Wednesday, November 27, 2019


I've been looking at my copy of History of the Town of Middlebury in the County of Addison, Vermont, which is a reprint of the 1859 edition. There is a separate section on the history of Addison County, which I hadn't read before. In that there is a description of the early use of land here that answers some of the questions I had about why the Severance family moved to this neighborhood and what they did. When Samuel Severance, the eldest Severance son, came to East Middlebury in 1786, the area was mostly wilderness, and when Vermont became a state in 1791, the population of Middlebury was only 395. The rest of the Severance family moved to South Munger Street in the 1790's, and Enos, Samuel's younger brother, built this house in about 1798. The book says that the early settlers grew wheat, which was quite profitable initially, but by the 1820's they had depleted the soil and wheat became unprofitable due to falling yields. For this reason the settlers began to graze cattle in order to produce manure to fertilize the crops, but wheat production came to a halt after a weevil blight in 1829. After that, Merino sheep became popular for several years, making Addison County the largest producer of wool in the country.

As far as the Severances are concerned, I think that they must have depleted their soil in Northfield, Massachusetts prior to moving here, and then grew wheat in Middlebury like everyone else. The land that they bought is flat and for a time was suitable for crop cultivation. However, the Severances eventually abandoned farming, probably because of insufficient profitability. The land is now only good for grasses, and that it what is mostly grown on it today. The grasses are used for cattle feed, and the fields are fertilized with cattle manure. Dairy cows are probably the largest industry locally, and there are also beef cattle. At the moment, local farmers are having a hard time getting by as a result of low dairy prices. They are also facing restrictions, since their agricultural runoff is polluting Lake Champlain.

I've read all that I'm going to in Biological Extinction and am going to move on to other subjects. The news just confirmed my latest point, in that individual countries are not doing enough to stop global warming, i.e., things are going to get much worse before they get better, per the latest U.N. report. As usual, I'm not finding new reading material that looks promising. I think I'm going to give up on biographies of artists, because the two I've looked at (on Manet and Gauguin) aren't very exciting. For lack of anything better, I may read a biography of Denis Diderot, which at least would complement my readings on Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I have a hard time with reading material, because at this stage I find practically everything that is written for mass consumption to be a little simple-minded and commercially exploitative, whereas I don't really want to delve into most writing that is exclusively academic or extremely technical. I like writing that is informative but not too abstruse, and that is rarer than you might think. I guess that I'm similar to my readers, who seem to prefer my posts on literary and artistic matters to the more scientific ones. As far as fiction goes, I seem to have evolved into a post-fiction state of mind that may be permanent. Krasznahorkai has a new novel that I may skip.

While in most respects I'm getting really sick of this Trump phenomenon, it is still an extraordinary historical event. As the situation evolves, we are seeing that, not only do we have an incompetent president whose habits are essentially criminal, but that the Republican Party has decided to support him, because they are entirely dependent on the votes of the misguided voters who have been brainwashed for years by Fox News and other perverted news sources. The more Trump's life is exposed, the more he looks like a small-time crook – the kind of person who would normally have been in and out of jail several times by now or locked up permanently. If he hadn't had the financial resources handed to him by his father that allowed him to afford legal fights, he would never have got this far. This has sociological significance, because in previous eras Trump would probably have been taken out of commission by law enforcement well before now. This indicates that free speech and the news media have been ineffective at informing the public and brings into question the ability of people in the digital era to think clearly or recognize how they are being manipulated. Thus, my posts on human limitations and stupidity are not about hypothetical matters and are relevant to events that are playing out in real time.

The mouse situation has improved, as there have been no live mice spotted on the porch recently. William is able to use his new cat door in the basement, but so far he hasn't been using it much. I don't think he is comfortable with the new ramp and has not become accustomed to regular entry and exit through the basement. Although we had a strong blast of winter, with snow and unusually low temperatures, the weather has returned to normal, and most of the snow has melted. I think that once it gets cold again William will be more inclined to use the basement cat door when he's outside freezing and everyone has gone to bed. At the moment he still prefers to paw loudly at doors to get attention to come inside. He hasn't been catching much prey recently; the other day I rescued a live chipmunk that he was trying to bring in, and it got away.

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