Snow is Coming: Winter Preparations

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fire woodThe first chance of snow is forecasted for Sunday.  It’s due to come with a mix of rain, and so it’s doubtful anything will stick for long, but the winter is whistling in, and we still have preparations to make.

Today we’ll harvest the last of the parsley and make one more round of pesto.  My goals is 15 more 8-ounce containers worth.  (Yes, we have nearly 40 already, enough for the CSA, but we need some of that green to get our own family through the winter, too).  Our late season pesto is more creative than the classic basil.  It’s base is parsley, plus the last of the basil in the greenhouse, and perhaps some cilantro, too, and then, for a little twist we add kale, giving the pesto a deep green color.

Of course, there is still firewood to chop and stack, and a hole under the sink that needs to be fixed, but right now my mind is first on food preservation, pulling what can still be pulled from the field and transforming it into pesto, or sauerkraut, or a salt-vegetable preserve we use as a soup starter.  The bulk of preservation is already complete, but as nearby farmer said to me the other day, “This time of year people get serious about eating.”

It’s true.  I feel an urge to squirrel away all that I can for the coming cold months, and suddenly everything is precious.  Winter has a way of putting things in perspective, and though there is a flurry of action to get ready for it, there is something grounding about all these preparations–food preservation, chopping and stacking wood, tightening up the yurt, cleaning up the farm fields and tucking in the remaining crops with remay and plastic.  All of this work grounds me to the ancient rhythm of seasonal transition; it brings me to the base of life’s work, which beyond staying warm and sheltered, is feeding oneself.

So today: harvest the parsley and kale.  Chop and stack more wood.  And of course, explore outside and read books with Waylon.  After all, we need to teach our little ones the transition of seasons, too.

What are your winter preparations?

Alaska Bread

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We made bread every Friday, each person or family proofing their own dough the night or morning before the bake; one person on oven duty stoking the fire all day; and then we’d come together in the late afternoon, and the soft, wet dough used to make snakes would be rolled out long and thin and go into the oven first, taking the hottest and fastest bake of all the breads.

We’d tear the snakes into pieces, dip them in balsamic vinegar and garlic olive oil, or spread herbed butter on the light crumb and devour the warm bread as the next batches went into the oven.  Mostly it was sourdough, with many variations: added honey, cornmeal, oatmeal, seeded crusts.  Then there were the cinnamon rolls, all puffed up and golden in their tray.  And after the baking, perhaps a chicken would roast in the heat that was left, or beans, or a moose stew would slow-cook overnight.  One bake would feed the whole farm bread for a week, sometimes more.

We took turns pulling loaves out of the oven, and as the snakes disappeared a mandolin and guitar might come out, the pedals of a spinning wheel would pat up and down to the beat, and the kids’ fingers would wind and tangle in cat’s cradle; some nights homemade ice cream balanced the heat of the fire; on the edges of the season, we’d eat inside where a wood stove warmed the house.

RWS_7345 RWS_7393 RWS_7400 RWS_7392 RWS_8358 RWS_7708 RWS_7677 RWS_9639We don’t have a wood-fired bread oven here on our farm in Vermont, yet.  It’s on the long list of building projects and won’t be built until next summer (I hope it gets built next summer!).  But I do have some whole wheat flour from a farm in Berlin, just a few miles on the other side of Montpelier, and I have this day to myself and a wood stove to crank up, and a bag of yeast in the freezer.

It’s been a long time since I made bread of my own; when Edge reluctantly admitted he had to go gluten-free for health reasons, the smell of fresh baked bread made me feel a little guilty.  He assures me now I should start again, the smell won’t hurt him, as enticing as it is.

And so here I go, warming the yurt, dusting the kneading board, baking bread.

 

{All this bread baking happened at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, the farm where Edge and I met.}

Calendula is a bright and joyful flower

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It draws me in, slows me down, and brings a smile to my whole being.  If it could talk, I believe calendula would offer me a cup of tea and a seat to sit down in and stay for a while. resina calendulastrawberry blonde calendula

calendula harvestEven after the harvest is in, the frost is settled, and the flowers have said goodbye for the season, the thought of calendula brings a calm to me.  So on this rainy day, I pour some tea, breathe it in and smile.

If calendula could talk it would say go ahead, find some peace today.

When flowers talk, it is wise to listen.

 

{calendula is also known as the herb of the skin.  It is wonderful in oils and salves.  Learn how to make infused calendula oil and salve here.}

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.

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