wild turkeys in the mist

On-the-Fly Farms Update #6

September, 2004

Greetings from Bridgman, Michigan, home to the burgeoning tomato

hornworm population, and the aroma of roasting coffee emanating from

the Bean Boss, a standard American grill retooled to turn a big steel

drum full of five pounds of green coffee beans.

You know the old adage, about when you are starting a radical retreat

center and anarchist-oriented organic farm and you are sending out

periodic updates, you should mix up the tone of those updates from

time to time? Yeah, that old adage. Well, Update #6 exposes

the unseamly side of Chicory Center and On-the-Fly Farms, and

to some degree touches upon issues of class and race. To protect the

innocent (yours truly), let's just say that some of the details below

are, um, 'fictional.'

So it was a late Friday afternoon early in September, the sun was

shimmering through the hundred-year old trees around the house and

barn, and I was out in the garage roasting coffee in the Bean Boss

and the Aerorost roasters. Listening to Springsteen's 1973 album The

Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle blaring from the tinny

broken speakers in my little white car backed up to the garage with

the hatchback open. I lazed around on the couches in the garage

living room setting, brushing the spiders off now and again,

listening for the first crackle of the beans. Drinking Wild Turkey

101, I was relaxing from another week of maybe 80 hours of work, a

pause before the weekend's work of harvesting produce to deliver to

the city and a dozen visitors.

Somehow that early Springsteen, like some of the more recent

Springsteen (Ghost of Tom Joad, title taken from Steinbeck's saga

about the Depression-era Oklahoma dustbowl), is like a salve for

tired muscles. Where The Doors at the time sang of surreal collegiate

angst a la Nietzsche, Springsteen brought a working-class perspective

alongside an equally surreal vision. And

sang of workers' struggles not just as an observer, but as a

participant with a vision that included radical dock workers and

Black Panthers conspiring "to someday own the rodeo" ("Does This Bus

Stop at 82nd Street?" from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.).

That rodeo reference reminded me of the bonafide cowboys who show up

on Saturday mornings at the nearby Schmaltzes' farm, which is where

we get the steer shit that will become next week's tomato. On a

recent Saturday, the cowboy Johnny walked around with his arms

crossed, bleary-eyed at 8 a.m. We loaded my pickup truck with a

mountain of manure, a pitchfork full thumping against the rear window

now and again, and standing atop that mountain that smelt of fine

Turkish tobacco, it looked like a big mechanical camel, with truck as

body and steer shit for a hump. I jumped down and asked Johnny, who

was not a big talker, how much shit he thought that was. He squinted

his eyes, furrowed his brow, the works, and after a while said "I'd

say about a ton and a half."

Unclear on the math because I was pretty bleary too, I did realize

that one and a half tons is more than 3/4 tons, the capacity of the

truck, so I said to Johnny, "Do you think that's too much for the


Johnny sauntered round to the side of the truck again, thought for a

minute, looked, squinted, the works, then said, "So long as the wheel

wells ain't touchin' the wheels, you'll be alright."

Another cowboy got there. He and Johnny stood next to each other,

sort of wondering who I was, what I was about, I suppose. Silent for

awhile, expressionless, they began to speak in short sentences, very

oblique, and only minutes after each utterance did I realize, they

were saying these hilarious jokes and puns, just at a real slow pace,

almost undetected.

In a song called "Lost in the Flood," also from Asbury Park, Bruce

Springsteen sings of a very particular madness sweeping through the

streets of the U.S. in the early '70s, at the height of the Vietnam

war and Nixon's domestic War on the Poor. A Black veteran returns to

Jersey, starts racing Sundays in a Chevy stock super eight, "while

everybody's wrecked on Main Street from drinking unholy blood."

Empty, desolate, revered, Jimmy the Saint rides off into the horizon

in a race, crashes into that violent tide sweeping this violent land,

smashing his car, his body, his life.

Faulkner-like, the song jump shifts to the point of view of an

onlooker, whose poverty tells him to look for parts of the wreck,

"but there's nothin' left that you could sell/just junk all across

the horizon, a real highwayman's farewell. And I said 'Hey kid, you

think that's oil? Man, that ain't oil that's blood,'" a

prognostication of the wars the U.S. government has visited now on an

increasing number of countries.

So I am thinking about all that as I listen to the roasters turn

those Zapatista coffee beans, thinking about the drag racing we did

out on the bypass around South Bend, Indiana back in the day,

thinking about this 1977 monster 3/4 ton pickup truck sitting in

front of me, and notice that the temperature has plummeted inside the

Bean Boss; Fuck! gotta get to the gas station two miles away and

exchange the propone tank in a hurry, so those beans don't wreck. I

jump into the little white car, and race downtown, and just as I am

about to turn in to the gas station, the trooper behind me turns on

his flashing lights. I think, man, this is really going to slow

things down; I breathe heavily to try to get some of the Wild Turkey

aroma to dissipate [remember, parts of this are 'fictional'].

The trooper asks for my license and registration, and I'm still

listening to Bruce and directing the flow of my breath downwards, and

now I am also thinking of the song "Mister State Trooper" from the

Nebraska album. I sit there facing the glaring sun, glancing in my

mirror at the cop, wishing he'd pick up the pace. After five minutes,

he brings my license back, says "Do you know your brake light is

out?" I say, "I had no idea, I'll fix that first thing in the

morning, thanks, bye." Off he goes, off I go to get the propane.

Aware that if I'd been Driving While Black, things might not have

gone so smoothly, I feel a combination of anger and relief. What is a

privilege ought to be a right.

I zip back home, and hook up the propane and fire up the Bean Boss

and the beans are saved from destruction, and my mind turns to

Springsteen's late '70s Darkness on the Edge of Town album. My

thought process is so literal sometimes, maybe my mind turned simply

because this farm is on the Edge of Town, and as the sun was setting

there was an increasing Darkness. Who can say.

Backing the car up to the garage, I opened the trunk to hear the

tinny speakers, and the tape flipped to the other side. A fan of

bizarre juxtapositions, the other side of the Springsteen tape is Don

Cherry, the trumpet player who made his name initially in Ornette

Coleman's wild, unprecedented late '50s free jazz experiments, a

music that appears intimately linked with the growing consciousness

of the need for action against racial oppression, and the need for

new voices, new structures of thought and struggle. A prognostication

of the civil and human rights uprisings soon to follow.

The Wild Turkey flew a bit more into my mouth and down through my

veins. I'd spent some time that morning communing with this family of

wild turkeys, real birds, out in the next field over. For some reason

the turkeys didn't realize I was a real person (meaning, A REAL

THREAT; there's A LOT of guns out here, including assault weapons [or

'menacing-looking weapons,' as the gun shop owners prefer to call

them]), and I crouched low to the ground. The baby turkeys

now-turning-adolescent continued to peck at the ground around me,

ever closer. They have different personalities. Their bland dishwater

gray-brown colorings are changing into the brilliant colors of the

mature turkey, with fire-engine red cheeks and ten shades of purple

spreading across their rumps and backs. Maybe they thought I was a

scarecrow or something, I don't know why. I decided to scare them

off, for if they get too used to being around us who hold menacing

weapons, they will likely get shot down this fall.

The coffee roasting continued into the night, and the Wild Turkey

continued to crack off the intensity of the week's work like chaff

from a roasting coffee bean, and friends from Stone Soup South pulled

up sometime, and we roasted beans and played guitars and trumpets and

a melodica named 'pianica,' and a bat came and flew around the garage

living room and I didn't even scream. And I think that if I had a

religion it would be to gather people together for food, song, and


If I had to tie things up in a conclusion to this Update #6, I would

say something about innocence, hunger, wildness, and violence.

Something about the innocence of youth and the hunger for experience

and for life and freedom, the hunger for a world free of torture and

abuse, innocence and hunger which if we keep them alive and healthy

keep us young even though chronologically aging. Wildness is

something I see in nature all round, including human nature if we let

it, and that wildness does not have to continue to devolve into the

violence that is so much a part of the history of this continent for

a bit over 500 years now. Clearly we live in a time where our choices

about how to live and what to do and how to abolish the shackles of

race, class, and gender, the works, are vitally important.

Well I'll fire this off before I turn editor. So long from Bridgman,

Michigan, 15 miles from Benton Harbor.

Food, song, dance; and action.