It’s important to stop.

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grasshoppers on coneflower grasshopper on coneflower grasshopper on coneflower

It’s important to stop.  To let yourself be caught in the middle of a task when you see beauty and revel in it.  Creating beauty is as simple as bearing witness; to extend the sheer joy of color and surprise to another person.

I walk by the coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, every day.  It grows just outside my door.  How long have the grasshoppers perched upon the cones?  How many evenings have I walked past as the shining green armor of their bodies illuminated in the evening sun?  It doesn’t matter, really.  What matters is that I stopped this time.

We can change our lives everyday.  It doesn’t matter where you live, or how you make money.  What matters is that you stop, you look, you see beauty sitting right in front of you, and you bear witness.

Mornings are Quiet, Time is Infinite

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I came to Maine thinking I’d write everyday.  I imagined quiet early mornings, infinite time, creativity pouring out of my fingertips.

We leave tomorrow, and what can I tell you?

The mornings have been quiet, though many I’ve spent with an early-rising one-year-old.

Time, as always, is infinite, though our days may fill up and trick us into thinking it is not.

And creativity?  My fingertips buzz, my chest wells, my mind swirls, and words still come slowly.  I remember that half of the creative process is staring into space.  A wooded lake, trees reflecting in the water, white pines rising on the shore, and in the foreground a baby crawling determinedly in circles: this is the scene filling my eyes as I stare.

And this is what I’ve learned, again: mornings are quiet, time is infinite, and creativity is within me.  It’s up to me to wake up, to be present, to pick up the pen and pour words onto the page.

 

balance

this way: cairn along a Maine trail

 

50 Pounds of Blueberries

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Ripe blueberries Picking berriesa cluster of ripe fruit pick and eatWe cupped our hands hands and raked our fingers through the bush, producing a heaping pile of blueberries in seconds.  The 20-year old bushes were full and ripe, so heavy with fruit that we circled the same bush three times, harvesting from it as if we were coming to it anew each time around.  From bush to bucket, we worked quickly under a sky threatening rain.  We picked so fast that it didn’t matter how many berries Waylon took out of the bucket to eat–his appetite couldn’t keep up with our hands and those bushes.

Just under two hours later we finished, our buckets 50 pounds heavier, and our berry-filled bellies heavier, too.  And so we’re ready for the winter: strawberries and blueberries piled in the freezer, and canned peaches stored away.  Of course the lamb and chicken will help us through the cold months, and the vegetables, too, but summer’s sweetness is what truly brings sunshine into the yurt on cold winter nights–when the night falls early and the wind and snow blow outside, what better way to warm a home than a peach blueberry cobbler?  Berries ripen in the summer, but we pick for winter, ensuring our desserts will bring us through to another June.

Peaches in the Summertime

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“Training is everything.  The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.”  ~Mark Twain

Fresh PA Peaches

 

For the winter For the winter "grilled" peach and ice creamPennsylvania peaches are here–the one summer fruit we buy in crate loads that wasn’t grown in Vermont.  Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, plums, pears: between farms, family homes and friends’ homesteads, these are all within picking reach.  But that bitter almond turned delectable juicy sweetness that is the peach, for that we get excited to hear that refrigerated trucks are driving north.

I canned them for the first time this year–in the past we’ve always gone the route of freezing, but this year our freezers are packed with chickens and lamb at the moment.  For that reason, and for the memory of a gift of canned peaches last winter (how wonderfully accessible–no thawing required!  and the slices resembled their fresh counterparts much more closely than our frozen bags did)–I set to work peeling, coring, and slicing each peach, heating them in white grape juice, packing them into jars, and canning them in a boiling-water bath for 25 minutes.

That’s what I did with the first crate, at least.

The second crate has been purely for fresh eating.  It’s not hard to go through a crate of peaches.  The perfect snack on a summer day, their juice runs down the corners of our mouths and onto our shirts, and we readily slurp them up.  Beyond the yogurt and peach breakfast and the sliced peach snack, we’ve been devouring peach salsa (chopped peaches, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and salt), marinating fish in peaches and ginger, and slicing the fruit in half to heat in the broiler and top with ice cream. 

There are perhaps 10 peaches left, which means I’ll need to pick up another crate soon, this time to make and can peach puree for the winter.  Funny how all this bounty makes me think of winter, but I assure you I am utterly present in each bite of peach.  It’s only after I’m done eating that I envision a cold winter evening, a wood fire warming the yurt, and the joy of pulling out a sunny jar of peaches for dessert.  I assure you, I’ll be wrapped up in the moment then, too.

 

When the Grasshopper Leaps

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Some mornings I leave the farm
for the simple pleasure
of being alone–
to sit by myself
and feel the texture of a smile
across my face
 
What is pleasure worth
if it is missed?
We move so quickly on the farm
Sometimes I miss
the curl of a leaf holding water,
the emerald, shining body
of a grasshopper.
Sometimes I forget even
what breathing is.
 
Then the grasshopper leaps
tilting over the leaf,
and water splashes me awake.
I sit, caught for a moment,
breath suspended,
before releasing
in the exhale.
 
What I’ve learned from it all is this:
The wind wants to wrap its arms around us
and dance to the clicking song of crickets.
When the invitation comes, say “Yes!”
This world is beauty
trying to shake us awake
Let yourself be caught.
 
summer bouquet

Gluten-Free Blueberry Pie (I cheated)

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Gluten-free blueberry pieRemember those 7 pounds of blueberries I picked last Friday?  We ate them.  We were saving 6 cups to turn into pie, but only four of them made it through the week until I finally had enough time to bake.  Luckily, our friend Karen picked 12 more pounds, and the pie came to fruition on Tuesday night.

Edge and Karen are both gluten-free, so I didn’t make my Nana’s classic pie crust: white flour, a dash of salt, some milk and oil, mixed and rolled out, brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar to form a flaky, browned crust out of the oven.  Nope.  I had every intention to find a GF recipe to make myself, but instead time got the better of me, and I found two GF crusts in the freezer section at the Coop.

So as the pre-made dough thawed, I flipped open the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes book and mixed up the filling just as a classic pie ought to be made.  Blueberries, sugar, tapioca starch, a fresh grating of lemon zest and fresh squeezed lemon juice, all spice and a dash of nutmeg.  Roll it all together, pour into the pie dish, and dot with pats of butter.  Top with a second round of dough, cut a few slits in the top, and into the oven it goes.

I did it all right: baked it at 400 for 20 minutes, turned down the oven to 350 for the next 30-40 minutes, watched for the browning of the crust and the bubbling of the berries, and then pulled it out to cool on a rack.  You’re meant to let it cool for 2-3 hours so the berries will set.  This is where we rebelled.  When a pie comes out of the oven at 8:30 pm, who is going to sit around and wait for it to set?  So we gave it 15 minutes, just enough time to run down the hill for ice cream and back.  Hence the picture above of blueberries swimming in sauce.

Next time I’ll let it set.  The flavors did seem to meld together and the thickness of the filling improved during its night in the fridge.  But I don’t regret the overzealous doling out of pie–after a long day in the field, blueberry pie and ice cream is precisely what this farmer needs.  I’d still like to make my own GF pie crust instead relying on a store-bought one–cheating on the crust might make a faster pie, but the flavor and texture leaves something to be desired.  Still, ice cream melting over warm pie, gluten-filled or gluten-free, is best when eaten in the company of friends, and if speed won over my baking desire one time, so be it.  We all went back for seconds.

Saying Goodbye to Sheep

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flock in pastureToday is the first day in over two years that we’ve woken up without sheep in the pasture.  I still remember the excitement of bringing them home on the 4th of July: the sunny drive to Starkhollow Farm in Huntington, where we loaded two ewes and four lambs into the pickup truck; dodging independence day parades on the way home; unloading them into their new pasture in front of our yurt at Applecheek Farm, where we lived at the time, only to have the sky open up and storm down on us.  After it passed, we found the sheep drenched and eating grass, seemingly un-phased.

I remember moving them to our land that fall, how beautifully they dotted the pasture, bright red and orange foliage framing the field.  I remember our first lambing season, how they all did it themselves, except for Dove, who we got to too late, and her big ram lamb was born dead–how my heart ached for her the next few days as she baaa’d and walked from lamb to lamb, sniffing to see if it was her own until finally her cries calmed as she came to understand he was gone.

And our first fall of harvesting lamb, the tender goodbyes was said as we touched their fleece before driving north to the slaughterhouse–how delicate and delicious the meat was afterward.

Then, of course, were the many hours we spent moving fence, herding the sheep back into their paddocks after escapes, chasing them out of the garden, asking the question why do we have sheep?

That question set hold this spring and grew stronger each day as the sheep demanded we leave the garden and tend to them instead.  But the weeds!  The seeding!  All the work of the garden called for us, too.  After months of questioning, the sheep have all finally left, some for greener pastures, some for the butcher.  Part of me wishes we could have found homes for all of them, but we got into the sheep business to raise meat, and so the last six will serve this final purpose: to feed our family and customers, giving back some of the energy we gave to them.

Some day we’ll bring grazing animals back to the land, but for now I must admit it feels good to have a reprieve, to wake up to a quiet morning and not worry that the sheep are having breakfast in the garden; to hear coyotes at night and not worry if the charge in the electric fence is too low.  I’ll enjoy the extra hours each day to devote to the garden and the many half-finished projects waiting for our attention.  And when we pick up the meat at the butcher, I’ll eat with awareness, my eyes closed in gratitude, thankful for what the sheep gave us.

Looking after the flock

Blueberry Season

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It’s blueberry season, and yesterday I took Waylon to our favorite pick-your-own farm in Craftsbury, VT.  I got a bucket for each of us, and Waylon crawled and walked (with help) between the bushes as I picked the berries out of his reach.  It went like this: one berry for Waylon, one for mama, and a few for the bucket.  We managed to pick 7 pounds before nap time set in, and with tired eyes Waylon held onto his bucket as I carried him back to the car.

So this morning: blueberry pancakes!  It was Waylon’s first taste of pancakes–gluten free so papa could eat them, too–topped with butter and the last dribble of maple syrup (time to buy some more).  He smiled and pointed at the plate, and from his blueberry-stained mouth it’s safe to say he liked them.

Seven pounds won’t last long around here, so we put them in the fridge for fresh eating.  This afternoon will surely call for a smoothie, and tonight’s dessert menu is a blueberry crumble.  We haven’t yet mastered the gluten-free pie crust, but it’s a necessary baking adventure that we’ll soon begin.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Until then, happy Saturday!

 

Live Your Romantic Life

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“It’s beautiful up here.  This is my dream: to buy a little piece of land in Worcester, put up a yurt, and raise my family,” she said.  I smiled, allowing the romance of it all to stay in her mind.  And why not?  It is romantic, isn’t it–to live up here on this hillside, sheep and chickens grazing in the pasture, an acre of food growing in the garden, our family held each night in the circle of the yurt.  It’s all so lovely.  I say this to remind myself that we are here because it was our dream, too, though truthfully, the thought that shot through my head at her declaration was the ease of a house with running water, well-insulated walls, and hard-wired electricity.  I pictured her turning on the faucet at night to make a bath for her son, then pictured myself hauling two 5-gallon buckets up the hill to the yurt, pouring water in a pot and waiting for it to heat up on the stove before pouring it again into the sink.  This is why Waylon doesn’t get daily baths–I know the weight of water.

Just as I let her, I let myself dream up a romantic picture of life in town: living in a house with big windows and light streaming through in the morning, having a clean kitchen with matching dish clothes and bowls that don’t chip from being piled on the floor of the yurt when we’ve run out of water and can’t seem to find the time to run down and refill the buckets in the greenhouse, tight walls that hold warmth, doors that keep the wind outside instead of offering cracks for it to whistle in, a small garden just for the family, the ease of keeping the car parked and walking everywhere.

But then I think, what kind of job would I have to do to have that life?  Where would the dogs run?  What about the noise of traffic?  I think about the weight of water, how I stop to rest a few times as I carry the jugs uphill, how those moments of rest are filled with breath and a view of the mountains.  I think of Waylon and the amount of dirt he eats, and the strength of his immune system thanks to it.  I think of the word easy and wonder what it really means, because I tried the life of 9:00-5:00 inside at a desk with a salary and benefits, and you know what?  It didn’t make my life easier.

What’s easy is to romanticize what we don’t have.

It’s worth remembering that we are here because we chose it.  We are here because we strive to create a life of balance, substance, and joy.  It’s worth remembering that the most challenging times are also the pivotal ones that determine our path.  It’s also worth remembering that there is actually nothing stopping me from having matching dish clothes.

I let my town-living daydream drift off in the wind and come back to this life in our yurt, with unfinished projects and sheep that escape their fence and 50 families to grow food for.  I come back to it because it brings me alive.  After all, romance is not always easy or without conflict, but it is nourishing.  And though she drove back to her home in town, to our visitor, and to you all, I say this:

Choose your path, and live your romantic life.

Waylon and Mama scything

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