20 Jul 2011, 7:26pm
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moments from the past week.

we pulled up all the garlic, washed the dirt off the bulbs in (ubiquitous around here) 5-gallon buckets, and laid it all out to dry on the tables in the greenhouse, sorted roughly in size from the smallest bulbs to the largest. the largest will be used to seed next year’s crop; the rest will be eaten throughout the year. after a day or so, it was tied into bundles and hung up in the cottage to dry further. the cottage smells pretty fantastic, if you like garlic (i do).

i learned how to make sauerkraut.

one of the young fox pups stole one of jason’s brand new leather garden gloves yesterday—picked it up and carried it off in broad daylight. a couple of weeks ago someone who was here for one of the courses asked me what my favorite thing is about living here. without hesitation, i replied, “the wildlife.” even just a couple of months ago, i don’t think i would have given that answer—but i am thankful every day to be able to interact with the non-human culture of this place. it is a part of my every day life: the birds wake me in the morning, the skunks and foxes stare while i walk to my tent at night. the gophers eat our crops and the snakes and foxes eat the gophers. there is no us and them, no dichotomy between settlement and wilderness. i am uncolonizing my insides, bird call by fox bark by cougar yell. wilderness is sacred because everything is sacred. there are those animals and plants whose lives (and, yes, deaths) we are directly responsible for, and those for whom we are indirectly responsible. the responsibility remains. it is the same thing as the responsibility we take for ourselves—that each individual must take as part of the maturation process. interdependence!

last weekend A came out to visit. we met in fairfax on friday afternoon to see the last harry potter movie (!). we like fairfax. we imagine that we might live there for awhile in a few years. check out this awesome mural that’s painted on the side of the natural food store there.

in the evening we made cheese with cardoon rennet! i had been wanting to try it for awhile. cardoons, a.k.a. artichoke thistles, produce flowers much like artichokes, with meat and hearts and so on. you can also eat the leaf stalks, after a very long five-step cooking and preparation process, and they taste just like artichoke hearts; we’ve done that successfully once (we’re lazy). anyway, i found out a few months ago that the stamens of cardoon flowers that are left to bloom all the way can be used as a natural source of vegetarian rennet for cheesemaking! so on friday evening i finally harvested a few and pulled a couple gallons of raw goat’s milk out of the back fridge, and we set to work. we (and by we, i mean A) trimmed off the stamens and mashed ‘em up with a mortar and pestle. we heated the milk to 86 degrees (actually, we heated it up too much and had to wait around for it to cool to 86 degrees) and added mesophilic culture (a non-farm input. i wonder if we can cultivate this ourselves, too?). while we waited for the culture to do its thing (about a half an hour), we steeped the cardoon stamen mash in a little water that had been boiled and then allowed to cool to room temperature. then i strained out the mash and stirred the resulting purple liquid into the milk. it took maybe ten minutes to start separating into curds and whey. so exciting! it worked! rennet from the farm!

the next step in basic chevre is ladling out the curds, wrapping ‘em up in cheesecloth, and letting the whey drip out. it was getting pretty late so i didn’t let the curds drain as long as i maybe could have. in the morning, i separated it into a couple little batches and flavored them with herbs and spices. my favorite was mixed with honey, cinnamon, and cardamom. the resulting cheese tasted very mild to me, not quite like regular chevre. i’m not sure whether that was due to the freshness of the milk (i chose the freshest, no more than two days old), the cardoon rennet, the short draining time, or something else. still, it was really exciting to see the curds and whey separate as a result of homegrown rennet, and i hope to try it again.

on saturday A and i went to far west fest, a little music festival in point reyes station. on sunday we rode our bikes up mount tamalpais. it was a pretty awesome weekend.

today i dug up the roots of four blackberry plants. i won the battle (though not necessarily, i know, the war), but i have lots of little scratches, of course.

i have been making all these flower crowns and giving them away.

gorgeous day. cob oven pizza for dinner. yummmmmmmmm.

12 Jul 2011, 10:23pm
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peace in the valley

i woke up this morning at 6:30 to the quails calling to each other (”nasTURtium, nasTURtium”) outside my tent and the rooster in the distance, then rolled over to doze again for another hour. i woke up again with fifteen minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and i filled them by tucking my warm sleeping bag over my ears and reading a few pages in the novel i started months ago and have kept in my tent for just such moments. then i pulled on my jeans and sweatshirt and boots and ducked out into the foggy morning. this morning’s breakfast was our last catered meal for awhile; the teacher training course that’s been going on is finished up now, and for a couple of weeks it’ll be just us on the farm again—a tiny little group of nine! (soupy is on a roadtrip adventure for a few weeks, and patti and roby left several weeks ago. james and penny are both out of town as of tonight.)

usually we do our housecleaning and maintenance chores every monday, but we put them off until today because of the course finishing up. i signed up for water, and at 8:30 i picked up the water clipboard and headed up to the top of the valley to check the levels on our tanks and harrow the filters. our main valley water system starts at the spring box, which fills with water from (what else?) the spring—which in the winter feeds wish creek, which runs down through the farm, under the street, through pasture, and into the ocean. since we’re on national park land, there is nothing above us in this watershed but wilderness. i pulled back the plywood cover over the spring box and checked the water level—right at the filter, meaning everything was flowing like it should. i reached in with the long brush leaning on a nearby tree branch and scrubbed the filter just to be sure.

water in the spring box passes through a simple filter and into a pipe that brings it to our filters. there are two sand filters, one tall and cylindrical with fine-grained sand, our potable filter, and one in a large plastic trough with rougher sand, for ag(ricultural) water. water from this spring is heavy in iron oxide, and that’s most of what we filter out. my jeans are stained orange from water at the top of these filters that i’ve splashed on myself. the fine-grained sand of the potable filter also provides a home for benevolent bacteria that eat up any less-friendly nasties that might find there way there, though my understanding is that except for the iron oxide, our water is exceptionally clean.

we harrow the ag filter once a week—muddling the top layer of sand to loosen the iron oxide that has settled there, and then bailing out the especially-orange water on top. the potable filter we are currently harrowing twice a day to keep water flowing through it efficiently; in theory we shouldn’t have to harrow so often, but we think that the sand is nearing time to be replaced. this morning the flow into the ag filter was so low there was no water to speak of in which to stir the iron oxide, so i flushed the junction between the filters first thing—sometimes iron oxide builds up in the pipe and slows the flow into the filters. i wrenched open the valve and water sputtered out, clear, then orange, then clear, and then it slowed to a trickle. usually when that happens it speeds up again in a moment, so i waited, but it remained a trickle. i wondered if the water in the spring box had somehow lowered below the filter and pipe, or if there was something big clogging it. i closed the valve, harrowed the ag filter as best i could and then the potable filter, and then opened the valve at the junction again. the same thing happened again, and i made a note on the clipboard and a mental note to check it out in the afternoon when i came up again.

back down the path and through the gate to the farm. i checked the flow of the solar showers—sometimes the showerheads get clogged.

outside the greenhouse, i dug a spading fork into the greywater bin, moving the wood chips around to evenly distribute the dirty water and gunk coming through from the sink inside. i was on garden water today, too—there are two of us in charge each day of making sure everything gets watered—so i stopped at the greenhouse and watered the seed flats, starts, potted plants, and the veggies planted in the long bed along the greenhouse’s north side. i also watered the starts on the hardening-off tables, a couple potted trees nearby, and the too-long-potted artichokes, one of which ages ago fell over and has since grown out of the pot in both directions—roots bending out the bottom, plant bending towards the sun from the other end, and producing large flowers! we have harvested full-sized artichokes from it. that’s tenacity!

forked the kitchen greywater bin and then headed down to the goat pen, to the path leading to the west valley water tank. there’s another spring over there, in the valley over the ridge along the west side of the farm. the path goes up the hill, mostly through tall grasses and coyote bush and thistles. watching for poison oak kept me on my toes. wild animals use the same paths we do, and there was predator scat periodically—probably coyotes, though sometimes i imagined it was the mountain lion that others here have sometimes heard scream in the night.

i reached the tank and checked the level—in fact it was overflowing—and scrubbed the little filter at its base. there’s no sand filter up there; the water from the spring passes through a settling tank on its way to the large storage tank. both the west valley and main valley systems are completely gravity fed, and the west valley tank is actually at a higher elevation than the main valley’s tanks; the water flows from the west valley tank down the hill to the goats’ south pen and then is pushed back up into the farm. when all the stop valves are open, it’s impossible to know when you open a hose bib which tank the water is coming from.

when i was done with the water, i put down my clipboard and followed a little sort of path past an ancient unused propane tank into a grove of oaks and up a hill to the ridge, checking behind me every couple moments to make sure i could find my way down. deer scat and, eventually, a view down on the farm from above. after a few minutes, i headed back down to the tank. got only a little bit lost.

back at the kitchen, i picked up a pair of scissors and began to collect a bouquet. this is my favorite monday (or tuesday) “chore” ’cause i get to just wander the garden looking for pretty blooms. today’s bouquet included sage, lamb’s ear, calendula, tobacco, statice, geranium, feverfew, mullein, wild radish, broccoli, yarrow, clover, comfrey, cosmos, wild pea, forget-me-not… to name a few. okay, i can’t name the rest—yet. i am still learning. i love how many of these flowers are herbs and vegetables. abundance both beautiful and delicious.

(the wind blew this bit of down into an older bouquet.)

i watered the south garden. the beet bed, sadly, is a battle scene—bloody beets everywhere! the gophers have run rampant and there was little left when i picked through it for uneaten beets today. they are small still, but i harvested a little pile of them and took it to the kitchen, where flo and kalyn and tori were reorganizing and reclaiming the space for us, the caterers having left. there are piles and piles of leftovers in the fridge. kalyn was busy sorting through them all and heating some up and setting them out for lunch. i got a little of the kitchen garden watered and then someone rang the lunch bell and we gathered once more with the students who remained from the course, which had just officially ended. one of the students sang a lovely irish farewell blessing, and then we ate.

after lunch i hung out in the bunkhouse for a little while, reading the fifth sacred thing, a novel by starhawk that i started just yesterday, after i finally finished the last thirty pages of the case for god, which i’d been reading since november (not that i didn’t read lots of other stuff in the meantime). i am reading it so fast, the way you read a book you bought years ago and got maybe ten or thirty pages into a half dozen times and then you finally pick it up at the right time and you can’t put it down and you kind of feel like you were meant to read it now, except in this case it’s just been eyeing me from the bunkhouse bookshelf for four and a half months. here is an excerpt:

“Consciousness is the most stubborn substance in the cosmos, and the most fluid. It can be rigid as concrete, and it can change in an instant. A song can change it, or a story, or a fragrance wafting by on the wind.”

the first four sacred things, by the way, are earth, water, air, and fire. the fifth is spirit.

in the afternoon i finished watering the kitchen garden, washed the beets i’d harvested, and carried the orange chicken scraps bucket down to the waiting chickens. they recognize the orange bucket and when they see it coming they gather, squawking, by the gate, and when you open it they follow you around their coop to the other side and wait impatiently for you to dump it out. then they head out into the garden and the driveway for bugs and dust baths. i found a black and white rooster feather, soft and droopy.

penny wanted to meet with all of us when everything was more or less cleaned up post-course, and so we sat around the big table outside and laughed a little about the busy-ness of the past few weeks. afterwards, i asked a guy named mike, a volunteer who was visiting for the day to see the farm, if he wanted to check out the water system, and i took him up to the top of the valley for the second harrowing. when we checked on the spring box, the water level was several inches above the filter, and there was almost no flow into either sand filter. we flushed the junction again, and this time the flow was fairly consistent. when we closed the valve again, water rushed so fast into both filters that the ag filter overflowed after a few moments. that’s more like it. i guess whatever blockage there was got flushed out.

i read until dinner—more leftovers. we ate around the table in the bunkhouse for the first time in ages. brandon and i cleaned up afterwards, and then we had an abbreviated homie meeting. we usually meet on monday afternoon, but again, this week and recent weeks have been unusual. we begin all of our meetings with a meditation, and then we share gratitudes and check-ins (or “chickens”). today’s meditation was just one deep breath together, and then we got on with it. someone starts with something they’re thankful for and then a little about how they’re doing or what emotional state they’re bringing to the meeting, and we go around the circle.

the big discussion during the meeting today centered around food and diet. several weeks without control over what we ate (due to the catering) left a lot of us feeling like we really needed and wanted to control our food. we talked for quite awhile about how we could accommodate each other. i feel lucky to live in a community that’s more into collaboration than compromise, if you catch my drift.

and now it is dark, and i am sorting through photographs and typing this up on the couch in the bunkhouse. soon i’ll kick back with my book until i get sleepy, and then i’ll brush my teeth and walk through the dark to my tent, where i’ll curl up in my sleeping bag again and dream ’til morning.

10 Jul 2011, 10:07pm
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i turned 26 yesterday (turn, turn, turn).

on thursday A drove out in time to walk with me to the ocean before dinner. my farm homies here stuck a candle and a hazelnut dark chocolate bar in a pint of coconut sorbet and sang for me—delicious all around! they wrote me the sweetest card, too. i may have teared up a little bit. in berkeley for the weekend, i helped celebrate elana’s birthday on thursday night (it was a good week to be born), went out for all kinds of tasty vegan food, hung out with friends i hadn’t seen in much much too long, and walked all over town. on saturday i made myself a crown out of lavender plucked sparingly from the city’s lushest front yard gardens and eventually made one for A out of rosemary. later, drinking beers at jupiter, i looked around and felt so lucky to have so many friends in a town i don’t even really live in yet. jordan baked me an amazing vegan chocolate cake and the servers at jupiter brought it out with plates and a candle and everyone sang. by the time we went home there were more flowers in my crown, cake in my belly, and lots of jewels in my heart.

for 26, i offer to myself

patience, and compassion.

6 Jul 2011, 12:07am
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the first time i took the myers-briggs personality type indicator—that’s the one where you end up one of sixteen four-letter personality types, like ENFP—was in my junior year of high school, with the rest of my class. i came out right in the middle of the E/I extrovert/introvert continuum. all of my friends were introverts, and i figured i was, too, ’cause i liked to read books and listen to music by myself and i’d never been one of the “popular” kids. a few years later when i’d been in college for awhile and had met all these people who felt just like me and liked me as much as i liked them, i decided i was an extrovert after all, ’cause i loved hanging out with my friends doing nothing and/or everything in particular. i read somewhere that an introvert is someone who replenishes their energy stores by being alone, while an extrovert replenishes theirs in a crowd.

it’s been a busy couple of weeks here at the farm. my mom visited a few days before the solstice, and while she was here the two-week permaculture design course that happens here every june began. for two weeks an extra thirty-some folks camped out in the meadow and played music around the fire circle late into every night. caterers took over our kitchen and we played sous-chef for an hour and a half every day in exchange for our meals. on top of our regular farm duties, we set out coffee, tea, and snacks; maintained a little makeshift bathroom station down in the meadow; and so on. on the last night we all stayed up for a “passion show,” sharing songs and tales.

then in the morning some folks left but another hundred-plus folks arrived, for the bay area permaculture convergence. we found space for all of them, cars and tents—and one “coboose” made of bamboo and earthen plaster—and all. we scrounged up 150 plates and forks. we split everyone up into meal clean-up groups, which worked out all right for the most part.

i was pretty exhausted at this point. after a long day on sunday, i went to bed early with a little bit of a headache and woke up several hours later with a full-blown, full-body migraine. eventually i managed to fall back asleep, and woke up the morning of the fourth feeling okay.

the pdc was over and the convergence was over. the farm was hosting an “interdependence day” cob oven pizza party of indeterminate size sometime in the afternoon. so in the morning jason and i rode our bike the three miles to bolinas, over the rolling hills, mostly downhill, both of us suddenly exuberant in the sun. we watched the annual bolinas v. stinson beach tug-o-war across the narrow channel that separates the two towns (ten miles of road; a few meters of water), walked on the beach, and then followed the crowd to the sweetest little parade you ever saw, kicked off by an elderly woman singing the national anthem; when she hit the high notes everyone in town cheered. i liked bolinas before yesterday; after yesterday, i love it. i loved everything about bolinas yesterday. a booth where you could tell a joke and get a free beer. samba dancers and drummers. a ridiculous float parodying the tea party movement, complete with the mad hatter and a woman in a sarah palin mask with an inflatable machine gun. gospel flat farm’s float full of young farmers tossing fresh carrots at the crowd. the hot asphalt under my bare feet. and the sun and the ocean, o the ocean.

i biked back to the farm in the afternoon and fell asleep on a couch in the bunkhouse while guests chatted over pizza outside. i retreated here a lot when i wasn’t running around doing this or that during the pdc and the convergence, feeling just plain tuckered out by the sheer number of people wandering around the land that is the closest thing to home i’ve got right now. i didn’t connect the way i felt i ought to with too many of those people. i had hit a saturation point, i suppose, and, needing that certain kind of energy replenished, i flipped over to introversion. too much time alone finds me restless and aimless, and i flip back.

a couple of weeks ago i had a dream and then another sort of meta-dream, in which my subconscious sat me down and made me figure out what the dream had meant. the dream was gone in the morning, but the lesson remained: “the problems we create for ourselves are harder to solve than the problems others create for us.” in permaculture we call that “zone zero” work—where zone one is the area (or, in social permaculture, the people) closest to us, and zone zero is us. i have some zone zero work to do, for sure. for example: what, exactly, are the problems i am creating for myself? and what, exactly, is beyond them?

i have been feeling huge amounts of anxiety about my future lately. looking for a job, etc. (know of any sweet environmental education and/or elementary education jobs in the east bay? let me send you my resume and a kick-ass cover letter.) i feel guilty all the time about something i’m sure i should be doing that i’m not, yet. probably this guilt and anxiety is one of those problems i’m creating for myself. so i sit in the sun, listen to the birds, take some deep breaths and say to my community here, “maybe even if i’m doing everything wrong for my future, i’m doing something right for my present.” and then i do my work, and get my rest, and dance on the beach, and life, the way it does, goes on.