V. The Story of Iron John…

The societies, religions, and histories of mankind are abound with myths and stories ranging from the fantastical tales of Tolkien to the folklore of the Brothers Grimm. Across space and time they make themselves eternally known, from ancient Mesopotamia’s ‘Gilgamesh’ to the latest box-office film in the modern world. Stories are a part of human life, intertwined with the human soul. To imagine a story is to most as natural as taking a breath. 

Often though it is forgotten…..the tales we tell are far more than mere entertainment. They are road-maps to the living of a good life. Within every story are elements of humanity; keys and hints to the understanding of oneself (and thus the world) made easily accessible and kept within reach, if we only take the time to find them. 

The following is one of my favorite stories and (in many ways) a perfect example of a road-map to life. This version is from the Brothers Grimm but there are several other variants found across the world. That being said, enjoy….

The Story of Iron John.

 


 

Once upon a time there was a king who had a great forest near his castle, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a huntsman to shoot a deer, but the huntsman did not come back again.

“Perhaps he has had an accident,” said the king, and the following day he sent out two other huntsmen who were to search for him, but they did not return either. Then on the third day, he summoned all his huntsmen, and said, “Search through the whole forest, and do not give up until you have found all three.”

But none of these came home again either, nor were any of the hounds from the pack that they had taken with them ever seen again.

From that time on, no one dared to go into these woods, and they lay there in deep quiet and solitude, and all that one saw from there was an occasional eagle or hawk flying overhead.

This lasted for many years, when an unknown huntsman presented himself to the king seeking a position, and he volunteered to go into the dangerous woods.

The king, however, did not want to give his permission, and said, “It is haunted in there. I am afraid that you will do no better than the others, and that you will never come out again.”

The huntsman answered, “Sir, I will proceed at my own risk. I know nothing of fear.”

The huntsman therefore set forth with his dog into the woods. It was not long before the dog picked up a scent and wanted to follow it, but the dog had run only a few steps when it came to a deep pool, and could go no further. Then a naked arm reached out of the water, seized the dog, and pulled it under.

When the huntsman saw that, he went back and got three men. They returned with buckets and bailed out the water. When they could see to the bottom, there was a wild man lying there. His body was brown like rusty iron, and his hair hung over his face down to his knees. They bound him with cords and led him away to the castle.

Everyone was greatly astonished at the wild man. The king had him put into an iron cage in his courtyard, forbidding, on pain of death, that the cage door be opened. The queen herself was to safeguard the key.

From this time forth everyone could once again go safely into the woods.

The king had a son of eight years. One day he was playing in the courtyard, and during his game his golden ball fell into the cage.

The boy ran to the cage and said, “Give me my ball.”

“Not until you have opened the door for me,” answered the man.

“No,” said the boy, “I will not do that. The king has forbidden it,” and he ran away.

The next day he came again and demanded his ball.

The wild man said, “Open my door,” but the boy would not do so.

On the third day the king had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, “Even if I wanted to, I could not open the door. I do not have the key.”

Then the wild man said, “It is under your mother’s pillow. You can get it there.”

The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, threw all caution to the wind, and got the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his finger. When it was open, the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried away.

The boy became afraid. He cried out and called after him, “Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall get a beating.”

The wild man turned around, picked him up, set him on his shoulders, and ran into the woods.

When the king came home he noticed the empty cage and asked the queen how it had happened. She knew nothing about it, and looked for the key, but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one answered.

The king sent out people to look for him in the field, but they did not find him. Then he could easily guess what had happened, and great sorrow ruled at the royal court.

After the wild man had once more reached the dark woods, he set the boy down from his shoulders, and said to him, “You will never again see your father and mother, but I will keep you with me, for you have set me free, and I have compassion for you. If you do what I tell you, it will go well with you. I have enough treasures and gold, more than anyone in the world.”

He made a bed of moss for the boy, upon which he fell asleep. The next morning the man took him to a spring and said, “Look, this golden spring is as bright and clear as crystal. You shall sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, otherwise it will be polluted. I shall come every evening to see if you have obeyed my order.”

The boy sat down at the edge of the spring, and saw how sometimes a golden fish and sometimes a golden snake appeared from within, and took care that nothing fell into it. As he was thus sitting there, his finger hurt him so fiercely that he involuntarily put it into the water. He quickly pulled it out again, but saw that it was completely covered with gold. However hard he tried to wipe the gold off again, it was to no avail.

That evening the wild man came back, looked at the boy, and said, “What has happened to the spring?”

“Nothing, nothing,” the boy answered, holding his finger behind his back, so the man would not be able to see it.

But the man said, “You have dipped your finger into the water. This time I will let it go, but be careful that you do not again let anything else fall in.”

Very early the next morning the boy was already sitting by the spring and keeping watch. His finger hurt him again, and he rubbed it across his head. Then unfortunately a hair fell down into the spring. He quickly pulled it out, but it was already completely covered with gold.

The wild man came and already knew what had happened. “You have let a hair fall into the spring,” he said. “I will overlook this once more, but if it happens a third time then the spring will be polluted, and you will no longer be able to stay with me.”

On the third day the boy sat by the spring and did not move his finger, however much it hurt him. But time passed slowly for him, and he looked at the reflection of his face in the water. While doing this he bent down lower and lower, wanting to look straight into his eyes, when his long hair fell from his shoulders down into the water. He quickly straightened himself up, but all the hair on his head was already covered with gold, and glistened like the sun. You can imagine how frightened the poor boy was. He took his handkerchief and tied it around his head, so that the man would not be able to see his hair.

When the man came, he already knew everything, and said, “Untie the handkerchief.”

The golden hair streamed forth, and no excuse that the boy could offer was of any use.

“You have failed the test, and you can stay here no longer. Go out into the world. There you will learn what poverty is. But because you are not bad at heart, and because I mean well by you, I will grant you one thing: If you are ever in need, go into the woods and cry out, ‘Iron John,’ and then I will come and help you. My power is great, greater than you think, and I have more gold and silver than you could imagine.”

Then the prince left the woods, and walked by beaten and unbeaten paths on and on until at last he reached a great city. There he looked for work, but he was not able to find any, because he had not learned a trade by which he could make a living. Finally he went to the castle and asked if they would take him in.

The people at court did not at all know how they would be able to use him, but they took a liking to him, and told him to stay. Finally the cook took him into service, saying that he could carry wood and water, and rake up the ashes.

Once when no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the royal table. Because he did not want them to see his golden hair, he kept his cap on. Nothing like this had ever before happened to the king, and he said, “When you approach the royal table you must take your hat off.”

“Oh, sir,” he answered, “I cannot. I have an ugly scab on my head.”

Then the king summoned the cook and scolded him, asking him how he could take such a boy into his service. The cook was to send him away at once. However, the cook had pity on him, and let him trade places with gardener’s boy.

Now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and put up with the wind and bad weather.

Once in summer when he was working alone in the garden, the day was so hot that he took his hat off so that the air would cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glistened and sparkled. The rays fell into the princess’s bedroom, and she jumped up to see what it was.

She saw the boy and called out to him, “Boy, bring me a bouquet of flowers.”

He quickly put on his cap, picked some wildflowers, and tied them together.

As he was climbing the steps with them, the gardener met him and said, “How can you take the princess a bouquet of such common flowers? Quick! Go and get some other ones, and choose only the most beautiful and the rarest ones.”

“Oh, no,” replied the boy, the wild ones have a stronger scent, and she will like them better.”

When he got into the room, the princess said, “Take your cap off. It is not polite to keep it on in my presence.”

He again responded, “I cannot do that. I have a scabby head.”

She, however, took hold of his cap and pulled it off. His golden hair rolled down onto his shoulders, and it was a magnificent sight. He wanted to run away, but she held him by his arm, and gave him a handful of gold coins. He went away with them, but he did not care about the gold.

He took the gold pieces to the gardener, saying, “I am giving these things to your children for them to play with.”

The next day the princess called to him again, asking him to bring her a bouquet of wildflowers. When he went in with it, she immediately grabbed at his cap, and wanted to take it away from him, but he held it firmly with both hands. She again gave him a handful of gold coins. He did not want to keep them, giving them instead to the gardener for his children to play with. On the third day it was no different. She was not able to take his cap away from him, and he did not want her gold.

Not long afterwards, the country was overrun by war. The king gathered together his people, not knowing whether or not fight back against the enemy, who was more powerful and had a large army.

Then the gardener’s boy said, “I am grown up, and I want to go to war as well. Just give me a horse.”

The others laughed and said, “After we have left, then look for one by yourself. We will leave one behind for you in the stable.”

After they had left, he went into the stable, and led the horse out. It had a lame foot, and it limped higgledy-hop, higgledy-hop.

Nevertheless he mounted it, and rode away into the dark woods. When he came to the edge of the woods, he called “Iron John” three times so loudly that it sounded through the trees.

The wild man appeared immediately, and said, “What do you need?”

“I need a strong steed, for I am going to war.”

“That you shall have, and even more than you are asking for.”

Then the wild man went back into the woods, and before long a stable-boy came out of the woods leading a great war-horse that blew air through its nostrils. Behind them followed a large army of warriors with clothes of iron and their swords flashing in the sun.

The youth left his three-legged horse with the stable-boy, mounted the other horse, and rode at the head of the army. When he approached the battlefield, a large number of the king’s men had already fallen, and it would not be long before they met defeat. Then the youth galloped up with his iron army and attacked the enemies like a storm, beating down all who opposed him. They tried to flee, but the youth was right behind them, and did not stop, until not a single man was left.

However, instead of returning to the king, he led his army on a roundabout way back into the woods, and then called for Iron John.

“What do you need?” asked the wild man.

“Take back your steed and your army, and give me my three-legged horse again.”

It all happened just as he had requested, and he rode home on his three-legged horse.

When the king returned to his castle, his daughter went to meet him, and congratulated him for his victory.

“I am not the one who earned the victory,” he said, “but a strange knight who came to my aid with his army.”

The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knight was, but the king did not know, and said, “He pursued the enemy, and I did not see him again.”

She asked the gardener where his boy was, but he laughed and said, “He has just come home on his three-legged horse. The others have been making fun of him and shouting, ‘Here comes our higgledy-hop back again.’ They also asked him, ‘Under what hedge have you been lying asleep all this time?’ But he said, ‘I did better than anyone else. Without me it would have gone badly.’ And then they laughed at him all the more.”

The king said to his daughter, “I will proclaim a great festival. It shall last for three days, and you shall throw a golden apple. Perhaps the unknown knight will come.”

When the festival was announced, the youth again went out into the woods and called for Iron John.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“I want to catch the princess’s golden apple.”

“It is as good as done,” said Iron John. “And further, you shall have a suit of red armor and ride on a spirited chestnut horse.”

When the day came, the youth galloped up, took his place among the knights, and was recognized by no one. The princess came forward and threw a golden apple to the knights. He was the only one who caught it, and as soon as he had it, he galloped away.

On the second day Iron John outfitted him as a white knight, and had gave him a white horse to ride to the festival. Again he was the youth caught the apple and without lingering an instant, he galloped away with it.

The king grew angry and said, “That is not allowed. He must appear before me and tell me his name.”

He gave the order that if the knight who caught the apple, were to go away again, they should pursue him, and if he would not come back willingly, they were to strike and stab at him.

On the third day, he received from Iron John a suit of black armor and a black horse, and he caught the apple again. But when he was galloping away with it, the king’s men pursued him, and one of them got so close to him that he wounded the youth’s leg with the point of his sword. In spite of this he escaped from them, but his horse jumped so violently that his helmet fell from his head, and they could see that he had golden hair. They rode back and reported everything to the king.

The next day the princess asked the gardener about his boy.

“He is at work in the garden. The strange fellow has been at the festival too. He came home only yesterday evening. And furthermore, he showed my children three golden apples that he had won.”

The king had him summoned, and he appeared, again with his cap on his head. But the princess went up to him and took it off. His golden hair fell down over his shoulders, and he was so handsome that everyone was amazed.

“Are you the knight who came to the festival every day, each time in a different color, and who caught the three golden apples?” asked the king.

“Yes,” he answered, “and here are the apples,” taking them out of his pocket, and returning them to the king. “If you need more proof, you can see the wound that your men gave me when they were chasing me. But I am also the knight who helped you to your victory over your enemies.”

“If you can perform deeds like these then you are not a gardener’s boy. Tell me, who is your father?”

“My father is a powerful king, and I have as much gold as I might need.”

“I can see,” said the king, “that I owe you thanks. Can I do anything for you?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You can indeed. Give me your daughter for my wife.”

The maiden laughed and said, “He does not care much for ceremony, but I already had seen from his golden hair that he was no gardener’s boy,” and then she went and kissed him.

His father and mother came to the wedding, and were filled with joy, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing their dear son again.

While they sitting at the wedding feast, the music suddenly stopped, the doors opened, and a proud king came in with a great retinue. He walked up to the youth, embraced him, and said, “I am Iron John. I had been transformed into a wild man by a magic spell, but you have broken the spell. All the treasures that I possess shall belong to you.”

The End.


Thank you for reading, feel free to let me know what you think as well as what you see in this story.

-Dalton

Kitchen Witchery Tools

What is a Kitchen Witch? My definition would be a practitioner that infuses his or her magic/energy into foods and remedies they craft, anything from baking cookies to making a batch of rose water. This magic is something that I do all the time and there are many who do as well without even knowing. Ever wonder why the phrase “Doesn’t taste like mom used to make it” is said about a certain food? That person didn’t make it, they didn’t infuse their energy into it.

So what tools does a witch need to have in her kitchen? Well the most common tools seen in any Muggle kitchen for one:

  •         The Wooden Spoon

o   Something as simple as this can have great effects. This is what I would call a wand in the kitchen. It directs energy into whatever you’re mixing. I mean what else do you stir your cauldron with?

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I have has this Mortar and Pestle for years, even before knowing I would follow a more magical path.

 

  •         Mortar and Pestle

o   I have had mine for I don’t know how long. I really started using this when we moved to our homestead. For me the magical purpose behind this tool is to help release and infuse the energy of what you’re crushing. I love making my own seasoning blends with a magical touch, like my hubby’s chicken noodle soup spice blend that will make you feel better when you’re feeling under the weather.

  •         The Cauldron

o   Now this can be a traditional cast iron cauldron or even a simple stock pot. Here the marriage of flavors and magic will, well…..bubble and brew!

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We got this cauldron for our Handfasting last October, it’s a whopping 17 gallon one! This picture is from our self retreat we took over Memorial Day Weekend.
  •         The Knife

o   This is important in any kitchen! What else are you going to do all the chopping with? In the magical sense this helps direct the energy in what you’re cooking up.

  •         Spices

o   Every Kitchen Witch needs to have basic spices. Salt, pepper, rosemary, basil, sage and thyme. Now these are the spices I can’t be without and find that they are pretty darn universal. Can’t buy them? No worries! Herbs are easy to plant in pots so just grow your own spice collection over time. Some spices can be pretty pricey or you can grow your own.

  •         Jars

o   You’ll need something to store all those wonderful spice blends in! I love to

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I love this style of jar, I recycled this Christmas gift with a simple wash and dissoluble labels.

reuse jars for my spice blends and other cooking ingredients. Or to use a planters for an indoor herb garden. You can also give your jars a magical touch with the help from sigils.

Remember it’s the intention behind what you’re doing that makes the magic. As well as certain items will tell you what they were meant to be. Every Witch has his or hers own unique style and path and your kitchen tools may be slightly different.

What’s in your Kitchen Tool Kit?

What are your go to spices?

Can’t wait to hear for you! Blessed Be Lovelies!

I. Martial Arts, Philosophy, Life, Practice…

Over two thousand years ago in the Greek city of Athens a man named Plato put forth his Theory of Forms. Within he argued against the common acceptance that the world we see was the true world, instead suggesting a higher truth, one existent outside the realm of the physical. If you’re not familiar with Plato’s Theory of Forms, click here but to summarize, Plato insisted the physical world was not in fact the truest manifestation of reality. Instead he believed it a mere reflection of a more-perfect ‘World of Forms’ and further suggested that man, with his ability to reason and employ logic, could access this world of forms through thought.  

Regardless of your opinions on the validity of Plato’s theory, I think it a valuable exercise to consider the various other observable realities and life-lessons which make such a theory possible (and conversely are made possible by such a theory). While the list of possibilities could go on ad-infinitum, I wish to direct focus instead to a principle on which we can all agree:

>>>A foundation is best when built on solid ground……

If you were tasked with the building of a house, would you begin building your foundation with sand or stone? Stone of course, but have you considered why? Because stone is more solid right? Well stone is more solid than sand, but wood is also quite solid. Why not build it with planks of wood? Many things are solid yet building with them would prove disastrous, so the reason can’t be so simple as this. In order to find the answer which is most true it is necessary to ask what every person-who-creates must ask of their creation; Firstly “What purpose am I seeking to fulfill?” and secondly “How can I best fulfill it?”

In this case, what purpose would we be fulfilling through the building of our foundation and why is stone the best option for fulfilling it? Fortunately for us the definition of foundation provides us with a clue:

Foundation: an underlying base(n.) or support(n.)

From this we can deduce the purpose of our foundation. To do so we must take into account a critical distinction. The definition of foundation as written above likely conjures up thoughts of…..what? A thing right? An object. Perhaps it is brick, or cinder-block, or concrete but nonetheless if I ask you to picture in your mind a foundation you most likely imagine some sort of….object. Yet an object(noun/thing) can not be a purpose(verb/action), so we’ve still not entirely answered the question.

In order to find the purpose, we must abandon the object and instead consider only what it does. In this case (and nearly all others) this is as simple as viewing the words of the definition not as things, but as actions. That in mind, we can reread our definition as such:

Foundation: that which bases(v.) or supports(v.) 

There you go, we finally have it; the purpose of our foundation and therefore the reason we build our foundation with stone. Houses are heavy and fragile, they will crack and break if they move. What better to support such a thing than a foundation of stone? Wood will rot and bow, metal will rust and corrode, and sand shifts out from underneath. Stone is strong, not too brittle, resistant to time and can be shaped if needed. It occurs naturally, does not easily move or warp with climate changes. and temples of stone stand today (albeit somewhat decayed), even after millennia. Therefore stone is the best possible option.

Or as Plato would perhaps put it, “It is the truest physical manifestation of the FORM of [a] foundation” (in this context).

All of this may seem trivial and petty; a waste of time and energy endlessly chasing words and semantics. However this practice of seeing the world as purpose is one quite beneficial in the mastering of any skill-set. To see a beam under a bridge and recognize it for more than the steel it is made of or what it is, but also for the how and why of it, for the purpose it serves is an exercise in understanding and coming to know the world. It forces you to ask questions you might otherwise never consider and thus, reveal ways of thinking you may never have known without.

Whether you take the philosophy of Plato’s FORMS to heart or not one thing is certain; There is always room for improvement.

 


On Martial Arts Regarding the Preceding: 

In any practice there is nothing so important as the basics. A master simplicity will always have an advantage over the layman of the complex as the layman lacks foundation. Considering the purpose discussed previously, it is easy then to reason that if the basics of an art are truly the foundation then they cannot be as simple as they may appear; they may in fact be the most complex and in need of the most consideration. While a jab+cross combination may appear simple, it can be broken down, picked apart, and perfected endlessly.

To understand something is to recognize your ignorance of it. This is why we must ask questions of everything we do.

Plato’s FORMS:

Many of us could likely agree there is such a thing as a ‘perfect punch.” To be considered such it would need to meet certain criteria. It would need to land. It would need to be effective. It would need to be relaxed and effortless and it would need to be harmless to the puncher. Other prerequisites may exist yet show me one punch which could be considered truly ‘perfect’ by even these few definitions. Such a strike has never been thrown and yet….we know the ‘perfect punch’ exists somewhere. The question is where?

As Plato stated it exists in our minds. We know it exists because we can imagine it. We can feel it. While executing it in the physical world may prove impossible, we can continue to strive towards that unattainable perfection through practice and coincidentally…..through forms.

The practice of forms (gung-fu, boxing, dance) [can be] an exercise again in Platonism if one only take the time to ask, ask, ask and ever insist upon making the form being practiced a little closer to the FORM from which it stems.


If you made it through this thank you for reading, let me know what you think down below and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you! 

-Dalton. 

IV. Devil’s Drink…

In the night brews Devil’s drink,

With a dash of wrath and pinch of hate,

A spoon of lust and two of greed,

A single gram of gluttony.

A grain of pride is good as salt,

An ounce of envy has no fault,

And last of course a cup of sloth,

Brings to bear eternal broth

 

A voice inside says “Just one sip”

The devil waits for will to slip.

We close our lips and turn our heads,

Gulping down this drink of dread,

 

Innocence lost to time me thinks….

Our veins now hold the Devil’s drink.

Shiji Ren

III. Practicing Haiku…

Sit for a moment,

Look, listen, can you hear it?

Fluttering leaves fall…

-Shiji Ren

DIY 1: Improvised Fence Stretcher

Here in Indiana farmland isn’t cheap and big farmers surround us. Fencing is a must-have (see our recent Saturday Chores! post) and as with any wire-run fence there are certain things that must be done right if it is to withstand the test of time for even a few years.

-Posts need to be set properly.

-Fencing needs to be chosen appropriate to your application.

-Supporting posts must be placed between corner/tension-posts (load-bearing posts).

The list of considerations could go on and on but there is one piece of often-forgotten or neglected equipment any fence-runner must have when running wire fence: a good fence-stretcher! In case you don’t know, a fence-stretcher is exactly what it sounds like: a tool for pulling a wire based fence as tight as possible so it both looks nice and functions as well as possible. If you want your fence to do its job well you cannot get by without one. Pull the fence tight by hand and fasten it to a your tension-post but no matter how strong you think you might be….you will have one sloppy fence and critters will go running.

The other day though I found myself missing this crucial tool. My posts were set, the wire rolled out and I had staples and hammer in hand. Everything was going well until I went to look for my fence stretcher and realized….I didn’t have it anymore! Unwilling to make a run to town I decided it was time to improvise and well….the rest is history.

DIY: Improvised Fence-Stretcher/Puller

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First things first, even improvisation needs a few things:

  1. Two well-set corner/tension posts capable of taking the load of the new fence.
  2. The fencing in question
  3. Something sturdy to pull the fence tight on before fastening it to the second corner post.
  4. A piece of 2×4 or other strong board.
  5. [2] ratchet straps or [1] strap and a come-along.

The first three are (hopefully) self-explanatory. Numbers 4 and 5 are (respectively) for spreading the force of the pull out so as to avoid damaging fence and actually pulling the fence tight. Before we begin pulling fence make sure one end of your run is securely fastened to a corner post.

I tried to take photos was working alone so I apologize if things are perfectly clear. Feel free to ask questions if you need!

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Image 1

Start by laying the 2×4 on the ground and the un-anchored side of the fence on top of it. I’d suggest placing the board as close to the middle as possible if it is shorter than the fence is tall.

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Image 2

Take the longest of your straps and weave it around the board and the fence, working down the length until you near the end of the 2×4 (see above). Be sure to leave a ‘tail’ [right side of photo] and an equally long bit of slack on the opposite side as well [left side of photo].

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Image 3

Take the ‘tail’ from before and pull it to the left, looping it under the furthermost weave. Take all the slack from it and fold it over to the right again as shown in the image above.

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Image 4

Weave the slack (left side of image 2) back over where you’ve weaved before, being sure to cross the folded ‘tail’ at least three times. Pull all slack out of the strap so it is tight against the board. It should look something like the image above.

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Image 5

Hook up your ratchet strap or come-along and begin tightening the fence. Go slow for safety!! Pull the fence as tight as needed, staple/fasten fence to your load-bearing post and slowly release your ratchet/come-along. Loosen the weave and the 2×4 falls right out, the strap untangles and you’re ready to do it again!

 

Note:

Knowing how this works from a physics-standpoint will help you in learning how to make it actually work. The goal of this tool is to spread an applied force out by taking advantage of the first Law of Friction. Essentially we are making the strap stick to itself (whilst wrapped around the 2×4 which in turn spreads the force applied so as to prevent damaging the fence and provide and even stretch.

II. Lost Souls…

A knock on the door,

Death stared in.

Offered him drink; whiskey and wine,

He knew of the past yet to the future; blind.

-Shiji Ren

 

 

Saturday Chores!

Shh!! Listen! Hear that? Sounds like chickens out scratching! Well maybe it doesn’t there but it certainly does here!

Another weekend has come and gone and with it another project is complete. After what seemed like an endless wait and a weekend of hard work we finally finished the new chicken run! See?!

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This new run is about 65 foot square and absolutely FILLED with bugs, thick grass, and plenty of places to scratch for seeds and shoots. All sides are fenced with 4 foot high wire-fabric fencing pulled tight and supported by (literally) all the wooden posts we had so the entire pen is sturdy and strong. The young oaks in the middle provide shade all day and with no pole barns on either side there is nothing to block a cooling breeze. Compared to the old run it is a paradise.

While it will take a few days for the flock to get used to this new run (and consequently comfortable enough with it to spend time in it) we are excited to be able to let the old run grow back up. With the tiller fixed we can now get to tilling and seeding the old run to help it recuperate after supporting two dozen birds for a year.

We also have an expectant mother who will be needing a run for her and her babies here shortly, as well as another dozen chicks who will soon be too large for the brooder-box we built.

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Getting this run done was big project for us. Without a real tractor, auger, or any real power tools something as simple as setting posts and stretching fence can become quite time consuming and exhausting especially when working by your lonesome. The entire project took approximately 30 hours of work, but the reward is well worth the effort put in.

Garden Time!!

One of the greatest joys and pastimes of the spring, summer, and fall seasons is unquestionably gardening. Planning, preparing, planting and harvesting vegetables and fruits every day is therapeutic and helps a soul stay healthy. Mother earth takes kindly to the variation of plants nestled in her soils, and there is nothing like eating a meal gathered from your backyard or walking out with the sunrise and watching the flowers and buds start to wake up.

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My sage came back this year! It was such a nice surprise as I didn’t think it would!

While both of us here at Two Old Oaks grew up with gardens this is our first real one in quite a while. Last year we simply did not have the time (or equipment) with the move-in and before that we lived in a city apartment. In the apartment we kept a sun-room full of plants, (mostly herbs) and last year we planted tomatoes and herbs out on our front porch. This year we are excited to finally have the chance to have a full garden again but getting a new garden cultivated can be a hefty chore, especially if you must break new ground. But never the less a most rewarding chore it is.

Our original plan for this year’s garden was to get the planting started in early to mid April but a string of rainstorms and frosty mornings kept the ground too saturated and cold for seedlings. To top it off we had never turned any ground on this property, so we were left wanting for a tiller to help make the job a lot easier. Luckily though we got our hands on an old tiller, gave her a new motor and we are now able to get to work.

Having already mapped out where the garden and the placement of each plant back in March it was easy to know where we wanted to break ground. We placed the garden to the east, south, and west sides of the greenhouse that is being build, just enough light and just enough shade to make all the plants happy as little larks.

While we were planning the garden we of course had to make the choice of what we were going to be growing this year. We wanted plants that could thrive in our growing zone (Zone 6a) but also ones that we would actually use and eat; not to mention what we could can and store for year round enjoyment. We settled on the following plants;

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Aren’t seedlings just the cutest! The tomato plants have a bit more growing but they’ll all soon be in the grown.
  • Tomatoes
    • Beefsteak and Roma both good to eat raw and for canning,
  • Cucumbers
    • Fresh, for pickles and relish of course!
  • Green Beans
    • For canning and fresh Green Bean fries
  • Corn
    • Corn on the cob anyone?? I freeze it rather than canning.
  • Zucchini
    • There are so many things you can do with Zucchini; zoodles, fries, muffins, boats just to name a few! I have never tried preserving theses but I wouldn’t mine trying!
  • Cantaloupe
    • It can’t be summer without melons!
  • Watermelon
    • It’s my Hubby’s favorite and I want to try and dehydrating it. I’m told it tastes like watermelon flavored cotton candy?
  • Pumpkin
    • Thinking pumpkin pie! I love to bake and its always exciting for me to make as much from scratch as I can. Not to mention the seeds are yummy when roasted, the chickens love it (and it’s good for them! Shhhhh! But don’t tell them that) and it’s always a beautiful fall decoration.
  • Spinach
    • We have an amazing friend to whom we refer to as the Plant Man, who grows just about anything you could think of (Even a banana tree) all in pots in his home. Needless to say if I want a start for a plant it’s likely he has it. He’ll often gift me plants (And I won’t deny that! I ❤ Plants!) That’s how I got some beautiful purple spinach plants that will be used in mainly fresh dishes.
  • Bell Pepper
    • I like to usually freeze these already sliced/cubed up for a quick add in for any meal during the winter months. I might even try dehydrating them?
  • Strawberry
    • Well it seems that I may have to try this next year as every seed/seedling I got this year just didn’t do a thing…..awww well I’ll look forward to planting it next year!

Along with all the typical plants that are in the garden, I’ll also have an herb garden. I started a few years ago with just two or three herbs and it has just grown from there! Here is the list of the herbs that will be in the garden this year (Not counting all the flowers and other pretties I have placed for landscaping)

  • Sage
    • A must have in our home! I was so surprised when my sage from last year stated to grow this year!
  • Rosemary
    • I lost my mother plant but of course my Plant Man has me covered and has a small start for me to have. THANK YOU PLANT MAN!
  • Lavender
    • This will be the second time that she has made her way into my garden, the first time I started it from seed but was unable to plant her in the ground as I was living in an apartment at the time. But not this year!
  • Sweet Basil
    • I love to use this in cooking!
  • Mint
    • I started this last year and well it just won’t stop. This is a great one to start with because it has so many uses! It is also VERY hard to kill…..
  • Parsley
    • I had some seeds from I don’t know when so I decided that I would take the chance and see if it would grow. Well to my luck I had a few that took!
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There are so many uses for this little plant! A weed no more! #nofilterneeded

Of course I may add a few more as the season goes on as I learn more and more on how to use them in multiple applications. I also have a few natural growing herbs that I’ll take use of, one being Dandelions, (yes it not just a weed!) As well as Yarrow, a herb that has great healing qualities. I’m sure there is many more hiding right under my nose, but I’ll start with those for now.

With all these plants to put into the ground I best get to planting now! Can’t wait to watch all the little sprouts grow into thriving plants that will in turn help us to thrive.

What’s in your garden this year? Do you have a MUST HAVE plant that you grow every year? Please share in the comments! We can’t wait to hear all about your gardening adventures.

J&D

 

Homestead Project! Burning…

Here in the mid-west springtime is synonymous with green fields and red-budded trees. Everything is growing and everything is soaked but as the rains start to taper off and a bit of dry weather moves in smoke can be seen for miles while fields and forested patches are left to burn.

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Maybe not your typical family photo…..

That’s right, we are coming in on another fire-season here in Indiana. Spring is in swing but May is almost here, which means the April showers are about to give way to lots and lots of sunshine. Blackened strips of land can be seen all around as farmers and landowners take advantage of the longer days and stronger sun, setting fields and sometimes wooded areas ablaze. This practice is known as controlled burning.

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The plains of the Aesir are born from the ashes of Hel….

Growing up on a farm means this practice of controlled burning becomes a part of the yearly chore list. In fact I recall doing it almost every year growing up and enjoying it immensely. However it can be a bit confusing to those who aren’t used to it. Why would anyone purposefully light fires that sometimes burn tens or even hundreds of acres? The answer is actually pretty straightforward: occasional burning of any environment is extremely beneficial to the its health.

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Notice the dead, matted grass…the green is patchy and clumpy.

Despite how boring and monotonous the fields of the flyover states may seem they are actually  supportive of complex ecosystems within themselves. In nature and well-managed pasture, grazing creatures roam about at a steady pace, keeping the grass to a near-perfect height whilst fertilizing next season’s growth. Occasional wildfires complete the cycle by incinerating the dead leftovers and letting young shoots grow while the ashes of the dead grasses provide perfect fertilizer for the new growths.

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The ‘Heart-Tree’ masked in smoke….

When man moves into any environment this natural process is interrupted. Grazing creatures are driven off or wiped out and wildfires become unhealthily uncommon as we seek to avoid them for our own safety. With nothing to check the growth of grasses a new cycle begins. One season’s growth dies out and falls, blocking sunlight for the next year. Over time future growth is steadily strangled by its predecessors until the field is only clumps of clustered grass and weeds instead of healthy blankets of green. The lack of nutritious baby shoots of grass can lead rabbits and other small mammals to seek out healthier pasture, which in turn leads to fewer predators and eventually a severe lack of ground-dwelling creatures. In time what was once a healthy and thriving ecosystem is unrecognizable for what it once was.

As humans, we need places to live. We need food for the many members of our species and we need land to grow the food. While we cannot avoid the interruption of nature entirely, we can seek to duplicate and integrate with it to help avoid collateral damage as much as possible. For many farmers and landowners, controlled burns and well-managed grazing by livestock are the best options to replicate this natural cycle while also fulfilling a necessary role for mankind.

Lighting these massive fires might seem irresponsible at first, chaotic at second. But as they say the third time is the charm, and now you don’t have to wonder why the billowing clouds of smoke might be rising over a mid-western sky.

You’ll just know.

-J&D.

 

 

Heritage.

Heritage is sometimes found absent in young people. New inventions, new technologies, new schools of thought are continuously coming forth and shaping the world around us. While all learn to live with the change or perish, throughout history it has near always been youth who clamor for the acceptance of anything which strays from what is considered the norm. However sometimes new isn’t necessarily better.

Recently I was gifted a few ‘old relics’ by my father. Among them was an old garden tiller. While the farthest thing from pretty, modern, or easy to handle it is a perfect example of heritage. It’s at least 60 years old, has been in the hands of three generations of our family (used by two now), and has done more work than any tiller it’s size should ever do. Her workings are simple. Her finish is crude. She is as loud and obnoxious as I am. And she always gets the job done.

My father found this old girl on her side in the woods outside Hawk Point Missouri on my grandmother’s land. He guessed it had been there for at least 20 years before he found it. The oil had drained out from lying on its side but the motor turned over. A little new oil, gasoline and ether and she fired right up like the day she was born. Since then he has owned this old girl for 25 years or so and she has been used annually and put through the paces. She’s not had an oil change since that initial fill up. He never greased it, never did a thing…..yet every time we needed work she started up with a bit of gasoline and a pull or two.

Originally manufactured by McDonough Power (we now know them as Snapper), she’s had a 137cc Briggs & Stratton single cylinder on her since dad found her. According to what’s left of the pull-cover the engine was rated at 3 hp. It has been a great little engine and has always been plenty but two or three summers ago she finally had to retire after the recoil-spring gave out. Since then she has sat in a yard in Missouri until dad decided to let me have it.

Initially wanting to keep it as I knew it, I tried rewinding the recoil-spring to no avail. After finding out she wasn’t getting fire even when spun by a drill I decided to give the old girl a heart transplant.

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Old motor (left) New motor (right)

After looking around this was the choice I settled on: A Kohler SH265. At 196cc it is a lot larger than the old Briggs. Even more impressive is the power- 6.5 hp(more than double the old motor’s rating). Surprisingly the mount-points were the same and the installation was effortless. In the space of an hour we had the old girl up and running with a new power-plant.

 

It might seem a little silly, being so attached to an old hunk of rusty iron. It honestly would have been less work to simply go buy a new tiller. After all modern technology has come a long way with rear-tine counter-rotating tillers and such, but there is something to be said about older tools like this or other things in general. They aren’t fancy, they just work. They don’t have warning labels, they’ll chew you up and spit you out if you’re stupid. They can be dreadfully more laborious to use than their modern counterparts but still……they just work. These machines were born in a time when you needed to be able to count on something to work as long as possible. If it broke you needed to be able to fix it, people couldn’t afford to take everything back to the store.

This is what heritage is about: holding onto old ways not for fear of new but for the simple fact that what we had and what we did back then was in a lot of cases good enough. Sure it may have been a bit more work but we were given strong legs and a back to bear it. No soul ever slept better than after a long day of good honest work.

Heritage…..its not just a marketing term. It is about remembering and honoring the people who used these things to get by, to build the foundations which have put us where we are. It is about using what we have until it is no longer an option and being frugal, enjoying the pleasantries and shouldering the pain for others like our mothers and fathers did for us. Its keeping tradition so we don’t forget and grow spoiled or soft.

Most of all it’s honoring the history behind all things….animate, inanimate. Plant, animal, or human. At least that’s how I see it. What do you think?

-Dalton

 

 

Random Weeknight Project!

Most of the time people save projects for the weekend and we are no exception. Both of us here at Two Old Oaks work and our time during the week is limited, but we love to spend whatever time we have left building and adding to our homestead. Sometimes however that means staying up late to get something ready for the unexpected!

 

Last night we both came home to find these five baby chicks a relative found for free! As you can see these guys are still tiny and super fragile. Judging from their size  we guess they are only a week or so old so we needed a better setup than the cardboard box they came in. After a few minutes thought we got to work!

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An acquaintance of ours one town over had a ton of wooden boxes laying around (see it with the red hose?) They are about 18” by 36” and sturdy as can be so we thought we would put one to better use here as a long-term brooder house!

 

We took the box and and got to work measuring what we needed. Thank goodness for leftovers from previous projects! Chicken wire, boards from the bedroom renovation, some cedar planks from a lucky find, and a couple old door hinges and we were good to go. (Oh and of course hammer, nails, drill, screws, and the old saw!)

We took the chicken wire and molded it over one half of the box so the peeps could get heat and see outside. The other half of the box we covered with three boards pushed flush together and a fourth board (the long one before we cut it to size) about a quarter inch from the first three. Half of the fourth board covered the chicken wire to help secure it, while the space let us set hinges down and make an easy-open door for our little brooder! With the cedar planks we fastened the first three boards together and installed the matching hinge. After tapping the pin into place the door was complete!

Of course no brooder is complete without a heat source so we took a few final pieces of scrap lumber and made a square arch over the chicken-wire where we could easily (and safely) hang a heating lamp. When all was said and done we had the perfect little home for our new chickies!

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The finished project! Pretty basic but still a joy to build! (The pup in the bottom left isn’t sure about this…)

Overall the project was just as easy as it looks, but the unexpectedness of it took us by surprise so we thought we would share it with you.

Once we’d finished the build we put some bedding down (in the form of shredded papers) and tried to introduce a mama hen to the babies to see if she would be willing to adopt. Unfortunately both the hens we tried to introduce weren’t too keen on the idea of taking care of them. The first was too young (hadn’t gone broody before) and the other we think is just old and ready to retire. After putting the hens back in the grown-up house we shut up the brooder and the babies have been loving it!

Hopefully all five survive and who knows? We may have more soon! (Just after we got done we found our Muscovy duck has built a nest and is gathering a clutch.)

Only time will tell but I think it is safe to FINALLY say….SPRING HAS COME TO INDIANA!

Thanks for reading!

J&D.