Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Final Entry, Part 3.

And at last I come to the end of my ramblings.

I still get angry sometimes.  I still have trouble accepting help from people.  I still fight with my folks.  I still don't feel like I've quite got my past sorted out.  So maybe I did fail in the end.

Everything is better than it used to be, though.  I don't get nearly as angry.  I don't reject help outright.  The fights with my folks are more and more becoming constructive discussions now.  They don't always listen (especially Dad, and especially about the livestock), but more and more often they do.  Maybe it's juvenile.  Maybe most people learn how to fight their parents and how to make peace when they are still teenagers.  Maybe that's what being a teenager is for.  I'm a decade behind, in that case.  I didn't learn to fight them until I was 23.  I don't know if I've learned to make peace even now.

But, I've told my story enough times to enough people that the past isn't just a jumbled maelstrom of mixed emotions anymore.  There has been some perspective given.  Things are looking up.  For the first time in a very long time, I'm eager to see what the next year will bring.

So thank you all once again for listening.  I think it did me some good.

Quite Sincerely,
Thomas D. Ladson

A Final Entry, Part 2: The things Dad did right.

So we fought, Dad and I, over and over and over again.  But we worked together, too.  Sometimes once he realized he wouldn't be able to dissuade me from a course of action, he would heave a big sigh and then help me instead.  Sometimes he would heave a big sigh and just walk away.

My mother paid me for my hours, albeit at workman's wages, and celebrated the things I accomplished. Dad grudged me every penny.

Now that the year is over and he can physically see what I have done, I thought it might impress him.  I showed him the numbers and the animals and I could see him calculating what it was worth.  I asked him now if he would consent to giving me a freer reign.  I asked him to make an effort of not arguing with me without thinking first.  For my part, I stopped bullying, threatening, or indulging in outbursts of anger.  I asked him to make peace with me now that he could see what I was trying to do from the start.  I asked him if I made the farm even more prosperous than I had already done if he would share that prosperity with me or at least with my brother.  (Joe's been quietly and consistently working away at the farm for years and years now.)

He said no.  On some level I think he's realized that I'm trying not to be angry at him anymore.  This, unfortunately, puts me at quite a disadvantage when dealing with him.

He told me that the liberties I already had taken made his head hurt, and that he felt like I shouldn't expect wages above the poverty line.  After all, there are thousands of high school drop-outs that would be glad to make $20,000 a year, so why shouldn't I be happy with it?  The fact that I never dropped out of anything didn't seem to matter.

I didn't get upset.  I'm trying to give up anger as an everyday tool.  It's useful but dangerous.  So instead,  I simply heaved a sigh of my own and gave him my two weeks notice.  I still help on Saturdays, but it's a far cry from the seven day work weeks I pulled back in high summer. (Addendum: I often only worked half days during summer, I just worked at least a half day everyday.) I like the Saturday work.  It lets me keep an eye on things.

For his part, Dad didn't get upset and barely tried to send me on a guilt trip at all when I gave my notice.  He often complains that there seems to be a lot more work for him to do now, though.  He doesn't seem to draw the connection.  More importantly, though, there are the following things; the things this year that Dad did right.

The Things Dad did Right:

#1. When he saw how many animals I was successfully raising, Dad spent a lot of time and money building a brand-new heifer barn.  We all helped but Dad spearheaded it.  It looks great and should be operational in just a few weeks.  To reiterate for emphasis: This year he built an entire new barn with full facilities just for the sake of our previously neglected young heifers.

#2. Over a decade ago Dad switched from Holstein Cows to Jersey Cows.  This really doesn't have anything to do with our latest arguments but we are still reaping the benefits of easier calf births and he deserves a lot of gratitude for it.  It has, in fact, reduced the suffering and death due to birthing to less than 1% amongst our little brown cows.

#3. Dad has decided to keep up with the changes I made to the animal rearing practices.  He started the inoculation program and he built the quarantine pens years ago on both accounts.  I just happened to be the person who started using them properly.  I think he means it, when he says he isn't going to let things backslide again.  I'm still going to keep a close eye on him, though.

This about wraps things up.  I've started tutoring again.  It's less hassle, more money, and a lot more gratitude from the people I'm helping.  Dad didn't believe me when I told him I was taking a hit financially to help him with the farm.  I've stopped trying to convince him.

That being said I'm not sure what my relationship will be like with either the farm or my father in the coming years.  Dad doesn't hold grudges the way that I do, especially not when it comes to family.  I do hold grudges though, and my respect for him is highly conditional on whether he slips back into habits of extreme neglect when it comes to the livestock.  With the new facilities, though, I think it's going to be a lot easier to keep him on the strait and narrow.

Since I gave him my two weeks notice (about a month ago) we haven't had anything to fight about.  Things have been good between us.  He seems to like me better if he doesn't have to pay me, for one thing, and I have seen that the conditions for our animals are no longer shameful.  Calving season doesn't start again until late March.  We'll see how things go between us then.

A Final Entry, Part 1: Unfortunate Calf Conditions

So this is my last planned entry (broken in two for lengths sake) in regards to my long trek.  If I was smart I'd throw out some very specific numbers.  People like hearing numbers about mileage and dollars per mile, etc. but the truth is I don't much care to relate.  Suffice it to say, I went a really long way.  It might have been 3000 miles; it might have been closer to 4000.  I spent a lot of money.  It was about $1 per mile (assuming that it was 3 to 4 thousand miles).  Maybe, in fact, that's not a lot of either distance or money, but It seemed like a lot to me.

The final thoughts I really want to share are about what I did in the year since.  So here are a few:

Unfortunate Calf Conditions.  Again.:

I went on the trip to try to let go of a lot of pent up anger.  It almost worked.  In fact I think it would have worked entirely if not for what I found when I got home.  My brother Joe had taken great cares to better the conditions of our heifer lots, but there is only so much a single person can do.  In the meanwhile, the persons (predominantly my father) in charge of our nursery calves had once again let their conditions decline.

This issue was the core of my anger at my father to begin with and, once again, here it was rearing its ugly head.  The animals were far too large for their pens.  One had an infected, swollen leg which it was not receiving antibiotics for.  Another few were suffering from severe bloat, and the calf nursery absolutely reeked of ammonia.  Many were covered in caked manure and a few of the older ones were in danger of losing their tails due to dingles. Although dad ignored all of that, he was concerned, however, with the calf that had collapsed due to malnutrition.

I was upset.

Instead of raising merry hell, I instead set about cleaning up the pens, reorganizing the animals, and building larger group pens with more space for them to winter in inside the nursery.  It was a bit difficult, but shouldn't have been too bad.  It only took about two days labor, albeit in some very cold and unpleasant weather conditions.  The chore wouldn't have been difficult at all if so many of the wire panels I was given for pen building hadn't been partially buried in the frozen earth.  They were the only panels available, of course, and they had been slowly sinking into the mud for the better part of a decade.

The real trouble was when dad tried to stop me.  Again.  Once he saw that it would be a bad chore in bad weather to get the panels free he decided to order me to postpone the enterprise for a few more days.  It didn't occur to him, I guess, that a few days of extremely bad weather in bad sanitary conditions were exactly what the animals could no longer afford.  So I got mad, and I told him off, and he left me alone.

In his own words, he said I looked, "possessed".  This was when I learned that he would let me do what needed done if he was afraid of whatever anger I might react with.  So I kept my anger and I used it for a year.

I held conferences with the vet.  I ordered antibiotics.  I researched better electrolytes.  I overhauled our sanitation rules.  I separated feeding equipment for use on sick calves from the equipment for non-sick ones.  I learned to give fluids intravenously (although usually too late).  I learned when it was too late.  I spread lime everywhere.  I instigated a more rigorous policy for new born inoculations.  I began a quarantine program for bull calves that were to be sold (and thus couldn't be inoculated).  I cleaned up piles and piles and piles of junk.  I built calf pens where the junk used to be.  I had hundreds of gallons of used motor oil removed from the homestead.  I threw out the vet supplies labeled 1955.  I finished the birthing pens that Dad began to build in 1999 before he lost interest.  I got my brother to help me install better ventilation in the calf nursery.  I helped Joe keep the heifers and keep them well.

I fought my father every step of the way.

I lost four heifer calves to disease this year before I was able to break the disease cycle.  I raised 53 of them.  To put this in perspective my father's usual record was to raise about 30 and lose about 20 to disease.  He would lose 2 out of every 5 and I reduced it to less than 2 out of every 28.

He wasn't happy with me.  He was happy with the results, but he wasn't happy about how each time I disobeyed a direct order it worked out splendidly.  The farm has never run so efficiently and at such a high profit margin.  Part of this is because market prices are excellent right now.  Part of it is because he no longer has to take dead animals away and bury them by the dozen.

He told me repeatedly this year that he feels like he can't trust me; that he can't count on me to listen to him and do as he says.  This is true.  I now value my judgement above his own.  When I point out how many tens of thousands of dollars of additional living, breathing livestock he has, he gets quiet.  When I point out that it's all a direct result of things I did that he specifically ordered me not to do, he gets a sad look in eyes and asks me not to keep reminding him.  He doesn't disagree.  He just says it's harsh of me to say it out loud.

It's hard to help a man despite himself.  Everything would have been so much easier if he would have helped me from the start instead of trying to thwart my efforts.  I often had no back-up, knowing that if I made a single mistake I would have a devil's mountain of "I-told-you-not-to-do-that" to contend with.

Fortunately, I never made a mistake I couldn't handle on my own.  It was close sometimes, though.  I really missed having him to fall back on.

Friday, December 12, 2014

One more post.

Now that I have the two really important topics out of the way.  I think I'm going to wrap things up, finally, with one more post.  This is not that post.

A Year and a Day, Thoughts on Privilege

So I hope this entry doesn't get too prickly, but it's something I still want to address. 

Many entries back I talked briefly about some of my reasons for leaving my potential job as a teacher in Philadelphia.  Specifically I mentioned my argument with The New Teacher Project personnel over an assignment about white, male privilege.

I was upset at them for their claim that all white males were privileged and all minorities and women were not.  More specifically, I was upset at the notion that I was supposed to feel guilty about this situation and about the idea that society treats me differently.  Society certainly does treat me differently, but I'll get to that in a bit.

So I've been thinking about this argument I had for quite a while now, and I decided to do a bit more research on the subject.

Long story short, I discovered that while maybe I was correct about it not being true in all cases it's far too true in the overwhelming majority of cases.  I also learned that the 'not-all-men' argument is used by both racists and misogynists to try to sweep the problem under the rug.  I don't want that, so I'm officially going on record as saying that both racial and sexual discrimination is a huge problem that deserves both time, effort, and attention (and lots of all three).

To bring it back to my own (perhaps mild) experiences, I think I have a pretty good example that sums up how I feel.  Call it a small metaphor for a greater problem:

Being white didn't make my trip physically easier.  It didn't make the miles any less long, the hills any less steep, or the wind and snow any less cold.  Being white sure as hell didn't peddle the bike for me.

However, every time I stopped or was stopped, whether it was to grab a bite in a cafe or whether it was to answer the questions of a curious law enforcement agent, I was treated, at minimum, with dignity.  I'd like to think that this was because the people who greeted me were just genuinely good people, and I don't want in any way to belittle the kindness I received.  The point I'm trying to make is that I didn't have a SINGLE negative encounter with any officer or with any patron or place of business.  From what I've read and what I've seen, this would never have happened if I had been a young black man traveling alone.

So I feel angry that other fellows, no worse than me, would be at a much greater personal risk on such a trip just because of a national attitude and a different skin color.  I feel angry that many women would feel equally threatened, not by the elements that they might choose to pit themselves against, but by the people they might meet.

And maybe I'm still missing something.  I still can't quite reach the feeling of guilt I've been told I should feel over all of this.  I still want to look at receiving basic human dignity as a right that should be given to all but has been unfairly denied to so many.  I keep hearing instead that even such a minimum of respect is a privilege that has been unfairly granted to only a few, myself included.  I'm having trouble bending my mind around the concept that dignity is a privilege, i.e. something that should be denied until earned, regardless of race or gender.  I am clinging desperately to the idea that dignity is a right that should be assumed and granted, regardless of race or gender.

I always thought anger was for when I see other people treating someone poorly and that guilt was for when I have treated someone poorly, myself.  Perhaps I'm wrong, or, even worse, perhaps I am part of the problem, myself, in some way I don't see yet.

Maybe someone can help clarify these things for me.  There has to still be an angle I'm not seeing the subject from.  So this is me trying to be all ears and trying to have an open mind. 

Peace, I had done.

A Year and a Day, Many Thanks

So this is more like a year and a week or a year and a fortnight, I guess, since the end of my trip but those just didn't have the same ring to them as far as a title goes.

I don't know if anyone will really bother reading this entry.  My trip is long done now, but I always did mean to write at least a few more follow up entries and it's been weighing on my mind as something unfinished.  So here we go.

Many Thanks:

First off, I need to offer some very specific thanks to the following people.  These are the people who either gave me a gracious donation of funds during my trip, a place to stay in their home (or boat), or in some cases both.  So, in no particular order I want to offer my most sincere appreciation to:

My good friend Josh Lang, currently of Pittsburgh and his wife Kristi.
My cousin Mike Sincevich and his wonderful fiance Joy Willard.
My cousin Joshua Beard, long live the emperor.
Kathryn Mueller, who met me once in a bike shop.
Dan Rodina, who never met me at all.
Those two fellows in Wyoming who let me crash in thier work RV even though it was probably against company policy.
Captain Jim Hall of the ship High Tithe.
Sheri, who runs The Pink House in Boise.
Cousin Pat Sincevich, Brandi Sincevich, and all of their fine children.
David Chadwick and Gina Pace of Seattle.
A certain Miss Whitney, whom I met in a cafe not far from the Idaho-Wyoming border.
And lastly, that fine gentleman who met me once in a men's room, told me about his time in the Korean War, donated me $10, and wished me the best.

All in all, total donations came to $440.00, which amounted to a month's worth of food and bike repair supplies for me while traveling.  At the time I was very strapped for resources and I used every penny of it.

In honor of all of your many acts of generosity, I have recently donated a total of $880.00 dollars to my favorite non-profit, The American Chestnut Foundation.  It seemed fitting to try to give a little back to the out-of-door.  I'd like to say that the second half of that amount was me meeting all of your contributions, but if I'm honest I'm going to have to look at it more along the lines of acknowledging all the free meals, free desserts, and free couches that were provided for me.

I have one or two more topics to write about, but this one is important enough, I feel, to warrant it's own special entry. 

So once again, thank you all very much.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Peace, I had done (Nov 27th)

Last night I looked down and realized that my coat's entire front had become crusted with white ice.

I stopped under an overpass and beat the coat against the wall for a bit, but the ice wouldn't break off.  So I bivouacked under a pine tree a short distance from there, not too far west of Alexandria, Ohio.

There was too much ice on my boots to easily get them off, so I scraped off what I could with a knife and slept with them on until they started to thaw (dangerous business that).  Once they loosened up, I removed them, threw them into a plastic bag, then took off my cotton jeans and used them to soak up the little bit of moisture that had leaked off the boots into the bivvy (turns out cotton is good for something after all).  I had already removed my overcoat.

The bivvy is warm enough, I was wearing enough woolen undergarments (especially on my legs), and I timed it right so that I didn't get soaked or cold, and my bedroll stayed more or less dry all night.  I was warm and cozy, but still, dangerous business that. 

I put the bag with my boots in them back into the sack so they wouldn't freeze.

This morning my red overcoat was frozen as stiff as old rawhide.  The bike's brakes still work, but the shifters are caked with ice and unresponsive.  The bike path through Granville towards Newark and Newcomers is choked with snow.

So I took the slushy roads fifteen miles as the crow flies (but closer to 20 or 25 as the biker rides) to the town square in Newark.

Winter has been nipping at my heels state by state since I left Idaho.  There was a dusting of snow on my tires on Halloween, but I outran it.  Well, it has finally caught me.  Perhaps I could press on.  Home is less than 300 miles from here, even biking; Pittsburgh and my mother's school apartment only about half that far.

But it's Thanksgiving tomorrow, and a few snow sodden days of biking seem poor trade compared to a holiday with the clan. 

So it is, with a surprisingly light heart and in my last set of dry clothes, that I hereby declare my journey over.

Katelynn is meeting me here in Newark at the "Simply Rising" cafe and bakery where I am treating her to lunch.  I will be riding home with her this evening.

It may seem a shame to come so far only to fail on the last leg before home.  The funny thing is, though, I don't feel like I've failed at all.  Quite the opposite, in fact, though I'm not sure exactly why.  Sorry to let you all down one last time, but in the end this was something I was doing for me (wasn't it?). 

I don't know how many thousands of miles I've travelled.  My phone won't tell me (It's fritzing again), so I will have to tally that up later.  I need to tally up the donations as well, send out a few personalized thank-yous, and see that I donate an equal amount, myself, to nonprofits as promised.  I'm still thinking Chestnuts and maybe Rails-to-Trails.  I'm giving myself six months to make said donation(s), but I should be able to afford them much earlier than that if the tutoring in early 2014 goes well.  So there will be one or two more posts sometime in the future just to complete things.

I don't know what else to say.  I'm going home friends.  It's not far.  The thought of it makes my heart swell.  Thank you all for following with me.  Be well; be warm.

Peace, I had done.