We got a surprise visit the last day of the Energy Fair when Jd Belanger, the founder of Countryside magazine, drove up from Medford, Wisconsin, for a visit. I believe Jd founded present day Countryside in 1970, just before John Shuttleworth founded The Mother Earth News, but Jd incorporated Smallstock Journal, which had existed since 1917, into the magazine, making the magazine title Countryside and Small Stock Journal. I could be off a bit on my dates.
Whatever, Jd is the granddaddy of homesteading magazines, and he managed to keep Countryside in the family (his children, Dave and Anne-marie now run it) so it never went through the many changes that Mother Earth News did.
I hadn’t seen Jd for about five years, as he’s a bit older than me and retired earlier, so I hardly recognized him when he walked up to the booth.
“Is that you, Jd?” I asked when he kind of just stood there in front of the BHM booth. The tip-off was that he was a big man wearing a Countryside T-shirt.
He answered: “I wasn’t sure that was you either, Dave.”
When you get to be our age, I guess you start changing rapidly in a matter of only a few years. It must be all the benefits of getting to relax and having the younger generation do all the work. Jd says he spends a lot of his time now writing books, but he did just manage to get in his garden. His next book, he says, will be some sort of Encyclopedia of self-reliance, which one of the big-time book publishers asked him to write.
I’ve always thought Jd’s original formula for a magazine was a terrific idea — having readers write in their personal experiences about their homestead and its various projects, then printing the letters, topped with a headline, relatively untouched. The magazine’s pages are interspersed with regular articles like BHM has, but Countryside is essentially a reader-written magazine.
Jd’s son, Dave, now runs the magazine, and where Jd was essentially a writer like Shuttleworth, Dave is an astute businessman who has taken Countryside’s circulation from about 30,000 to over 100,000. Jd’s daughter, Anne-marie, runs the editorial side of Countryside, and his daughter-in-law, Elaine, runs circulation. He even has his granddaughter, Kate, who is 21, working at the magazine. Now that’s how you keep a magazine true to its roots. I’m doing something similar with Backwoods Home, having my children take over the business.
In honor of my last year at the Energy Fair, I bought a keg of beer for exhibitors. It’s an Irishman’s way of saying thanks. The beer is the best, a microbrew made by Central Waters Brewing which is only available in Wisconsin. Before me, another exhibitor, Ameresco, had bought a keg for the exhibitors. He did it just for chuckles, so I contacted Richard Griswold, the generous donor at Ameresco’s booth, and gave the company a free display ad in BHM’s next issue.
Top photo: Maggie Mohs, left, and Sara Mohs, enjoy the free brew. They sold non-toxic cleaners out of their booth next to ours. Their company, Simply Neutral, is in Becker, Minnesota. They are not sisters, but sisters-in-law, having married brothers, Steve and Pat Mohs, who are at home minding the four children.
Bottom photo: A lot of people wore BHM T-shirts to the show. Here, from left, are Rich Rezny of Maple Park, Illinois, Mike and Sandy Norris of Frankfort, Indiana, and Ron Johnson of Richton Park, Illinois.
We’ll finish up the Energy Fair today, then visit BHM’s printer, Ripon Printers, a few hours drive from here in the small town of Ripon, Wisconsin. They have been printing Backwoods Home Magazine for at least a decade.
While at the Energy Fair I learned from Richard Freudenberg, the editor of Back Home Magazine out of North Carolina, that John Shuttleworth, the founder of Mother Earth News, has died. John was 71. He was found in his hot tub, having died of natural causes, presumably a heart attack. Freudenberg had worked for Shuttleworth for many years at Mother Earth News and was very fond of him.
I knew Shuttleworth only a little. We corresponded over the years by phone and snail mail, but I never met him in person. He had a bit of an abrupt personality, ticking off many people, including me, on occasion. But I had a very high regard for him. Most people think of Shuttleworth as one of the first environmentalists and a back-to-the-land pioneer who was ahead of his time, but I saw him first as a truly superb writer. Shuttleworth was brilliant in how he wove the English language into a story that was both readable and engaging. It is a talent very few people have, and I believe it was the prime reason TMEN had early success. He once told me he never found anyone who could handle copy (a story) they way he wanted it handled.
I was surprised when I learned the news. Maybe I missed it in the media, but his passing should have gotten a lot of coverage. He was, in my opinion, a truly great talent.
Hot and humid at the Fair
We’re sweltering in the heat and humidity at the MREA Energy Show, but having fun anyway. I won’t be posting the photos of everyone coming to the booth wearing a BHM t-shirt this year; we’re too exhausted once we get back to the motel in the evening and have opted to go right to bed to rest up for the next day. I have posted one photo, however, of Bob and Edna Ulrich of Brainerd, Minnesota, who drove 7 hours to get to the show.
Annie is doing most of the work of waiting on customers at the Fair while I walk about the grounds checking things out.
I am easily alarmed. When my flight was about to take off from Portland, Oregon this afternoon for the MREA Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, I noticed that the two young Arab-looking men sitting beside me were reading what appeared to be little prayer books with Arabic characters on the pages. I hoped they were doing it because they were religious, and not because they were engaged in a ritual that prepared them for Paradise.
Then the pilot announced over the intercom that if passengers looked to the right of the plane, we could watch an F15 fighter jet from the Oregon Air Guard take off. We were next in line after the after the F15, he said. It was indeed a spectacular sight with the jet’s two exhausts glowing balls of fire.
Then our pilot revved up our plane’s engines and started down the runway, only to have the engines rev down and a stewardess announce that our takeoff had been cancelled and we would taxi off the runway and get back in line. We did so quickly, and suddenly four more F15s took off, one after the other, like they were in a big hurry.
The pilot announced our takeoff had been aborted to make way for a “live military scramble.” The Arab men, meanwhile, had put away their little books and began praying, a ritualistic type praying with occasional nods of their heads.
Our Boeing 757 then turned onto the tarmac and gave its mighty roar as it headed down the runway, giving me my usual rush of adrenaline with the accompanying G forces pushing my body into my seat.
As we ascended, the Arab men began what appeared to be a ritualistic cleansing of their body with their hands, sweeping their palms over their arms and legs several times while uttering incantations that gave me the heebie jeebies.
I pulled by Pentel .9 mm P209 mechanical pencil from my shirt pocket. I always carried it. And mentally I prepared myself for any eventuality. My Pentel was 5 1/2 inches long, stiff like a knife and tapered at the business end to a metal point. It was a good self-defense weapon in the absence of anything else, and I was not going to allow myself to be taken by surprise.
Then suddenly the plane began to shake. The pilot announced that flight attendants should strap themselves into their jump seats. He told passengers that the wind had changed from 60 miles per hour to a hundred as we headed up, but that it should settle down once we entered the jet stream. That’s all I needed — a shaky plane on top of my worries about the guys sitting to my left.
In a few minutes the plane did settle down, and first one of the Arabs, then the other, fell asleep. But I watched them for the next 2 1/2 hours, until we landed in Denver, the interim stop on the way to Madison, Wisconsin. I even relaxed enough to try and use my laptop computer, but the seat was so cramped I could barely open it after putting it onto the fold-down tray on the seat to my front.
The descent to Denver was one of those stomach-in-your-throat affairs through low clouds and wind. It even got the sleepy Arabs’ attention as the plane lurched this way and that and made several abrupt drops. But we landed safely, and the Arabs went their way, and Annie and I are now waiting for a connector flight to Madison.
This will be my last Energy Fair. As you can see, I don’t travel well. Annie will do the show next year, while I stay home and fish in the Pacific. Rock fish and ling cod don’t cause as much stress as young Arab guys minding their own business.
If you’d like to come to the Fair to say hello, please do. I won’t be coming back this way again.
My oldest son, Jake, 17, graduated high school the other day. Just a day before him, Sam, 14, my youngest son, graduated grammar school. How the world moves on! I’ll still have two sons in high school, as middle son Robby will be a junior next year.
Jake will goof off all summer before taking a job in the fall. Lenie insists he work only half time at the magazine, working the other half at a job he finds himself. She’s big on the kids learning what the world is all about before they go to work at the magazine.
I’d eventually like to see all my kids work at the magazine. Annie has already taken over as managing editor, and she is a natural for the job, being a very gifted editor and able to make smart decisions on editorial content. Sam is a natural artist, so I expect him to someday replace my brilliant artist, Don Childers, who is now 78. Robby will probably run the magazine someday; he’s just real smart.
It’s interesting being an older father of these young kids. I’m 65, and my children are 26, 17, 16, and 14. I have a different perspective, I think, than younger parents. My life is more settled, and I’m possibly more attuned to my kids’ needs because of that. Then again, I’ve met people my age who are more attuned to being “old people.” But I’ll never get to that age; I’ll die first.
Jake is a wonderful guy. Tall and handsome! Smart! His body is beginning to fill out. Imagine that! His body is beginning to fill out. His body is finally realizing that he has grown up, and it is responding by giving him a man’s muscle definition. He’s basically a kid who is in the process of becoming a man. I hope some politician doesn’t decide to wage a war, then draft my son as cannon fodder.
I’m delighted for Jake, but apprehensive. He’s about to enter the field of life and navigate the traps and pitfalls that await all youth. I’ve been there. You have too. There is a lot of danger, and most of us have to make mistakes before we find the right road.
The 2009 Midwest Renewable Energy Fair will be in a few weeks — June 19-21 — in Custer, Wisconsin. Annie and I will be there in the BHM booth — Number C5 — just as we were last year. Click here to go the the MREA website for all the details.
This is a great fair, and it is the only one we have gone to for the last several years. Their politics are not nearly as libertarian and conservative as mine, but they put up with me, which says a lot. Dozens of BHM subscribers wearing BHM T-shirts have come from around the country to attend this fair the last few years. As we did last year, we’ll give you a book (one of our new smaller anthologies, Stupid People, Lenie’s cookbook, EPSG, or a CD-ROM) if you come and wear your BHM T-shirt this year. If you don’t have a BHM T-shirt, we’ll sell you one at the Fair.