Seize The Day

Seize the Day

Regular readers of the N-News know I always have a pile of books I’m working my way through. Some are oriented towards tractors, motors and biographies of people involved in these areas.

But I also read with the goal of finding some deeper meaning, both philosophical and aesthetic. Sometimes it’s possible to glimpse those goals through the books I review in the magazine, such as the two black and white photo books of barns in this issue, which offer a sense of place and history.

This past quarter, I have been spending time reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by author and surgeon Atul Gawande. If you haven’t heard of him, I encourage you to seek out some of his writing or look for his TED talk online.

Gawande has contributed many articles for The New Yorker and Slate magazines and he has written several highly acclaimed books on the problems and challenges of modern medicine. His ideas about providing compassionate and sensible care resonate in an age of high tech, impersonal and dollar-driven healthcare.

Being Mortal is a beautifully written (and at times, entertaining) look at how we “do” the end of life in the United States. He explores the decisions we make (along with our doctors and families) and how they can undermine or enhance the quality of our lives when life is most precious. Gawande describes his own journey with aging parents who are faced with functional and medical challenges in the last years of life.

carpe diemAlthough the subject matter is sobering, the take away is positive. You do have some control over how you live the end of your life and this time can be especially meaningful. It requires thinking about what is important and planning for care and treatment that is in line with those values.

Through books like Being Mortal, I find something else happens, too – my perspective changes. I get a slightly different view of what my world and what my life looks like. I find new reasons to indulge my fascinations – tinkering with old Ford tractors or vintage motorcycles, growing garlic, gardening, doing personal artwork and maintaining (and growing) friendships.

For me, it is within those subjects I can find a straightforward simplicity, a kind of calm happiness in achieving something to a deeper level than I previously thought possible. A greater understanding of an engine, a better crop or a deeper sense of our relationships is what we have.

Carpe diem.

Think Like a Multifunction Tool

Think Like a Multifunction Tool

A mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer and a software engineer were driving down the road in an older car. The car was moving down the road just fine, when all of a sudden, it bucked and stalled. The mechanical engineer said, “I know what’s wrong. It’s obviously the carburetor.” The electrical engineer said, “No. It has something to do with the ignition system.” Then the software engineer said, “Hey, lets just try getting out of the car and then try getting in again.”

multifunction toolMy neighbor and local physics/vintage motorcycle/cat guru, Richard Barsotti, sent me that joke. He had gotten it from a vintage motorcycle friend. I really enjoyed this one because I was able to find humor on multiple levels.

The obvious part is making fun of the software engineer and his simple solution of “restarting” the car a la computer. But this joke works on another level as well, a way that might be a more directly related to real life. We all can’t help but frame problems (and their solutions) in the context with which we are most familiar.

I have dealt with the distributor, rotor, points, condenser and wires on my 8N more times than I care to admit. I know those parts and how they work. I could take the cap off and touch up the points with my eyes closed. (Well, maybe not with my eyes CLOSED, but you get the idea.)

When the 8N won’t start, I almost always go to check the ignition system first. (I will also say, the way the tractor stops running or the way it won’t start also informs my thinking as well.)

But I had a problem with it a few years ago and I couldn’t track it down until my uncle Gerard (founder of this magazine) asked me if I had checked the key switch. He told a story about having a problem back in the late 1970s similar to what I was experiencing and how an old timer (back then) at a Ford dealer told him to replace the key switch. Well, that was the problem this time as well. The key switch had failed. The engine was cranking, but there was no power going to the ignition circuit, so it seemed like the tractor should start, but there was no spark.

Obviously, you could check for a spark and if there isn’t one, you start with the part most directly involved and work backwards from there. Without the tip from my uncle, it would have taken me a lot longer to get to the key switch.

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I guess the trick is to look at the world (and your tractor) through the eyes of a multifunction tool.

On the Seat & In Your Head

On the Seat & In Your Head There is something about driving a tractor that is so similar to riding a motorcycle it is uncanny. Obviously it isn’t speed or that feeling of the wind in your hair. Nor is it about the physics of counter steering or leaning into a corner. But there is something there in the “non-thinking” aspect of both endeavors. When I am running the mower on the tractor, or more recently cultivating the garlic with the 861 a few months ago, I am not actively thinking about anything. I am purely in that moment. I am observing where the front wheels are, glancing over my shoulder to watch the discs cut through the earth, focusing … Continue reading

Machine Age Patina and the Orbit of Attraction

There is something about the aesthetic of machine age objects that enchants many of us – a humanistic element or perhaps a beautiful simplicity. It would be easy to forget that the culture of the late 19th and early 20th century promoted the concept of machines replacing man and animal in doing work. When seen from our perspective now, industrial design of that period (say, 1900-1960) looks amazingly elegant. With its smoothness, its “form-follows-function” simplicity and its straight forward conception, nearly anything could have a sense of awe and inspired grace – including the Heathkit condenser tester from the January issue. Add the patina of age, and you have a formula that culminates with a directness of design, and in … Continue reading

Richard Barsotti’s Ford Truck

My neighbor Richard restores vintage motorcycles. Harleys, Nortons and Triumphs have come through the shop. Even more Vincents and BMWs have graced the doors of Wasted Spark Motorcycle. (www.wastedspark.com)The owners hope to get their bikes back to factory specs and Richard is the man for the job. Fifteen years ago, Richard decided he wanted a vintage pickup truck – something to cruise around in when he needed to move more than he could carry on a motorcycle. Continue reading

How Could I Help?

“How Could I Help?” Perhaps the four nicest words you could ever hear. It is that simple. My youngest daughter is about to become a teenager. She has been exhibiting the signs of teenage hood for a while; eye-rolling, exasperation, a general unwillingness to do any of the family chores. You know the story. But a few weeks ago I saw the positive signs as well, the light on the other side of the tunnel. She saw I was struggling to get the next issue of the magazine done, keep on top of the fast-growing late spring lawn, plant the garden and maintain the garlic plots (and the long list of other distractions) and she said, “How could I help?” … Continue reading

Equinox & Mud – Spring 2014 Editorial

 Equinox & Mud For whatever reason, I have always looked upon spring and autumn as transitional seasons. Of course, they represent a demarcation in a cyclical solar event, our trip around the sun every year. We just passed the point at which the earth is half way towards its opposite solstice, the longest day of the year, June 21th . (The other is the shortest day of the year December 21st). The spring (or vernal) equinox, March 20th and the autumn equinox, September 22rd, are the two days a year when the sun is directly over the equator, meaning both the northern and southern hemispheres have the same day length. It feels spring and autumn are the most volatile of … Continue reading

My Eyes and My Stomach – January 2014

The holidays can be difficult for me. I feel bombarded by an overabundance of great food, pressure to meet the expectations of the kids and family, getting the homestead ready for winter, all the while trying finishing the January issue of N-News. Sometimes, I just want to escape and go read a book by the wood stove. It is hard enough to find the time to do that, and harder still to decide what I  should be reading. Now that the holidays are behind us, we have the coldest months of the year ahead. (Well, with the exception of the handful of you in the southern hemisphere.) The axis of the earth is starting to slowly come back around and … Continue reading

Simplicity And Acceptance

If only life was as straight forward as trying to get your tractor to start. With the tractor, there are just a few primary things you need: fuel, air and spark. If you have these in adequate supply, you move to a secondary line of thinking, “How’s the timing and fuel mixture?” With enough time and effort (and parts), you will get your tractor started. Living a life well, is much more complex. There are so many variables, most falling into the gray areas, and few seem black and white. Growing garlic (or any crop) is somewhere in the middle. If you plant your seeds properly, conditions are right and you weed it on a semi-regular basis, chances are, you … Continue reading

Rhubarb & Waiting

Every year, the rhubarb is the first thing to really explode out of the garden. And it keeps growing all summer long-it even chokes out the bishop’s weed that grows all around it, but can’t survive under its massive leaves. This year, on the first unofficial summer weekend (Memorial Day) it snowed in central Vermont. In fact, if your place was above 1600ft, you got 2-4 inches. Good thing we didn’t have the tomatoes and basil in the garden yet. But the rhubarb just didn’t care. It sent out more stalks, laughing at the frozen precipitation and the strawberries shivering down to their roots. But rhubarb, for all of its exuberance, is not one of my favorites in the garden. … Continue reading