Savor This

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Sun setting over the back pasture, finches bending and swaying the tall grasses as they reach for seed heads, my sleek little black kitten perched atop my back as I harvest.
A pair of tree swallows took over the bluebird house. One poked its head out to watch, making sure I didn’t come too close to its nest. Tree swallows make beautiful nests, filled with feathers from the hen house which whirl around the tiny eggs like the gentlest blanket. Tree swallows are shimmery blue which makes me instantly like them, even though they bullied their way into the bluebird house.
I’ve been in a marathon of corporate consulting, making hay of another sort while I can.
Bare feet in the dirt, berry juice running down my chin as I eat right from the garden–I feel the connection I long for, the reminder that all is right with the world when the world comes down to fresh strawberries.

Planting Joy

 

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One of the joys of being a dreamer is the tickle of surprise which accompanies the gardens.

I love peonies. I brought the bubble gum pink beauties along with me when we moved here. They were a gift for someone else’s mother, left behind when we acquired a different property. I wouldn’t buy that color on purpose, but I adore them.

Last fall, I planted ten or twelve different peonies around here. I’d bought them from random roadside farm stands, an historical museum’s fundraiser, a yard sale. They’re coming up, some even already forming tight buds. The delight is in seeing their stalks emerging, burgundy and green, in places I had forgotten I’d planted. There is an unbridled joy in the anticipation of their blooming. I have no idea their colors or varieties and I don’t care.

I will admit thinking that life would probably be easier if I were a careful gardener–someone who planned, took notes, gave consideration to design. By the time I get to the end of planting two or three rows with a few varieties, I’ve forgotten which will be turnips and which will be beets.

I think my haphazard approach, though, is some kind of gift I unconsciously give to myself. I love surprises. I love the garden as a celebration of abundance. I love the pull into presence as I stop to watch a bee on a dandelion. So, as these peonies unfold, I will bask in the thrill of discovery. Heart open. Heart grateful.

P.S. How did a year go by between postings here? It’s been a blur of travel, parenting, homesteading, entrepreneurship, day job and dreams. Always dreams.

 

 

Crops

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We bought this place from farmers who raised cattle and hay. The grasses in our back fields are beautiful, even this early in the season. The soil here, rich with manure, cries out for more–peas, chard, spinach, beets and onions–those early, cool season vegetables we should plant now. A friend gave me Marfax beans and Floriani corn to plant. There will be a pumpkin patch, blueberries, strawberries and a community garden filled with  ingredients for salsa, salad, soup and preserves to donate to our local food pantry. I will make pickles and harvest the fixings for dinner just steps away from the kitchen door.

Right now, there’s grass. Everywhere.

We dream of back-hoes. How easily we could build gardens from grass!

The other day, we were walking the fence line in the back paddock when I noticed what I first thought was mint and quickly realized was nettles. Coming up in large patches, it fills the paddock in lush, deep green swaths. Nettles are a beast in the garden. Many call them weeds, a nuisance. They are also known as Stinging Nettles, which is no joke when you run through a patch barefoot. Nettles have these fine little “hairs” on their stem and under the leaves. They contain some kind of chemical which gives a nasty rash. Cows won’t eat them, which is probably why Oliver is peeved at foraging in that paddock when the unfenced pasture is filled with new hay. We had a quick conversation about the nettles (don’t touch!) and I remarked that they are supposed to be extremely nutritious. I remember my first mid-wife, who was an accomplished herbalist, bringing me nettle tea and talking about vitamin K. We left the conversation at that and got back to fixing the fence.

Derek got curious and sent me an article about nettles. After doing some research, we realized it’s our first crop! When harvested early, before bloom, nettles can be cooked and the cooking liquid used, as well. However, we also discovered that if dried, nettles will make an excellent addition to chicken mash and cattle feed, increasing nutrients in eggs and meat.

Who knew? Not I.

Such is the nature of learning as we go.

 

Sweet and Savory

My father used to put salt on his cantaloupe.

I was baffled by the salt. Cantaloupe, when it’s perfectly ripe, is a most beautiful, soft sweetness. Salt gave a sharpness I couldn’t appreciate.

I might have been six the first time we visited my father at his new house in Connecticut. My oldest sister would have been 13. I have only snippets of memory from that time, but I distinctly remember eating cantaloupe there. I do remember my father’s frustration when he discovered my sister spitting cantaloupe seeds on the ground. I remember my sister deliberately spitting a pile of seeds right outside the entry door after my father left for work. I remember that feeling of awe at her disobedience and fascination for her newly discovered teenaged rebellion. I also remember the laugh we had the following summer, when there was a cantaloupe vine growing up the stair railing outside the door.

Reverie Farm is new to us. This spring, I will plant a memory garden, as I do wherever I live. I have to start over since I didn’t bring anything with me when we moved. There are rosa rugosa, hellebores, iris, hibiscus, tulips, rudbeckia and peonies, among others–planted to honor moments and people gone by. My sister gets pink “angel” roses.       Both she and my father are gone now.

This year, I think I will also plant cantaloupe. Our growing season is short, but if I’m able to harvest fruit, I might even enjoy it with a dash of salt, just to savor the memory.

 

Grounded

It’s been a long week of corporate leadership development. I’ve been on the phone for hours, confined to home yet reaching into the parameters of other’s experiences-leading teams, delivering performance reviews, creating objectives.  I’m antsy.

Looking at the clock, I realize it’s nearly time to move our calf, Oliver Au Poirve, from the pasture to the barn. First, there will be our little conversation when he sees me coming up the path. He’ll bellow out and I’ll reply back with the thousand nicknames I’ve given him. “Hey, Pumpkin. Hi Beefaroni. Who’s a good little tenderloin?” Then he’ll trot over to the gate and lift his chin for a scratch. He’s only been here a week but he already knows I’ll greet him with a snuggle. I try to keep perspective as I groom him–“Hey Oliver, come here and let me scratch that brisket. Turn so I can reach the top round. What a beautiful sirloin you are…” I’ll move into the pasture and we’ll have a bit of a frolic. He loves to run and kick behind me while I hustle along the fence line to the trees and back to the gate. I’ll reach out and wrap his lead across his nose and behind his ears. He’ll lift his head and try to chew the rope or lick my sweater as I tighten the knot. He’ll give a little kick as we round the corner toward his stall then stop to sniff the grain storage bucket. He’ll stop dead just shy of the gate to his room in the barn until I show him there’s grain in the stall. Then, he’s in, head down in the bucket while I fill his water and tend the chickens. Of course, all of this is moot if I go to the gate with a banana. Then, there’s no cooing or grooming or frolicking or lead–he’s all business following me until he gets his fruit fix. Today, though, I’ll spend the time to play in the field, to pat him, to soak up the sweet smell of hay and molasses and manure.

When I was a kid, it was misery to hear “you’re grounded”–punished, relegated to the confines of home, without privileges.

Today, though, I relish being “grounded”. Switching from work mode to home mode– these chores; this time with animals, tromping through snow past birds on the feeders into fields of promise–manifests head and heart in the same place.

So, being grounded becomes an anchor. The confines of home are the privilege.

Earning Their Keep

1225151403aI woke up at nearly 3 am, tangled up in a heap of blankets, husband and cats. Useless cats!

Here in the quiet living room, where I retreated to read after realizing sleep was done, I can hear the skitter of little feet in the ceilings. I once read that where you see one mouse, you can expect 100 more unseen. If that’s true, then our little 135 year old farmhouse is Mouse Manhattan.

All summer long, we found mouse parts on the patio. We know which cat brings the gift by which parts are left. Pansy, our older kitty, eats the meaty middles but leaves a head and some kind of back-end mouse mess. Alley, our monster kitten, eats the heads first and rarely leaves us a mouse morsel. However, she has brought us a headless garter snake and a fully intact but quite dead chipmunk.

It’s been a mild winter, but still, the mice have taken up residence in the warmth of our walls. There’s also a large rat living in the stone wall along the patio. I’ve seen his tunnels and caught a glimpse of him on top of the bird seed pail. I wonder about the number of cousins he’s got with him.

The cats have moved inside, as well. When Pansy isn’t under the blankets, she’s behind the wood stove. Alley tramps around behind whomever is most likely to feed her or give her a lap.

We’ll do the usual things to mitigate the mouse issue: fill cracks and gaps with steel wool,  leave peppermint oil-soaked cotton where the mice may linger, keep the kitchen clean and the trash sealed. I’ve even been doing some research on attracting owls to our yard. I’m half-heartedly contemplating putting the cats on a diet. A hungry cat might just be our best defense!

Meanwhile, the fat lazies have moved off the bed in favor of curling up beside me on the couch. They know I’ll keep snuggling them just to hear them purr. They know there will be plenty of food in the bowl in the morning. I told them not to expect any more treats until I get a dead rodent present. Neither one of them moves at the sounds of scurrying overhead.