Living off the Land

August 12, 2009

One of my ancestors, Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), was a master when it came to living off the land.

The following is from “The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County” by John F. Hall, Published 1900:

Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), the first permanent (white) settler on this island, so far as known, like many of his fellow-countrymen one hundred years ago, was a man of stalwart mould. He stood six feet in height and weighed fully two hundred and fifty pounds and was a Quaker. There is no evidence that he left the Quaker neighborhood at Leeds Point and came to this island to live permanently previous to 1783, when he was twenty-nine years old. He built his first log cabin and cleared away the field where it stood. He raised several crops of corn and rye and became thoroughly familiar with the very great abundance of wild ducks and geese and many kinds of sea fowl which then were tame and plenty, but are now rarely seen. He no doubt experienced the great pest of mosquitoes where there were so many ponds and swamps among the sand hills, and assisted as a wrecker in those days when many vessels with valuable cargoes were lost on the Brigantine shoals. It is difficult in these days to fully appreciate the advantages and the disadvantages which this stretch of beach afforded a young man who seems to have had no aspirations for political honors, but had his way in the world. The records at Trenton show, that he had risen to be First Lieutenant in Captain Joseph Covenover’s Sixth Company, Third Battalion, Gloucester County Militia, his commission bearing the date of September 18, 1777.

For fifty-five years this stalwart son of the Revolution lived on this lonely island and prospered, occupying log cabins till a more pretentious frame structure could be built in his old age. He raised cattle and grain and sold to passing vessels his surplus products and was under but little expense for taxes or the luxuries of life.

He was careful to build brush fences along the beach to catch the sand and build up the sand-hills to keep high tides out of the fresh water ponds so necessary for the wild fowl which comprised an important part of his food supply. He disliked to have sportsmen trespass upon his estate, though he always granted permission to shoot game under certain restrictions when he was asked.

He was particular to keep away from his sand-hills the cattle and horses which owners on the mainland brought over here in the summer to pasture. If the grass were eaten off, the sand-hills would blow away, which was detrimental to his policy of building up the island. The big sand-hills, which many now living can remember, were the result of the care and vigilance of patriarch Leeds, the original proprietor.

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In case you’re wondering why a Quaker fought in the Revolutionary War (against the Society of Friends teachings of non-violence), we need only consider this additional information provided by Mr. Hall.

Jeremiah Leeds, in his old age, used to tell the story of a visit which his father, John Leeds, received one day from foraging Redcoats, just before the Revolution.

A British vessel entered Great Bay in full view from Leeds Point. Two barges with soldiers and sailors came ashore for fresh meat. The captain ordered the Quaker farmer to drive up his cattle which were grazing in the meadows nearby. This was done, where upon two fat steers were selected from the herd and quickly knocked in the head, their bodies quartered, loaded on wagons and taken to the barges and to the ship.

“All right. That’s all,” was the farewell greeting of the captain to the farmer, who considered himself lucky in losing so little by the uninvited visitors. The steers happened to be the personal property of Jeremiah and his brother, and were worth perhaps at that time six or eight dollars per head. This event had its effect in making a soldier of a Quaker boy in the war of the Revolution which soon followed.

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Another ‘by the way’, the island that Jeremiah occupied is now better known as Atlantic City.

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Sadly, Jeremiah was part of a tiny minority of humans who tried to take care of the land upon which their lives depended. Over the centuries, industrialists and others have taken a far different approach.

For example, starting in the 1600’s, wealthy men decided that ivory billiard balls were far superior to their wooden and clay predecessors. The best source of ivory at the time was the tusks of elephants. And the only way to get the tusk of an elephant was to kill the beast.

Over the next couple of hundred years, thousands of elephants were destroyed so that their ivory tusks could be ‘harvested’. The tusks were the only things carried away by the hunters; the bodies were left to rot where they lay.

One might think that humans eventually came to their senses and recognized the evil of slaughtering innocent animals so men of wealth could strike ivory balls with wooden sticks. That wasn’t it at all. The truth is that the manufacturers of the billiard balls recognized that the world was running low on elephants. For them to remain in business, they had to find a substitute material.

Obviously, animal life has often been seen as insignificant. The great American Buffalo slaughter was not caused by the population’s insatiable appetite for Bison steaks. On the contrary, humans wanted the hides. The leather was perfect for machine belts during the Industrial Revolution, and the winter coats of the animals worked well for winter coats for humans.

The meat of the animals was left to rot much like the elephant’s carcasses.

And the blame cannot be laid at the feet of men like Buffalo Bill Cody. The animals he shot were used to feed the armies of railroad workers.

In truth, the first people to slaughter Buffaloes for the skins were the American Indians who sold the hides to the white businessmen.

I’ve heard of numerous complaints about air and water quality in the United States. Perhaps growing up in Pittsburgh gives me a different perspective.

When I was a lad, people used their headlights during the day and mothers hung their wash in the basement to keep it clean while it dried. Very few people fished in the three rivers because of all the chemical pollutants.

Today, the air is much cleaner and the rivers have become a sportsman’s paradise with trout, pike, bass, and many other species being caught on a regular basis.

Our country has done a tremendous job in reducing pollution. Is there more that needs to be done? Of course, but things are so much better than they were.

I guess you’d have to see how bad it was before you could recognize how much better it is.

As for the senseless killing of animals… unfortunately, the slaughter continues. Poachers are killing mountain gorillas so people can have vases made out of their feet, elephants are still being killed for their tusks, sharks are killed for their fins, bears for their livers, and so on.

It’s very similar to the drug trade. As long as there is someone with a wad of money willing to buy these items, men will kill innocent animals so they can feed their families.

We, as humans, have a tendancy to look the other way to avoid seeing the evils in this world. Besides, we have to keep up with the lives and deaths of people like Michael Jackson and the next American Idol. Those things are far more important.


Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.


Details We Don’t Need to Hear

June 30, 2009

In the last few weeks, the entertainment world has lost some true luminaries.

First it was Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, followed by Michael Jackson and Billy Mays. Three out of the four were easily classified as ‘natural’ although it would be nice if someday cancer can be removed from the list of natural causes.

Billy Mays grew up in McKees Rocks (a few miles from Pittsburgh) which was within ten miles of Crafton Heights – where I called home. Our age difference ensured that we never had an opportunity to meet while we were both living in Pittsburgh. That’s a shame because he seemed to be a real likable fellow.

All four of these celebrities lived busy stress-filled lives. While I have no way of knowing for sure, they all may have used some substance – prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol – to unwind from their daily grinds. However, it seems that Michael Jackson is the only one who abused those substances.

People might get upset with such comments, but when the nanny of his children tells reporters that one of her duties was to pump Michael’s stomach when he’d taken an overdose of drugs, we have to recognize that he was an habitual abuser.

But wait! The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are already in front of the cameras – they simply cannot pass up a good photo opportunity – praising the man for all he did for popular music. When asked about Michael’s problems, they quickly point the finger of accusation at Elvis Presley. (It’s interesting that they didn’t show up in Memphis or wherever to help Elvis’ family plan his funeral.)

The “someone else has done something worse” tactic is used all too often by people who refuse to admit that their ‘hero’ could do anything wrong. The same happened when Bill Clinton finally acknowledged what he was doing with Monica. His defenders, rather than saying “that was wrong” pointed the finger at Richard Nixon.

Defenders of Richard Nixon are quick to point the finger at Franklin Roosevelt – after all, didn’t he die while spending a quiet weekend with his mistress?

Why can’t people simply say, “What he did was absolutely wrong.” And leave it at that. No ‘buts’ about it. Yes, the man was a tremendous entertainer, however, he sent the wrong message to many of our youth. Drugs and deviant behavior are fine as long as you’re a super star! Is that what we want our children to grow up believing?

But Wait! There’s more! If you act now, you’ll realize I’m paying tribute to the guy who convinced my step-daughter and my bride that laundry isn’t truly clean unless Oxi-Clean is put in with the regular soap.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on the kitchen.


Michael Jackson’s Band Wagon

June 26, 2009

If you don’t mind, I’d rather toss Michael under the band wagon.

For many of us, yesterday’s bigger loss was the death of Farrah Fawcett who finally lost her three year battle with cancer. Even with her tremendous suffering, Farrah had the courage to put together a documentary of her struggle to demonstrate the importance of not giving up.

And what was Michael Jackson doing during the last three years? I really don’t know and I obviously don’t care. After the repeated accusations of child molestation, the plastic surgeries to make him look more like Liz Taylor, and his many other idiotic actions, I got tired of hearing his name.

In many ways, I feel sorrier for Michael than I do for Farrah. Farrah was battling a physical enemy. Michael’s enemies were mostly in his own mind.

When the Jackson Five first came on the scene in the late 60’s, I was a big fan of the young Michael Jackson. As time progressed and his musical style changed, I lost interest. Perhaps that was my fault for getting old. I quit listening to rock and roll music as it evolved toward what it is today. Somewhere along the line, I switched to country music which, today, is more reminiscent to the rock and roll of my youth. With country music, a story is told and I can understand the lyrics. (That’s how I know a story is told.)

The young Mr. Jackson was very good looking. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his appearance. But then his skin began to get lighter and his nose turned into something you’d expect to see on a Caucasian. In truth, it makes me wonder what his body looked like. How far down his neck did the doctors go when they turned his skin lighter?

Enjoying cookies and milk and sleeping with little boys. I don’t care how much of a Michael Jackson fan you are – that is beyond weird. It makes me wonder what sort of demons shared that body with the fabulous entertainer.

Yes. I called him a fabulous entertainer. While I didn’t care for his music, millions of other folks disagreed with me. They loved his concerts.

During the last American Idol, I thought sure Adam Lambert would win because, of all the other contestants, he was the best entertainer. He seemed to be a natural on the stage… just as Michael Jackson was.

Kris Allen is a very talented young man, but he doesn’t have the stage presence of Adam Lambert. I think Adam lost because most Americans thought sure he was going to win. So, they either didn’t bother to vote, or they voted for Kris to make it close.

I think a similar thing happened when Bill Clinton beat George Bush. Everyone was sure Bush would win, so many voted for Ross Perot… so that Bush wouldn’t win by a landslide.

Oops! I strayed off the original topic. My apologies.

Getting back to Michael, I always hate to see a person die before his or her time, but I can’t help wondering how much Michael’s demons contributed to his demise. In a way, he’s been fighting his own form of cancer for most of his life. Maybe that explains his weird behavior.

Numerous personalities have stated that most of us will long remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of Michael’s death. Some likened it to the death of Elvis Presley – another performer I didn’t really care for. Some even went so far as to compare it to the death of John F. Kennedy.

Sorry. That takes it too far. Both entertainers were extremely popular with their fan base, but the assassination of a United States President is more than a little different.

I have no idea of what I was doing on the day of Elvis’ death. I couldn’t even tell you the year he died let alone the month and day. Soon I’ll be in the same situation with Michael’s death (as well as Farrah’s), but I’ll never be that way when it comes to JFK.

I was a sophomore at Edinboro State Teachers College on November 22, 1963. I was at my off-campus housing when I heard JFK had been shot. I then walked into town where I got the word that he had died.

Come to think of it, it’s a bit troublesome that our culture puts more emphasis on the lives of entertainers than on politicians. No wonder our government is so screwed up.