Monday, September 28, 2009

Lost and Found

The enigmatic ad in the weekly "Trading Post"--a classified ad tabloid, available free around the area-- read:

We tried before but didn't succeed. Let's try again and then you'll see that after all this time we were meant to be.

No name, no phone number.

I wonder how many people read that ad and felt a faint flicker of hope for a long-lost love...or a glimmer of horror that the bad old boyfriend they ran into a few weeks ago was fishing for a re-match.

My own heart did a couple flip-flops in both directions, and then heaved a sigh, with an ironic smile on the side. My own lost beloved would never say anything like "you'll see that we were meant to be" (that's part of what I love so much) and the BOB who DID and WOULD say that is delusional if he thinks I've forgiven or forgotten his unpaid debt$.

But my mind wanders to other disappointments, like housemates who left in a huff, running away from demons that seemed personified in me, but in reality were within themselves. Some have returned to own their part in our strife; some haven't yet and may never. I sit in my life as if beside a river, watching other people's lives flow past. Watching them try to run from their own ghosts reminds me that when someone trips my trigger, I need to ask myself "What is it within myself that I'm running from, by running away from it in others?"

My life before these recent years was a tumultuous rapids, thrashing through rocky passages, rarely a calm place. A deeper, slower river flows more serenely now. But it's the same water.

Along the banks of that river lie the driftwood remains of any number of relationships broken and not mended, or not mended well, or mended more times than I want to admit. Small shames and sadnesses. I can't make anything whole again, but I can cherish the driftwood. Where these relationships are ongoing, the original thrill may never be recovered--there may always be an ever-present awareness that we have hurt one another; a certain innocent trust may never be given or received again--but a gentler, deeper, wiser love evolves that I've grown to prefer. At every possible opportunity, I affirm such mended friendships as the twice-precious jewels they are. Family relationships that have been strained over the years are also the more precious for their fragile renewal, even if it's just knowing that a kind word was said to a third party.

Not just people. I tenderly play the piano for Toss, who's nearly deaf but still loves to hear the piano. But there were so many times my words to her were harsh and unloving, beyond the need for correction in her sheepherding. How did we ever learn to trust one another again, after she bit me in the face and I pelted her with cardboard boxes in return? Yet our love would not be so rich if it had always been easy. I sat in the pasture for a few peaceful minutes today, while checking fences, and Eider came up to me, gazing into my eyes with her sheeply wisdom, breathing into my breath like a horse. My errors with her were more subtle, but real. Days here and there when the water froze, the mineral box was empty, the pasture gate didn't get opened, breakfast was late, I wasn't there in time to save a weak lamb, I tried to force her to mother a lamb she didn't want. And Mike reminds me, ah, the wrongs I've done the cats...asking them to eat a different brand of cat food, bringing them to a world full of hideous dogs and sheep that surely eat cats for lunch.

They forgive me, again and again. I forgive them. Our friendships grow deeper--sadder, in some ways, but richer as well, and more comfortable, more resilient. We have learned that beyond all the little wrongs, we trust one another implicitly in the big things, including the biggest thing of all: that we belong to one another, no matter what befalls. We acknowledge the intertwining of our lives, irrevokably.

It does not take a lot of time or effort to affirm our true loves, only a heart broken and mended enough times to be humbled and chastened by our admitted imperfection. A heart softened, cleansed of expectations and resentments.

How many times must we forgive our neighbor? Seventy times seventy, Jesus says. And I add to this, how many times must we forgive our beloveds? Seven thousand times seven thousand, at least. It is so well worth it. A lovely tenderness, an exquisite gentleness, is woven deeper in my heart each time I renew my commitment to journey together with all these beloveds through this mortal life, a serenity and acceptance that this old poem always seems to capture for me:

I sat at the edge of a dark place,
Casting my nets at the far sky;
Fished for a spell in a deep sigh
That rippled and raced.

I sifted my thoughts through the night air,
Mended my nets by the still cove;
Knotted the strands of an old love
That ravel and tear.

I slept by the lake of the dark sky,
Curled on my nets for a safe bed;
Searched in my dreams till the waves said
That you care
and I.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Behind Open Doors

I stopped by my daughter's this evening. She couldn't wait to pass on the gossip. "My massage therapist said she went to your farm on the Permaculture tour. She was really impressed! She liked your farm best of all--she said it was the most neat and tidy, and all the tools were put away, and there were beautiful crops growing...."

Music to my ears, even though we looked one another in the eye and burst out laughing.

I try. I really do. And partly, I schedule events at the farm every month if I can, just to give myself an incentive to get it tidied up on a regular basis. To see it through other's eyes, for it's esthetics, rather than through my own jaded practical eyes that tend to see unfinished projects and undone work more than any irrelevant clutter. The "event effect" DOES make a difference, over time.

But also, I get better at preparing for such events. I understand more and more what casual visitors notice, and what they don't. So I can impress them with less work.

This evening, that was brought home when I went to show the new WWOOFer his way around the bike shed. Well! We couldn't get in the door--and it doesn't even have a door! The bike (hm, I guess the last I rode it was BEFORE the Permaculture tour) was somewhere under and behind: A scrounged 1950's step stool (I sold my red one like that before I went to Canada), two garage sale bar stools (for a friend to make kumihimo looms out of), a box of extra coat hangers (someone said they wanted them, but hasn't come by for them yet), an almost-empty (but not quite) antifreeze jug, a stack of flower pots....

THAT'S why my daughter's massage therapist thought the farm looked so neat and tidy!

I commented to the WWOOFer, "If you ever see a farm that's all neat and tidy, you can be sure they have a shed somewhere that looks like this."

The secret is putting it out of the direct line of sight, and knowing when to distract your visitors. What tourist is going to notice the contents of the dark shadowy inside of the open-front shed, when I'm regaling them with stories about the bee colonies as we walk by? Much easier to tell good stories than to figure out better places for all these odds and ends, most of which are in transition anyhow.

If tools look like they've just been laid down, and will be picked up again any minute, it looks like work in progress instead of clutter. Therefore preparation for an event includes putting away all the tools that are lurking under vines and grass--and leaving out those that look like someone just walked away from a project 10 minutes ago.

But the grass under them has to be neatly mowed. Neatly mowed lanes make any surrounding anarchy look purposeful and under control. Especially if you refer to it with high-falutin' words like "fallow" and "wildlife feeding area".

I know the truth. So do those who know me and the farm well. But it's still nice to know I fooled someone. And, in truth, I do think the farm looks better than usual this fall.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Prey for Piece

There are things you just never, ever in your wildest dreams even think about seeing. One female preying mantis trying to wrest a fellow female mantid's prey out of her "hands" is one of them.

Yes, I've seen the females calmly devour the males when everyone's job is done, and senescence is at hand for both anyhow. That seems like a logical suicide pact. The ultimate consummation of a brief, yet intense love affair. Parting is such sweet sorrow, you know.

What I just chanced to witness was just plain RUDE! Uncouth, heartless aggression at its most blatant.

The green mantis--obviously a female nearing her laying time; note the distended abdomen--caught my eye as she strolled acrossed the weathered boards of the shed. I ran out with the camera, wanting to document this species since I got some good shots of the larger one a couple weeks ago. They are fast and hard to photograph when they are on the move!

As I turned to leave, a tiny motion at the bottom of the wall caught my eye. Another female mantis of the same species, but in the gray color phase, calmly munching on a cricket. Forgetting the first mantis, I started trying to get a good angle on this one. What luck, to catch both color phases at once!

Then to my surprise, the green one appeared and began attacking the gray one, clearly trying to wrest the cricket away for her own dining pleasure! After two fruitless lunges, Green gave up and stepped aside a few paces.

I've got to figure out how to get this camera to take repeat shots, for fast-moving action like this.

Too Much!

I'm not the swiftest of farm workers, by any means. There are so many distractions!

Chief of those distractions, on a bright early-autumn day like this, is the sheer beauty that surrounds me at every moment.!

The images you see here are a beetle (Insects in Kansas shows this to be a Locust Leafminer, probably on vacation from the many locust trees west of the garden) on a lettuce leaf; a pea blossom* (an heirloom variety, Desiree, that self-seeded itself from the spring planting); and the sublime pattern of fig leaves silhouetted against the sky.
Not in that order. Blogger has a mind of its own.

Snug as a Bug in a Bug

If you tend to be squeamish, you should probably glance at the photo and say to yourself, "Nice cocoon!" and move on to another blog or a computer game or something.

The original title was "Snug as a Bug in a Rug", when I found this cozy cocoon rolled up inside an endive leaf as I was picking greens today. I snapped a photo.

Then I did a double-take. You see things in a photo that you don't notice with your bare eyes, esp. using the macro feature to take closeups. Sometimes I snap a photo just like I'd take out a magnifying glass.

What I saw in the photo was legs. A cocoon doesn't have legs, and despite the cozy nest of webbing pulling the leafy blanket around it for protection, this thing had legs (and pseudopods, which is what you see in this photo). But it was as still as a cocoon.

Stiller, in fact. I realized there was a dull, heavy deadness about the thing, instead of the sleek liveliness inherent in a cocoon. I looked more closely, and saw a granular look beneath the translucent skin.

This is no longer a caterpillar. It will never be a cocoon. It has been parasitized, and the entire body except the skin has been consumed by thousands of tiny maggot-like larvae. Unfortunately, in the photo of it broken open to show the larvae, the camera decided to focus on the leaf instead of the broken ends of the parasite hotel. But you can kind of see the odd texture under the deathly white skin.

The world of bugs is an alien, cutthroat place, full of life and death drama and everything in between. Sometimes I'm glad to be a human.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


One thing leads to another, in unexpected ways, especially as my lifetime of random diverse routines, systems and lifestyles has accrued such variety that anything can trigger a chain rection.

This past spring, I downsized my ewe flock by "selling" a number of ewes as a started flock to some new friends who farm organically. The whole nine yards: Jersey milk cows, beef, heirloom hogs, chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, veggies. We actually didn't exchange any cash...we set a price, and we're keeping a tab as I enjoy farm-fresh variety my rather focussed farm cant' provide.

The other day I brought home my first gallon of farm-fresh Jersey milk in about 33 years (that was before my daughter was born). Granted, I've had other REAL milk since then, but still none since moving to Lawrence 15 years ago, and not for awhile before that, either.

Slowly the reaction began.

Cream! Even after the long ride home, there were several inches of butter-yellow cream on top. I could barely wait to skim it off. Somewhere in the back of the utensil drawer lay a long- idle gravy ladle that nicely fits in a waide-mouth gallon jar, bought just for skimming cream. In a few minutes, I had nearly a quart of thick, rich cream! The remaining "skimmed" milk tasted as rich as store-bought whole milk.

Several days later, it was still untouched. My current foodway doesn't include cream, and I kind of forgot about it. But then Beth and I had a cup of tea, and I remembered--cream in tea!

Then I was perusing the fridge this evening for a light supper. Cream...?

Dim memories began to gather and take form in my mind. I moved through the kitchen as if hypnotized, slowly at first, then gathering momentum.

THIS pan.
Set THAT burner to THAT temperature.
Water up to HERE.
Raisins first, a handful.
Sunflower seeds.
Nuts--all I have on hand is almonds, not my usual pecans. But they'll do. And here's some coconut--a special treat.

And then barley flakes.

Many MANY years ago, I noticed a correlation between eating oatmeal (with all the extras) for breakfast and getting cold sores by lunch time. When I switched to barley flakes...which taste and cook very much like rolled cold sores. Since then, I stick to barley. Apparently my body is especially sensitive to the balance of amino acids--oats have the least lysine of any grain, and lysine is an effective remedy for curbing cold sores.

After the water is absorbed into the flakes, the nuts are softened and the raisins are plumped, it goes in a bowl. Well, half of it...I had started with a little too much water, added ingredients accordingly, and it looked like more than I could eat.

Then what? It's been years since I've done this.

Oh, maple syrup, of course! Another ingredient that's been languishing in the back of the cupboard, used only when some guest makes pancakes. And then, finally, two big scoops of fresh golden cream.

It was so good, I went back for the other half.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


One thing I relish with my time off from the bus job is being able to talk to the neighbors. It's not so much about having time but about being around when they are, being available to just run into them in the natural course of our days.

I was on my way over to work on Dawdy House early this evening and took a moment to appreciate the ornamental sweet potatoes that are flourishing around the farm sign. So I noticed my neighbor in front walking to get her mail. I said "hi" and we exchanged a few pleasantries, plus a reminder that she really would like me to get that tree trimmed. It will have to wait...chatting with another neighbor at a garage sale last weekend brought me the news that my tree trimmer guy is currently biking across India, which would explain why he hasn't returned my phone call.

As we talked, I noticed something odd at the neighbor's garden across the street, and I saw his garage door open, so I wandered over there to make sure he was aware of it. He was, of course...and filled me in on all the details. And then some.

While we were chatting, the neighbor across from HIM wandered across and we chatted some more. Local politics, local history, local gossip. We are quite a motley crew, spanning several generations and several income brackets and the whole spectrum of political and religious beliefs. But first and foremost, WE are the 500 block of North Street.

The evening production of the North Street News ended when I noticed a strange car pulling hesitantly into my driveway. I bid farewell and ran to see who it was. I wasn't expecting anyone.

And of all the people I wasn't expecting, I most wasn't expecting Beth, who I understood to be either in California or being an airline flight attendant--not leaping out of her car to give me a big hug.

Beth is one of those people who came through my life (as a housemate at the farm) for a very brief time, but is here to stay in my heart. Part and parcel of the farm, forever.

Beth, the C.S. Lewis fan. Yesterday Eider's ram lamb finally found a name, Aslan, because the shearer left a tuft of wool on the tip of his undocked tail, making it rather lion-like, and I had just Sunday found the whole Narnia series in hardback at a garage sale (see paragraph 2 above).

Beth, the creator of the meditation swing on the edge of the wilderness area at the farm. Beth, seeking God and sharing her faith through every sense, through dance and music and drama and journalism and listening and just being there.

Beth, the photographer who captured the timeless black and white image of my quirky laundry hanging on the line (note to self: hang laundry tonight). A few days ago my current housemate presented me with a wonderful color photo quirky laundry hanging on the line. OK, so I have photogenic underwear. There's something charmingly nostalgic and non-sexy about long johns flapping in the breeze in a disembodied dance.

Beth, one of my dearest and sweetest Christian friends, who is undertaking to become a full-time missionary. Her dream is helping of women and children who have survived sex trafficking--an issue most Americans have their heads in the sand about. I learned a great deal about this issue during my stay at Holy Names House of Peace in Winnipeg when I lived there in 2005.

Beth. Younger than my daughter, a mentor, a minister, a forever friend. A gift from God.

A visit I will cherish in my heart until our paths cross again, in a year or 5.

I gave her a tomato as she left, after a couple too-short hours of singing, piano playing, laughing, story telling, hugs, tears of joy and amazement.

"Here," I said. "You must eat this. Then the calcium in it will be in your bones, and you will carry that little bit of the farm with you whereever you go. And you really must visit at least every seven years, so that there is always the farm in your bones."

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Saving Lives"

Blood pressure alert: This is bound to sound heretical to some folks, and generally push a bunch of buttons for a diverse array of reasons. I'm not expecting anyone to agree with me on anything, just sharing what my understanding is at present.

The longer I live in close company with the whole Community of Life at Pinwheel Farm, the more intimately I find my understanding of living intertwined with my understanding of birth and of death.

And the more I study the Bible, and listen to other Christians harangue other non-Christians (yes, I claim both categories; I believe God's understanding of me encompasses all of me at once--past, present and future--and though in some ways I've been following Christ since high school when I first started reading the New Testament, "officially" I've only been a baptized Christian for about 8 years.), the more I realize that I really don't "get" the whole thing about being with Jesus in Heaven, and life after death, and all that. It just doesn't grab me as anything that should be an immediate priority in my day-to-day life. It's all just unknowable. And pitiful fallible little mortal that I am, I don't feel I have a right to assume that I know the Mind of God when it comes to the Judgement Day. Maybe I'll be with Him, maybe not. Maybe some folks are right about my misdeeds of the past (and present, and future...); maybe other folks are right about God's mercy and forgiveness. I don't know who to believe, among people, so I'll put my faith in God...and be content that I can't be any more sure of my eternity that of tomorrow's weather.

For me, letting God do the worrying about eternity is a huge load lifted off my shoulders.

On the other hand, following Jesus...looking to him as a mentor and teacher and role model...trying to do what I think he would have done according to the stories we have of his life and ministry...THAT seems worth doing. And helping others by doing that, and helping others to do that themselves...THAT seems worth doing.

The more I see/hear media promotions about "Saving lives" through health care, pharmaceuticals, prevention, etc., the more that phrase just sounds like a bunch of nonsense. Doctors and nurses don't save lives. Firefighters and EMTs don't save lives. Seat belts don't save lives. Breast cancer screenings and Pap smears don't save lives. Because no one's life is going to be saved. Period. We are all going to die. Why not?

Then what happens? Some Christians tell me that Jesus saves, that if I confess Him as my personal savior then He will take me to heaven when I lay this body down for good, and I won't really die. Well, OK, whatever you say, but I don't really need to know.

I guess Heaven is just on that long, long, list of places I've never been and therefore really don't mind not being there. I'm too busy here in this little corner of God's Kingdom on Earth to worry about all the places I'm not, and might not ever be.

As I said, I'm content to leave my fate for God to let me know when the time comes. If He thinks I should roast like a marshmallow (mmm, crispy toasty brown black and a little charred glowing coals and flecks of ash on the outside, delicate crack stretch then ohsohot sweet gooey on the inside and maybe a rich piece of bittersweet dark chocolate and a graham cracker to lounge around on...), then it will be my Christian duty to try to do so without whining, because I imagine He will sternly and lovingly show me exactly what I could have done to have a different outcome, and it will all make perfect sense, and for my God I will do anything in my power, even burn in a hell I don't believe exists.

But right here, right now: As far as I can see, with my poor mortal "wisdom", life can only be prolonged. And it can be enriched. And those are worthy endeavors, when carried out in balance with an awareness that our lives are so intertwined with so many other lives, of all species, and what extends one live may shorten another...and how can we value one life relative to any other life? No life can be saved, yet one life arises from the passing of another life in endless circle, endless recycling of atoms and elements. If my protein returns to nitrogen and ends up incorporated in the wing of a monarch dangling from a foggy October tree branch in the chilly dawn, is that not enough of Heaven?

If, whether through my life's brokenness, through my stumbling in the twilight, through my quirky and incomplete grasp of scripture, through being a Bad Example and demonstrating What Not To Do...if somehow, I can offer comfort to others in life and help them have hope for God's mercy in death...if someone else gets to their Heaven through some aid of mine...that's is enough. Someone else can have my share of certain salvation. There are others who need it more than I, because they have less faith.

I expect to live in this body for a long time, and I enjoy it though it has its inconveniences. Yet if my life were cut short tomorrow, it would all be enough. I have given and been given comfort, I have had faith, I have forgiven and reconciled with most of those who have hurt me, whether they know it or not. I am at peace with my life...enough, at least. Maybe not with fleas but with everything else; is that enough? Well, except....

If God keeps me this well in this life, why would it be worse after this life? So in life or in death, God is with me. Nothing else matters. And nothing can take that away.

Yeah. That, and handful of lemon balm, will make you a nice hot cup of locally grown tea.

In my favorite translation (Witter Bynner) of the Tao Teh Ching, the first chapter ends

"If name be needed, Wonder names them both:
From wonder into wonder, existence opens."

Saturday, September 19, 2009


What is it?
When I first saw this image, skimming through a camera full of photos, I couldn't remember. Driftwood? I hadn't been to the ocean. Something in an ancient forest or desert? I've only been here on the farm.
The next image put it in context: the base of my olderst giant pumpkin plant, mulched with dry leaves. The squash bugs and squash vine borers have destroyed it, but the vines have put down so many adventitious roots at the nodes that the outer ends of the vine continue to grow, bloom, and produce pumpkins. So far I think there are 7 on this plant, not counting the one the sheep ate and the one that rotted when nearly ripe.
The spray of giant foxtail grass gives a sense of scale: the pumpkin stump was nearly as big around as my wrist. The vine covers an area nearly as large as my livingroom.
These two insect pests are a key reason I rarely attempt to grow squash of any kind, because of this sort of damage. This year, the volunteers have given me an important clue: Pumpkin vines like to hide in the grass, and they seem to avoid the insects somewhat by doing so.
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Friday, September 18, 2009

New Residents at Pinwheel Farm

I think I forgot to mention that once again, Pinwheel has a feline resident...or actually, two. Maybe it takes two cats to replace the unique cat-for-all-seasons, Ambrosius. One that's a hunter, and one that's a cuddler.

Mike (large, round, mostly white with gray tabby markings) and Stanley (smaller, lithe, mostly gray tabby with white markings) came in early August from a long-time friend, to board during her travels and longer. "The boys" and I have known one another for years, and are great friends, which helps ease the overwhelming change in their life. But their transition to life with a DOG has been a bit grudging.

Mike quickly claimed the prime spots: my favorite swivel chair (whose arm he's mistaken for a scratching post), the computer desk (where he rolls on my hand while I type, or lies between me and the keyboard), and the foot of the bed. He can circumnavigate my room without setting foot on the floor, where there be dragons, or at least a dog.

Stanley hides, either in the kitchen cabinet or the far shelves of the garage. It's hard to tell how much is hunting mice, and how much is avoiding the dog, and how much is simply visualizing himself somewhere else. But in the past few days, he's started coming out more, morning and evening. And for the first time ever, he is being demonstrably affectionate with me, purring louder and louder and head-butting my hand more firmly. He had always been very stand-offish with me at my friend's house. I'm liking the new Stan more and more.

Toss is a perfect lady about the whole thing. She is very circumspect, giving them lots of room and yielding instantly to any confrontation. Not like another Border Collie whose rescue I declined, on account of a habit of treeing cats on the nearest tall piece of furniture and keeping them there.

Early in their sojourn here, when Mike was still quite emphatically vocal in his disgust with there being a dog in the room, I witnessed a comical interspecies miscommunication. Toss entered the room at the far end, and Mike, sitting next to me, began his very expressive singsong growling and snarling. Despite being very deaf now, evidently Toss could distinguish the musical tonality of Mike's curses and threats. And she responded with her own song--she "rooed" at him! "Rooing" is a vocalization some Border Collies make, that isn't a growl or howl or bark, but something else entirely. Toss loves listening to music, and she enjoys making her own. From the context of her rooing, I've come to translate the emotional content of it as something along the lines of "I love you!" or "You're so wonderful" or "I'm so excited!". So the dialogue of happy rooing and angry growling, with several repetitions back and forth, was very funny.

Toss, as I mentioned, has become quite deaf. It is a real loss to both of us. She can't hear the commands for herding the sheep, so I have to leave her in the house when moving sheep, or she guesses wrong about where I want them to go, and I can't explain otherwise to her. We often startle her by "sneaking" up on her when she's resting, which she does a lot more than she used to. Other than fading hearing and fogging eyes, she is in good health for a 14-year-old Border Collie.

Toss has always loved music, and her passion continues. Apparently she can hear the piano, Gilbert, that lives in the garage. Whenever I start to play, she'll appear after a minute or two, no matter where she's been napping. She has a favorite position to lay, just beside and behind me a little, on either side. One night there were obstacles in the favored places, and she paced and puzzled over them for several minutes until I got up and moved one for her. Sometimes I play the piano just for her, because it's one common pleasure we can still share. The narrowing of options makes each shared moment dearer and deeper. I know that we are together somewhere on a long slow walk which at some point will be mine alone. I don't know if we're just starting or nearly there. I want to savor each step as best the demands of daily life allow.

One thing I really miss in her deafness is something that the cats somewhat make up for. She and I would carry on intermittant non-verbal "conversations" consisting of little acknowledgements of one another's movements and sounds. She would sigh in her sleep, and I would sigh in return. I would shift in my chair, and she would groan and flop over to rest on the other side for awhile. In this way, we exchanged constant little affirmations of our attention to and love for one another. She doesn't answer my noises now, and seems to make fewer herself. Before the cats came, the house seemed emptier and emptier.

Now I hum back at Mike's snoring.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Everyone Will Win At Least One Prize"

I found a sort of materialistic utopian charm in this phrase, extracted from a friend's email about a fundraising "walkathon" she's encouraging folks to join. Imagine. EVERYONE wins! And not only wins, but wins SOMETHING! And maybe MORE!

It's all about "yes, you CAN have a happy childhood, no matter how old you are, starting now." "A prize in every box" of caramel corn and peanuts. "Prizes" that used to be real magnifying glasses, metal or plastic figures, actual toys.

Now those candy-box "prizes" are invariably stickers or temporary tattoos. The grownups get the "real" "prizes" now.

But if everyone wins a "prize", what have they really won? Is it just a race to get to the bottom of the candy box? Once upon a time, "prize" meant a token of recognition for some particular excellence--not merely a random chance (as in "door prizes") or a certainty ("everyone will win at least one prize").

The very fact that not everyone got one is what gave real prizes their meaning. A prize didn't mean that others hadn't done well, it just meant that the one with the prize had somehow excelled. There was a certain delicious anxious excitement (rapidly becoming an endangered species) in waiting to learn who would get the prize...a blend of carefully guarded hope mixed with a feeling that was all of Kubler-Ross's 5 stages of grief mixed into one, ready to be deployed at the MC's stumbling over someone else's name...followed by an opportunity to show good sportsmanship when the winner--once again--wasn't you. Not much opportunity to feel that feeling any more. You know you're going to "win" from before you even pay to play.

When one person at the party receives a memento of their outstanding performance at pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, THAT's a prize. When everyone gets a memento of the party, it's called a party FAVOR. And they don't "win" it. They just get it, just for showing up. Like being part of a fundraising campaign.

Inversely to the deflation of candy-box prizes, I see a trend towards the inflation of "prizes", gimmicks and complicated incentives towards fundraising for charitable causes (not to mention my off-farm employer's corporate safety incentive progam, which has a gambling theme. Gambling on safety? I don't get it). More and more prizes are needed to gain the same level of motivation...oh, wait, that's not inflation, that's ADDICTION.

Once upon a time, people knew a neighbor needed help and they went over and pitched in and helped with their time and energy. If a stranger needed assistance, they gave them some food or clothing or spare change. If there was a larger cash need, they passed a hat, or the church(s) took up (a) special collection(s).

Then causes became broader, and appeals became broader as well. Instead of supporting a neighbor who was suffering from some dread disease, people put their resources together to try to find a way to prevent the disease. That's a good thing--we've learned a lot about the bodies God's given us on loan. But when people are giving to a Big Cause, are they still giving as much to their neighbor and to the stranger on the street? And why aren't our public institutions fulfilling this public need with our tax dollars, instead of (or in addition to) reinventing the food pyramid, building roads that go nowhere, or other projects of dubious value.

We used to give out of a noble human impulse called "altruism". We shared our resources simply because sharing felt good, because our community and our church expected it of us, and because it says so in the Bible (and other scriptures as well). We shared because we knew others would share with us if we needed help, or because they had already shared with us, or because we were glad we didn't need to be shared with.

At some point, though, something changed. It is no longer enough that their children won't face the health risks their parents did. The relief of someone else's suffering does not motivate people's charitable giving any more. People want something tangible in return for their cash, and they want it NOW. A big, fun party. Or a competition. Or food. Or all of the above. At the very least, "everyone will win at least one prize."

So instead of writing out a check for a nice sum to the current cause celebre, a bunch of volunteers plan an event, for example a walkathon. They have to print brochures, entry forms, etc. The printer gets some business. Local media provide advertising, but probably not all of it is free. They have to provide snacks and prizes so they ask merchants for donations. The merchants get a tax deduction. The participants have to pay an entry fee and collect donations from their friends, family and co-workers. People expect tax deductions for their donations. Participants go home with "prizes"--another t-shirt, another water bottle, maybe they won the drawing for the grand prize and got a digital camera. But they came to the event with those things already!

By the end of the event, everyone's exhausted. The gross proceeds look good, but all those expenses must be deducted.

Then there are the hidden costs. Time away from families (and pets! says Toss and the kitties) to stuff envelopes and man the check-in table. The fossil fuels consumed in transportation related to the event, in the life cycle of the "prizes". The long-term health effects of the stress added to already stressful lives.

While the participants are walking the walk (getting some exercise for their donation dollars), they may be also paying a commercial service to mow their lawn (diverting funds that could go to altruistic causes, and foregoing another form of exercise--one that might put them face to face with the neighbor whose name they barely know. Who might be suffering from the very disease they are walking to cure. Who might feel terribly isolated because all the able-bodied are out raising donations for good causes, and don't have time to visit shut-ins.)

I've witnessed one fundraising event that was different. One that was truly energy-efficient, family-friendly, sustainable, and do-able for everyone. It was called a "non-event", put together by the enterprising peace and justice committee of the Canadian Quakers (if I remember right). They gave away--for a donation--tickets to this fundraising event--very simple, photocopied tickets. And what was the event? Nothing! Or--anything! No scheduling hassles--they were good any date you wanted to use them. The deal was, when you wanted to clear out a night on your calendar to just stay home, or do something with your family or friends, and folks kept asking you to do other things, you could simply and honestly say, "I'm sorry, but we already have tickets for that night." Tickets for what? "For a fundraiser for (whatever the exact organization was called)". A perfect opportunity to share about the work of the organization was thus created...diverting the conversation from the exact nature of the event. And possibly an opportunity to sell more tickets. No need to let them know that the benefit dinner was mac-y-cheese at home with the kids, followed by a romp in the park. What an inspiring way to simplify our lives!

Do we really need to be bribed into giving? Have we truly lost the character of altruism, of generousity?

Jesus only mentioned giving alms in private. He never mentioned anything about wearing the promotional t-shirt afterwards.

Mulch ado about something

Day by sunny, mild day, I gain on the weeds...things get planted...little improvements get made. It often does not seem like much. But it shows.

The farm is looking like a farm again, after a couple months of wild abandon to foxtail far above my head, crabgrass waist-high, extravagant smartweed sprawling sprays of white and pink through the neglected beds. Lettuce gleams jewel-like in tidy beds of chartreuse and burgundy; green onions march in happy rows; the experimental assorted hot peppers look like they've found their niche, forming a veritable hedge through one of the blocks; the seven varieties of radishes are promising to meet or exceed their labeled "days to harvest"; the lanes are velvet mown lawn (where they haven't been smothered out...reseeding is high on the to-do list).

But not enough mulching happened this spring, and we've paid the price. This time off from the full-time job had been mainly rescue work, work that should have been prevented. But I'm learning a lot from it.

In several areas, I've gone in with the BCS sicklebar mower and mowed everything down as best I could. It doesn't maneuver well in small places. That resulted in a thick mound of dry grass. Over time a few green bits have bravely pushed through, but overall I've been impressed with the effectiveness of this mulch grown in situ. Beats hauling mulch around the farm.

One area that seemed pretty hopeless was a block (50' x 50') that had been intended as alternate beds of tomatoes and potatoes. It had been partly fallow for several years, with lots of fescue and brome growing in it...essentially becoming pasture. As time wore on in the spring, and I kept not getting the area mulched, I finally in desparation mowed it very short and laid a band of waste hay mulch along the beds for the tomatoes, and stuck the tomatoes in. It was pretty dry and some of them didn't make it...also we have an annoying plant hopper that targets the "bark" of baby tomato plants at soil level, girdling them and usually killing them. Probably our most economically significant plant pest.

A gardener friend who's helped me in the past showed up a bit later and offered to mulch for the potatoes. He did, all right--except he left the "paths" between potato and tomato beds unmulched. Did I mention we never did get the tomatoes caged? We didn't get the potatoes planted, either.

By last week, it looked like a solid field of crab grass, some of it above my waist. I was in a pleasantly destructive mood with the BCS chugging under my hands and another hour of pleasant evening, and it caught my eye. The rows were marked with re-bar stakes wearing cheerful little orange hard hats, easily visible through the feathery froth of crabgrass seed heads. I could see a leaf or two of tomato plant here and there. Maybe if I tried just mowing where the unmulched lanes would be? What was there, under the jungle?

So that's what I did. And I found that the mulch had actually worked very well. Most of the weeds were growing in those unmulched "path" areas; the field looked solid because the grass was forming "tents" over the mulched areas. The surviving tomato plants were actually doing pretty well under there, some even beginning to ripen fruit.

Once things had dried for a few days, it was clear that only a little more handweeding was needed to be able to plant into the forlorn potato-less rows. So we are planting potatoes there. It's pretty late in the season...but we can put a heavy rowcover over them when the weather gets nippy, and maybe get at least some late new potatoes. Or, tubers too small to harvest may overwinter, and be pre-planted for next spring. We've harvested several nice batches of potatoes from "volunteers" like that this year.

If nothing else, we seem to have succeeded in ridding the area of the perennial grasses, and it should be in prime condition next spring.

I also seem to be haying the backyard, but it's the stuff the sheep don't even care for fresh and green. It, too, seems to make good mulch. The BCS lays it down in neat rows, and in a couple days they can be pulled together into piles with a hay fork and tossed into the cart.

Up until now, I've been importing most of my mulch materials in the form of brome hay and autumn leaves. I'll still use these sources, esp. the leaves which last a long time and bring a lot of deep nutrients into my soil. But I'll keep exploring techniques for grow-and-mow mulches. This will help to "detach" the garden operation from the sheep operation: my garden size won't be as limited by how much waste hay I have for mulching.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grammar Lesson

Pinwheel Farm.

Lots easier to spell than "Natalya Lowther", right?

But actually, more frequently "Pinwheel Farms".

Let's get this straight once and for all (I wish!):

Pinwheel Farm (noun, singular) is where Natalya farms (verb, present tense, singular) with the occasional help of farm (adjective) volunteers who help her farm (verb, present tense, plural) in accordance with the farm's (noun, singular, possessive) established policies and practices which are a bit different than many other farms' (noun, plural, possessive) policies.

There is no such place or business as "Pinwheel Farms." And one of my unwritten policies is that there will never be such a thing as "Pinwheel Farms." One farm is enough...nay, more than enough...for me.

So what's up with this egregiously common error? Where does the persistant "s" come from?

It is an artifact of the globalized, incorporated, consolidated, multinational "food" system which has evolved mostly within my lifetime. The "Xxxxxxxx Farms" abomination means literally that several farms have been consolidated or incorporated or have formed a cooperative under a common name. They are no longer a family farm. They MIGHT be several family farms...or not. There might not even be any one farm bearing the singular version (e.g., Xxxxxxxx Farm).

"Xxxxxxxx Farms" is inevitably a marketing device. It's a brand name. To me, it's a red flag indicating that if you spend your food dollars on products bearing this name, your money is not all going to the production of food or the support of the workers producing the food. Instead, a portion is going to public relations and advertising people, graphic designers, ad sales people and media mongerers of all sorts, printers and publishers, IT people of all strata from R&D to manufacturing to programming to repairs.... The list goes on.

And they all have one job. To convince you to buy "Xxxxxxx Farms's" products on no merit except a familiar name and reputation...familiarity and reputation mainly based on other people being mesmerized by the same ads you were.

The really insane thing about such "farmses", from my point of view, is that ALL these people who are creating the marketing image take home more money and lead more leisurely lives than the farm workers or even farmer owners, who are the ones actually taking soil and sunshine and seeds (and in my case, sheep manure) and adding some water and stirring until they end up--miraculously--with FOOD.

I would like to challenge my readers to undertake several small reformations:

1. Stop putting an "s" on the end of farm names unless it is clearly a collection of distinct farms or an established brand name. If you aren't sure, ask...and make singular your "default setting."

2. Try to buy food from farms that don't have an "s" at the end of their name. A good place to find these is your local Farmer's Market, and that's the best way to make sure nearly ALL of your food dollar goes to support the people who are mucking about in the dirt to produce your food.

3. When you see "Xxxxxxx Farms" on a sign or label, try to find out why they have an "s" on the end. Sometimes it reflects a true cooperative effort among farmers, but often it's just a marketing ploy to conjure up an image of a wholesome, small, family business--but it ain't necessarily so.

4. Educate others about this.

Thanks! Stepping off the soapbox now....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Upcoming Event: Sheep Shearing Fall 2009

We've been a bit behind on calling the shearer to schedule our fall shearing, with predicatble results: all Saturdays...indeed all weekends...are already booked.

Therefore, our fall shearing will be held on Monday, Sept. 21 beginning sometime around 10 or 10:30 a.m. It will be a small shearing, just two ewes and a handful of lambs. But we'll open our farm as always to anyone who wants to come join the fun or just watch.

There is always plenty to do on shearing day for volunteers, and it isn't hard work. Often child/parent teams work together on various tasks.

A bedsheet is weighed for each sheep. Then it's spread on the ground (to keep dirt off the wool), and the sheep is sheared on top of it. The wool is bundled up in the sheet, the sheet is tied, and the bundle is weighed to calculate the weight of the fleece. The bundles are stacked. A list is kept of all the fleeces and their weights.

Volunteers may also help shoo the sheep into the shearing pen.

With so few sheep being shorn, hopefully we'll go ahead and skirt the fleeces after the shearing.

There is plenty of off-street parking for this event, and the farm is especially green this September. Feel free to stay and picnic, or walk the wilderness trail.

Just don't forget the mosquito repellent!

For directions or more information, contact Natalya Lowther, 785-979-6786 or email

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Purr, Tired Purr

OK, so I tend to be a bit obsessive about things.

I may procrastinate for hours, days, weeks, years....decades? I'm afraid so. But--once I start something, and get in a groove with it, there's no stopping me sometimes.

Even long after overcoming my terror of all power tools, (a terror rooted, perfectly logically, in a childhood spent holding the other end of the board for my father in his workshop, sawdust blinding my unprotected eyes, while he utter dire warnings about how dangerous the tools were) I have nurtured an extreme distaste of small internal combustion engines for decades.

Very successfully, I might add. Few children of the suburbs make it to age 45 without ever having operated a gasoline powered lawn mower, but I did. I considered them an abomination. I also tended to have very "natural" lawns, and arranged for them to be mown only under duress.

A dear friend who had worked for years as a handyperson, including doing a significant amount of lawn mowing, tree trimming, weed eating, etc., bought me my first power mower. Initially she got it to do the mowing herself, unable to stand the sight of my scraggly lawns and lanes, jealous of the "happy purr of lawn mowers" at the neighbors'. I used to adore volunteers like her who liked to mow...and provided their own equipment. I still despised the noise. But she won out: eventually, I, too, began to appreciate "the happy purr of lawn mowers".

(Actually, the farm had had a mower at its very beginning: a Dixon ZTR that was my then-husband's pet. I used it a couple times, with extensive persuasion, but not much. When it died, we replaced it with sheep. They were cheaper, cuter, friendlier, in every way superior...but didn't turn out to be the best lawn mowers, after all. One of those Mother Earth News "it's a nice theory" things that doesn't prove out. I WILL say that they do an excellent job of keeping the trees trimmed up to a perfectly even level. Try finding a machine to do that automatically on a large scale.)

When my friend's life took her in other directions, I bought the little green mower from her and took on the mowing myself. For a long time, it was a dreaded task, made worse by the inevitable vicious cycle of a job disdained. By putting it off, it became immeasurably worse, longer, harder, hotter. But gradually I got better at it, less fearful of something going wrong, more pleased with the results.

The first mower had a very inconvenient bagging system. Even so, I discovered the wonderful resource of grass clippings for mulching the garden. Now this made sense: mowing not to beautify the farm, but to produce a useful and necessary product. A string of other mowers followed: a couple riding mowers (which I barely became comfortable with before their owners took them to greener pastures), and a nice red self-propelled mower with a very effective and convenient bagging system.

Then, the ultimate in grass control equipment. Dad conceded that his shoulder replacement was never designed to run a rototiller or similar equipment, and offered to give me his BCS "walk-behind tractor" which has both rototiller and sickle bar mower attachments. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I promptly accepted, despite my terror of the huge beast and my scorn for rototilling this farm's particular soil.

It has taken a couple seasons to really become comfortable with its operation...though "comfortable" isn't quite the right word. There is nothing physically comfortable about running it, except for the blessed silence when I shut it off and remove my hearing protectors. It easily outweighs me--probably close to twice my weight, including the sickle bar attachment. Two big tires with tractor tread move in absolute lockstep--so turning it is a matter of brute force and leverage. The combination of power and traction mean that it is going to run over anything in its path, if it doesn't go through it. The sickle bar is powerful enough to cut through chain link fence, cattle panels, just about anything smaller than a T-post (you don't wanna know how I know). The handles are designed for someone with huge hands, so the only way I can operate it at all is to override the safety cut-off with a section of plastic pipe. Otherwise, my hand isn't able to reach the clutch lever at all. This means it won't automatically stop if it gets away from me, until it runs into a tree (a large one; it will cut down trees less than 3") or a building.

The hand agony comes from two quirks: First, on the right hand, the throttle lever tends to drift to the slowest imaginable idle speed unless constant pressure is applied to keep it at full throttle. I haven't tried to tighten it, because it does provide a small measure of "safety"--I should say, less frightening danger--if it is unattended, since the cutoff is overridden. So the small lever wears into the palm of my hand. On the left hand, I must keep a constant slight pressure upwards to prevent it from rocking back and running along with the blades clattering uselessly (and dangerously) in mid-air. And I'm forcibly guiding the behemoth with both hands the whole time. It truly takes everything I've got, physically and mentally.

But, I've discovered some good qualities. It moves slowly enough that critters can easily escape...frogs and garter snakes were leaping in all directions today, well-warned by the sound that they could safely flee. And by going under the vegetation and only cutting it once, most insects escape damage as well. If it cuts something, it will be much easier to mend that something cut with a brush hog (and I'll leave any details to your imagination on that.)

I ran it for three hours today. I didn't mean to, really. First I had to mow the area where we are going to stretch a new permanent fence. Then lanes to put up temporary fences for rotational grazing in the pasture. Then while I was out there, I figured I'd mow down the weeds in one corner of the paddock they'd just finished. Once that corner was done, I decided it would be best to mow the rest of the paddock for good measure.

I brought the BCS back to the area near the green sheep sheds, thinking that tomorrow I would tackle mowing the quadrant with the bad infestation of Japanese Hop Vine. But after an early supper, it was such a nice evening I thought I'd just get started on that quadrant. I knew I was tired already, so I decided to see how much I could get done in an hour. And I did quit after an hour.

But then wouldn't it be nice to finish the job the sheep started in the northwest corner of the garden, get that all mowed down and be able to start planting there soon? guessed it...I lit into that corner...mowed it down...and then touched up some areas I'd mowed a few days ago...

...and thus I passed another hour. And it was getting quite dark. My hands had long since realized that complaining to me about their discomfort was pointless. Not that I ignored them entirely. I frequently checked for actual damage. No blisters, no numbness, fingers still work--safe to ignore the pain and just go on.

I cleaned up and met some friends in town for a late supper. As we strolled along the sidewalk, I had the uncanny sensation that I had merged with the BCS, and was still thrashing back and forth rapidly at every step, a three-foot wide deadly blade blazing a trail ahead of me. Something out of a horror movie, for sure.

Maybe I overdid it?

The hot shower, food and light conversation revived me, for the most part. I only feel like I'm still vibrating...the BIG tired purr of the BCS...but not propelling the sickle bar ahead of me.

Just Off 'Dead Center'

I plopped into my very favorite chair with the cordless phone when I heard the voice on the line. It was a old acquaintence whom I'd given up hope of hearing from after my call last week went unreturned. She only had a few minutes between trips across the continent, but for a few minutes I dropped the day's farming perplexities from my mind as we caught up on each other's lives and realized that we just simply were too busy for too long--past and future--to hope for more than that brief call. I'm not sure what we have in common, anyhow--other than perhaps we are fellow eccentrics, just enough to appreciate that we are each so different not only from each other but also from "the norm".

As we talked, I swiveled the chair to view the glorious wild sunflowers outside the window. I like rocking chairs--I like them very much indeed, and somehow have accumulated at least 5 of them in diverse styles. But I like this chair even better: it smoothly swivels with the least push of a toe against the wood box or the floor. It's a sideways kind of rocking.

The call ended; I sat there reflecting for a minute; I glowed back at the sunflowers; I stood up. The chair behind me continued to swirl on its own, gently, back and forth, until it found its proper resting place. You see, it is ingeniously designed so that it always returns to face its original direction. And this, for some reason, is a big part of why I love it so--over and above its sweepingly cozy shape, just right for curling up cat-like to read or sip tea (not that I'm doing much of that these days--but its presence is a promise that I will someday), or its wonderfully soft microsuede fabric that seems to repel pet hair and other dirt, or its brilliant turquise color that lights up the room.

This chair, in this moment, reminded me of another favorite piece of engineering: the cast iron treadle base of antique dentist's drill which I intend to convert to a spinning wheel--someday when I've accumulated the necessary understanding of fabrication options, hardware, etc. to be able to complete the rough design that's been rattling around in my head for more than a decade. Aside from the ornate scrollwork on the treadle, the delicate casting, the arched spokes...this mechanism, like the chair, is designed to dynamically return itself to a certain condition when human intervention ceases. Only this treadle and flywheel, instead of returning to dead center like most treadles/flywheels (esp. conventional spinning wheels), returns to a spot just off dead center. This creates the "magic" that no guiding touch of the hand is needed to start the wheel in motion again after it stops...and no help is needed to ensure it turns in a consistent direction. The lightest tap of a toe on the treadle will begin it rotating in a constant direction. It is always ready and willing to work, always heading in the same firection.

Moreover, the treadle and shaft are fitted with an innocuous small spring that is stretched--energized--by the downward stroke of the treadle each time, so that the upward stroke against gravity is enhanced by the spring. It almost treadles itself, once set in motion. It is effortless to operate. I delight in showing it to mechanically-minded people, folks who I know will appreciate the ingenuity of the design. "There," I said to my last show-and-tell victim. "Doesn't that make your foot happy?" And it did...and it delighted us as well, along with our feet.

Reflecting on just one of these mechanisms--either one--I reflect on the brilliance of the specific design, the practicality, the vision, the "extra mile" applied to the invention that could easily have been foregone while still resulting in a useful object.

Reflecting on both of them at once, I go beyond the present objects to the physics they share--revolving around the dead center of rotational motion, playing against gravity--and turn to my inner life through the lense of that metaphor.

Centeredness. So desperately sought by so many people (including myself). Serenity, inner peace, equanimity...many allied concepts and words. A spiritual place. The goal of popular yoga and other meditation practices, of 12-step programs, of many religious paths. Oddly, this is a static state, a state of little inherent potential for change. There's a randomness about it--any point on the arc can end up pointing any direction, there's no predicting what direction the wheel will start to turn. And stationary, when a resting position is achieved--a pendulum hanging straight down, unmoving. Completeness, perhaps...but then what? Perfection, of a sort--how boring! Can I really serve God and Mother Nature and fellow humanity by acheiving a state of profound inner peace? Could I even really enjoy my own existence if it were that easy? REsting is good, surely--but as a passing state, not a constant one.

Eccentric. Off of centered. Mechanically, an eccentric wheel dynamically returns to a certain orientation on its own, naturally, when other influencing forces are relaxed. As a type of human being, someone who comes back to the same place each time? But does not always follow a regular path to get there, and appears to wander relative to those caught on the centeredness of the merry-go-round...or the perfect orbit of planets and stars. Not so random as we might appear, after all. And inherent in this, a certain power and energy and direction that can work toward many ends.

When I find myself stuck in a rut, spinning my wheels (?!?) and getting nowhere--(no, I'll resist the temptation to apply that sentence to my state of the moment, lounging in the house at the time-eating computer instead of doing more "productive" work out on the farm) I think of it through the metaphor of a mechanical "dead center"...that place where gravity (i.e., forces outside myself) just won't do the work for me, where I have to apply some force to oppose the force of inertia to get things started, and I have to give some guidance to ensure things don't start out in the wrong direction. I think of needing to jump-start myself, or pick myself up by the scruff of the neck and throw myself outside....

But maybe all I need to do is cultivate my eccentricity--to keep me coming back to a constant direction no matter what outside forces are applied--and resiliance--to give the springiness that draws each motion into a self-energizing countermotion, making me the "energizer bunny" that I tend to be.

OK, I can hear some of you rolling your eyes out there. Yes, I've been doing that for a long, long time...and it's working...because you keep wondering how I can possibly have the energy to be doing all this by myself....

Though never quite all by myself, because God and Mother Nature and the whole Community of Life of the farm and all the volunteers and friends are certainly doing their parts. But no one else rotating around the same shaft here. Just other eccentric gears that mesh for a little while in the course of their own motion about their own shafts.

And an old (1980's) poem weaves through my head, half-remembered but I'm not inclined to run after the notebook and lose myself in the un-indexed pages for an hour to find it.

Coming back to centeredness,
Accepting where--alone--I am
My life, complete, becomes a cell;
My heart becomes a shrine again.
And what we've shared, and, sharing, found,
Of course I'd like to find again--
But no new hopes shall spin me 'round;
Enough, for now, these distant friends.

Two--going on three--decades of maturity lend a new resolution to the extra emptiness of daily life after a close friend has spun off in other directions in their life, or a sojourning visitor has continued their travels. This can be an energizing time; instead of shunning new hopes and seeking a calm center that will remain unperterbed by outside forces, I can appreciate my eccentricity that allows me to always come back to my own direction after enjoying a time of meshing with others, and be sprung onwards in my own revolution by the release of the small friction that is the inevitable down side of joining forces with another.

The down side of my eccentricity, of course, is that it takes an unusual other to mesh instead of clashing, even for a short time. But then I am inclined to value that meshing all the more....

Take Heart...

......out the freezer. Thaw, chop, add to a bunch of sauted garlic and onions and fresh tomatoes; makes a good "'red sauce". Throw in some penne pasta to soak up the juice...or, it would be good on spaghetti squash.

One of my goals for this time off work is to revamp my foodways, which have gone from bad to worse during my bus-driving years. So far I've identified several different "threads" to this project, in the spirit of "killing two birds with one stone".

Not going to the grocery store (until I run out of some essential like chocolate) is encouraging me to eat what's around the house, thereby rotating stock that has become a bit elderly on things like canned goods and things in the freezer. It's also saving a lot of money. And I'm eating less junk food.

Eating what's in the fridge first has gone a long way towards cleaning out the fridge...a project who's time came long before this "vacation". It also prompts creativity.

I'm bringing home leftovers from market, despite generous donations to my daughter's and helpers' families, and Just Foods which coordinates produce donations for the local food pantries. Can you believe I was selling tomatoes for weeks before I ever took the time to slice one for myself, and top with cottage cheese and homemade celery seed dressing? I'm trying to eat the leftovers more...which means I'm eating more fresh, local food than I have for a long time. The two-job routine invariably nudges me towards Burger King for quick meals on the go.

Then there are all the leftovers in the freezer. That comes next, after cleaning the fridge. I'm going to either eat them or throw them out, one by one. No need to tackle it all at once...just one meal at a time. I have a tendency when I do cook, to get bored with a dish after a few days, and freeze the rest of it. Sometimes the boredom exceeds the "best if used by" date. So if I let myself start cooking before I tackle the freezer, there won't be room for the new leftovers....

A long-time goal has been to learn how to cook organ meats from my lambs. Often customers don't want the heart, tongue, kidneys, etc. so they end up in my big freezer. I love the liver, but haven't figured out good recipes for the other items. That makes it hard to recommend them to my customers...and a vicious cycle ensues. Anyhow, I've commenced experimenting.

Hopefully, by the end of Sept. I'll have a clean fridge, space in the freezer, a wonderful repertoire of recipes for lamb variety meats, and will be eating almost entirely homegrown food.

Then the challenge will be to keep up with all that after I go back to the full-time off-farm job.


I spent quite a bit of time this week--the first week of my month off from driving the bus--cleaning up the farm for a permaculture farm and garden tour that was this afternoon. A good excuse to tidy up and get around to dealing with a few eyesores and inconveniences I've been stepping around for months (or years).

I've sort of re-invented "permaculture" independently, and I tend to resist using that name for what I do. But I don't mind showing off the farm a bit and helping out the local permaculture folks. I don't really care for the name or the hype and structure/process I've come to associate with the permaculture "cult".

I've just taken my lifetime of camping, being raised by biologists, gardening, various life experiences, and observation, and applied it all to how I listen to God and to the piece of land He plopped in my lap about 12 years ago. Mostly, I've just let Nature have its way with the land, most of which was a corn field when I bought it. The rich, diverse ecosystem is a wonderful testimony to the difference that 12 years of leaving things alone can make.

Not entirely alone. We did plant trees (redbud, walnut, pecan, others) and seed the tallgrass area with native grasses (big and little bluestem, Eastern Gama, Indian grass, others) and forbs (pitcher sage, Maxmillian Sunflower, penstemon, rattlesnake master, others). And I've pruned and weeded and "edited" a bit. The pasture (in better condition than ever) is shaped by the sheep and my gradually improving grazing management.

I haven't really even read much about permaculture...and much of what I read seems economically not viable to me, or else pretty general. I also see people thinking they can replicate stuff from one region to another, and I've learned that some of what I'm doing here can't even be done a mile south on the other side of the river! As I looked at one diagram of how a swale can be built to help store precious water, I laughed at first. In my soil? When I wanted to build a pond instead of the wilderness area, the soil experts who tested the soil said, "Wow, you have great drainage! No way can you get this soil to hold'd have to line a pond with rubber." And water's no problem...all the groundwater I want at about 17 feet.

But as I thought about it a little longer, I realize I do use a swale...a pre-existing not built by human hands. The Kansas River Valley is a super-sized swale hoarding water for me from the hills on either side. Now THAT's permaculture!

Around 20 people enjoyed a walk around the farm. Unlike most "lamb visits" and "garden tours" that I do, I decided to take this group for the grand tour...around the west edge of the farm to the north pasture gate, then back up the main lane under the Torii, through the sheep pens and garden, and back to the yard. Partly, it was a good morning for mowing with the BCS walk-behind sickle bar mower, which I've gotten proficient enough with to feel comfortable taking it for a long hike. It took just under an hour to mow a trail along the west margin lane, throught the shady pasture north of the neighbor's horse pasture, along the slope between Maple Grove Tributary and my CRP (USDA Conservation Reserve Program) Riparian Protection buffer strip, through the Baby Forest (now very woodsy), acrosss the tallgrass prairie, through the north pasture gate, along the fences to the "keyhole" hub of the rotational grazing system...and just under an hour to walk it with the tour group, pausing to note the various ecosystems and improvements, and answer questions.

Now that the trail is mowed, I invite my readers to come follow it sometime. But is it a permaculture trail? Not really. It's a deer trail where the grass has been cut back to accommodate human passage. The grass will grow in again, if it isn't kept mowed, and no trace will be left. I'm not planning to build a boardwalk or pave it with wood chips anytime soon--it would be nice, but way too labor intensive...not just the building, but the maintenance. The life expectancy of 4 inches of wood chips on this soil is less than a year.

I think the term "permaculture" is actually a bit misleading. Even I was fooled, thinking that eventually I would get the farm "built" and it would stay that way. But there is nothing as sure as change. There isn't much that's truly permanent in the natural landscape, except sky and earth. All else changes with the years, the seasons, the days and nights, the wind. All this I've planted, pruned, built, placed on the farm will pass away.

And that is as it should be.