Monday evening, I returned home.
In literal terms, this only entailed pulling up the farm’s gravel driveway in my car, coming back from about a week and a half spent in Portland celebrating the holidays with family and friends. Yet, it was more than that. Stepping out of the car, I heard the creek from which we drink and noticed its volume had increased. It was louder, yes, but also surely held more water. While I was away, a few storms had descended on the farm after an unusually dry December. The creek no longer was a whisper but instead a chorus, infusing the quiet night air, and that chorus immediately caught my attention and bound me to the land. I listened to it a moment and marveled that I even noticed the difference. It was a small epiphany.
After that moment, I walked to my yurt. Entering, I noticed the sharp scent of firewood and stood again—another small moment of wonder—letting that wonderful smell wrap itself around me. Mingled with the sound of the creek, the smell brought back memories of camping, of those necessary moments in which the natural world asserted itself as a dominant element in my life. Knowing that this was my life, my home, I felt a certain joy then that I had managed to grab hold of that particular happiness and integrate it into my daily life. The smell of firewood was typical now, rather than a brief, annual-at-best escape from work and the mundane happenings of a life too far removed from trees and dirt and creeks and rivers, lakes and hiking trails and a forest floor carpeted in fallen pine needles and twigs and leaves and billions upon billions of microscopic critters.
Somehow I had found that and made a home in the midst of it.
Thinking about all this in the vague terms of the meditative mind, I settled into my yurt for the evening only to have M, one of the farm’s cats, show up at my door. I let her in and she jumped into bed with me, kneading my chest and purring loud, occasionally gnawing on my hands in her particular way. She, too, felt like home. I was there for her birth—the only person there, as a matter of fact—and so she is a definite tie to my time here. Her presence is a constant reminder that while I do not own this farm and my place here is temporary, I am a part of it. For now, I have a home here.
While my time here on the farm will necessarily end in a few months, that doesn’t negate my sense of home. I may not live here on the farm come spring, but I plan to live nearby on another farm—assuming my plan works out—and certainly I am staying in the area, regardless. My ability to do this lies in large part with another element of that night I returned home: the anticipation, lying there in bed with M, of the new job I would be starting the next day. I have been working for a few months now for Meadow Harvest, a farm down the road that raises grass-fed beef and lamb. But that night, I was anticipating the start of my second job in the area, with a farm further down the road which also raises animals: cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and even a couple goats. With that second job, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of security and know that it would work for me to stay in the area.
I’ve only been here ten months, so it may not seem like a big deal for me to plan to stay for at least another season. But since I started farming in 2009, I’ve lived a transitory life. Each year, as the season has wound to a close, I’ve ended up leaving to go back to Portland, hang out for the winter while considering my next move, and then start at a new farm in the spring. Granted, in 2010 that meant staying in Portland to farm, but even that felt transitory. I found a new place to live toward the start of the season and I never knew if I would stay in Portland beyond that, despite the fact that a large part of me wanted to. And, indeed, I didn’t. I came here instead. I moved to this farm in March and have been here since, uncertain of where I would be in 2012.
For awhile, I figured I would likely move on, just as I had before. But I also didn’t want to do that forever. At some point, I wanted to settle. My ideal would be to settle on my own farm, but I haven’t felt quite ready for that yet and—more importantly—haven’t had the means or the opportunity to make that happen. But then came a moment earlier this season in which I started to think about staying on here at R-evolution Gardens into next year, though in a different capacity. There was talk of my integrating more into the farm, becoming not a partner, but someone perhaps more permanent. I could teach homesteading classes and figure out a way to eek out a living while helping to build the farm’s educational components.
That idea faded. I didn’t necessarily feel prepared to take on that role and as plans for the farm’s future changed, my ability to stay here long term looked less likely. But something else started happening during all those changes. I began to integrate more into this community, through small conversations and simple asides. When the opportunity arose, I started to work at Meadow Harvest. Then Lance and Tammi, owners of the farm I just began working at, asked if I might be interested in picking up some work with them after their then-current employee made her planned move to a different town. I said yes, and yesterday that work began.
I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somehow I made a life here. I’m beginning to integrate into a community in a more permanent and sustainable way than I have been able to elsewhere in recent times. Somehow, ten months after first moving here, I came home to an evening when everything seemed right—when stepping out of the car and settling in for the evening assured me that I had found a place where I could say I would be for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying I’ll never move again. I suspect I will. But for the time being, there’s no deadline for transience in my future. I’ve found a place here on the Oregon coast. I have good work, friends, a small social network, and a place to stay.
I even, in the last few weeks, have started to form a plan of action for the next year. It’s something of an ambitious plan for me, and I doubt all of it will play out exactly how I want, but I have high hopes and excitement for it. In the next couple days, as time permits, I’ll write about that plan here on the blog. Much of it will dovetail with my writings and form the basis of multiple posts. I plan some big steps this year in my ongoing attempts to craft a satisfying, creative, low-energy, low-money, rooted life. I’ll be writing about all of that as the year unfolds, as well as delving into a variety of related philosophical issues. Stay tuned.
Purple peppers are just cooler.
Yesterday, Brian told me to watch the moon that night. Its track across the night sky would be a preview of the sun’s track during the winter. The moon would show me how little sunlight we would have.
And indeed, the moon’s track was low on the horizon that night, skimming along just below the tops of the trees upon the ridgeline on the southern side of the property. Shafts of moonlight would occasionally flood the farm as the moon slid into an open space between two trees, but it would soon disappear again. The overall message was clear: those trees, while quite effective in shielding the farm from wind during storms, are also effective in shielding the farm from sunlight in the winter. It’s going to be a dark winter.
This understanding serves to make me appreciate the farm’s current abundance even more. As I wrote a few days ago, the sun provides the farm with an incredible amount of wealth: food, energy, warmth, pleasure. It transforms the land and the life upon it, including us. It helps to provide an almost unimaginable abundance.
Garlic hanging to dry.
We have so much food right now. Nearly every meal seems a ridiculous spread, each day a testament to the current bounty. The farm is now pumping out cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, basil, squash, beans, carrots, beets, and potatoes. Not to mention kale, chard, salad greens, arugula, spinach, head lettuce, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, parsley, blueberries, and I think there may be a few stray strawberries around, too. The chickens are providing their own abundance in the form of multiple eggs a day. Brian, meanwhile, has been catching Chinook salmon, providing us with incredibly delicious fresh fish. Ginger has been trading at the farmers market, using our incredible veggies to bring home cherries, peaches, raspberries, locally-baked breads and pastries, local milk, blue cheese and grass-fed meat. Before long, we’ll have melons, corn, another round of snap peas, duck eggs, wild blackberries, honey from Ginger’s hives, and a few apples from the still-young orchard.
It’s not just the food, either. The farm is blanketed in beautiful flowers and the growth of everything (including the weeds) has exploded. There are birds everywhere, the cats are playful and energetic, the chickens and ducks are ever-busy, and uncountable wild creatures, bugs and critters abound. Thanks to the sun, we usually have abundant electricity and hot water. And, finally, we find ourselves with a never-ending stream of engaging, thoughtful, hardworking Wwoofers.
While farming is a joy year-round–even when the cultivated food has yet to arrive–it’s particularly satisfying this time of the year. When the incredible abundance arrives and you find yourself with an almost embarassing selection of delicious, fresh, healthy foods to choose from every day, the true glory of being a farmer–of this way of life–makes itself clear. This, here, is one of the many rewards of good work. Not only abundant and delicious food, but the forging of community and the fostering of life, health and happiness. While it may prove a dark winter, the memory of such a bright and sustaining summer will no doubt carry us through.
The summer makes kittens playful and keeps them adorable.
Our farm kitten, M, attempts to nurse on Fiona--even though Fiona is her aunt. Not to mention dry. And barely tolerating it, by the look on her face. Completely adorable, though.
Earlier tonight, Brian (who is the co-owner of the land I’m farming on) arrived home triumphant, holding a 10 pound wild Chinook salmon he caught while out on the nearby Nehalem Bay in a row boat. He carried the fish with a certain pride and excitement, exhilarated at his success. He had about ten hours invested in catching the Chinook, providing–from a purely utilitarian perspective–a reasonable exchange of a pound of fish per hour of work. From a physical and spiritual standpoint, on the other hand, he had traded a combination of play and work for unmatched sustenance.
After Ginger and I admired the fish for a few moments, Brian unearthed a new fillet knife and soon we both stood over his catch, laid out on a wooden table outside. Brian carefully slit open the fish’s belly, made a few cuts around the gills and then began to scrape out the guts of what turned out to be a male fish. It was fascinating to watch. I couldn’t help but think that the fish’s interior seemed surprisingly simple and well-organized. It was not a mess in there, which on some odd level is what I expected. The organs were well-arranged, packed tight but functional, each residing well in its place. The fish’s body was purposeful. Brian’s cleaning of it was, as well.
As Brian opened the fish, cutting each side of flesh away from the bones, he accidentally left a few good pieces of meat still attached. These he went back to and sliced off carefully. We shared in these fresh, raw strips of the Chinook, eating them both in celebration and with a certain reverence. I’ve never eaten raw salmon in that way and so it was both a new experience and a treat. The taste was mild, the texture somewhat chewy but not unpleasant. I could feel my body responding to the meat. It not only tasted good, but felt good.
Our farm kitten, M, inspects and tastes the Chinook.
Once done cutting the fish, Brian temporarily hung the remaining carcass on the fence, intending to pack it away later to be used as crab bait. As the cats quickly discovered it and began inspecting, playing with and nibbling on it, we retreated into the main house with our bounty. The wood stove, fired up in search of hot showers on this surprisingly cool August evening, awaited the Chinook and Brian obliged with half of the fish, settling it onto a metal pan and sliding it into the oven unadorned. He had caught the fish at 7:20 that evening. Within an hour, we were eating raw strips of it. By 8:45, we were eating cooked, dripping pieces of it. The flesh was tender, flaky and delicious. The belly meat was like butter. We ate it with our fingers, walking back and forth between the salmon on the counter and the hot wood stove, marveling at the amazing taste, the incredible texture, the gift of this food–this creature.
And it was a gift. It was a gift of nourishment, of the passing of one life to provide for others. It was a gift of the amazing fertility that still exists within the local land, despite all the abuse and degradation it’s received in recent decades. It was a gift of Brian’s work, his play, his desire to teach me, and of this community I live in. But it also was a gift of connection to a tradition and culture rooted here in the Northwest. Tonight, we ate fresh salmon with our fingers, bound by the sharing of that food and the sustenance provided us by the land and sea. We did this much as past communities, tribes, and native cultures have. We shared in a human tradition that extends back thousands of years and derives from this land and the interplay of its inhabitants, both human and nonhuman.
Tonight, we laid claim to and celebrated this tradition. We did it with our hands: piece by piece, taste by taste.