Friday, December 2, 2011

Black Frost

We had our first really hard freeze Thursday night.  Many of the hardy plants that had thus far kept their green summer clothes were pale and black in the morning.  Each little leaf was sprinkled with lacy crystals and hoarfrost pushed up from the ground in a display of white ribbons worthy of gracing any Christmas package.  My breath plumed before me in the pale dawn light as I broke the ice in water pans and filled the hay nets.  Goats peeked at me from inside their sheds, reluctant to come out into the frigid air.
With the cold weather, comes a tough decision.  While I enjoy my goats very much, I must always keep in mind why I have them.  Our livestock has a purpose, to feed us with meat and milk.  It is easier with the bucks.  Claude has been destined for the table from the moment he was born.  He will be treated with respect and dignity and we will see to it his sacrifice is gentle and appreciated.  It is not so straightforward with the does.  They can have babies and give milk.  Yet they do not always do this well enough to be kept.
Tinkerbell has not fared well in the cold weather.  She has not been terribly productive from the beginning, starting out at three quarts of milk a day, and dropping down to two at only three months into her lactation, and now down to one at four months in.  It is a harsh fact, but a poor producer eats just as much, or more, than a good one and we cannot afford to have pets.  It's true it has not had an easy year for her, kidding twice within eight months.  I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I feel hampered and frustrated by my inexperience.  While I had cows for eleven years before this, the goats only came into my life this May.  I have been surprised at how fun they are, with their amusing antics and affectionate nature.
Still…. A decision must be made.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude

Thanksgiving has become somewhat of an orphan among holidays.  I suppose that makes sense in a culture where most holidays now center on some sort of purchase or travel.  In this context, a holiday that focuses on being thankful for what one already has isn’t particularly useful.  So the frenzy to buy pumpkins, costumes, and candy for Halloween quickly phases to displays of Christmas Trees, glittering lights, and commercials suggesting that one’s love for a person is directly related to how much one spends on them.
I find I resent this attitude that one should never be content with what one has.  We have very little in the way of material things, but I find such joy and contentment in our lifestyle.  Had we chosen a more typical American way of life, I would miss so much.  By leaving behind the clutter of modern existence, we have made room for so many other pleasures.  Every morning I walk out into the fragrant air and the goats joyfully call greetings to me.  The purring cats twine around my feet in a shameless bid for attention.  Often there is a shy deer in the trees and the squirrels scold from branches far too small to hold them.  As I walk in to a warm home after morning chores, fire crackling in the stove and with a jar of rich creamy milk, I realize I am wealthy indeed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From Scratch

We finally got the wheat grinder bolted to the counter.  This meant I needed to actually grind wheat.  For anyone who hasn’t done this, grinding wheat into fine flour is hard work.  I never feel guilty for heaping butter on the savory bread I’ve baked from such flour. 

As I push and pull at the grinder’s smooth wooden handle, listening to the rhythm of the burs turning and feeling the effort in my arms and legs, I think about how much I take for granted.  While we almost never buy bread, I often make it from store bought flour.  I scoop out cups of the perfectly white, scentless powder and dump it in the bowl without thought.  Such bread only smells of the yeast used to make it light.  How different from the flour I’ve ground myself.  Each fragrant cup, speckled tan with wheat bran, seems precious.  The dough smells of the earth, rich and yeasty.  Of course whatever I use home-ground in tastes better, but I’m not sure if it’s the fresh flour or the appreciation I have for it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Milking by Moonlight

The time changed this week.  Milking time is now long after sunset, so I must milk in the dark.  There are many phases of dark at Thistleglade, ranging from the inky blackness of a moonless night to the shadowy silvers of the full Moon.  Each darkness brings its own essence and magic to Thistleglade and I go out with no light of my own to fully appreciate the beauty of the night.
I have enjoyed milking under the full Moon this week.  Under her light, the bare trees are once again shrouded in mystery and the shadows shift over secrets waiting to be discovered.  Dry leaves rustle in the slightest breeze and sparkle in the silvery light.  A small puddle becomes an enchanted mirror one merely has to touch to be transported to another world. 
In the dimness, sight becomes less important and the other senses expand.  As I sit on my milking stool, I notice the warmth of Tinkerbell’s smooth hide against my left cheek and the coolness of the night air on my other.  The smell of her fills my nostrils, animal but not unpleasant, along with the sweet smell of fresh milk as it squirts in the jar with ringing tones.  The cat sits on my knee hoping I'll miss, his heavy warmth accompanied with the pricking of his claws as he balances on a space too small for him.  The sounds of purring cat and munching goat blend with the rhythm of milking, creating a kind of music while the full Moon smiles down on us all.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Growing Up

Clara is being weaned this week and she’s terribly unhappy about it.  Her whole world has changed in the space of a day.  She has always spent her days with Tinkerbell, enjoying the safety and comfort of her presence and sustained by her rich milk.  But Clara is now old enough to feed herself and nurses as much for comfort as anything.  It is time for her to grow up.  As I listen to her calls and watch her desperately try to nurse her mother through the fence, it strikes me that I have often been just as unwilling to accept changes in my life.
I suppose it is in the nature of all of us to fight growing up.  After, who would willing leave the blissful carelessness that most of us enjoyed during our childhood.  As a child, I lived each day for that day only, unable to imagine the complexities I am expected to grasp as an adult.  The world was a good place and my small troubles were keenly felt, but quickly forgotten.  Each moment brought a new adventure and the future was a shining beacon before me.
How does one measure such an intangible idea as growing up?  I believe growing up requires the willingness to do what is hard when one has the opportunity of an easier course.  It is to take the right path even when it is but a rocky trail and everyone else travels easily on the interstate.  It is to accept the price of your awareness may be discomfort and loss. 
So am I now grown up?  Perhaps I have just set my foot on that rocky trail…

Monday, October 31, 2011

Respect

Thistleglade has shed her lavish Summer garments to reveal her true self.  All her scars and contours formerly hidden in a riot of green leaves and colorful flowers are now openly displayed.  The trees stand in various degrees of nudity, buff leaves scattered on the ground and twisted limbs joined in an intricate highway for squirrels, birds, and our many legged cousins.  Here and there a particularly shy tree keeps her bright red or brilliant green clothing, putting off the inevitable disrobing for as long as possible.
While Thistleglade is truly magnificent in her Summer garb, and breathtaking in full Autumn regalia, there is something bewitching about her in this naked display.  It is only by seeing her as she really is, not as we would want her to be, that we can learn to live lightly here.  We must accept what she has to offer and not ask for more than she can give without harm.  It is a very difficult lesson, to accept others for who they are.  If we can learn it, it may just change the world.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Slower

The Autumn nights are quiet and still.  Gone is the roaring activity of Summer darkness, where the mating calls of frogs, crickets, and cicadas are accented by flashing displays of fireflies in a grand orchestra.  Autumn’s cool nights bring only an occasional frog trill and perhaps the chirp of a single, brave cricket.  These muted solos herald the slowing of the season, foretelling the deeper quiet of winter to come.
I have always struggled with the dark part of the year.  I chafe at the slow pace when little outward change takes place.  I long for action.  I want to see something happen even as I know that much is accomplished during this quiet, that the roots of next Summer’s accomplishments push secretly through the fabric of my life, preparing to spring to life and bear fruit.  Perhaps someday I will learn to flow gracefully with this part of Nature’s cycles.  I will learn to have faith in the rightness of it all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Choices

Fall’s glory is growing dim.  Brilliant red and gold leaves fade to deep tan and flutter to the ground at the slightest breeze.  Acorns hit the ground in quick staccato, eagerly sought and eaten with relish by squirrels, deer, and the goats.  The hidden paths and mossy dells of Thistleglade are revealed day by day.  It is during the winter we will get to know her better, see her contours and find the injuries that need help healing.
This weekend was spent clearing a place for our cabin.  We chose the most unsightly spot in the clearing for our home.  Fallen trees had crushed their sisters, forcing them to grow in contorted tangles.  Thorny shrubs and rotting wood filled the spaces between.  It was much more work to clean this wounded area than simply building in the clearing would have been, but I could not bear to spoil a spot already beautiful.
It is time to make some choices.  What size of home do we need?  How much in resources should we consume, both in building and living?  Our time in the camper has helped us learn the difference between what we want and what we need.  Still, it is going to take energy and awareness to keep from falling into lifelong patterns of consumption and excess as we design and build our cabin.  Are we strong enough to stand by our convictions?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Step

Last week we took another big step toward self-sufficiency.  We installed a tiny wood stove in our trailer.  This simple act is symbolic of our journey in Thistleglade. The wood stove itself is uncomplicated, unlikely to break down, and can be used for heating, cooking, and warming water.  Thistleglade provides us plenty of fuel as she heals from the logger’s heavy hand.  Yet heating with wood also means the days of a simple flick of the switch are gone.
We are learning that the price of this security, of not having to depend on others to fix our equipment or provide us with the means to use it, is mindfulness.  Wood must be gathered and prepared for burning.  The stove must be carefully tended when it is being used.  We must plan ahead.  Once again we are forced into intimate acquaintance with the process in which our needs are met. 
So is all of this effort worth it?  Perhaps some would consider cutting wood, coaxing a flame into life, and nurturing the fire too much work.  I do not.  These tasks have been woven carefully into our days, smoothly meshing with others in the intricate and beautiful pattern that is our life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Which Path?

We have reached a point in our journey where we must decide which path to take.  While living in our camper is certainly not the worst thing in the world, it is not very efficient.  We are at the mercy of the elements and it requires much energy to stay comfortable when the weather is extreme.  It is time to build a home.
One of our paths is familiar.  We built a home in Wyoming and even brought most of our tools with us.  We have the knowledge and experience to build and outfit a conventional stick framed home fairly quickly.  I’ve even gone so far as to design a floorplan for a small, efficient square cabin.  However, building this way requires fairly large, periodic outlays of cash.  With just one of us working, we just can’t seem to even get started.
Our other path is less familiar, but something I have studied and dreamed about for years.  It is to build a small cob home from materials Thistleglade can provide for us.  With 35 acres of rocks, sand, soil, and trees very little would need to be purchased.  Yet the price is still high as it takes a great deal of labor to build such a home.
Each of these paths draws me.  I have never been a terribly patient person and the idea that the house could be proof against the weather in a few weeks pulls me toward the stick frame home.  But it’s swiftness of construction is really the only thing that appeals to me.  And since it requires money we don’t have, it’s likely to take just as long as the cob home in the long run.  There is so much about the cob home that appeals to me: its gentleness to the land, its low energy requirements, and most of all its potential for artistic expression.
So we stand at the crossroads, knowing we must put our feet on one path or the other soon.  We can only know which one is right by seeking our hearst, rather than listening to our fear.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tattered

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  The tattered and worn trees of late Summer are reborn in a glorious display of yellow, red, and orange.  Grasses arch their seed laden heads in a regal display not to be rivaled by any florist.  Autumn flowers rise in airy whites and feathery yellows, stalwart in the fading sun and approaching frost.
Everything has its seasons.  I am in the late Summer of my life.  When I look in the mirror, I see the lines and scars my years of living have left.  A streak of sliver swims through my hair. Like the late summer trees, I am faded and frayed a bit around the edges.  I find this hard to accept.  I am proud of my years and would not give up any of the experiences that have brought me to this place in my life, but I am also surrounded by images of youth and beauty.  I want to grow old gracefully rather than desperately cling to youth, but I don’t know how.  The only images of age I can find are those who are artificially young or pathetically old.  So I must make my own path, unguided by those around me.  I hope I will have my own Autumn, reborn with grace and beauty I had never imagined. 
Silver streak and all.

Friday, September 30, 2011

In the Moment

It is a lovely Fall day with a cool breeze and warm sunshine.  The goats frolic in the crisp morning air,  making incredible leaps any Olympian would be proud of before wandering off into the forest to sample a bit of this and that.  After eating their fill of exactly what they want, they amble back to lie comfortably snuggled together in the sun.  The cats curl up wherever they happen to be and sleep in the golden warmth.
I envy my animal friends.  They live each moment without a thought for the next one, doing just as they wish without worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow.  I wonder if there is a way for me to capture a bit of that.  I spend so much time and energy planning for what could happen that I know I miss a great deal of what is happening.  I take less time than I should to just sit, be content, and feel the sun on my skin.  So much beauty surrounds me and I often fail to appreciate it because I’m worried about this or that.  But how does one live in the moment, but still survive in the long run?  I have not yet mastered that delicate balance.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Full Circle

The air has the sweet, dying smell of Autumn.  There is a crisp chill in the morning when I go out to milk Tinkerbell.  Hints of red, orange and yellow flash in the forest.  Persimmons begin to turn neon orange, waiting for the first frosts to develop their sweetness.  I spent some time yesterday gathering hickory nuts hidden among last Fall’s leaves and twigs and savoring their sweet meats.  Wild hickory nuts are not like their tame cousins one finds in the store.  The untamed flavor of the paper thin meats is rich and sweetly complex.

This is the season of abundance.  Unlike fleeting summer crops of lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, Fall’s bounty is hearty and long lasting.  Potatoes, nuts, squash, onions, beans, and flint corn ripen and are stored away to sustain us during the dark days of winter.  In a world where you can get strawberries and tomatoes all year, we’ve forgotten that there is a season for everything.  In a way this makes us poorer, for we accept these pale versions of true food as the real thing and miss out on the exquisite pleasure of perfectly ripe strawberries and cream on a Spring morning.



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Settling In

In just a few short weeks, Thistleglade already feels like home.  Hedgewyck taught us a great deal about living the life we’ve chosen.  I can’t help but smile when I realize how na├»ve we were when we first came.  Sure we’d tried to live self-sufficiently in Wyoming, but we were chained to our perceptions of how things should be.  Tied to the grid, we never considered how much water or power we were using.  It was seamless.  We’d turn on the faucet and hot water would flow.  So simple. We never considered the invisible dance that was going on behind the scenes. The pump turned on, drawing electricity from the grid.  Water flowed from under the ground and was pushed through an underground pipe to the house where it was heated with natural gas from yet another underground pipe.  Suddenly things don’t seem so simple after all.

Our perception is much different after a year of living off grid.  Each gallon of water has to be caught from the sky or hauled from somewhere.  I read somewhere that the average American household uses 40 gallons a day per person.  It takes us three weeks to use 250 gallons.  That’s about 6 gallons a day.  Yet we manage to take daily showers, wash dishes, do laundry, and cook.  We run a 1000 watt generator a few hours a day to charge the trailer batteries.  5 gallons of gasoline lasts a week.  We’re hoping to get a couple of solar panels to cut this down.  We heat water, run the refrigerator, and cook with propane.  A 20 pound bottle lasts just over a week. We  heat the trailer with wood and are working on ways to cook and heat water with wood as well.

Each step has required an adjustment.  Sometimes the transition was not easy.  The true challenge has been in examining our perceptions.  I always considered myself to have an open mind.  I never realized how immersed I was in “how things should be” until we started doing this.  We will never be able to just mindlessly turn on the hot water again.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Size Matters (Hedgewyck)

We've been here for nine months.  For three quarters of a year we have watched Hedgewyck change with the seasons.  During the fall we were charmed by the glorious reds and golds and the rich smell of fallen leaves.  Winter's subdued grey hues and intricate pattern of bare branches encouraged us to turn inward and consider our place here.  While the new green leaves and fragrant blossoms of spring brought us fresh energy to give life to our insights.  We have traveled through three of the four seasons, each one bringing us a deeper understanding of this place we're living.

We are experiencing the determined industry of summer now.  The leaves are full and dark, often marred with holes and scars as they feed our many legged cousins.  This is a time for building for those who dwell in Hedgewyck.  Wasps and birds build nests and raise young, caterpillars eat, spin cocoons, and burst out transformed, and tiny grapes swell on their vines.  We are no exception to this activity.  We had a small cabin delivered and are beginning to finish the inside.  Even though it may see tiny to anyone who has lived the "normal" American life, to us it is positively spacious.  Obviously size is relative. 

While our time spent in a camper trailer has not always been pleasant, it has been extremely valuable. We have learned exactly what is needed for true comfort and what is merely extra.  This knowledge strongly influences our choices as we divide up our new space.  A good sized bathroom and roomy kitchen take up the lion's share of the cabin.  A cozy nook with comfortable seating is also a priority.  I am grateful for these lessons that we may be content and cozy while still sharing Hedgewyck with everyone who belongs here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Two Worlds (Hedgewyck)

The pace of life in the Ozarks has taken some getting used to.  Not even the sun is in a rush here.  Its muted light trickles through the moist morning air slowly, like golden honey that washes across the beaded brightness of morning dew on flowers and leaves.  It is often mid morning before bright shafts of sunlight pierce the green canopy.  Even then, nothing seems to be in a hurry.  Black butterflies flash blue patterned wings as they glide from one flower to another and wasps trace languid patterns as they probe here and there.

I have found a real difficulty in fitting myself into Hedgewyck's mellow tempo.  It is not because I don't wish to, but because I must live with one foot in each of  two worlds.  My heart and soul belongs in the haven of our woods, but I must make a living.  Modern existence does not respect any natural rhythm, but instead pulses at a much faster beat.  I find the shift from my quiet morning routine to the rushing pace of the outside world bruising and bewildering. When I return to the welcome tranquility of Hedgewyck, I am bound tight in my modern persona and must tug it away to truly enjoy the beauty around me.  Perhaps I may find a way to take the pace of my gentle home with me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Brazen Blooms (Hedgewyck)

The flowers herald the turning of Spring's sweet promise to the rich maturity of Summer. No longer do I see the shy spring florets, nodding modestly in the dappled shade of bright new leaves.  Spring flowers are gentle creatures, pale and fragile, blooming and fading quietly away leaving almost no trace of their fleeting lives in the thick carpet of moss and leaves.

Suummer flowers are much more brazen than their spring sisters.  They stand proudly erect, turning their comely heads to follow the rays of light that stream through the leafy canopy above.  Glossy petals flutter and lusty perfume wafts a siren song to those that come to sip sweet nectar and take away a dusting of pollen.  For all of this splendor is carefully designed to help conceive the next generation.  Even after the job is done and seeds are scattered to the wind, stiff stalks topped by spiked crowns will linger well into winter.

I have never shared a place where flowers grow with such reckless abandon and take abslutely no effort on my part.  The blackberry brambles are fairly white with delicate petals and the beebalm flirts with butterflies.  Slim daisies sway in the breeze with all the regal poise of a princess. It would be selfish of us to put in a grass lawn and take space from such a variety of lives.  Compared to Hedgewyk's wanton display, a formal lawn is a lifeless expanse of monotony as out of place as a paved parking lot.  I do not believe we will be doing much mowing this summer.................

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Gentle Rythmn (Hedgewyck)

It's been eight months since I've enjoyed the twice daily ritual of milking.  My cow, Daisy, was such a comfortable person, placidly accepting whatever mood I was in.  I found it terribly hard to stay upset when faced with such formidable serenity.  Of all the things we left behind, I missed milking the most.

Yet Hedgewyck is not a place for cows and we could not make it so without subduing its untamed magic.  It is a thorny maze of blackberry brambles, small oaks, and wildflowers with more rocks than soil. It is a place for bobcats to stalk, coyotes to howl, and rabbits to hide.  Treeless expanses and lush carpets of grass do not belong in our wild woods. Daisy would not have been happy here.

But my milking days are not over.  I can still greet the sun with a foaming container of warm, sweet milk and breathe the cool evening air while listening to the rythmic pulse of liquid hitting the inside of the jar.  My new Nubian goat compainions, Chloe and Tinkerbell, are not placid like Daisy.  They have an eager curiosity and are sweetly affectionate.  I often find myself receiving warm goat kisses on the cheek when I bend to open the gate.  While I know they are more likely to imitate a bad mood than accept it, it is hard to stay angry at such whimsy.

So now I have the best of both worlds.  I have my gentle rythmn back and Hedgwyck has creatures who truely appreciate it.  The girls spurn grass as nearly inedible, instead eagerly nipping twigs and new leaves from here and there, sampling a bit of everything Hedgewyck has to offer.  And by drinking the rich milk they give us and eating the savory cheeses we make from it, so do we.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Deep Breath (Hedgewyck)

We had some lovely days last week  The sunny warmth woke in me a longing from Spring, made all the more fierce by this week of grey rain.  The trees look even more dull and lifeless in the gloom, though I know they are soon to burst into lacy leaves and frothy blossoms.  Only the moss appears in riotous green, at odds with everthing around it.  It is as if Nature is taking a last, deep breath before plunging into the frenzied activity of Spring.  The stillnes and gloom hide what is really happining under the surface.  Sap begins to pulse through naked tree branches, seeking roots push further into the dark earth, and seeds swell and burst beneath the brown carpet of leaves.

Our lives are much like this as well.  Often when it seems as if nothing at all is happening on the outside, great activity is taking place within.  I have trouble with the stillness, wanting to urge events forward, quicken the pace.  We have been taught so well that faster is better.  We have learned to multi-task, doing many things but focusing our full attention on none.  It is a shallow way to live.  Many things are done, but nothing is really done well.  I need to learn to accept, perhaps even enjoy, the stillness that comes during the still seasons of my life and let the growth that they nurture unfold in its own time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bare Minimum (Hedgewyck)

What is the bare minimum one needs to be happy?  If someone had asked me that last May, I would have had a very different answer than today.  I had daydreamed about moving somewhere and living off grid, but dreaming and doing are very different things.  Reaility is seldom what one dreams.

We are five months into our adventure here.  When we arrived, we worked very hard at replicating the lifestyle we left.  Our expectations were that we would be able to live much the way we always had.  Fate had other plans for us.

Yet, chance has not been unkind.  Emergencies, such as the generator quitting, have come one at a time. We've been able to taper off our dependency on the modern lifestyle instead of going cold turkey.  We've had time to adjust.  As our lives get quieter and simpler, we're learning how much more resiliant and secure a lifestyle that isn't dependent on complicated devices can be.  We've begun designing our home to reduce the necessity for technology. 

So what do we need to be happy?  Much less that we'd imagined!