Doubling Down

Despite a tremendous outcry of protest over the last week and a half, the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council has confirmed and doubled down on the decision to move forward with new Fourth Degree uniforms.

According to the K of C website, the board made the decision because of:

the aging of our Fourth Degree membership, the slow growth of the fourth Degree, (fewer than 20 percent of Knights are Fourth Degree members, and only a fraction of that number even serve as honor guards), and consistent reports that the old regalia presented a barrier to Fourth Degree membership, especially among younger men.

Further down, they say:

For years, supreme officers and directors have received comments from members and prospective members that the old regalia was a barrier to membership overall, or to membership in the Fourth Degree.

Of course they have. I’m sure they’ve received all kinds of comments, from all kinds of people. But as someone who has been a professional public opinion researcher for over twenty-five years, I’m not convinced by anecdotes. Everyone in my line of work remembers what that one focus group participant in Omaha (or wherever) told us that one time.

The question is: Where are the numbers? What kinds of comments have they received or solicited from current members? How many of those members joined precisely because of the traditional regalia? And let’s not forget another important group: what does the average Catholic in the pew think about the traditional uniforms, and the proposed new ones?

There’s a more fundamental question that’s not being asked, however: Why is the Color Corps disproportionately composed of older men? This question is critical for understanding why it will be so difficult to grow the ranks with younger recruits. And you don’t need survey data to answer it. Continue reading

Color Me Stunned

Well, I didn’t see that coming.

Last week, at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced a major change to the Order’s uniform for the Fourth Degree. For decades, our official uniform has been a black tuxedo, a white ruffled shirt, and French cuffs. Note, in addition, the red-white-and-blue social baldric. Here I am, with my son, when we joined the Fourth Degree last year:

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A relatively small subset of Fourth Degree Knights also serve in the Color Corps — the most visible portion of the Order. You’ll see us as honor guards at funerals and other important Masses (especially when a bishop is presiding), in parades, and at other events where we want to lend special dignity. On top of the base tuxedo uniform, CC regalia includes white gloves, a cape, chapeau (the feathered cap), and a service baldric (which holds the sword) replaces the social baldric:

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Jackson (MI) Rose Parade, June, 2017

When a Fourth Degree honor guard processes into a church ahead of the priest (or bishop), swords drawn and at attention, you know something very special is happening.

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Going forward, K of C Supreme says, the cape and chapeau will be retired, and the official uniform will look like this:

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From the Knights Gear website:

The official dress uniform (Official Navy Blue Blazer, Official Fourth Degree Gray trousers, Official Fourth Degree Necktie, and Official Fourth Degree Black Beret with Fourth Degree metal badge) is purchased as a set.  Individual items are not for sale at this time.

The garments of the official dress are tailored in Italy.  The fabric used for both blazers and pants is woven in Italy specifically for the Knights of Columbus from a high quality super 130 wool.    The blazer buttons are made in Italy. The KofC blazer patches are completely hand embroidered.  The tie is Italian silk, but made in the USA.

Once you receive the uniform, please take it to your tailor for professional finishing.  Trousers come with an unfinished hem.

When I first saw this announcement, on social media, I thought it had to be a joke or a parody piece from The Onion. Ironically, in the days since, it has in fact become the basis for biting satire in the Catholic version of The Onion.

Reactions on social media have been overwhelmingly negative, especially when intensity is taken into account. It seems Supreme was as blindsided by this negative reaction as those of us in the Color Corps were by the announcement itself.

Supreme was looking for a way to energize the Fourth Degree — and they’ve done so. Just not in the way they were intending. I’ve never seen my brother Knights rally together so vocally as they have in reaction to this announcement.

The stated intention is to make the Color Corps more attractive to young men, who supposedly find the traditional regalia off-putting. I’ll believe that when I see a scientific, random-sample survey of the membership, rather than the handful of anecdotes offered so far.

But let’s grant for a moment that the new uniform is more popular with young Knights than the traditional regalia is. I would argue that it doesn’t matter. For at least several years, the new uniform would actually significantly depress Color Corps participation. The reason is simple: coming up with $510 (plus the cost of final fitting, and plus a dress shirt), for a super-high-quality Italian wool suit, is beyond the reach of many young people (not to mention the retirees on fixed incomes).

But … but … but … doesn’t the traditional regalia cost just as much? And don’t you also have to buy a tuxedo, in addition to the roughly $500 for a traditional regalia package? Continue reading

Crime Comes Home

Crime rates out here in the country are so much lower than in the cities, we barely even worry about being victimized. Unlike some, we do lock our doors at night or when we’re going to be gone for a bit. We’ve generally done so more out of habit than out of fear.

That changed this weekend.

I’m not sure how I slept through it, but at about 4am on Sunday morning, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer was awakened by the sound of a helicopter circling the area. It was shining a spotlight, and it hovered for a pretty long time. When she told me about it after I got up, she said it sounded like a military helicopter. My first thought was that the National Guard must be doing some kind of nightime exercises.

A few minutes later, I was browsing Facebook, and noticed that several people had posted to our little town’s News page overnight. Everyone was wondering what the helicopter and commotion were about. Turns out, it was the police; they were chasing a fugitive. A couple of people who lived right near the incident posted that they’d seen it happen, and had spoken with the cops.

Piecing together their stories, and news accounts, I got a rough idea as to the situation. Early Sunday morning, a man with a long criminal record was caught after stealing something from a Sam’s Club lot in Jackson (about 20-25 minutes from us). He got into an altercation with the arresting officers, injured one of them, and fled the scene. Officers from many surrounding jurisdictions, including the Michigan State Police, joined the chase northbound. The surface street he chose is a good long one — but it terminates in a T at the road we live on, just a quarter mile from us.

Instead of turning onto our road, he kept right on going into the cornfield. He ditched the car, and disappeared into the tall corn. In addition to the helicopter, the police also combed the area with K9 units (maybe even the one that nearly outran our tandem earlier this summer). As of the time I was reading these reports, the police had left — but the suspect had not been caught.

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Doesn’t look like he even slowed down when he came to the cornfield at the end of the road.

My first thought was: could this guy have taken shelter in our barn? I hadn’t noticed anything when I’d gone out at 6:30am to do my chores, but maybe I’d overlooked something. Or maybe he even arrived at the barn after I finished feeding the sheep. My daughter was about to go milk the goats, and I knew one thing: I wasn’t taking any chances.

I have a Concealed Pistol License (CPL), and carry a handgun with me at virtually all times. It’s now such a regular part of getting dressed in the morning, I don’t feel “complete” without feeling its weight in the IWB holster against my hip. Sometimes I’ve questioned whether it’s really necessary to carry as I go about my routine on the farm. As of yesterday morning, I will never ask that question again. I shudder at the thought of what could’ve happened if the fugitive had been hiding in our barn — and I’d left my carry piece in the house.

Before allowing my daughter to milk the goats, I returned to the barn with my full-size Springfield XD Tactical .45 pistol — this time, unholstered and drawn. I carefully inspected every nook and cranny of the building. Once I was satisfied it was clear, I gave my daughter the green light to milk.

As an aside: Yes, I do use that huge pistol as my everyday carry (EDC) piece. I originally bought it, many years ago, for home defense and to dispatch predators; it has an accessory rail, to which a tactical light can be easily mounted. The long barrel and heavy weight made it a really nice shooter, and I liked the high-capacity magazines. We were in Illinois at the time, and concealed carry wasn’t even an option; it was the only state that didn’t issue permits at all. Once we moved to Michigan, and I got a CPL, I tried a series of small pistols for EDC. I didn’t like the way any of them shot. I hated practicing with them. Then I got a crazy idea: why not try carrying the XD? I discovered Crossbreed Holsters had some excellent IWB kydex options, so I ordered one. Their “Supertuck” model was so comfortable, and carried the big XD so nicely, I quickly forgot I was even wearing it. It now goes with me everywhere it’s legal to carry.

Back to our story. With the fugitive still on the loose, we were nervous about leaving home for church (and then visiting family for the afternoon). We locked one dog in my office, and left the other outside with the run of our fenced yard. We closed and locked all the windows, and put a car in a prominent place in the driveway. Should the criminal come by our place, I hoped this would convince him to keep moving.

All day long, I monitored the local news sites. Every updated report said the fugitive was still at large. Ugh.

When we arrived home, everything seemed fine. No doors or windows had been tampered with. However, not wanting to take any chances, I again unholstered the XD and did a thorough sweep of the barn. Satisfied it was clear, we did our chores and got the goats milked again.

Later that evening, we finally got a report that the fugitive had indeed been apprehended. Turns out, he was out on parole; that would explain why he went to such lengths to avoid capture this weekend for what was a relatively minor offense.

I slept well last night, knowing we didn’t have a fugitive at large in the woods behind our property.

One of the best parts about living in the country is we are seldom threatened by crime. (Note, when Mrs Yeoman Farmer mentioned the helicopter to me, “fugitive manhunt” didn’t even cross my mind.) However, the problem is, when we are indeed threatened by crime … the police are generally a long ways away. I guess I’ve always had a theoretical understanding that we’re “on our own” to protect ourselves out here. That theoretical understanding is now a much more practical reality. We really are on our own here, and threats really can come from anywhere.

As for me … I’ve renewed my resolve to always be ready, and to never leave my EDC piece behind.

Backyard Ewe

Twelve is old for a sheep. We’ve had just a few of them survive to that age, and they seldom last much longer — but we’ve got one now who’s intent on seeing how far she can get.

Licorice, a black ewe, is easily the oldest animal on our farm; she turned twelve this April. She arrived in just the third of our lambing seasons, and she’s the last surviving lamb we have from Dot, our flock matriarch (who died in 2011, just days after her own twelfth birthday). Licorice has the distinction of being one of only two remaining animals which made the move with us from Illinois at the end of 2007.

As special of an animal as she is, we have no illusions about keeping Licorice over the coming winter. It’ll be hard to do, but we will definitely have her butchered this fall; it just wouldn’t be right to try to make her go through another winter in the condition she’s in.

Her biggest problem is that she’s lost most of her eyesight. If she were a person, she’d be classified as “legally blind.” Even so, she gets around remarkably well. She keeps her head lowered most of the time, and sort of feels her way along by evaluating what her horns bump into. Coming back from the pasture, when she comes to a fence, she feels her way along it until she finds the gate. Then she walks slowly in the direction of the barn … until she runs into it. Then she feels her way along the barn until she finds the open door. And then she comes in with the rest of the flock. In the morning, she does the reverse to go out to pasture. It’s actually kind of fun to watch.

The challenge is that the mid-summer pasture is now getting pretty well picked over. The sheep are having to look harder for good stuff out there … and our legally-blind grande dame is having an especially tough time doing so.

Our backyard is a different story. We’re leaving some sections with good clover unmowed, and there’s also an abundance of leafy weeds like burdock around the edges of the yard. Best of all: our apple tree has been dropping quite a few windfalls lately. For a sheep, this is a wonderful smorgasbord feast. What we usually do is bring the entire flock to the backyard for a time (perhaps 15 minutes or so), and let them hit it hard.

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Then, before the flock can move on to destroying the flower beds or grape vines, we move most of them out to pasture.

Licorice, however, gets to stay for the rest of the day. This would not be possible with any other sheep: they usually get agitated when separated from the rest of the flock, or when they realize the rest of the flock has wandered away. They start bellowing, and look to see where everyone else has gone. Not Licorice. She’s way past caring. She just grazes along her oblivious way, feeling with her mouth from one delicacy to another until it’s time to just sit down and ruminate for awhile. Then she’ll get up and do it all again.

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I do go out and check on her from time to time, and we make sure she has a bucket of water (and that she knows how to find it). And we do bring her back to the barn each night, so she can be with the rest of the flock.

Here’s hoping that this will all be enough to pull Licorice through to October. It’ll certainly be a little sad taking her to the butcher, but satisfying to see her “go the distance” — and to know that we’re sparing her the final rigor of a Michigan winter.

In the meantime, we’re enjoying watching her enjoy the backyard feast!

Burdock Time

What’s a weed, and what’s a resource? On our property, we have a plant that’s both: burdock. It grows everywhere around here. Through most of the spring, it develops lots of broad leaves and just looks kind of ugly.

It’s not until the arrival of summer that burdock becomes more of a problem: as it goes to seed, it develops lots of burs. Toward the end of summer, as the reproductive cycle completes itself, these burs get quite large and dry and pull off the plant easily. They cling to anything, especially any article of clothing, that even brushes against them.

The sheep and goats love eating burdock leaves — but god forbid the sheep get into a patch of mature burdock toward the end of summer. Their wool will be jammed full of burs, all of which will have to be removed before the wool can be processed. Something similar happens to the goats: their “beards” will get so loaded with burs, it can become one solid mass (not to mention the stray burs that cling to the rest of their coats).

This isn’t usually an issue. The sheep and goats instantly mow down any burdock plants that might sprout in their pasture; the tender young leaves are among their favorite treats. So, we never get mature burdock out in the pasture. However, there are lots of burdock plants growing elsewhere in the yard — especially behind my office, or along the edge of the hay field. If the sheep or goats happen to get loose in the yard, or if we want to turn them loose in the yard (supervised) to eat weeds, disaster can easily ensue.

The burdock seed heads are just now beginning to develop, which has gotten me thinking about this issue. It’s also led me to get out the pruning shears, and go on a massive burdock hunt. Over the last week or two, I’ve taken down several large stands of the stuff. The sheep see me lugging armloads of it toward the pasture, and word spreads quickly. They come running, and soon the whole flock is feasting as I toss the cut plants over the fence.

I got most of the big stands right before the seed heads began showing. In the last few days, as the nascent burs are beginning to become evident, my burdock hunt has taken on a greater urgency.

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Yesterday, and into this morning, I’ve been lopping off every last burdock plant I can find. It’s not necessary to take down the entire plant — just the primary, central portion. I don’t mind if some of the leaves growing from the bottom portion of the stalk remain. When we turn the sheep loose in the yard next week, the flock will gladly finish these leaves off.

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While I was at it, I took down a few other leafy weeds. Before long, I had a nice pile of fresh green stuff for the sheep and goats. Given how picked-over their pastures have become, they mobbed me as I came with this enormous armload.

Pile of burdock

It’s may be a cliche to say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But here on the farm, it’s true beyond a doubt that one man’s weeds are a ruminant’s feast.

Greatest Chase

For an avid cyclist, country life beats city life hands down. The roads are wide open, have little traffic, and there are virtually no stop signs or lights. The few times I’ve visited big cities and rented bikes, I’ve come home with an even greater appreciation for country roads.

However, there is one downside to riding in the country: dogs. We tend to have a lot more of them running loose, and even those “invisible fences” don’t always work. We’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where every loose dog lives along our favorite routes, and are usually prepared for the inevitable chases. It’s usually not a big deal at all. The dog gallops along, barking, making a big show of ensuring you exit his personal territory as quickly as possible. As soon as you reach his invisible border line, he breaks off the chase and trots home. It’s virtually always more theater than genuine threat.

Last night, we had a very different experience. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one.

My seven-year-old son and I were out for a nice, easy, evening ride on our tandem. Just pedaling along, enjoying a wonderful rural road, canopy of trees overhead. I was somewhat familiar with this road, but hadn’t ridden it in a long time. I chose it for our tandem ride in part because it was especially isolated and low-traffic.

About a half-mile down this particular rode, we came upon a run-down house, with four State Police vehicles parked in front of it. Cops everywhere. My first thought was “meth lab,” but there was no hazmat team. More likely, they’d tracked a fugitive to the house. I commented to my son that there sure were a lot of police cars there, and somebody dangerous was probably inside. We smiled and nodded at a young state trooper, and kept cruising along at about 15 MPH.

We pedaled on for a bit, everything seemingly normal. I heard and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I got an uneasy feeling. Something told me to look over my shoulder; in retrospect, I’m sure it was my guardian angel (and my son’s). Lo and behold, a huge dog was closing in on us like a heat-seeking missile. He immediately struck me as different from the typical “country dog” who’s just making a show of escorting us through his territory. For starters, he wasn’t barking. He was just running, and doing so with a sense of singular purpose. The way he was looking at us, and the intensity of the way he carried himself, he appeared to be a deadly serious professional. He wasn’t going to quit until he’d taken us down.

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Stock photo. No, I didn’t take this picture from the bike.

I noticed something else that was different from the typical country dog: he was dragging a leash. That’s when I put two and two together, and realized this must’ve been an escaped police dog. He’d somehow confused me for the fugitive, and broken away. This dog actually had the skills and training to take me (and my seven year old) down hard. And that really scared the hell out of me.

Behind the dog, I could see a blue police car already joining the chase, but I doubted the cop could call the dog off in time. My son and I were on our own. I stomped on the pedals, and cranked like our lives depended on it. Problem is, it’s not easy accelerating a tandem with a young kid on the back; his power-to-weight ratio just hasn’t developed enough to be of much help. Still, thanks to a crazy adrenaline rush, I managed to get up to about 29 MPH, all the while glancing back. The dog closed to just behind our rear wheel, and was in the middle of the street, looking like he was trying to find a way to strike.

Fortunately, the police car was closing in as well. He was blowing his horn wildly over the PA speakers, doing everything he could to get the dog to break off the chase. As the dog got a bit winded, I was eventually able to pull away a little, and it looked like the cop pulled his car in front of the dog to cut him off.

I glanced back a couple of times, to make sure everything was contained, but otherwise hightailed it out of there and went straight home.

We never did find out what all the police activity was about. Coincidentally, just as we reached our driveway (several miles away, along a more major feeder route), the first couple of state police vehicles came cruising past. I thought about flagging one of them down, and asking if they’d caught whoever they’d been trying to catch — and, more importantly, how in the world they’d let that dog get loose.

But I supposed it didn’t matter, and it wasn’t worth raising a ruckus about. We’d made it home safely, and my son and I got some excitement we’ll never forget. This was definitely a dog chase for the books.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

The longer we live on the farm, the more we learn the truth of certain expressions and cliches. In this case: you really do have to make hay while the sun shines. If the stuff gets rained on after it’s been mowed and allowed to dry in the field, you’re at serious risk of losing the whole cutting. You may be able to flip it over and let it dry again, but if you rake it too many times it may begin to crumble. And if the rainy weather continues for too long, the whole thing could rot in the field.

It’s really remarkable just how many people have been bringing in hay around here the last couple of weeks. The weather has been nearly perfect for it, and we’ve seen one field after another get cut, raked, baled, and hauled. On our long bicycle rides on quiet country roads, my daughter and I have had front row seats to the action. And I must say: there are few aromas as wonderful as that of freshly-cut alfalfa, drying in a field.

Our hay field is only about four and a half acres. When we have a year of good harvests, it supplies enough for our sheep and goats to make it through the winter. When the harvests haven’t been so great, we’ve had to buy some additional hay from others. And sometimes, we’ve bought some additional hay just for our own peace of mind; you really can’t have too much of it, and the worst time to fall short is in the dead of winter.

The best time to make a purchase is immediately after harvest, when loaded hay wagons are coming out of the fields. The farmer can then deliver it straight to your own barn, without having to unload it into his own barn (and then load it back up again at some later date). And the best way to learn of farmers who have some extra hay they’d like to sell straight off the wagon? Word of mouth. Put the word out that you’re looking for a hundred bales, and you’ll learn of someone who’d be happy to supply it.

Fortunately, it looks like we won’t be having to make any purchases this year. Our field was overdue for fertilizer, which we finally got applied this spring. Our local grain elevator / feed store contracts with a laboratory to test soil, so we submitted a sample from our hay field (drawn from many small test holes dug all over it). The report came back with recommendations, which we were of course able to buy from the same local grain elevator. We had a local farmer apply those tons of fertilizer using a spreader pulled behind his tractor.

That same farmer is the person we’ve hired to do our hay since we moved here. For an operation as small as ours, it hasn’t made sense to buy our own tractor and haying equipment — not to mention the time and practice it would take to learn how to use that equipment properly. It’s a classic example of the value of the division of labor. It makes much more sense for us to hire someone who’s already invested in that equipment, and who has years of experience providing this service for other small farmers in the area.

Back to the fertilizer: it really did its job. We got an explosion of growth, and the grass was thick on the ground after our guy cut it late last week. He returned to rake and flip it, and with the hot weather it didn’t take long to dry.

But what about the final piece of the puzzle? We still needed to get the hay baled and brought into the barn. Neither he nor we like to do work of any kind on Sundays, but this time it didn’t look like we had much of a choice. He had another field that absolutely had to be baled on Monday. I had a commitment for work, with a hard deadline, on Tuesday (today). That left Wednesday — but the forecast was calling for rain before then.

Sunday it would have to be. He came by very early in the morning, before church, to rake the hay one more time. Then, in mid-afternoon, he returned with everything needed to bale it. He and an assistant drove the tractor and piled bales on the hay wagon, then towed it into the upstairs portion of our barn. While the three oldest Yeoman Farm Children and I stacked all those bales, he and his assistant returned to the field to begin loading another wagon. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Hay harvest

Bringing in hay is among the toughest jobs on a farm. The bales are heavy and scratchy, usually have to be hefted high into place for storage (note the stack in the photo above reaches higher than the basketball hoop), and almost by definition this all has to be done while it’s really hot outside. When we finally got the last of the 330 bales put up, just ahead of the sun sinking into the horizon, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and satisfaction. It’s one of the most thorough and gratifying feelings of exhaustion a person can experience. And, of course, there’s nothing quite as nice as going out the next morning and looking out on a perfectly clean field, illuminated by the rising sun, and remembering that it’s all finished. At least until the next cutting, later this summer.

Clean field

As much as I dislike having to do this kind of hard work on Sundays, I suppose the experience did bring one benefit: it helped me appreciate the degree to which Sunday has become a true “day of rest” for us to enjoy with family. The first several years we were married, we didn’t really treat Sunday much differently than Saturday (other than going to church). Then, after a time of reading and discernment, we realized that we needed to make a radical change. Due much to the initiative of Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, we “took back” Sunday for the family. Unless there were some truly urgent necessity, there would be no shopping. No professional work for my clients. No garden work. No butchering animals. No other hard work around the farm. It has been incredibly liberating, and brought tremendous good for our family. Having to disrupt that routine this weekend, to bring the hay in while the sun was shining, reminded me what a treasure the rest of our Sundays are.