Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Poverty in the Ozarks and the Movie Winters Bone

I have been asked by several people if the movie Winter's Bone is a true depiction of what its like in the Ozarks but since I had never seen it I couldnt offer comment. Well we watched it the other night and it was a very dark movie with an almost film noir quality about it and overall I would recommend you see it if you havent.

Does it truly depict life in the Ozarks? Yes and No. We found the look of the locations pretty accurate (it was filmed not too far from here) as far as the run down houses and trailers, junked vehicles in the yard etc and the look of the actors was fairly representative of this area but I think the film went astray in trying to depict the poverty and meth problem here. If you knew nothing of the area it would seem from the film that most of the people here are involved with meth, are dirt poor, and unhappy violent people which is just not the reality.

We have come to find the Ozarks a place of great beauty with generally reserved people who choose to keep to the old ways and who are suspicious of outsiders, the government, and in particular law enforcement in general. This is a very religious area that has somehow kept its cultural identity mostly intact despite the fact that most everyone now has cable TV, phones, and road access to the outside. Poverty as defined by the amount of money or expensive things people have is high but particularly in our area you wouldnt have too many people define themselvs as poor nor do they partake of government handouts as much in this area.

Missouri is part of the poverty belt and the southern Ozarks is among the poorest areas in the state (our county is 4th poorest in Missouri) but our county has a much lower percentage of the population eligible for welfare or foodstamps using them than counties with a higher urban population. Around here, folks generally reject any government interferrance or oversight (including handouts) for the freedom they hold so close. If you need food, grow a garden, hunt and fish. If you need money, work to get what you need then sit back and enjoy it awhile. If this sounds like I am being trite, I'm not. Most folks in the rural Ozarks just plan on working their whole lives and lots of people seem to be content to have a few acres to raise their kids and a few animals and there is a significant underground barter or under the table economy that isnt reflected in most studies of the area.

But....Meth, or Hillbilly Heroin, or Crank as its variously called has impacted this area in a big way because it is one way to make money in an otherwise extremely depressed economic situation. Outside of Missouri Meth is often called 417 after our area code and Missouri is known as the meth capital of the country. Personally I think thats because Missouri is way more aggressive in going after Meth so they bust more meth labs but once you go back into some of the more remote areas you understand why the problem is hard to combat. As depicted in the movie, family ties are big, and regional loyalties come first. It doesnt matter whats legal or right, you just have to know that some things are the way they are and thats that. What people do on their own property is their business around here and I guess I feel like that too. We dont violate the law but we dont want or need anyone checking on us either if that makes sense and if we see something elsewhere..its not our business. But having said that, at least in our neck of the woods, if any meth activity happens its kept well underground and the locals drive out or straighten out anyone who gets out of line.

The movie did err though in my opinion in depicting the people as so unhappy and violent. This is farming and ranch country and there isnt a lot of shy people around but the people who try to live Christian productive lives far out number any bad element and in fact we have to drive 22 miles just to buy a beer. Most folks regardless of their lot in life are at least outwardly happy and friendly and the various social strata mix easily without signs of animosity or strain. Its also a fact that more baby boomers are retiring here because of its remoteness, low prices, and quality of life....nothing stays the same even the Ozarks.

So it was a good movie but just remember it was just a movie with overly dramatic situations compressed into 100 minutes. Yes there are a lot of run down places around here....but more than likely they are paid off or built by the owner, yes we all have a hound dog...keeps out intruders and coyotes, yes most of us have a few vehicles that arent running or old tractors in the yard....we call them future projects, and yes most of us burn wood for our primary heating source...and we laugh at you who are sweating what OPEC will do next.

So rent the movie and enjoy it as a movie...just dont blanket it with some sort of documentary status.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


"He that is down needs fear no fall, he that is low, no pride.  (John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress"

Well I am in week 2 of the 4 week confinement to the neck brace and am feeling better every day. The numbness is completely gone and though my neck still hurts a bit from the pounding it took when the Doc wedged the cadaver bone between the vertebre, I am glad I took the plunge with the surgery. Most importantly I have discarded my cain, have no noticeable limp, and am almost off all pian medication.

"An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town-meeting or a vestry.    (thomas Jefferson, Letters)"

We took a huge hit financially with the surgery and we have decided to seek employment again so this down time has been sent applying for jobs, polishing the resume' and filing for VA disability. I am also working on a few grants for the fire department so this time isnt all lost but I have discovered part of the reason for this countries discontent......the mainstream media is in a concerted campaign to wreck havoc with this country and its citizens. All day long on the TV and internet news sites is a constant stream of dooma and gloom and every event no matter how small is hyped to the point that we seem to be reeling from one disaster to another. No one gets along, the government iss broke (and broken), crime is up..........Oh and I have also discovered that Judge Judy is a small minded bitter old woman who should be disbarred...the woman is pinched and mean spirited!! The lesson here is dont watch too much TV and treat each news item with skepticism and balance.

"Little by little the agents have taken over the world. They dont do anything, they dont make anything - they just stand there and take their cut (Jean Giradoux, The Madwoman of Chaillot)"

On top of everything else the tax assessor came by a few days ago to take pictures of our new pole barn know getting ready to penalise those who improve their property. She was very nice and she let us copy some old pictures of our place which revealed some interesting things. The pictures arent very good but considering how little regard I have for just about any government official it was at least a consolation prize.
The old house used to have window awnings which were popular around here back in the 60s, the none stone part of the house was white, and the cheap garage door we replaced earlier this year was different than the one in this picture.

and the old barn hasnt changed much but if you notice in the back there is another building that we think was a chicken coop. We have found part of the foundation for that and the circle foundaton for a silo that used to be to the left of the barn. These pictures were taken around 1983 and we continue to seek out historical photos of the place as at one time the community had barn dances here.

"A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees, (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)"

The previous owners liked open spaces and cut down a lot of trees and bushes around the old homestead and from what I have been told they cleaned up a lot of junk and for that we are grateful...but for some reason they had left the two large trees out front that we had to have taken down a few months ago. Since that time we have had two very strong storms with winds exceeding 60 mph and we have noticed trees down all over the place in our area and several that have damaged houses....glad we decided to take them down.

Poor Holly has had to pick up the burden with me being unable to do anything for 30 days but she likes driving the garden tractor and is just as capable as me in just about anything we do.

And now that we have had some drought relief...grass is growing like crazy

To the right of this picture is the castor beans...about 8 foot tall righ now.

I made a valient attempt for about 5 minutes to help out....but since I cant turn my head it was a no-go.

Chris puts his garden tractor on cruise control and does half the 3 acres we mow...looks like a tough life.

I cant imagine ever leaving this place or living close to neighbors again. We have found home.

"Men are made stronger on realization that the helping hand they need is at the end of their own right arm.  (Sidney J. Phillips, Speech, July 1953)"

So we have had some financial hits, inflation is rising dramatically, there is chaos in the markets, and everytime I turn around people want a hand out instead of a hand up. I am not sure what happened to self reliance but we seem to have lost that aspect of our national psyche. We have continued our abundant harvest this year despite the drought and medical problems and we can, sell or give away more than enough produce to keep us going for the rest of the yearOn top of that, it tastes better and it is a sense of accomplishment when we can harvest our own food.

Now is the time for harvest of various squash, pumpkins, and mellons and we have been lucky in all regards.

This is one afternoons harvest.

We have hundreds of ears of corn and have canned and frozen corn on the con, nibblets, pickled corn (here) and we have plenty left over for silage. The cows are really enjoying their corn treats.

So all is not lost with surgery. The neck brace is bugging the heck out of me but every day I wake up feeling better and I will soon be back to the many projects that have been put on hold. And as you can tell, I have been reading a lot. I am in a classics phase with reading with a side of English detective stories (Dalgliesh, Morse etc) and I generally have two or three books going at the same time. I truly think I could susvive solitary confinement if I had my books.

Monday, August 15, 2011

And an update for the Parents

We finally have gotten around to doing some interior work and have replaced the floor in the hallway, trimmed it out and replaced one of the bedroom doors and the door to the basement with raised panel wood doors. For some unknown and inexplicable reason, the pevious owners replaced all the interior doors with cheap hollow core doors they got from a salvage yard. The hallway floor was old linoleum and the subfloor had a rotten spot where you could peer down into the basement...not good. It was a real challenge to put in the doors because there isnt a right angle in the entire house so each door had to be cut to fit and the floor still shos a slight uneveness but redoing the subfloor and laying 12" tile on top of it made a big difference in how it looks. We used the same tile we used for the kitchen so its seamless from the kitchen all the way to the living room now.

Looking towards the living room and you can see it looks so much better. We still need to prime and paint.

Thankfully we thought ahead and when we left off on the reflooring for the kitchen we made it so we could just butt up to it for the hallway so it looks like it was all done at the same time.

The new doors look a lot better too and they really help with sound deadening. We dont want the house to look modern so we are trying to redo things to look like it was always that way.

And this picture is for Mom, we finally hung the curtains over the new windows in the kitchen.

Our canning efforts are paying off and the pantry is almost full. We bought this pantry for $40 or so and painted it white to match the rest of the kitchen.

This giant cucumber was missed the last two times we harvested and its huge. Probably not worth keeping but it is perfectly formed and didnt turn yellow like they usually do when they get this big.

Just one days harvest of butternut squash. We will be canning it soon because we are getting about this much every 2 days.

Being an invalid right now is frustrating so I am trying to find things to do so I decided to prep the cayenne peppers for drying and eventual grinding for cayenne pepper.

Its a tedious process splitting them and de-seeding them and my hands are burning like crazy.

Lay them on a cookie sheet...

and then de-hydrate them in the oven on its lowest setting. So I have actually done something worthwhile today.

Update on Happenings Around the Farm

The pending surgery was like a sword of Damacles hanging over our heads because I will be layed up for months and we have so much to do. But we just buckled down and did what we could over the past few weeks and like most things, we will get through it.

We continue to harvest mellons, squash, cucumbers, peppers and herbs but the tomatoes are about played out.

The banana trees are all doing well and they really like the heat we are having.

Strangely, our grapes are also doing great but overall its not been a great grape season around here. We should get enough to do some grape jelly.

The Maples we planted out front have established quite well and they even survived a huge storm we had the other day where we got over 60 mph wind gusts.

The Crepe Myrtles are in full bloom and survived the great blizzard of 2010 

Our corn is producing heavily and we are getting a much better yield this year. We high grade out the best looking corn and use the rest for silage for the cattle....and boy do they like the corn. We dont use pesticides on our corn so we have had some damage from horn worms and we have lost some to deer and racoons but we plant enough for everyone.

Maybelle got her first deworming now that she is 5 months old and we use topical Ivermectin.

She is so gentle she just laid there while we were de-worming.

We have a couple hundred spoon and birdhouse gourds growing that we will make into water dipping spoons and bird houses over the winter. Have we gone country or what?

We also have a bumper crop of crocked neck, lemon and butternut squash. We eat a lot of squash and we also freeze a bunch.

This second corn patch was planted a couple weeks behind the other corn patch and consists of a couple heirloom varieties. We should begin harvest of it this week.

This is the $50 refer we got a few months ago and its full of produce waiting to be processed or sold. We sell some from our roadside stand and the small grocery in our town buys produce from us. We also donate a bunch.

Our cucumbers have been so prolific this year that this is the third batch of pickles we have put up. Sweet pickles, kosher dill, bread and butter pickles.....we like pickles!

Processing corn is a production line event and this is just the first picking.

We got a large harvest of sweet yellow corn and white shoe peg corn. We blanch the cobs then freeze them and for corn that doesnt look good enough for corn on the cob we blanch it then cut the kernals off and then freeze the corn as nibblets.

Holly, Judy, Chris and I picked about 5 gallons of blackberries and we could have picked 30 gallons. We havent processed it yet but it will become jam and preserves.

We have so many blackberries that getting our 5 gallons only took about 40 minutes.

Holly sure filled her bucket fast.

So..we have been busy. During these past few weeks we have been hearing about all the calamities in the stock market, the inability of our government to actually govern, we hear about the projected shortages of beef due to the drought, the rising cost of food and it just makes us feel secure that we have the ability to feed ourselves. Its hard to relay in print how it feels to have that security but its something I have never experienced before and I like it. The cost of my surgery has pretty well wiped us out but we live debt free and have a sustainable retirement income and a productive piece of land so we will be okay. We still have many projects coming in the next few months and years but we have a great feeling of accomplishment from what we have tackled in the last year and a half. None of us miss the daily grind of work and living for the weekends.

A Weekend at a Bed and Breakfast

We try and take an overnight trip for Holly's birthday every year but this year with my surgery pending we decided to just go to a historical B&B in Springfield since I had to go there anyway for a pre-op physical.

We stayed at the Walnut Street Inn which is about 100 years old and in the heart of the Springfield historical district. We went to dinner at a nearby Italian restaraunt and basically just enjoyed each others company.

It was very traditional and comfortable and reminded me of happy childhood memories of my grandfathers house,

All of the houses in this area have large porches and nice used to be that folks would sit on their porches and actually interact with their neighbors. I would never want to live in town but if I did I think I would need a big porch like this.

This was the main house...

But we ended up staying in the old carriage house which we had all to ourselves. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable couple days.

Number 4 Son Comes for a Visit

Our youngest son Alex has transferred from Western Washington University to UNC Charlotte to finish his bachelor degree and prep for entry into law school so he decided to make a road trip of it with a couple friends and they stopped for a visit.

The visit was way too short but it was good to see all of them and they were fascinated by the farm. You hear lots of things about how bad kids are now days but it just isnt our experience. All of our kids have good friends and the two friends Al brought home were no exception.

Matt to the left, Alex in the middle and Jason to the right. They thought the red neck hot tub was a hoot.

They are all city boys and have been friends for a decade or so and neither Matt or Jason had ever been cross country or to the Ozarks. I think they thought we were a bit backwards without a microwave or dishwasher, we grow our own food, hang the clothes on a clothes line to dry etc.

Maybelle got lots of attention and it was fun watching them react when Maybelle grabbed their shirts with her tongue.

We gave them a tour and explained what we were doing and future plans.

Thelma and Louise were being shy for some reason.

And after an entirely too short of a stay they had to leave.