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.
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.
Today was supposed to be a particularly stormy day for us here on the Oregon coast. Up to two inches of rain was forecast, along with high winds. I found myself looking forward to this. While we’ve certainly had a fair number of rainy days since fall set in, we haven’t had a two-inches-of-rain sort of day. I imagined hunkering down in my yurt, the wood stove fired and keeping out the chill, listening to the pounding rain as I immersed myself in a good book.
While the storm didn’t end up being quite the rager as originally predicted, I did find myself hunkered down in my yurt for the first part of the day, along with the aforementioned good book, the hot stove, and the sound of rain all around me. We didn’t get the advertised two inches and the winds didn’t kick in until later in the afternoon–and weren’t as bad as predicted, either–but the rain was heavy enough to turn at times cacophonous and create a mesmerizing aural and visual backdrop.
Within that visual backdrop, not far from my yurt, were the farm’s eight ducks. (It used to be 14, but one or more raccoons recently gained a couple meals from the flock, sadly.) As I noted on Twitter a few weeks back, our ducks and chickens have different, distinct reactions to stormy weather. While the chickens tend to huddle under a tree or simply give up and go to bed early when it’s particularly rainy, the ducks grow ever more active and ecstatic as the rain increases. A torrential downpour and furious wind seems only to encourage them–to set their stubby tails wagging with greater energy and frequency, thier beaks digging beneath grass and weeds with ever more purpose and conviction. When I let them out of their house this morning, they ran out into the wet, cold and wind with a joy and abandon I couldn’t help but find contagious. They bobbed their heads, wagged their tails, searched for bugs and quacked heartily at each other.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but to wonder what it might be like to be a duck in a rainstorm. Their joy spoke to something natural–to a sensation that surely must fulfill whatever innate sense they hold as to what it is to be a duck. And I couldn’t help but wonder if being a duck in a rainstorm is not unlike a heightened sense of me being myself in a warm yurt in the same rainstorm. As I curled up later that morning with a good book, a fire crackling in the wood stove and heat radiating from it, listening to the rain hit my yurt but staying dry within, I felt a deep comfort from knowing what could be and having, instead, the opposite–existing within the best definition of coziness: a small warm space protected from the cold and wet beyond. What if being a duck in a rainstorm is simply a greater version of that sensation? Imagine the wind whipping around you, the rain drenching you, but your body being impervious to it. The rain runs harmlessly off your feathers and the wind slips around you, no better able to penetrate those feathers than the rain. You are warm and you are in your natural element–wet, perhaps a bit muddy, but comfortable. Not only is the wind and rain unable to touch you, but it invigorates you. Its power and primacy is potent, yet it brings you only comfort and joy. The raindrops feel good as they slide off you, providing a pleasurable sensation engrained deep into your genetics, triggering that sense deep within that comes whenever you bob upside down in a body of water, searching for food–perhaps even mystery–flowing that water over you, eating and drinking and feeling, engaging. To be a duck in a rainstorm–is it like a long, hot shower or a soak in a hot tub on a cold night? How does that feel?
I wish I knew. I know I like to be in a small, warm space when it’s raining outside, able to hear the hit of those drops but not having to feel the discomfort of being cold and wet. I know I like being in effective rain gear in a storm, able to feel the vibrations of the raindrops hitting my gear and feel the wind against my face, pressing against my body, but not suffering the cold and wet discomfort of being exposed. But what would it be to be naked and invulnerable? To be able to feel it so much more directly, yet still maintain your comfort?
Surely it would be exhilarating.
When I watch our ducks in the rain, I feel that–small and incomplete, but joyous just the same. I stand in the rain long enough for a smile, for a few moments of shared pleasure, and then I retreat back to my warm home–to my good book and the muted echo of rain and all that infrastructure of dry comfort.
To Begin With
I’m currently living with an evergreen blackberry.
The blackberry in the middle of July.
It’s growing up out of the earth through a very tiny crack between the bottom of the wall and the floor of my yurt. It’s dark green, with jagged leaves, a stalk that thickens by the day and thorns that grow ever more sharp and substantial. It’s growing by the corner of my bed and every day it overhangs that edge–the corner of the head of my bed–a little more.
Luckily, I don’t tend to sleep on that side of the bed. This is good, because I’ve been stabbed in the skull with a blackberry thorn before–while harvesting those ever-alluring berries–and I can’t say it’s an experience I’m particularly eager to relive. Certainly not in the middle of the night.
But To First Backtrack
I’m living in the aforementioned yurt because I’m interning on a small, off-the-grid, organic farm called R-evolution Gardens, located on the Oregon coast. I’ve been here nearly five months and will be here longer yet–at least through Thanksgiving and likely beyond. The yurt’s part of the deal: room and board in exchange for my work on the farm. It comes with a Jøtul wood stove, fantastic (and laden) bookshelves made in part with small alders off the land, a colorful desk, a (futon) bed and, finally, that neighborly evergreen blackberry vine. The vine, of course, wasn’t here in March when I first moved in. It’s a relatively new addition, having been around since the beginning of July.
Now, I’m familiar with blackberry bushes. Back in 2006 and 2007, I did two eleven-month AmeriCorps terms of service, working on a field team doing environmental restoration work. Often times that involved removing invasives, and it was not uncommon for said invasives to be Himalayan and evergreen blackberry. They are beasts, terribly vigorous and not a plant to take your eyes off of for a moment. They spread fast and with little mercy for whatever’s in their path. Trees, shrubs, various native plants, perhaps a particularly still human being–they will happily swallow all, never slowing down to consider whether or not it’s fair for them to be devouring so much land.
A bit like modern humans, no?
In the process of this growth, they’ll create massive tangles of thorny vines that are quite capable of tearing flesh and anything else they come into contact with. They also will create garish, gnarly root balls which can keep them growing and expanding for long periods of time. These root balls turn blackberries into zombies. Kill them all you want, but they’re going to come back. You can chop back those vines time and again, sever them right at the surface, and they’ll still come back. Do it over and over and over again for years, with the right timing, and you may be able to kill them off eventually, but what you really need to do is dig up that root ball. Because if you don’t, the next thing you know, that blackberry’s going to be growing right up into your home.
Enough About Blackberries–For the Moment
This is my third farm internship. Last year, I lived in Portland, Oregon (oh, home!) and farmed at Sauvie Island Organics. The year before that, 2009, I lived my first farming experience at Rosehip Farm and Garden, up on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound (a bit northwest of Seattle, essentially.) Rosehip was a brilliant introduction to farming, showing me the glorious sort of life that can grow from organically farming a small piece of land while living on that land, engaging in a simpler life and feeling far more connected. I lived in a tiny airstream trailer and the first time I strolled out of my trailer and across the field to our onion beds, snagged an onion from the ground, peeled the dirty layers off as I walked back to my trailer, and then chopped and added it, fresh as could be, to my dinner . . . well, let’s say I was a bit hooked on the farming life. It quickly felt as though I would never be able to go back.
Unsurprisingly, I never have.
In actuality, I’ve simply moved farther down the rabbit hole. Along with a love of growing and eating good food, I’ve discovered over the last some-odd years that I love to homestead. I often make the joke that what I really want is simply to be some lovely woman’s housewife, but it’s not really much of a joke. If I could stay home all day and cook and preserve food, make cheese, brew beer, bake a wide variety of breads (from hand-ground flour!), ferment anything I can get my hands on, churn my own butter and make my own sour cream and creme fraiche and buttermilk, brew up kombucha and ginger ale, roast my own coffee, cure my own bacon, and so on and so forth, I would be an extremely happy man. However, I haven’t yet found that lovely woman who will support me financially while I indulge such endeavors, so for the moment I’m left fitting these projects into my free time.
Of course, that means that my farming and homesteading have grown organically (so sorry) over the years, evolving slowly and concurrently with my similarly-evolving philosophy about life, the natural world, and the way we humans live in it. In between farming and homesteading and various other activities, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading the works of a wide variety of authors, many of them environmentally conscious. Wendell Berry, Derrick Jensen, David Ehrenfield, Paul Hawken, Annie Dillard, Richard Louv, Gary Paul Nabhan, Thomas Berry, Bill McKibben, Joanna Macy and others have burrowed into my brain with their words, helping to lead me to a radical reevaluation of what it means to live in this world. These readings, coupled with a few years of reconnection to the land via farming and a significant distancing from the dominant culture and economic system, have brought me to a new way of understanding the world and have left me unable to reengage with business as usual. Further, they’ve altered my ways of thinking and have left me making and noting connections that I could not see before.
And So a Blog
I am a writer. Sometimes I qualify that statement with an “occasionally” or a joke about being a writer who does not write. But I do write, even if not always, and I intend to write quite a bit on this blog. This website is being started mainly to provide myself a venue for the exploration of these new connections I’ve been making, the new thoughts I am thinking, and for the cataloging of the experiences that give birth to these connections. This will include longer, more formal essays as well as short vignettes and the relating of observations, stories and activities. There will be the cataloging of farming life, homesteading activities, stories of hikes in the woods, encounters with other creatures, and small meditations on what it is to be human, to be in this world, and how one might work, live, play and love well. The thoughts and considerations will come from experience, from my life and the lives of others, both human and nonhuman, from my readings, from my successes and failures and from the challenging words and thoughts of others–including, hopefully, this blog’s readers.
I want to share how I came upon this path and where it leads me. I hope to do this not just for my own better understanding, but also to inspire and challenge others. Because, to be blunt for a moment, our society is extremely screwed up and its going to take a whole lot of us realizing that deep level of corruption and bankruptcy to disengage from the dominant culture and forge a new one. Luckily for those of us who want to do this, this is an extremely rewarding and joyful undertaking. It’s amazing how much more satisfying life can be when you start to find your true place in this world and begin to understand how to live well in it.
So I return to the evergreen blackberry that has found itself cohabiting with me. It has grown quite tall now and, yet, has begun to blend into the background. This is not so much because it is less visible, but because I have normalized it. Upon first discovering the blackberry, it nearly shocked me. However, there are blackberries all over our farm, which we constantly work to keep in check. They are remnants of its former use as a staging area for logging of the local land. They are the signifiers of previous abuse, a colonizing species brought forth by abuse of the land. To find one on the farm is not surprising at all. My yurt, however, is a particular place–a circle of human space, walled off from the outside world and supposedly controllable. It is, it seems to me, not a proper place for an evergreen blackberry.
But that is only because I did not introduce the blackberry and because it made its way into my yurt of its own volition. If I had chosen to bring the blackberry into my living space within a pot, I would not look at it strangely. I would in fact care for it, water it, feed and dote upon it, making sure that it received enough light and worrying if it began to look sickly. In other words, if I controlled it, I would find it acceptable. It’s the fact that I don’t control it that makes it odd. It is another creature–the other–and, thus, does not belong in my home.
At least, that was my initial reaction. I quickly questioned that reaction, though, and wondered if I should not leave it to its own devices. I could always change my mind and cut the vine off at the base, reestablishing the previous order and slowly forgetting about that brief appearance of an uncontrolled guest in my home. Why not? I thought. And so I did.
To Return To The Present
The blackberry now, near the beginning of August.
It is taller than that first picture shows, now approaching the roof. At a certain point, it began to hang too far over the bed due to its increasing weight, so I tucked the blackberry up against the wall, latching it enough to the crisscrossing wooden framework of the inside of the yurt so that it would stay there, rather than dropping upon my face in the middle of the night. There is a second vine, almost as tall as the first. At some point, I suspect I’ll have to cut them both down, yet I can’t find much motivation to do that while they still present me no significant problems.
See, this is one of those moments in which–silly as it may seem, to be uncertain as to whether or not to allow this blackberry to continue to grow in my yurt–I feel compelled to play with expectations, both my own and society’s. It would be logical to cut down these blackberry vines. At the same time, though, they present a fantastic learning opportunity. I observe this blackberry much closer now that it’s in my home than I would if it were outside. I notice its growth and change, the color of its leaves, the breadth of its thorns. I examine, curiously, how well it will grow in diffused, nondirect sunlight. The answer, so far, has been, “Quite well.” I suppose this is an unsurprising observation, considering how well blackberries seem able to spread within the shade. Still, it’s an observation born of direct experience and, as such, might better linger.
A Tying of Loose Ends
Upon first seeing the blackberry growing in my yurt, I wanted to remove it. On further consideration, I decided to live with it. The desire to remove it seemed rash. It appears to not be harming the yurt in any appreciable way and there is no one but me to suffer the mild consequences of living with the plant. Therefore, why not hold off on decisions and allow myself time to consider and learn, to observe, and to perhaps come to some new conclusions? Much can be gained by living with someone other than yourself and little would have been gained by immediately removing the blackberry. I would have already forgotten it and any consideration of the intertwining of our lives would have likely ceased upon the blackberry’s removal.
My reaction to the blackberry and my creation of this blog, then, come from similar intent. I want to study, consider and observe in an effort to better understand how to live, work, play and love well in this world. My interaction with the blackberry is one small manifestation of that effort; this blog will serve as a partial written record of that effort. With luck, it will also grow into a community of people engaging in similar efforts, gaining knowledge and inspirations from my posts while simultaneously providing me with their own knowledge and inspiration. That would be a blessing, for we have much good work to do and too few people who know how to do it. The more we teach each other, the better care we will take in our work and the healthier the world will be.
Let’s get started.