Doing the to-do list, in the rain

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We packed the car late on Monday night, slept for a few hours, then tucked Waylon into the car-seat and drove away at 3:45 am, south-bound for New Jersey to meet our new nephew. Before that, a long list of things to do:

  • cover all the crops with remay in case of frost
  • bring all onions and garlic to my parents’ house for storage (by next year we’ll have storage in the farm store, but for now the wind still whips through the barn boards and uninsulated walls…so off to Barre it is)
  • Complete the ditch needed to bring electric wiring over to the farm store
  • make pesto (parsley, cilantro)
  • pick up random stuff on the ground
  • clean yurt
  • make snacks for the road

The wood pile is half-split and the ditch is almost done, but 40 containers of pesto are stacked in the freezer, the onions and garlic are safely stowed at my parents’, the garden is transformed into rows of white covers, and we managed to leave the yurt in a respectable state and had a half dozen banana-almond muffins for the drive.

In the midst of it all, we’ve had rain for most of the last week, an element we are rejoicing over with the hope that enough will pour down to replenish our well before the snow sets in.  Even when it washed down on us during last Thursday’s harvest, we smiled to see the pond filling up and the world around us dripping with water.

We didn’t mind the rain that pummeled the windshield as we made our way in the early morning darkness down to New Jersey, where here, too, the clouds have gathered, but we don’t mind that, either–after all, how is a child supposed to learn about puddles without the rain?

discovering puddles

Leaves to Wings

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Yesterday it happened:

a wind roared through the trees,

setting free hundreds

of gold birch leaves.

They played on the breath

that released them,

glinting in the sun

and softly rained onto the garden–

but not before each one tumbled

in flight

the many faces of the tree

finally weightless,

each oval-toothed leaf

now a wing

flying away

as the naked branches

rattled goodbye.

Garlic is Magic

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July: Bringing in the garlic harvest

July: Bringing in the garlic harvest

July: Bringing the garlic harvest in to cure

July: Bringing the garlic harvest in to cure

October: Seed Garlic

October: Seed Garlic

October: Prepping garlic beds with the broadfork

October: Prepping garlic beds with the broadfork

Garlic is magic.  Plant it two inches deep, then cover it with compost and straw; do this in autumn, just before the ground freezes, and it will set roots and then go dormant for the winter.  Like bears, it needs this cold dark period.  Perhaps it is dreaming as the moist soil holds it in darkness as it sleeps until spring.  Perhaps it is meditating, breathing with the frost heaves and tunneling mice.

Was it Einstein who said, “There are two ways to live: one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

As we plant garlic on a cold fall day, leaves drop from trees to reveal naked branches before the winter; our own movement warms us more than the sun as chilling winds blow across the field; we push the cloves into soil, setting this cycle of rooting and hibernation into effect once more; this little bulb will sprout come spring, and I am sure once more that everything is a miracle.

“Going out the door can be going home”

“Nowadays we are encouraged to think that travel is for variety and discovery, but travel has its own rhythm and routines, and maybe the best journeys are the ones worth repeating and are repeated.  That’s what I had for the years when I plunged into the west every summer…This is how home becomes bigger, the opposite of leaving home.  And home has to mean something more than a house; it has to mean a place, so that going out the door can be going home as much as going in.”

~Rebecca Solnit, “The Art of Arrival” essay in Orion Magazine

Mount Hunger Summer, Worcester, VT

Edge and Waylon on top of Mount Hunger

This is part of our work, as well.  To reach beyond the boundary lines of the tax map, to step outside the yurt, to step beyond the pasture, to put one foot in front of the other, to walk into the mountains and find ourselves home.

He knows the taste of dirt and rocks

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Waylon broadforkingI don’t know if Waylon will grow up to be a farmer, but I can tell you this: he loves the broadfork, the soil, pulling carrots out of the ground.  He knows the taste of dirt and rocks; he knows the feel of uneven stones on his bare feet.

Maybe he’ll leave the farm when he grows up.  There’s so much we can’t control, despite our dreams for him.  I don’t know where he’ll roam, but I can tell you this: he knows how to explore and how to dig into the earth like a worm.  If he remembers only this by the time he’s grown, that will be enough.

Our Real Work: Living as a Constant Witness

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“A meditative quality has infused so many things; I cannot help but notice.  Living as a constant witness to nature will do that.” ~Margaret Roach, And I Shall Have Some Peace There

autumn sunsetgarden at sunset field and greenhouse at sunset susnet over Dumpling HillThe sunset last night brought the kind of warming light that reveals itself suddenly and quietly at once, announcing itself as a lover might, whispering across the landscape until each leaf and blade of grass burst brilliantly forth in shades of the sun’s gold.  It pulled me away from the task at hand, but no matter.

In the two years we’ve lived on this hillside, I’ve learned to follow the light.  To stop what I’m doing and to look; to drink the sunrises and bathe in the sunsets.  Farm customers ask how do we get any work done up here with this view–we must just stop and stare all the time.  I laugh and say we find moments to look down and tend to the garden.  What I am only just arriving at is that beyond growing vegetables, our real work is to sink into the land, to become not just rooted in the soil, but to spread like light across the pasture, to bend and tumble like the spring winds, to sit in the field and match our breath with the rhythm of this land.  Our real work is to witness nature, and therefore to become part of it.

What is work worth, anyhow, if it does not bring us more alive?  Learn to follow the light, to connect like roots to a place, and to move like the wind: freely, tumbling in joy.

 

Peppermint for the Winter: how to dry mint in your oven

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dried peppermintA surprise frost landed last night, though the forecast called for a low only around 40. “It’s a radiation frost,” my dad tells me when I drop Waylon off for the day. “It can happen on clear nights when it’s very still, even if it’s above freezing.”

It’s the second frost of the season, and I’ve been harvesting tender herbs to dry before the cold burns and discolors the leaves. A few days ago I clipped the peppermint that grows along the stone foundation of the yurt, trimming the tips that turned purple in the first frost. It’s one of my favorite herbs to harvest; just the act of brushing the leaves with my hands and clipping the stems with shears sends a minty fragrance into the air, relaxing me and deepening my breath as I move slowly and contentedly through the harvest.

I’ve experimented with several ways of drying herbs over the years: laying them on hanging screens, bundling them up and hanging them upside-down from rafters, in an electric-dehydrator, and in the propane oven with the pilot light on. My goal is always to keep the color as vibrant as it is when the herbs are fresh, which means they need to dry relatively quickly and out of direct sunlight.

When working in small batches, my favorite way to dry is to put the herbs in the propane oven with the pilot light on. This is the fastest and also perhaps the riskiest method, as we’ve torched a few rounds when we’ve forgotten and pre-heated the oven without taking the herbs out. The high heat diminishes the medicinal quality of the herbs, though they do become quite aromatic when this happens. To safeguard against this, I’ve come to taping a big sign over the temperature dial that reads Stop! There are herbs in the oven!

I put the peppermint in a woven wooden basket and place it whole in the oven. When I take it out after a day, it’s dry and crinkly and still bright green. Over a bowl, I strip and garble the leaves, then fill a glass jar with the mint, labeling it Peppermint, Mentha piperita, 2014.  Leafy herbs loose their strength after a year, so noting the date is a helpful way to remind me when to compost old leaves and refill with new ones.

Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, and though the lows aren’t expected to be below 40 again later this week, we must always be suspect of October in Vermont—radiation frost and all. So this is the final push for drying herbs. Spearmint and Echinacea are next on the list, and sage and thyme after that. The sun is shining, and so out to work I go.

What herbs are you drying and stocking on your shelves?

Seeing ourselves from a distance

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photo by Rob Spring

Good Heart Farmstead from a distance, photo by Rob Spring

We spend so much time looking down.  Seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, filling buckets with grain and water, pouring those buckets out for the chickens.  All this with our heads bent toward the earth, eyes focused on the details below.

Sometimes, we take a breath, we bend our necks up to the sky, we stare at the Worcester Range and stretch our backs.

But rarely do we see ourselves from a distance.  Rarely do we stand on the western side of the valley, on the Worcester Range, and look back.  When we do, this is what we see: an undulating blanket of forest dotted sparsely with fields, our home tucked in so small we can hardly see it, but there’s the yurt, held by a treeline that separates two fields.  You can’t see the stone foundation of the yurt, or the rows of vegetables in the field, or the chickens pecking grubs in the pasture.  You can’t see us walking between barn and garden, hauling buckets, harvesting food.  You can’t see the details.

Sometimes, the details are what brings us alive; other times we get lost in them, in the long lists of projects and daily chores.  It’s then we need to zoom out and see ourselves from a distance.  It’s then that the distance reminds us why we chose this life, and the romance of it all comes flooding back.

 

Note: My dad, Rob Spring, took the photograph above on a recent fall day.  I opened my email this morning to find it, and though I was sitting inside and not in the spot where he took the photo, the scene still caught me as I paused for a moment, taking in the beauty of it all.  It’s important that we see the beauty in our lives, to celebrate it, and to share it.  I’ve come to believe that finding and creating beauty is synonymous with waking up to life.   

 

 

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