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.



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twenty-six  summering