Monday, November 24, 2014

Cornucopia


November is a time of finishing up the last of the harvest, taking stock of what we have grown, storing away the fruits of our labors for the year ahead, appreciating what is abundant in our lives and spending time with family and friends. I have been enjoying seeing a full root cellar with baskets of potatoes, onions, pumpkins, and squash; braids of garlic hanging from the ceiling; jars of canned goods lining the shelves and bottles of homemade cider to enjoy. Gourds and pumpkins fill baskets and display themselves beautifully on counter tops. Firewood fills the woodsheds and the stack on the back porch is always piled high. A cornucopia sits in the middle of our table on a quilted runner my mother made, filled with gourds from our garden and found objects from nature. This ancient symbol heralds back to Greek and Roman mythology, reminding us to observe and appreciate abundance around us in all forms.


Family, and being surrounded by people we love is a form of abundance. It's not always easy to gather a family together from near and far to share a meal, and with us living the farthest away it's not always easy to get there, but when everyone from Great Grandparents to babies in high chairs are all sitting around one table, we have something very important.

Whether you are celebrating traditional Thanksgiving, getting together with friends over the holiday weekend, or observing what's going on in the seasons, it's a fine time to think about abundance and what our cornucopia holds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten


This past week we were happy to welcome two new members of our homestead. Meet Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten. They are a rowdy pair of dilute calico sisters who take their job of house mouse patrol very seriously. A shelter had adopted them out as small kittens to an elderly couple, but when the husband recently passed they went back to the shelter and were in need of a new home. Since Della Mae the house cat disappeared in August, the house had been feeling very empty of cats and full of mice, so this was a perfect arrangement for everyone involved. They already took out a mouse within the first few days of being here and discovered the best spot to curl up in our house, right in front of the woodstove.

Here's to rowdy cat shenanigans and no more mice!


Friday, November 14, 2014

To Heat a Home



If you have ever contemplated what goes in to heating a home, you may have thought about your electric company or natural gas company and wondered about the resources the energy came from. You may have thought about things like wind, water, oil or coal.  For those of us who have a woodstove, however, we know exactly what goes in to heating a home. We can measure it out in cords, months of cold temperatures, trips to the woods with a truck, trips with a wheelbarrow to fill a woodshed, and the rate at which the supply of firewood is depleted during the heating season. We can measure it out with the sweat of our brow.  


This year we passed a self-sufficiency milestone of cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking all our own firewood. To give some perspective on this homesteading accomplishment, many people with woodstoves get their wood delivered, and do the work of stacking it. On my old homestead in Elmira, a neighbor who worked at the mill delivered logs and mill ends. When I lived on my own at Empty Gate Farm, I gathered log rounds from trees the city had cut down, cut them up with a chainsaw and split them with a hydraulic splitter.  I managed to put up enough wood to heat my little farm cottage for a year with a little left over. To this day I am quite proud of this accomplishment as a single mother at the time, and wrote this post about it:  
Last year we were just getting settled in on our new homestead and had to get a few loads of wood delivered by friends and local folks. We underestimated the number of cords it would take to heat our house, and this motivated us to take on the task of putting up an adequate firewood supply for the coming heating season. To accommodate all this wood, Corey built a new woodshed a little closer to the house than our current one. The old woodshed became a place to stockpile less seasoned wood for later in the early spring. This was also done out of necessity due to the thriving wild honeybee hive in the wall of the woodshed right by the door. We decided to give them their space until the colder months when they aren't active. Bees need all the help they can get right now, so we felt good about just letting them bee.


To further aid in our firewood gathering endeavors, Corey rebuilt an old utility trailer that belonged to a friend's Grandfather. Between that and our pickup truck, we were able to go out with a Forest Service permit and haul home good sized loads of rounds we cut up from slash piles. From May until October we made many a weekend trip, and I honestly lost count, but with each one we knew we were one step closer to heating our home.


A friend let us use his Husqvarna Rancher chainsaw for the season, which helped us do everything from felling a couple of problem trees on our property to cutting up Douglas-fir logs left  behind by Forest Service thinning crews. We were fortunate to spot a few maples in the slash piles, and accumulated a good stack of hardwood for those really cold winter days ahead.


With each trip out to the woods, we accumulated another pile of logs down by the chicken coop, which Corey would promptly split by hand and stack into long rows to season through the summer heat. We discovered by splitting the wood in smaller amounts over time, there was no need for a hydraulic splitter. We also discovered when friends come to visit from the city and say they want to help with chores, splitting wood is a rewarding activity for all.


There was something deeply satisfying about seeing those long rows stacked up and growing longer as the summer went on.


In September, Corey started construction on a woodshed design we found on the Internet. We re-purposed some wood and concrete footings from around the place so we wouldn't have to buy as much new, and used roofing shingles left over from the house. We used pallets along the bottom for the wood to sit on, and in the middle as a divider to hold it up. It was a good feeling to know we had been able to re-purpose some materials in making the new structure.


Finally, we got it all stacked up in the new woodshed before the rain set in. Even after that, we cut our last two loads in the rain and stacked it in the lower shed to dry out a little more. The honeybees had settled down a little by that point so we were able to co-exist in the woodshed. The temperatures didn't get cold enough for us to need a first fire until late October, and then not consistently until mid-November, so the benefits of our labor were a bit delayed. When the need for the first fire of the year finally came around, it sure was a good feeling to sit around the cheery glow of the woodstove and know we were responsible for our warm house. When it's all said and done, it was a lot of work, but the rewards are very tangible and we know exactly what goes in to heating a home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mushrooms


Mushrooms
 by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very 
Whitely, discreetly, 
Very quietly 

Our toes, our noses 
Take hold on the loam, 
Acquire the air. 

Nobody sees us, 
Stops us, betrays us; 
The small grains make room. 

Soft fists insist on 
Heaving the needles, 
The leafy bedding, 

Even the paving. 
Our hammers, our rams, 
Earless and eyeless, 

Perfectly voiceless, 
Widen the crannies, 
Shoulder through holes. We 

Diet on water, 
On crumbs of shadow, 
Bland-mannered, asking 

Little or nothing. 
So many of us! 
So many of us! 

We are shelves, we are 
Tables, we are meek, 
We are edible, 

Nudgers and shovers 
In spite of ourselves. 
Our kind multiplies: 

We shall by morning 
Inherit the earth. 
Our foot's in the door.
 
 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall's Finery



Fall is making a colorful display in the McKenzie River Valley these last few weeks, illuminating the drizzly days as they set in. It seems to be a particularly good year for fall color with the leaves hanging on the trees a little longer than I remember last year.


Someone must have been thinking ahead when they planted our yard, because there are different contrasting fall colors catching the eye from every direction.


The blueberry bushes that gave us over 30 quarts of fruit this year are now giving us a fiery show of bright red foliage as their last hurrah for the growing season.


The grape vines yellowing leaves are quite stunning against the hillside dotted with colorful maples.


It's always nice to bring a little fall color indoors in the form of colorful, cheery gourds. I always say that although they offer no nutritional purpose, gourds make me happy, and that is just as important. Winter squash may feed the body, but gourds feed the soul.


As the trees go out in a blaze of glory, and we watch the last leaves drop, we know that winter is just around the corner and it's time for things to slow down and regenerate.With more pressing things out of the way, like tending the garden and gathering firewood, we can focus on bigger-picture projects like building a greenhouse, getting the upper hand over the blackberries, and fixing up the trail to the upper part of our property. With less of a sense of urgency, and few deadlines on these types of projects, the work takes on a more relaxing pace. It's a time of re-grouping, planning ahead and letting dreams take shape.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jack-o-lantern


One of my favorite things about Halloween is coming home to a porch illuminated by glowing jack-o-lanterns on dark, rainy nights. I can think of few things that are so cheerful and spooky at the same time. Perhaps this ambiance has something to do with their history. Jack-o-lanterns have been around for quite some time, and are named after a phenomenon of strange lights flickering over peat bogs, also referred to as will-o'-the-wisp.


 The custom originated in Ireland where turnips and beets were carved into lanterns on Halloween to protect homes from the undead and ward off vampires.


The folklore of the jack-o-lantern has many variations across Europe, one of the most notable being the old Irish folktale of Stingy Jack, a blacksmith who outsmarts the Devil from stealing his soul, but is barred from both Heaven and Hell. With nowhere to go, he creates a turnip lantern with an ember from the flames of Hades tossed to him by the Devil and wanders the earth forever looking for a resting place.


May your jack-o-lanterns burn bright tonight and light your way home!