Chapter 1981, age 38-39

 Themes and Events:
*  The Rubik’s Cube brain teaser toy becomes the rage.
*  The video game Pac Man shows up in arcades and living room all across the country.
*  The most popular movie of the year was Raiders of the Lost Ark. 
*  The government creates a “superfund” for environmental emergencies and to clean up toxic waste sites.
*  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in Atlanta publishes its first report on the AIDS epidemic.
*  An article in the New England Journal of Medicine links cholesterol with coronary heart occlusion, the debate over dietary cholesterol begins.
*  Researchers create the first transgenic animal, inserting viral DNA into the DNA of a mouse, such creatures, carrying human genes serve as models for studying human diseases.
*  The Space Shuttle Columbia makes its maiden voyage, becoming the first manned spacecraft to land as an aircraft on its wheels, rather than parachute in and “splash down” in the ocean.
Buttons & bumper stickers:
*  Make somebody happy: Mind your own business.
*  Save an alligator, eat a Preppie.
*  Answer my prayers, steal this car.
*  The only way they’ll get my gun is to pry it from my cold dead hands.
Ronald Reagan becomes President
On January 20, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President of the United States. George Bush Sr. becomes Vice President. Immediately after the swearing in process, news came out that Iran was releasing all fifty two of its American hostages. The coincidence was delightful, but alarming and everyone wondered what we secretly ‘gave away’ to ‘buy back’ the hostages.
The Society of Mayflower Descendants
After what seemed a long fall and winter of waiting, I finally received my certificate of  membership, from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants at Plymouth, Massachusetts. I was admitted to the society as a descendant of John Howland, on January 24, General Society Number #45302 and Minnesota State Number #547.

[Document photocopy: General Society of Mayflower Descendants certificate #45302, awarded upon confirmation of my descent from Pilgrim ancestor, John Howland & Elizabeth Tilley-Howland]

While waiting for the Society’s Historian General to validate the Howland genealogical line, I sent in  supplemental proofs of descent from Pilgrim Richard Warren, also a passenger aboard the 1620 Mayflower.

[Document photocopy: Mayflower Descendants, General Society of Mayflower Descendants supplemental certificate, awarded upon confirmation of my descent from Pilgrim ancestor, Richard Warren.]

We found that John Howland’s wife, Elizabeth Tilley’s parents, John Tilley and Elizabeth Comyngs, came to the New World with their daughter on the Mayflower[1]. Meanwhile, Richard Warren had left his wife and daughters in England and traveled here looking for business opportunities.
So, counting John Howland, Richard Warren and the Tilley family, that meant my immediate paternal family descended from at least five passengers aboard the 1620 Mayflower.

Books read during the year
I read books on various topics, mostly whatever was either important in our lives at the time or of general topical interest to myself, including:
Better Read Than Dead: The Complete Book of Nuclear Survival © 1981 by Thomas R. Nieman – Effects of a nuclear weapons attack on the USA, fallout shelters. 193 pages.
Cycles of War: The Next Six Years © by R.E. McMasters – Discussion of various economic, social and war cycles that seem to be converging.  217 pages.
Life After Doomsday: A Survivalists Guide to Nuclear War and Other Major Disasters © 1980 by Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D. – How to survive a nuclear war, home fallout shelters, food storage, medical equipment and home defense. 185 pages.
The Alpha Strategy © 1980 by John A. Pugsley – A book touting the purchase and storage of tangible wealth, items produced by man, to counter the effects of inflation.
Stalking the Wild Pendulum © by Itzhak Bentov – On the mechanics of consciousness and experimenting with time. 233 pg.

Music [midi: Dr Zhivago]

Our Bio-Organic French Intensive garden
In May, as soon as we could work with the soil, we began cleaning up the garden. It had been left a jumble of roots, rocks and clumps of top soil from the backhoe work we had done the previous Fall. We removed  wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of old root chunks, small sticks and rocks. There were so many rocks in the garden, and about the yard, that when they were accumulated in one spot, we ended up with a rounded pile about three feet high and eight feet in diameter!

Our neighbor, Bobby brought us two ‘manure spreader loads’ of cow manure, from a half year old, rotting pile beside his barn. One load was spread directly onto the garden before spring tilling, the other was used in the orchard and vineyard.

During the previous winter, Donna and I read a gardening book on the Bio-Organic French Intensive Method. This gardening technique used raised garden beds, deep cultivation, heavy compost additions, and close planting to provide up to three times the vegetable production from the same garden area as common row gardening.

The raised bed method was said to: increase the surface area planted, provide better drainage, while beds densely planted to one species created an environment more compatible with that species. The continuous leaf cover across a four foot to five foot wide bed was said to reduce weed problems and help maintain soil moisture content.

Our first Bio-Organic French  Intensive Method garden consisted of five beds, each four feet wide, and one bed ten feet wide. All the raised beds were twenty-six feet long, with a two foot path between them. Among the crops planted were: Corn, green snap beans on tripod trellises, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, potatoes, various squash, bell peppers, and tomatoes.

[Photo ca 1982, taken from a ladder: A portion of our Bio-organic, French Intensive garden. We never were able to eat all the vegetables we raised, so frequently gave the extras away to co-workers.]

In our small orchard and vineyard, we planted: three dwarf apple trees, two cherry, two plum, two blueberry bushes, six currents, two Hazelnut, five each Beta and Concord grapes, hundreds of red raspberries and hundreds of Ever bearing and June bearing strawberries. When each tree and bush was planted we added a full wheelbarrow load of rotted cow manure and straw to the hole before refilling. We had spectacular crop success using the Bio-Organic French Intensive Method.

The asparagus bed
(See photo above: The tall wild looking greenery located across the  top, left to center, background is the asparagus bed)
Using shovels and expending a great deal of labor, we dug a five foot wide and twenty foot long by one foot deep hole for an asparagus bed. We shoveled a layer of cow manure into the hole and covered this with a layer of black dirt, added another layer of manure and the top layer of soil.
When the bed was ready to plant, we drove to St. Cloud and bought root stock for one hundred asparagus plants. The individual roots were carefully spaced and each covered with soil.
Over the next couple of years, as asparagus shoots came up in the spring, we added compost, manure from the duck shed and more top soil until the bed was brought up to the level of the surrounding ground.
We allowed the asparagus two years of growth to establish their roots, before we began harvesting shoots. The asparagus bed paid off, providing us with the best tasting fresh vegetables! Over the next few years,  as the early Spring weather warmed, either Donna or I went out to inspect the asparagus patch daily, looking for growth and licking our lips with anticipation.
Fresh asparagus was always cooked and eaten as soon as enough was accumulated for a meal; and those meals frequently included barbequed steak. Hmm Mmm, heavenly!

The Trash Can pit
During late Fall 1980, when we had Butch Chemielewski come out with his back hoe to dig up and turn the garden area soil, we also had him dig a ‘trash can pit’ for the household’s solid, non combustible
waste. The pit was dug in the woods, about thirty feet outside of the proposed  line for our back yard (north) fence. The pit was dug about six feet wide, nine feet long and five feet deep.

Early this spring, Donna and I put a fence up around the pit. When we tossed our first cans and bottles
away, they looked so small compared to the size of the hole, we chuckled and commented that it would take a long, long time to fill with rubbish…and the years passed.
[Photo: The new trash can pit. Used as a landfill for cans, bottles and other non biodegradable, non combustibles. See a picture of the pit in Chapter 2006 when it had become (full) filled with 26 years of family ‘history.’]

In time, the scars created by the backhoe became overgrown with grass, moss, saplings, and flowering wood anemones, everything was covered with leaves that fell every Fall, creating a thin layer of topsoil.

As the pit filled, the weight of the growing refuse column, plus rusting in the lower levels, caused the pile to collapse in upon its self, but slowly we saw the hole becoming more and more ‘shallow’. Eventually, several of the non pressure treated posts rotted away, the fence fell over, the refuse heaped up to become a circular mound contained by the base of the old fence….cans, bottles, tricycles, bicycles, microwave ovens, computers, the jetsam and flotsam of life gathered here in this time capsule of effluent.

The compost bin
During the summer, we built a compost bin to hold the homestead’s raw vegetable garbage, grass clippings, leaves, garden residue, weeds and straw. The composter was comprised of a twelve foot long above ground container made with pressure treated wood. At the corners and every four feet between, we vertically set four inch square pressure treated posts into the ground. The twelve foot long rectangular structure was subdivided into three each four foot square bins, standingthree feet high.

Pressure treated wood planks were nailed along the back and sides, and removable slats were slid into place along the front of each bin, to contain that decaying material.

We filled 2-3 bins per year. Decayed material from one bin was tilled into the garden each spring, another of straw was used for mulch. A third bin, composed of straw and grass clippings were tilled into the garden each fall.

The system worked quite well, by providing a place to get rid of a large quantity of raw organic material in an environment free of hazardous germs and being able to recycle the organics back onto the garden.

Mike and Kay visit
Mike and Kay and their children Joe, David and Laurie flew out from San Bernardino to visit with us between 10-19 July. We picked the family up at the Minneapolis International Airport using both the GMC pickup and Toyota to carry everyone and the luggage home.

Mike, had lived in suburban Los Angeles his entire life, except for four years military service in the US Air Force. Being out in the ‘deep woods’ he was immediately taken with the privacy and natural surroundings afforded our home. Every day during their visit, Mike and I would hike to some part of the property, or wander around the yard discussing in depth the various technologies of gardening, raising livestock, composting, the various types of wildlife, installing a well-drain field- building structures, putting up fencing. We had a great time, it was good visiting with my old friends.

[Photograph facing west: Mike & Kay, David and Joe cautiously inspecting one of Donna’s bee hive frames.
A few months later Donna and I had installed the yard fence that stretched along the edge of the woods in the background and came to the yard gate seen in the photo below.]

Practically every afternoon and into the evening we sat in the back yard chatting, while barbecuing dinner on our red, covered, Weber BBQ. Their son’s, Dave and Joe, explored the woods within view of the house and playing by the pond.
The Air Controllers strike
Between 3-6 August, the US Air Traffic Controllers went on a nationwide strike for higher wages; which they had coming because of the effects of inflation. President Reagan ordered the technicians back to work, but they refused to continue working without either a contract or pay hike. Reagan showed his true colors and sympathies toward the “working man” when a few days later, on Aug 6th, he fired everyone who did not show up for work on the 5th. Twelve thousand Air Traffic Controllers lost their job immediately and the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would hire replacements.

From that date on, the strength of organized unions in the U.S. declined, and Federal support continued to firmly back business at the expense of the worker.

Alexander’s run
Alexander R. Little was an ‘explorer of a bird’. Often, when we’d arise in the morning, we found him roosting on a curtain rod in the living room or above a window in the kitchen, or perhaps just scooting around on the floor. At times, when he was belligerent about going home to his cage at night, we had to close his cage door to keep him in until morning. Usually ‘he had the run of the house’

One afternoon, during the late summer, while we were grilling some meat on the barbecue for our supper, I walked outside with a bowl of barbecue sauce. Now as it so happened, over the last year and a half, I’d become so use to Alexander riding on my shoulder, that I completely forgot that a few minutes earlier, when I went in the house  he landed on my shoulder for a ride. Then going back outdoors to the barbeque, no sooner did I reached the bottom step when I realized Alexander was still riding on my shoulder. As I gasped and slowly turned my head to look at him, he flew off to circle above me.

Alexander had been spending a lot of time sitting on top the front door, just inside the screen looking at all the greenery outside. Now he was outside and free to go where ever he wanted. It didn’t look good from the moment he flew up and circled above the trailer. I called Donna, and we set out following him to a tree about two hundred feet northeast of the trailer. I shinnied up the tall thin oak and coaxed Alexander to hop on my shoulder, but since there were no limbs to hold on to, I was unable to relax my grip on the trunk and try to catch him. Climbing , back down, I called Alexander and offered my finger for him to land on, Alexander swooped down several times, acting like he wanted to land on me, but was in the last instant distracted by his surroundings and flew back to a higher limb. We kept trying to coax him to us until dusk, when he finally flew off into the woods and disappeared.

[Photgraph: An example of the woods on our property. This image take from the side of the driveway looking south, with the yellowish ‘lowland-fen bog’ in the distance.]

A couple nights later we had a light, chilly rain coupled with quite cool temperatures, I don’t suppose the little guy survived; alas, we ever saw Alexander R. Little again. For the next few days I spent some time wandering in a widening circle around where we last saw him, unsucessfully looking for his bright green plumage amongst the litter on the forest floor….

Installation of the homesite perimeter fence
Between 1979 and Fall of 1981, Donna and I frequently worked on the installation of our homesite perimeter fence. Because of the weather and the mosquito problem, we were limited to workingonly  in the early spring and fall.

Before moving the trailer onto the property, we cleared the brush from out proposed fence line and began installing posts. It wasn’t until after we’d actually moved that we were able to come home from work in the late afternoon or run outside right after breakfast in the morning and put in a wood post or two; with quick access to the tools, the fence went up relatively fast.

The nine hundred eighty foot perimeter fence was installed with a east-west width of about two hundred feet and an overall north-south length of three hundred feet. The trailer, garden, orchard were all located in the “upper yard”. Our pond, a shed (built later), and what came to be known as “Snake Flats Wilderness Camping Area” was located in the semi wild “lower yard”. The driveway came into the yard from the west, almost equally bisecting the upper and lower yard.

When we bought the property, we knew nothing about fencing. We borrowed books from the Public library to read, as well as observing how fencing was installed along the local farm fields.

We absorbed a lot of general agricultural technology from the various projects we became involved with around the property.

In order to make our fence line straight we ran a string from a main “corner post” toward the next main support post (separated by no more than one hundred feet) then installed smaller ‘runner posts’ along that line at approximately ten foot intervals.  Usually, I’d wield the post hole digger and pluck out  the top eighteen inches of the hole, then Donna took over to excavate the bottom half foot.

[Photograph: A length of finished fencing on the west side of the homesite, looking north from the driveway at yard entrance. Our Nightstar* sign and eagle are on the tall yard gate post at left.]

It seems that tens of thousands of years ago, a glacier moved across this area and left lots of small stones in passing. These rocks were in every post hole we dug. It was never a simple matter of just digging an easy two foot deep hole. We always hit a good size rock at a depth of about a foot or so and had to pry and dig around to remove it. Most holes also had several smaller rocks, ‘baby rocks’ if you will, accompanying a larger ‘adult rock’. The smaller rocks were simply thrown back in the hole as part of the back fill, the larger rocks were wheelbarrowed to the closest rock pile (down by the pond or next to the (future) compost bin in the back yard).

While Donna held the post upright and level in its hole, I’d carefully back fill soil around the post and begin compacting the soil with the handle end of the sledge hammer. We took turns digging, removing rocks, back filling and compacting. Although we always wore leather gloves, but still, our hands became rough and strong from the work.

When all of a ‘stretch’ fence posts had been installed, between let’s say, a corner of the yard and a gate, we’d lay out a roll of woven wire and secure one end to the corner post and its support. The running
end of the roll was pulled to the gate corner posts where it was secured with a “come-along” and ratcheted tight. The fencing was nailed to the end posts with U-nails then nailed to the runner posts at the proper distance above ground.
Next, we strung a strand of barbed wire at the bottom of the woven wire and three spaced, strands of barbed wire above.
When finished, the fence stood about four feet high. Each season we put in another length of fence and every season the job was closer to being done. Finally, in the fall of 1981 we finished installing the fence and put up the gates.

The fencing materials primarily consisted of:
1) Pressure treated wood: forty seven posts, each six inches diameter by six and a half feet long corner posts ($235.); seventy seven each five inch diameter by six feet long runner posts ($192.); thirty one each four inch diameter brace posts ($54.).

2) Hardware: 4000 feet barbed wire ($74.); 1000 feet of #12 gauge, thirty two inch high welded woven wire ($220.). These prices do not include the cost of our tools, post hole digger, steel U-fencing staples, the come-along, or our many, many hours of strenuous physical labor (love for what we were doing).

What’s on TV tonight?
My favorite programs in 1981.
•  Local Evening News
•  National Evening News
•  Bosom Buddies
•  Private Benjamin
•  Occasional ABC, CBS or NBC evening movies.
•  The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo
•  The Greatest American Her
•  Simon and Simon
•  Magnum P.I.
  Masada, a miniseries.

Movies that Donna and I attended during the year include;
Continental Divide with John Belushi, Blair Brown, Allan Goodwitz, Caril Glynn
Escape From New York with Kurt Russel, Lee Van Cleef, Ernst Borgnine
For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson
Modern Problems with Chevy Chase, Patti D’Arbanville, Nell Carter
Neighbors with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Kathryn Walker, Cathy Moriarty
On Golden Pond with Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman
Outland with Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen
Raiders of the Lost Ark with Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Wolf Kahler, Paul Freeman
Stripes with Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P.J. Soles
Superman II with Christopher Reeves, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp
Tarzan, The Ape Man with Bo Derek, Richard Harris, John Philip Law
The Road Warrior (Mad Max II) with Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence,Vernon Wells
Zorro, The Gay Blade with George Hamilton, Lauren Hutton, Brenda Vaccaro

[1]  John Tilley and Elizabeth Comyngs perished of  the “general sickness” that swept through the small party of pilgrims during their first winter at Plimoth.

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Filed under Autobiography, __4. Little House in the Woods- Beginnings: 1980-1987

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