One More Eclipse?

How was your experience yesterday?

From where we are in Michigan, yesterday’s solar eclipse had about 80% coverage. Leading up to it, I thought that sounded like a lot. I figured it might even get dark, and the livestock could start acting funny. After all, doesn’t the image below look like just a sliver of sun sticking out from behind the moon?

eclipse 2017

As it turned out, the sky simply dimmed a bit and turned a somewhat different color. If you hadn’t known there was an eclipse going on, you never would’ve guessed. My oldest son remarked, “It looks like there’s a weird storm coming in or something.”

Exactly. I kind of expected to hear a tornado siren in the distance.

I guess I should’ve bought some eclipse glasses. I procrastinated on that one, and after the stories came out about defective glasses that were being recalled, I wasn’t sure who I could trust. Besides, I figured the view on TV would be better than what I could get in person.

That was a big mistake. My daughter happened to be visiting someone yesterday who had glasses, and she said the view of the eclipse through them was very cool. And the images on TV? Pretty good, but the people in the zone of totality looked like they were having much more fun — and were much more impressed — than the TV images seemed to justify.

I started thinking … I’d sure like to experience that at least once in my lifetime. When I was about a month shy of my tenth birthday, the 1979 solar eclipse came very close to Seattle, and we had 99%+ coverage — but the skies were overcast, and we missed the best of the show. My memories of it are as hazy as the cloud cover. I seem to remember watching it on TV that morning at home — because I shouted “Totality!” (I loved that word) when that point came. It was a Monday, and I’m not sure why we weren’t at school. Maybe it was an in-service day or something. Or maybe we did have school, and I was watching coverage shot on the Oregon coast or something, before catching the bus. Or maybe we were watching it on TV at school. See how hazy this memory is? I do remember it getting very dark out, and the street lights coming on. But that’s about it.

Fortunately, it looks like the next total solar eclipse, on April 8, 2024, will be reasonably close to where we live. From our farm, we should get about 97% coverage. Pretty good. But looking at the map, it won’t be hard to do better. I’m thinking seriously about making a two and a half hour drive down to Ohio, to get in the center of the band of totality. Someplace between Findlay and Upper Sandusky, at around three in the afternoon, they’ll have around four minutes of total eclipse.

Studying the map and list of upcoming events, it looks like 2024 might be my last, best shot at experiencing a total solar eclipse. I hope we get a clear day (which, in April, in the upper Midwest, is no sure bet). The USA doesn’t get other ones after that until 2044 and 2045, and my chances of experiencing those are slim; not only do they go nowhere near Michigan, but … I’ll be over 75 years old.

It certainly is sobering, realizing that your supply of “somedays,” for the special, once-in-a-lifetime experiences you always thought you’d be able to have…is now dwindling.

I’m starting to think I really need to sit down and write out my personal Bucket List, so I can make sure I do have enough time to get to them all.

Play Ball!

What’s your favorite annual sporting event? Which one gives you the most joy every time it rolls around?

The Super Bowl? The Tour de France? March Madness and the Final Four? The Bowl game to which your alma mater garnered an invite?

While I look forward to all of the above, none is quite as much fun as what’s transpiring right now in the the little town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania: the Little League World Series. If you haven’t been watching, I strongly recommend you give it a try. The various ESPN networks are airing virtually every game, with the especially big Sunday games being shown on ABC. The action runs through next weekend, and there are games scheduled pretty much every day this week.

I first stumbled upon this event many years ago, while scrolling through the cable channels. Who would want to waste time watching a bunch of kids playing baseball? I wondered. They’re not as good as the pros. Why on earth is this even on television?

I changed the channel almost immediately.

Only with time did I realize how mistaken I’d been. A couple of years after first encountering the event, I stumbled upon it again. I’m still not sure why, but I decided to watch for a few innings.

That’s all it took. I was hooked. It’s now “appointment television” for me, and I start thinking about it early in the summer each year.

So, what’s the LLWS? And what’s worthwhile about watching “a bunch of kids playing baseball”?

littleleagueworldseriesday53rcx6mkptn3l Continue reading

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.