So long, and thanks for all the weed
Crash Barry bids farewell
by Crash Barry
My motivation to start writing the One Maniac’s Meat column, back in the summer of 2008, was fear. Sweetgrass and I were living all the way Down East, working hard for Wilbur the Alpaca Farmer. Bush and Cheney were still in the White House and, as far as I could see, the future was all doom and gloom. Karmic payback for Afghanistan, Iraq, Gitmo and rampant corporatism.
July 3, 2008: The end of the world is near. Food riots. Transportation strikes. Crop failures. Famine. Salmonella. Cyclones. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Floods. Wildfires. Landslides. War. Terror. Shark attacks. Plague. Asteroid collisions. Drinking-water shortages. Torrential rain. Everlasting droughts. Bee die-off. The end of the Mayan calendar. The pending magnetic pole shift.
No doubt, a major catastrophe is imminent. We deserve what we get because we’ve been pigs at the trough, happiest and most active when consuming. Back and forth, bumping snouts and skulls. Grunting and yelping, licking and slurping with no regard for manners or personal space. We fight and bite, pawing a warm slop of egg shells, cooked potato peels, kitchen scraps, garden waste and bacon-maker commercial feed. We screech and squeal for more, even when the trough is still half full, and keep shouting and swilling until the food disappears, then wander to the opposite corner of the sty — time to shit.
My intention was to document my efforts to become more involved in the production of my own food, so as to survive the impending apocalypse. The early columns were devoted to topics like cutting firewood, raking blueberries, foraging for mussels and canning pickles. However, it soon became apparent to me that, as a newbie to the neo-homesteader movement, I didn’t know very much. More experience would be necessary before I could knowledgeably write about living closer to nature. So when I started working on an organic dairy farm, and then moved here to Dreamstead in 2010, the focus of the column turned to tales about angry lobstermen, a lunatic millionaire, and drunken sailors.
Over the last five years, good luck and my day job as an author and filmmaker have allowed me to spend nearly all my time on the 20 acres of Dreamstead. For relaxation and distraction, I cleared land and raised pigs, chickens, marijuana and garlic, while trying to observe and learn from the natural world around me.
I’ll admit that I consider rearing animals for food a completely unnatural task. I can’t think of any other species that raises another for the sole purpose of eating them. But as an avowed carnivore, I prefer to raise food critters myself, with love, respect and attention, rather than hunt and kill wild game in the woods.
The forest, the swamp, the meadow, the fields and the streams are all flawless. Everything is perfect. The fallen tree and rotting logs. The mud and dirt. Molds and mushrooms. Around here, a multitude of diverse and complex ecosystems coexist and thrive — a living masterpiece blended of color and smell.
Nature is perfect without even trying. Nature doesn’t have to try. Nature just is. The flora and fauna are truly existing in the moment, without considering their purpose or work or worries. There is no judgment in nature, other than the survival questions contemplated by all species. Is that thing good to eat? Is that water fit to drink? Is someone around here gonna eat me?
The more time spent in the woods, the more obvious and egregious modern society’s distance from its earthly roots seems. In the blink of an eye, from the perspective of human evolution, most of the population has become ungrounded and out-of-balance. Smart phones and instant gratification prevent folks from living in the moment. This is part of the ultimate goal of the Great Distract-athon perpetrated by the evil foursome of big business, government, media and organized religion, all of whom benefit financially from fear and unrest among the masses. Thanks to wireless technology, they’ve successfully created a compliant society of consumers willingly tracked and manipulated. Parents, do your kids a favor and throw away their phones. Save them from becoming part of the culture of dupes, always being tricked into believing the latest narrative of hatred and prejudice against our alleged enemies, scared into serving the interests of the corporate overlords who own America.
The animosity consuming our country is obviously unsustainable, economically and spiritually. No worries, though. This is all temporary. As history has repeatedly shown us, every empire is bound to fail. It’s just a matter of time.
Although I’ve recently started meditating and stretching again, I’m never more in the moment than when I’m wielding a chainsaw and felling trees. With ear protection, the noise isn’t that loud. And the gas and oil my saw consumes in the process of cutting enough firewood to heat the house for the entire winter is a fraction of a day’s carbon footprint of a furnace that burns fossil fuels.
Notching and cutting a wedge out of the bark and pulp, I’m totally focused. After thanking the tree and completing the felling cut on the backside of the notch, I look up. In harmony with the wind, the treetop sways and leans one last time. I’m watching, journeying with that tree on its final descent as it falls exactly where I intended. As I toil further, more and more trees come down. As potential pasture appears and the sun shines in, I feel joyful and filled with gratitude for the chainsaw and the ability to be on this land.
Of course, I’m also super-focused and in the moment because this task is dangerous. And the roar of the saw serves me well as a barrier blocking the stream of worrisome thoughts and anguish that plagues me sometimes. Plus, the saw is a good way to maintain distance from the realm of e-mails and responsibilities and questions. No one can reach me over its clamor.
My goal these days is to be in the moment more often, but without the crutch of the chainsaw.
My hermitic lifestyle has made venturing into civilization difficult. I’m more sensitive now to lights and noises than I was when I lived in a city, or even on an island. It’s excruciating to walk down an aisle in the farm-supply or hardware store between bags of bug and weed killers. The chemicals’ presence sickens me, as if I’m tasting their deadly power through the packaging, physically sensing their potential to destroy ecosystems and kill off the bees.
It’s maddening that food producers have become so addicted to pesticides, herbicides, additives and antibiotics. There are so many natural, organic ways to battle diseases and pests. Modernity’s dependence on lethal laboratory concoctions is yet another indicator of our collective laziness. Poisons mean less work. Got lots of bugs? Spray expensive chemicals, the merchants of death advise, instead of building bird and bat houses and eliminating standing water.
We’ve been conditioned to fall for the sales pitches and never question supposedly necessary poisons. For example, I’m not a fan of wasp-killing spray, but I have used it sparingly in the past. Hives around here are left alone, unless they pose threats to humans or dogs. This summer, wasps built a giant nest right next to our only outdoor water spigot. Due to the location, spraying was not an option. Instead, I used a long stick to knock the hive into a trash barrel, then covered it. A day later, I dumped the hive in the woods — problem solved. Now I wonder why the hell I’ve ever used cans of wasp-killer.
Understanding the behavior of a critter often illuminates the best solution to its bothersome antics. Consider the deer fly of western Maine, the forest cousin to the horsefly. These buggers reproduce from late June to early August. During momma deer fly’s first pregnancy, she’s a vegetarian, drinking flower nectar and leaf water to survive. But after birthing her first brood, you better watch out. Before her second (and any subsequent) round of eggs hatch, momma needs mammalian blood, and lots of it. So she and her thirsty sisters swarm like vampires in search of victims. The top of the human head is an especially delicious place to bite. Our capillaries are so close to the surface, the smell drives them crazy with bloodlust.
Sprays and bug zappers are useless in this fight. My most successful technique, to date, involves brute force. When swarmed by these bloodsuckers, I stand still and let them attack. Then I slowly and steadily clap my hands together a couple inches over my head as the bitches divebomb my noggin. Eventually they all fly into the clapping trap and die.
Of course, when chainsawing, my hands aren’t free to clap, so I use a different technique. Because the deer fly is attracted to the color blue, I cut pieces of blue painter’s tape and make a square in the center of a baseball cap, right atop the flies’ desired dining spot. Then I apply a thick layer of sticky goo, called Tanglefoot, which is similar to the stuff on fly paper. Throughout the workday, I periodically check to see how many deer flies are stuck in the glue. When the tape is full of flies, I peel it off and apply a new patch.
I didn’t invent this method (thanks, Internet!), but I’m pretty sure it’s based on the old-time Maine woodsmen technique of coating their hardhats with bear fat during fly season. The sticky blue tape accomplishes the same result, but it’s less messy and doesn’t necessitate the slaughter of an innocent bear.
I don’t fear the collapse of civilization anymore and no longer think human extinction is imminent. Instead, I’m vaguely hopeful that future disasters will be catalysts for a paradigm shift away from the ego-driven and angry patriarchy that’s dominated most societies for many centuries. Face it, fellas: our mindless wars and endless greed have fostered a world order fueled by hate and filled with sorrow and suffering. Modern civilization’s commodification of life has turned every rite of passage, from birth to burial, into big business for the corporatists and big profits for investors.
Only a matriarchy can save us and restore the sanity and love that has disappeared from our cultures. That doesn’t mean replacing men with women in the same jobs with the same titles. A new system based upon the values of community and empathy, rather than capitalism and power, will be required. I’m talking about a society in which healers and teachers and farmers are revered, and warmongers and exploiters of land, people or animals are neutered by the promise of love and the fear of banishment.
That’s why a massive karmic calamity is necessary for the heavy lifting. The new matriarchy shouldn’t have to clean up the mess left behind by the banks, the politicians and the priests. Sounds harsh, but total destruction of the patriarchy’s overly complicated infrastructure, imaginary borders and self-serving governments will be required before the masses awaken from their smart-phone-induced comas.
Then, after a colossal die-off, the smoke will clear and women will emerge as the new leaders of humankind. Memories of the nightmarish terror caused by out-of-control male rage will still be fresh in the collective consciousness, so survivors will welcome the shift and worship Mother Earth for her natural beauty, wisdom and order. Under the guidance of the Divine Feminine and the Shakti goddesses, balance will be restored. Living in the moment will be the norm, not the exception, and we will finally reestablish our connections to Gaia.
Only then, my dear friends, will there be peace on Earth.
I’ve never publicly admitted this before, but as a teenager I seriously considered a career in politics. And John Kerry saved my life.
Back in the summer of 1984, I was 16, tall and lanky. Born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, I was volunteering on then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Late one night, after an appearance at a street festival in Northampton, I was chilling at the Springfield headquarters with Kerry and campaign worker Billy Tranghese, who later became a congressional staffer and was active behind the scenes of the Irish peace process. I was drinking an ice cold long-neck Budweiser, a real treat for me. The men were discussing strategy and I felt lucky to be listening to such high-level conversations.
Then, while taking a swig from the bottle of Bud, I somehow knocked out my false right front tooth (acquired after a bicycle accident when I was seven years old) and it got lodged in my throat while I still had a mouthful of beer. Without warning, I spewed the brew, but the device remained stuck. Gagging, coughing, choking, I gasped and waved my hands in the air.
Kerry and Tranghese stopped talking and looked at me. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, this scene plays out like a grainy home video or security-camera footage. Both men stood and began slapping my back, hard. The false tooth flew out and landed on the table. I was saved.
Around this same time period, I befriended Larry O’Brien, the former commissioner of the NBA. More significant to me was his earlier job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Back in 1972, the bumbling Watergate burglars broke into his office in an attempt to tap his phone and photograph campaign documents. The ensuing cover-up by Nixon’s aides ultimately brought down the president.
O’Brien was the most famous graduate of Cathedral High School. As a reporter for the Cathedral Chronicle, I was granted the opportunity to interview the man. He was kind and took my questions seriously. Our conversation lasted a couple hours and was wide-ranging, full of laughs, mixed with eye-opening and somber stories. He talked about being with President Kennedy in Dallas when the CIA (in my opinion) killed JFK. He told me about serving as Postmaster General under LBJ. We discussed Watergate, and he mentioned his stint working as a public-policy lobbyist for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. He also described overseeing the implementation of the three-point shot in the NBA. Not bad for a Irish kid from Springfield.
The next time I saw Larry was at my sister Patricia’s graduation from Cathedral, where he delivered the commencement speech. During the reception that followed, Larry spotted me and greeted me warmly. I introduced him to my parents and my grandmother, and he spoke fondly of our time together, like we’d been colleagues reminiscing over a drink or two.
I bumped into him again four years later, when I was in the Coast Guard, and he still remembered me. By then, though, I’d long since lost my zeal for governing. After discovering the joys of beautiful women and mind-bending psychedelics, the imaginary constructs of the legislative arena seemed so banal. There is no doubt in my mind that a political career, for me, would have ended disastrously and in scandal — most likely a scandal involving drugs and/or an inappropriate relationship with an intern.
I’d fallen under the spell of another elderly white man from my childhood neighborhood, and there was no turning back.
Psychedelic guru and futurist Timothy Leary and I grew up about a mile apart in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield. We both swam in Lake Lorraine on hot summer days and attended St. Matthew’s Church every Sunday. His mother (who in my memory was an ancient crone) and my mom were friends who met through the church’s Women’s Guild.
Unfortunately, Leary was born half a century before I was, and we never met. But like a sports fan’s devotion to the hometown team, my adoration of Leary ran strong and our ancestral connection stoked my desire for a psychedelic lifestyle. When locals spoke of Leary, they usually did so in hushed tones, stained with shame. After all, Nixon had once labeled him “the most dangerous man in America.”
Following several awesome experiments with LSD as a teenager, I learned the truth about the old bad boy from my ’hood and was enthralled by his mission of peace, love and mind expansion — an inspiration that continues to this day.
My mom and dad were fine people. Devout Catholics and ardent supporters of parochial education, my dad and a handful of his friends ran a weekly Bingo game for almost 20 years in order to keep the doors of our school from being shuttered. By 1978, it was apparent that Bingo revenue and tuition payments weren’t enough to keep the lights on. Thus, the St. Matthew’s Parish Festival was born.
My mom ran the huge concessions tent. My dad was in charge of the festival’s overall operation, which included supervising the gambling shanties filled with wheels of chance and dice games, where real money was wagered and won (or, more often, lost, which benefitted the school; I recall that my dad took a week off from his job as an accountant at a paper company to focus on the festival.) As a tall 10-year-old, I was pressed into service to handle odd jobs. Most involved me hauling trash to the dumpsters behind the JFK Junior High School athletic fields, where the four-day event was staged.
When the carnival company arrived in a long procession of trucks and trailers, campers and food carts, I was assigned to help a trio of carnies connect to the municipal water supply behind the school. We unrolled 500 feet of thick hose and fastened one end to a hydrant.
“All right,” said the tall and extremely pale carnie. He wore a leather vest with no shirt, his long black hair secured around his skull in a headband. He looked like an albino Frank Zappa. “Smoke break,” he announced.
He pulled out a spliff and sparked it, toked and held in the smoke, puffed again, then handed it to the next guy, who dragged long and hard. Which seemed odd. I’d watched my mom smoke a gazillion cigarettes and never once did she share one. And she always exhaled. The first guy mumbled something and the second laughed and out came a plume of blue smoke. The third dude grabbed the joint and puffed, then offered it to me.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t hesitate. All I remember for certain about that first puff was the brief coughing fit it caused me after I handed it back to the albino. By the time the joint returned, I was ready to give it another shot. Cough. Cough. The joint wandered the circle and came back once more. I inhaled deeper this time, and with more confidence. I filled my lungs with the sweet smoke and held it, like the carnies did. Then I exploded with coughs.
And I was sooooo high. The carnies went back to work and I found my bicycle and rode around the groovy festival grounds. The soccer field and baseball diamonds were transformed into a magical midway. I pedaled among the booths and rides. Sounds and visuals abounded and astounded me. I heard someone calling my name. I slammed on the brakes and turned around. There was my pal in the leather vest. He and another man were putting the finishing touches on the High Striker.
“Wanna help us test the rig?” he called out. “You just gotta swing the hammer!”
I dropped my bike to the grass and approached. The dude handed me a 10-pound sledge and pointed to the fulcrum at the base of the game. “Hit it as hard you can,” he said. “Let’s see how strong you are.”
I swung and hit the sweet spot. The puck jumped a third of the way up the pole. “Not bad,” he said, using a wrench to tighten a bolt. “Try again.”
So I did. Over and over for several minutes. The puck didn’t climb much higher. No big deal. I was only 10 years old. Not yet a strong man, but it felt good to swing the sledge and hit something. I didn’t get high again with carnies for another 20 years (while on an undercover assignment for Maine Times), but I remained friends and hung out with those guys for the rest of the festival.
This is my final column for The Bollard. I’m finishing up for several reasons.
One is my utter disdain for the emasculated media and corrupt solons who rule the realms of public discussion and stifle any meaningful debate. Being a reporter used to mean something. News was “important information that important people don’t want you to know.” Nowadays, knuckleheaded bloggers and bloviators have become the norm, reposting stolen Facebook posts and links to YouTube videos so the newspaper’s website can have cheap content, free of any sense of journalistic responsibility. Such is the swill published under the banner of formerly respectable publications.
Plus, I gotta end the column because I’m running out of polite, family-friendly topics suitable for the masses. But mostly I’m doing so because I’m tired, mentally and physically, having endured a series of stressors (books, films, stalkers, lawsuits and loss) that have cumulatively undercut my ability to write under any sort of deadline pressure. Even the once-a-month commitment to The Bollard began to seem like a battle I had to face.
This ain’t new. I’ve found it difficult to write on demand ever since my days as a cub reporter, in 1993 and ’94, at the American Journal, in Westbrook, working under the tutelage of publisher Harry Foote. I’ve always made deadlines, though — otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted 22 years in this nutty biz.
The pressure had its ill effects. By the turn of the century, during the last glory days of Casco Bay Weekly, I was able to handle it by getting really high and drinking heavily with Comrade Busby every Tuesday night, right after the paper went to press. But that was only a temporary solution. It never cured my deadline anxiety.
In recent years, it has gotten worse. Constantly busy, trying to meet contracts and deadlines, it seemed my work was never done. I was so out-of-balance that I could barely walk through a doorway without bumping into the jamb. I’d finish one project and there was the next, demanding my undivided attention. Panic attacks became routine, and a cloud of sadness loomed overhead.
Being closer to nature saved me, but it hasn’t restored my balance. Not yet. I still have tons of friggin’ work to get there. But my time watching birds, trees, sky and pigs definitely prevented me from completely losing my mind. When I’m listening to a porcine snort or a chicken squawk or oak leaves dropping to the ground, I’m right there. Fully present. Alive and aware. Not worrying or fearing the future. No guilt or shame from the past. In touch with the core. Trusting the universe that everything is exactly the way it should be.
Then I’d go back to my writing shack, sigh and re-immerse into the routine of labor and worry. In the long run, it was my workaholic tendencies, not the drugs, that ruined me as a journalist. Let that be a lesson to the children.
My life is changing. Ending my commitment here means I won’t have any more work deadlines. This winter will be devoted to putting the finishing touches on my raunchy new book, Coastie: Confessions of a Drunken Sailor. When it’s done, I’ll know. There are no expectations, no dates circled on the calendar, no promises of delivery or signed contracts awaiting fulfillment. Just storytelling for the pure pleasure and art of the craft.
And then, when I’m satisfied with it, I’ll sell the lurid saga for big bucks.
Having written 80 episodes of One Maniac’s Meat, I’ve accomplished all my goals for the column. I completed three separate storytelling arcs based on my time in Eastport, my service in the Coast Guard, and my experiences working and living on Matinicus, which eventually became the book Tough Island.
In this last year, I’ve shared many tips and tales about raising food and living on the land. I’ve done so in part to satisfy my obligations to Comrade Busby, but also to show my readers that following and achieving dreams is possible. You don’t have to listen to the corporatists and naysayers who scare folks into remaining compliant slaves to the fragile system of modern existence. No matter your dream, if it’s meant to be, you will achieve it. It might take an overwhelming amount of work and then not turn out exactly as you initially envisioned. Or the magic can happen in a split second and be surprisingly more wonderful than you ever thought possible. You can do it. I know you can. Just try.
Sweetgrass and I have enough pork and chicken to eat freely for at least a year. We’ve got six or eight months’ worth of potatoes, many, many onions and more garlic than even an addict like I can consume. There are bags of frozen pesto, peas, green beans and roasted tomatoes from the garden in the freezer. We didn’t raise and grow all the food we’re gonna eat, but we’re so thankful for what we have. Eight hens are laying daily. Six cords of firewood are stacked and covered, and next year’s fuel is already felled, waiting to be cut and split. Seven pounds of seed garlic have been planted and heavily mulched. The weed jars are full and I’m looking forward to learning how to cross-country ski.
I’m so blessed and grateful. For Sweetgrass and her help and love. For Kuan Yin and Saraswati. For the dogs. For Super-Pine and Porky-Pine. For my pals and readers. For the land and for the lifestyle I’ve been able to sustain. And for the critters I’ve gotten to know and eat.
Lately I’ve been drawn to the idea of becoming a psychedelic guide, catering to the terminally ill. Scientific studies have shown that LSD and peyote and magic mushrooms all have the ability to assist in the process of coming to terms with impending death. Peace of mind for the dying is amazingly valuable for them and those they leave behind. I think my perspective and past drug experiences (as well as experiences yet to come) would be helpful to those considering such a voyage.
Sweetgrass and I plan to travel, hopefully soon, to Peru, in order to experience ayahuasca. To heal. To learn. To let go and discover and embrace our true selves. Then I’ll come home and I’ll be ready, for sure, to help others.
I just started reading The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys, by psychedelic pioneer James Fadiman, to learn more about the process and the responsibilities of being a psychedelic guide. Listening seems to be a big part. Kindness. Being aware. Being of service. Being in the moment.
Sounds good to me.
Join Crash Barry and Dave Gutter for the Portland premiere of their film, Sex, Drugs and Blueberries, on Dec. 3, at 9:30 p.m., at the Nickelodeon in Portland. Purchase the DVD at Bull Moose or the digital download at sexdrugsandblueberries.com.