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.

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.

22 Jun 2011, 10:05am
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the end of spring

matt in santa rosa.

kohlrabi <3s you.

grandmother eucalyptus, poison hemlock.



21 Jun 2011, 11:41pm
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today was the longest day of the year, midsummer, the summer solstice. this morning when i left my tent the sun had already spread across most of the garden.

we are hosting a permaculture design course right now; thirty-some students are camping in the meadow and hanging out in the yurt and occasionally getting a little raucous around the fire circle at night. last night one of the instructors, robyn francis, led us in a ceremony celebrating the shortest night of the year. we gathered plants and flowers to make garlands for our heads, sang songs, lit a fire, and stood around it sharing gifts.

i am thinking a lot about resiliency: our bodies, relationships, our confidence, human and non-human ecologies, and of course the seasons, the sun and the light: they all bounce back.

and also about humility, love, and compassion—the words we chose as a group to bring into the next turn of the seasons.

19 Jun 2011, 9:45pm
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minus tide

on thursday morning a bunch of us woke up at dawn to head down to the beach for the minus tide to do some tidepooling and a little seaweed snacking.


(large fish head skeleton. pretty freakin’ cool.)

later i met my mom at the santa rosa airport—she came to visit for a couple days. i took her to the beach the next morning for more tidepooling and beachcombing.

19 Jun 2011, 8:54pm
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green gulch

(this beautiful cob building is their garden tool shed.)

(really cool-lookin’ tree; some kind of red birch.)

(beekeeper; i can’t remember his name!)

(top bar beehive.)

not pictured: the tasty rhubarb cake that ashley and i made that morning; green gulch’s and slide ranch’s friendly interns; the zendo; a gorgeous hexagonal (or octagonal? i can’t remember) guest house made entirely with traditional japanese joinery techniques, no nails!

this last reminded me of something i read in this book i’ve been enjoying flipping through in the yurt lately, called home work, edited by marin local lloyd kahn. the book is a collection of owner-built homes-slash-works-of-art from all around the world. one of the homes included is a pretty incredible sprawling stone home that was built into a mountainside in south africa by one dude who did it all completely by hand, by himself. in the book he talks about how for 13 years folks told him he was crazy for building it, and then when he was done and living in it they told him he was so lucky to get to live in such a place! luck = crazy x 13 years of hard work.

or, beauty = patience x dedication.

16 Jun 2011, 9:40am

just a little abundance

(flora made delicious challah.)

(give peas a chance!)

(a bed of bolted chard looks like a suessian forest. don’t worry, we have plenty of chard that hasn’t bolted, too.)

(iris makes poison hemlock look super tasty.)


(remember those 1500 strawberry plants we planted? well.)

(growing through the netting!)


(yum yummmm.)