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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Farm Day Meets Rube Goldberg

A week ago, Bells Bend Park, Farm Day:  Our farm and Kevin's had produce for sale, we had Friends Of Bells Bend information, baked goods, barbecue, hayrides, a horse, a goat, and slides shows of the farm. 
Beautiful day, with folks trickling in all day--a total of about 500, picnic lunches, and great music by a lineup of teen bands. 

I heard, down by the antique tractor display, a noisy pff-pff-pff-pff-PUTT-pff-pff sound and had to check it out.  Might have known! 

Mike Flowers' can-crusher was hard at work, and I just had to laugh and laugh.   Mike had found the engine, an old rusted block of iron, in his front pasture, and had carefully restored, repainted, and etcetera, until the 1921 Hercules ran again.  Somebody told me it is called a "hit and miss" engine, and fires only when the flywheel slows down, therefore very economical to run.  (Somebody else said all one-strokes sound like that:  I don't know enough about engines to tell, but would rather have a "hit and miss" engine than a one-stroke, and so would you.) 

This was connected to a maze of SQUARE gears--yes, they work!--machined at Nashville Tech, and all that power eventually jammed a piston into a coke can, which, obediently crushed into a tidy package, fell into a bucket. 

Rube Goldberg, eat your heart out.

Gotta tell you--the best entertainment, a fabulous day in the life. 

Mike Flowers' Rube Goldberg square gear 1921 Hercules hit-or-miss can crusher

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Outstanding! In the Field.

Well, that dinner that Tom had mentioned a couple of times:  This afternoon-- 150 foodies in our front pasture, nibbling on venison rillettes with caramelized onions, basking in the cool October sun, and touring the garden. 

The Outstanding in the Field people organized this dinner, as they do around the country, to bring cooks, food-lovers, and their farmers together.  To their shocked surprise (and ours) this event sold out in one day, the moment it opened, back in March. 

We caravaned down to Ellen's place, where a beautiful lo-o-o-ng table stretched across the lawn, from driveway to oak tree, looking across George's bottom land to the hills on the other side of the river.   And dinner was simply heavenly: arugula salad with Benton's ham and Kentucky cheese, radish salad (this was so gorgeous, just brilliant pinks and greens) with spicy sausage, crispy fried Mississippi quail with cubes of sweetpotatoes and winter squash, tender beef with grilled veggies (carrots, tiny turnips, bok choy), and a dessert of cornbread with apples, rhubarb and buttermilk dressing.  With paired wines.  Oh, I forgot the creamed greens--had to have a bit of a second helping of that! 

Tyler Brown, the chef extraordinaire from the Capitol Grille, was the featured cook, with much of the dinner coming from our own Bells Bend Farms and from Tyler's farm at Glen Leven.  (Tom took his spader over there last spring to help prepare the soil, and JeffThe BarefootFarmer has been working with Tyler, too.)

It was cold, though, but folks were clustered at the table, lit by little oil lamps in canning jars, chatting and laughing and not really wanting to pull away. 

It's been quite the weekend, entertaining 500 people in two events, both of which were managed flawlessly by other people.  OK, make that 505--counting Zach, who is now living in Liz's room for a while, and Tom's college friends. 

You know, cultures, in the scientific sense, are all about multiplication of an organism. A culture seems to have taken root around here, that is warm, hospitable, welcoming, and social.  May it multiply and may you all come to enjoy something like it, wherever you are.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hops Festival and Barn Dance

Yes, yes, I know the summer has happened since last I wrote here.  Nonetheless.

Walking up to the house in the rain late last night, I left the HopsFest and BarnDance still in full and literal swing, a hundred celebrants still dancing in the drizzle to the tune of the Bells Bend String Band.  

We had a couple of Tom's Davidson classmates here visiting, and about three hundred other folks dropped in.  Yazoo's Linus Hall and his family handed out this year's Bells Bend Preservation Ale (very "hoppy", my beerfans tell me--I liked it!), and Stewart Orchard set up a cider press.  The legendary Martha Stamps made chili and roasted our fall veggies. 

Odle (one of our wonderfully rascally neighbors), Matt Walker, Patrick, Julia, the Cobles, and a string of kids-we-have-known-now-grown-up were here, as well as King Carlos, a friend of the Bend who was crowned by one of the five kings of a miniscule territory in Micronesia this last summer. 

But what really knocked me out, when I wandered to the back of the kitchen for a view of the band from backstage, was the drummer.  Thin, intense, in a newsboy cap, he was arranging a semicircle of market baskets around the box where he sat, between drying garlic and a pile of pumpkins, tapping with his drumsticks as he tuned this makeshift drumset, and then lit into the music, his complicated and precise riffs perfectly framing the squaredance band.  Between songs, he pulled a somebody's folded metal chair--or was it a tripod?-- into the mix, which gave a little metallic edge. 

Mark tells me he's a brilliant fusion drummer.  I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I'm totally convinced. 

I thought the whole evening was a brilliant fusion event. Whatever that means.  As I walked home in the rain.

Friday, June 29, 2012


One hundred and seven degrees at the corner store.  No rain for weeks.  The creek is barely alive, and clogged with algae, and the pasture pond is as low as its been in my Sulphur Creek lifetime.  The birch tree is shedding its leaves in protest, and the shrubs are wilted and drab.  The heat is like a sledgehammer. 

In spite of it all, the rich composted soil in the farm gardens is an amazing medium, and the farmers have not yet watered very much, the peppers still look pretty perky, and the pigs are still happy in the woods.

I personally was felled by a sycamore tree last Saturday--a large branch hurtling down on me as I ran in to the West End Farmer's market to pick up a bag of blueberries.  Dizzy, bleeding, and a bit nauseated, I was ambulanced in to the ER, observed for a while, and sent home to complete recovery.  (We kept the plastic-wrapped frozen sausage that a kind merchant had clapped to my bleeding head...)

And a word about our old friend Steve Rudd, who died unexpectedly last week:  one of the most brilliant minds I've ever met, wildly funny, and such a decent heart.  We always missed him--he was endlessly evasive when it came to visiting--but this is different.  Well, you usually did sneak away without saying good-bye, didn't you?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hops Morning. Evening.

Keith snapped this yesterday morning on his way to work--the cool morning fog behind the shed, with hops vines silhouetted in front.  My Vanderbilt team of interns and residents oohed and aahed--"you could put that on a postcard!". 

Jeff the Barefoot Farmer has been helping another farm project here in town, and came by a couple of times last week to anoint our compost piles with horn prep--one of those mysterious biodynamic witches' brews that seems to work so well--and to finish off Martha's borscht for his supper.

Potluck music was especially nice this week (bass, fiddle, flute, banjo, dulcimer, guitar, dobro), but, as usual, my bedtime interferes--I like hearing the faint melodies through the bedroom window, though.

Let's see, what else: pool's open, daughter #1 is here for a few days (I always get a kick out of my wait time at the bus depot--it's not the airport crowd, that's for sure!), daughter # 3 left for summer job, #1 husband successfully reuned with highschool and college classes without me,  dogs are fine, cats are skinny/fat as per their destiny as usual.  My good tablecloths showed up on the Vandy farmer's market tables, but have since been restored to their drawer. 

And every Tuesday evening, I walk back to the house in the fog and moonlight, leaving the music and the bonfire behind. Ollie always trots alongside.  At ten o'clock, most of the fireflies are high off the ground,  like tiny party lights in the hackberry trees.   I'd like to say something profound about the contrasting pleasures of the crowd clustered by the fire and the solitary and quiet walk home, but I better quit right now.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's a Sign.

It's up!  Not quite finished, though.   Our new Scottsboro sign. 

Today Jim and Keith screwed the stainless steel letters in place and carefully loded the giant log onto the Kubota's front end loader.  I came home in time to watch Keith maneuver the unwieldy load--lifting the bucket to clear our front gateposts--down the highway.  But this doesn't do it justice--the caravan included Jim's pickup truck in front, the tractor, the other Jim's pickup, George's big green high-sided farm truck, my antique minivan, and, promptly, an impatient teen in a bright yellow pickup trying in vain to zigzag around us.

Keith finessed the tractor into position, with tiny moves forward and back, since he was wedged between the posts and a construction trailer on the property.  The two Jims, Zach, Odle, Kathleen and I provided variably useful feedback, and it first looked as though, due to the slope, the tractor would not be able to lift the crosspiece quite high enough.  More tilting, adjusting, bringing the load down to rotate the log so the letters would be vertical.  And then, in the 5 minutes while I was gone to fetch the peavey, there it was, settled carefully twelve feet up. 

Odle climbed up into the basket, there was a bit more lifting and shims tucked behind the left end, someone tossed up the mallet and Odle drove in the spikes. 

Now DiAnne has to paint our logo and the signboard with moveable letters mounted in place, and--voila, there it is.

But Keith is the real hero here.  A sign was part of our local "charm offensive", but no one dreamed of such a handsome piece of work.  Keith designed it, and helped Lonnell Matthews and Phil wrestle it through codes.  It was too complicated to get permission to put in in the rightofway, and Phil, bless him, volunteered a corner of his property.  I'm not sure exactly who wangled the two-foot utility poles--they were the massive leftovers from the hops pole project. 

Ellen's family company cut the letters from brushed stainless steel,  and the sign gang who were here today, plus Joe and Tom,  installed the uprights a couple of weeks ago.  Itself no small task. 

So here's to Keith, and everybody.  I'm just miffed because I didn't get to see the peavey put to work.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gloomy Saturday. And yet.

Tom and I were just fixin' to head to the cinema for a mindless evening of The Avengers, when I was paged, on the phone, and Jeff the Barefoot Farmer and his Oregon friend Jim barged in.  DiAnne was here, having brought her sweet-woodruff-infused May wine, and we had just watched I'll Have Another in another spectacular run--the Preakness, this time. 

The cinema lost out to a pleasant hour by the koi pond, talking about running cattle on grassland--Jeff was fresh from a lecture by a South African farmer, who described intense grazing, with animals packed for short periods sequentially on tiny plots, and how they trample the grasses, graze their fill, manure generously, and scuff the soil, all of which results in rapid soil rebuilding for several months before the herd returns for another brief bout.  Monsanto, corporations, blackberry vinegar, small communities, Jeff's hat, which might be in one of our bedrooms, how to cook a whistle pig, the fact that Whistle Pig would be a great name for a band, a brief tribute to the great banjo player Doug Dillard, who died this week, and social networking.  Eclipse of the sun.  Succulents.  Girl fiddlers.  Love life speculation.  All grist for our happy hour.

Jeff's band is playing at Richard's Cajun up the road.  We might go.  Or not. 

An excellent end to a day that had already included long hospital rounds for me,  gardening with a couple of Oaxacan helpers  for Tom, and Robert stopping by to discuss the pool pump.  Heather came for laundry, and the washer is burning rubber again, certainly NOT fixed by replacing the belts last week. 

And topped off by towering purple clouds, patches of thundering rain, lit by a small yellow sun off above the hills.

And I completely forgot about, since I was unable to attend, the morning's community planning session at Bell's Bend Park, with lunch provided by our own Rachel.  It's always something.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More May.

Today is first CSA pickup, and, for a change, I'm home, and plan to spend a little time at the shed, communing with our produce, our producers, and our customers. 

First square dance of the season this weekend, while Tom and I were in Wisconsin celebrating the last of the college graduations.   Apparently it rained, but Keith saved the day/night with an improvised tarpaulin over the dancefloor.   EricTheFarmer says that Balthazar Jack, our newish B&W hound, got a bit sloshed, drinking the tag ends of beer out of discarded cups.  We love us some Yazoo, but will have to speak to them about marketing to our canine population. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Last week our farm proletariat created our own Maypole, a giant bamboo pole with a tuft of leaves on top, tucked into a cable spool.  After dark, there was semi-organized dancing, wrapping the streamers around the pole, and semi-organized music, and semi-organized potlucking.  All good, although the adorable quotient was certainly well below Martha Stewart threshhold.

This week is the first square dance of the season, T-Claw calling.  Plan was to build a dance-floor, but marine plywood is very very expensive, so options are being discussed.  Around a late lunch table, as it happens, with Eric, Rachel, Heather, Scott, Loren, Dylan, Andy, Ayla, and I don't know who all. 

Tom picked out a black-and-white houndly mutt as a second farm dog (Balthazar Jack, whose schizoid moniker reflects unresolvable conflict in the family), and then came home with a third dog, the adorable but very destructive Thelma.  The farm crew wanted to see her flying over a cliff in her convertible Caddy, but our good neighbor Jim has taken her on, to see her through her puppyhood.  Into a grave and philosophical middle-age, we presume.

Our frighteningly changeable climate has, this spring, been perfection for truck farming, and the gardens are perfectly beautiful: onions, tomatoes, peppers, okra, rhubarb, and lettuces all crisp and shining.   Tom has temporarily retired the spader for repairs.  I've weeded the driveway bed and called in reinforcements to beat the pool bed into some semblance of horticultural order. 

There is no other news.  Oh, wait--Tom, Keith, Jim, and Joe put up the huge posts you can see down at the corner--the first part of our new Scottsboro/Bells Bend sign.  Can't wait.  We're so proud!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Whistle Pig.

Rachel's cute little facebook inquiry--"How do you cook a whistle pig?"--was, I thought, just clever. But no. She really wanted to know. The ground-hog pelt curled up tidily in a bowl on the table and the skinny little bald carcass marinating on the counter transmitted the brutal reality swiftly and unmistakably.

Whistle-pigs, AKA ground hogs, look pretty darling standing on their hind legs, little arms tucked into chests, surveying their territory. But these most innocuous of creatures can destroy a garden patch in no time flat, and the gentle vegan farmer becomes a raging homicidal maniac when one shows up inside the fence. The Barefoot Farmer once told me that he impulsively flung a pitchfork at a ground hog, and rejoiced in exultant surprise when he nailed the little bastard.

Our own whistle-pig was brought down by Red, EricTheFarmer's dog, carefully dissected by Rachel and a visiting German veterinarian (she knows her anatomy!), marinated, and transformed into a lovely stew.

I thought it smelled good, anyway. Not quite up to tasting it myself.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


At daybreak this morning, the sun flared behind Vanderbilt Hospital, and a perfect full moon was still afloat just south of Love Circle. At noon, Tom, Sumter, Barry, and Keith are pruning and weeding last year's hops, Barry ensconced in a Dick's folding chair rescued from the river and repaired with plumber's fittings. Ollie trotted crookedly across the field to watch.

The new hops patch, a German variety, I'm told, was planted under the new trellises on Wednesday, volunteers appearing from nowhere to help. Although Loren had calculated the tractor turning radius to the inch, one set of anchored cables has been pulled loose and reanchored a bit closer to the pole. (I'm contemplating running prayer flags along the cables.)

Apparently, in addition to weeding, one prunes down to four strong shoots, then the lower 20 inches of leaves are stripped off for better breezes below the vines' knees. Like shorts.

My old rose, which blooms in tattered chic, is out, as is the purple clematis, and I did just manage to paint Di's tree peony, which waited about thirty minutes after the last brushstroke and let go its pink petals all over the table top.

And there is an elaborately decorated egg-shaped cake on my countertop, unknown provenance but we extend our thanks.

Maybe this isn't a traditional approach to Easter, but themes of renewal and mystery are certainly resonating here today. Along with the most ancient of beverages, one of the earliest marks of civilazation, and a group of folks to get stuff done. Jesus probably didn't call them disciples either.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring. Or something.

Ok, Ok, I give up. It really is spring, even though it's a month early. Though we are reveling in the beautiful weather, we are apprehensive about what this means about changing condiditions over the long haul.

However, here are our local signs of spring: Come home, all doors open, tax papers almost all put away, cat lying outside on patio, candytuft, phlox, quince, and Tom's little lettuces all madly green.

Last week Tom organized the Big Koi Pond Cleanout, so pump and fountain now burbling once more. Kabir brought yet another 17 yards of concrete, so we all helped--at least a little--with screeding and smoothing area around the shed.

First shed potluck of the year.

This weekend, I'm on call, but still: a dozen cars here for hops pole raising, Rachel teaching park kids about opossums, and a couple of Canadians overnighting here on their way to a midwife conference at The Farm. Ina Gaskin is still going strong!

The great Henry Isaacs has a show opening and is coming out to the farm to paint today. If I can get home in time. (Look him up.) Fortunately, my knee, which blew up in sudden agony on Friday--my intern pushed me around in a wheelchair on rounds, much to my embarrassment--has been aspirated and injected and I am now almost back to normal.

So. Rounds. Art. Hops. Iris. Spring.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Scottsboro Literary and Culinary Society Redux

Last night we resurrected the Scottsboro Literary and Culinary Society--with a bang!

It was a beautiful evening at Riverbluff Farm, overlooking the Cumberland, with a lovely sunset turning into a brilliant crescent moon with attendant stars--are those Venus and Jupiter? Jane talked about painting, its guarantees of both failure and success, and how the painter lives in the moment, stretching out time.

I read some Bells Bend poetry, and, once again, was struck by the thoughtful attention poetry audiences seem to generate. It seems as though people are hungry, eager, to enter into another world, a suspension of life as we know it, and dwell there for a few minutes silently, fully engaged with these few words floating towards them. I'm grateful for this gift. Thank you.

The Scottsboro Society was founded in 1984 by three couples with ties to the area, and for many years met to cook, dine, and listen to a guest presentation. We heard discussions of Irish history, weaving, and the history of pepper, just to name a few. Then one couple moved away, and, finally, when the great Charley Ray, our animating spirit, died a few years ago, the Society fell into oblivion.

We are resurrecting it in modified form--in fact, so far, in no form at all! The next event will be our neighbor Kathleen talking about her book about diabetes and leading us through a cooking demonstration.

And, once again, thank you to our hosts, Bill and Jane, and to our neighbors and friends, whose intellects and spirits range both deep and wide.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

After Gifts, Mystery

Gifts sometimes are accompanied by mystery--who really left the excellent sausage on our kitchen counter top? That mystery eventually solved itself--our neighbor Joe Wilkes had dropped it by.

But some mysteries remain--well, mysterious.

Last Sunday, Martha called from our driveway, blocked by a large construction truck. Trotting down there in the sloppy snow, we found, indeed, a truck from a Pegram company, not so carefully backed into our driveway and leaning against the fence. There were three post-hole diggers, a wet box of wrenches and bolts, a coil of wavy silver wire, an almost-new generator, an armload of crowbars, a drill, the drill charger, and a rumpled fluorescent vest.

What there was not was a driver, either in or around the truck or up or down the road, or a note. Interestingly, there were also no coffee cups, beer cans, or the usual detritus found inside a work truck--gloves, notebooks, lunch bags.

The police informed us that since the vehicle had been abandoned on our property, this was entirely our problem. Several of our neighbors generously offered to adopt the stray, and Kabir, arms crossed as he rocked back on his work boots, said this was a fifty-thousand dollar truck.

Over the next few days Tom played phone tag with the company whose logo was painted on the truck, and eventually someone came and drove it, presumably, home. It had not been missed, no one knows who drove it out here or where he went, and whoever retrieved it didn't stop to talk to Tom or to pick up the box of wrenches.

The Bermuda Triangle has its mysteries. So does Scottsboro. Though ours are ranged more in a skinny rectangle up and down both sides of Old Hickory Boulevard.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Tom is justly famed for his potluck blessings. This last Tuesday he, by way of gratitude, informed the Lord that he was very very pleased with our new-to-us 20-foot neckover deckover 5-foot dovetail braked trailer.

A week ago I came home to find an excellent roll of homemade sausage on the countertop--Joe Wilkes had dropped it by.

JodyTheComputerGeekSpelunkerJuggler helped me figure out how to record a poem for The Cortland Review.

The greenhouse has a lovely midline green haze of thready little onion starts. The garden keeps giving us carrots, and EricTheFarmer dropped by some little cabbage sprouts.

Elaine brought over lunch today.

But the farm's biggest gifts lately are the Sandhus--father and son, they have poured concrete, dug holes, designed water systems, trucked hay. To say nothing of loaning us their grandmother and her excellent cooking and philosopher/farmer grandfather.

We give thanks every day, and the Sandhus are welcome to use our new-to-us 20-foot neckover deckover 5-foot dovetail braked trailer whenever they need to move something really really big. And Kabir can raid our refrigerator any time.

Thank you, whoever you are. We will all do our best to keep on giving.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yet another murmuration. Party. And so on.

Below is, in it's (somewhat erratically typed) entirety, the message I found in my in-box last Thursday, Tom having stayed up very very late sipping wine with JodyTheComputerGuyJugglerSpelunker.

By the time I got home yesterday, I was forced to park in one of the more-uh-cattle-intense parts of the pasture. Devender, Kabir, and the Oaxacans had worked all morning pouring a suddenly-available four yards of concrete for our shed extension, Tom had made chicken soup for a sick Oaxacan on the crew, and the party was well underway.

We had a fine time--friends old and new, the last of whom left sometime after 10 p.m. Tom allowed as to how he had decided that, at this event, he might let himself drink a bit too much, and, in retrospect, he did an excellent job. This tiny wedge of the universe has exceptional people on it--you've gotta love our low threshhold for entertainment...

This Friday @ about 4:15 Pm we are having a nonexclusive viewing of one of the Grand Phenonomona of the Greater Scottsboro Environs, The Great Sulpher Creek Murmuration.

For those of you unacquainted with such granduer a murmur is the pleural for a flock of blackbirds & a murmuration is a large flock of blackbirds,. starlings included,that participate in magnificantly wonderful aerial flockarity proir to roosting, in this case , in a large grove of bamboo.

The scene is greatly influenced by 2 or 3 Sharpshinned Hawks acting as "hosts" with the effect of enhancing the aerial dynamics of the flocks, and adding to the overall avian extravavagansa.

This will be a fine experience in the visual, spiritual, auditory,and for the less fortunate tactile, senses.Hats and not so fine shirts may be in order for the latter.Some olfactory sensual treats are an occasional, feature and should be appreciated for their organic & soil enriching qualities.

To avoid adding the gustatory to complete the sensory pentad light H'orderves will be served indoors.

Cocktails of appropriate variety & quality will be offered.Any contribution to this will by no means be considered offensive to your hosts.

Hosts of admirable social elegance & high energy would offer a well thought out culinary finale to the evening.Lacking these attributes, we suggest that such guests as are interested may consider a communial feed at the very good riverside catfish restaurant in Ashland City or some other ethnic restaurant in Nashville.

For those interested in the Sulpher Creek Farm that would like a tour, such will be very informally availiable at 3 pmish.

We are most recepive to any guests you may wish to bring.

We look foward to seeing you.

Tom & Brenda & Rachel

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Early Morning Bus. Music. Books. Murmuration.

There is something clarifying about delivering daughter to Greyhound bus station at 4:30 in the morning--one is whisked nonstop downtown like a VIP on empty roads with blinking yellow lights to a glass box packed with humanity. A polite man in a white cowboy hat and bear-claw earrings offered me his seat, next to a woman hunched protectively over her boombox. We installed India beside an Amish boy and his black-bonneted mother at Gate Number Three, a door in a short row of four which all open onto the same small patch of sidewalk where the buses are nosed in.

Last night Tom and I were at Ann Patchett's new bookstore, Parnassus, to hear Barry Sulkin's guitar duo, Heavy Mellow. Definitely a Bells Bend invasion of Green Hills! We caught up on all the news--orchards, who (JimTheArtist and Heather) has moved into the neighborhood (Sandra's apartment and Ayla's little studio), who is buying property, easements for road and water access, and how many birders have visited the cranes in Hiawassee (two thousand). Tom ordered up several copies of the new Iliad translation to share with Mike and Jimmy. Though our shared peregrinations around the globe hardly constitute an odyssey. (And everyone's Penelope was along on the trip--none of us much into staying home to spin.)

India and Rachel threw a LastNightHome cocktail party--hot spiced rum cider (I think) and a viewing of the murmuration, our swirling flocks of blackbirds who circle, settle, flare back into the sky and eventually fall like tiny grenades into the bamboo to roost at dusk.

Like the birds, I plan (or maybe they don't actually plan--maybe they just do) to circle back, to the holidays in my case, and record a bit of the Farm doings over the last few weeks. But now--literally, alas--off for the root canal. Tooth Number Five.