Two Years 📆

Here’s that same photograph of the bungalow and front shed from two years ago, around the time of closing on this 5.84 acres near Craigs Mountain, on the Pilot side of Montgomery County in December 2021.

Heaps have happened in the two years since closing on 2537 Rosemary Road, a closing that signed off two years ago today. To mark the anniversary, I thought I may as well attempt a short rewind, recollect some of the moments and fragments:

  • The biggest of upgrades so far amount to attic foam and crawlspace encapsulation. There are fewer mice (two in 2023) and no snakes on record in the attic, and the crawlspace is no longer exposed dirt. It is lit, sealed in plastic, and fitted with a remote hygrometer, so that from the up-above we can monitor conditions in the down-below. Without crawling under there. The next biggest of upgrades are the front shed foundation waterproofing and the back shed attic critter mitigation. The front shed would run rivulets of water after rain storms, so we found someone who would excavate below grade, inlay gravel and drain tile, and refill. It still needs better landscaping; recent rains have led to settling in a few spots. But the garage floor is dry (and coated, too, on the inside with Drylock), the foundation effectively patched, tarred, re-sealed. As for the back shed attic, we found someone who would pull the abundance of chewed insulation, squirrels nests, and black snake skins, and who would then block gappy edges with hardware cloth. The job was difficult, and the results were uneven. One squirrel was trapped, so we had to undo the hardware cloth, let him escape, then put the mesh back. And the backside hardware cloth was so poorly done that I spent a day on the roof in October reworking it, repairing the repair, so to speak, and buttoning things down so there is no abovehead critter activity and, although rustic, the meshed eaves don’t call attention to themselves.
  • There was a load of slate rocks for the side shed, and lots of clean-up there, too. Eventually, with the cleanout and painting of the upper shed, we ordered a haul-off, though that, too, ended up being over-priced. The market here is damned tricky when it comes to getting bids on things that can then be punctually and professionally executed. Our projects are peanuts-scale compared to the mcmansion mimeography happening on the other side of the county. And, fair is fair: there is beaucoup contractor payload to be made nearer to Blacksburg, whereas we’re out here on the quiet end of a dirt road and without all of that engineering and computer science money to really vie for priority. Description, not complaint.
  • The Wonder Hollow Six, a mixed flock, have been among the highlights of 2023. Chickens are free ranging here and loving it, though they do sometimes wander to distances and places we’d prefer they avoid, like the middle of the dirt road (Fluffy’s favorite spot, lately) and the foot of our nearest neighbors’ tree, where they will scratch until interrupted. Two planting cycles have in the garden taught us much about what stands to thrive, how to manage insects, watering schedules, and so on. This past summer was excellent on the front end, but iffy and eventually bug food on the tail end.
  • A couple of days ago we hosted an arborist for an hour-long consultation, walked the holler and noted a few of the trees: the massive white oak that sends acorns aplenty down the right of way, the catawba whose trunk is hollow and see-through yet it regreens and fruits as if all is fine and good, the pair of black walnuts nearest the house that have been pollarded like a bad haircut but that are healthy otherwise, pending some touch-ups, the cedar who is crowded by a few tree of heaven saplings that will soon be cut out, the various ornamental redbuds and dogwoods and witch hazels, and the massive stand of mature white pines that will, in the next 50 years, topple or suffer disease or die standing up or all of the above and in any order.
  • The black walnut in front is, if we estimate by trunk diameter times three, somewhere between 75-90 years old. Might’ve been a sapling when the house was built in 1948 (easy to remember because that’s the same year my mom was born in Ogemaw County, Mich.). And although the trunk has a weeping spot, it is solid and appears to be healthy to an arborist’s eye. He also spotted a vertical seam that suggested a crisis on the order of a lightning strike, a vehicle strike, or a life-threatening hard freeze at some point along the close-to-a-century it has witnessed.
  • The to-do list is still long and pricey. We’ve made repairs to the control switch for the pump, but the pump is old, and the water system would do well to be upgraded and have filtration added. I drink from the tap, and we get the water tested, but hard water corrodes lines and stains metal surfaces like faucets and sinks. The roofing and siding is 25 years old and aging. The roofs of the back shed and small addition to the front shed need cool seal or tar recoating, respectively. I’ve made strides in the front shed to replace missing insulation and to fit openings where wallboard was missing for who knows why. The electrical all checks out, and with any luck, if I can get my day job to cooperate, I’ll be able to get the rest of the front shed interior into shape so it will be more hospitable to mycology, the worm farm, and a small workstation where I can spot up for writing sessions or for working on the Wonder Hollow Six micro-documentary.
  • In these two years, we’ve learned a lot about infrastructure, too. The Verizon copper network did disappoint, as the land line was as likely to spit static as to connect for audible phone calls. Adding to that, HughesNet was terrible, too, in that the signal was intermittent at best. We’re on Starlink now, and it’s solidly consistent, yielding only to occasional lapses in quality, usually due to cloud cover. The DIY in-ground irrigation system sprung a leak last summer, as well, which meant no water feeding to the back shed or the midyard spigot. With the foundation repair we ripped that half of the system all the way out, figuring above ground hoses are adequate and another solution will eventually come around. We also bidded out a couple three minisplits, and although the units are under 2k apiece, the bids came in between $13k and $17k, and for that price we can no thank-you and instead get a couple of nice sweatshirts and long johns for holding heat in those spaces. The out buildings all have heat, and we can probably update the window AC units if absolutely necessary, even though we don’t have a clear or consistent need for that right now. I’m still thinking about a mini-split in the Moon House, but it isn’t today’s problem.
  • The day job I mentioned has also been the site of spirited flux in the two years we’ve lived out this way. I was administering the writing program, but the fevers were rising heat and no breaks (seriously, the midnight enrollment panic emails from an asst. dean in July were too too much), so I decided it best and necessary to step back, salve to the comb, like we do with the chickens when one of them gets pecked at more than they deserve. English Departments I’ve worked in have tended to be corrosive like volunteering for gout. Wonder Hollow has been a quiet and slow offset to workside flare-ups, and time will tell what is next, though I only know it has to involve more self-set reading and writing rhythms, more walks and swimming, better boundaries from the all-hours emails about unnecessary crises, and stepping back from corrosive forces like back-biting, or suspicion, or sniping, and so on.
  • By the end of year three, I hope to have the bloom room fruiting mushrooms well enough to learn about the local farmers’ markets. I’d like to get the rest of the rocks from the excavation work into place along the creek. Plant some red buds and learn to propagate from cuttings some of the dogwoods and witch hazel. Do better to harvest and freeze the baby bok choy in June. Plant a deep purple lilac near the front shed. And some bamboo, just enough for what we hear is a great playground for the chickens. Mightcould stack a Davinci bridge over the diverter pond. Get a 3.5 gallon cauldron for Big Soup get-togethers. Green house dreams. Al fresco meditation platform at mossy ledge. Sunflower patch. Asparagus and rhubarb, too. Outdoor pizza kitchen, crafted so as not to entice the family of bears to visit unwelcomed. Wood stove for front shed. List goes on.

Crawl 🌊

One-Off Non Series #00 “Qua Jogger.”

Two or three times a week, I switch into trunks, throw duffel over one shoulder, and drive to the Christiansburg Aquatic Center for an hour in the lap pool. The facility bears all the markers of an overlapping space, a latticed blend, parts Christiansburg point of municipal pride and parts Virginia Tech swim and dive venue, signposted with various logos, insignia, counts of olympians, and clock-kept swim records. Lap reservations sort of require Signup Genius sign-ups; I say “sort of” because they also admit walk-ins, and on weekends, especially Sundays when the pool lanes are toggled from widths to lengths, the walk-ins can outnumber the reservation-makers. Smelt run. Scheduling sinks to a point of more swimmers than lanes, turns out. It’s only happened to me once: make a reservation but there are no splashways to splish, even two to a lane, and the best I could get was a “not my problem” shrug from the lifeguard and a “we’ll make note of it” from the front desk. Better luck next time. But like I said, that happened only once.

I am not much of a swimmer in that stylistically my priorities are to stay afloat and move around. I have a cap and goggles, so maybe once costumed I look like I should be able to do more than tadpole awkwardly. These shoulders are uncooperative for overhead strokes. I can do it. Two surgeries in 1995 wag their finger, and there will be rotator cuff paybacks for days. Pain. By this I mean pain. Nighttime numbness. Searing hot immobility of the type that leaves me flustered and wondering how to get things down from high shelves, like breakfast oats, or pants-on and socks-on myself…get dressed. Instead, once in the water, I crawl, letting form and pattern crossovern chimera-like between frog-style and dog-style with the unaesthetic low standard of Rule One and Only One: an airway must be finding air. A markerboard near the door reports the water temp as a few tenths of a degree warmer than 80F, and then I carry out the starfish question, “How slowly can I swim?” This translates to calm, measured crawl, a focus on the breath and on patterned movement, a gravity-modified moving meditation.

Considering the past 18 months have included what at times have been excruciating, plans-changing lower lumbar back pain, the cool movement and reduced gravity have made stretching and strengthening again seem possible. The worst of the wincing intensities have, for the most part, subsided, and although there are pain body reminders and close calls, swimming has helped. Sometime in July we splurged on the gear for aquajogging simply for a change of pace, and the assorted webgloves and foam flotilla lend variety to an hour of crawled laps. I have found a routine I quite like, down and backs with high knees crossing over, slalom or barrel-stepping, simple jogging, unicycle patterns, Detroit Hustle, and so on. Gentler is the wayfinding that gives up on speed.

Without concluding too grandly–no cartwheels from the high dive, I note the practice because it has become a buoyant ritual, grounding not in the terroir underfoot sense but instead because it resets something like biotemporal anchorage, inducing a kind of be here now interval that quiets the senses (not quite to the point of lights out silenced sensory deprivation), buffering for a few breath cycles the weight of the world, laminar clearings amidst turbulence.

Oblongs ⭕️

Coordinating via email: Zoom call, Saturday brewery meet-up, another eventual meeting (please send in your every availability for the week of the 27th); trail of comments on research projects; only a few per day; skim social media, which for me is limited to Instagram and Facebook; sometimes I hear people call these “insta” or “the book” and I want to be the sort of suspenseful 1974-borne who pauses accounts cicada-like going back underground for the next seventeen years1The shutdown tempts me, yet I remain, in part because the peripherality is manageable and not as much of an attention succubus as it once was.. Hold on the dog is barking hold on. Okay I’m back. The dog is ‘O’ but I sometimes jokingly call him ‘Y’ and also sometimes ‘sister,’ like ‘Z’ back home, but these are private jokes between us and there is no laughing only blank looks. A dry humor. Warming up keystrokes, warming up to Healthy Back series on Back Exercises App, which I have done 137 times this year for not quite 40 hours, stronger but the healing interventions have been happy baby and five minute intervals twice daily sprawled on foam neck and back stretcher, a spiky half moon that arrived with no instructions and whose guiding diagrams online are inconsistent, sometimes with the sharp curve up head-side and other times tail-side2Knocking on wood, after more than a year of physical therapy and seriously debilitating intervals of back pain, I have not felt any such pain in one week. Pack your bag of tortures, homo dolores!. There is no laughing only blank looks.

Earlier this fall Han’s Non-Things invited us into a distinction between biopolitics and psychopolitics3We read Non-Things in ENGL6344: Rhetoric in Digital Environments as lead-up to How to Do Nothing.. I don’t have the book closeby here in Michigan, but I recall that the distinction suggested an era of biopolitics, even as it continues, has ceded primacy to an era of psychopolitics whose machinations are principally digital, playing out in the circuitry of endless streams, clickbait, outrage, enclaving, context-collapsed post-truth entropy, willful parasitism, attentional complicity, and expansive sociocultural zombie drool. When we jumped next to Jenny Odell’s case for bioregionalism, the prefixes began for me to phosphoresce, and, out of that phosphorescence emerged questions about psychoregionalism (the states of mind patterned in a sited, terrestrial surround). And then with Kristin Arola’s argument for and demonstration of a land-based digital rhetoric, which sets up a layering of semiosphere, or semiotic-rhetorical orders, and biospheres, or organic-biotic orders, the prefixes dominoed again, leading next to a triptych of sorts, with semiosphere, biosphere, and psychosphere. The spheres are more or less congruous, non-neat shapes that align and overlap, or don’t. More oblongs than circles. To recast them as heuristic would be to consider them as hues with chromatic weights, then to notice which is drawn down and which is amplified in a given scenario. An arc across the weeks this semester has been to care for each of these spheres both as they were rendered by authors, but also in terms of what reshuffles into the front channel when one is dialed up and the other is dialed down. Within the context of digital rhetoric, the semiosphere (closely matched with the so-called infosphere, arguably, which suffers the exuberance of dataists) is whizzing and buzzing, but the bio- and psychospheres are mined, predated upon, ignored, and even obliterated. Granting a record of harm, then, a justice turn for digital rhetoric (and its corresponding disciplinary namesakes) shifts reparative, setting out to heal, to repair, to mend. And there is much more to say about this; for now I wanted only to note the spheres/oblongs as taking hold among the gauges; to check with these is to feel the broken world, and to carry on attuned to its tolling gravities.


  • 1
    The shutdown tempts me, yet I remain, in part because the peripherality is manageable and not as much of an attention succubus as it once was.
  • 2
    Knocking on wood, after more than a year of physical therapy and seriously debilitating intervals of back pain, I have not felt any such pain in one week. Pack your bag of tortures, homo dolores!
  • 3
    We read Non-Things in ENGL6344: Rhetoric in Digital Environments as lead-up to How to Do Nothing.

Like Swamps 🟪

Lingering carryover from ENGL6344, a discussion in class eight days ago when I listed 62 quotations onto slides, divvied us into groups, and went about crumb-pathing (what we called zurückverfolgen, or “trace back,” in homage to this set of readings before they were translated into English). Our zurückverfolgen had an emoji-tagging instruction built in, so each trio, in effect, copied-pasted a square next to a line they wished for us to witness together, and every team had five emoji-tags to place.

To demo the zurückverfolgen, I placed a 🟪 next to a line from p. 58, in a section called “The Magic of Things” in Non-Things. It turned out like this: 🟪 “Like swamps the world” (NT, 58). Who among social media users hasn’t waded into the like swamps until the high boot brims were breached?

Han extends like-swamping from Roland Barthes’ studium and what he called its “unary” quality; studium is that quickly reconcilable, in-common field of visual confirmation, sort of obvious in that sense that without too much back and forth, many viewers would nod, yep, I see that, too. Yep, I like that, too. And that. And that. The lukewarm-affirmation symbol, a tiny-handed thumbs-up rises almost to the status of a new letter of every alphabet, iconic, corporeal-ish, cross-culturally nimble, a phatic stamp that with each next usage more dully than before signals, “I was here.”

But likes are not flat, and their seeming flatness betrays conviviality. They withhold any affective topography, absent color-coding to ROYGBIV a many-hued heart. Wednesday’s ten FB likes are Thursday’s seven; Thursday’s three Insta hearts are Friday’s four. It’s that flat-stillness of the swamp that has held on, faintly haunting, perhaps because its only shoreline is behind us, back in 2007 before the muck zucked in, before we were so twitterpated with shiny devices. Without conclusion, it’s one lingering line, noted. But it’s a note with a smooth, small wishstone skipped bip-bip-bip-bip-bip implicitly for another shoreline, an elsewhere not so dully, predictably like swamped.

What’s the Word? 🧮

For a few years, maybe more, I have at times in my teaching practice opened a class session with a round of “What’s the Word.” “What’s the Word” is a segment from ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, a sports talk show featuring broadcast journalists Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and, when one of the two of them is traveling or vacationing or otherwise unavailable, a substitute counterpart who balances the exchange and the screenspace. For 30 minutes in the 5 o’clock hour out east, the show is led along with a ticker-tape and marked by time intervals; clock-keeping governs the otherwise spirited dialogue. This clip will give you an idea:

It’s a toss-up whether students in classes I teach know the show or have any frame of reference for the premise. We watch the video, and proceed thereafter, usually with some solo word-whatsing, which then gets transferred to a marker board or Google Slide, and after this, we read them, and we talk about our neologisms, puns, and coinages. It’s not as if streamers and confetti fly from overhead, but it’s usually fun to play with words.

“What’s the Word” can with brevity open and span worlds1Similar to Thich Nhat Hanh on mantras, which are magical (or rhetorical) for how they can instantly transform reality., querying how the week is going, how a project (or some dimension of it) is unfolding, or how a reading resonates or fails to resonate, what instigates a click or a eureka. It sits in a single class meeting, so it’s not quite ENGL1999: Writing One Word, which I have (only half) jokingly pitched as a prototype for self-set minimalisms with labor and workload. “What’s the Word” fits into the discursive-unitroscope, which runs from the small to the large, and these measures include the Four Word Funk Review (variation on Four Word Film Review from back-back in the day), Fives, or lists of five what’ve-you-gots that then play into ranking and re-ranking, sharing out, writing rationales, and so on, and Nineties, which are a micro-genre adapted from Berlant & Stewart’s The Hundreds, and which amount to 90-word clips, give or take five words, that can, if they must, jump to the next multiple of 90. In other wordcounts, 85-95 is permissible, but above 95 the writer has to take it to 175-185, and below 85, it’s not a ninety because that’s where the cork edge of the dart board ends and you’ve dinged the drywall. I’m two years along in fairly routinely layering nineties into my teaching practice, and the results have been positive enough to continue, sometimes prompted, sometimes unprompted. I have yet to incorporate the indexing moves that elevate The Hundreds from distinctive and memorable to a book I consider truly one of a kind. Could be that’s what the future is for.

I’m thinking about “What’s The Word” this afternoon because we’re reading the first 28 pages of Han’s Non-Things for Monday evening, a book, which, in itself and in translation blooms a terminological cornucopia. We’ll have just an hour on Zoom for discussing the opening section, before we switch to open review of in-progress blog carnival entries. “What’s the Word” seems to me right-sized for the hour, for sorting out de-fleeification, or digitombed rhetorics, or smart-phoniness, or like-iod addiction.


  • 1
    Similar to Thich Nhat Hanh on mantras, which are magical (or rhetorical) for how they can instantly transform reality.

A Different Temporal Politics 🔭

Lightly pressed, zig-zagging, and non-confident is the line I want to ever so cautiously draw to distinguish the sort of informatizing that 1) engluts the “inforg” from the sort that 2) revitalizes familial, cultural, and community shards, enshrouding them with metadata and re-siting them for a while maybe longer (if max-accessibly, or openly, all the better). In Non-Things, Han writes “This terrestrial order is today being replaced by the digital order. The digital order de-reifies the world by informatizing it” (1). The short book goes on to deliver on this premise. “Inforg”, according to Han, comes off the bench, subbing in for Dasein. And we humans are changed; for me, Han’s language—his theory made as art—pointilates felt senses, impressions, and hunches that have visited. I want to scrawl that line between 1) and 2) above because the informatizing, as much as it fuels estrangement from the terrestrial realm (Are those kids outside playing soccer I hear? No.), we still have rhetorical non-things (e.g., memories) that may be informatizing while at once mediating many of the human effects Han also values: community, sited culture, and old things. Thus, I am making sense of Non-Things with full acknowledgement that, yes, for the most part, material culture is losing the hold it once held; but, with this, there do seem to be at least a few exceptions (archives, languages, artifacts, recipes, etc.). Perhaps informatizing is nevertheless a seductive postponement, or a kind of rain delay; gones still go gone, but at a slower clip. Not tooooodaaaaay, inforg. Not today.

Time again! On page 7, Han writes, “Everything that stabilizes human life is time-consuming. Faithfulness, bonding, and commitment are time-consuming practices. The decay of stabilizing temporal architectures, including rituals, makes life unstable. The stabilization of life would require a different temporal politics” (7).

I have not yet read Adrian Little’s book, Temporal Politics, though the table of contents has me nodding with curiosity. And that I was re-reading Han for class while Jenni Odell’s Saving Time sat on the couch next to me—a book I’ve only just begun—suggests I have more work to do with fanning out this idea of temporal politics, reading more on the heels of others who have built upon or with this idea. In consideration of first principles, I associate it with a cosmological tension we discussed in ENGL6344: Rhetoric in Digital Environments a couple of weeks ago: Do you conceive of time as a line? A circle? Or both? And it reminds me, too, of the U.S. voter suppression efforts that have shifted from redistricting and gerrymandering as a spatial phenomenon to, in recent years, a temporal phenomenon (i.e., gerrymandering time as yet another push to discourage certain kinds of voting). As a third arrow, I considered who do we know whose temporal politics is already different. Besides yogis and ghosts and chickens, I don’t feel especially sure. Cicadas, black walnuts, crows, earthworms1I pose this casually and playfully but don’t mean for it to be flippant. Here I am not wanting to take nematode politics far, but celebrate these kin whose living burials, growth layers, and durative patterns are refreshingly mysterious.. There are plenty of examples of time figuring into politics (the deeply gray prospect of octogenarian presidential candidates, lifetime appointments for supreme court justices, the dinky leadership terms in low-level orgs like condo associations, boards of supervisors, and higher ed admins, and so on). I mention this not to plant a flag in the matter but instead to wonder aloud, to write, an intransitive verb.

Recast with discplinary prefixtures, the passage from Han also surprises with a dismount of a different, potentially also-heavy, gravity: “Everything that stabilizes [disciplinary] life is time-consuming. Faithfulness, bonding, and commitment are time-consuming practices. The decay of stabilizing temporal [disciplinary] architectures, including rituals, makes [disciplinary] life unstable. The stabilization of [disciplinary] life would require a different temporal politics” (7). List decays. Note gones. This is [disciplinary] living.

I set out, above all, to underscore just how personally appealing is this different temporal politics. I like the idea. I’m already learning how, listening to the seasons, senses halved, senses doubled, groundward and skyward.


  • 1
    I pose this casually and playfully but don’t mean for it to be flippant. Here I am not wanting to take nematode politics far, but celebrate these kin whose living burials, growth layers, and durative patterns are refreshingly mysterious.

Keyhole, Threshold, Breach 🗝️

Han’s Hyperculture ends with

The human of the future will most likely not be crossing thresholds, his face contorted in pain. The human of the future will be a tourist, smiling serenely. Should we not welcome that human as homo liber? Or should we rather, following Heidegger or Handke, remain a homo dolores, petrified into a threshold? In his Phantasien der Wiederholung, Handke writes:

When you feel the pain of thresholds, then you are not a tourist; the crossing is possible.

Hyperculture, p. 83

Oh, there in the how-long-from-now human future, these threshold-crossers, their dispositions, their expressions. Are they in pain? Are they joyful? Are they free? Are they sorrowful? Are we them, and they us? Hyperculture, published in German in 2005, then in English in 2022, hints at cultural accelerationism, and I truly have not resolved how I feel about that. Like, it’s going this way, so let us cut out the lollygagging. I admire, and also sympathize with, the sorrowful threshold-crosser more than with the tourist, perhaps because I have known them, or have believed sites harbor something not available in the same ways with the hyper-/siteless. Something elemental.

I suspect I’m not the only one.

And yet. The serenely smiling tourist, being-in-the-whizzing-flatlands-or-whatever, maybe is more carefree-casual than free, per se, liber leaving room for nuances, and maybe the smile, then, is from the prevailing winds at sea combined with flacid risorious muscles. “It looked like a smile.” And, too, smiles have been known from time to time to shield sorrows. I don’t know. I am not looking for trouble. But sitting with the puzzle, Han’s questions, and enjoying the time they take to think through—this puzzlement is its own kind of tourism, I suppose.

With this point about the sorrow known by threshold crossers, Mieville’s The City and Eht Ytic (2009) comes to mind, and especially the contingencies and strangely doubled boundaries of cross-hatched zones (notably not contact zones, despite their co-occupancy and shared coordinates) and the breach, who are able to exist across the dimensions. With cross-hatching and the breach, I am more or less satisfied with these models for a both-and response to Han’s questions: yes, to the tourist smiling serenely, but yes, also, to the sorrowful capacity of the human who still carries a key to a home that is no longer, or whose shoes carry imprints of pebbles underfoot whenever ago. The both-and, liberdolores, the breach, in an indefinitely cross-hatched and continuously redistricted world makes for a more interesting human, and a more openly possible future.

Five-Sixths 🥚

Figure 1. The five eggs delivered and collected on Sunday, September 10. First egg was August 18 (credit to Cinnabon, a cinnamon queen). 🤎🤎🤎🤎🩵

Today’s five eggs confirm that five of the six hens are laying; until today, we had thought the number was four. Egg laying is, given the coop’s nesting box and roost area configurations, a private event, though it is common for one hen to stay in the run, to abide a sisterly and supportive-appearing proximity to the layer for the duration of laying.

The eggs referred us back to the Rural King labeling on the day we purchased the chicks, April 19, because we had thought we purchased two cinnamon queens, two black sex-links, a buff brahma, and a calico princess. As Bitumen and Lightfoot (who now also goes by Lightning, because she is the fastest to exit scene for the deep woods any time a predatory threat presents itself) have matured, their plumage and personalities have distinguished them, especially the brown RBG-like “dissent collar” on Bitumen, and the pearl-hued ears on Lightfootning. We are not entirely sure whether or not Bitumen or Fluffy Foot (the buff brahma) is the last to lay, but we suspect it is Bitumen. And with this comes some genealogical suspense, in that the eggshell hues thus far have suggested Bitumen and Lightfoot are different breeds after all.

Bitumen bears out all of the features and mannerisms of a black sex-link, and particularly the Black Copper Marans rooster she would, if she could, call dad. Bitumen’s ancestor Marans (and contemporary cousins) tend to lay brown-shelled eggs there along the mid-coastline of France. But Lighfoot, on the other wing, lays blue eggs, and this suggests she is a Black Ameraucana whose ancestry is therefore Chilean. Whichever of the other four are laying or not, their qualities map to what the Radford Rural King sign-posted: Cinnabon and Tiny Honey are cinnamon queens who lay nearly every day, Fluffy Foot is a buff brahma, and Big Sweetie, a calico princess. We’ve learned more about this—and care more about these distinctions—than we could have anticipated four months ago. Chickens have been relegated by most to a certain kind of skewed global food mythology as an abundant, homogenous, if largely inobservable (before market), source. This mixed flock is a patient, persistent, and nuanced teacher, affirming every day that our avian imaginary has fallen more toward the consumptive-extractive, less toward sustaining kinship-mutualism, than can (or should) last.

Old Rocks 🪨

Multigenerational Geologies
Figure 1. One-Off Non Series #00 “Multigenerational Geologies.”

With a few gravelly thoughts in mind, compiled from the week that was, rather than relay those pebbles and peas, frustrations and disappointments, I’ll instead focus these few blogable words on this notion of multigenerational geologies, or old rocks. I’m not a geologist, and I’m not even all that geologically curious in any deep and sustaining way. Not a reader of geology books. Not someone who stops for long to look extra close at rocks.

I do notice rocks; they’re all around these here Blue Ridge Mountains. Like when I mow, as I did earlier this afternoon. In one spot, on the neighbors’ ten acres, where they cut wood for supplying winter heat, and where I make a couple of passes with the Gravely, today I dinged a rock, scarring its rounded protuberance with a tiny nick, but a nick big enough that I will notice next time and raise the mowing deck manually until it is high enough to clear the rock. The rock is in its right place, after all. In another spot, at the base of the fifth black walnut, mid-hollow, the deck snagged a loose rock just enough to unearth it a little bit. I felt that one and happened to be quick enough to remaneuver so the rock would stay mostly planted and the mower blade would not kiss it, sparklingly. It has always been like this around here, the surfacings of a crumbly surface, rocks old and brittle, shifting right along with the rest of the soil course that is a holler/hollow.

But this drawing, Multigenerational Geologies, is from a different location maybe 30 minutes from here, Giles County, along the well-travelled lower path to Cascades, where I hiked in late June with Is. and M. who were visiting from Michigan. At the Cascades the water course puts rock formations on a better-lit stage; they’re all around and invite notice because they express geologic timescales with exaggerated forms. What I mean is that most of the lawnmower run involves rock formations underfoot or encased in dirt. But these run-off rock formations have settled into a differently observable light; rock-earth relations thus are more private compared to these rock-water relations.

The jut appeared to me to have a face. It’s sort of like face pareidolia, but more along the lines of rockface pareidolia, or possibly even golem-sighting, a brush with a camouflaged earth elemental. Knew I had to attempt to draw it. And slowly began to understand that it would carry valences of memory, acting as a fleeting statuary confirming an understanding I carry with me and consider now and then, about how a principal function of this life, of living, is as a medium, or go-between, who ferries what was (in my particular case) by my mom, Linda, expressed in a multitude of ways (from joy to kindness to to good humoredness to principledness to resolve and so on) to my daughter, especially, who as mixed up timing would have it, missed the opportunity to know my mom. You wouldn’t get this just from looking at the drawing. And that’s okay. I’ve withheld it, as I’m sometimes prone to doing, because it sits at that extra-personal edge of things not readily on offer for public consumption, much less scrutiny. So I suppose this is a nod to those extradiscursive gifts, associations that feed into and through the piece, but then back again, a quiet, inobservable boomerang sent that comes back around, neatly looping, the source of a blend of feeling, parts proud and grateful, parts long-lost and missing, parts calmed and serene for an art practice that allows such hazes to hold.

Pecking Orders 🐓

“Pecking orders” have transcended the barnyard. A well-run metaphor, though not a dead metaphor, exactly, but verging on cliché to the point of let’s call it a palliative metaphor, pecking orders name the hierarchy performed within a flock. Hen one, hen two, hen three, etc.; they behave as though they know who is first, who is not. Something appearing pecking-order-like plays out when the coop door opens in the morning and down the ladder they hop. Similar patterns show up with eating, whether crumble or pellets or treats.

But pecking orders also change (indicating they might be communicable, even rhetorical, though that’s not today’s trajectory). They are more contingent than I think they tend to be credited with, especially when pecking orders are invoked as shorthand explanation for human hierarchic structures, like those one might find in a workplace. I’m relatively new to shepherding chickens, but at least for this Wonder Hollow mixed flock, pecking order is never as strict as a higher ed org chart because the flock is holarchic.

Holons, from the Greek for “whole,” hearken to synecdoche and also to network studies, for they are simultaneously part and whole, these structural-organizational alternatives to isolable, part-parsed groupings. The holarchy has no top and no bottom. Connections are varyingly lateral. With this, rank may be a temporary function of sequencing, but the sequencing is not reinforced by strict, enduring power skews. Rank gives, reshuffles, holding on to repeatable patterns while bending to mood, moment, and context. Holarchy is, in this example, observably friendly. Today Tiny Honey eats first, Lightfoot second. Tomorrow, Bitumen is first, Big Sweetie is next. Etcetera.

The flock as super-organism is more important. This, I suppose, is a lot like faculty shared governance. Cup an ear to all voices. Let mutualism guide. What is best is not dictated executively by a top bird who has not (whether not ever, or not yet) listened. Granted, I am fusing frames and playing a bit; chickens are not administrators, nor faculty. But the point is that the phrase “pecking orders” does not bear fidelity when lifted from the gallusphere and plunked into non-avian organizational structures, except when those organizational structures are guided by mutualism and cooperation of a larger magnitude. “Pecking order” strains against hierarchy because the flock’s well-being is paramount.