It has been a while, yes? A long while. I was contemplating starting another new blog… and then I asked myself if that is really what I want to do?… I like this one. I like the people I write to. I like writing to myself here. Why try to reinvent the wheel… reinventing myself is enough work as it is.

So, like me, this blog is evolving. I am gardening again, I am happy to report. But, this time it is a cooperative endeavor – Tom, the chickens and the bees are all a part of this co-creation. It is a lot more fun that way. We have buckwheat and wheat for the birds, but they mostly seem to like pecking around at everything else, respectful of our tidy rows. Hopefully they haven’t developed a taste for tomatoes between last season and this one.

But, on to where I really want to go today. I went for a run for the first time in a really long time. I got new sneakers – this was incentive. And I have committed myself to competing in a race that is 3 miles plus obstacles in July in Des Moines… added incentive. I was feeling frustrated this morning with where I am and where I imagine I want to be and in feeling the big disconnect between the two – this has to do with my work, primarily – my business and how it contributes to the fabric of the community and how it can begin to be its own community – I just felt overwhelmed. A run seemed like a good option, as it takes me into a silent space where the answers can just hit me, kind of like the random bug in the teeth – you don’t see them coming.

Since it has been a while since I last ran, my body was thinking this was a pretty major event – my mind, too, telling me things like, “3 Miles? Really? I don’t think so… either turn around or just stop, but either way you are out of your mind.” Again, the overwhelm. I was bound and determined not to be the victim of my thinking. How can I look at this another way? Focus on the step in front of you. Can you do that? Then, can you try take that step in a way that is enjoyable? WOW! What a shift. That change in perspective made the run doable – the uphills, the wind that was a little too cold for my ears, the distance… all proved surmountable. And dare I say enjoyable?!🙂

All of my lamenting, questioning and berating took place along a specific point in my journey, as well… mainly the first mile. The first mile is always the hardest. Easily transferable to most any endeavor. Note to self.

The other piece that I realized is that it is very important to have a heading. This I have personal experience with after a handful of seasons aboard some sturdy vessels. The little steps you take along the way, they were meant to be enjoyed. We always had a general itinerary and a standard route plan, and I was generally blessed with a captain that understood the value of attention, intention and experience. Exploring the not-so-beaten-path was something we did really well. It kept us all very present. And all the while we were making progress, moving towards our destination.

Teachers come in all forms. All we really have to be is a willing student.

“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.” — Cornel West So, I wake up this morning, well, all night really, listening to this rain just coming down and coming down and incessantly coming down thinking we’ll be lucky if we don’t wash away. Then I climb into my car and settle in behind the windshield as I do all too often and tune in to NPR to get me going for the day – to be greeted by the weather report, it’s raining, obvious choice. And then I feel fortunate not to be in Minnesota Lake where they have received 7 inches overnight and Lord knows you don’t need a river to flash flood in conditions like that. So, it’s not so bad…. there’s not even water in the basement. And just when I think perhaps the news will get better I am verbally assaulted with this pukish notion of yet another *brilliant* (laced with sarcasm since the internet just doesn’t carry the tonal quality of voice) idea from the Republicans who are touting the Pledge to America that insists on extending tax cuts (tax cuts? really? during war time, not that I agree with the war, but seriously…we, the citizens, should continue to not sacrifice any of our way of life?!) and repealing the new health care law (even though I think sick care needs a major revamp into real health care and wellness preservation before I care to participate… movement is better than stagnation) and cutting government spending by $100 billion… even though proponents of the pledge admittedly have no clue about how the legislative branch would entertain that proposition. Disgusting. I don’t typically feel the necessity to vent my political frustrations as all who know me or even dabble in reading my entries have me pinned to the liberal front, but this was just more than I could take today. All these people who are pissed at the President – how the hell is he, one person who doesn’t hold the decision making magic wand, supposed to undue all the bullshit from eight years of an ignorant bumbling previous administration. At least he is starting conversations. Patience. No one has any damn patience. Reminds me to keep practicing to be less like them. Apple Cidering 2010. This year at George and Ann’s in Albert Lea, and you can see we had some good ATP donation – this is my nod to the fact that I really should be studying for my Anatomy & Physiology test instead of posting a blog… ATP: adenosine triphosphate, the body’s energy currency. Selina, Andy and Izzie (geesh, I apologize if I can’t spell anyone’s name), and Sam who was in on round 2 and not in this picture – they had phenomenal persistence as this beauty of an antique cider press is completely manually operated. Tom was clever enough to procure the parts we needed to keep the crank wheel from slipping off the drive shaft (watch your toes!) so that we could feel incredibly efficient in our 4 gallons in 3 hours production. Yes, it was delicious and completely worth all the sore-in-the-morning-forearm effort.🙂 The harvest carries forth on the at least somewhat sunny days. This bounty is simply the result of having the day off from my regular one-day-a-week gig down at the garden near Kanawha due to overnight and morning rains. Butternuts and spaghetti squash in the back, vining and bush type sweet potatoes to the left and the flint corn as well as Tom’s bloody butch there in the right foreground. I think I have had spaghetti squash every night since. Man, it is deee-lish! This was my flint corn harvest helper. I was having an internal debate about how much corn to take and how much to leave, knowing that it is very important for me to share what grows with the animals I share that space with – the birds and deer and raccoons, and if they are wise they will save some of it for the winter. I don’t doubt their wisdom. It’s mine that is questionable. But the ears of corn-hosting grasshoppers were left, as that was an anything but subtle clue. Yes. This is a real sweet potato. It is really the size of my head. WOW! This behemoth came from the planting of vining sweet potatoes – it was blessed with unimpeded sunshine and apparently enough moisture. The bush type, they were planted (not too thoughtfully, but lovingly so) between the flint corn and tomatoes, so they kept cool and shaded and the tuber size was very indicative of that – I am glad I dug that row first. Nearly all of the vining plants had about four of these monsters apiece – you would be correct to assume that a little quality control ensued, as I was afraid that a potato this big would take like plywood, but it still had a reminiscent sweet and earthy quality. I must admit that I still prefer the more robust flavor of the smaller potatoes, but the Big Red takes the cake for shock value. Pumpkin harvest started Tuesday evening as well, even amongst the mosquitoes and lady beetles. Shelise and Ula came to play amongst the wildness of the garden and pick about the incredible spread of vines of the pumpkins I am firmly entrenched in believing that my father planted. I don’t care that I had to deal with the wrath of the squash beetles because to have my father’s hand in my garden humbles me and steal my heart and breath and I feel the big way we all remain connected – stretched far and wide, near or no longer tangibly present, carrying one another with every movement thoughtful or rushed for the simplicity that we have touched each other profoundly. We each impact and change the course of movement for one another in ways incalculable and unnecessarily so – challenging one another to constantly become better versions of ourselves. Even all the cynicism in the world and Pledges to America can’t spoil that for me. How undeniably important and big it was that I was able to share a few precious moments in my garden with plants that have a mind of their own and with this woman I love like a sister – it was pretty swell.

“I haven’t the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.” — David Sedaris (Naked)

“Because of all we have discovered about a leaf…it is still a leaf. Can we relate to a leaf, on a tree, in a park, a simple leaf: green, glistening, sun-bathed or wet, or turning white because the storm is coming. Like the savage, let us look at the leaf wet or shining with sun, or white with fear of the storm, or silvery in the fog, or listless in too great heat, or falling in autumn, dying, reborn each year anew. Learn from the leaf: simplicity.” – Anaïs Nin

The pictures have no relevance today to my writing – they are simply connected to one another because I took them and fussed with them and helped them become more true. I just don’t have the attention span to read a blog at length without the lovely visual distraction, so I don’t expect anyone else to either.

It is beautiful autumn that is upon us. I went for a run along a winding path near the Winnebago River last week and the sun crept through the trees with shadows playing on the ground beneath my happy feet. A little leaf flickered and danced on the light air revealing the magnificence of the way the season has its impact on the richness of colors and olfactory perception. What an amazing moment to be present. Sublime. That was just the most appropriate description.

This picture is strictly for tickling the funny bone. From our trip to Seattle this summer and taking a stroll through the botanical garden at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard – someone left a fruit cake in the parking lot (seems like an obvious choice) and this squirrel was not going to miss out. It really cracks me up.

The prairie is ablaze with purple and orange and red – especially in the presence of the burning sun falling to twilight. Without a doubt my most favorite time of year and my favorite plants of the prairie are in their full glory – the grasses that reach to the sky – I walk amongst them feeling the giddiness of being a kid – how they embrace my presence even as I clumsily trounce through the field to collect rosehips (which I have since learned was a trite bit premature as one is supposed to wait until after the first frost, but what the hell, everything else is two weeks ahead in maturing and I had the spirit for it) I have once again had to reconnoiter my list of favorite grasses – last year Indian grass had taken top billing, edging past the switch and big blue… this year it is once again the switch that bestills my heart and attention and I can’t help but let my fingers play in the luxury of the stately inflorescence (the spread of the seed head) that makes the plant so easy to identify. Turkey foot, or big blue stem, has regained the second spot (always Dad’s favorite of the native warm seasons) and Indian grass rounds out the top three for me. I do love them all, and no rightful prairie would be complete without the multitudinous diversity that is the benchmark of a healthy landscape, but my heart reserves a special little nook for these grasses of September.

The perfect picture to segway into garden regale.🙂 Ok, not exactly, but so it goes when I can’t seem to remember my camera when I go out to my little sanctuary of plants both pampered and neglected amongst weeds as tall as my head – at least the broom corn, flint corn and bloody butcher all reach higher! I have had incredible success and a bountiful harvest with my black turtle beans this year. Last year I just stuck the beans willy nilly in little square plots and this year they have the organization of a straight row to keep them obvious. They very much seem to prefer this line up organization, as they have been prolific producers and continue to blossom. I dutifully gather the pods as they are dry enough to crunch a bit between my fingers and then I put them in a box on the porch to finish airing their moisture. I also had a few calypso, tiger’s eye and cattle beans that are my garden prize. I am looking forward to the cold, crisp day that beckons a pot of chili with tomatoes preserved and these most decadent beans enlivening just to look at – can you imagine the energy they will instill upon finding the gullet? This gets me so wound up with anticipation I can’t help but beam, and am so proud to have known and tended these plants that bring such abundant gratification on so many levels.

On another note in the garden… I planted lima beans up the poles that hold the support wires for the tomatoes thinking I was pretty clever in not having to install an additional apparatus to trellis these wandering souls. Well, next year I will do something else. Suffice it to say the tomatoes have had a rough go of it given the weather and my neglect (with good reason of saving myself from certain injustices inflicted by mosquitoes), but now, even though they have recovered significantly the beans are in the full throws of a hostile takeover. This is no slight exaggeration, either. Sometimes I wonder if there are tomato plants still even under those curtains of wild bean tendrils. Maybe I will let them climb the corn next year. Pumpkins are looking fabulous and vividly orange and have completely taken over at least a quarter of the garden. Aggressive in spite of rampant pigweed and lack of diligent space clearing. Sweet potatoes will be dug this week, as well as other potatoes – hopefully I will remember my camera for that!

It is that season for bird movement, too. Driving through Gladfelter the other day I saw two elegant swans looking most at peace and sharing tranquility with the entire landscape – reminding me of Chuck and Helen. For Chuck’s 90th birthday two years ago, two swans were released in honor of these two wonderful people and the tremendous effort and love they put into conservation and life. I said hello. Other days have been full of different birds – one day was egrets, another turkeys. I have no doubt they come to share with me little pieces of being still and thoughtfulness that gets neglected in the urgency of living and figuring it all out and staying the course. I am so thankful for these winged brethren. The constantly help me to see the beauty of the journey and if the importance of seeing it as such.

“Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter.

– LLan Shamir, Advice from a Tree”

 

“And I will show that there is no imperfection in the present, and
can be none in the future,
And I will show that whatever happens to anybody it may be turn’d to
beautiful results,
And I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful than death,
And I will thread a thread through my poems that time and events are
compact,
And that all the things of the universe are perfect miracles, each
as profound as any. ” — Walt Whitman (The Leaves of Grass)
 

The surprise of beauty and liberation. Before today, this impetus to muse was not so apparent or compelling. First and foremost, I apologize for my lack of elaboration on the seasonal evolution and my gardening hard knocks education – thank you to all who remain vigilant in checking in. And to those who continue to encourage my free willed, indignant at times, humble ponderings and philosophizing of the nature of the whole.

So, today I had this epiphany of sorts. That nature in her splendor exhibits no perfection and by doing so is incredibly and magnificently such. Imperfection equals perfection. How bizarre. I mean, my entire life has been this see-saw back and forth cognating on how to be perfect, how to act perfect, how to do all things with perfection. But where does one find perfection if not only in the mind? And, really, as any good perfectionist knows, no matter how perfect or precisely above and beyond accomplishments land, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Always. How asinine to beat one’s self up over this perceived under-achievement. Ludicrous. Delirious. Obscene. And yes, at this moment of 31 years, 11 months and 336 days of youth I am struck by this notion of true perfection lying in the simplicity of imperfection. I have been thinking way too much all this time.

Of course, anyone who knows me really does know that they have tried to tell me this for years. I am truly amazed at how something so profound just won’t sink in until you are good and ready. In honor of this said enlightenment, the market tomorrow morning will host me along with my “less than perfect” onions. This being due to the fact that some are dirty, some have more dry skin than others, some are lumpy or misshapen or just had too much time in the rain – but each and everyone is more than delightful enough to sass up a burger or enliven the plate sautéed in real and wonderful butter (preferably homemade from raw milk… to be continued). I have been stating for the last couple of years that the general public just needs to get used to their produce not looking monotonously perfect. Indeed, the most exquisite and healthful plants and fruits and vegetables are all lumpy or misshapen or slightly irregular – it would be those that have not been sprayed or genetically modified or held with a critical hand and critical mind, no doubt transferring that critical energy to the misfortunate who indulge. I won’t have it. I love all of the plants that come from my garden. So much so that I struggle with selling them to folks I do not know. It is not a moral high road, it is simply that there is a lot of me in each of them. If I determine one is not “good enough”, then perhaps that is only a reflection of what is within. Ah, liberated by imperfection.

I have definitely been struggling this summer, hence the lack of creative juice. Too much outgoing, not enough savoring the moments. I have simply come to this conclusion that doing more is always being less. Now I have to start living accordingly. I am making great strides. I have not even attended the market four out of the last five weeks because I have made choices that build me rather than require my energy moving in a one-way fashion. Weddings and an herbal symposium and a trip to Chicago with the loveliest of friends. So much good food for the soul. These moments fill me with aliveness. Addicting. Thank goodness. You know, it really reaffirms the importance of making time to do the things that remind you to savor and feel the moments of being human.

And if this photo isn’t evidence of inner peace and love of life, I don’t know what is! Paul and this fantastic pie full of team effort – Phyllis’ expertised guidance in crust creation, my rolling of the dough, Mary’s imperfectly perfect pieces of apple with just a hint of cinnamon and the most necessary freshly grated nutmeg. A rustic beauty, and even more of a delight for the tastebuds!

Mom came to the market a few weeks back and helped me out the day that I went to help Paul and Phyllis and Mary make pies. She brought her infamous home-ground wheat buns with flax meal, local honey and love, and as you can imagine they stole the show.🙂 We also got a little press in the local paper that day. There are 3 photos and we even made one of them. That’s plenty of on the radar for me for this season. http://www.globegazette.com/wow/article_d671baa2-a17d-11df-844a-001cc4c03286.html

This would be another imperfection that is serving me well, and then some. The imperfection of the USDA (let’s not get ranting on that soapbox… this could become a novel in just one post!) and their inability to do much more than parlay to the lobbying contingent under the guise of well-being and health for citizens. So to keep the likes of raw milk out of the hands of the ignorant who cannot make choices wisely for themselves. Well, to hell with that. Obviously that is just one more rule that does not apply to me.🙂 Or Tom since he is the one of which we have photographic evidence of procuring the finest the black market has to offer. We made homemade yogurt in a crockpot, thanks to Genesis and her most fabulous link: http://www.nourishingdays.com/2009/02/make-yogurt-in-your-crock-pot/ AND I made butter for the very first time… and it has never tasted better! In fact, my tastebuds are just ruined. That’s the risk one takes.

The most delightful part of engaging with the dairy farm was the girls. Each with her name on her eartag. Meet Jupi. Quite the meet and greet that evening. I feel so lucky.🙂 And open and falling into my heart and out of my head a little more every day. I practice and practice and practice and then remind myself some more. That life is lived from the heart and in the moment. With some well placed dirt under the fingernails.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”  — John Lennon

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”  – Louise Erdich

This quote makes me giggle imagining. Sitting under this apple tree amongst dirt and lady bugs (real ones, not those lady beatles that make a mess of things and hide in the siding) with the juicy sweetness of apples all over my cheeks and down my chin, checking to miss the soft spots and worm holes in the apples scattered about the ground, making sure I miss not a one. In a way, I guess, in the spreading myself quite thin over a number of curiosities, I strive for the same – a little sweetness from all that garners my attention.

The garden by moonlight has a beautiful sweetness all its own. This is what I am immersed in – the nearly full moon bathes me (and whoever I can get lucky enough to talk into helping me!) at the wane of an evening harvest. It’s luxurious. This place is so seep-into-your-bones beautiful. The birds accompany twilight in singing and swooping for a veritable meal (they aren’t eating enough mosquitoes in my opinion).

The cucumber beatles did a number on the melon and squash planting. Thankfully Dad’s self seeded pumpkins were big enough to not skip a beat – they are even flowering, which absolutely astounds and humbles me. I liberated them a bit from the encroaching pigweed last night. I think that made them pretty happy. I am tempted to replant the squash and melons varieties that were not so fortunate to withstand the assault. I have decided to utilize a biodynamic planting calendar – that is planting by the phase of the moon. For me, the greatest significance in this is that I get ever more connected to what is happening in my midst that for the majority of my life I blindly raged beyond in my carrying on of dailies. This gives me such peace and grounding – to tie myself and my garden to this persistent and dependable cycle. Herein, however, lies the challenge: plant squashes between the waxing of the third quarter and the full moon… the last full moon was only on the 26th of June… which means, patience, patience, patience, then hope like hell everything grows to maturity before the (cross-your-fingers) late frost.🙂 Global warming, right? So, I’m hoping that biodynamic really give a boost and boon to the seed if I plant it appropriately… this is my grand challenge to that system and my great experiment of the summer…. beyond straight rows and tilling.

There has been a lovely sweetness to work as well. Even in my recalcitrance to it. This is my pseudo-job that I eluded to previously. Before going to work at One Step At A Time Gardens (see a link to their site below) it had been OVER A YEAR since I had endeavored to work for anyone but myself. My dad, my mom, my stepfather, both grandfathers, my aunt, my uncle – all entrepreneurs, all self engaged and self employed… I told my brother that it’s just not in our blood to work for other people. He laughs. I’m half-ass serious. So, even though I love the outside, I think the people I work for and with are better than the best I could ask for, I still begrudgingly sally forth to my 8 hour shift. Often a chunk of these 8 hours are spent weeding… which I typically follow with another couple of hours of the same in my own garden… It has been enlightening to see, though, that even people gardening for production for seemingly eons have weeds… I mean, BIG weeds! (a sign of good fertility I imagine) They were crowding out broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage that was pretty well established. Opportunity! Brian is comical on a regular basis. He coined Cauliflower Liberation Front, the CLF, and this evolved into the Vegetable Liberation Front as we moved into various beds. It could have been a consequence of the heat and weeding induced delirium, but by the end of 3 and a half straight hours of liberation and sun we were rolling with laughter. I am quite sure my cheeks hurt my than my hamstrings. He did a demonstration of proper thistle pulling technique, Eli chimes in with use of the Eye of the Tiger as theme song, consideration of recruitment of Levi, the 15 year old fella that lives across the pond (not the Atlantic, but East Twin Lake) who is big into film making – an opening scene of each of us striding down a row in black shades and a full tote of weeds and a real gem is born. We laugh over  how we could imitate CNN clips of Al Qaeda training video clips that inevitably show soldiers training over monkey bars (this was unbeknownst to myself as a non-tv watcher these days, but I was laughing, as politically inappropriate as that may be, please forgive me. :)) as inspiration for our VLF training film. Oh, we have fun. That laughter is so good for the soul, so I guess I will keep going to work and pulling my share of weeds.

My garden was graced with these two sweet and lovely maidens, Jess and Colleen. They just happened to travel 1,382 miles from Boston to get there. I like to think it was the soul mission of the trip. Makes me feel special. Really Jess is moving to Portland and I happened to be a nice mid-way stopping off spot – I mean, if the garden wasn’t going to pull them in, for sure the World’s Largest Bullhead was an irresistable enticement!🙂

This last sweet piece of life that I want to share with you today includes my family’s tendency to change recognized holidays to days that fit better with our getting together.🙂 That would include, this year, both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Each we decided we were going to celebrate one week late. Seth and Timothy come over to Mom and Shane’s every other Sunday – Father’s Day was not one of them.🙂 We celebrate family by hanging laundry together in the summer. Just kidding. It was intermission in the croquet game really. The guys in my family are ruthless. Shane and Seth duke it out sending each other down the hill alternately. Tim at one point was behind both Mom and I, Seth had already completed the course and was “poison” and Shane was to follow. Tim was lamenting over the fact that he was dreading that Seth and Shane were going to target him first – I asked him why he supposed that, and his reply, bless his soul because I gave him a really hard time and used more sarcasm than most ten year olds should have to hear, was that he was the dude. I was laughing. He was not the first victim of the “poison.”

The title of this blog comes from the dash of my truck. My sweetgrass plot is beautiful and thriving and I hand mowed yesterday. My truck is full of the musky vanilla aroma as the grass wilts and dries in the magnified sun, and my trusty (but faded) little red bird rides with me reminding me to savor the moments of life. The bird symbolic of the cycles of 12, also embodies peace, love, grace and the confidence that all is as it should be. Deep breath.

“Are wild strawberries really wild? Will they scratch an adult, will they snap at a child? Should you pet them, or let them run free where they roam? Could they ever relax in a steam-heated home? Can they be trained to not growl at the guests? Will a litterbox work or would they make a mess? Can we make them a Cowberry, herding the cows, or maybe a Muleberry pulling the plows, or maybe a Huntberry chasing the grouse, or maybe a Watchberry guarding the house, and though they may curl up at your feet oh so sweetly can you ever feel that you trust them completely? Or should we make a pet out of something less scary, like the Domestic Prune or the Imported Cherry, Anyhow, you’ve been warned and I will not be blamed if your Wild Strawberries cannot be tamed.” – Shel Silverstein

 

XVII

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.”
— Pablo Neruda

At a snail’s pace, these things happen. Slow Food. Longest days of the year sunsets over the prairie. Healing and moving forward and letting go. Mulching the nicolas. I am so very often reminded this season of what it means to take my time. How so many of us wrestle with the demands we pit ourselves against, and lose track of how precious and luxurious life becomes with a natural indulgence of tempered allowance – of space for one’s self, for breath, for honoring movement. In utilizing the thesaurus (the volume contiues to remain at the top of my list of all time favorite books) I return to the unfortunate connection of the embodiment of the word “slow” with so many negative associations: backward, draggy, dull, inactive, drawn-out, sluggish, stagnant, time-consuming, unintelligent, obtuse, unresponsive. It’s no wonder we are immersed in a society averse to such a philosophy – what is good about slow? On a side note, when did-time-consuming get such a bad rap? Isn’t time the one thing we are blessed with options boarding infinity in doing something with – every single one of our moments epitomizes an insatiable consumption of time with activity, inactivity, emotion, embrace, inspiration, creativity, expectation, self criticism, “delicious ambiguity” and day dreams.

Well, many of us had a good plenty of wonderful reasons to partake in slow. We were a part of the annual Slow Food Solstice event at the Dream Farm – Paul and Sarah and Lisa among others spent the day preparing the place for us in pouring rain and emboldened wind, to have the sun arrive on cue – about 5:30 that evening. It could not have been more gorgeous. So much to be said for reconnecting with the souls and smiles that remind you of why you find yourself in the space you do – even if you feel at continual odds with over-commitment and recovering from perfectionism – that this is what the granduers of life are all about. A pleasant reminder. I mean, a rich and filling me to the point of overflowing love of the oneness of this whole damn mess of life. All the trouble and pain and injustice and insecurities melt away in this space. It is nothing short of sacred. We should slow down more often.

“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”   -Hunter S. Thompson

“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” — Epictetus

When I started out with this blog this morning, prior to finding the opening and closing quotes, I had the most grand intentions of writing about the excitement of barometric charges and the entertainment of my cat, Persephone, seemingly playing shadow puppets in the mud room last evening, but then I stumbled back upon the writings of (not by, mind you) Epictetus and was pulled back into the vortex of his thoughts and of Stoic philosophy (the last time I indulged was in 2006 on a delightful visit to Milwaukee), so this entry may, by in large, be far removed from my original intentions. This just fit.

Eudaimonia” – flourishing. Happiness. I’m drawn to it. Flourishing, as in the plants are, and in the midst of them, I am. There are other points in my weeks that I don’t feel that so much, but that I strive to understand what it is in my way of thinking that constrains that ebullience. But, therein seems to lie the answer as I see the words tumble out onto the screen. It is in the thinking that the flourishing is being relegated, when in the most simple and profound reality flourishing exists purely in the feeling, in the experience, not in the confines of the mind. This definitely takes practice. Every day I remind myself to sit with my experiences. Don’t let my mind wander (which seems to wreak a little havoc with the blogging creativity), but to “be with the tomatoes” – how do they smell, how does it feel, what is the entirety of my physical and human experience. Alexi Murdoch says it well with his music, “I am just a spirit trying to be human.” Try is the key word.

I particularly enjoyed this excerpt from the “Publisher’s Notes” from the book Enchiridion. “In the Stoic view, our capacity to be happy is entirely dependent on ourselves – how we treat ourselves, how we relate to others and how we react to events in general. Events are good and bad only in terms of our reaction to them. We must not try to predict or control what happens, but merely to accept events with equanimity. The only thing we control is our will, and God has given us a will that cannot be influenced or thwarted by external events – unless we allow it. We are not responsible for the ideas or events that present themselves, but only for the ways in which we act on them. ‘God’ in this case is not the divine being of Judeo-Christian theology, but a material immanence conceived as a fiery breath infused in all things.”

It is with the intention of being present that I am continually practicing with the hopes that one day it is my way of being that I trekked into the garden for the market’s harvest. Happily so in retrospect of the culmination of weather events (hail, tornadoes, intense downbursting winds, torrential downpours)  in the evening.

I am just absolutely thrilled with my time in my garden. There is something incredible about being amongst the seeds you start – this is probably carries over quite nicely into all realms of “seeds”, but this is my intensive. This photo is of beets and Red Russian kale – which was planted 1) because I like it and 2) in homage to Tiffany who is making her home in Bend, OR. She had such beautiful kale on her table under our shared tent last year that the market presentation would take on quite an emptiness without it… so I am growing four different varieties!🙂 This weeks market table will be adorned with Red Russian kale, Scotch blue kale, arugula, loose leaf lettuce (probably the last cutting from this planting – the next planting between rows of Bloody Butcher corn is just emerging), sweet snow peas, onions and BEETS! This is excitement, folks! Not only have I never grown beets before, but I feel like I’m fotunate in how early they are making their appearance.I have also been experimenting with the time of day that I harvest. Last week I harvested in the evening, presuming upon the theory that the plant is acquiring sunlight throughout the day and stockpiling stores of energy to move it through the night, that the end of the day would be when the plant is most powerful. This week I harvested at the middle of the day. I observed a significant difference in the plants. This may have been contributed to by 40 mile and hour winds and 85 degree temperatures as well – Mother Nature institutes so many damn variables. I am also looking forward to learning more about biodynamics and harvesting according to the moon – there are days that are better for leaves, for roots, for fruits – supposedly this enhances the flavor and storage of the item harvested. This investigation may have to wait for implimentation until next year, but for now the proverbial seed is planted, and it is in my consciousness when I am harvesting.

In my kale harvest, I was coming across a fair amount of leaves that were less than market worthy. Ah-ha! The chickens will love me! I harvested an ice cream pail full of greens for them and then promptly went to visit. At the sound of my voice Ruby, Willy, Wonka and two of the G.G.’s (Golden Girls) clamored to the door of their pen… can you tell they are ridiculously spoiled? I scattered the leaves about the ground and they happily went to pecking them apart. Lovely little beasts. I also decided it was a good day for my first-ever egg checking. Yes, I say that with a sigh and relief as I unencumber myself with the admission that I have not visited the chickens in their coop in over a year – since they were fuzzy little chicks! Mom and Shane are both very diligent in tending to them, and I haven’t had a particular absorption with them, so I have remained a distant, albeit appreciative, consumer of their most wonderful culinary contribution.  This is one of the G.G.’s quietly tending to keeping her egg. I let her. Hope to see you at the market on Saturday morning. I will continue my shameless plugging of the Downtown Mason City Market in it’s new-this-year lovely locale, City Park, just north of the Southbridge Mall, from 9am until noon. There will be live music AND, another shameless plug, a free tai chi class in the middle of the park at 11am with the gentleman I am studying Chinese Wellness Arts with and owner of Mason City Wellness Center, Glen Hepker. Do make it a point to come – it’s a wonderful experience in being present!

“What we need are more people who specialize in the impossible.”
— Theodore Roethke


“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.” — Elizabeth Cady Stanton

A lovely afternoon in the garden planting sweet potatoes and still trying to make a dent in that blue angel food cake that Aunt Kathryn (Dad’s sister) made for the celebration of his life – a favorite of his for birthdays as a child. As you can see, it goes with everything including white wine. This picture was taken on May 9th, the day following a most wonderful gathering of friends and family in the most unlikely fashion. I tell you, I have never in my life felt more grateful for my place in it. This was a day of the most beautiful outpouring of love and support and sharing of spirit. Neighbors, making me most grateful to be amongst this amidst conventional farms, as much as I do not align myself with the tenets of such practices, our neighbors are real and present and a big part of our farming support system – we have a reputation of eccentricity to uphold, and I’m sure they won’t let us let them down.🙂 I received two phone calls that morning from folks that Dad had meant something to – and they shared their stories and we laughed and we were brought together – a great and generous gift – thank you, Dad. The day following was a bit more lovely as far as the weather was to be concerned and after the scare of a hard frost the night before, I felt fairly safe and justified in my confidence that it would be the last. The potatoes took it on the hop and the flint corn looked questionable, but both came roaring back with intentional vigor, not to let a little frost inhibit the manic energy of the annual.

Kathryn and Tom helped me planting. These sweet spuds had much doting over – there was just no way they were going to not thrive… even though they seemed to threaten such for the first week. The garden is ALL PLANTED!! This is such a wonderful and amazing statement to be able to make. I have never been able to honestly say it in years priot. Not only is it planted, but it is maintained, AND somehow it managed to consume the same 75′ x 75′ as last year – with lovely plots of flax and oats and sunflowers (thanks to Meg’s planting last year – these are self planted beauties!). I have a good crop of Nicola potatoes – one of the only potato varieties with minimal impact on the glycemic response – this studying holistic nutrition (for those of you not aware, I am currently in the professional training program through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in NYC for my certification in holistic health counseling) has created a whole new criteria for growing and selling at the market. If I don’t feel it would benefit my health, I have huge reservations about selling it to anyone else. This means I am not making more preserves because I don’t like the sugar. I mean, I am crazy about the sugar, and that in and of itself is a big red flag to me. So, yes, white potatoes, not entirely bad, but have a lot of room for improvement, and this is where the Nicola comes in. If you want to familiarize yourself a bit more, check out this link: http://breastcancer.about.com/od/cancerfightingfoods/a/potatoes.htm – I am growing these potatoes mainly as a seed potato crop for the Albert Lea Seed House. They are pretty rare as far a potatoes goes – I’m looking forward to taste testing soon!

My brother, my nephew, the dog – these guys hang out and grill and play the guitar and sing while I’m in the garden. Next to the chorus of meadowlarks, bobolinks and red wing blackbirds, it is the sweetest sound. I have no doubt that the plants grow stronger and ever more resilient because they are exposed so the beautiful vibrations and energetic wave lengths. We are eating well this season. As are the folks at the market! I am having a swell season at the Mason City Downtown Farmer’s Market from 9-12 on Saturdays. I even had a good day in the pouring rain last week – as in I was under a tent and still my skirt was wet up to my knees! I have some new jewelry pieces, which I have been having great fun with and a great response to, and my horseradish didn’t last long – I am hoping to process another batch this week. I have taken Swiss chard, four kinds of kale, loose leaf lettuce, rhubarb, onions, purslane, wild spinach (aka lambsquater), arugula and sweet snow peas for produce, beautiful bouquets harvested from the old farmsteads in the neighborhood, the prairie across the road and some ditches worthy of traipsing around in for phlox and sedges and alfalfa also decorate the table the the arms of some lucky folks. If I’m diligent in my preparation I have homemade crackers, too. Hmm, that’s a long list. I am surprised to accomplish it most weeks on top of studies and an actual pseudo-real job (3 days a week 8-5… still pulling weeds and washing produce, however).

So, perhaps there are those of you out there wondering what is going on with the farming and conservation efforts. Well, the rain has put a bit of a damper on things… hoping it will hold off enough of June for us to get our last two (that is out of three!) fields of annuals planted by the deadline for field certification. We are making our father proud keeping in the tradition of experimenting with new crops. This year we put in 8 acres of teff – an annual (at this latitude) grass originating from Africa, where there it is primarily grown for grain. You can find it in aisle 13 at Hy-Vee West in Mason City if you want to experiment with it in the kitchen.🙂 At least it was there the last I checked. I picked up two bags of teff along with six bags of millet at the Seed House that is to be planted down by the cottonwood trees.

The eight acres of teff is a nice fuzzy green – we were fortunate in the timing of planting – I think it got in about one day ahead of the seemingly endless precip. Went out to check the eight acres of prairie that Dad planted close to this time last year and it’s coming along nicely – there are a lot of black eyed Susans looking close to bloom and a few patches of native grasses amongst the bushy, brilliant green clumps of reed canary. Wish I could say the same about the 40 acres of reed canary hay. Just one 8 acre plot over (across the winter rye) the field has been absolutely decimated by what we are suspecting to be armyworms. What on earth are the armyworms here to teach me? This is the question. This field has been established for close to ten years – Dad must have put it in before he got so anti-monocropping, which he subsequently engrained into my brother and I. So, we are currently in touch with some entomologists at Iowa State and Illinois and I am sending specimens off in the next day for verification. Hoping we can mow the stems and with any luck the next generation will move on to another field (preferable not one of ours). One fellow thought this could well be described as a “freak” incident, which I am definitely hoping to believe. We refuse to spray, not only because this is the chunk of ground we have under organic certification exemption, but also because we are just so damn hell bent against such blasphemy.🙂 All will be well – we will manage, in the mean time we scratch our heads and try to figure out how to protect ourselves from a repeat episode in the future.

I’ll leave you in these wee hours with a picture of one of my most treasured places. Gladfelter in the low light of the setting June sun. Ah. Even for an endlessly busy girl it’s distracting enough to pull over to the side of the road and just sit and breathe it all in.

“Sometimes I think the world has gone completely mad. And then I think, ‘Aw, who cares?’ And then I think, ‘Hey, what’s for supper?”
— Jack Handey
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
Henry David Thoreau

“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh… now you tell me what you know. ” – Groucho Marx

Hmmm… one might wonder what it would take for a girl to get back on the blogging wagon… just a little taste of spring, and then of course the weather or darkness to drive me indoors. I have been meaning with good intention to write now for at least a month. We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads… alas and however I am finally making a go of it.

A month ago now I got some seeds started on a makeshift nursery bed in my room. It consisted of my 6′ (sometimes referred to as 12) farmer’s market table, an electric blanket that was my grandmothers (surely passing all safety inspections!) and just two bedding boxes left over from last years foray. I rifled through my seeds, gladly passing by those cherry romas that I couldn’t possibly keep up with, and going straight for the Gold Medal and Green Zebra heirlooms. I also diligently planted about a dozen different types of peppers swearing that I would be able to keep them organized and labeled, which lasted all of two weeks… yes, the amount of time it takes for them to germinate.🙂

So, there remains a beautiful bunch of seedlings happily leaning towards the sun, choosing heliocentricty to any of my mechanical interventions. Rotating the trays is how these guys got displaced from the original labeling system. Perhaps the fruits will reveal the truth later this summer.

I tilled my garden. This is a pretty big deal. Believe it or not, all it took was one year of trying to reinvent the wheel to see that there may be some validity in these time honored traditions. Who knew? I blame my strong German heritage for this streak of stubborn will.It’s amazing what you can do with a few horses under the hood. Most traces of last year’s garden are lying in wait to reincarnate in this season’s bounty. There are a few potatoes that were left to freeze last fall that tease me a bit in my neglect to retrieve all the harvest the plot had to offer, but I take the generous perspective that it was my offering for all that I was given – and that encompasses far more than lambs s, purslane and the stray and strategically planted onion or Chinese red noodle bean. Hours. The incredible hours spent with the dirt and the sunshine and the red wing blackbirds – there is just nothing so gratifying, so nourishing to the simultaneous creative thought process and contemplative witnessing meditation. And I get to do it all over again this year!But, like I said, things are looking a bit different this year. Tilled garden. Straight ROWS of plants. You would hardly recognize this as the same geography. I wasn’t planning to plant potatoes, but I just didn’t have it in my heart to heave three burlap sacks of sprouted potatoes that were resting the whole season through in the basement onto the compost pile. Five rows of potatoes later I was slapping the dirt off my hands with a strong sense of “Wow, this is amazing… I am TWO MONTHS ahead of where I was last year! And I didn’t know it could be so easy!” – the weather this April definitely doesn’t hurt anything. So, in addition to potatoes, the garden is warming encouraging red, yellow and white onions, sugar pea pods, dwarf pak choy, bunching red onions, Swiss chard, three types of kale (specifically dino and red Russian in Tiffany’s honor), arugula, lettuce, daikon radish, mustard (to the chagrin of my bean walking step father), wildflowers, beets, carrots, Chinese kale, popcorn and flint corn. And it’s only April still. This is the kind of spring you fantasize about.This is my brother, Seth, and the one who is responsible for me having any equipment to drive. There may be a few of you out there that are still unaware of my nonexistent mechanical karma… I mean Dad and I would even go so far as to say I had a mechanical karma deficit. Seth, on the other hand, is in my opinion flat out brilliant in this regard. I follow him around the parts store and get distracted by things I could make jewelry out of and bargain hunt for a battery for the Massey and he is ordering plug wires and various other components that may as well be parts for building space craft to an unknown universe, which in effect is kind of what working on trucks and tractors feels like to me. So, I do the books, Seth manages equipment and between the two of us and those we can sweet talk into turning rounds we get some things accomplished on the farm.That’s my seed man turning the soil. That way I could till my garden.🙂 This is an 8 acre field that has been in cool season hay for two years, but is now part of a SAFE (CRP) program. This summer it will get planted to native prairie. There is a prairie pothole in this plot that we plan to allow to recreate itself. Even plowing you could tell where the soil type was different. The dirt holds so many stories and such a vast history – going slow enough to notice when the engine noise deepens and the plow pulls a little less fluidly slicing through the topsoil you get to learn her history. It is such an incredible feeling to become a part of this land you love. What a dream. What a great place to sink your roots. There are another 16 acres that will be going into wet and messic prairies this year. We plan to experiment with a plot of teff for hay and we are going to start transitioning our cool season hay fields to warm season natives. We are working with a fellow who is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison who is doing research in grazing natives for dairy on suggestions for planting. From a number of sources I have been given notice that what we are working on is fairly cutting edge as far as research is concerned (I’m sure there are some around who have always cut prairie for hay, so I don’t mean to discount that rich knowledge), and that is something I know we are pursuing that would make Dad proud, without a doubt. A powerful way to move forward and meld his spirit and energy into the texture and weave of this land we hold dear. A powerfully exciting and renewing season is upon us.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We must learn to reawaken, and keep awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of a man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, or so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”  – Henry David Thoreau

Do you think about this? How you can affect the day? How you affect days, one each at a time, that they accumulate to be this wonderful lifetime of influence, of interest, of modification, of evolution. And, because we know that we have this life, that we get to take it and mold it with all of the unknown circumstances, with all the jubilant elation, with all the piercingly humbling moments, with all of the ambiguity, and still, we have every power to make it exactly as we imagine. If we hold tight to the presence of gratitude and its overwhelming ability to find a reason to appreciate and grow from all that comes to each one of us, we are truly allowed to evolve. Truly empowered to affect each day. To welcoming each day to affect us.

It is cold. It has been icy. It continues to snow. But each day, the next season comes one day closer to being within our reach, our grasp, out sight, our breath. The sun is gaining more color. The long shadows twist and bend, caressing the long, smooth curves of the landscape, themselves subtly exaggerated in the snow’s memory of the wind. It has been so gratifying to be paying so much attention that even a few minutes added to the sun’s presence is noticed. And I find that I have gravitated to so many who are so present and observant of the incremental changes as seasons acquiesce. What a big and full breath to fill my enchanted journey, all of these people who have come to me in my 31 years and six months; what a grand parade that has been presented as my interests and expeditions have me venturing the realm of spectrum. So grateful, so grateful for all of my evolutions, for all these influential and guiding people, places and moment.

A winter solstice hike at Lime Creek Nature Center just north of Mason City. Mary, Paul, Tom, Lisa and myself. A group of folks who believe in sustainability, speaking up about things that matter, living very presently with an awareness of others. It’s a good group. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to find so many who like the seasonality of this latitude, that share a desire to soak it up, that show me there are many ways to do so. So, amongst us some make sure we don’t walk on the cross country skiers’ trail, some who hypnotically throw sticks for the dog, some who make guest appearances on the CBS evening news, some who allow change to flow through gently, all of us taking turns inspiring one another to wake up and affect the day. This is what we all need. The love and support of others that keeps us thinking in new ways, acting on our intuitions, seeing with unspoiled eyes. We all have a lot to share. Don’t forget to just stop and listen. Hear the stories.  Soak it in.

And, so, too, will Ame de la Terre. Take time. Continue to evolve, like the rest of us. Today is Dad’s birthday. It leads to a lot of forward thought and backwards reflection, and there is a way that they intermingle in a nebulous sort of way seemingly right in front of me. It’s hard to see through such a space without much for clear definition or guidance. So where do we go from here? Well, of course I continue to grow a garden for my own sustenance. That’s a given. And I promise not to try to reinvent the wheel again this year. I will keep it fairly simple, manageable, bite sized. The new challenges and nuances of farm planning on a piece of land known for its eccentricities; there’s a seemingly pretty high bar. So, 13 acres of native tall grass prairie – five acres of that will need to tolerate wet feet. Eight acres of teff, something we have never tried growing before. Eight acres going into semi-permanent mixed hay – grasses, legumes unknown. Eight acres of whatever my brother deems the most productive bird habitat once we can actually get down into the soft, swamp bottom peat ground… at this rate maybe the middle of July.

Record number of snow cover days this winter… a couple of months yet to go. It also means, then, a record number of days that the ground has been insulated, protected from the brazen east wind, from the striking cold, the sharp geometry of winter shadows. I’m curious to see how she emerges. Each day one day closer. Not to miss appreciating any one of these days I am reminded more today than most; cold and white and long as it may be, each will be here just once, each will give us but a fleeting moment to indulge, to embrace, to revel in all that comes to us, to all that encourages us and pushes us. We each move forward, one step at a time, one brilliant and beautiful moment falling wavelike into the next. To this year, to this decade, to this life.

“… Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”  – Gabriel García Márquez