Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The "Home" in "Homesteading"

We enjoyed a warm spell this past week, and the 60 degree days have been delightful for working outside. It's tricky, because although it's only January, it was easy to feel like spring had arrived. Things are starting to bloom around the yard much earlier than last year, and I spotted a few honeybees buzzing around the witch hazel flowers. I have to keep reminding myself of the Spring Equinox snow a couple years ago and that winter is not over yet.

What are you to do when presented with such a fine weekend? For us there was no question; demolition and fruit tree pruning. We really know how to have a good time around here. Don't get too jealous.  In the background, you may notice our balcony is missing from this picture. We knew it was going to have to come down at some point when we bought the house, but a leak and some termite sightings were a powerful motivating force on this fine weekend. Corey and our contractor friend, Dan, spent Saturday on demolition, and it looks like it came down in the nick of time, because damage to the house went no farther in than the siding. Homeowner disaster averted. Now we are planning out our new back porch where I have big plans to sit and play the banjo in my rocking chair. Mostly this is my plan for my old age, but hopefully sooner than that if I can find some time!

After all the heavy pruning we did last year, the fruit trees were not nearly as involved of a project. In retrospect, I realized we were a little conservative on how much we cut them back, and still ended up with almost more fruit than we could process, so we really went for it this year. The fruit trees will thank us later.

Our three apples, two Asian pears, Italian plum and Espalier trees are all looking much tidier now and pruned back to a level where we can reach the fruit with our ladder for picking. The two cherries and one pear we planted last year seem to be putting on decent new growth, and now we just need to plan out what to plant this year. I am thinking of more cherries and heirloom cider apples.

It's a good feeling to have pruning done.

The very best part of these sunny days is taking a moment to sit back and appreciate all our hard work and progress around the homestead. I look around at all we have accomplished and couldn't be any more pleased. The balcony is torn off of our house and the fruit trees are cut back to their bare bones, but all I see when I look at them is beautiful possibility. I think it is important to note that the first part of the word "homesteading" is "home." In a society where less and less people put down roots anymore, where housing developments and business chains create a homogeneous landscape allowing a person to move from one dwelling to the next with little difference between them, I am grateful for this unique place that is constantly shaped and shaping me through hours of hard work. I am getting to know this parcel of land intimately and in doing so it becomes more and more my home.  I can say with certainty that there is nowhere I'd rather be on a sunny day than right here, working side by side with my partner, and I am exactly where I'm supposed to be. Home.
I sit content.

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content." 

~Walt Whitman

Monday, January 26, 2015

To a Snowdrop

To a Snowdrop

Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

~William Wordsworth

Friday, January 23, 2015

Free Range and Fancy Free

There is something very relaxing about watching chickens go about their wanderings. I have heard their scratching and foraging compared to Zen meditation, and although I'm not successful at sitting still long enough to meditate, those chickens look like they have it figured out. I recently got a copy of The Way of the Hen: Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens by Clea Danaan, and I will let you know what I learn. Our flock has been taking advantage of the mild weather and expanding their daily wanderings up and down the driveway to find bugs and seeds to round out their diet. For a while there we were not getting any eggs, and had started to consider fencing the chickens inside a run to stop the sneaky hidden nest shenanigans. Now we are finally starting to see some eggs in the nesting box again, so I am in full support of their foraging as long as we keep getting eggs. 

Perhaps you are wondering who this new fancy, feathered fellow is? 

He is the offspring of my old Silver Crested Polish rooster on the farm in Elmira, Tom Bombadil, and an Aracauna hen. Tom Bombadil died not long after the kids discovered a hidden nest of fluffy headed chicks in the garden at their Dad's house, so it is nice having this young rooster to carry on his legacy. We got him along with a couple other hens from the old farm in the fall and they made a nice addition to our homestead flock.

The new rooster and Little Red Rooster are getting along nicely, and the hens seem to feel more confident wandering down the driveway to the grassy hillside under the grape vines in the company of a bigger rooster. They used to hang out there a lot with Paul Bunyan when he was alive, so it is good to see them frequenting that spot again.

They have been frequenting it a lot, in fact.

In addition to eggs and bug patrol, I think one of the biggest benefits of free range chickens is the daily dose of calm you get from watching them forage. They have their own peaceful agenda going on in spite of our busy lives going on around them, and they carry it out methodically and in no hurry. It is very possible that chickens are Zen masters.
 If we pay attention, they may have a lesson to teach us.

Monday, January 12, 2015


"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

~Mother Theresa

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Oregon Dune Sledding!

When you live in a place where winter is not white, you either travel to find the snow, or learn to think outside the box and take up more creative forms of winter recreation . Last year we discovered dune sledding at the coast, and it was a big hit. We can usually count on a few snow days every year when we can sled at home, and we can always travel up to the pass for a snowshoeing excursion, but there is something even more fun in the novelty of dune sledding. During our winter break, while some folks bundled up in coats, hats and mittens to hit the slopes, we peeled off coats and shoes to hit much sandier slopes in our bare feet.

We hiked up one of our favorite dunes near Florence that is set back from the ocean by a stand of pines, and closed off to motor vehicles, making it a very peaceful spot. We also wanted to avoid sledding in the dunes directly adjacent to the beach, to avoid disturbing snowy plover nesting habitat. There are signs up at most beaches, so I consider it a general rule of thumb. The advantage of these dunes being uphill from the shore, is that the wind does quite a job of sculpting them, creating some impressive ridges and valleys that are perfect for sledding.

The steepest of these slopes make for some mighty fine sled runs.

Depending on how damp the sand is, you can actually accumulate a decent amount of speed on the way down.

It really is a lot of fun, and the bonus is you can stay out as long as you want and not get cold. It was 58 degrees when we were out there last week!

Now we can honestly tell people we went sledding over winter break.

We're resourceful out here in Oregon. We know where to find the fun.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year, a New Adventure

Ringing in the New Year with an outdoor adventure is a good way to start things off, so we ventured out to the coast to spend the first days of 2015 yurt camping, dune sledding and playing on the beach with friends.

We began our New Year's adventure sharing a 30-foot deluxe yurt at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park with some old friends. We have been camping together with our kids for many years now, and it has been fun watching them all grow and change. Even though it was a bit chilly outside, the skies were sunny and clear, allowing us to enjoy our view of lovely Lake Marie from the front porch of the yurt over a morning campfire.

Baker Beach, just north of the town of Florence has been a long time favorite spot with dunes, creeks and tidal marshes to enjoy. 

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to get out in the sand and soak up the sunshine.

From the looks of it, we were not the only ones who had been out enjoying the dunes that day.

The kids all occupied themselves with their own pursuits. My daughter was content to go find a quiet spot to sit and watch the waves, while her friend was content walking along the creek collecting shells.

My son was all over the place running, climbing and jumping around the natural playground of sand and water.

He and his young friend had a fine time engineering some dams in the stream.

Other folks apparently had a similar idea of a good way to celebrate, as we saw a lot of silhouettes pass by against the backdrop of the waves.

The second night of our trip, we traveled farther north to Carl G. Washburne State Park and visited another favorite beach at the mouth of Big Creek. The windswept hills above the shoreline are very dynamic and sometimes inspire spontaneous outbursts of interpretive dance.

Time spent at the ocean has a quality of renewal about it, and after this adventure we were feeling thoroughly recharged and ready to jump into the new year. While we can never really know what the year ahead of us holds, I would like to think 2015 is brimming with possibilities and countless adventures. Some good hikes and a finished greenhouse would be nice too.

Here's to a new year of possibilities, grand adventures and quality time in the outdoors!