Thursday, December 11, 2014

Laying the ground work

As the old silver barn project comes to a close, (hopefully by Sunday the milk goats will be chomping down on hay and settling in to their new posh digs) I’m acutely aware of the next tasks that lay ahead, The garden. Yes, soon I’ll be starting onion seeds, celery, then broccoli cauliflower and then tomato, pepper, and eggplant by mid-February.

So winter, as it is a time of rest it’s also a time to lay the groundwork for the spring and summer months, the months which produce 90% of the farm’s entire year income. So yea, there a little bit riding on this. But I always enjoy this time. It’s a time hope sprouts ideas and visa versa.  I sleep in a little, linger in the fire warmth of the yurt over coffee, I journal, I write and then the sun comes up and I do the work that will hopefully make all of the difference come April.

I’m still trying to figure things out though. I’m constantly trying to make improvements and sometimes the improvements I think I’m making end up not to be so. Trial and error.  The challenge is catching it fast enough and being willing to change. To let go of how or what I thought was going to work. This coming year my single biggest and most important task is to gain a greater understanding of my soil.  I know it’s all in the soil! Sometimes this soil fools me and leaves me scratching my head in confusion. I do know this; the soil on this land is very depleted of nutrients, everywhere. The drainage and erosion are problems. So I’m dealing with a kid that has a lot of problems that stretch back to many years of misuse and neglect.  And here I am as best I can with very limited resources trying to help. It’s been slow, but I have seen progress, I’m just hoping for a magic bullet. Right.

 I’ve had one person insist, I’m just not harnessing the soil and the landscape’s potential, but they have never farmed a day in their life, only read books and stories and seen a few u-tube videos, so of course they have the answers. They’ve never stayed in a place long enough to listened to what the land is asking for, and watched the ebb and flow of the seasons. The changes of temperature and rain fall amounts over the years.  Because things change year after year, nothing ever is the same one year from the next.  Except for the hours of daylight throughout the seasons and the earth’s rotation. (as far as I know at least). For several years we might have sopping wet springs and very dry falls so we learn how to adapt, then once we do we are then faced with several years of dry springs and wet falls. Go figure. The only way to have a sense of resolve is to keep trying. To keep listening, keep watching and to revel in the few successes. 

So we brush the dust off our bones from the last season and start again with a renewed sense of hope, of excitement and dreams. And although we feel relaxed about things now we know there are storms ahead. No denying it. There will be miserable days in the cold, miserable days in the heat, but we’ll continue to push our limits and our strategy for staying alive and well for as long as we have the privilege to do so, because we’ve seen the miraculous days and the gratifying days and the days filled with joy and this knowledge is the nutrients we need to grow and that’s how it works.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Little progress, big dreams

Okay so I have dreams, This is what I want my barn to somehow transform into but slow progress is being made on the old silver barn. It’s older than I thought. The slats that keep the thin corrugated metal sheets from caving in are warped badly and putting extra support beams in will require taking the old ones out and starting over which now gets a little more complicated, considering the height. A little above my skill level now.  One side is really not that bad so I can let it go but the other side is going to require much more time and confidence then I currently have. So yea, the wheels are turning. But a short term fix is underway.

Right now I’m cleaning up around the outside, if the inside wasn’t bad enough. As I do this I’m faced with this image of a junk collector that must live here. Jeez why was I saving this? What was I going to do with this piece of rotted wood anyway? I’m no hoarder just a sweep it under the carpet, shove it in a closest, or put it under a tarp kind of gal so then it just becomes part of the landscape. Okay no more of that! Seriously, those days are over. As a matter of fact the huge pile of baling wire is going to the metal recyclers this week! There is just the tiniest bid of anxiety that comes with separating with the coveted baling wire, which holds more things together around here than I care to reveal. But I have at least 100 more bales of hay to recoup my losses.

I’m kind of in a little bit of a hurry. Not rushing things because I really do want to do this right, but its December and the weather can go either way. A snow storm could really thwart my efforts.  But the weather has been rather agreeable. Go figure. But I’ve lived here for a time now and I know better to think this mildness will continue and I want the dairy goats tucked away in a safe warm place. The sooner the better! Plus there are other projects to get too. 

I do take some pride in the fact that 12 years ago I didn’t even own a screwdriver. I think about the things I know how to do now and it makes me smile. I always kind of had that DIY spirit, I’ve tiled and changed a thermostat and replaced a toilet seat. But the level of my carpenter skills have risen from nonexistent to just crappy, but in a pinch crappy will do just fine! Every year I get a little better. Thanks to U Tube I can change the oil in the tractor and a lot of other things. I really am so grateful for the internet. I’ve come a long way. If they could see me now!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three crows

It takes time to get to know a place. I really haven’t had the privilege to stay long enough in one place to say I really knew it. I’ve lived here on this farm for five and a half years now. I know a lot about it, but I keep learning surprising new things. Now I know the farm is always three to four degrees colder than what the weather sites report and I know that plot 1 is prone to frost. This is important information that only comes from observance over several seasons. I know which way the wind blows in the upper and lower fields not at all like plot 1 which is protected by a line of large cedars and also lies flat in a shallow valley which explains the frost.  

East to west pointed greenhouses logically hold up against the north and south winds at least in plot 1 but in plot 2 not so much they might be off a few degrees which means they get beat to shit by the high winds rushing over the pasture. Something I would never had guests upon surveying the best place for three large greenhouses that now require a lot more repairs and sturdiness. The coldest part of the day in the winter is just after sunrise and in the summer the hottest part of the day is 4-6 pm. The persimmon trees leaf out last in the spring and drop their leaves the first in the fall. Every year I worry that they’ve all died then suddenly they burst with life!
Aside from all the intentional critters on the farm like the goats, sheep, llamas, chickens, dogs and cats, I’m beginning to get to know the other animals that we share this land with like the coyote that has learned to bark like a dog, the occasional bobcat, owls, possums, raccoons, ducks, deer, cranes and occasionally geese. Of course there are rabbits and more species of birds than I can count and the three crows. 

There are three crows I see practically every day, at least that’s what I suspect. The truth is I never gave them much thought and it never occurred to me that the three crows this morning were the same three crows last week and even last month. But why not? I don’t really think I have a way to tell but their presence just keeps becoming more familiar and they don’t fly off as fast as they used to when I approach. This morning they waited until I was the closest I had ever been to them and it’s not even like they rushed off. It was more like hop hop hop fly a little further away, like they have a specified distance requirement. Okay I won’t argue with that I just acted like it was no big deal and went on my way. Maybe I look like a different human every day. All us humans probably look the same to them.
The three crows I see visiting the chickens. I watch with my binoculars from the kitchen window wondering what they are up to. Then they just fly off and I forget about it. But they are always around. I bet if I went outside right now they would be in the garden poking around in the fresh tilled soil. Linda once read an article on crows and turns out they will “adopt “a flock of chickens they’ve become accustom to seeing. They will even chase hawks away, which I have seen with my very own eyes. I think by the looks of things this morning they may have adopted us too. To a degree that is.

Crows are brilliant little creatures. I hear them holding court and I wonder what they might be talking about. There are more crows on the farm than these three but these ones must have position of ambassadors, the others I hear but rarely see.  They can be loud. So now I’ve met the neighbors. After years of just passing them by with not even a wave of acknowledgement, how shameful. I’ll be paying much better attention from now on.

Monday, December 8, 2014

ROUTINE 1 a : a regular course of procedure

You know what I love more than anything? Routine. I love having a routine. I don’t just like it I love it! I love waking up in the morning, not that I know what’s going to happen, rather just knowing exactly what I’m going to do. Even if something interrupts that process I can handle it, no biggie because I still know what comes next. Now, I understand routine and monotony are obviously not even in the same ball park here right? So, I’m not saying I Loooove to dredge through life making the same movements day after day after bloody day, but…. Hey for some that might be okay I can even think of occasions I would relish such a life, more truthfully a day or at best a week. But that’s just how I tick.

My whole life before farming was made up of a series of methodical routine. Come to work, unlock the door, turn alarm off, turn lights on, turn ovens on, and turn hood on. Check phone messages, receive produce order, study prep list, execute prep list, set up station, open for dinner, cook orders, clean up and then reverse the beginning, lights off, alarm set, door locked.  So on and so on for twenty eight or so years! This is a pretty loose generalization but you get the picture. Then I get myself tossed onto a farm in Oklahoma of all the wonderful places in the world, and it’s like getting hired as the captain of a cruise ship and my only qualification is I know how to swim, but never the less I take all of it as serious as a heart attack, right. Act like I know what I’m doing in spite of getting tossed about. “Where do we keep the steering wheel in this place?” I ask.

No, I love routine! The alarm goes off, the coffee is poured, the social media is checked, the journal is written in, thoughts are attended to, the body is stretched, the lungs are filled and emptied, then light starts to creep in and I pull on my work pants, the ones I don’t mind having chicken shit smeared on, bundle up a bit, slide my feet into my muck boots and I know exactly what to do next. I don’t stand up look in the mirror awe stuck and b’haggled (I made that word up) and ask myself “What should I do first?”  (for the record, I’ve done exactly that for more years than I am able to admit).

So I wonder sometimes is this not okay? Is this a gateway into monotony? Should I do something else like take another path to the chicken house? Or feed the dogs first before the goats or the goats first and then the chickens and then the dogs? Or should I eat breakfast before chores today and after chores tomorrow? And the cats? When should I….    See?! Never does it occur to me that it doesn’t matter. It does matter because now I’m out of my head. I’m not uncomfortable. I’m not trying to make decisions. Shoot, as I’m writing, it has just occurred to me that I’m putting way to much thought into this.

But really, finally finding this routine has its benefits. It helps me focus. When there is always so much to do I have a real problem with getting side tracked. One thing I have tried is to make a little promise to myself that I will finish a project before I start a new one.  When I finish with a job I’ll pack it up and put tools back and clean up after. You can’t believe what a challenge this has been. This is because I get 98.2% done and then something happens somewhere else, a pipe breaks or there’s a blow out in the irrigation, etc. It’s always something. So I say….”I’ll be right back” yup, exactly. This is a very bad habit but I’m giving it the old college try to overcome. 

So having a routine helps me start and finish something completely. 100% it feels good; it feels like an accomplishment even though I kind of feel like it shouldn’t. When you’re just putting your clothes on its not really an accomplishment to be dressed is it? There’s a higher bar I think to what can be called accomplishment.  I know there are the exceptions but at this point in my life I’m not qualified for that exception. In 30 years maybe (if I should be so lucky).

It’s the off season. Now is when the big projects happen. (Like the new dairy barn) Project time begins after morning chores, breakfast and tea and writing time. (I get a lot done before 9am)They can change like the wind and this can get me in trouble sometimes so it takes a lot of work to stay on task even when other projects are seductively winking every time I walk by. “Don’t you just want to work on me for an hour or so?” they ask.  Oh it’s so tempting! But… no! The rule is; finish the job. Put the tools away. Clean up the job site.  Dust off and enjoy the benefits and satisfaction that comes with project completion! 

So, I’m grateful for my routine, grateful for the comfort it offers me in exchange for unfetter freedom that I generally wouldn’t know what to do with anyway. I feel taken care of.  It’s the few hours each day that I feel like I’m standing on solid ground. Not that I expect or have any illusion of said solid ground, it’s just nice not to be looking for the steering wheel. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dark meanderings

It’s already seven O’clock in the morning and it’s still too dark to see enough to start my morning animal chores, I’ll wait till just enough light allows me to see the details. The sky is dark and cold with clouds and a light drizzle floats and covers everything, it feels kind of good. Today will be another cloudy dark day. I miss the sun.  

This time of year the pace is different, there is still a lot of work to be done, but things aren’t chasing me any longer. It’s the first winter in five years I haven’t offered a CSA, that’s nice, it’s allowed me to spend time on all the things that usually pile up and frustrate the dickens out of me because I see clearly that things need to get un- piled but don’t have the precious time to do so. So this is pretty sweet. I’m broke but the satisfaction that comes with the precious allowance of time is remarkable. Projects actually have a chance of completion. This half done business is beyond frustrating. 

I’ve noticed something pretty cool as I was kind of checking in with myself this morning, that even through I’m really struggling with the dark layer of clouds (which were also present in New York) I’m doing better then I have in the past. I no doubt have some kind of light deficit disorder although I haven’t really looked into it at any depth or length, I just get weird, not depressed just real dark, melancholy.  The worst time for me is between the hours of 4:30pm and dark after that I’m fine. Maybe because that’s when all the lights go on, I exist in an artificial environment. Heck I don’t know I’ve been living with this for the past twenty years I think. And can you imagine I once lived in Seattle. The difference is between those terrible hours I was in a brightly lit kitchen prepping for the dinner rush. Most of my hours were spent throughout my life in a bright kitchen. But considering all of this I’m not doing too badly.

The animals feel it too, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s a mysterious time of year, So much of the visual landscape changes and the colors are quieter and look lonely. It’s a time for dropping leaves, and going dormant. It’s the time for centering on what’s beneath and inside. It’s hard for us heart pounding animals. Even the birds change a little. It’s hard to succumb to the necessary and inevitable, like nap time for a three year old. Once they give up the fight they are out like a light. I need to find my place within this cycle, make my peace with it.