Rooster Auction Leads to a Bridge in Alabama, 1919 Edition

You think we have big chicken now? A chicken auction in 1919 in Demopolis, Alabama, ended with pledges of more than 200,000 1919 dollars, in order to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. Not all the money was collected, but it turned out to have been an international effort, involving the US, France, Italy, and the UK. Now that is big chicken.

An issue that President Wilson brought up at the Versailles peace conference that concluded the war to end all wars (sure), was, who wanted to send a rooster to Alabama? The PM’s of France, Italy, and the UK, were all in. The European roosters shipped to DC on a US warship, and the Alabama congressional delegation were there to meet them when they arrived.

Wilson himself donated a rooster, which sold for $44,000. Helen Keller, who is still our most famous person, donated a hen instead. The mastermind behind the whole thing was a farmer from Demopolis named Frank Derby. He had raised $100,000 for the Red Cross in 1917, by auctioning off cattle. He said the idea was ‘to bridge the ‘Bigbee with cocks.’ Maybe not the best word choice.

Word choice or not, the idea worked. The bridge was the last link of a pet project for Wilson, which was a transcontinental road from Savannah to San Diego. The new bridge, that replaced the old one, is still called the Chicken Bridge.

Thanks to various archives and AL.com for this vitally important story. At least the sailors an the warship transporting the chickens woke up on time, every day. They didn’t have much choice.

Great Garden Poems, Part Four–The Garden of Love, by William Blake

Illuminated Manuscript

William Blake loved his small garden in London. In fact, he loved it so much, that when one of his friends visited, he found Blake and Blake’s wife Catherine out in the garden, reciting poetry to each other–buck naked. They were reciting Paradise Lost, with Blake as Adam and Catherine as Eve. They must have been method actors as well.

At any rate, here’s a twelve line version of Paradise Lost.

The Garden of Love

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore. 

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

Blake is also considered by many to be the best English graphic artist, and I would name him as the GOAT English poet. His circle of London radicals included his close friend Thomas Paine, who was also a friend of Mr. Jefferson, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote the revolutionary Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Blake did the illustrations for her earlier book of children’s stories.

This poem is what Russian Formalist critics called condensed language, as it can be unfolded almost forever. And it may well be.

Home Cooking Equals Homemade Meth–in Montana

Meanwhile, back to the department of I wish I could make this stuff up. The following gem about home cooking came from an honest to god US Senator, who apparently misses the days of home cooked meth.

Senator Steve Daines gave the following speech twice this week, so it was no slip of the tongue. Here is an exact quote:

“20 years ago in Montana, meth was homemade – it was home grown. It had purity levels less than 30 percent. Today, the meth that is getting into Montana is Mexican cartel.”

Doesn’t sound much like Neil Young’s song “Homegrown,” so I will quote one of my favorite Reggae songs instead, “Junk Food.” “It was like your Granny’s cooking.”

I think the Senator’s speechwriter is named Walter White. I always suspected that he faked his own death.

One Weird Trick for Growing More Taters, Precious

A Weird Trick Tater

I really could not resist that clickbait headline, but, as usual, I have to de-bunk the gardening experts on the interwebs, who say that you absolutely have to buy certified seed taters, instead of supermarket ones. The trick is knowing what supermarket taters to buy.

It’s really only simple science. Standard commercially grown potatoes are sprayed with a growth retardant to prolong shelf life, namely isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate (CIPC also referred as chlorpropham). It’s actually a herbicide that was introduced in 1951. Pass me the herbicide coated spuds, mom.

No thanks. Certified organic taters sprout like crazy, as in the one pictured above. I took that photo this morning. The only tricks are good soil, compost, and plenty of water–try 9.8″ of rain in the past ten days. In other words, good growing techniques.

You can also Save a Few of those Taters as Seed

This strapping young plant grew from a foot long sprout from a supermarket potato I planted last year. Eight plants came up from a single sprout. Nothing beats free organic taters.

Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time)

Maybe free Asparagus does. This one year plant came from some nice crowns I just bought. All it has to do is get fat and happy over the next couple of years.

I really should get rid of all those bi-colored wild violets in the patch, but they’re blooming now. I guess I’m just a sucker for a pretty flower, and possibly for a pretty face.

Great Garden Poems, Part Three–The Mower against Gardens, by Andrew Marvell

This poem by Marvell is not as famous as the one about the “vegetable love” he had for his coy mistress, but it puts formal gardens in their place. That would be last in line.

The Mower against Gardens

BY ANDREW MARVELL

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,
Did after him the world seduce,
And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,
Where nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclosed within the gardens square
A dead and standing pool of air,
And a more luscious earth for them did knead,
Which stupified them while it fed.
The pink grew then as double as his mind;
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,
And flowers themselves were taught to paint.
The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,
And learned to interline its cheek:
Its onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a meadow sold.
Another world was searched, through oceans new,
To find the Marvel of Peru.
And yet these rarities might be allowed
To man, that sovereign thing and proud,
Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No plant now knew the stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the wild the tame:
That th’ uncertain and adulterate fruit
Might put the palate in dispute.
His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,
Lest any tyrant him outdo.
And in the cherry he does nature vex,
To procreate without a sex.
’Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
While the sweet fields do lie forgot:
Where willing nature does to all dispense
A wild and fragrant innocence:
And fauns and fairies do the meadows till,
More by their presence than their skill.
Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the gardens stand:
But howsoe’er the figures do excel,
The gods themselves with us do dwell.

Now that is how you end a poem.

Great Garden Poems, Part Two–This Compost, By Walt Whitman

I have gardening poems lined up like people trying to get a Covid vaccine, or folks trying to vote in Georgia. Here’s a masterpiece by Walter Whitman, from NY.

This Compost

Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

1

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

2

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
   none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

Now that is a recycling poem. Walt, the GOAT? He gets my vote, though I call a tie between him and Miss Emily Dickinson.

Great Garden Poems, Part One–Down By the Salley Gardens, by William Butler Yeats

A combo/poem song, by the great Irish poet. Enjoy.

Down by the Salley Gardens

Down by the salley gardens
   my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
   with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
   as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
   with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
   my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
   she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
   as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
   and now am full of tears.

No “Rough Beasts” “Slouching toward Bethlehem” in this one, Yeats fans. Just a great song. A superb recording of this song was made by the Irish family group Clannad. You’ll love their lead singer, whose sister happened to be named Enya.

Crudité Dipping Sauce

World’s Smallest Crudite Platter

My lunches are minimal, as I can prove by this dish. I load up on the other two meals, and this is a chance to eat healthy. However, I still like a sauce that has a good amount of fat in it.

Sweet Sour Hot Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon whole grain Mustard

1 tablespoon Honey

1 teaspoon white wine Vinegar

Pinch of Salt

Sriracha, or other hot sauce, to taste

You can up the quantities as much as you like. I make my own mustard, and should also make my own mayo, as I finally learned how. Creole mustard would be an excellent substitute for homemade, though the basic recipe for making it is readily available. This is also a choose your own veg deal.

MJ has been known to yell “vegetarian” at me when she sees this spread. Not likely–I’m the one who grinds the meat, and makes the burgers.

In Praise of Gas Stoves

Bertha!

I fell in love with gas stoves with our first one, which we named “Bertha,” because of the fact that she was probably too big to be moved out of the house we bought. This was in the wild lands of southern Alabama, in Pike county, which had a total population of 14,000 people (many of them students at the University where I worked,) and a literacy rate of fifty percent. In a county like that, cooking ranked as the top form of entertainment.

This stove was made by Home Comfort, and it had two ovens, and a warming chamber. One oven was propane, the other wood fired–not a combo we wanted. Therefore, cogito ergo sum, we never used the wood fired oven. The stove itself sucked down propane like nobody’s business. We had to order propane right after we moved in, and the propane delivery guy was a typical character who could have come out of a Walker Percy novel. He handed us his business card, and his professional name was–Slim Dicks.

Recently, having been rusticated for a year now, my chief form of entertainment has been reading the cooking “experts” on the interwebs. Their latest talking point is about how bad gas stoves are for the environment, and that we should all switch to sweet thing electric stoves. We learned in Physic 102 that the least efficient thing you could do with electricity was generate heat. Then there is this, from al.com:

“Alabama Power’s James H. Miller Jr. plant in Jefferson County is once again the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, according to an environmental policy non-profit organization.

According to the report, the Miller plant produced nearly 19 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 – equivalent to more than half of the electricity generated by all of the power plants in California.”

Have a nice warm summer. Welcome to the real coal burning world.

Bertha up Close

Our current gas stove, strangely enough, was made in a Unionized factory right across the river from where Bertha was made. It’s a Premier Pro, and we bought it for two reasons: It was Union made, and most importantly, can run completely without electricity. Not only does Alabama Power pollute like nobody’s business, they also can’t be relied on to keep the lights on.

Bertha Jr, with the same Tea Kettle as Bertha Sr

This is a fine piece of equipment–A simmering burner, and three flame throwers. The oven will hit almost 600 degrees–I burned out the clock above the top on it, experimenting. We have used the cooktop so much we burned out three of the four piezo lighters. Melanie Jane found the following ingenious gadget on the interwebs. I think I like it more than the piezo lighters.

Come on Baby, Light my Fire

That’s an Arc lighter, that works off of a USB charged battery, so I can recharge it with one of my solar generators. Alabama Power charges a fee to people who admit to having solar panels attached to their house (seriously), so I have this to say about that–my panels are not attached to my house. However, the top question on Amazon about this arc lighter is–can I light a bowl with this?

Young people these days. You light a bowl with a Zippo lighter. Everybody knows that. While I don’t smoke, I inhaled enough second hand Cannabis smoke at the honors dorm at UA to give me lung cancer. Which brings me to the best prank I have ever witnessed.

My best friend was 100% Hungarian, as his parents were both born in Hungary, in Budapest. I asked George if they were born in Buda or Pest, and he was amazed that I knew it was originally two cities, separated by the blue Danube. I told him I just knew stuff.

At any rate, George’s problem was that he was 6′ 7″ tall, and our dorm had been a women’s dorm, and the doorways were only 6′ 6″ tall. It was a problem for his forehead.

George could pull some pranks off with perfection. He showed up one day with a huge bag of seeds, which he claimed he found in his dorm room closet. Not likely, as it was all cannabis seeds.

He had a plan–we were right behind the President’s mansion, which was one of the I think four structures that survived the Civil War (UA is almost as old as UVA, the first US public University). The rest of the campus was burned down by Union troops, who started by burning the Library. That’s always the best way to restore trust in Democracy, with a good book burning.

At any rate, he decided to sow all the weed seed around the President’s mansion, and our President happened to have been a member of Tricky Dick’s presidential cabinet. I offered to help, but he insisted that it was a one man op.

A month later, the largest group of gardeners I had ever seen came in for a massive weeding job. It took them days to get rid of all the weed plants. We laughed the whole time.

George went on to Columbia Law, and became editor of their Law Review. I went to Illinois, and both my schools have a chance at the NCAA basketball title this year. Fight, Illini, and Roll, Tide, Roll! Hopefully, we will meet in the title game.

Catfish Skinner

You Think You have Problems?

I probably gained my PhD by telling a story about catfish. This is a little convoluted, but it involves an organic farmer, an Auburn student, my dissertation director, who had not allowed any of her students to graduate in 23 years, and a galvanized tub full of catfish. I really like a good fried catfish.

So we found ourselves in central Illinois, at the beautiful University of Illinois, where we were surrounded by literally hundreds of thousands of acres of some of the finest farmland in the world. It really is farm heaven. UI paid me ten grand to go there, with a University fellowship, so there is that also. When MJ went to the financial aid office, they looked at her transcript, and said, “How many scholarships do you want?” She graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

My fellow grad students thought I was insane when I said I was asking Dean —- to be my Dissertation director. She was infamous for her denying student’s dissertations, and degrees. I just said that nothing can stop a charming Southern farm boy. It didn’t hurt that she was the general editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, which is something of a good thing to have on your CV..

At any rate, there was a good deal of tension between us, as I am something of a stubborn farm boy as well. I strategically decided to let her make all the big decisions about my dissertation, while I insisted on making the ones that actually mattered. Then I met the organic farmer, an old hippy, at the Urbana Farmer’s Market.

He was the coolest dude I had ever seen. He had the good fortune to inherit an enormous farm right out side of Urbana, and chose to turn the whole thing organic. His vegetables were some of the best I had ever eaten. We became friends as soon as he found out I had grown up on a farm. Then his brother came back for the summer, from Auburn U. in Alabama. Enter the catfish.

I asked the old hippy why his brother had gone to Auburn, instead of UI or Cornell, which are probably the best Ag schools in the country, and he said that he had gone there to study aquaculture. He wanted to introduce catfish farming to Illinois. I did my best to not laugh.

I didn’t know that the joke was going to be on me. One Saturday, right after the brother came back from Auburn, I found that they had a giant galvanized tub full of catfish–live catfish. Once again, I tried not to laugh, but the old hippy said he and his brother had to go do something, and left me to run the booth, and deal with the locals, as I had sold produce since the age of six. He told me to push the catfish.

The punters were fascinated by the tub of catfish, but none were ever going to buy any. One finally asked me:

Punter: “What are those?”

Me: “Catfish”

Punter: “What do you do with them?”

Me: “You could make them pets, but most people fry them and eat them.”

Punter: “How do you do that? Do you fry them whole?”

Me: “Well, you normally clean them, and then fry them.”

By now a crowd had assembled, to hear this combination interrogation/ lecture.

Punter: “How do you clean them?”

Me: “The best way is to cut through their spine right behind the head, and kill them. Then you nail them to a wall, like a barn wall, through the head, and skin them. You don’t scale them, you skin them with a pair of pliers. Don’t forget to take out the guts first.” The whole crowd went “ewwwww.”

Punter: “Can you just nail them to the barn while they are still alive?”

Me: “You can, but they’ll grunt at you while you’re doing it.” The crowd thought that was really funny.

We all had a good laugh, and as expected, nobody bought a live catfish.

Then I turned around, and there was my Dissertation Director, in her PJ’s, robe. and fuzzy slippers. She lived across the street from the farmer’s market. She had obviously heard my entire lecture, as she had an abject look of horror in her eyes. She had to be thinking, what kind of barbarian have they sent me? A guy who nails fish to a wall?

I just smiled at her, and kept selling veg.

After that, things were different. She took my side during the preliminary exams, after one of the members turned out to be a total hole. She also took my side during my dissertation defense after another prof questioned my main tenet. So after 25 years, she finally allowed someone to graduate.

Thank you, catfish.