I love knitting in the round. I especially love big not-so-fancy projects that allow me to go round and round and round in mesmerizing circles. Bless the soul that figured out connecting two wooden sticks with a string (aka circular knitting needles) to avoid all of the back and forth stuff. Yep, circles are where it’s at. And then, when you start connecting these circles, a few stitches here, a few stitches there, form develops. Usable, functional form (well, hopefully). Sometimes it feels a bit like magic.
Today, while cooking down some more maple sap (Yes, more. You must think I do nothing else at this point!) I was trying very hard to finish up a pair of mittens in between moments of stoking the fire and skimming the sap. They are still not finished… maybe because I was also preparing four pizzas (from scratch, wood-fired), tending three little people, assisting Eric with his current project, and whatever other distractions befell me. Anyhow, in my moments of actual knitting and in my moments of thinking about my knitting, I found myself pondering circles. And the beauty of interlocking circles. And the amazing creations that can occur when circles come together and expand:
There is an area of the farm, a small amount of bottomland that borders the big creek and which rises to a lovely little hill (we call it Persimmon Hill) that we have a vision for. It’s a terribly overgrown area of the farm that we are wanting to reclaim as more domesticated space because of the close proximity to our house, the loveliness of the site, the fertile soil of the bottom (far more fertile than our gardens!) and the magnificent view of the creek. Well, last winter Eric started clearing a bit. Cutting out less desirable tree species to encourage the timber and mast-producing species. As trees were felled, they were cut into manageable lengths and then piled up to be burned later. Then winter turned to spring; clearing project abandoned as farmer turned to his gardens.
Now, this winter the work on this long-term clearing and domesticating project has resumed to a small degree, but there’s a new twist. Handily enough, the wood that was cut last year and piled up happened to be (mostly) just the right length for the maple syrup making in our new system this year. So the clearing project has the added bonus of providing fuel for the maple syrup. Now two totally separate projects have become intertwined with the other, providing more incentive in both cases. My bell is ringing loudly here. But this circle is nowhere near completion yet, so I’ll go on.
So the wood was cut, gathered and brought to the maple syrup fire. That fire was stoked and stoked and kept incredibly hot. But at the end of the day, when the syrup moves indoors for finishing, we still have a gigantic bed of coals with lots of life and heat left in them. One shovelful gets transferred to the cookstove in the house to get that fire going quickly. Then, Eric shovels the rest of the coals (a mighty hot job!) into a steel barrel, drapes a thick wet cloth over, and puts the lid on tightly to seal out the oxygen. Viola! Our own biological charcoal or “bio-char”. This is a very stable form of carbon which makes a superb soil amendment and which we use in our gardens and our potting mix. Last year, our bio-char making was an isolated event requiring it’s own fire, time, and considerable effort. Now it has become an integrated component of the expanding circle of our farm and, inseparably, our lives. Did I mention that my bell is ringing?
(As an aside, once the coals are mostly removed from the fire pit but while it is still good and warm, Ira gets a mess of sweet potatoes for baking in the ashes. Supper gets cooked, too. That’s my boy.)
The clearing project fuels the maple syrup making. The maple syrup making creates the bio-char. The bio-char feeds the soil. The soil feeds the plants. The plants feed us, giving us the energy to get back to the clearing project… I know I’ve neglected to mention many nuances in this process, but you get the idea. Circles.