The Emptying of the American Countryside

by Honolulu Mother

The part of this article that most interested me was his point that rural areas of the U.S. are much emptier of people than they once were, which means that there are far fewer eyes to catch changes to the landscape and far fewer people with an ongoing connection to a particular and undistinguished little corner of the countryside (as opposed to having spent some time visiting a national park to see the natural wonders).

Farmland Without Farmers

We have an upcoming national-park-visiting trip planned, and the article made me muse on the difference between a pilgrimage to, say, Yellowstone, and regularly walking a circuit of the same few fields, meadows, copses, and country roads (like the area around my in-laws’ house) and noticing the small changes through the seasons and over the years.

Totebaggers, do you have a piece of semi-wild countryside that you feel connected to? How does that compare to a visit to the official wilderness in the form of a national park or surrounding area? And do you share the article writer’s concern about the people drain out of the country’s rural areas?

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123 thoughts on “The Emptying of the American Countryside

  1. The “farming” of corn-and-bean farmers

    The scare quotes have totally undermined my faith in the author and his theories.

  2. He has a lot of complaints about today and nostalgia for the good old days. Some of it seems valid, like the lost opportunities for community socialization, but a lot if is a fancy, verbose, and, at times, tedious way of saying “things were much better when everyone was poorer.”

  3. Milo,

    It reminds me of a story someone wrote about how nice it was in the deep south before the advent of air conditioning. When everyone would hang out on the veranda and sip juleps or some such silliness.

  4. This article is a bunch of garbage. Who is he to criticize farmers who work in “temperature controlled cabs of large tractors.” I bet that he wrote his article in the comfort of a temperature controlled room. Who wants to work in below freezing weather or the heat of the summer? Who would not want to make their job easier? I am sure that he typed his article on a laptop, not some old manual typewriter. Farming is hard work, and parts of it are not pleasant. I know from personal experience. I have had to deal with dead sheep and sick lambs more times than I care to. Stacking hay in the summer heat is not too much fun either. I could go on and on, but I will end it by saying he doesn’t have a clue as to the real life of a farmer.

  5. I am not an outdoorsy person, but as a descendant of farmers I do feel a connection to the land. There are certain roads I have driven regularly over the years, for both business and family travel, where I know all of the hills, curves, fields, and forests, and which country stores have the cleanest bathrooms and sell my favorite snacks & sodas. What bothers me is not so much an exodus of people out of these rural areas but the over-development of them as small towns expand and become more suburban. One of the many reasons why I had to get out of civil engineering – I hated what many of my clients were building. Maybe this is the result of “economic development” in my state, with people driven away from mega-farming areas coming here to find new jobs. And I guess farming industry trends are also making the land more valuable for commercial development than for farming.

  6. I think of Wendell Berry as primarily a poet, so I appreciate the lyricism (even if overwrought) but definitely not the scare quotes!

    Yes, I know some land very well, and we are also getting to know our timber land. It is so BIG! :)

  7. Rhett – I mean, there’s *some* truth to all of that:

    It was when the family put up an awning and fan over their patio — effectively transforming it into their living room, where they spent about three hours a night grilling, playing games and talking instead of going their separate ways — that they discovered the upside of an uncontrolled climate

    I love this, too, in the summer. With the porch ceiling fan on, an ice-cold drink, and some music to listen to, there’s nothing better. And THEN I like going back inside to the air conditioning. I’m no stranger to the alternative–most of my earlier childhood summers were without A/C, except for during the extreme heat waves, because my parents were some combination of too Totebaggy and over-leveraged.

    Here’s a buried gem from the article that I can only assume is a typical NYT intentional wink and nod to its readers:

    Drawn drapes in the daytime can be a bit gloomy, and open windows at night can admit ambient noise — and intruders. Ms. Finkelstein, the freelance editor who also co-writes an antiwar blog, deals with that problem by keeping a loaded shotgun and revolver on hand.

  8. In Virginia?

    yes. My Mom claims to “love the fresh air!” Even now, they still are always on and off with the A/C vs. opening all the windows, even at the beach (although you can actually get some really nice cross breezes at the beach). It’s no longer out of cost considerations. I will concede that there are times when it feels great, and more connected to the outdoors at the ideal times, more like being at Cape Cod than Cape Hatteras.

  9. get some really nice cross breezes at the beach

    That I understand. But, in the suburbs where you’re in some heavily wooded area where the house just sits amid the still air or the city where the concrete has stored all the heat of the day? Shudder.

  10. Milo,

    Come to think of it I think the passage I’m recalling was from Bill Bryson’s book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.”

  11. “Any people you may see at work, if you see any at work anywhere, almost certainly will be inside the temperature-controlled cabs of large tractors, the connection between the human organism and the soil organism perfectly interrupted by the machine. Thus we have transposed our culture, our cultural goal, of sedentary, indoor work to the fields. Some of the “field work,” unsurprisingly, is now done by airplanes.”

    Because farmers aren’t real farmers if they have air conditioned tractors? Should we go back to using oxen? And how can a journalist get away with such egregious use of air quotes in what is supposed to be a serious magazine?

    BUT…that said. There are many concerns with the population drain in rural areas. Lack of jobs of course (the brain drain problem) plus the lack of infrastructure or the tax revenue to maintain existing infrastructure. In the town where my parents live, they had to close one of the 3 bridges across a major river because they don’t have the funds to pay the maintenance, and it is no longer safe.

    I think you can feel connected to nature or certain places in nature even in urban areas. I feel like know every inch of certain sections of the lakefront path along Lake Michigan for instance.

  12. But, in the suburbs where you’re in some heavily wooded area where the house just sits amid the still air

    Yeah. It can be bad. Being in the woods can make it 10 degrees cooler from the shade, but it can also trap that morning haze and humidity like a wet blanket that just won’t blow away or burn off.

  13. Funny, I took a picture of someone burning brush on my walk the other night with thoughts of noting how the size of the three piles (30 feet in diameter and at least 10 feet high) was perhaps unique to the western side of Oregon and Washington. The owners had clearcut their property. When the twins were toddlers, I spent a few days burning the brush from a 40′ diseased pine and seven 20’+ arborvitae.

    In Iowa, I enjoyed my grandparents’ observations of how the area had changed over time. They spent their lives within a five mile radius of where they were born. And, consistent with the article, almost no one is left where they live- there are no decent jobs in small towns. The hundred year old family farmhouse and outbuildings were recently demolished because the land is better used as farmland. The transition of the population is pretty characteristic of the US, and is one of the reasons that more expensive, more durable construction techniques are not popular, especially outside of cities like Boston, DC, NYC and San Francisco, where there is sure to be adequate demand for housing for decades.

    I read this article when it came out and am glad to see it submitted here.

  14. This article is just silly. However, there is no question that vast swaths of the US are depopulating. Which makes me wonder what will happen eventually with our already skewed senatorial election system…

  15. The Senate is a powerful body, so having two houses still doesn’t make up for the unfairness. And with gerrymandering, the House has become even less representative of their states.

    I am reading that book The Half That Was Never Told, about the slavery system, which is a pretty powerful book in general. There is a lot of discussion of the way in which the South used the Senate as a stranglehold to preserve their interests. They could do it despite have a much smaller population. They were always terrified because the slaveholders knew that they were a tiny minority, that the vast majority of the US population either was against slavery or simply didn’t care.

  16. Back to depopulation… About 20 years ago, I visited Greece and went to a number of non-island locations there. One of the things I found a tad creepy is the way that Greece’s countryside is completely depopulated. Driving at night in the Peloponnese, there were no lights anywhere until we would see our destination town. You just don’t see that in other European countries. Greece depopulated because people could no longer make a living in the countryside. They went to the cities, especially Athens, and also overseas. It is sad in many ways. Is that what will happen to North and South Dakota?

  17. North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Iowa and Minnesota, parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and most of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico never got populated. :)

    Driving across these states will tell you why you should never support a federal law banning cell phone use while driving. Talking to someone is the best way to stay awake.

  18. I grew up in an area that had both suburban and rural components. I love driving through those rural parts and do feel more “connected” to them than a national park, though the parks are much more magnificent. No question that the rural areas have been significantly developed since I left home–I miss the old landscape but don’t begrudge the development. I think it’s easy to romanticize the rural/agrarian life when you don’t have to live it yourself.

    That to me is one of the majors flaws of the article, and I agree that it’s quite silly. Am I “concerned” about the drain of people out of rural areas? Yes, it certainly brings certain problems for those areas, but the solution is not to condemn farmers for using machines.

  19. Is that what will happen to North and South Dakota?

    Not while there’s gas and oil in the ground. North Dakota is the fastest-growing state in the country! The bottom five are Michigan, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia. And keep in mind that they’re all still growing in population; it’s just the ones at the bottom that are losing proportionally.

  20. In my area more and more land is being cleared for development. There are still farms but those are much further out than before. In the older developments there are lots of trees and we get rain almost year round, so there is a lot of greenery even in the winter. To beat the heat and keep the green cover, the city plants a lot of trees. (I know Rhett doesn’t like excessive tree planting :-). Also each development/neighborhood is different even though to the casual observer the houses may appear to be cookie cutter ;-).

  21. (I know Rhett doesn’t like excessive tree planting :-).

    I love tree planting – as long as they aren’t pine trees. I hate pine trees.

  22. Most of my early summers in Virginia were without AC too. Partly because my parents were cheap and partly because they were on an aggressive mortgage plan with my grandparents as the lender. They had a large attic fan built into the house. As a teen, I hated it because the noise interfered with my phone conversations and having to keep bedroom doors open for air flow interfered with my privacy.

  23. Rhett – no pines are being planted, lots of magnolias though. The smell of magnolias, wild jasmine and gardenias in flower is wonderful – the season is too short though (May/June).

  24. Guys, come on. He’s not blaming farmers for anything. He also is not reducing the population shift away from farmland and rural areas to a simple political or economic equation. Wendal Berry is all about the richness of life. He’s talking about the intimate experience with the land that used to be common. Many people have pointed out that that connection is lost when people move to cities; he is saying that it can be lost even for people who stay on the farm. What is it about being in rural places that is special (we had a preview of some TB’s thoughts when we talked about camping recently). How can we regain the good part of that connection, given the way that we live now?

    L, I know he’s a poet too, but I’ve never been able to get through much of his poetry. I read a couple of his books as an undergrad.

  25. he is saying that it can be lost even for people who stay on the farm

    Right. Because they’re in an air-conditioned tractor.
    zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  26. How can we regain the good part of that connection, given the way that we live now?

    Why would we want to? I am, as you may know, a confirmed city mouse.

  27. “Monsanto paid $1.1 billion cash for a little-known entity called The Climate Corporation, an agricultural insurance company founded by former Google employees David Friedberg and Siraj Khaliq, that uses big data and climatology to predict risk. With a technology platform that monitors weather measurements from 2.5 million locations to generate daily climate forecasts, Americans can be confident that Monsanto is watching the land. By contrast, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service says that sales of organic products account for an estimated 4% of total food sales. The vast majority of these sales occur in conventional grocery and natural food stores, although direct-to-consumer sales have steadily climbed over the past twenty years. In 1994, the year that the U.S.D.A. began tracking them, there were less than two thousand farmers’ markets in the U.S.; by 2013, that number had quadrupled to over eight thousand. Fruits and vegetables account for the bulk of organic sales, for which consumers may pay a high premium. In California, which accounts for over one-third of the nation’s total organic production, weeding by hand can cost farmers more than twenty times per acre what it costs conventional farmers to spray chemical herbicides. Many producers hire undocumented field hands in an effort to cut costs.

    Several years ago, I spent a season working on a diversified organic farm in Massachusetts. At the time, I was the only American citizen who worked in the fields. It was, quite literally, backbreaking labor, and I was constantly amazed by how my Mexican co-workers could pick a quarter-mile row of kale or lettuce without standing up to stretch and rest. They were funny, energetic, dependable, and observant. On farms nationwide, these unprotected workers are watching the land.” from http://www.sagemagazine.org/who-is-watching-the-land-wendell-berry-and-the-resettling-of-america/

  28. Milo, yes, they’re in an AC cab and so don’t have a much closer experience of the land than you do in your car. So how can that connection be restored (short of having them plow with horses)?
    This assumes that there is value in knowing a patch of land intimately.

  29. So how can that connection be restored

    That’s entirely up to the farmer, as it is with any private citizen. They can take a walk around their land at their leisure, they can pitch a tent and camp in the pasture for the night. What business is it of ours, or the author’s?

  30. The problem is that we can’t just squash into a few states. California can’t support 40 million plus people, but they have that figure living in a place without the natural resources to support it if this is the new climate vs. extreme drought.

    I vacationed for many summers in upstate NY and Maine. My grandparents and extended family would rent the same cottages every year. My brother still takes his family, but my DH isn’t as interested. I love those spots.

    When we looked at sleepaway camps, I took my family to some of these same small towns in NY. It is still so breath taking and it’s amazing how quickly you can still experience this same beauty with a reasonable drive from NYC.

  31. Saac, that presupposes their only interaction with the land is from that sir-conditioned cab, that they never get out, and that your statement that its the same as Milo being in his car is true. I’ve driven a tractor, many many years back, and it’s certainly a much different experience from driving a car on a road. I guess I just disagree with the whole premise that making life just a tiny bit less difficult is the equivalent of losing that connection.

  32. Milo, what is your problem? We talk about various issues of daily modern life all the time. Why does this one uniquely get your back up?This is a thing happening in our culture.

  33. saac – Read sheep farmer’s post. The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s criticizing people for taking advantage of modern productivity.

  34. California can’t support 40 million plus people

    Sure it can, Japan supports 127 million people in the same area with far less arable and build-able land to boot.

  35. Milo, read the article. He isn’t criticizing anybody. Sheep Farmer took it the same way that several of you did, as if it were a personal attack, instead of paying attention to the central issue raised. If we can talk about what the Fed ought to do, why not talk about a disconnect from nature, and the effects that has on our lives?

    As far as your opinion that Berry doesn’t know what he’s talking about, take a look at WCE’s link, or just google him.

  36. If California had the same population density as Israel, it would have a population of 132,430,064.

  37. Totally agree with MBT. Just because you make farming a little more pleasant and less labor intensive does not mean losing that connection with the land. Farmers have just as much connection with the land as in years past; now instead of farming a small farm he has the resources to farm a bigger area.
    Has the dairy farmer lost his connection with his cows because he now hooks them up to a machine as opposed to hand milking them? Does the sheep farmer loose his connection with his sheep because he raises hair sheep and doesn’t have to spend backbreaking hours shearing them (hair sheep shed their wool yearly and don’t have to be sheared)? I could go on and on, but you get the point.

    S&M-how many farmers do you know?

  38. instead of paying attention to the central issue raised

    Because he hasn’t convinced me that it’s a valid issue.

  39. Hair sheep? I’ve never heard of them. I’ll have to pay closer attention in the Sheep Barn at the Great Minnesota Get Together (aka the State Fair).

  40. I read this article when it came out and am glad to see it submitted here.

    Thank you, WCE.

  41. It isn’t about population density. It is about how and where they get their water from for people, crops and farming.

  42. It is about how and where they get their water from for people, crops and farming.

    The Pacific ocean like Israel gets its water from the Mediterranean?

  43. S&M-If you feel that there is a disconnect from nature and farming then what is your solution? You can come up here in the heat of the summer and help stack hay or you can come here in winter and go out into the barn in the middle of a cold, windy night to check on new born lambs or you can butcher a chicken if you want.

    I don’t take Berry’s article as a personal attack. I just don’t think that he has a clue.

  44. I agree with Saac (!) at 12:50. Yeah you can roll your eyes at some of his comments but I always find Berry to be an intriguing read. He’s lamenting the end of a way of life. As a city girl with no real connection to the country, it’s a perspective I find to broaden and challenge my views.

  45. He’s talking about the intimate experience with the land that used to be common.

    And was abandoned for good reason.

  46. Rio – It would be like me lamenting the end of women washing all the family’s laundry by hand. “Oh, they lose the connection with the clothing when they just throw it in an automatic washer. What a shame that is!”

  47. [saac] can come up here in the heat of the summer and help stack hay or you can come here in winter and go out into the barn in the middle of a cold, windy night to check on new born lambs or you can butcher a chicken if you want.

    I kind of think this would make for an entertaining series, sort of a Totebag reality spin-off.

  48. Milo- yeah, sometimes it reads that way and gets an eye roll from me, but I do think his point is worth considering. Most human societies were intimately tied to the land for thousands of years, and we’ve lost that in just a couple generations. There’s bound to be unintended consequences. I do think he’s over-romanticizing rural life, but he’s so thoughtful and his experience is so foreign to my own that I think he’s worth listening to. I tend to be skeptical of a lot of the environmental movement but statements like this give me pause-

    “Meanwhile, the farmlands and woodlands of this neighborhood are being hurt worse and faster by bad farming and bad logging than at any other time in my memory. The signs of this abuse are often visible even from the roads, but nobody is looking. Or to people who are looking, but seeing from no perspective of memory or knowledge, the country simply looks “normal.” Outsiders who come visiting almost always speak of it as “beautiful.” But along this river, the Kentucky, which I have known all my life, and have lived beside for half a century, there is a large and regrettable recent change, clearly apparent to me, and to me indicative of changes in water quality, but perfectly invisible to nearly everybody else.”

  49. We’re late enough in the day that I can admit my response to Berry is usually, “Your s&*t don’t stink?” I have friends-of-friends doing the organic farm thing here and, coming from an actual farm background, I always find it puzzling why someone would want to do that.

    On the other hand, part of the reason I have trouble keeping up with house/yard work is that we have fruit trees to spray and a garden. Maybe I don’t romanticize it because, to a small degree, I live it.

  50. I have a picture of our house taken in the early 1900s. Standing in front of it is a mother and father, their two sons, six daughters, and grandfather, who I am told was a Confederate veteran. I would almost guarantee that they would prefer our way of life over theirs, and I would wager that we are just as close if not closer to the land than they were. They would not have had time to bird watch on the property or fish in the creek. Everything took much longer to do back then. Just look at Milo’s example of washing clothes by hand.
    I am totally open for having a Totebag reality series!

  51. It was, quite literally, backbreaking labor, and I was constantly amazed by how my Mexican co-workers could pick a quarter-mile row of kale or lettuce without standing up to stretch and rest. They were funny, energetic, dependable, and observant. On farms nationwide, these unprotected workers are watching the land

    And any one of those workers would have traded that job in a second for a view from an air-conditioned cab (along with owning a huge chunk of farmland, as most profitable farmers do)

  52. The fact that poorly paid Mexicans are the ones toiling on our chi-chi organic farms, to me, is the more interesting part of this. WNYC did a show on this a few months ago.

  53. Sheep Farmer, I can’t count all the farmers I know. Everybody on my school bus and most of the kids at school growing up. All my dad’s relatives, from the great uncles who had deferments from the draft to my cousins who picked tassles on summer break. Half the town I lived in in West Texas. My relatives in the Rhine Valley in Germany. I can’t begin to count the farmers I know.

    You said at 2:48 that you feel you are close to the land. Can you describe how?

    WCE, Berry does the same with his small (150 acre) farm as you do with your fruit trees and garden. For example, he plows with horses. I have never seen him suggest that this is a political thing, or that other people ought to do it, but he clearly does know what he’s talking about, and gets the same enjoyment out of it that you, Mooshi, and many others do out of their gardens.

  54. Mooshi, poorly paid Hispanics (around here there are many Hondurans as well as Mexicans) do the brunt of the work on all farms in the US, not just organic farms. There is a slight difference in the level of toxicity of chemicals.

  55. . For example, he plows with horses.

    I rolled my eyes so hard I think I sprained them.

  56. I love the comment that there is a “slight” level of difference in the toxicity of the chemicals between organic and conventional farms. Lots of people who buy organic near me think that means “no chemicals” instead of “tocopherols derived from chrysanthemum root instead of tocopherols from a synthetic process.”

  57. Saac, have you ever read any Joel Salatin? If you like Berry I think you’d appreciate him as well.

  58. Rhett, I thought we’d agreed not to out anyone here, even if we were able to figure out who they really are.

  59. Rhett, I remember when those machines first came out! Dad’s uncles were all excited; the older teens and 20-somethings all thought they were hilarious and tried to make guy jokes with Dad without tipping us girls off as to what tubes an inch in diameter and several inches long that suck intermittently could be used for other than milking cows. It was years before I figured it out.

  60. “Everybody on my school bus and most of the kids at school growing up. All my dad’s relatives, from the great uncles who had deferments from the draft to my cousins who picked tassles on summer break. Half the town I lived in in West Texas. My relatives in the Rhine Valley in Germany. I can’t begin to count the farmers I know.”

    Let me take the liberty of clarifying sheep farmer”s question:

    Do you know any farmers who farm in the 21st century?

  61. Yeah, I am quite aware that poorly paid Hispanic people do most of the farm work. But I think the shoppers at the farmer’s markets around here have an image of the organic farm as being worked by Wendell Berry types with plowhorses or something. People usually think of poorly paid migrant labor as being a problem of those evil big factory farms.

  62. One of the many irksome things about Paul Salatin is that he doesn’t seem to pay worker’s compensation insurance or minimum wage. He brings out “interns” who do grunt work as a “learning experience”.

  63. “He brings out “interns” who do grunt work as a “learning experience”.”

    He probably gets others to whitewash his fence too.

  64. Murphy,

    He brings out “interns” who do grunt work as a “learning experience”.

    Oh, no. The key is to own an apple orchard and have the customers drive out to you and pay top dollar for the privileged of picking it themselves.

    Speaking of that – can you go almond, strawberry or tomato picking in the Central Valley?

  65. The key is to own an apple orchard and have the customers drive out to you and pay top dollar for the privileged of picking it themselves.

    Hey, easy now. That’s ‘making memories.’

  66. Rio and Murphy-
    Salatin’s farm is about an hour from where I live. He is not an organic farmer, nor does he claim to be. He makes most of his money not from farming but from writing books and speaking fees explaining his free ranging methods of raising animals. He does indeed rely heavily on “interns” to do his grunt work. They make very little money, especially considering how hard they work. His methods are controversial within the farming community. DD said that they discussed Salatin in ag class recently and almost all the students were against his methods. They are not necessarily better for the environment
    Saac-yeah, I feel close to the land. I judge the passing of the season by what I see around me. I know spring is here when I see the first tree swallows and that summer will soon be here when I no longer hear or see white-throated sparrows. Cold weather is coming when the sparrows return in late September/early October. The walnut trees start losing their leaves in mid to late August and the walnuts start falling soon after that. I saw a bird that I had never seen on my property before just this past weekend. I just try to be observant of the world around me. I can look out my window and see the sheep grazing on the hillside and it brings me satisfaction to know that I am raising some of my own food (plus nothing is cuter than watching lambs play). One certainly does not need to live on a farm to feel close to the land.

  67. My family were landowners with tenant farmers working the land. As time went along they had city occupations as well. My Dad knows a lot about crops, trees and herbal treatments. A lot of my parents generation purchased rural land that they could visit on weekends.
    It is different when the land is more of a hobby vs. a small farmer who depends 100% on the land for their livelihood.
    My parents never had to actually farm any land themselves, nor did their families depend totally on the land – all their memories are positive.

  68. My parents never had to actually farm any land themselves, nor did their families depend totally on the land – all their memories are positive.

    Was it because of the money your brother in law inherited from from the father of his late fiancé?

  69. Rhett,

    There are numerous you pick strawberries farms in the Central Valley. After the Vietnam war, a lot number of Hmong refugees settled in the Valley and are engaged in small strawberry farms. As for tomatoes, i don’t know. Most of the tomatoes grown are for processing. They are designed to be mechanically harvested and are very different from fresh market tomatoes, like one would buy in a supermarket.

    Almonds are harvested by shaking the tree with a mechanical device, the almonds rain done like hail. Then they are dried in windrows, until they are picked up and taken to a huller. It is hard to see how one might run a upick operation. I do know of some people who have web based businesses shipped almonds for individual consumption.

  70. My sister goes on those upick trips every vacation spot they go to, dragging the kids and spending hours. She does not find me amusing when I refer to it as Migrant Farm Worker Camp for her kids, but mine would pick about 5 things and be ready to go. They thank me every summer for not making them do that.

  71. Ivy, yes, like that. No worker’s comp, substandard housing, below minimum wage…..

  72. Most of the tomatoes grown are for processing.

    Maybe grow pasta sauce tomatoes and invite folks out to pick a bushel to take home to make a giant pot of sauce? Talk about the terroir and all that crap.

  73. Would it be hopeless and eye-rolly if I said I had a really strong sense of the land growing up in Palo Alto? We had 1/4 of an acre, so no tractors, but we had a back lot that had mustard weed and long grass and walnut trees and eucalyptus trees and a flowering peach that I planted myself. I remember the smell of the dirt and the grass and the flowers. I remember the walnuts falling and rotting on the earth, and the squirrels that snarfed them up. I remember the blackberry bush and the spines and thorns that would cut you as you picked the berries.

    I remember the frog that lived under the pyracantha bush. I remember the big agapanthus bushes along the driveway, and how my mom always said that “agapanthus” should be the name of a Roman emperor. I remember the fuchsias and the daphne. So fragrant. And I helped my dad dig the dirt to plant the nasturtiums and the narcissus and the daffodils. I remember my dad’s gorgeous rosebushes, and how he said that they were pretty but they just didn’t smell like roses the way roses used to. I remember the heat on the bottlebrush making the scent stronger, and the yellow pollen that you’d get on your fingers when you brushed them. The bees buzzed around and made aimless threats. The juniper smelled wonderful but it was like barbed wire to climb through. I remember the hollyhocks growing out of dry rock (it seemed), and the little white flowers — what were they called? starts with “a” — that grew everywhere. And the poppies, and the scissor plants. I wonder if they’re all still there, or if Google has paved them over.

  74. Murphy,

    Broke? Umm, did I mention your tax deductible trip to Italy to select heirloom tomato varities? Come on, it’s a self picking money tree on some spare land. It will mint money.

  75. Palo Alto? We had 1/4 of an acre

    Hey, I could learn to love $12 million dollars.

  76. Hey, I could learn to love $12 million dollars.

    And yet, I’d give it all up to smell the daphne again.

    Ha! ha! Yeah, no, I totally wouldn’t. Money’s awesome. I wish I could have both, though.

  77. Murphy, all those people except the great uncles are alive & my son has met all the relatives and lived in the ranching area of Texas with me. We’ve talked about this before. I grew up around farming and still know quite a few farmers.

  78. I work in a region where 50% of the inhabitants don’t have plumbing or sewer. Daily needs are handled with a “honey bucket” system. I imagine they are very close to the land and they carry their waste over the frozen tundra. It may threaten their closeness if they had the luxury of toilets.

    Aside from that, I worked a job in the summers where I slept in the dirt most nights. I probably romanticize the memory. I knew intuitively what phase the moon was in. I also got really excited about showers. I haven’t been so excited about a shower in years.

  79. RMS – what a beautiful description! :)

    Rhett – I am continually amazed by the prices out there. Makes MA look like child’s play!

  80. Rhett – It would be perfect for them if you turned off all the lights and covered most of the windows.

  81. Hi, folks. I have to weigh in on this. I’m sorry and I haven’t read all the comments yet (I’m at about 2:30 yesterday) but I have some strong feelings about this. Despite my handle, you all know my writing, but please respect my privacy on this.

    My grandfather worked for a large pioneering farm equipment company. He has many patents and he devised some of the farm equipment we all know.

    When I was just a small boy (I remember this vividly– my grandfather was larger than life), he would drive me around rural farming roads in Illinois and Iowa. My grandfather would observe everything going on in the fields, and I remember him so well telling me, “Son (not my real name), those farmers work hard. I want to see those boys on the combines as comfortable as I am in this car. They deserve it. They work hard, and it’s honest work.” Images of tractors with green and yellow fins sprang immediately to mind. “Someday, they won’t have to work at all– it will be done for them.”

    My grandfather seemed to know everything about the land and crops and how the land could produce. Although he worked primarily in a research lab, he was always out in the fields. He wanted to make life easier for farmers, and the soil more productive. Today, on the rare times I am in the Midwest, I see those huge combines, with the huge, air-conditioned, computerized compartments and think of my grandfather. He would be more than pleased.

  82. So Derrick and Jill (Duggar) Dillard announced the birth of baby Israel yesterday.

  83. Did Derrick ever apologize for the sledding incident where he ran over the cat?

  84. Related to the recent discussion of CC for basic stuff before transferring to a university, UF is requiring some new students to take their first year of courses on line. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/06/university-of-florida-admits-3000-students-then-tells-them-it-is-only-for-online-program/?tid=sm_fb
    University of Florida admits 3,000 students — then tells them it is only for online program
    The school is trying something new. They just never mentioned it to applicants.

  85. He said that PaCE is “an experiment” and it isn’t clear how many of the 3,118 students accepted for PaCE will accept, but based on traditional enrollment patterns, they expect no more than 10 percent, and that not all of them will decide to become residential students.

    So, that implies you can live on campus but you take all your courses online and in exchange you get 25% off your tuition?

  86. I would have loved to have taken my courses online. I am so much more efficient when I control the speed of the professor/notes/presentation/reading. In a traditional class, I start zoning out and then end up missing too much.

  87. Milo, my daughter is taking a couple of classes online this semester and mentioned she watches the lecture videos at 1.25 or 1.5 speed, then just stops and backs up if she needs to capture something for notes.

  88. I see the online learning trend escalating. Both my kids look at videos for crafts, games etc. I am amazed at how well the format works for them.
    I am sure if Stampy cat were teaching an academic subject – his students would do great.

  89. Mine do just about all of their math practice online (at home). It’s a great program. They can choose what “games” they want to play within the program, and it targets specific problems/facts based on their proficiency.

  90. To clarify, this is part of homework from the school. The teachers log in and keep track of their progress.

  91. Many years ago, when I was in school, many classes were recorded, and the tapes (yes, that long ago) were available at the library for viewing, or (for a fee) you could subscribe to the class and have your own copy of each lecture, which was supposed to be destroyed after the class was over.

    This made scheduling much easier. It was not uncommon for students to take two classes offered at the same time, as long as one of them was recorded. Profs were aware of the situation and accommodated such students for exams.

    I imagine that has now been replaced with online classes.

    I wish our local flagship U would offer classes that way. It has the potential to greatly reduce traffic congestion.

  92. ” it targets specific problems/facts based on their proficiency.”

    Nice. Then if you asked her teacher if there were any areas or topics that your child was having difficulty with, she would probably not respond as one of my kids’ teachers did, by saying that there was no real way for him to know that. He had previously told me he was too busy to grade homework. This is from a school that takes great pride in stressing the importance of “21st century skills”.

  93. I’ve recently watched videos on carpet cleaner disassembly and zipper pull repair that have been very helpful. At work, I always want to DO stuff on the equipment when someone is training me. As a contractor who works on a lot of different pieces of equipment, it’s hard to keep track of all the nuances without “muscle memory”.

  94. “He had previously told me he was too busy to grade homework.”

    During Back to School Night, my Mom commented to my 6th Grade “Language Arts” teacher that it didn’t seem like there were a lot of writing assignments in the curriculum. She answered about how long it took her to grade things, and any more than what she already had would just be too much to handle. My Mom still comments about that teacher.

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