in it

there is nothing that screams “start” like the arrival of the season’s first apprentice

here in the hollow we begin emerging from our winter’s “rest” as the days really start to lengthen. usually in early february we actively start to work in the greenhouse. we slowly shift from a life focused almost entirely around the woodstove’s heat to one that eventually encompasses all of our farm’s acreage.  first with ordering seed then finding the notebooks to chart our our field maps, then in the blink of an eye it seems,  we have stopped hauling fire wood and started mowing the grass.


although sometimes it feels somewhat startling, the transition is really rather gradual. there is however nothing gradual about the moment when our first guest arrives. the winter is most definitely our time off from hosting. we focus inward on our family, our home, our personal projects. when the season starts to roll, there comes a day that we open our doors once again to folks coming here to work and learn with us.

we have hosted short and long term visitors here for as long as we can remember. each year is as different as the individuals that join us. one thing does remain the same year in and year out, once we have an apprentice on the farm the pace quickens, the schedule instantly becomes more rigid, and A LOT gets done. muscles already sore ache a bit more and we take a deep breath and face the season ahead.


we welcomed our first WWOOFer this past week. a horticulturist from southern california, she is a perfect match for our early season hosting. she keeps a great pace, knows her plants, and can mix concrete with an about to turn 4 year old assistant.

here we are, for better or worse,for drier or wetter, we’re in it.

here we go 2015. here we go.


occupy life

(Sigh.) Another theater season has drawn to a close in our local high school. They did a bang up job putting on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And we survived. My lack of a post last week was due to the fact that we were just surviving the process, but now, a few days out, I can look back and enjoy the ride.occupy teacup 2

Theater is a high impact, comprehensive, creative, full body sport. I love it. When I was in high school, it was one of my ambitions to play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, on Broadway, or someplace similar. (Thankfully, I have let that particular ambition slide.)

It didn’t take much time in New York City for me to realize I would rather be in the woods than on the stage. The theater of life is sufficient. But that doesn’t stop me from still loving the process of live stage drama. So, I got a little bit involved.

The directors of the local theater program are really excellent folks with good taste in vegetables (we supply their families) and we had long talked about yoga with the theater kids. I started leading their warm ups at one rehearsal each week.

It was so much fun. I’m hoping that the kids enjoyed it at least half as much as I did. Working with them, and watching them develop this performance has been a really special experience for me. Love of my daughter, the stage, and the local kids all collided in one great opportunity. I really want these young folks to get a sense of their own power, and to practice a waking awareness of their own bodies and selves. See, in order to convince someone in the audience that you are not yourself, you have to use every piece of yourself – every gesture, every breath, each movement – and so you need an acute awareness and control over yourself. I want them to know where their hands and feet are at all times – to feel the weight of their precious heads on their shoulders and use it well. I want them to use their whole bodies and their whole minds, and to learn how to work hard without hurting themselves in the process.  occupy kids

Those teenage years are so freakin’ intense. Young people have enormous amounts of energy – emotionally, intellectually, physically – and it is in the best interest of all involved for that energy to be used well. There’s a tremendous focus on sports-related activities in our local schools (which is a fine outlet) and the theater gives an outlet to those who aren’t so inclined to the playing field.

Watching them take their final bow on closing night brought back vivid memories of those wonderful intense sensations – the heat of the lights, the bond with fellow players, the exhilaration and corresponding exhaustion. A theater production crew creates something altogether new with their combined efforts whether great or small, and shares that creation with the community. Whatever the character of their shared creation, if it grabs us, the audience, and takes us along for the ride, it is successful.occupy teacup

Of course, when my personal favorite purple tea cup takes the stage, I can’t pay very much attention to the rest of the action. That’s the nature of parenthood I suppose, but besides that, I appreciate seeing her be a piece of the whole production process. As exhausting as it is, I do believe in it. (I’ll believe in it even more when she’s older and can drive herself to rehearsal, but…)occupy kids 1

Then there was the bomb threat.

Yes, that’s right, a bomb threat, right here in the middle of nowhere. It was a fake, of course, perpetrated probably by a student hoping to get out of school early, but the authorities had no choice but to take it seriously and lock down the school for a night. And that in turn meant canceling that night’s performance and re-scheduling it later, which was a major bummer for the kids who had worked so hard for months to put this show together.

My initial reaction to hearing the word “bomb” connected to any place my children will be is to remove them from that place, perhaps permanently.

But after that reaction came and went, I got to thinking a little harder about it all.

First I thought about this place – the rural south – where we have come home and chosen to raise our children. I wasn’t born here, but have lived here since I was a little baby. I’m still not considered “local” and probably my children won’t be either, even though they are among the tiny minority of people actually born in this county. Part of why I like it here is that there is a staying power to the people. Walking the halls of the high school on the closing night of the play, I looked at the faces of the graduates dating back into the 1930’s. The surnames are still familiar – there are generations of people who have stayed right here. They know each other through deeply woven connections and generations of family ties. To my way of thinking, this gives the local society a level of accountability that is hard to find in the scattered social disconnect of suburban sprawl. There are problems, too, of course. There are “good old boy” networks and prejudices that sometimes send me screaming. But there is a sweet, deep beating heart beneath all of that. And that’s what will keep a community whole, a place where you don’t ever, in your wildest dreams, expect to hear the words “bomb threat”. And that’s part of why we are still here.

There is a tendency among a growing number of us to want to ditch civilization at large. I am definitely prone to that kind of thinking. There are times that I would like nothing more than to take my family deep into the primeval forest and stay there, where there are no bomb threats, no standardized tests, no blinking screens and ticking clocks and nightly news and faceschmuk.

But if I hold my gaze firm I come to know that there is no running away. There is no perfect place. What I want is a better world, a world without bomb threats and school shootings, among many things. It is feasible that my Fellow Man and I could perhaps create enough of a bubble around ourselves to make the world better for OUR kids, which would be great, but it’s not the whole picture.

I believe that when part of humanity suffers, we all suffer in some way. Our suffering, in our comfortable homes and with our creature comforts may be indirect and subtle. It may manifest in the crude sort of alienation that leads young people to make false bomb threats. But that doesn’t make the suffering any less real.

I want to do things that make the whole world a better place. Your world, my world, OUR world. This doesn’t mean I’m joining Doctors Without Borders (a WONDERFUL organization). That’s not my calling. My work, for now is simply to not run away – to stay here and occupy this world, at home.

I believe that if we were to pay more attention to the places we occupy – our bodies, our homes, our communities – then these places will be improved. They will not be improved while our attention remains glued to the high speed screens that try to sell us what they say we ought to be.

I’ve heard it said that the footsteps of the farmer are the best fertilizer. That’s not a statement about compressing the soil – it’s about paying attention. Our worlds, large and small, need our attention, as they are right now, in pain and sickness and pleasure and plenty, to heal and to thrive. Nothing will get better if we ditch now. Nothing will improve without our heartfelt, focused, creative attention.

That’s a lot to pack into a yoga class with some teenagers, I know. Sometimes people get a funny look on their face when I say to a class, “feel your feet on the ground”. Maybe they’re thinking that this yoga teacher is just nuts. Or maybe they’re feeling the soles of their feet in a way they hadn’t noticed before. Maybe they can carry that new sense of the soles of their feet out on the stage in the stride of some character that will make us all laugh our heads off. Maybe they will carry that sensation into their lives and use it to help them stay awake for all the beauty in store for them if they look for it, and create it. I hope so, cause that’s what I’m talking about.

The kids in the theater production occupied every inch of that stage to make that awesome performance. They connected to the creative process, and each other, and they shared it with us. We gave them back a lot of love and appreciation in return, and for this period of time, in this little town, that lively exchange made our world a very good place.occupy kids 2

beautiful mayhem

IMGP1027Lambing is in full swing these days. I’m kind of glad the gardens are so wet from all of the rain that we have had because if we were also faced with tons of spring garden work at the same time all of these lambs are dropping to the ground… well, I think we might consider ourselves overwhelmed. IMGP1003Something like 25 lambs were born within the last 24 hours. That’s basically one lamb per hour. I wonder how long the flurry will continue. When multiple ewes labor and give birth in the proximity of one other, it is very easy for there to be confusion about whose lamb is who’s. In these years of keeping sheep, I’ve noticed that sheep are not, by nature, mathematicians. Counting to two poses a serious challenge for some of the ewes. When they happen to throw triplets? Well, most ewes are truly flummoxed. Eric carries a little pocket notebook with him all of the time during lambing season, taking notes as he strolls the paddocks before each time we move the livestock. In his notes, he has one abbreviation that totally cracks me up: “HPC”… having problems counting. It is certainly worth noting!

This ewe happened to be at the gate into the next paddock as all of the straggler lambs came through... they all were certain she was their mama.

This ewe happened to be at the gate into the next paddock as all of the straggler lambs came through… they all were certain she was their mama.

Inevitably, there always seem to be a few lambs that are orphaned each year. Depending on the circumstances, we have different ways of dealing with this. There is always bottle-feeding but, geez, that’s a time drain and an expense. It’s great when an orphan is vigorous enough to be a milk thief! (making the rounds to the HPC ewes, and catching them with their guard down). Sometimes a ewe can be convinced to take on an orphan, especially if her own lamb died and you can mask the odor of the orphan lamb with the ewe’s placenta. You obviously have to be on the ball and pretty observant for the pieces of this puzzle to fit into place. This year I am planning to have a little milk replacer and a bottle on hand and when I find a lamb that isn’t being properly cared for give it a shot. I don’t want to bottle feed all of the time, but I feel like some little lambs just need enough energy to get going, and then maybe they can keep up with their rightful mama or find a ewe to steal from. We’ll see how it goes.

Olivia had a blast pretending to be this lambs mama. It was pretty funny watching the lamb actually get under her and punch, looking for Livi's udder!

Olivia had a blast pretending to be this lambs mama. It was pretty funny watching the lamb actually get under her and punch, looking for Livi’s udder!

All through lambing season, we continue with our daily paddock shifts. We are still on the three times a day move. There is quite a bit of mayhem each time we move the livestock, especially as the ewes try to find their babies that maybe got lost in the shuffle. A really good ewe has the ability to keep the lambs right by her side, even amidst all of the confusion. We certainly take notes of this quality, as these are the ewes that best fit with our program. These are the ewes and lambs whose genetics we want to propagate. There’s a management intensive grazing specialist, Ian Mitchell Innes, that says “An animal’s purpose is to perform in the environment into which it is born.” Therefore, if animal doesn’t perform well under the conditions of your farm, move it on down the pike. So that’s basically what we do. Obviously, we make exceptions for animals that we bring to the farm, the ones that were not born here. Most of the time, with some patience (and maybe a small dose of frustration) animals will adapt. After all, everyone wants to survive!IMGP1079A few days ago, during evening chores, I was collecting eggs. The livestock had just been shifted into their new paddock and were right beside the chickens. All of the ewes were balling for their lambs and the lambs were bleating for their mamas. The geese were standing at the end of the egg-mobile, honking their heads off directly into the metal-sided structure that reverberated intensely with their noise. The chickens were cackling and even though I don’t remember precisely, I’m sure a rooster (or two or three) crowed. The cattle couldn’t help but add to the symphony with some deep lowing, and the girls, on roller skates (absolutely essential attire for evening chores) were squealing with fear that the geese were going to come after them. I think I probably covered my ears for a time. The noise was dizzying. But I looked around and saw all that was going on. I saw the light catching the new green leaves on the trees. The steely gray sky with shafts of light filtering through as the sun sank towards the horizon. The droplets of water shimmering in the deep green grass. The children, the livestock, the chickens and geese… all so full of life. I had the realization that Eric and I created all of this madness. And that the mayhem was nothing short of beautiful.IMGP1104