opportunity to hose down its filters and various components, which are now drying outside.

Looking back to my Labor Day post for 2019, it’s striking to note the difference in my activities.  That Labor Day I played video games; this Labor Day, I’ve been a productive adult American.  Granted, I was sick, but perhaps I’m finally growing up.

Regardless, the rest of today will be spent relaxing a bit, as well as doing some planning and grading for the short school week ahead.  Next weekend I plan to hit the yard with a new battery-powered string trimmer, pending its shipment and weather permitting.  It’s interesting how I will put these necessary home improvement projects off for weeks, but when I finally get to them, I don’t want to stop!  Such is the joy of homeownership.

With that, here is last year’s Labor Day post, “Happy Labor Day 2019!“:

It’s Labor Day here in the United States, a day to celebrate the hardworking men and women that make our country great.  Yes, I’m sure a holiday engineered by labor unions (like the radical nineteenth-century union the Knights of Labor) has some seedy progressive origins, but I think we can all appreciate a Monday off.

It’s been a pleasant weekend here at the Casa de Portly.  All the ambitious plans to grade and catch up on work predictably flew out the window, and I’ve gotten loads of much-needed rest.  My hacking cough is virtually gone, and I’m feeling rested and relaxed—a rare sensation for yours portly.

I also rediscovered a fun little turn-based strategy game that has devoured some of my time this weekend:  Delve Deeper, from Lunar Giant.  You manage a team of five dwarfs as they “delve deeper” (get it?) into critter-infested mines, all while competing against other, AI-controlled teams to mine and loot the most treasure.  It’s simple and not exceptionally deep, but it’s quite fun.

I’ve also played some Left 4 Dead 2 with the boys, and watched the heartbreaking finale of the USC-UNC game.  Knocking off top-seeded Alabama in a couple of weeks is looking less and less likely.  Ugh…—but Go Cocks!

That’s it for today.  We’ll be back to history, politics, and the culture wars tomorrow.  For now, enjoy some downtime with your family, and try not to think about the collapse of Western civilization for at least one three-day weekend.

Your portly,

TPP

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TBT: The Joy of Autumn

It is—to use a Southern expression—hotter than blue blazes here in South Carolina, as it always is in early September.  Lately, the extreme heat and humidity have made any outdoor activities unbearable, at least for yours portly.  The air is thick and muggy.

But there is some relief in sight.  We’ve had some rainy days here and there that have given brief—fleetingly brief!—tastes of autumn.

Autumn is, by far, my favorite season.  After the brutal oppression of summer, autumn is a welcome relief.  Autumn in South Carolina is brief, but lovely—the days are warm, the nights crisp.  The season makes it stately arrival fashionably late, usually late in October or early in November (though Halloween always manages to be hot; just once I want an Indiana Halloween!).

The cooler weather brings with it better smells:  pumpkins and spices replace the persistent smell of cut grass and sweat.  Food tastes better in autumn, too.  There’s a reason candy apples are an autumnal fair food:  that thick, sugary, caramel coating wouldn’t last in the humidity of summer.  There’s also the pies:  pecan and pumpkin, of course, but also sweet potato.

Oh, and there’s college football.  The SEC hasn’t (yet) betrayed fans like the West Coast conferences.

So, here’s hoping autumn returns sooner rather than later to South Carolina this year.  With that hope—and prayer—in mind, whip out the pumpkin spice and enjoy November 2019’s “The Joy of Autumn“:

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Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.