27 May 2011, 5:58pm
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breath

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26 May 2011, 8:28pm
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le plus petit escargot

un escargot s’en allait à la foire
pour s’acheter une paire de souliers.
quand il arriva, il faisait déjà nuit noire;
il s’en retourna nu pieds.

un escargot s’en allait à l’école
car il voulait apprendre à chanter!
quand il arriva, il ne vit que des herbes folles;
c’était les vacances d’été!

un escargot s’en allait en vacances
pour visiter l’inde et le japon.
au bout de sept ans, il était toujours en france,
entre paris et dijon!

ce petit escargot que nous avons rencontré aujord’hui m’a fait pensé de ce chanson adorable dont andrew m’a enseigné l’année dernier et que nous avons tous les deux chantons avec les petits à l’école française de portland. cet escargot a eu un aventure aujourd’hui un peu comme l’escargot du chanson!

this little snail that we met today made me think of this adorable song that andrew taught me last year and that we both sang with the little kids at the portland french school. this snail got an adventure today a little like the snail in the song!

(my rough translation—)

a snail went to the fair
to buy a pair of shoes.
when it got there it was already black night;
it went home barefoot.

a snail went to school
because it wanted to learn to sing!
when it arrived, it saw only overgrown grass;
it was summer vacation!

a snail left on vacation
to visit india and japan.
after seven years, it was still in france,
between paris and dijon!

23 May 2011, 2:49pm
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horsetail breaking through a thick cob bench

(plants are so cool.)
(too bad about the bench, though.)

23 May 2011, 1:20pm
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foxes

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this morning, while i stood in the door frame, about to step into the sunshine out of the yurt after tidying it up, i paused for a moment, and two fox kits slid out from underneath the building just a few feet away from me, trotting off into the trees surrounding the creekbed across from me. it was pretty much the Cutest Thing I Ever Saw.

the other night when i left the bunkhouse to walk to my tent to go to sleep, i saw two eyes lit up nearby. my headlight revealed an adult fox, crouching behind some wood scraps, ears up, looking at me as i looked back. we both stared for a moment before i gave in and turned first, leaving the fox behind me in the dark.

one of them took one of our chickens a few evenings ago.

19 May 2011, 8:43pm
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hey there

my unruly hair is finally long enough to pull back into a ponytail—or a bunnytail anyway. after a scattered day with my mind apparently still hangin’ out on i-5 somewhere while my body went about my duties here, i’m here again and i’ve got rose blossoms tucked behind my ears. today i made whole goat’s milk ricotta (my first solo foray into cheesemaking), rooted a bunch of cuttings (fingers crossed), and made veggie tamales with christine. here’s some photos and stories from before and since my brief jaunt to portland and back.

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calendula:

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artichokes and cardoons:

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last week this poor gopher snake got caught in the netting we have over our strawberry beds to keep the birds out. we’d just been weeding that bed in the morning, and we found the snake when we came back after lunch—but he was already dead and stiffening by the time we got him cut free.

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yesterday we discovered a bunch of poison oak amidst the weeds around an asparagus bed that we reclaimed from the hemlock and horsetails a couple of months ago. so we brought lupe and bodhi (update! this is how her name is spelled! i should have guessed) up from the barn and tied them nearby, hopeful that they’d mow it down for us. solo and uma came with them, of course. the goat-powered weeding didn’t go so well ’cause the mama goats were distracted by the kids, but boy did the kids have a good time! they dashed around the fire circle on the long planks we use as benches and jumped on and off of a little platform nearby with great delight.

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roses:

18 May 2011, 10:37pm
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road trip

where i spent last wednesday night:

where i spent thursday friday saturday sunday monday nights:

where i spent last night: back in my little yellow tent.

hey portland, i miss you already. thanks for the good times; you know you’ll always be (a) home to me. <3 <3 <3

15 May 2011, 10:26am
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a meaty entry*

i started writing this entry a week ago. after lunch on that day, i worked for a little while prepping a bed by myself. in the absence of music or conversation (well, just the birds and the wind in the trees and the distant ocean), i noticed that when i stabbed my spading fork into the soil and pulled it out again, i could hear it ring, like a tuning fork. the tones of the earth!

all morning we told each other stories about our lives.

i want to finally tell you my story about the goats.

we have six goats here now: iris, coco, lupe, bodie, and the two little ones, uma and solo. when i first got here, we had two milking goats (iris and coco) and two pregnant goats (lupe and bodie). we milked the milking goats every morning and gave the pregnant goats a little extra food and time passed and no one really gave us a whole lot of information about what to expect when the pregnant goats gave birth, or even when they would give birth exactly…

listen. i love being here. but guess what? it is not a permaculture utopia. it’s a community, and a large chunk of its population (us) is just passing through in the big (or even medium-sized) scheme of things. so there is a hierarchy here, and communication within this hierarchy is not perfect. with regard to the pregnant goats, i believe it was especially and unusually imperfect. so it goes. the goats would take care of themselves. we did some reading anyway, about how to tell when they’re close to giving birth and what we might be able to do to help when they do.

we take turns feeding the chickens and milking the goats; two of us are “on animals” every day. i was on animals the morning lupe went into labor, on april 1st. we watched her contractions and waited anxiously all day for her babies. i spent the day worrying obsessively about the terrible things that might happen and looking forward to my worries being proven unnecessary when everything turned out hunky-dory—i was afraid i might walk down to the goat barn and find lupe dead or dying, but i expected, really, that i would walk down to the goat barn at some point and instead find one or two completely adorable little goat kids hobbling around on new legs and suckling happily from mama.

my emotional energy ran dry around the time i went to bed. i had no worry left in me. but i woke up early in the morning to walk down to the barn with the folks who were on animals the next day, to see what had happened in the night. i brought my camera and everything. but there was lupe, laying down, looking exhausted, all alone, just like the night before. back up in the bunkhouse, someone told me that she’d given birth in the night, to two stillborn kids, and i pretty much crumpled. tears propelled me across the property and north of the fence line, where i wandered for several minutes, sobbing, until my grief gave way to anger.

and boy, was i angry! why weren’t we better prepared? why hadn’t we done something? why didn’t we do a better job of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the animals in our care? i thought a lot of terrible and mean and judgmental things that it would be inappropriate for me to go into more detail about in this space. i wanted to blame someone and something, and i did. the result of the pretty terrible communication that i mentioned above was that i felt like the animals here on the farm were treated as experiments of sorts—”well, if it works out, cool; if it doesn’t work out, we’ll have learned something.” to me this felt wrong, wrong, wrong. animals are alive, they feel, they are sentient individuals. domesticating them and bringing them into our lives and communities means taking responsibility for them, and that means taking responsibility in our learning with regard to them—there are people who know what they’re doing with animals, and we can and should (and must!) learn from those people, and not from our mistakes. there is no room for mistakes when it comes to sentient creatures.

i want to be clear that i do not think, in retrospect, that these thoughts and feelings were coming, objectively, from the situation or the people here at the farm. they came from me, and they came from bad and/or incomplete communication. no one here considers the animals an experiment in that way.

but i was surprised by the vehemence with which i felt these things, walking in the tall grass above the fence. after awhile, i thought about how good our animals here have it, really, compared to most animals in agriculture, even at organic and free range (and etc) dairies and so on. and i realized that if i feel so strongly about respecting animals (and i do), i probably have no business eating mainstream dairy products.

let me back up a little.

in high school i collected the phrase “i like cheese” in foreign languages. i could probably say it in a dozen or so languages, including indonesian (thanks ira!). i love cheese.

i have more or less been a vegetarian since near the end of the college (i also went through a vegetarian phase when i was a preteen, but who didn’t?), when i learned that the beef industry produces more greenhouse gases than all of transportation combined. i learned this fact while driving south on i-5 one december, on my way from portland to l.a., where i was visiting my boyfriend at the time for new year’s. on long drives i used to listen to right-wing talk radio to stay awake and ’cause it was what i could find on the dial. during this particular drive, the talkers on this particular talk radio station were tearing apart an article from the nytimes about that fact about the beef industry. “what do they think, we’re gonna just stop eating beef?” they asked. “hmm,” i thought, “maybe i should stop eating beef.” thanks, conservative talk radio guys! i had stopped eating meat in general by about a year later, probably, as i learned more about the meat industry. (if you, too, are curious about learning more, i recommend jonathan safran foer’s eating animals, or, if foer’s vegetarian agenda makes you uneasy, michael pollan’s the omnivore’s dilemma. both books are engaging, insightful, and well-researched.)

my vegetarianism since then has had its ups and downs. on my bike trip last summer, i ate chicken pretty regularly, ’cause i figured i needed the protein and i was desperately hungry all the freakin’ time and it is difficult to find healthy vegetarian options in the rural midwest (read: i didn’t prioritize it). by the time i got to the east coast, i felt dishonest telling the relatives and family friends i was visiting that i was vegetarian, and they feasted me with lamb and lobster. but it didn’t feel quite right to be eating meat—plus i was reading eating animals—and i stopped eating meat again when i made it back to the west coast. well, as much as i’d ever stopped eating meat, i.e. almost entirely. it is odd that in terms of language, we consider someone who eats meat once a month to have more in common with someone who eats meat three meals a day than with someone who doesn’t eat meat at all. i identified, i guess, as a “not very picky vegetarian.”

i was surprised when i arrived here at the farm to discover that i am the only non-meat-eater in the community here. which is not to say i was particularly strict when i got here; there was chicken in the dinner served the night i arrived, and sometime in the next few days someone cooked up some of the venison in the freezer that someone had killed at some point, and i gave it a try. (it was chewy.) but then the meat chickens died and i decided that i wanted my vegetarianism to be a practice for awhile… i mean, i wanted to see what it was like to be strict about it. i didn’t make a connection between those two points, the meat chickens’ deaths and my vegetarianism, until lupe’s stillbirths, when i walked with my anger north of the fence and contemplated cutting more animal products out of my diet.

my friend k. in colorado works at a farm that, among other things, raises grass-fed beef. (i ate some of it when i visited her last summer on my bike tour.) they don’t have things set up (yet) to raise calves, so every spring they buy a herd of cows and tend them for the summer before slaughtering them for sale. this year, they went to pick up their herd of 50 cows and when they got back to the ranch, they discovered one of them had died en route. she wrote (she is an excellent writer):

later, i tried to explain to my sister (and to myself) why it was that this one death affected me so much. last season, i watched 45 cattle go to slaughter. this winter, i’ve killed nearly 100 mice and have disposed of their cold, soft bodies with my own hands. i’ve been gassing prairie dog holes in the hopes of poisoning a population into death. and yet one cow dies unexpectedly a few months before he is slated to die and i am inordinately moved, depressed.

but the death felt pointless and avoidable. [...] i wanted someone to blame for this body, bloated and useless on its side in the boneyard. later, i recognized that no death is useless and his body will feed the soil and then feed his brethren and then feed us, but at the time, his accidental death and subsequent trampling appeared so undignified, so sad.

i wondered if he’d been scared. the slaughterhouse we go to practices humane techniques and most of the time, the cows don’t see it coming. they may be confused or frightened by the new surroundings, but the actual killing blow is a surprise. but this time, death was a surprise to me, too, and that was part of it. we opened a door expecting to find a herd of frolicking bovines instead found one dead. bloated and bleeding and smeared with fly-speckled shit.

additionally, of all of the cows i’ve seen dead, i’ve never been this close to one. i have never touched one, which i did this time, petting him softly between his open eyes, where his fur was clean of blood and dung. and in slaughter, the animals so quickly become something other than what they were. it takes only a few moments for the butchers to decapitate the cow so that the carcass becomes a side of beef and the fact of death sort of recedes. but this one just lay there, so complete and animate, his tongue lolling out of his mouth like a garish, stippled scarf.

i read this and i wondered, suddenly, how i would be feeling if the first death i had experienced at the farm had been intentional, careful, (arguably) respectful. but that is not what happened.

since lupe’s stillbirths, i have not bought any dairy products and i have eaten vegan at restaurants… more or less—i still haven’t really gotten good at asking the “is there dairy in this?” question, i guess because i would rather just not know if the answer is yes (and i feel like i’m in a portlandia sketch every time). but i’ve been eating dairy that’s given to me, generally, and obviously i am eating eggs and goat milk products at the farm. not doing so would make cooking more difficult for everyone else, and i am anything but unconflicted about veganism anyway (plus, our animals generally have pretty good lives; our chickens are the happiest chickens in the world). are soy monocultures really less detrimental to human and non-human health and happiness than dairy products? so many dairy substitute products are soy-based and shipped from who-knows-where and involve who-knows-what unsavory industries in their manufacture. i have no doubt that it is possible to avoid these products and be vegan, but at what cultural cost? i want to go out to brunch to eat with my friends. i want my family to be able to serve me dinner without hassle. etc.

also, living as i do with several folks who are into paleo and weston price diets, i do sort of feel like animal protein might be, you know, good for me, and i might suffer nutritionally for not eating it at all. whenever i bring this particular point up, A (himself a “not very picky vegetarian”) says, “well, the jains have been doing fine for centuries,” and of course he is right. but food is such a cultural thing. jainism is a culture with a belief that strict veganism is the best way to live, and so it is for the members of that culture. i come from a culture with a bazillion conflicting and confused beliefs about food, which is obviously reflected in this entry (and i’m not even touching the kettle of fish that is body image!). i can’t help feel that health is in large part a cultural phenomenon… or should be, anyway.

so there is that. and then a few days ago someone posted to the east bay permaculture listserv with questions and observations about chickens’ egg production over time. they made the point that even on a small scale, the dairy industry and the meat industry are one and the same. chickens’ egg production is highest in the first few years of their lives, and after that? dinner! cows, goats and other dairy animals have to give birth every year or so in order to maintain milk production—which is why lupe and bodie were pregnant to begin with—and even if every girl baby is raised to be a milker, there’s only so much need for males for breeding. in fact, grown male goats can’t even be kept in the same vicinity as milking goats, because the hormones they produce (even when castrated) make the milk taste bad. so, again… dinner. it is nice to imagine all these retired farm animals living out their lives at this or that idyllic farm animal sanctuary (they do exist), but that is impractical and unsustainable on many levels. so? veganism?

i don’t know. i could talk some, too, about the role of animals in closed-loop permaculture systems. and how i really like working with the animals and i really like watching the chickens scratch around in the gardens. and. i miss ice cream. and cow’s cheese. (would you believe it?—i am starting to get a little bit sick of goat cheese.)

the rest of the goat story is happier. on april 12th, i was again on animals. bodie was still theoretically pregnant, but she was so much more chipper and active than lupe was in the last days of pregnancy that, to be honest, i sort of doubted it, and we certainly didn’t think she was very close to giving birth. so jason and i put all the goats in the south pen for the afternoon, and went down to put them away in the barn for the night around 5. i had iris, coco, and lupe halfway back to the barn when jason, who had noticed that bodie wasn’t following, said, “um, stacia? i think bodie is giving birth.”

“what? you’re kidding.”

in fact she had already given birth, and was delivering the afterbirth. i ran breathlessly up to the bunkhouse to spread the word. the kid couldn’t have arrived more than a few minutes before. she looked like this:

we named her uma almost instantly. someone said it means “community”—and it was going to take a village to raise her. bodie, bless her heart, was doing everything right, but she had given birth in a mud puddle. it was cool and breezy out. the kid was trying to stand but was unable to, and when her attempts slowed down we started to worry. we tried to set up a windblock, and we surrounded her with warm towels, eventually lifting her onto one of them and trying to dry her off a little bit. finally, we decided that we really needed to get her and bodie into the barn.

i carried her, wrapped in a towel, across the meadow. my heart went thump thump thump. her heart went thump thump thump.

we tried to get her to nurse from bodie, though she was still unable to stand, but we couldn’t get her to suck. a baby bottle didn’t work, either, which is how we eventually ended up feeding her with a syringe:

we got some colostrum (first milk, with extra good nutrients) into her and she seemed a little stronger, even occasionally sucking on our fingers, but she still hadn’t stood up. i was scheduled to go to berkeley for a few days, and i did eventually leave after a few hours. everyone else still at the farm took shifts all night, watching uma and feeding her with the syringe.

i didn’t dare call the farm over the weekend for updates. when i got back, i nervously asked how uma was doing. walking, nursing, being adorable!

and i was introduced to solo, an orphaned kid from a nearby farm whose mom had died shortly after his birth. solo looked as much like a puppy dog as a baby goat, with floppy ear and a little wagging tail. we’d taken him in and were trying to get lupe to adopt him, with initially limited success. we had to hold lupe still while he nursed, a process we repeated three times a day. we also gave him a whole lot of affection, and i’m pretty sure he thought for awhile that we, collectively, were his mama—he’d follow us around exactly like a puppy and complain loudly when we left the goat pen.

eventually, feeding solo got easier and now he nurses from lupe with no interference from us at all, and lupe even keeps an eye out for him in the meadow. both of the kids have doubled in size and are sprouting tiny horns. we let them run around the porch while we milk lupe and bodie, and watching them play together is a hilarious delight. they practice head-butting each other, they play king of the castle, they try to climb onto our laps.

so what will happen to solo, our little pet? he won’t stay with us forever—he will get too big and start to turn the goats’ milk. what i hear is that his rightful owners have decided to keep him for breeding—he definitely is a strong, resilient, and handsome little goat! and lucky.


*see what i did there?