Michael James : Late Summer Sundown on the Karma Farm

Late summer sundown on the Karma Farm, New Lisbon, Wisconsin 1981. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.

Pictures from the Long Haul:
Late summer sundown on the Karma Farm

To other people who talked of ‘moving to the country’ I would say ‘stay in the city but spend some time in the country: think, nourish yourself, and come back to the city to fight the imperialist ogre from within the belly of the beast.’

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | May 29, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.]

Old man Burtchie had been a Seabee during World War II, a member of the U.S. Navy’s construction battalion. When I knew him he was a plumber and small farmer.

His son Vic went off to Korea and when he returned in 1951 I was a nine-your-old living up the Red Coat Road in my Connecticut hometown. The name of the road is derived from the British Red Coats who marched nearby on their way to burning the hat factories in Danbury during the Revolutionary War. We played “fight the British”! Victor had a Harley and I had the pleasure of getting to ride with him around hilly and curvy Berkshire foothills, on Connecticut back roads. I was the kid on the back, the third rider on occasion.

Victor give me a winged-wheel Harley hat and also instructed me not to let on to the current woman on the machine between him and me that there had been another woman in that very position cruising with the group of riders earlier in the day.

Besides motorcycles, my close proximity to the farm gave me an early hit of agricultural life. I hung around the barn and did what I was told. I remember a lot of commotion when a Ford pickup truck showed up with a bull with a ring in his nose that was released into a pasture of about six cows. And I helped out when the old man butchered chickens, pigs, and heifers.

Back up the road I helped my dad plant our first garden. The corn grew high as an elephant’s eye, or at least twice as high as I stood back in 1949. My younger brother Beau and I both had the farm vibe and became members of the Green Farmers, a 4H club in the Greensfarms part of Westport.

I loved the 4H club and still spout its “head, heart, hand and health.” We went to the Grange fair in Easton and took in the livestock exhibits at the Danbury State Fair and the Eastern States Exposition. We took it all in — the food, the rides, the carnie strip and all its sideshows. Mostly we loved the animals,

In 1952 we moved a half-­mile away to a pre-­revolutionary war onion farm on the Wilton Road. Over the years our stock included Harvey the rabbit, King pigeons, Muscovy ducks, African Tumbler pigeons, and Bantam chickens. In 1962 Beau upped the ante and brought in a couple of sheep. Years later my step dad Shookie planted a sizable garden. When visiting I picked the oh-­so-­fresh tomatoes and ate them with a dose of salt.

Beau was a tractor freak with a collection of John Deer toy tractors. He got our mom to drive him to a tractor dealer and lot where he could look over and learn about these groundbreaking machines. He married and moved to Vermont for a time, starting a sod farm and raising kids and some animals. I visited once and went to the Bondville Fair where I recall watching drunk rural dudes climbing out of an old Plymouth — deer antlers mounted on the hood, with beer cans in hand.

After moving to and taking various stands in Chicago, I cherish my short-­term escapes to the Karma Farm up in New Lisbon, Wisconsin. To other people who talked of “moving to the country” I would say “stay in the city but spend some time in the country: think, nourish yourself, and come back to the city to fight the imperialist ogre from within the belly of the beast.” I am glad I knew the hippie families that tried to make a go of rural life there.

I would haul myself up north, visit and make plans with my friend Lester Doré. Lester, the agriculturally knowledgeable son of an oil field worker family, came out of New Iberia, Louisiana (think Tabasco) and grew up in Tulsa. He ended up in Chicago where he did artwork for The Seed, designed Rising Up Angry‘s logo, did the original artwork for the Heartland Café, and was the art director of the Heartland Journal.

He also did an artwork stint on the old San Francisco Oracle, designed rolling paper logos, and did a famed piece of design work picturing a marijuana leaf and a peace symbol. He did a series of great jazz t-shirts under the label Bird Lives that were printed at the Farm’s little t-shirt factory.

My sojourns to the Karma Farm in beater trucks and cars were peaceful, enlightening, comforting, educational, and fun. These small adventures to the Karma Farm and beyond often found me returning to Chicago with “the goods” for the Heartland Cafe — t-shirts, firewood, an old wood burning stove, food and maple syrup. I am grateful for those times.

Thank you oh great Mother Earth for the good things you give and the good times you bring.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago’s Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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