The Land of the Finite

It’s 5:35am when the Dartmouth Coach pulls into the lower level of Terminal A. I step off the bus bleary-eyed and grab my luggage as the driver yanks it out of the bus underbelly. I make a beeline for the next place I need to be, the florescent glow of the airport immediately triggering my travel mode—brisk walk, eyes scanning signs, mind on my possessions. When I arrive at the security checkpoint, I pause and sink into a metal chair in front of signs advertising coffee and croissants. I know airports never really sleep, but there is still an air of morning haziness. The security line is short, a lone person sips coffee at another set of metal table and chairs, and the lights don’t completely mask the pre-dawn shift from darkness to light through the floor to ceiling windows.

I pause because I actually have time. And space. I don’t ever remember having time and space in an airport. Sure, I’ve had long layovers and delays, but they have always been something to endure. They happen when I’m already so strung out from traveling that though I technically have time, I have no space. Today I have time and space. My airplane to New York doesn’t board until 8:30am so there’s no need to rush. (Public transportation time schedules don’t always sync up in a convenient fashion.) And I feel fresh—an alien to this limbo world of over-stimulation and frenzy. I feel immune to it all.

On the 3:30am bus from Lebanon, NH to the airport, I discovered that Logan International Airport has a chapel. In my pause on the cold, black chair with my bags huddled around me I decide a chapel is certainly the sanest place in an airport to wait out the hours. I pull up the airport’s website on my phone, marveling at the speed of the Wi-Fi compared to my usual one-two bar 3G I get at home. A few clicks and I find the airport’s interactive map. So simple, I think. Just need to search for the chapel. I type “chapel” into search bar. Hmm… not recognized. I dig a little deeper, clicking on each terminal and scanning through the legends for each floor. No mention of a chapel. Finally, the third or fourth hit from a general Google search informs me that Our Lady of the Airways Chapel is in Terminal C. Sweet. Progress.

I return to the interactive map of the airport and zoom in as far as I can, digitally moving through Terminal C. Finally, I spot the symbol of a cross on the ground floor in the middle of a long corridor that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. The next closest thing to it is “Baggage Claim 9.” I situate my laptop bag across my shoulders, grab my roll-behind luggage with the stuck wheel, and start following signs to Terminal C.

All the moving sidewalks, the quickest way to powerwalk through the inconvenient space between where you are and where you want to be, are all closed down for maintenance. The rubber conveyor belts meant for people are peeled back and basket-ball sized gears are strewn about waiting for the start of another workday. It was at this moment, as my eyes wandered from the guts of the moving sidewalks to the sun rising over the tarmac outside, that I realized I found myself on an unexpected pilgrimage. This day of travel was not just a day to endure, to grin and bear. It was another day to be present to.

I arrive at Terminal C to a much busier scene. My eyes hone-in on my next target—baggage claim—and I dutifully follow their lead down two sets of escalators. On occasion, I’d pass a map of the airport and I’d stop to look for that little black cross, but it was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t worried, however. I know how airports work—once you get close enough to where you need to be, the necessary signs appear. The escalator dumped me out on the ground floor in the middle of the baggage claim carousels. I walk one direction without looking at the signs and soon realize I’m at baggage claim four. I want number nine. Turning the other way, the overhead signs indicate that baggage claim nine is just ahead. Now I get confused. If the chapel is this close to baggage claim nine, where’s the sign? This is not how airports work. Besides, it looks like the room ends after baggage claim nine. I keep walking, doubting my map-reading ability. Just as I arrive at baggage claim nine, I turn a corner—it’s the only option other than turning around—and then, only then, do I see the sign: Chapel ⇑. I walk a few more paces and see another sign: ⇐ Chapel. The only thing in the corridor is a black, unmarked door standing ajar. I peek in, feeling strongly that I’m trespassing into restricted access domain.

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It’s the chapel.

I wrangle myself and my luggage through the door and instinctively dip my finger into the tiny bowl on the wall that typically holds holy water to cross myself. My fingertips drag on dry stones. I walk past the electric vigil candles – you can push a button to turn one on by dropping a quarter in the metal slot – and slide my body, backpack, and roll-behind carry-on into the pew. I sink onto the creaky kneeler and sense the emptiness, the forgottenness of this place.

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Coin-operated Prayers

As I kneel to pray I can hear the distant clanging of travel, commerce, and machinery above and around me. I’m in the belly of the beast, yet I feel a sense of protection. This place feels tired, yet it still whispers the sacred. It is buried and neglected, but not crushed.

A few hours later I’m landing at La Guardia International Airport, 184 miles away from Our Lady of the Airways Chapel. My sense of walking as a stranger through a strange land is strengthened as I look up from Ben Falk’s book, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, to look out at New York City with building on top of building for as far as the eye can see. I was just reading about water resiliency and about flood preparation. How will all these people continue to have access to the water that gives life and keep out the water that destroys?

As I carry myself and my belongings from this gate to the next, I pass a scene I have seen before and always gives me chills. Dining tables and bar stools with upright I-pads fixed in front of each seat so that people need to peer over or around them if they want to make eye contact. Ninety-nine in one hundred human beings bow their heads over their personal tiny screens. Finally, to be doubly sure no wandering eye is without stimulus, dozens of TV screens flash overhead.

As I arrive at my gate I think back to that tiny, hidden chapel that was so difficult to find. I look around at the incessant distraction that is impossible to ignore. I reflect on the state of our world and what our hearts so desperately need. And I wish that the metaphor was less clear.

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Dry holy water

The Way the Daffodils Grow

The daffodil bulbs have been on my mind – patiently waiting out their dark, winter days until the warmth of the sun rouses them from their long sleep. They still have a number of weeks left of their earthen slumber as they are still tucked in under a two-foot blanket of snow.

Are they impatient? I wonder. Do they miss the sun? Are they worried that this year the conditions may not be right for them to immerge, soak up the warmth and light, make enough sugars to sustain them for another year of life? Are they concerned that they are “behind schedule?”

They may not be worried about these things, but I certainly am. My mind keeps turning to the daffodil bulbs because I long to be like them. I long to be content with what is—the gifts of the present moment, the present season of the earth’s cycles and the season of my life. To flower when it’s time to flower, and to let the rest be. To do what is mine to do, and let the rest be.

Until this year, I have been quite patient with the long drawn out springs here in northern New England. A friend from Pennsylvania recently asked me if spring has sprung yet at our homestead. I’m afraid not. Spring can’t spring until winter melts. And there is a lot of winter left to melt.

All this snow has really got me down because this year, more so than other years, we have things to do on the land. IMPORTANT things. BIG IMPORTANT THINGS that we can’t do until the snow is gone. This summer we have plans to build a house with an attached bakery. Before we can even begin on the project we need to finish demolishing the original farmhouse on our homestead, fill in the hole from the farmhouse basement, have a septic engineer test our soil for a septic system, set up a temporary electrical box, determine the well sight, and improve our driveways to handle heavy equipment. It’s all quite overwhelming on its own. We have the additional factor of waiting for the snow to melt and the subsequent mud to dry out. The longer the snow is here, the longer we have to wait.

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March 20: the first patch of bare soil on our land since November 9

The snow does not share my sense of urgency, however. I moped around for a good two weeks, bent over my phone nearly every hour, checking the weather yet again to see if the forecast had turned in my favor. It seemed like every time I checked it, the weather forecast got a degree colder and the promised rain was steadily turning to snow. So, eventually I stopped. Yet I still glared out in frustration at the white landscape that was so beautiful to me a month ago. But a month ago, the snow wasn’t in my way.  Now it is so very much in my way.

This resistance to life is exhausting and not super fun. It is humbling too, especially since so much of my work and life is about being present to reality exactly as it is. It turns out it’s a lot easier to embrace reality when it’s not negatively effecting your best laid plans. At some point, the futility of my fretting finally sank in. I could recognize that if our project took two years to finish or even more so, was never finished at all, everything would be just fine. My perspective gradually expanded until the subject of my worrying became appropriately small in the shadow of God’s love, the gift of life, and the abundance of marriage, community, a warm home, and good food.

I always wonder what the catalyst is for a change in attitude. What moves me from that narrow, inward facing perspective to one that is more expansive, present, and free? What finally leads me into these mini-conversions? A regular practice of Centering Prayer – a silent prayer of receptivity to God’s presence—and a loving husband who sees me better than I am able to see myself in such moments are two daily gifts that gently invite me out of a grumpy reverie. This go-round, the season of Lent and the reminder that “I am dust and to dust I shall return” has been the perfect antidote to delusions of overindulgent self-importance.

And, of course, the daffodil bulbs. As I meditate on those hidden, patient bulbs, I am inspired to imitate their trust and their contentedness. In this season, they have become my spiritual teachers.

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May 2017

“Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?’” – Matthew 6:28-30

Gleaning Gifts & Making Mistakes

I am beginning to understand that the first few years of homesteading is primarily about observing, receiving what is already there, and doing a lot of things the wrong way (or not doing things and discovering the consequences). This post is a seasonal highlight reel of late summer and autumn – the gifts gleaned and the mistakes made.

August: Mushrooms & Tobacco Horn Worms 

In August, our woods behind the yurt turned into a wonderland of gourmet wild delicacies. This year was a particularly good year for mushrooms in our region and our home range did not disappoint. Over a two to three week stretch we had wild mushrooms every night for dinner! Mark has been harvesting wild mushrooms for years. This year was the year I got hooked going out for a daily walk in the afternoon and coming home with dinner.

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Chicken of the woods
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Chantrelles & Lobster Mushrooms

 

If you’ve never had wild mushrooms you be unable to relate to my joy. Take this testimonial of my friend’s four-year-old. She said this 5 months after eating some wild mushrooms we took to their house: “When I’m a mommy I’m going to collect mushrooms in the forest because I hate mushrooms from the store but Mark and Lisa’s are good. So good and so creamy.” Or if you really want to experience the joy, come visit us in August!

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Weighing known varieties and identifying unknown varieties from just one afternoon jaunt

Disclaimer: NEVER EVER eat a wild food if you do not know with 100% certainty exactly what it is and that it is safe to eat. The above photos are NOT adequate for mushroom identification.

By the beginning of August, my tomato plants were thriving. Their leaves reaching for and soaking up the sun. Big green tomatoes continued to fill out promising a scrumptious yield. One day, I was admiring their beauty, my mouth watering as I anticipated the first sun-ripened fruit. The next day, there was nothing but skeletons where my promising tomato plants once stood.

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TOBACCO. HORN. WORMS.  My first hard lesson in novice gardening.

Any gardener of tomatoes knows this other-worldly monstrosity of a pest. Tomato horn worms are as equally as destructive in their behavior and almost as grotesquely beautiful in their appearance. I so almost because the tobacco horn worms, the cuddly little guys that visited us, have the distinguishing feature of that bright red “horn”. It’s really harmless, but is quite effective at looking like it could kill you. Let me tell you – I will never again let these suckers feast on my food like they did in August 2018. I can say this with confidence because there were definitely plenty of signs that I just didn’t recognize until the plants were decimated. Next time they try to gorge themselves on my tomato plants, their little green eggs will send off crazy alarm bells in my head, along with the sound of incessant tomato leaf munching.

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Mark being an all-star. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting hornworms enjoy it’s last meal. (There are two hornworms in this photo… can you see the second one?)

I thank my lucky stars for a husband who is less squeamish than me to finish these guys off. I’m not even that squeamish as far as squeamishness goes, but these juicy babies were definitely too much for me!!

I also thank the good earth, sun, rain, the tomato plants and the Creator of them all for life’s amazing resilience. The photo below is from TWO WEEKS after we discovered the hornworms. Of course, we lost a lot of tomatoes, but the plants continued to put forth leaves and fruit and the sun ripened the tomatoes.

The universe is bent towards life.

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Hope.

 

September: Apple Sauce & Gluttonous Bears

 We have a gorgeous apple tree on our land. It was once tamed and managed, but after years of human absence has unfurled into a twisted, gnarled shade tree. Throughout August hundreds of little apples begin popping out of the vacuum left by the blossom. All the apples are out of reach as the branches have stretched heavenward in their unquenchable thirst for sunlight. They begin to turn from their undifferentiated green to red apples on one half and yellow apples on the other – a brilliant grafting success that provides perfect cider apples (the yellow) and delicious no-sweetener-needed applesauce (the red) from a common root. The apples warm to the perfect ripeness in early September and subsequently drop to the ground.

In between guiding excursions, I was able to glean at least some of these apples and preserve them for these colder, darker days.

However, I wasn’t the first one to help myself to these gifts of the land.

In mid-September, after resting and recovering from our most recent guiding trip, I reached deep into my inner reserves of motivation and geared up to reclaim the ground beneath the apple tree. The ground needed reclaimed because, in our absence, approximately half of the fallen apples had turned into unappetizing “applemush” with the assistance of critters, microbes, wasps, and time. I needed to reach deep into my motivation reserves because, well, it was disgusting. Yet I was determined to glean the remnant of unrotten apples, if only for a token amount of applesauce to freeze for winter. Armed with gloves and resolve I dove in, pulling the solid apples from their deteriorating kin. Am I successfully relaying how unpleasant this was?

Typically, the more time you spend with something the more readily you are able to observe subtle differences between similar-looking objects. It turns out, this is also true of “applemush”. As I combed the yard for salvageable apples, I noticed a peculiar-looking substance with subtle, but distinct divergences from the majority of the “applemush.”

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Please note: My finger is merely there as a size reference, lest you think I touch this!

Not only was the consistency and coloring slightly off, but the location and organization of these rotting apples was absurd! There were six distinct piles of mush beyond the edges of the tree branches. It was almost as if they had been moved there, but by whom?

 

In retrospect, it’s somewhat embarrassing how long it took me to put the pieces together. As soon as the story coalesced in my mind I ran to summon Mark so we could share in the absurdity. We chuckled and groaned in sympathy for the poor bear who made himself sick on our neglected apples.

October and November: Salvaged Boards & Tractor Search

Life on a homestead involves a shocking amount of time moving things around. Fire wood from the forest down the hill. Water from the stream up the hill. Cement blocks for the yurt foundation. Cedar posts for the woodshed. Salvaged boards for the siding of the mudroom. A HUGE stone for the step out the yurt’s backdoor. Snow from on the deck to off the deck, on the driveway to off the driveway, in our way to out of our way. So. Much. Snow. At least the way we homestead, we seem to always be schlepping around heavy things.

The heavy things that we have been moving over and over again are the boards salvaged from the farmhouse we are slowly dismantling.

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These old boards – some as wide as 20 inches! – were moved from the house to the outside of the barn to dry, to the barn hay loft to store, and now are being moved all over the property as they live into their new roles as woodshed siding, mudroom siding, counter extension and office walls. These old trees haven’t experienced this much commotion since they were harvested, milled and assembled into this old farmhouse and that was probably 200 years ago!

 

We spent sixteen months on this homestead moving all these things by hand. Sometimes, when it was helpful, we used a utility sled to maximize moving potential. When we had three adolescent boys here for a week – two cousins and a nephew – we gladly welcomed their muscular motivation inspired by a challenge from their older relatives. Much to everyone’s surprise they moved a MASSIVE stone up the steepest hill on our land with the utility sled, oomph, ingenuity and teamwork.

Despite the innovation and muscle toning gained by moving lots of heavy things from one place to another, we decided it was time to invest in a tractor. The search was on.

Red tractor. Green tractor. Blue tractor.

This tractor is too small. This tractor is too big.

(Looking for a tractor oddly resembled a children’s book.)

This tractor is just right.

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I truly had no idea how excited I could get about a tractor.

And it was! And is! At least so far, we have been delighted with our Ford 1320, or Babe as we’ve begun to call it. In lieu of a handful of teenagers, it can move a lot of heavy things.

Life happens quickly and I’m still learning how to keep up with writing about all that life. I hope you enjoyed the update and, if nothing else, the photos of all that luscious green! My eyes had forgotten such colors existed!

Chickadees and an Extra Fifteen Minutes

We’re entering our fourth month of winter. By that I mean we haven’t seen bare ground since November 9th unless you count our trip to the “what feels like the deep south” of Pennsylvania where we wore T-shirts as we played outdoor basketball with our nieces and nephews. If we venture off the well-trodden path from car to yurt, we must take the extra few minutes to strap our snowshoes on. Any occasional missteps off the hardened path reveal the unpacked depth of the snow – up to mid-thigh.

We are in deep winter.

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Wintry homestead with snowshoe paths
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Preserved snowflakes on the car window

AND YET – I heard a chickadee last Wednesday and Saturday I heard two chirping back and forth. One day a slept past 7:00am and I could hear the songbirds announcing the day as I lay in bed. I opened my eyes to light already streaming in the front door!

AND YET – Mark’s been working on a project in our workshop “until dark” – he keeps coming up the hill to the yurt a little later each time. Last week as he came through the door, stomping snow off his boots, he declared – I got to work an extra fifteen minutes today!

Even in freezing temperatures, the signs of spring are among us.

AND THEN we had a glorious little thaw – temperatures well above freezing (45 F!) with blue sky and sun for two whole dyas. No coats, hats, or mittens. I drove midday with the window down and my arm hanging out the window.

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It looks like I did wear a hat for part of the day!

Fortunately, Mark and I had nothing to take us away from the homestead, so we spent the days working outside and in unheated spaces. We made significant progress on our current construction project – we’re partitioning off and insulating a portion of the workshop for an office.

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Putting the shiplap up in our future office

I did a bit of “spring” cleaning in the yurt letting the rugs hang out and get some fresh air.

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I cleaned out the bay of our barn where a terrifying collection of “I don’t know where this goes” items has been gathering since we purchased this land nearly two years ago.

I sat on the deck with the sun on my face as I talked to a dear friend. We had the two doors of the yurt open nearly all day both days, reveling in the cross breeze over our lunch of pears, goat cheese, and fermented carrots. (Our typical winter lunch is a bowl of soup which felt awfully heavy and hot for a 40-degree day.)

As the sun began to set Tuesday evening, we could feel winter blowing back in as we covered our wood pile with the tarp we just chipped out of the melting snow and ice. We thought for sure that tarp would be encased in that snow bank until March. It was so satisfying to rescue it from its icy prison!

As quickly as it came, spring went back into hiding, but it’s still peeking out at us reminding us it’s not too far off. My cheeks still have that sun-soaked feeling. The chickadees are still singing. The light is still returning. It will not be much longer until the doors and windows can be opened wide yet again.

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A December sunrise

Life Unfettered: June 2018 Edition

Life, glorious life, keeps happening here – it’s hard to find time to write about it all! This is my catch up photo essay of some of June’s happenings! Enjoy!

Wild delights!

Locust blossoms (top left): We experimented this year with locust blossom pancakes. We had been enjoying dandelion flour pancakes (using just enough pancake batter to hold the dandelion petals together, they turn out more like fritters than pancakes) when locust blossoms started blooming. They are almost too sweet to eat alone, so we experimented by making pancakes in the same way we did with the dandelions. It was a smashing success!

Wild strawberries (bottom left): Our field was FULL of wild strawberries throughout the first weeks of June. I could not walk up or down the hill to the yurt without getting hopelessly sidetracked following the trail of bright red sweetness! Occasionally I had the restraint to collect them without immediately popping them into my mouth. In those cases, I enjoyed them smothered in heavy cream. The joy is unreal. I have learned that wild strawberries are an unfortunate sign of soil fertility. We are listening, researching, and planning on how to bring fertility back to our eroded hillside. While we look forward to signs of increased soil fertility, we will miss the abundance of wild strawberries in the coming years. But this year, our first summer, we enjoy the earth’s sweet gift. Even when we have taken too much from her already, she continues to give.

Red Clover Blossoms (right): In the latter weeks of June and early July the red clover blossoms adorned our meadow! When the early July heat wave made most afternoon work unbearable, I walked slowly through the field plucking these beautiful blossoms. Our new loft (see below) became a perfect place to dry these beautiful flowers. The dried red clover blossoms will be used for tea – an herbal support for reproductive health.

A Two-Storied Yurt

In late spring, we covered a quarter of our yurt with a sleeping loft. I’m always so nervous when we do projects that significantly change a space. I was eager for extra room the loft would provide, but I was worried it would break up the oh-so-beautiful openness of the yurt. It took some tweaking and adjusting, but I actually like the space more with the yurt than without it! Project win!

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Catching Raindrops

It’s been a dry spring and summer with one particularly sweat-drenched weak of high heat. Our water source is a decent haul from the garden, so when we heard we were going to get rain for the first time in over a week we schlepped together this contraption:

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Never have a felt more like a legit homesteader than I did in stepping back and admiring this piece of work. We have plans to build a more permanent rainwater collection system that doesn’t clog up access to the woodshed or use material (like the sawhorses) that we need for other projects. However, for a 15 minute throw-together job, this temporary system is earning its keep – one inch of rain gathered over 20 gallons!

Dreaming of Winter Nights

My husband, Mark, spent the 90 degree days of summer preparing for the -20 degree nights that are much closer than they feel as sweat pours down our faces. Piece by piece, he carried a huge, storm-felled oak out of the woods to our woodshed in the early mornings before the sun crested the hill turning our vale into a radiant oven. The result is beautiful:

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A nearly full woodshed is a picture of stability, of seasonal rhythm, and of attentiveness. Last winter we got our wood as we needed it – our summer was too busy and our arrival on this land too recent to have a full woodshed going into the cold. This year, we are that much more in step with the season. Next year, we plan to be two steps ahead – splitting wood for the that winter during this winter.

We are sinking into this place.

 

Gardening and the Vulnerability of Doing Things

I started my vegetable garden on May 22nd on a patch of ground on our central Vermont hillside. By “started” I don’t mean transplanting seeds I started indoors – or even purchased elsewhere. I don’t mean making rows and planting so the seeds can burst forth as soon as the sun warms the soil. No, I mean the latter half of May is when I first put spade to sod and started the laborious process of turning field into garden with hand tools.

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The hugel beds in process.

Of course, making beds took way longer than I thought it would – specifically because I decided to make hugelkultur beds which are built with decomposing wood, plant material (in my case sod), compost, and sod. All this meant that by Memorial Day I had no more than 45 square feet of ready-to-plant soil and a huge packet of seeds. This, of course, is the moment I chose to begin research on when and how I should start planting…

The first consequence of my failure to plan was space. By the time the end of May rolled around I knew I did not have time or energy to turn over any more soil. Looking over the spacing requirements for the veggies I most wanted to plant became a demoralizing exercise. Well – looks like we’ll get one salad of the garden this year! I was feeling quite sorry for myself. My shoulders ached from hauling wood up the hill for the hugel mound and turning up sod by hand. I didn’t have enough hours in the already-late spring days or the energy to make more beds. It became clear rather quickly that I’ll be enjoying the fruits of other people’s gardens (and their planning) for most of the growing season. I can expect my first fresh picked vegetable sometime in August.

This is all terribly embarrassing for me to admit to you. You see, I grew up in the garden. Many of my friends are farmers. I volunteered at farms and worked on a farm. I don’t think of myself as a beginner when it comes to growing food, but yet, I am. This is the first time I’ve done my own garden and that endeavor is a whole other bag of potatoes (of which I’ve planted zilch.)

This idea that I ought to be more competent in a certain area than I am (or feel like I am) is a regular source of spiritual fodder for me. I don’t know when, why, or how, but at some point in practicing a new skill or art, I get the crazy notion that I suddenly need to be really perfect at that thing. This little demon voice, demanding perfection, accepts no mistakes and no learning curve. Of course, this makes things NO FUN AT ALL and it is oh-so-tempting to just forget the whole thing and retreat to things that don’t feel as new and uncertain.

I don’t experience this just with gardening – this little perfectionist monster has poked and prodded my musical endeavors, my writing, my baking. Basically, all the creative outlets in my life – all the ways in which I enjoy bringing life into form.

Shaping raw material – sound, words, flour & water, seeds & soil – into something more beautiful and nourishing than the raw stuff is what it means to create. The humbling nature of creating something is that what was once inside me – ideas, inspiration, knowledge – is suddenly outside me. It is utterly new and can be experienced by others apart from my commentary and clarification. They hear, they see, they taste a part of my heart that I lovingly poured into the music, the poem, or the bread. Ugh. Is there much in the world more vulnerable than this? This fear of others interacting with my created forms – poking, prodding, judging – has kept too many songs unsung, poems unwritten, gardens unplanted, and dreams unpursued.

This is part of the nerve-wracking thrill of this homesteading endeavor – incarnating inner dreams. I’ve never had a shortage of dreams, of ideas, of inspiration, but I have often feared this terrifyingly beautiful step of making them real. Choosing to steward this Vermont hill – to shape it into a home, a productive landscape, a place for hospitality, creativity, and prayer – is a radical step in bringing a big dream into form. You know what that means? In the dream’s process of becoming real, it’s going to lose a lot of its current gleam. It will get dragged through the mud and need a slew of patch-up jobs.

Like my little garden, many things will fall through the cracks, the timing will be off, and the rows won’t be straight. I’ll make big mistakes along the way. I will be faced with my inadequacy and my over-identification with perfection. I’ll need to grow if I want to keep doing this thing.

As my dreams become real, so will I.

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One hilarious consequence of my poor planning – my first harvest was this lovely sun gold tomato (photo taken a couple days before consumption). Not many Vermont gardens reap a tomato before anything else, but hey! I grew a tomato! 🙂

You want more details about the garden? Sure!

As I was trying to figure out how to get anything out of the beds I built, Mark told me about a book we had stowed away called The Square Foot Gardening Method. As you can see, you divide your bed into foot by foot squares and plant in squares rather than rows. I was skeptical, but Mark assured me that he has had success with the method so I decided to give it a shot. I was totally re-inspired when I realized how much could be planted in such a small space this way!

Where I put plants was still quite haphazard and a little crowded for some of them, but things are definitely growing. We’re having kale out of the garden for dinner tonight and I’ve already popped too sumptuous sun gold tomatoes in my mouth! If nothing else I’ve learned a good bit about gardening the hard way – which means there’s a chance I’ll remember what I learned by next year. 🙂

Oh – and where did those beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers, winter squash, and brussel sprouts come from? They were leftover starts from good friends and good neighbors who were way ahead of me. Doing real things + vulnerability = discovering the good gifts of community!

Last Saturday: June 25

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Chard. Kale. Kohlrabi. Tomatoes. Cucumbers. Beets. Brussel Sprouts. Onions. Snap peas. Carrots. Winter Squash. Mmm…

 

Today, a week later: July 6

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They’re happy!

 

 

 

Let the Wisdom of the Earth Seep Into Your Bones

The beginning of my summer has been filled with long, glorious days on the homestead. Settling into this place and learning the way the sun and moonlight bounces off the contoured land. Familiarizing myself with the habits and voices of those that share this hill. Slowly working and dreaming alongside Mark with nothing marking time but the turning of the earth and the liturgy of the hours.

Most of this post I wrote last fall. With each day I don’t get in my car, the longing for intimacy with this place is both satisfied and continues to grow and deepen. When I read an article in the Northern Woodlands magazine this morning, I knew I had to dig out these words. 

More soon on what my hands have been doing during these long days, but first an update from my heart…


 

“Whh-wh-wh-wh-wh-wh! Whh-wh-wh-wh-wh-wh!” “Mmeeep! Mmeeep!” These sounds accompanied our meditation one evening last October as the day transitioned into night. Our friend and neighbor, Tom, was with us and as we eased back into conversation, he and Mark (my husband) began to comment on the unusual sounds. They knew exactly who the wing flutters and calls belonged to – the woodcock. The sounds themselves were not unfamiliar, rather the time of year is what was odd. The fluttering of the woodcock’s wings and his piercing call is part of the springtime’s symphony, not the fall’s. As the woodcock called out, Mark and Tom, who have been witness to Vermont’s rhythms for 20 years and 30 years, respectively, had the feeling of spring in their bones even as we sat under a warm October dusk.

I, however, being new to northern New England did not have the same experience. I heard the woodcock, proudly knew it was woodcock, but had no idea what was so significant about its presence in mid-autumn. In my two years of lived experience in New England, woodcocks fly and sing in the fall just as often as they do in the spring. The next time I hear a woodcock in October, I may now know in my head that woodcocks aren’t typically around in the fall. But I will never know the original rhythms of the woodcock the way Mark and Tom do. I will never know it in my bones.

Over breakfast this morning, I read the Editor’s Note in the Northern Woodlands – a quarterly magazine about the northern New England woods. The author, Dave Mance III, wrote about the recent news that the Emerald Ash Borer was found in Vermont. This news is a 5-10 year death sentence for a whole genus of trees. As a professional forester, he writes about his grief – “like loving someone with a terminal disease.” He tells of a black ash basket-maker in Minnesota who made a “burial basket” in her mourning. He wonders about what his daughter’s memory of the ash tree will be and how we will begin to explain the loss to the coming generations.

The title of the article is “Bearing Witness.” (You can read the article by purchasing the current issue – Issue 97: Summer 2018 of the Northern Woodlands Magazine. It’s only $6.00 and WORTH IT.)

Bearing witness. Listening. Fostering intimacy. In the wake of environmental crisis, I believe these are the ways we must turn back to the earth. We must welcome the rhythms, the joys, and the sorrows of the land into our very bodies – into our bones. Local ecosystems are already changing as the earth’s temperature rises. I have already lost the opportunity to know deeply the old rhythms of my Vermont home, but I can begin where and when I am. With each passing day, season, and year, the wisdom of the earth, even the earth in a rapid state of change, will seep into my body.

In June and July 2017, I had the honor of co-guiding a 40-day pilgrimage down the Connecticut River in which we prayed with the land, honored sacred sites, and mourned places of desecration and destruction at the hand of our species. On the morning of the fifteenth day, I woke up with a sense of intimacy with the created world in general, and the Connecticut River in particular, previously unknown to me. I realized all at once, as if waking up from a dream, that the river and I are equal players in the same story. We have the same Creator. We have the same home. Our stories our intricately interwoven with each other in such a way that I cannot thrive, or even survive, if she does not thrive. We will live together or we will die together. I could feel the river’s life, her pain, and most astutely, her patience with humanity. Throughout our shared history – the river’s and my people’s – she has literally carried the burden of our sins in the form of trash, factory run-off, eroding topsoil, and stagnation-inducing dams. That day, she became for me an image of the body of Christ, bearing all things in gentleness and in love.

In the same moment, I saw another face of her patience, a forbearance of our inattentiveness. I have come to glimpse, incrementally and in the gift of sacred moments, that our most destructive habits as humans cannot be solved by recycling, electric cars, wind power, or our favorite green initiatives. The human behavior most destructive to our precious home and our fellow earth-dwellers is a pervasive culture of inattentiveness. Our fractured relationship with the earth is not simply a result of what we have done (and are doing), but of what we have failed (and are failing) to do.

That beautiful July morning, waking up to the river flowing as she has for millions of years, I turned to the natural world in a new way. I realized that our species will continue to be a destructive force until we turn back to our rivers and our land, engage with them like the keepers of wisdom they are, and seek to be their pupils. We must know in our bones the way in which this world turns.

This is why we live the way we do – in an off-grid 314 square foot yurt on a Vermont hillside. We sold (or in our case – bought) the farm for this one audacious hope– that the world’s hope rests in individuals, and then communities, turning their full attention to the earth and to her Creator.

This is why we lead people on wild pilgrimages where we pray for and with the land, bless and be blessed by the natural world as we move slowly through it. We pray this helps more and more people turn to the earth, allowing her wisdom to seep into their bones. I believe the future of the world – the trees, the birds, the rivers, and the people – depends on it.

As we listen, as we let the wisdom of the earth seep into our bones, our behavior will change. It has to, because it is then that we realize our well-being cannot be divorced from the earth’s wellbeing.

But first, we must pay attention. We must bear witness. We must listen, for the earth has much to tell us.