Brexit: Britain votes to Leave the EU

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It was so close.  So breathtakingly close, only a few percentage points apart.

But still, most people thought that “Remain in the EU” would squeak through.

The first I knew of the final vote for the UK to leave the EU was when I landed in Dublin at 5 a.m. on June 24th, the day after the referendum.  An airport worker, an Irishman, said, “It’s daft, really.  Now we have to put back the border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”  Northern Ireland is now out of the EU, and Ireland remains in, so there will no longer be a borderless free flow of travel for the Irish.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, of the ruling Conservative Party, has resigned. Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the other main party, the Labour Party, is under a great deal of pressure to resign;  he is blamed for the failure of “Remain” due to his lack-luster support.

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Jo Cox

It was, in many ways, a very un-British campaign, with lies and threats and racist comments flying.  An up-and-coming young MP, Jo Cox of West Yorkshire, was shot and killed by a mentally unstable supporter of the “Leave” campaign who had ties to U.S. neo-Nazi groups.  The UK banned handguns in 1996,  but this man constructed a gun by following an instruction manual he bought from the neo-Nazis.   Jo Cox was the mother of two young children, had worked for the children’s charity, Oxfam, and was seen as an emerging leader of the Labour Party.  Her murder was a terrible loss, and a direct outcome of the vitriol of the EU referendum.

In this campaign, both sides lied.  The Conservatives said that the Turks wouldn’t be up for membership in the EU for 20 years (a major sticking point for many who voted “Leave”).  It now appears that the process for considering Turkish membership in the EU is beginning in two days, on June 30.

The right-wing UKIP (UK Independent Party) said that if “Leave” won, 350 million pounds a week that was paid by the UK to the EU would now be available for the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service), and they’d be “building a new hospital every week.”  That wasn’t true, either, and they are busy backtracking.

At least a small part of the vote was a protest vote;  some people voted “Leave” to make a point that they were unhappy with the way that the EU bureaucrats made decisions, and were stunned when “Leave” actually won.

A prominent “Leave” group listed the following points on its website:

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With the group telling people (see the second point, above) that “It is not legally binding–the European Court can tear it up the day after the referendum,” who can blame people for being confused?

The immediate reaction by the “Remain” group after the ballots were counted was shock, which soon turned to anger and fear.  Amongst the “Leave” group, there was a feeling of joy, perhaps also tinged with some fear.  Amongst those who ultimately voted “Leave” but debated until the very last minute, I sensed a feeling of resignation and a need to “get on with it,” because, as I heard said numerous times, “The people have spoken.”

There are also calls for a second referendum, to overturn this one.  But it’s clear that this isn’t going to happen.

What was obvious in the vote was that there was a huge split between London/Scotland (“Remain”) and the rest of England and Wales (“Leave”), and between young people (“Remain”) and older people “Leave”).

 

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One clever clogs, Michael Shaw, has created a new country comprised of the strongest “Remainers,” Scotland and London.

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Immigration was a huge part of the vote to Leave, with the worry that the Turks would be granted EU membership, and therefore the right to live in the UK.  Parts of England, particularly around Essex and Lincolnshire which have substantial numbers of immigrants from Poland and other EU countries, want to limit the number of people from overseas coming to live in the UK, which they couldn’t do under the EU mandate.

London, the financial capital of Europe, desperately wanted to “Remain” in order to maintain its power, financial and otherwise.  Under “Leave,” the British pound is at the lowest level in 31 years, and shares around the world have dropped dramatically.  Richard Branson is saying that Virgin shares lost one third of their value.

But this vote was not just a split between the UK and the EU, it was a split within the UK. In the countryside and smaller towns and cities, there was a sense of backlash against Londoners and the political establishment;  a feeling that Londoners have little or no respect for anyone outside London, that they think non-Londoners are “simpletons,” and don’t understand what it’s like to live without vast amounts of money  and with new threats to their traditions.

There was also a backlash against President Obama, generally very highly regarded in the UK, due to his comment that if Britain left the EU, it would go to the back of the line in terms of trade deals.  “He’s trying to manipulate us,” I heard;   “He wants to continue to exert his influence in Europe by working through the British puppets.”

Most members of my own family, who live in the countryside of England, voted “Leave,” though some were very much on the fence until the last moment.  One wrote to me, “My head says one thing, but my heart says another.”

The farmers in my family, like most farmers and fishermen in the UK, were delighted to have the chance to jettison the onerous and sometimes ridiculous rules sent down from Brussels, the headquarters of the EU, dictating how they run their farms.

Others in my family believe that “Leave” would allow them to get better health services through the NHS (National Health Services), with fewer “health tourists” from countries in the EU with substandard medical care clogging up the queues for Britons.

But the truth is that no one knows what’s going to happen.

Whatever happens, it will be life- and nation-changing.

The British have wielded enormous influence in the world, far more than their size warrants. They have been some of the world’s greatest scientists, explorers, thinkers, and writers, and were the last hold-out against the Nazis when the rest of the Allies had succumbed.  They fought to the very end, and won.

If anyone can do it alone, they can.  If anyone can sort it out, they can.

I wish everyone involved in this referendum the best of British.  Luck, that is.

 

 

 

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A close call and a school “lockdown.”

My 7th grade daughter’s school was on lock-down today due to a “police incident.”

Since the school shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing, schoolchildren in Boston routinely have “lock-down drills,” in which they are told to lock the doors, turn out the lights, and get under their desks, but this time it was real.

Half a mile away from my daughter’s school, one man shot another man, and then drove to a street right outside her school, and threw–or forced–two men, bleeding from stab wounds, out of his car.

I was one of the first people to know about it.  How did I know so quickly? Easy.

In the five minutes between the first incident when he fled the police after shooting his first victim and the second incident when two bleeding men jumped or were tossed onto the street–he came extremely close to crashing head-on into my car.

It was a typical Wednesday morning, and I was tooling up Harvard Street. I’d done some work, gone to the gym and Whole Foods, and was now going to pick up my mother from her memoir group at 12.

And then a car came hurtling towards me. On the wrong side of the road. My side of the road.  Coming right at me.

I slammed on the brakes and blasted my horn.  The driver didn’t slow in the slightest.  At the last minute, he swerved back into his own lane and passed my car with only inches to spare.

I pulled over and called the police.  I didn’t want him to hit and kill any pedestrians, or God help us, the many preschool children walking around town, holding onto a rope.

I got the police dispatcher, and told her what I’d seen.  She put me on hold for about five minutes, then she said that the guy I was describing “might be involved in an incident further down Harvard Street.”

I asked if he’d hit a pedestrian, and she said no, so I breathed a sigh of relief.  While I been talking to the police dispatcher, four police vehicles had passed me at high rates of speed, going in the direction of the man.

I picked up my mother at 12, and drove home, shaking.  Near my house, Harvard Street was blocked off by seven marked and unmarked police vehicles, and an ambulance.IMG_2940There was already a news helicopter in the air overhead.IMG_2941

I finally made my way through the diverted traffic, arrived home, and walked back to the police blockade.  The car was not here.  The man had fled from a crime scene for the second time.

I described the car—white, with New York license plates—and the driver–mid-20s, light brown skin, maybe Hispanic.  I looked out onto the street and saw a red cap, black jacket or sweater, and a white shirt with blood on it.

Bloodied clothes on Harvard Street

Close-up of the clothes strewn on the street.

I went home, and soon after, I received a phone call and an email from the interim School Chancellor who said/wrote:

“Due to police activity in the vicinity of [my child’s and one other]Schools, students at these two schools are being kept inside for the remainder of the day. All students and staff are safe and police are present at both schools. This is a precautionary measure while the police are conducting an investigation.”

I sent my daughter a text, telling her that the bad guy was “long gone,” and she texted back, “Ok.  It was so scary everyone is freaking out.  I was worried about you guys are you safe????”

I assured her that we were.

Outside the school at the regular pick-up time, my best friend, I, many other parents, a police officer, the principal, the two assistant principals, and the guidance counselor stood and talked about what we knew, which wasn’t much beyond the fact that the three victims had been taken to hospital and that the man had fled. My daughter told me that most of the girls had been sobbing in the locker room, and that they had had to crouch under their desks.  I felt so bad for all of them.

I sure didn’t expect anything like this to happen in my very safe town in Massachusetts.  Life here is good–very good.  Violence and school lock-downs are just not supposed to happen here.

But today they did.

 

US vs UK: Boston: “Wicked pissah!”

There’s a Boston UK, which on the eastern part of England in Lincolnshire, and a Boston USA, which is on the East Coast of America in Massachusetts.

Map of Boston, UK.

Map of Boston, UK.

Map of Boston, USA

Map of Boston, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston USA was obviously called after Boston UK, but I don’t think that Boston UK has quite the . . . uniqueness . . . of Boston USA.

Boston USA is known for its world-class educational institutions, including Harvard and MIT, its superb medical care, its crazed Red Sox (baseball) fans, its Brahmins (the old WASP aristocracy), its old Irish gangsters (think Whitey Bulger), and its distinctive native accent, in which “R”s are put at the end of the words that don’t end in an “R,” so that a word like “idea,” becomes “ideee-errrr.”  In words that actually end in an “R,” “R”s  are nowhere to be heard, as in the famous “Pahk yah cah in Hahvahd Yahd” and a carwash is called a “spah for yah cah.”

Take a look at these videos for a good laugh and a new insight into Boston culture.  It’s all true!

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Seth Meyers, late night TV host, on Boston’s accent.

 

Courtesy, flickr user makelessnoise.

Courtesy, flickr user makelessnoise.

Why the rest of the US isn’t like Boston

 

Featured photo above of Boston harbor at night is courtesy of Flickr User rjshade.

 

Boston: “Wicked pissah!”

There’s a Boston UK, which on the eastern part of England in Lincolnshire, and a Boston USA, which is on the East Coast of America in Massachusetts.

Map of Boston, UK.

Map of Boston, UK.

Map of Boston, USA

Map of Boston, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

Boston USA was obviously called after Boston UK, but I don’t think that Boston UK has quite the . . . uniqueness . . . of Boston USA.

Boston USA is known for its world-class educational institutions, including Harvard and MIT, its superb medical care, its crazed Red Sox (baseball) fans, its Brahmins (the old WASP aristocracy), its old Irish gangsters (think Whitey Bulger), and its distinctive native accent, in which “R”s are put at the end of the words that don’t end in an “R,” so that a word like “idea,” becomes “ideee-errrr.”  In words that actually end in an “R,” “R”s  are nowhere to be heard, as in the famous “Pahk yah cah in Hahvahd Yahd” and a carwash is called a “spah for yah cah.”

Take a look at these videos for a good laugh and a new insight into Boston culture.  It’s all true!

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 7.42.04 PM

Seth Meyers, late night TV host, on Boston’s accent.

 

Courtesy, flickr user makelessnoise.

Courtesy, flickr user makelessnoise.

Why the rest of the US isn’t like Boston

Featured photo above of Boston harbor at night is courtesy of Flickr User rjshade.

 

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US vs UK: Stipulated: Donald J Trump is a wazzock*

The UK is looking at the US as if it had three heads.  And no wonder: a know-nothing** blowhard named Donald Trump, a sometimes successful, sometimes bankrupt, always obnoxious businessman is running for the most powerful position in the world.

And he just might win the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

Why is this horrible man smirking?

Why is this horrible man smirking?

Those of us who are Democrats, and a much smaller number of Republicans, are cringing in horror.

He has called Mexicans “rapists.”

He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.

He mocked a physically disabled reporter.

He said that he watched “thousands of Muslims in New Jersey” celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

And as for him treating women decently, as they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit!

ff4f08101e05c647e74d1e065328586aHe is a racist, homophobic, misogynistic specimen.  And he’s only just getting started. Imagine him as U.S. President negotiating with Kim Jong-un of North Korea. They’d both be hurling atomic bombs at each other’s country before you could say “comb-over” (look right).  And as for relations with Putin? The testosterone would be flying, and we’d be fighting ground wars against the Russians all over the world.

Unfortunately, America is stuck with him.  But other countries are not.  In fact, just today the British Parliament debated as to whether he should be banned from the UK on the basis of his “hate speech” toward Muslims.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 9.17.01 PM.jpgIn the UK, there’s a new system in which citizens can sign petitions for Parliamentary debate, and if more than 100,000 people sign, Parliament must do just that.

So far, 573,996 people have signed their names to a petition stating that Donald J. Trump, presumptive president of the U.S., is, in effect, a “wazzock” and should be banned from the UK.

He was also called a “fool,” a “buffoon,” and a “demagogue”–all by Members of Parliament.

Any idea what he could possibly be saying?  Guesses?

Any guesses as to what he might possibly be saying?

There’s another reason for Brits to dislike Trump.  In the UK, the word “trump” means “fart.”  President Fart.  There’s a certain ring to it, for this particular man, don’t you think?

* “Wazzock.”  (British, chiefly Northern England, mildly pejorative, slang. “A stupid or annoying person.”  Possibly from wiseacre, influenced by pillock.  First used in the 1984 novel, When the Martians Land in Huddersfield, by Mike Harding. According to the Guardian, Harding told them, “It takes its name from the habit of medieval kings to ‘take a crap on a shovel.’ The royal turd would be ‘wazzed’ out of the window and the wazzock was the tool for performing this operation.”

** The KnowNothing Party, also known as the American Party, was a prominent United States political party during the late 1840s and the early 1850s. The American Party originated in 1849. Its members strongly opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church.

 

US vs UK: Halloween! America does it best

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It’s Halloween today, or as I call it, “Neighborhood Candy Distribution Day.”

Halloween.  No one does it better than Americans, with its profusion of costumes, pumpkins, skeletons, and tons and tons and tons of candy.

Here’s the candy aisle at our local Walgreen’s

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At Halloween, Americans buy almost 600 million pounds of candy, worth almost $2 billion dollars.  You can feast on Skittles, Reese’s Cups, Snickers, Twix bars, gummy bears, Hershey bars, M&Ms, Starburst, Musketeers, Nestle’s Crunch, Good ‘n’ Plenty, Tootsie Rolls, York Peppermint Patties, Kit Kats, Hershey’s kisses, Almond Joys, Sweet Tarts, Twizzlers, Jelly Beans, Smarties, Heath Bars, Sour Patch, Butterfingers, Airheads, Junior Mints, Mounds, and my kids’ favorites, Laffy Taffy and Jolly Rancher.  You get the picture.

To grow pumpkins, it helps to have a lot of sun and enough–but not too much–rain, which may be the reason that the US is better at producing pumpkins than the UK.  Here are my daughter and her best friend dwarfed by pumpkins at “Boston’s last farm.”

Pumpkins, pumpkins!

Then there’s all the work of scraping out the pumpkin guts (a little heavy on the drama in the case of my daughter while our family friend Kim works diligently).

My daughter and our family friend Kim

And then there are all the various pumpkin designs:

The happy ghostly pumpkin:

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The pumpkin that’s scored as well as carved all the way through:

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The bemused, snaggle-tooth pumpkin:

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And this really creepy one.  Check out the teeth.IMG_0190

Then there are the costumes:

The Red Queen and princesses:

The Red Queen and friend

The Cat-in-the-Hat and friends:

The Cat-in-the-Hat and friends

A really cool bat-like creature:

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The traditional skeleton:

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The you’re-never-too-old to don a costume, even if, like the one on the right, it makes no sense:

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And then of course there’s the “Hot Dog” or “Wiener Dog”:

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A couple of blocks from my house near Boston, the people really go to town when it comes to Halloween.  It’s so jam-packed that you can hardly move with all the crowds viewing the ghosts, cobwebbed-up porches, and the pirate ship.

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Here’s the fantastic pirate ship:

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And then there’s the sugar crash at the end of the evening.  Here’s my daughter with only a small part of her haul.  She had to go around with a pillowcase to carry it all!

Sugar high

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I just came across a really nicely written explanation of the origins of Halloween, written by Paddy Swanson, the artistic director of the Revels here in Boston. I asked him if I could use it, and he kindly consented, so here it is:

“One of the characteristics of religious festivals that coincide with seasonal shifts is that they often share elements of their pagan equivalents. In many parts of Europe an uneasy truce exists between customs and beliefs associated with Christianity and those associated with religions that existed before Christianity arrived.

In Ireland and other Celtic countries, the last night of October was the eve of Samhain when the Celtic peoples celebrated “Winter’s Eve” and the beginning of their New Year: so it was a kind of crack in time, through which the dead returned to their old haunts and spirits swarmed to plague the living. In an attempt to Christianize this pagan festival the Church adopted the 1st of November as the feast of All Saints (or All Hallows). In temperate latitudes All Hallows Eve has lost most of its associations with the returning dead, although bands of witches and supernatural beings still roam the streets in the form of children knocking on doors to beg for Halloween candy. In England the custom is all but forgotten – the bonfires that used to burn as protection from marauding spirits are now associated with the more politically observant “Guy Fawke’s Night,” which is celebrated a few days later on November 5th.”

For more information on The Revels, please follow this link:  http://www.revels.org/

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Elizabeth: now the longest-reigning British monarch

Queen Elizabeth's Coronation, courtesy A

Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, June 2, 1953.  Courtesy Associated Press

Today Queen Elizabeth has been on the British throne longer than the former longest-throne-sitter, Queen Victoria, with over 23,226 days, 16 hours and about 30 minutes.

I know some people believe that the British Royal Family belong in the Rubbish Bin of History.  I don’t agree.

This particular Queen, in a word, has been, and continues to be, marvellous.

She lived through World War II when the Nazis dropped bombs on London, including Buckingham Palace, and she knows what war and privation are like.

She had the most wonderful mother, the Queen Mum, who helped Britain keep up its collective spirits through the war.

She lived through the dismantling of the British Empire which has allowed people to govern themselves in their own countries.

For almost her entire life she has gone around the country opening shopping malls, visiting schools and hospitals, and otherwise letting people know that she cares, and she’s done this more than any other British King or Queen in history.

At her advanced ago of almost 90, she’s still doing it, as when I saw her last year when she visited an English clothes manufacturer in a small Derbyshire village.

To put her reign in a U.S. context, she came onto the throne when Harry S. Truman was president, and she has outlasted 11 of his successors. (For more on this, see the wonderful Laurence Brown’s Lost in the Pond.)

Unfortunately, there’s no one of her stature in the next generation down, but her grandson William, wife Kate, and two children and one-on-the-way, will no doubt maintain the connection between the Royal Family and British citizens.

And that’s a Good Thing.

US vs UK: British humo(ur)

There’s a lot of joking around in England, between people who know each other, and among strangers.  Just about every interaction I have in a shop ends with a joke.

Back in the US, I often joke with people waiting with me at the “T” (Boston’s train station, like the Underground in London or the subway in New York City), in stores, or on street corners as we wait for a light to change, but I find that I’m sometimes met with blank stares. This happens in England, of course, especially if the person you’re talking to is cranky, but more often an interaction ends with a joke.

This morning I was in a little shop in my parents’ village, and I made a mention of the headline in that day’s Daily Mail to the man at the till/register. IMG_1687The headline concerned the fact that members of the House of Lords get paid 300 pounds a day for their travel expenses, no matter where they live.  Out of the 161 members of the Lords who live in London, 124 have claimed the daily allowance this year, including one who lives 200 feet away from Parliament.

Courtesy, The Daily Mail.

Courtesy, The Daily Mail.

I turned to the shop clerk and said, “Can you believe that?  300 pounds to walk 200 feet?” Without losing a beat he said, “I’ll do it for fifty.”

The crazy nettle lady plants wildflowers

Bluebell wood

Bluebell wood

The crazy nettle lady, also known as moi, is moving along with my plan to plant wildflower and bluebells seeds where nettles once grew on the lane on my uncle’s farm.

As I said in an earlier post, I hate nettles.  Not only because of their nasty stings, but because they smother the indigenous wildflowers that are so important to a wide variety of insects, bees, and other wildlife.  Nothing can grow in patches of nettles.

Last summer I pulled up 6,500 nettles along the lane and yes, I counted every one. This summer I’ve pulled up at least the same number, for a total of at least 13,000 nettles.

That’s a lot of nettles, especially if you include scratching around in the dirt to pull up their sinuous, diabolical, malevolent roots. (Did I already say that I hate nettles, especially the fact that if you leave one bit of root in the dirt, the nettles will resurrect themselves?)

Horrible nettle roots.

Horrible nettle roots.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating, but I think I’ve pulled up 1/3 of the total number of nettles on the lane, and at least 50% of the goose grass, also known as cleaver. As my mother says, Any remaining nettles quake when they see me coming.

The time has come to plant wildflowers.

I chose two patches:  one in full sun for an array of wildflowers;  the other in shade for the gorgeous English bluebells.

First, the sunny patch.

The wall had tumbled down, hence the need for the post and barbed wire, so my first job was to move the stones to the side, clear out the nettles and roots, and put the post back in.  I added several inches of the good rich dirt I got when digging the tops off molehills (more on this later).

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I then opened up a so-called “Bee Mat,” which is a fabric with wildflowers embedded in it.

The bee mat of wildflowers favoured by bees and other insects.

The so-called “bee mat” of wildflowers favoured by bees and other insects.

It has these wildflowers in it:

The wildflowers.

The wildflowers.

I placed the mat on the molehill dirt which is very black and rich . . .

IMG_1668and then covered it with 5-10 centimeters of more dirt from the molehills (however much that is–I need it said in inches, please!).

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Then I moved on to my bluebell wood.

Shady area for bluebells.

Shady area for bluebells.

There are a lot of bluebells in the wood one field away from the lane, so I collected several hundred seeds and scattered them about in the shady spot on the lane.IMG_1683 (1)

Stay tuned to this space next summer, and I’ll let you know how my plans for wildflowers turned out!

Mountains out of molehills

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IMG_1428Today my uncle Frank and I are going to tackle the molehills in one of his top fields next to the moor.

Moles can wreak havoc with farmers’ fields, not to mention churchyards, cricket pitches, and other places where land needs to be flat.

Frank is about to start silaging (basically, cutting long grass, putting it in a dry place, and covering it with sheets of plastic).  He will use it to feed cattle over the winter.  If the tops of the molehills aren’t removed, they will be sucked up with the silage and contaminate it. Even cattle don’t like to eat dirt.

There are easier ways to deal with this using machinery, but Frank doesn’t have that particular capability with the machines he has, so here we are in a field that was drenched by last night’s torrential rain, taking the tops off the molehills by hand.

The tools of our trade:  a shovel, a short hoe, and a wheelbarrow.

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The best time to deal with molehills is when the grass is short and the activity of the moles is easy to observe, like this:IMG_1657 (1)

But with all the other demands of farming, it’s not always possible to find the time to deal with molehills earlier in the year. Now in late July, the grass has grown tall and completely obscures the molehills.IMG_1423

Courtesy, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Organization.

Courtesy, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Org.

Frank and I are basically walking around the field as blind as moles, because we can’t see the molehills under the long grass.  But then we’ll feel a slight rise under our boots, and we’ll part the grass and often find what we’re looking for.IMG_1429

And most likely we discover a whole series of molehills, all of which need their tops taking off.IMG_1440

Using the hoe, we scoop the rich black dirt onto a shovel, then put it into a wheelbarrow which we then wheel to the edge of the field to dump it out, or put it in bags to use elsewhere.IMG_1438Notice the small hole below that moles use to get oxygen into their molehills.IMG_1446

It’s such rich, black dirt that I commandeer three bags for my project planting wildflowers.  The dirt isn’t appropriate for use in gardens, because it’s filled with grass seeds, but it’s perfect for me because I want to have native plants, including grasses, growing in my area set aside for wildflowers. The rest of the dirt Frank uses to fill in large ruts in a field made by tractors during the wintertime.

This is one of the many things I love about farming; almost everything can be put to use, even molehills!