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.