Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ayn Rand Article in New York Times

I am a believer in synchronicity. You hear a word for the first time, and suddenly you find it everywhere. A song from the 80’s pops into your head, and the next day some disc jockey on WBLM pulls it up from the archives for the first time in two years. You quote a line from a movie, and later that night the exact movie is playing on your favorite cable station. A political discussion on my blog leads to the topic of Ayn Rand (see previous posts and comments) and two days later there is an article about her in the NEW YORK TIMES.

Bear in mind, that I do not claim to be a philosopher. I am only discussing here what I’ve understood of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, not that I’m an expert. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would love to point out each and every instance of my “wrong-thinking” on this, and I welcome them to do so. Let’s learn together. So here goes:

I used to be a huge Rand fan. I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD and was intrigued. I read ATLAS SHRUGGED, and I was convinced–for a time. Rand’s Libertarian vision was so simple, so rational. Let everyone start out with the gifts they are given, let each person do with those gifts what they will, and let each person reap the consequences (re: profit or loss) of his/her own actions with no interference by society or government. Anything less than this total freedom, in Rand’s philosophy, was evil–a set of shackles binding the individual from reaching his or her personal potential.

For awhile I considered myself a Libertarian, and I still find some Libertarian arguments compelling. However, what I saw in the world over the ensuing years didn’t exactly fit with the neatly-structured plotline of ATLAS SHRUGGED. Not every community-financed venture devolved into corruption and ruin. Not every capitalistic venture shone as a beacon of pure light and fair profit. While it may be possible to claim that some socialists are “thugs” who want to take your money and empower themselves and enslave you, it also seems to me that there are plenty of capitalists “thugs” out there who don’t play by the rules and destroy the competition unfairly or at a huge cost to human and environmental health in order to empower themselves and enslave many.

Rand’s argument against social welfare was that nobody should force an individual to pay for the life of someone else. If you valued someone who needed help, then you could choose to help them. Rational, right? For some reason, though, when it came time to vote on whether or not to enact social welfare programs, a majority of people in our country voted in favor, especially in the years of the Great Depression and again in the 1960’s. Why? Were they just ignorant and stupid? Duped by evil, corrupt, socialist boogeymen? Did they simply see a way to get something they hadn’t earned?

(This was a big idea with Rand. That people in the lower income brackets vote to take from the higher income brackets, but then in turn the even lower income brackets vote to take from them in a downward spiral until all the wealth and resources have been squandered in the hands of the least-common-denominator.)

On the other hand, perhaps a majority of people looked out and saw poverty and despair and lack of hope. They saw power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few who used their power and wealth to stack the deck, to bend or create rules that benefited ONLY those with power and wealth at their disposal. Americans, as a society, decided something had to be done to give hope and comfort and a minimum level of security to those less “fortunate.” The majority (by electing representatives who supported social welfare legislation) decided to give the government the power to collect money for this purpose, and they created a “safety net.” Does this infringe on the rights and freedoms of the minority? You bet. If you believe “freedom” is the ideal which trumps all others, then of course you are miffed.

I like freedom, myself. I believe that in cases where it is difficult to decide what is right as a society (let’s not forget that we ARE a society, a State), it is better to err on the side of freedom and let each individual decide for themselves. However, there are times when we need to join together for the common good. How do we decide, as a society comprised on individuals with individual beliefs, what those times are?

We are a respresentative form of government. We vote for representatives who are supposed to function within the legislative body as the voice of the people. The representatives debate and decide how to act. (Part of our problem is that we individuals feel that our representatives aren’t speaking for us as much as they are speaking for other interests) In any case, for now, the people seem to be electing representatives who are NOT Libertarian-minded. Again, this is majority rules. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. Not everyone is going to be satisfied with the outcome.

The ultimate battlefield of philosophy is the street, the home, the blogs, the editorial pages of the newspaper, wherever individuals meet and talk and discuss. IF at some time the Liberatarian philosophy wins the battle for our hearts, minds, and votes, we will elect representatives who will voice this choice within the legislative body. It’s how our government was set up. There will never be a time when everyone is happy with the way things are. There is no perfect form of government. There is no perfect society.

At the end of ATLAS SHRUGGED, the capitalists of the world have “gone on strike” and have withdrawn from society. They have begun their own society in a hidden place in the mountains. They are digging ore for steel. They are building railroads. They are living the Libertarian ideal. But I am left wondering this: what happens when they run out of ore? What is happening in the chaotic outer world? Are small communities of individuals banding together and finding alternative lifestyles? Will the Galtians make swords and bullets from their steel and invade these communities in order to get to their resources? Or will they attempt to pay for the resources? What if some communities decide not to sell? Where does it end?

After talking with one of my Libertarian-minded friends this week, I kept thinking about the depressing reality that because the majority votes one way, the minority are obliged to go along (or go to jail). I agreed that it didn’t really seem fair. I mean, if you don’t want to send you kids to public school, you don’t recognize the value of education for the masses, you’d rather starve than go on food stamps, you don’t want someone else to pay for your health care, you’d rather save money for retirement rather than participate in Social Security, you don’t care about using the public library, or the fire department, or the police department–then why should you be forced to pay for these things?

So I thought, what if we simply allowed individuals to “opt-out” of society? How would that work? I can imagine a bunch of different scenarios, but I’d like to get some input from my readers. What do you think? Could something like that work? What if we just said, “Okay, go ahead.” Would we “opted-outs” be allowed employment by businesses operating within the system? And would those businesses be able to pay us whatever they wanted, with no regard for minimum wage and other labor laws? If we weren’t required to pay property taxes, would we also give up the services of the fire, police, and ambulance departments? What about road and bridge repair? Maybe we “opted-outs” would still pay a vehicle registration fee in order to pay their fair share of the roads we use. We could perhaps grow whatever “illegal” plants we wanted, but those within the system who bought it could be prosecuted.

What are some other areas that would need to be addressed? Could “opted-outs” change their minds at some point and re-enter the system? I think it would have to cost a stiff penalty because I could see people changing their minds only when the money ran out, a health issue came up, or some other need reared its ugly head. It’s like health insurance. When you are healthy, it seems like a waste of money. When you are really sick, it looks alot like salvation.

If we could, would we really chose to live without a safety net? Or would we only chose it if EVERYONE had to fly on that same trapeze? Let me know. I’m really curious.

Cleaning Up My Act–Part One

late october2009 002PART ONE: ADVANCED DE-GREASE

Dear Reader:

You may think that because I chose to “work at home” I must love to clean. Not so! I keep things mostly de-cluttered. I wash my dishes once or twice a day. I wipe down work surfaces and table surfaces and bathroom surfaces. The kitchen floor gets swept. However, when it comes to the down and dirty cleaning jobs, I balk. The bathtub gets soap scummy. The refrigerator is not pristine. The stove rarely gets an application of Easy Off Oven Cleaner. I vacuum the sofa once in awhile, but it probably should be done every day on account of the dog hairs. I don’t even want to talk about my windows.

So, when the online mom’s group in which I’m involved began featuring daily cleaning tips, my conscience started nagging at me that maybe, perhaps, I might want to think about the kitchen cupboards. More specifically, the tops of the kitchen cupboards where I store my bean pot, large ceramic bowls, and a pancake warmer. Above eye level, the cupboards often fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. I have to stand on a chair and climb up onto the kitchen counters in order to see up there. Still, I knew those cupboard tops must be looking rather nasty.

“Fine. Okay. I’ll do it,” I grudgingly agreed to my inner Mrs. Clean who had also, by the way, encouraged me to pick up a book about environmentally-safe cleaning products–what you can purchase as well as how to make your own–a year or so ago from One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh. The book is entitled CLEAN & GREEN: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NONTOXIC AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE HOUSEKEEPING by Annie Berhold-Bond and published by Ceres Press in Woodstock, NY. Click on the link to zip over to Annie’s website where there are more books and ideas.

CLEAN AND GREEN begins with a list of commonly-used commercial cleaning products and why they are bad for us and the environment. For example, all purpose cleaners can contain phosphates, chlorine, bleach, kerosene, petroleum products, solvents, EDTA, and naptha. These chemicals can be toxic or harmful to the following: fat cells, mother’s milk, liver and kidneys, and the central nervous system. Environmentally, some of the ingredients are considered hazardous waste, cause algae bloom, form DDT which affects wildlife, activate metals in lakes, are nonrenewable resources, and contaminate the air and water. (page 7.) When we purchase these cleaning products, we are also supporting an industry that pollutes during production.

“As to the environment, one of the bleakest trips that you can take is to ride the train from New York City to Washington, D.C. The train winds through the murkiest, muckiest, most discolored earth you could imagine. The tracks are lined with refineries and smokestacks. The manufacturers causing this devastation are producing products that we use at home: paints, furniture polish, laundry soap. What we throw away of these products goes into our landfills, and from there it can leach into our water. The same goes for what we wash down the drain.” (page 3.)

I decided to try one of her all-purpose cleaner recipes for the cupboards and the kitchen walls. I didn’t have any washing soda (my local market doesn’t carry it. I may have to bring a list of my desires to the owner. I really, really need my Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice Coffee in the fall . . . ) so I went with the Plain And Simple spray cleaner recipe which uses borax, distilled white vinegar and hot water. I was able to find borax and vinegar at the local market. A spray bottle from my fabulous local hardware store (they always have everything. It’s amazing!) was not very expensive. I’ve been cutting up old towels and tee-shirts for rags, so I had plenty on hand. I mixed up my cleaner and set to work on the grease, wondering: would this cleaner cut it?

The area above my cupboards was covered with a disgusting film of cooking grease, dust, and the desiccated bodies of insects. (Okay, only a few dead insect bodies, but still!) The cleaner loosened the film on the first application, and I was able to wipe the surfaces squeaky clean on the second. The rags, needless to say, were filthy when I was finished and hour or so later. I even sprayed down the painted walls above and below the cupboards, and I think the borax really brightened them up. I washed bean pot and bowls and the pancake warmer in the sink and hoisted them back into place. Stepping back, I surveyed my work. I saw that it was good. There you go, Mrs. Clean. Don’t say I never did anything for you. (Have I mentioned how working alone at home can lead to imaginary conversations with your inner muses? This time I can’t even blame it on the toxic chemical cleaners.)

A few days later, I took one of Annie’s suggestions from the book and mixed up a fresh batch of cleaner including a half a cup or so of herbal tea that I steeped for a couple hours. I also pounded up some lemon zest and sage leaves, put the mixture in a small jar, covered it with walnut oil, and set it on my windowsill where it should turn into a nice essential oil in a couple of weeks. Adding the liquid from a vitamin E capsule is supposed to help it stay fresh. I’m hoping these nice scents added to homemade cleaning products will inspire me to better housekeeping. You never know, it just might work.

Tune in next week to read about my next experiment with homemade cleaning products. I suspect that not only will these natural cleaners be safer for my family and the environment, but also they may be cheaper in the long run. I’ll try to compute the costs for Part Two: Ring around the Bathtub.

Quick Post: Read an Interview with Curtis White

Okay, so I’ve finished THE SPIRIT OF DISOBEDIENCE by Curtis White. You have to tip your hat to someone who lambastes both Conservative AND Liberal politics in this country. (After all, how many of us feel that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians are really to be trusted with our money, our military, our foreign policy, our domestic policies, our anything?) He describes the current wrangling between Reason and Revelation, commonly referred to as The Culture War, as a struggle that is, in essence, a charade, a sham, and a distraction. His view is that both the secular and the sacred are in service to what he calls “The Great Party of Business.” (White, 101).

He writes, “Our firm assumption that our culture war is only about evangelicals and secular humanists means not only that the ethos of capitalism will escape scrutiny, will pass as if it were as innocent and inevitable as the air we breathe, but also that it will be nearly impossible to suggest as alternative to this opposition.” (White, 102).

Throughout the book, White attempts to prove his point that both Secular Humanism and Christianity miss the boat. In our endless quest for profit, we destroy the environment, marginalize people, and deaden our souls. It doesn’t matter if we do this with a Bible in hand or a Solidarity button on our shirt. We are still complicit with a culture of death, not life. As an alternative, he resurrects a third American philosophical tradition that has been shunted to the dusty libraries and dry classrooms of our universities while the Humanists and the Christians duke it out in kind of endless ( and to White, pointless) boxing match.

White suggests reviving the Transcendentalist movement of Emerson, Thoreau, and other American thinkers, poets, and writers. “Walden is a work of Jesus-like thinking,” White writes. “That is, Thoreau was intent on confronting a culture that he perceived as being death-in-life with an appeal to life both temporal and transcedental.” (107). Drawing on this tradition of the Imagination, White advocates a kind of modern-day “dropping out” of sorts, not of a return to the Sixties counterculture but rather of creating an authentic life as removed from the mindless materialism of our culture as possible. At least that’s how I understood him.

If you’d like a taste of Curtis White’s philosophy and style, I provide here a link to an interview he gave for OXMAG, the literary magazine of Miami University in Ohio. http://community.muohio.edu/oxmag/node/25 In this interview, he recommends we go back and read the Bible–along with Tolstoy, Thoreau, Dostoevsky, Freud, and others. A good, quick read for your coffee break. Enjoy.

My Apologies . . .

Dear Reader:

I would like to make clear that my intent on writing about the Golden Rule was an attempt to embrace a universal concept taught by many religious traditions, including Christianity, and to give two examples of current political issues that might be informed by the idea of treating others the way you would like to be treated. It was not intended as an attack on all people of the Christian faith. Far from it. The conservative Christian “movement” is very different from individual Christian believers. I know many wonderful, caring people who consider themselves conservative Christians, and count them my friends. I even appreciate Christianity and believe that if we followed Christ’s example, the world would be a much nicer place. Christianity, per se, isn’t the problem and never was.

This essay was not an indictment of all Christians, but rather of a certain brand of judgemental, intolerant, and cold religiousness devoid of true compassion for the human condition. Not Christlike. More like the Pharisees that Christ rebuked.

Perhaps the problem here lies in my failure to acknowledge that within the conservative Christian “world” there are as many individual opinions and personal beliefs as there are individuals . . . for me to paint the entire body of Christian Conservatives with one blazing, intolerant stripe was wrong. My apologies.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was awed and amazed at the level of response from the churches. This demonstrations of compassion and service was truly inspiring. What I am proposing is to take that spirit of Christian love and apply it to our current circumstances BEFORE there is another disaster. How can we–Christian and non-Christian alike–help and serve others as Jesus helped and served those around him?

All I’m asking is that we think about what Jesus would do. I believe in that respect I’m not so far off from my Christian friends’ views. Wasn’t there a bumper sticker?

ps: As a tongue-in-cheek reminder–when reading my future essays, if the shoe doesn’t fit, for goodness sakes, don’t try to shove your foot into it!

The Golden Rule

October 2009 016Dear Reader:

Like many of you, I was weaned on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“Don’t pull your sister’s hair because you wouldn’t like it if she pulled yours,” was the essence of this teaching, and a good teaching, at that. Since I was raised in a Christian household, I learned this rule from the Bible via my parents and teachers. Jesus imparted the idea to his disciples in his famous Sermon on the Mount found in the book of Matthew. Chapter 17 verse 12 in the King James Version says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

Now, I do have philosophical problems with conservative Christianity–particularly the Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Moral Majority brand–but I’ve always said that if everyone followed Jesus’s teachings (as opposed to the egotistical rantings of our evangelical church leaders), the world would be a much nicer place.

Many other religions teach a version of the Golden Rule. The Network of Interfaith Organisations has posted a Golden Rule Page on their website, quoting religious teachings of various faiths that speak to this “Ethic of Reciprocity.” See HERE for a complete listing.

For example, in Buddhism: A state which is not pleasant or enjoyable for me will not be so for another; and how can I impose on another a state which is not enjoyable to me? (Samyutta Nikaya, V). In Hinduism:This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you (Mahbharata XIII, 114) In Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (An-Nawawi, 40 Hadith,13).

Even the practice of modern Wicca has its own version of the Rule–The Rule of Three. Wikipedia reports: The Rule of Three has a possible prototype in a piece of Wiccan liturgy which first appeared in print in Gerald Gardner’s 1949 novel High Magic’s Aid:[6][7] Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold.’ (For this is the joke in witchcraft, the witch knows, though the initiate does not, that she will get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard.) See HERE for full article.

From my perspective, The Golden Rule could be considered one of the few universally-accepted concepts of morality. You would think with all this doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you, we’d be awash in good works, charity, peace, love, and acceptance!

Unfortunately, there are opposing forces at work–and I’m not talking about the Devil. In his new book entitled THE SPIRIT OF DISOBEDIENCE, Curtis White discusses a dichotomy of philosophy in our American culture where both liberal, secular “reason” and conservative, religious “obedience” are at fault. He writes, “But the dirty little secret is that Enlightenment has come full circle, and we are where we began: immature and unable to think for ourselves. In our commitment to obedience and success, and our sense that the two together are what we really mean by virtue, we are more like the ancient Romans than we know. We’re like the Roman aristocracy measuring our virtue by our wealth. We’re pagans rooting for the empire.” (Curtis White, THE SPIRIT OF DISOBEDIENCE: RESISTING THE CHARMS OF FAKE POLITICS, MINDLESS CONSUMPTION, AND THE CULTURE OF TOTAL WORK, PoliPointPress, Sausolito, CA, 2007. Pg. 10)

White is speaking here of our American concept of success, wringing from the land and from people a capitalistic surplus that benefits the individual (or individual business) at the expense of everything and everyone else. Communism is also faulted. White skewers Marxist philosophy for failing to make clear its spiritual, moral foundation and nattering on about “reason” as if reason were not ultimately tied to our ideas of justice and humanity. Just reading the introduction to this book has my brain cells firing off in ten different directions. What if doing unto others really does encapsulate some sort of universal idea of justice? How would this inform our politics, our career choices, our environmental decisions? When I finish the book, I’ll let you know what White thinks. I’m already applying the concept to some issues facing us today.

For example, Question One on the Maine ballot this November. Question One is a referendum initiative aimed to overturn this year’s legalization of gay marriage. To those who oppose the right of gay people to marry, I ask, “How would you like it if you weren’t allowed to marry the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with?”

For those who would argue that this line of reasoning has no end, that the Golden Rule could be used to justify any behavior, I disagree. This is far from an anything-goes scenario. It doesn’t apply, for instance, to murder, i.e., “How would you like it if someone told you that you couldn’t commit murder?” Ah, well, I guess some psychopaths and sociopaths out there would have a problem with such a law, but healthy-minded individuals recognize the justice of a law against murder. (“How would you like it if someone took away your life?” is the Golden Rule equivalent, actually.)

Another issue to which we might apply the Golden Rule is the healthcare debate, though this is trickier. The easy question is “How would you like it if you did not have access to healthcare for you and your family? Wouldn’t you like it if society made it possible for you to receive health care?” Obviously, if we are being honest with ourselves, we would have to say yes. However, put another way, “How would you like it if someone took away your right to chose a doctor, a healthcare plan, an insurance company, a treatment?” gives us a flip-side scenario. The answer here is again, obviously, “Nope, wouldn’t like it at all.”

Is there some way to provide a just solution for everyone? What would it look like? I believe that most legislators on both sides of the aisle would like to provide healthcare for everyone if only we could find some way that did not infringe on the rights and choices of those who are currently lucky enough to have adequate coverage. I have my own ideas about why we are in such a healthcare mess. I think we were better served when we negotiated with our own doctors–sans insurance companies. Thanks to these companies, doctors overprescribe medications for those who are covered and refuse to see patients who are not covered.

We are over-served on one hand (maximizing profits for the pharmaceutical industry, kick-backs for doctors, etc.)and under-served on the other (because there are no profits to be made there, period). The healthcare situation in the United States exemplifies White’s criticism perfectly, where every virtue is judged according to success and profit.

Is this how Jesus would run things? ‘Course Jesus had a leg-up in the miracle department. He could feed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes and we are stuck with the laws of nature. Still, I think he would exhort us to do better. Somehow.

Religious fatalists will answer that we are ordained to fail, that man can never get it right. I imagine they await the Apocolypse with bated breath. (However, I notice even these conservative Christians don’t seem to be in a big hurry to make it to heaven . . . otherwise why all the pharmacy bottles in the medicine cabinet?) We humans probably will never get it all right. Perhaps the best we can do is follow the best philosophy we’ve come up with so far, the ethic of reciprocity. Secular humanists can call it justice. Christians can call it Matthew 7:12. Wiccans can call it The Rule of Three. On this we agree: Treat your neighbor the way you want them to treat you. The world will be better for it.

Fair Skies Over Maine

October 2009 056

Dear Reader:

It’s the end of the special time of year known in Maine as “Fair Season.” Starting July 2nd up north in Houlton and ending in the southwest corner in the lovely town of Fryeburg on October 11th, Mainers enjoy a long summer and fall of carnival games, amusement rides, craft exhibits, Grange tableaux, livestock shows, and horseracing, not to mention cotton candy, sticky caramel apples, hot chocolate at the Bingo tent, sausages smothered in onions and peppers, fair fries doused in vinegar, and my family’s favorite: hot turkey sandwiches with the fixins at the Farmington Fair Elks Booth.

This year I was lucky enough to also attend the Fryeburg Fair which is down here in my neck of the woods. Between Farmington and Fryeburg, I was able to hit almost all my favorite goings-on. Heading to the racetrack is always on the agenda. Maine harness racing has been around a long time. In these “trotting” races, the horses pull two-wheeled contraptions called sulkies on which the driver sits and directs the horse. The sport has waxed and waned over the years, but the racing community is a tenacious one. The history of harness racing at the Fryeburg track can be read here.

While harness racing has a long and fascinating history, the agricultural fairs have an even longer one. According to the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs website, there are 25 fairs and the Skowhegan Fair is the grandmere of them all at age 190!

Skowhegan may be the oldest, but for me the Farmington Fair is dearest. Even though I grew up in the Bangor area, my family roots are in Farmington, so that is the fair we would attend every September. The weather was always a crap shoot. One year we’d be sweltering in the midst of an Indian Summer heatwave. The next year we’d bundle up in our winter coats and mittens. My sister remembers how cold the ferris wheel safety bar felt on her chin. Some years were rainy, and the walkways down past the exhibition hall, the livestock barns, the carny games, and the Merry-Go-Round would be slick and rutted with deep mud. Now they’ve paved the walkways, and while I suppose it is easier–not to mention cleaner–I rather miss the dirt.

Peekaboo

Peekaboo

No Maine Agricultural Fair would be complete without the barnyard animals. This beautiful beast is one of the many oxen I oggled (and who oggled right back as you can see) at the Fryeburg Fair last week. If you’ve never seen these animals up close, you’d be surprised at how huge they are. Walking behind them in the barn, we were very aware of the location of their large hooves and legs. Their backs were taller than my head. Their heads sported pointy spears of horns. They were gorgeous.

These strong, sturdy animals were once used on farms for pulling the plow, hauling logs out of the woods, and pulling carts full of hay or produce or maple syrup. Their equine counterparts, the large draft horses, are also impressive with their regal bearing and rippling muscles. While tractors took the place of oxen and draft horses on most farms when gasoline became cheap and easily available, some die-hard farmers chose to continue working with the large animals. They aren’t just used for cement-pulling shows at the fair, either.

Reading this article from the Amherst Bulletin, I smiled to learn that the farmers at Simple Gifts Farm have decided to train oxen to take the place of tractors. Red and Blue, five-month-old Jerseys are currently being trained in the yoke and will be doing some of the heavy pulling around the farm in the years ahead, replacing gas-guzzling tractors. I can’t help but think that using these animals rather than oil-powered machinery makes economic sense. What could be more efficient than harvesting hay with the very animals that will eat it? How about using the manure to replace nutrients used in the growing of food the season previous? The elegance–yes, elegance!–of such a cycle rivals mathematical equations in my romantic (and admittedly non-mathematical) mind. Someone else might just see poop. I see possibilities.

Like the oxen–and the goats and the horses and the chickens and the pigs and the rabbits–the craft and garden exhibits remind us of our agricutural heritage. Every year in Maine, women still create colorful quilts, warm woolen mittens and scarves, and other textile projects for entering in the contests at the fair. Grange members work together to fill their booths with rows of canned goods, fruits and vegetables, grains, eggs, baked products like breads and pies, and even displays of various tree-cuttings from someone’s back woodlot. Working farms create their own displays, showing off the products of their labor. Art exhibits line the walls with entrants of all ages–two to ninety-two. The 4-H clubs have their own shows and exhibits, sharing their projects with the community.

October 2009 070 One of my favorite exhibits this year at the Farmington Fair was the barn full of “old-timey” rooms. This kitchen has it all–wood cookstove, cooking utensils hanging on the wall, an iron warming on top of the stove, clothes drying on wooden arms behind.

Would I really like to go back to this way of living? Maybe not. But yeah, if I had to.

October 2009 072

And this is what I’d be doing! Oh, how I want to learn to spin wool. I’d love to take a fleece, comb it out, spin it up into some yarn, hand-dye it with some sort of natural, old-fashioned dye (bark for brown, some sort of flower for pink or yellow?), and knit up some socks or mittens or maybe even a sweater. Going to the fair reminds me that these arts and crafts and skills have not been lost, that all we have to do is take up mantle–err, handknit shawl.

October 2009 098
I’ll leave you with this final image taken from the Fryeburg Fair. As we head into the cooler months ahead, I wish you, my readers, a season of peace after the rush and bounty of the harvest.

Now, if only I could get my hands on some fried dough . . . . . . .