This morning I woke up to the farm covered in maybe half an inch of crunchy, icy snow. It provided just enough blanketing white to turn the gardens and the surrounding forest into a winter wonderland. We rarely get snow here, but when it does fall this is one of the most beautiful places to be. Since I recently stumbled upon my camera’s lost battery charger, I figured I would fire up the camera and take a few pictures. It’s been a long time since I posted any photos here on the blog.
I also am hoping to get a post proper up later today, or perhaps tomorrow. I should have enough free time to get something written. Now on to the pictures.
Brian's Japanese house tucked in the snow-covered trees, with the chicken run in the foreground. The house is really a beautiful, amazing home.
Blue sky peeking through the clouds, above the snow-covered trees. In the foreground are some snowy beds. This side of the farm, however, is going to be put into perennials this year.
My little yurt, otherwise known as home. I love living here. It's about 12 feet diameter and nestled in the second section of the farm's upper gardens. Sadly, I'll be moving on in a few weeks. It'll be pretty easy packing, at least.
This may end up being a recurring series on this blog, or more likely it will be a one off occurrence. I want, simply, to write out a series of small thoughts I’ve had in the last two days and provide them for comment, consideration, or even contempt, should these provoke such a response. (I hope they don’t provoke such a response.)
This, admittedly, is more a product of avoidance than it is significant insight. Over the next week or two, I plan to finally roll out introductory posts (or in one case, a re-introductory post) for the four categories of posting that will be my main focus in this year. However, my introductory post to How To Be Poor may take a bit more focus than I have in the next few hours before I head up to Cannon Beach to visit a friend who’s in town. I wanted to post something today, though, so here are a few small thoughts I’ve had in the last 48 hours.
The birds are out in force today. The snow we received earlier in the week has melted, the weather has turned to a combination of rain and warmth, and our little avian friends are exploring, with considerable spring in their hop. They’re all over the gardens, rooting around in both our bare and cover-cropped beds, no doubt searching out bugs and seed. This isn’t much of a surprise; I imagine they’re hungry after multiple days of snow-covered earth. All this rain, as well, has likely brought worms to the surface and unearthed quite a few other tasty morsels.
It’s a real joy to watch them bounce around and explore. This is one of my favorite sights on the farm, of these winged creatures foraging. There is something mesmerizing about the behavior—and very gladdening of the heart.
The approximate design of the gates I built on Thursday, with the difference being that mine were made of standard boards, rather than small, beautiful logs like this one. Also, I shamelessly stole this image from a blog post at idostuff.co.uk. Check them out.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day building wooden gates for Lance and Tammi. I had a demonstration gate from which to work—built by Lance—a series of boards, a pencil, a hammer, a bucket of nails, and a miter saw. Each gate looked much like the gate at left, except made from more standard boards rather than fantastic, small salvaged logs. The gates will be used for lambing season, which is around April over at Lance and Tammi’s as opposed to right now at Meadow Harvest. (The many baby lambs there are incomprehensibly adorable.)
Over the course of the day, I made seven gates. I managed to get the process down quite well and really enjoyed the process of hammering endlessly at nails, marking the wood, buzzing the miter saw, watching the familiar shape take form. I have built few things in my life, not having grown up with much craftsmanship happening in our household and having worked retail jobs before starting to farm. I know this isn’t an original thought, but there is something very satisfying about constructing real, physical, useful items by hand. It feels productive in the best of ways. It feels like real, good work. And it is good, as the gates will prove useful tools, utilized in the service of raising healthy lambs and feeding the community. They were made with a mix of spare and low-cost materials and human labor—and they’re simple, attractive and functional. In an age when that often is not the case, I felt a real satisfaction crafting such tools.
It also helped me to realize I can build things and I even, dare think, can be fairly good at it. Not that my gates are of any surpassing quality, but the basic skill seemed to be there. That left me thinking that, with much more experience, I might be able to become a solid builder. That is an eventual goal of mine.
Last night, Ginger made a fantastic chili. Now, I’ve spent much of my life not being a fan of chili. I never hated it, but neither was a huge fan. My father made chili—good chili—and I did like that okay, but still was not in love with it. Then I became a vegetarian for something like twelve years, and let me just say that I am far less a fan of most vegetarian chilis. This is probably unsurprising given the fact that I don’t love beans. Ground beef, to me, was often the one saving grace of chili.
Ginger, however, has since revealed to me the secret of making great chili, vegetarian or otherwise. It’s the use of pumpkin or winter squash. The first time she did this in my presence, she simply used canned pumpkin. Future times, she’s used our own winter squash. Let me just say that this makes all the difference—I have yet to taste a chili Ginger made I didn’t enjoy. Last night, however, she outdid herself, not only through the use of sweet meat winter squash, but also some fantastic green chilies from New Mexico, which she discovered buried in the freezer. The resulting dish was absolutely fantastic, just a beautiful melding of flavors.
One way to heat up a wood stove quickly is to use small pieces of oak. I learned this recently from Brian. Due to his kayak-building business we often have small sticks of oak around that can be thrown into the fire. This creates a near-instantaneous heat boost, as oak is a hardwood and, accordingly, burns quite hot.
I found myself today in the situation of needing to heat the stove quickly. Ginger had fired it up to reheat the aforementioned chili and we both wanted corn bread with it. I’ve been on a corn bread kick of late, making it left and right. When you have chili, you really should have corn bread, and we were missing it as we ate the chili last night. So today, the corn bread was a must. I delayed, though, and before long the chili was already hot, I hadn’t started the corn bread batter, and the stove’s oven chamber was only 150 degrees. What to do?
Well, we waited and I got busy. I went out to the wood shed, scrounged up some sticks of oak, threw them into the fire, then started making the batter. Before long, the oak was crackling away in the wood stove and I had the batter ready to go. Into the quickly-heating oven went the cast iron skillet and about three tablespoons of butter. Once that had melted, I swirled it around in the skillet, coating the inside, poured the rest of the butter into the batter, mixed it, dumped the batter into the skillet, and put the whole thing back in the oven, which was now up to about 300 degrees, thanks in large part to the oak.
Within a half hour, we had hot cornbread straight from the oven and hot chili that tasted even better than the night before. Outside, the rain fell and the birds hopped and inside, before long, Ginger and I both had contented bellies. A fine winter day, indeed.
I love snow. It’s something we don’t get very often here in the Northwest. When we do get it, it tends to be of the hit-the-ground-and-melt variety. An inch or two is significant for us—this isn’t the Midwest we’re talking about here. So it’s a special day when we get any sort of decent accumulation.
The last two days have seen some very decent accumulation, at least here on the farm. On Sunday, I awoke to two inches of snow blanketing the farm, bringing abundant joy upon its initial reveal. A bit more fell during the day, alternating between showers of snow and graupel, creating a picture-perfect view as I sat in the main house drinking coffee, reading, and attempting to write a blog post. Yesterday, I awoke to yet more snow, with a full five inches then covering the land. The trees drooped under the weight of all this snow, their branches low and burdened. The few hooped, plastic row covers had collapsed, crush beneath the deceptively heavy, fluffy whiteness. Everywhere, the snow lay mounded and heap, the farm’s various edges and angles softened, blunted, smoothed out. As I walked from my yurt to the main house, I glanced over at Onion Peak, beautiful and glorious, its craggy rise mottled white and gray—snow and stone—and a strip of snowy evergreens midway up the peak glowing golden in a brief reveal of morning sunlight. I stood a moment, and stared, and marveled at this beauty and the good fortune of my presence in it.
In the house, I made coffee and checked the radar. A band of snow was moving toward us. Not long after that it began to fall, light at first but growing heavier. Determined to take a walk in the snow, I put on a few layers, made a fresh cup of coffee, slipped on my boots and headed out into the storm.
It took me only a moment to realize where I should go. The farm is situated on a north-facing hillside and the land extends up onto a tall, forested ridge that stretches back from Brian’s house, running above the small creek that provides our water. An overgrown path leads up and along this ridge, eventually arriving at a high vantage point with the creek below on the south side and the farm’s main house and growing fields on the north side. This is where I went. Brian had shown me the path a few weeks before and I already had hiked up to this spot once for a short bit of meditation. Being up there while the snow fell heavy around me sounded transcendent.
I climbed the path slowly, keeping my coffee cup steady so as not to spill its contents, my head down and hood up to protect from falling clumps of snow. I pushed through the reaching branches of shrubs and scotch broom, brushed past sword ferns bowed with snow—spread wide and pushed low to the ground—and knocked the snow from low-hanging tree branches as I pushed through their barrier. The depth of the snow on the ground varied from a light dusting beneath thick sections of the forest canopy to multiple inches where the canopy cleared, or where the trees were deciduous and bare rather than needled evergreens. Where the snow clung thin and light, dark green moss more often than not showed through, its color yet more vibrant in the otherwise muted landscape.
The creek, unseen, flowed to my right, providing sound in what would otherwise have been a land silenced by the snow. The trees around me towered far into the sky. Many there are old growth, a mixture of fir, hemlock, cedar and other species. They are a marvel, not least of which because there is so little old growth left around here. Most of it has long since been cut, transported, milled and shipped. Now even the lower-quality trees are being cut and pulped or shipped to Asia as cheap building material. These here, though, stood tall and steady and powerful, providing a windbreak for the farm that protects us during brutal coastal storms and presiding over the land with a majesty that can’t be overstated.
Being on that ridge, amongst those towering old-growth trees and with the snow all around me—an inch or two on the ground and an inconceivable amount in the air—I couldn’t help but feel a deep joy at the beauty of that place. I stood on the ridge and looked out toward the creek, still sight unseen below me but clearly heard. Across the way was another hill and more forest—state land as-yet uncut. Large snowflakes whirled through the air and those trees served as a backdrop nearly whited out due to the abundance of flakes. The scene was so picturesque—a variety of trees everywhere, rising so high into the air, the sound of the creek below and the snow devouring it all, the branches of the evergreens mounded down, all of it so intensely pretty—and my place in it so small and so overcome with awe that I felt close to tears, heartened and humbled. In that moment the words came to me: There is a grace in this life.
I breathed deep. Turning, I walked to the other side of the ridge, stepping carefully on the cluttered forest floor. The heavy snow began to transition to something smaller and more icy, though just as abundant. These icier flakes hit my rain coat with quiet tinks, their small sound merging with the creek’s. I stood at the opposite edge of the ridge and looked out toward the farm, into the white air, the far tree line, the simple muteness of it all and—
There is a grace in this life.
The words repeated in my head, again and again as I stood on that ridge, drifting back and forth and looking out at the snow, at the distant trees, up at the near trees, the way they stretched forever above me, and down at the forest floor, at the jumbled mess of twigs and pine needles, fallen branches and moldering leaves and mossy coverings, downed logs and mounds of duff, all of it coated lightly in snow. Across the way, on the hillside above the creek, a winter-bare ash kept losing chunks of snow off its branches, the powdery ice drifting toward the ground in a disintegrating descent. I watched this happen over and over and—
There is a grace in this life.
In that grace, in that moment, I understood something more about work. Yes, it’s habit. But it’s also responsibility. My life is immensely blessed. To be able to stand on that ridge yesterday, in the transcendence of a snow storm, in one of the most beautiful places on this planet, is a matter of grace and blessing and good fortune that is nearly incomprehensible. And, really, I have done little to deserve or earn it. I have worked far less hard than most throughout the world. I have at times been selfish and ignorant and uncaring and oblivious to the harm that I and my lifestyle does. I don’t mean this as a condemnation of myself as I do think I’m a good person, but it is a reality. It is a simple truth I think it important to acknowledge. I live a life of grace and it has not been fully earned. It’s been earned only partly—and a very small part, at that.
To not do the best work I can do at this point would be an abdication of responsibility. I find myself here, the recipient of some incredible amount of good luck, immersed in a life that, while at times challenging, is good. It’s blessed. It’s more than I ever should have hoped for, and yet it somehow is my life. At the very least, I have to show appreciation for what I have through the doing of work as good as I am capable of doing it. To not, at this point, do the work that I believe is necessary and good and will prove a benefit to myself and my community would be not just an abdication of my responsibility to this world that provides me so much, but immoral. How could I experience such joy and beauty and not feel an absolute responsibility to protect, perpetuate and bring as many people as possible into equivalent joy and beauty? How could I take my day in the snow and not feel a debt to the world—a debt that only can be repaid through good, restorative work?
I spent a day in the snow, amongst the trees, immersed in joy, and it indebted me. This too, then, is my work. I must pay back this debt, and so many others that have yet to be paid. Paying it back will take habit, yes, to engage in the necessary work, but it will also take the sense of responsibility I felt so clearly up on that ridge. This is my work for a purpose, and that purpose yesterday lived up in the trees, lingered on the ridge, and fell in the snow. It graced me, and I will repay it.