Saturday, December 31, 2011

Muckle Thanks!

Somewhere on the other side of this continent, my Slighe nan Gaidheal friends are first-footing their way through the streets, romping and merrymaking, singing and hailing the incoming year with warming libations and lumps of coal in hand.

We're having a quieter night, but our hearts still sing with the joys of fellowship and the many gifts that threshold-crossers bring. This night, we look forward to the unfolding of another year-full of possibilities, a year of wee craiture-bairns and towering trees, berry-blessed bushes and mushrooms that will silently unfurl from the damp, dark forest earth.

The year ahead would be nothing without the year behind. Our greatest gifts of 2011 came in the form of WWOOFers, blown in from the four winds with unexpected capability and vigor. We weren't sure to expect, and that was part of the magic: each traveller arrived with his or her own distinct interests and skills, as well the specific insights and stories of their richly varied life experience. A farm temporarily hampered by three-kneeness was transformed, by these travellers, into more than we thought possible. We watched more soil get tilled, more seeds get sown, more buildings rise, more trees turn into logs and chips, hoop houses and hugelkultur beds take shape, and mushrooms get foraged, cleaned, and laid out to dry in the sun.

Other important tasks were accomplished as well: meals and laughter shared, board games played, instruments strummed, poems written, pictures taken, tales told and songs sung. Oh, and let's not forget the most important work of all: Zoe the Border Collie got to play ball with every single one of them, over and over and over and over again.

We have loved the adventure of opening up to wider possibilities, the adventure of sharing this place, of sharing the skills and resources we've acquired and the lessons we've learned with people who share our passion for good stewardship of the land. We have loved working side-by-side with our WWOOFers, and we have also experienced the joy of coming home from other obligations to find animals and pastures, gardens and woodlands well-tended and our temporary farm companions glowing with the quiet pride of honest labour well-done.

Thank you, 2011 WWOOFers. You have been the greatest--and most unexpected--gift of this initially challenging year. We are profoundly grateful... and we look forward to a whole new year of more adventures, more accomplishments, more shared creativity!

Blessed Solstice, Merry Christmas, & Happy Hogmanay
from the CowGaels to All of You!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In The Dark: A Celtic New Year Sermon

(I was invited to be a "guest preacher" last Sunday at my home church. It always seems a bit funny to serve the role of a guest when I'm already part of the family there! Since this month marks the start of the "dark half" of the Celtic year, and since one of this Sunday's lectionary readings talks a lot about light and darkness, it seemed natural to dwell on the interplay of shortening days and lengthening nights.)

Sermon for Proper 28A: In The Dark
(based on I Thessalonians 5:1-11, NRSV)

Every morning, as the light reaches in between the dark spines of the trees on the ridge, we watch and wait. First the rays of pale gold stretch across the dark hollow of our farm to touch the trees on Gloucester Ridge. Then, slowly, the angle of the light changes and dips down to gild the empty branches of the ash tree, the oaks, and the maples on our own land. Finally, the light spreads to the cold earth itself, and the hard edges of the frost begin to melt off the pasture grasses. One of us ambles down to survey the situation, then returns to the wood-fired warmth of the house. Every morning, lately, the other one asks the same question: “how many legs?”

We've been waiting for calves to be born. We know what day the bull arrived, but—I hope you don't think I'm being indelicate here—there are certain other details we seem to have missed. It's just as Brother Arnold warned us last year, when we went over to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community to discuss their own herd of Highland Cattle and get some ideas. We'd told him our tale of woe, about the challenge of finding and affording a vet who could work around those wild-looking, big-horned beasties of ours, to say nothing of the challenge of timing. Brother Arnold nodded his head knowingly. “You won't see many signs of readiness,” he said, “Highland cows are...well, they're very subtle.”

Subtle, indeed. So, here we are, ten months after the bull moved into the pasture. It takes nine months for a calf to be ready, just like a human baby. Ten months have past and our two round-as-a-barrel cows show no sign of imminant calving. So, we wonder. We worry. We ask ourselves what went wrong, and what could still go wrong now. Sometimes, we dream: a new calf could offer so much to our farm: the expansion of our herd, the proof of their capacity for new life, and the promise of another fine full-grown animal to transform into needed income or good, homegrown meat.

So, each morning, we cast hopeful eyes out towards the pasture, and we count legs, looking for a sweet gangly little body tucked alongside one of the cows. “How many legs? Still twelve?” “Still twelve.” There's nothing we can do to hurry it along, and—although there are signs we can watch for—there's no way we can predict the exact moment of the herd's increase. We're kept in the dark about it. It's subtle. We have to keep wondering. We have to hurry up and wait.

This morning's scripture comes from another bunch of people-in-waiting. Paul is writing to the fledgling church in Thessalonica. That little church was caught up in in the fashion and fervor of the day, waiting for the Rapture, the Day of the Lord. There were signs all around them: earthquakes, floods, plagues, riots in the streets, cities being destroyed, governments shifting and falling, and different religions battling it out, each claiming to have exclusive access to the “Truth.” Sound familiar? And if you weren't sure what to believe, there were street preachers to tell you where you'd go and street vendors to sell you just the right handbasket!

It's hard not to be afraid when everyone around you is talking like that. It's hard not to let all the fear-mongerers and doomers get to you. When the loudest voices cry out, “pain and suffering! Death and destruction!” no matter how much you try to laugh it off, it gets a little harder to sleep at night, a little harder to keep peace in your heart.

Remember how the Rapture was predicted by a radio preacher, who declared Judgement Day for May 21st, 2011? Did you hear about this? Did you find yourself checking your calendar? After the day came and went, he recalculated for October. When November came, did you breathe a sigh of relief, or did you get a little nervous, because now we're almost to December, rapidly honing in on the next big date for the End of the World...?

A good teacher once said, “What you contemplate, you imitate.” Whatever stories you tell yourself, whatever dramas or sitcoms you watch on television, whatever magazines you read, whatever ads flash in front of your eyes—all these things echo around inside you, the images shimmer and reflect, until it all becomes part of the way you understand the world. We can't help it—what we contemplate, we imitate. We tend to copy what we see and repeat what we hear. Now, that's one thing when you're a new Christian sorting through the competing tales of Roman politicians and travelling preachers. But there's a whole extra layer of difficulty in an age of mass-media and instant communication.

What if the stories we hear and and the images we see are mostly lies, carefully crafted by marketing experts? What if every commercial is a lie, a message that, by yourself, you're a weak, ugly nobody, but if you buy whatever they're selling, you could be SOMEbody, even somebody strong and beautiful? Bit by bit, the carefully-crafted lies eat away at us. The marketers sling mud until it covers our souls. We lose perspective. We give up our power. We learn to live in doubt and anxiety and fear. What you contemplate, you imitate. Little by little, we forget how to shine. We become children of the darkness.

Writer Jeffrey Pugh imagines a demon, writing a management guide from his basement office in hell. The devil explains his latest strategy:
“As part of my toolbox I’ve always used distraction to deter them from truly considering the world as our opponent wants it. I like it better when they become fascinated with the things that do not feed their souls. In the old days, of course, we had bread and circuses, but in the age of technology we have even more wonders at our disposal...We don’t want them to cultivate ways of living that bring them together. We want them torn apart, polarized, and at each others throats. Any question about how they should live needs to be buried under the scandal of the day... I want an entire planet entertaining themselves to death. No, seriously, I mean it. If they start to think seriously about the world they build and see the possibility that the world could be different, well, it’s time to Release the Kardashians!!”

Now, get that clever devil out of the spotlight and listen to the Good News:
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake...

Children of the light: that is how God made us. There was a beautiful mystic tradition among the Jews and early Christians that God was the first, best and brightest light in the whole universe, and everything God made had God's light trapped inside: flowers, weeds, bushes and trees, rocks, rivers, snakes, salamanders, codfish, sharks, woodchucks, camels, even bugs—all just bursting with God-given light, full of sparks of divine fire.

That's true of people, too—not just the wealthy and powerful, but everybody: the bank president with the elegant shoes and the woman in scuffed sneakers at the laundromat. The construction foreman with the gleaming new truck and the greasy-haired guy who works nights at Gas-n-Go. We are—all of us—children of the light, all created with the potential to shine, to brighten the world with hope and healing, possibility and promise. Most of us maybe don't know it. Some of us start out knowing it, but we forget. We let our minds fall on other things. We dwell on failure and fear. We stop shining. We stop noticing all the other divine sparks around us. Our vision gets hazy. We get drunk. We fall asleep.

...we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

Do you hear that? Wake up! Listen up! WE—We, right here, all of us—are full of divine sparks, stuffed almost to bursting with God's beautiful, radiant, powerful light. Fear and anxiety are not our masters—God is! As soldiers discipline themselves for battle, so should we discipline ourselves for the challenge of making peace. Give the muscles of faith a workout. Build up the stamina of your hope. Get ready to love longer and harder and more deeply than you ever have before. Repent—change your ways—because the Beginning is Near!

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ... so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

As Paul says, “Build each other up.” In a culture geared to pettiness and appearances, it can be hard to make this change. I suggest an exercise, what they used to call a spiritual discipline: Turn away from the false and intoxicating lights of all the little glowing screens around us. Remember: what you contemplate, you imitate.

In this season of darkness, seek illumination from a different source. Light a candle. Sit with that small flame and pray. Reflect on the light. Make space for God's light to stir and shine within you. Wipe away the mud and clear away the debris until you find the deep smoldering goodness of your own soul. Breathe with it. Feed it. Let the wind of the Holy Spirit stir it, like a sudden gust across the coals of a campfire, until sparks catch fire and dance up into flame. Wake up each morning ready to search the landscape for signs of new life, ready to celebrate the wonders that may be born on this day of New Beginnings. We are Children of the Light. We are brothers and sisters of the Light of the World. Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!!!

(All images copyright Mainecelt 2011 except for Calvin, borrowed from here, and handbasket, borrowed from here.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Toast a Stove, Bake a Flower?

This morning I woke up hungry for muffins--steamy, moist, full-of-yummy-bits muffins, fresh out of the oven. There's only one problem: We don't have an oven.

Remember Hurricane Irene? Well, during our four-day power loss, (which involved two freezers full of chicken and lots of escaped pigs), our Helpful Neighbors offered the use of their Really Big Generator for a few hours each day to keep our freezers from thawing. It was a very generous offer and we were pretty worried about losing so much meat. We were also pretty exhausted from chasing six pigs around, since they'd discovered their fence was entirely uncharged. So, when the neighbors offered, we didn't think everything through. We just said yes.

Helpful Neighbor--a contractor by trade--ran some nifty wires into our electrical panel and told us to unplug everything we didn't need before he switched the power on. We don't have a lot of electrical appliances that draw much power, so I figured I wouldn't have to unplug much. I unplugged the toaster oven and the coffee maker and a couple of nearby lamps. Then I paused a moment to ponder what else I should unplug. Helpful neighbor mistook this for a pose of completion and flipped the generator on...followed a second later by the sickening *pop* of two lightbulbs exploding, then another louder *POP* and a puff of smoke rising from the Piper's desktop computer. Our little farmhouse had apparently just been hit by a power surge that fried every solenoid and microchip on the premises. That included all our clocks and radios, our CD and record player, our rechargeable drill, and--oh dear--the digital panel that controls the oven portion of our gas cookstove. The range still works just fine, but the only way to turn the oven on is with that little panel, which--according to our extensive post-*POP* research, is no longer made and cannot be replaced.

Sooooo, we've been without a regular oven since the first week of September. We could surely find a used cookstove for under $100, but the cost to unhook the old one and hook up the new one would be an unavoidable $200 extra, and that's not in the budget. But, hey--we're creative, resourceful farm women, aye? We can manage, 'cause we still have this toaster oven...

We can cook almost anything without the big oven, except for muffins or popovers (the tins don't fit) and large roasts. So, what's a woman to do when she wakes up dreaming of muffins? Ah: make healthy oatmeal cookies instead, 'cause cookies will fit on that tiny baking sheet in that wee toaster oven just fine.

I started with a basic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. Then I started playing, in that lovely way an early morning baker can play before the Inner Critic wakes up and kicks in. I imagined a cookie full of floral notes, something elegant and uplifting but not overly rich or cloying. I pulled out a bottle of this and a jar of that, got out a wooden spoon and the big blue-and-white mixing bowl, and commenced to play with my food.

Here's the result:


1 and 1/2 cup sucanat (unrefined cane sugar granules)
2 very fresh eggs (gathered from the henhouse the day before)
2 sticks salted butter (you can use unsalted ones if you like)
1 cup or so rolled oats (not too thick--"quick oats" work well)
1 cup or so ground or slivered almonds (I toasted mine first)
1 and 1/2 tsp orange flower water
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached wheat flour (or gluten-free alternative)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt (adjust to your preference)
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 cup each semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips

Set butter near stove while you cook scrambled eggs for "breakfast, part one" so the heat from the skillet softens it up a bit. Measure the sucanat into a nice big ceramic mixing bowl, add the butter, and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Remind yourself that this method burns calories, uses no electricity and produces almost no noise, so you can make cookies early in the morning without anyone else waking up and catching on.

Preheat oven (hopefully bigger than ours) to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Add the eggs, one at a time, working the first egg in thoroughly before adding the second one. Blend thoroughly with wooden spoon. Good job: you're burning more calories. Think about your grandmothers. Next, add the orange flower water. Dab a little on your wrists for good measure. My, don't you smell nice!

Fold in the almonds and rolled oats. Consider whether to stop at this point and just call it breakfast. Decide cookies will be worth the extra effort. In a fine-meshed sieve over the mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Shake mixture onto wet ingredients, then fold gently but thoroughly together until fairly well-blended.

Line metal baking sheet with parchment paper and drop spoonfuls of dough so that there's about an inch between the dollops. Bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on the vagaries of your oven and your preferred level of done-ness. Remove from oven and admire with all available senses. Remind yourself that three cookies is probably enough for breakfast. Wake the rest of the household up and share or, if you live alone, hand-deliver a few flower cookies to someone who could use a bouquet.

NOTE: These cookies probably don't need much tweaking to be made gluten-free. Just replace the wheat flour with your preferred mix of GF flours,(coconut flour might be especially apt), and--if needed--binding agents, and be sure to use gluten-free rolled oats.

P.S. Don't ask me how those amazing sticky buns jumped on to the plate behind the finished cookies. That's a whole 'nother story from a whole 'nother baker. If you want to know more, go ask our WWOOF volunteer, Andrew.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Saint Pumpkin

It is now, according to the liturgical calendar of many Christian traditions, the Festival of All Saints. (Rumour has it that church officials moved it from mid-May to November 1st because Samhain and other pre-Christian seasonal observances were so compelling that the church adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach.)

This day always puts me in mind of one of my favourite poets: Nancy Willard. Here is a poem of hers that--creepy and elegant by turns--draws together our seasonal folkways and the observance of Hallowmas/All Saints' Day:


Somebody's in there.
Somebody's sealed himself up
in this round room,
this hassock upholstered in rind,
this padded cell.
He believes if nothing unbinds him
he'll live forever.

Like our first room
it is dark and crowded.
Hunger knowns no tongue
to tell it.
Water is glad there.
In this room with two navels
somebody wants to be born again.

So I unlock the pumpkin.
I carve out the lid
from which the stem raises
a dry handle on a damp world.
Lifting, I pull away
wet webs, vines on which hand
the flat tears of the pumpkin,

like fingernails or the currency
of bats. How the seeds shine,
as if water had put out
hundreds of lanterns.
Hundreds of eyes in the windless wood
gaze peacefully past me,
hacking the thickets,
and now a white dew beads the blade.
Has the saint surrendered
himself to his beard?
Has his beard taken root in his cell?

Saint Pumpkin, pray for me,
because when I looked for you, I found nothing,
because unsealed and unkempt, your tomb rots,
because I gave you a false face
and a light of my own making.

--Nancy Willard, from her 1975 collection, "Household Tales of Moon and Water"

Monday, October 31, 2011

Quoth the Raven: Galore! Galore!

Samhain comes at sundown. The Celtic New Year signaled, for our ancestors, the end of a half-year's intense outdoor labour. Samhain ("sow-when", literally "summer's end") heralded the onset of the year's dark half, a time to come indoors, gather around the fire, share stories and music, and re-weave the deep roots of cultural wealth and wisdom that bond us to this dear old Earth. Samhain--or, if you prefer, "All Souls' Night"--is also a time to honour our ancestors and all other dear ones who've gone before us, a time to acknowledge and even befriend our grief. Older reflections may be found here and here and here.

It is a time to embrace the gapped and tattered nature of life. On a recent foraging walk in the woods with two of our WWOOF volunteers, one of them noticed that, in the woods, almost everything was nibbled at the edges. Every leaf, stone, hump of earth or bit of bark was food or shelter to some living thing. Most of the mushrooms we found had been delicately edge-munched to satisfy some itty-bitty appetite, but creatures seemed content to share. Nothing was left perfectly whole, but neither was anything eaten down to the stem. Just as all foodstuffs of substance were nibbled, so too were gaps quickly mitigated: an ongoing dance of presence-absence-presence. Edges were quickly claimed by lichen, mushrooms, and insects. Other creatures claimed hollows as water or food caches, hiding places or homes.

There is a word for this strange harvest-time ache of awareness, the wisdom that comes from working with bushel baskets and sharp-edged knives. The word is GALORE. It comes from a Gaelic term variously spelled gu leir, gu leoir, or gu leor. It means both "sufficiency" and "abundance." In the Gaelic worldview, we are surrounded by abundance--and we are also expected to honour this abundance by living within the limits of the goodness the natural world provides. There is no need to hoard or overconsume: with goods gathered sufficient to our needs, we have wealth galore. The key is to perceive and celebrate this basic truth: Enough IS abundance. Or, as a related Scottish proverb says, "enough is as good as a feast." Perhaps our greatest "sin," as humans, is our tendency to forget this truth, to hoard and grasp too much, to dwell in the illusion of scarcity so masterfully crafted by the magicians of merchandising. When we take only what we need and give the rest back, the anxieties dissipate and we are freed to unclench, to recreate, to heal and dream.

We have gathered in the gifts of the earth. We have harvested herbs, flowers, and vegetables from our gardens. (The land was gracious and merciful: when all of our squash vines withered, pumpkins and butternut vines sprang forth from last year's pig-grazing range and mostly ripened in time to harvest before the frost!) We have gathered berries and apples and preserved them for the cold months to come. We have respectfully raised and butchered birds for our winter meat. We have taken five well-tended pigs to the butcher so we may feed other families as well. We have foraged for wild mushrooms and harvested them gently, always leaving some for the rest of the woodland creatures to enjoy. Now the larder shelves and freezers are full and the dark is rapidly descending. Music of thankfulness wells up in us. We dwell in remembrance of all the lives that enable our own.

So it goes. We enter the dark half of the year ready to share stories, ready to sing, ready to dance. We carve pumpkins as our ancestors carved turnip-lanterns: a creation of absence and presence, of wholeness made hollow and emptiness illuminated, all to shine the Old Souls home to the Land of Plenty. Welcome to the season of Samhain. May you all be graced with sufficiency and abundance, goodness and grace galore!

P.S. Buidheachas gun sgur-- unceasing thanks to Andrew, Amy, Robert, Antonn, and all of our other WWOOF volunteers who have contributed to our sense of abundance. Without your contributions of time, enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy, we would have much less to celebrate!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Women Warriors

We were two drab birds in a sea of pink feathers. It was "Race for the Cure" day, and hundreds of women had convened, along with the occasional spouse or offspring, in the city park on a bright September morning to run, raise awareness, and raise funds toward "the cure" for breast cancer.

Many of the women--and men--had race numbers pinned to their shirtfronts. Most also had pink placards pinned to the backs: "I run in celebration of... Aunt Sibyl." "I run in memory Mom." Some had multiple names on their backs, or stitched on their pink baseball caps, or painted with glitter-glue on their running shoes. It was clear that each person there had some history of suffering or loss, some painful connection that they were determined to honour, to remember, or perhaps even transform with the beating of their hearts and the pounding of their feet. The joyful silliness of their various decorations was an understandable attempt to inject some levity into a serious remembrance.

We were there because my partner, The Piper, had taken this on as an annual volunteer gig. She was in her usual tartan gear, pleated wool in dark greens and blues, befitting the job. No-one would have expected otherwise. I, myself, had dressed to go off to church afterward, and I'd chosen a blouse and pants of earthy brown. As we walked into the pink-balloon-bedecked park full of colour-coordinated racing and walking teams, I hesitated. I felt like a wild moorhen who had blundered into a flock of migrating flamingos.

The park periphery was lined with booths from event sponsors. The Dunkin Donuts booth was mobbed, race-goers squealing with delight at the thought of unlimited free donuts and coffee. Across the way, the Hannaford supermarket booth workers were handing out healthier fare: apples, granola bars, and bananas. They had far fewer takers. (I admit I helped myself equally: one donut, one banana. They both looked perfect but tasted, well, somewhat less than that.) I looked around at the piles of "bling" arrayed in each booth: magenta shoelaces, pink ribbon temporary tattoos, treats and whigmaleeries of every description, all of them dyed or emblazoned or bedecked in some variant of rose, fuchia, blush, raspberry, carmine, cherry blossom...

The brightest display was at a booth near the stage. A banner above the booth declared "FORD CARES." Three pert young blonde women stood in the booth, each sporting a bright batik scarf tied in a uniquely fashionable style. Two men flanked the booth, handing out bling-bags to everyone who walked past. I ventured up, curious. One of the men flashed a smile and handed me a bag. I opened it to find the same scarf, with a "made in China" sticker and two brochures for Ford's charity line of Breast Cancer Awareness clothing: "Warriors in Pink." Above an array of abstract "tribal" symbols like spirals, wings, chevrons, hearts and birds, the brochure declared, "EVERY WARRIOR NEEDS AN OUTFIT."


I looked around again at the hundreds of pink-bling-bedecked women around me. I thought about Rachel Carson, who wrote "Silent Spring" and died of breast cancer herself. Breast cancer is an environmental disease. It is caused by a complex array of factors, many of which are linked to the pervasive, endocrine-disrupting toxicity of the chemicals we eat, wear, drink and breathe in our mass-manufactured society. Those chemicals could be in the free pink plastic water bottles and the free temporary tattoos. They could be in the colored paper and the glitter paint. They could be in the very dyes and fixatives and wrinkle-preventers of those free "Warriors in Pink" scarves. The garment workers in China--probably women--who make those scarves could be exposed to much higher levels of those toxins than we are, we privileged North American recipients of this well-designed, well-marketed corporate charity bling.

The opening ceremonies began and The Piper went up onto the stage. I watched her stand, compose herself, and strike in the pipes. A murmur went through the crowd and people turned to look at the tall, tartan-draped figure playing tunes from another century. The harmonic drones of this ancient instrument took me back to my own "tribal" roots, and I thought about the women warriors of the Celts and the Picts. They earned the respect of their enemies not for their outfits, but for the lack thereof. They were known for charging into battle with very little on indeed, a demonstration of pure intention, confidence, and bravery that came from years of careful discipline. There is some evidence that ancient schools existed to train warrior women in the Celtic/British/Pictish lands. They began their training as girls and grew into powerful women and formidable adversaries.

The fight for cancer is unaffected by outfits. Every warrior does NOT need one. We contribute to the fight against cancer when we refuse to use the host of unnecessary chemicals around us. We build our defences by deflecting the pointed arrows of corporate target marketing. We fight cancer by refusing to pour poison in our yards and in our homes. We fight cancer by refusing to apply chemicals to our hair, our nails, and our faces. We fight cancer by educating ourselves and each other about environmental toxins. We fight cancer by speaking up and speaking out, demanding more regulations to protect our bodies, our air, our soil, our water, our land. We fight cancer by declaring that our poorer sisters and brothers in industrial waste zones deserve the same standards of environmental safety that we do.

We may yet be warriors. Let the beauty of the earth be our ritual decoration. Let our own empowered active lives be our tribute to the fallen. Let our bodies and spirits reflect the purity and healing we seek. And when a restored and healthy planet answers our efforts with showered blush-tinted blossoms, THEN we shall bedeck ourselves in pink.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Knights Who Say, "KNEE!"

It's been a few weeks now since the Piper underwent surgery to repair her knee. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that some cartilage ended up somewhere it really ought not to have been, and the surgeon was, well, impressed--not in the way you WANT a surgeon to be.

After months of debilitating pain, followed by a fairly uncomfortable post-surgery recovery, the Piper is inching toward full farmerdom again. Last week, she sat in the midst of everyone else's activity and snipped branches down into kindling. Now she is proudly--if gingerly--hauling cartfuls of whey-soaked bread and wilted veggies down to the pigs in the name of "therapeutic strengthening."

The piper is not one to sit still while others work, so these past few months have been especially hard on her, even with WWOOFers cheerfully pitching in to take over her chores and ease my burden of managing the farm alone. She doesn't respond well to requests to slow down, rest, or be careful. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that she's an avid Red Sox fan, I'm not sure how I would have gotten her to slow down at all--thank heavens for the concept of the "DL" (Disabled List). Only after a reminder that "even star players end up on the DL for months at a time..." could she be convinced to lay down with an ice pack for the afternoon. (It also helped that, thanks to the clock radio, she was able to lay there and listen to baseball games!)

She found the first couple of post-surgery therapy visits pretty excruciating. The muscles hadn't been engaging properly due to the inflammation and misplaced cartilage, so her kneecap was no longer being held in place and riding smoothly where it ought to be. The Piper dutifully performed her prescribed strengthening exercises and acquired a special brace to keep the kneecap from "floating."

Last week, she came home from physical therapy with a new look. Like so many other veterans of Wounded Knee before her, the Piper had borne her suffering bravely and displayed tremendous courage and fortitude. The therapist recognized these qualities and sent her home a newly-decorated hero:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Gael Who Cried WWOOF

Actually, this post has nothing to do with crying. We are dancing joyful jigs, here on the farm, even if we do have only three knees between the two of us.

Back in November, the Piper hurt her knee while shifting a bag of "pig bread" on uneven ground. Ever since then, it's been a challenge for her to manage the daily farm chores. Physical therapy provided a brief respite, but pain and swelling have continued and even the knee specialist confessed some measure of bafflement.

In between my part-time job and a several-month stint as a hospital chaplain, I wasn't much help to the Piper at Wounded Knee. The young couple who stayed with us during the winter helped somewhat, but their hearts were full of their own farm dreams and they moved on as soon as they found a place of their own. (That move occurred right at Beltane-- May 1st, the traditional start of the outdoor work season.)

So, what can a couple of farmers do when they have one bull, two cows, six pigs, eighteen chickens, twenty-four garden beds and three functional knees? It was time for these two Gaels to cry, WWOOF!!!

The WWOOF program counts as part of our Celtic/British agricultural emphasis, as it began in the U.K. about forty years ago. (WWOOF stands, variously, for "Willing Workers On Organic Farms" or "World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.") Essentially a networking system, it allows member farms to seek assistance while allowing "WWOOFers" to seek hands-on education in sustainable agriculture. Farmers and volunteers arrange the details of each informal internship--everything from a single weekend stay to full-season or full-year engagements. While details vary widely, the program's generally accepted standard is that each half-day of volunteer labour is compensated by a full day's room and board at the host farm.

We signed up with the program in April, as soon as we confirmed our Winter couple's departure date. Inquiries started to reach us a few weeks later. WWOOFers tend to embrace opportunities for travel; our first month's inquiries included folks from Quebec, Tennessee, New York, Taiwan and Seattle. We sent e-mails back and forth, trying to ensure the best match between what we could offer and what others might want to learn. We realized we would be educating ourselves, too--expanding the range of skills needed for task-sharing and delegation. We began to brainstorm. We made lists. We talked with other farmers about the specific challenges of hosting volunteers. We invested in extra blankets and pillows. We developed our own list of questions for potential volunteers and began sending them out as e-mail inquiries appeared...and then we chose our first WWOOFer and the real fun began!

So far, the program has been everything we hoped, and more. Our WWOOFers have pitched in with enthusiasm, demonstrated a wonderful eagerness to work and learn, shown good humour, flexibility, and stick-to-itiveness. We've been fascinated by their wide range of life experiences, their travel stories, and the range of things they've seen and learned on other farms as they WWOOF their way around the world. They're not perfect--they do come to learn, after all, and occasionally a tool gets left in the rain or a veggie plant gets pulled instead of a weed--but overall the experience has been genuinely lovely. Each one comes with their own delightful surprises, too--One WWOOFer turned out to be an absolute wizard in the kitchen and helped us work on a new website for the farm. Another has a great way with a camera and has captured our creatures in some wonderful images and videos. A third came along to the farmers' market with a typewriter and raised money by creating custom poems for market-goers on the spot--an effort I'm doing my best to carry on. Shared evenings around the table are another side benefit--we've found the kind of camaraderie, diverse perspectives and wide-ranging discussions on which we thrive.

WWOOFing may not work for every farmer. We have to relax our expectations and give up some of our perfectionism. We have to remind ourselves sometimes that these folks are still learning; many of them love the idea of farming but are unfamiliar with foundational concepts and basic skills. Others come with tremendous skill AND enthusiasm and we have to reign them in a bit, as we lack the resources to tackle the range of projects they ask to undertake. It's a balancing act, to be sure, but isn't that true of farming and life in general? Might as well meet new folks, share what we know, and make new friends along the way!

So here we are, in all our three-kneed glory, dancing. With each new WWOOFer, we learn a new way to move to the music, a new way to dig the beat (beets?) and enjoy the grooves (furrows!) of this land. The WWOOFers complete our broken circle and help us keep in time as the season calls the tune.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

At Market


Pea-shoots spring into waiting bags
A waft of hunger floats on pretzelled air
Crab-cakes sell fast; they must have legs
And green perennials are always there.

Oh, butter! Oh local yoghurt, milk and cheese!
Oh, dahlias dancing bold in bloom!
Will you bedeck my woodworn table, please?
Or grace my fridge? I'll make some room...

The common and the elegant share space
From booth to booth, such bounty they reveal
I cannot wait to say this heartfelt grace:
The market feeds my soul--and what a meal!

--Copyright Mainecelt 6/29/2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Six o'clock came and went, like the swift spatter of summer rain that swept across our farm this afternoon. There were no little piles of clothing dotting the landscape, unless you count the shirt and stocking blown off the clothesline. We were left behind, it seems, by the latest in a long line of apocalyptic billboard-buying End Times trumpeters. The Rapture did not happen here. It did not include anyone we knew. It did not include us.

And yet...we did share the experience. While there was no packing of picnic baskets or precarious perching on rooftops, we did prepare ourselves for something glorious, something potentially life-changing: another day on the farm.

There are ritual elements even here. We go down on our knees regularly. Who's to say if there's a difference between planting a seed, gathering a freshly-laid egg, or offering a prayer? We fill the cup--or the trough--for each blessed creature. We break bread and scatter it for a flock, and who's to say our chickens are any less worthy of the sacrament of communion? In this place, communion is something we celebrate every day, as the creatures of the earth are tended and fruits of the earth are gathered in to be prepared for our shared table.

Today, we shared the day's work joyfully. Our first official WWOOFer contributed to our lifted spirits considerably. ("WWOOF" stands for "Willing Workers On Organic Farms" or "World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms." Traveling volunteers trade work for room, board, and agricultural education.) With her enthusiasm and our combined energy and effort, we plowed through a formidable list with light hearts and earnest determination. Our shared laughter rose like a hymn to all that is good and right in the world: communion, indeed.

"Prayer," says Parker Palmer, "is the practice of relatedness." Four days of wet weather have quieted and slowed the urgent growth and activity of this season, and we've been keenly aware of that relatedness- keenly aware of just how many lives rely on the return of the sun. When, early this afternoon, the clouds finally dispersed, we celebrated the sudden surge of activity. We reveled in the preening of poultry, the opening of damp blossoms, the exodus of hungry honeybees. The cattle lifted their shaggy wet heads in the pasture. Muddy ground firmed up and soil temperatures warmed, awakening plump, well-watered seeds.

We are ready for the rapture--not because we are waiting for it to happen, but because we discover it unfolding, continually, all around us. We are enraptured by the revelation that we have NOT been taken. We are Left Behind to attend to the holiness with which the tattered, beautiful world is already imbued.

We are called--it is our vocation--to remain in this richly challenging place and serve as stewards of its goodly gifts. There is no greater embodiment of grace.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bread and Salt

Some days are spent singing to seedlings, and some days are spent roping bulls. This day was one of the latter sort. The demands on our household included: a bagpiping gig for a Waldorf school's "May fair," a meeting of a church commission to address environmental and social justice issues, a half-shift of retail clerking in a British import shop, an evening of bull-wrangling and electric fence-troubleshooting, and an unfinished sermon that demanded completion.

The sermon is now complete, such as it is. It is based on one of this Sunday's assigned scripture readings: Luke 24:13-35, also known as "the Road to Emmaus."


If they had had Twitter accounts, Cleopas and his companion would have used them. Like the rest of Jerusalem, they had thought of nothing else but the news and the prophecies, the wild rumours about the man just killed. For three days, the air around them had vibrated with dashed hopes and dangerous words, fearful whispers and mutterings of cynicism and despair. There were gamblers checking the odds of a miracle and prophets forecasting doom or resurrection.

If they'd had television, they'd have been glued to the screen, waiting for a hint or a sign. Or they'd have been on their computers, checking GoogleEarth, zooming in on Golgotha and the stone tomb. They'd be fact-checking the rumors on “Snopes,” the myth-debunking website. They'd be unfriending the women at the tomb on Facebook, because you can't have crazy people posting stuff like that on your wall.

Caught up in the terrible drama and distress of any publicised killing, amidst the desperation of any war zone, the scarcity and fear of any occupied territory, they'd tried to keep hope alive. They'd wanted to believe that this new prophet, Jesus, was different from those who had come before him. Hadn't he shown his wisdom and his power? Hadn't he healed the incurably sick and even raised some from the dead?They'd been drawn in by the stories about him and had come to believe he was someone extraordinary, like the prophets of old. They'd even—and they felt sick and foolish about it now—they'd even waited three days after the horrible humiliation of his crucifixion, just in case he might actually rise from the dead. But maybe that prophecy was just another crazy rumor, after all. Anyhow, Jerusalem was crawling with armed guards and angry crowds and people willing to turn anyone in for a few pieces of silver... it was time to get out of town, time to take a walk.

It was a seven-mile walk, but it might has well have been seventy. Their hearts were heavy and their feet felt like lead. Although the sun beat down, their minds seemed wrapped in a thick fog. Even though they fumbled and struggled to find words, they had a desperate need to talk, because the world they knew had just shifted under them and neither of them could make sense of it alone.

So they walked, bearing the weight of a thousand questions together. They told the story again and again—the parts that made sense and the parts that didn't. They puzzled over the wild tales of Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene, with their announcements of angels and empty tombs—or was it just the work of cruel, faithless people, grave-robbers for whom desecration was just a form of sport?
They hardly noticed the stranger at first. They hadn't heard his approach—they were too busy wrestling with all they'd seen and felt and heard. He seemed familiar, somehow, but they couldn't quite place him—and after all, there had been so many gatherings during Passover in Jerusalem, so many faces in the crowds. And then he asked them to share the story, share the news, as if he somehow hadn't heard?!? It was like he'd been in a cave somewhere, or just fallen out of the sky!

But the stranger listened in a way few people ever listened. Cleopas and his companion found themselves pouring out the whole story, complete with their deepest longings, their dashed hopes, and the despair that threatened to smother them. There was something in the gentle intensity of his gaze, his confident yet humble stance...he was so alive he almost seemed to give off sparks, and their own souls, dry as tinder, had leaned close and been set alight.

Still walking, still talking, their hearts began to burn within them. Who could he be? Where HAD they seen him before? He began to tell them their own stories, and the stories of their people, the holy stories of prophets and infidels, commoners and kings. The road unfurled beyond them like a Torah scroll, their own journey like the footsteps of countless generations. They were Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Israelites in the wilderness, captives in Babylon—and every character, every chapter, in the stranger's words, pointed to a true Messiah and a new kind of liberation.

The sun dipped low over the hills. Birds flew back to their nests. Goats bleated in the distance, answering a girl's sing-song call as they pointed their nimble hooves toward home. The stranger seemed headed somewhere beyond, but Cleopas and his companion urged him—begged him—passionately insisted that he stay with them instead of travelling on. For them, sundown meant Sabbath. Even though they weren't sure anymore what it meant to keep the holy laws, even though they weren't sure anything could ever feel blessed again, they wanted to welcome this stranger, open their house to him. After days of fear and distrust, they felt moved to hospitality. They wanted to offer him nourishment—this stranger whose words had been like food to one starving.

And then he took bread, blessed it, and broke it. He gave it to them. And their eyes were opened. Their eyes were opened. I might as well say: Earth and Heaven spilled into one another. Creation heaved its sides and life was renewed. They saw the stranger for who he really was: God's own beloved child, Jesus, fully embodied, there at the table with them in full communion. What next? He vanished, but so did all the fears and doubts that had tormented them. They—two nobodies, two half-nameless bystanders at the edge of the crowd, had shared a journey with the Risen Lord and seen him in the breaking and blessing, in the giving of bread.

And where are we, in this story? Where are we, along the road? Do you seek a way out of the city? Do you head towards home? Are your eyes on the horizon, or focused on the dust at your feet? What weight do you carry on your own journey? What stories do you wrestle with over and over, trying to make sense when your world has been turned upside down? Is there any fire in your heart, or just the taste of ashes in your mouth?

The rumours continue to fly. The gamblers continue to make bets. The chief priests of modern media spin their webs, sending sticky strands through the air, hoping to catch us all in their intricate net. They bind our eyes and stop our ears until we stagger and stumble. We lose sight of love's transforming power. We lose sight of liberation.

But Jesus meets us where we are—wherever we wander, whatever path we claim, whatever road... Jesus walks with us—not virtually, but actually. He is right here. He does not appear at the comfortable center, but at the edges and the margins—and he appears not first to the wealthy and powerful, but to grief-stricken women and hot-headed men and weary travellers. He comes to you and to me.

When Cleopas and his companion understood—the Bible says, “that very hour,” they hot-footed it back to Jerusalem. Seven miles. On foot. In the dark. The hard road of that long afternoon was transformed by their joy. They carried The Light with them.

There is a proverb in Russia that says, “eat bread and salt and speak the truth.” Bread—the nourishing gift of Creation, tended and shaped by human hands—this is what matters. Bread is real. So is salt—elementary and basic, there in our very real tears and our honest sweat, in every ocean and every drop of blood. And Jesus is that close to us, that profoundly present. That is the gift of incarnation: that Christ walks with us, weeps with us, reaches out to us, offers us nourishment, and seeks always and everywhere to be revealed. He transforms our own stories and challenges us to broaden our vision. He shows himself wherever we walk together, wherever we invite others in, wherever we show others they are truly welcome at our table.

“Eat bread and salt and speak the truth.” The truth? Christ is risen! The truth? Christ is risen indeed, and he walks with us, all the way!

--copyright MaineCelt, May 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who Cooks for You?

Out along the edge of the moon-feathered woods, the Barred Owls sound their call: "Who cooks for YOU? Who cooks for YOU? Who cooks for YOU-all?"

Tonight, one of our farmhands has taken on the task, stepping gracefully into the gap on today's chore list. The Piper and I worked off the farm today and had resigned ourselves to bacon and eggs when we first noted no one had signed up for supper. Instead, I arrived home from a day of hospital chaplaincy and she arrived home from a day of social work to find...a three-course dinner kept warm on the stove. There are pork chops. There are apples simmered with raisins, spices, and nuts. There are buttery rosemary mashed potatoes. He shares the news of his day on the land: thirteen eggs collected, snowpeas and lettuce nearly sprouting in the hoop house, snowbanks melting away, healthy livestock and a well-exercised dog.

We aren't fools enough to count on good news, nor do we count on such feasts. The food was unexpected and tasted sweeter for the surprise. Weather changes, priorities change, people change, relationships require maintenance and even promises require occasional renegotiation. Besides all that, it's early Spring. Our muscles are twitchy and our brains are itchy. You just can't count on much, this time of year, except melting snow and a whole lot of mud.

So, we try to pry open the tight fists of Winter. We try to open up a bit, stretch our bodies and our minds and our spirits. We flex the muscles of gratitude and remind ourselves to meet each day on its own terms, with whatever grace and goodness we can muster. Sometimes, the firewood's all wet and we slip on the ice. Some days, all we can see is the mud. And some days, we walk wearily in and find a warm supper waiting, a farmstead well-tended, and owls calling at the edge of the woods, questioning each other sweetly under the great, round moon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Laughin' at the Hard Times...

Far to the west of here, on a small island in Puget Sound, there once lived three women who loved to sing. Actually, the island was full of people who loved to sing. There were church singers, garden singers, lullabye singers, and rock & roll singers. There were folk singers and filk singers, serious song scholars and raunchy tavern chorus-belters. The meekest music-makers kept to their showers--maybe allowed themselves to occasionally whistle for their dogs in public--but many folks believed that music was something to be shared.

The three women, Mary, Elizabeth, and Velvet, were music-sharers with a mission. They had been singing together for years--in community theater shows, workshops, churches and all kinds of other venues and get-togethers. They started writing their own songs and got together to perform them. They called their trio, "Women, Women & Song."

They sang about common, everyday themes: washing windows, raising children, braces and break-ups and long car rides. To each of life's frustrations they added sweet harmonies, hard-earned wisdom, and joyful comedic twists. I recall one summer appearance on the open-air stage at the Strawberry Festival, when they prefaced a hilarious madrigal-style primer on human sexuality with the warning, "the next song we'll be singing is a little 'blue,' so you might want to hand each of your kids a dollar and send them up the street to buy snow cones now." My mother and I laughed together at the lines that followed:
"Some of us like one lover and one only,
Some of us have lost count and still are lonely.
Some of us can do it just for fun;
Others of us have to marry everyone,
But most of us find a way to get the thing done,
For that is the way of sex."

Mom and I laughed til there were tears in our eyes as the song ranged through its perilous, hilarious territory. Then, mother and daughter, we faced each other with a gaze of mutual understanding at the final refrain:
"...But, ignore sex or embrace it,
In some way you'll have to face it...
For that is the way of,
That is the way of,
That is the way of sex!"

These three women--all around the age of my parents--sang me through adolescence with some of the best messages any young woman could hear. My teenage body-image angst was mitigated by a catchy little tune with these lyrics:
"This body is mine, it'll be what it will,
And I don't plan to change it with diets or pills,
And if you don't like it, go look for another,
'Cause this body's mine and I like it ruther."

They helped me weather other societal pressures and strengthened my resolve to make my own path and pursue my own joys. The following song influenced my mother, too--so much so that she and her best friend eventually started their own organic floral business to live out some of this song's aims:
"I won't wait to be happy.
I won't put it off 'til everyone loves me.
I won't wait until my ship comes in and the freight is all for me...
I won't wait to happy.
I won't put it off until the Great Someday.
I'm gonna grow a bunch of roses--and give roses away."

Women, Women & Song lifted me up and carried me along. I've returned to their music countless times, seeking--and finding-- much-needed courage and humour. There was one song, though, that I couldn't quite join in on. I just wasn't ready to sing it yet--at least, not with conviction. But--folks, I'm here to tell you--THIS morning, I'm finally ready:
"Well, I woke up this morning; didn't feel the same
Felt a new spirit in my heart but I couldn't quite give it a name.
Well, I felt kind of cocky. I felt kind of tall--
And then I remembered, and the mystery was solved:
I'm forty--and I don't care what people think.
I'm forty--and my life is my o-o-own!
I'm forty and I'm happy to just be here,
Laughin' at the hard times that I've known!"

Oh, AYE. With all the courage and wisdom and laughter I can muster, I am ready to face the NEXT forty--and who knows how many more years after that!

So, to Mary, Elizabeth, and Velvet--and all the other singers who've helped me find my own voice--Thanks for getting me this far down the road!

P.S. Women, Women & Song no longer perform together, but Mary is a regular contributor to Vashon's alternative newspaper and she blogs as "Spiritual Smart Aleck." CDs of WW&S are still available.

Credit where credit is due: all song lyrics copyright WW&S and/or the three artists of the trio: Mary Litchfield Tuel, Elizabeth Anthony, & Velvet Neifert. (I lost the cover of my old cassette tape, so I don't know for sure who wrote what.) Tile was made by my sister, Krissie, based on an embroidered jumper my mom sewed for me when I was small. WW&S image can be found here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The wheel of the year turns once more, and we arrive at Imbolc, one of the four "cross-quarters" or turning points of the Celtic agricultural year. This is a festival sacred to Bride (a.k.a. Bridgit)--an Irish Goddess or Saint (you choose!) One excellent reflection on this festival can be found here. Here on the farm, we're celebrating in grand style: we're going to play at yoghurt-making while pumpkin soup simmers on the woodstove. There are also rumours of a whipped-cream cake in the making, to be flavoured with lavender or whisky!

For Northern, pre-industrial folk, this was a hard time indeed, as winter storage foods dwindled and the prospect of new nourishment glimmered and wavered far off in hunger's haze. Imagine, then, the joy that came with fresh milk as lambing time approached and the ewes "bagged up" in preparation! The old name for this cross-quarter is "Imbolc," from old Celtic words for "ewe's milk." Traditional feast items for this time featured milk and cream and butter and cheese. If you don't have time for fancy stuff, celebrate by making a yoghurt smoothie!

In the deep February cold, this was also a time to celebrate fire--the fire of creation, captured in the blacksmith's work as well as the poet's inspiration. Smiths and poets were celebrated along with midwives and dairy animals. In fresh milk and creative fire, the hopes of earthborne people are renewed!

Here is a bit of bardic work for Imbolc, with a nod to Robbie Burns, Violet Jacob, and other Scots poetic forebears. (Hmmm. Haggis & Neeps might deserve a place on tonight's table, as well. They, too, are seasonally-appropriate elements for an Imbolc feast!) The poem incorporates the imagery of the "Cailleach," (pronounced KYLE-yok) or Old Woman of Winter, whose silver hammer kept the ground hard and cold until Spring.


When yon Auld Grannie gyres an gimps
an unco dance on cranreuch groond
an gies her sillar curls a crimp,
Ye ken that Imbolc's comin roond.

When sillar hammers, blaw for blaw
fa habber-haird in hinmaist hone
then haud ye fast, for soon the thaw
will prize awa cauld winter's loan.

Nae lang she'll lanesame bide, nor sup
Wi'oot the dochter she lo'es best;
Nae grannie redds the kailyaird up
But for the thocht o some comin guest!

Nae mair the lanesame anvil-drum
Will mark the pace o Grannie's dance--
The Lass o the Lintin Wand shall come
An lowpin lambies hae their chaunce--

For Grannie Cailleach's time grows short
An wee snaw-drappies rowthie ring
for Bridgit cams, blithe hope tae sport
An after Bridgit cams-- the Spring!

--copyright Mainecelt 2011

Glossary: unco=strange, cranreuch=frosty, ken=know, Imbolc=Celtic Feast/source of Groundhog's Day, blaw=blow, fa=fall, habber=stutter, hinmaist=last, haud=hold, prize=pry, awa=away, wi'oot=without, dochter=daughter, redds the kailyaird up=cleans the place, thocht=thought, comin=coming, Lintin Wand=glinting wand of Bridgit, lowpin=leaping, chaunce=chance, Cailleach=crone/Celtic Earth-Goddess, snaw-drappies=snowdrops, rowthie=abundantly, cams=comes, blithe=joyous

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Agricultural Alchemy

Forget lead-into-gold. We have succeeded in an alchemy far more precious: sunlight into earth, earth into bacon, and bacon magically transformed into...fresh shrimp!

Okay, so maybe we had a bit of help with the first part. The Great Golden Orb's radiant energy was captured and held in earth, solar energy coursing through each element of the ecosystem. Next, we brought piglets into the mix: greedy little earth-gobblers, leftover-lovers, four-footed fertilizers. They rooted for us, and we rooted for them.

Then, one day, the pigs came home in little white packages. That was another kind of magic, to which we shall merely make allusion. You could say it was an act of, slight...of hand. Six roisterous, boisterous hogs had been divvied up, cooled down and gift-wrapped.

Next, six little piggies went to market. Our farmshare customers bought most of the meat, ordering animals by quarters, halves and wholes. (Two other pigs were otherwise processed into traditionally-cured products we'll have to wait months to taste. We trust it will be worth the wait!) We ended up with about one pig's worth of meat for our own freezer, plus lard to be saved for cookery and soap.

Well, that freezer was stuffed mighty full, so yesterday I took a few extra white packages with me when I went to the Winter Farmers' Market. There, in the cooler, underneath all our beautiful farm-fresh eggs, sat a pound or two of nitrate-free bacon, some ground pork and some chops: the original countryside currency.

Standing at a table across from me, the Live Lobster Lady lilted a lament. "Meat!" She cried, "My family's so hungry for meat!" I listened with ill-disguised delight. Too much seafood on their table? How fortuitous! In our house, it just so happens that we're tired of pork and eggs! I took out a pack of bacon and sallied forth across the aisle. That's when the alchemy happened. One hand to another, a shared smile and a few magic words, and the bacon disappeared, to be replaced by two packets of fresh-caught hand-picked shrimp meat.

The shrimp meat was transported home with much fanfare. A little lime juice, some garlic and peanut butter and olive oil, a bit of egg and some rice noodles, and more magic happened: Pad Thai! (I would have taken a picture, but we "disappeared" it too fast.)

I'm enjoying our experiments with agricultural alchemy. Maybe next week, I'll go looking for that other transformative substance: the fabled Philosopher's Scone.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pay It Forward!

Over a year ago, MamaPea hooked me in to the fun. Now it's my turn.


Despair comes all too easy--grim and goth and oh-so-hip--
Cynicism is the fashion of the day.
Pollyannas make folks queasy: "Darken up, Girl! Get a grip!"
But I declare: I'm going out to play.

Hope is harder. How it stretches the weak muscles of the mind.
How we ache with angst as spirits reach and grow!
How we wonder, wander, bend as our fashioned fears unwind,
Giving grace the shape of all the seeds we sow.

Now's the season for beginnings. Life's returning with the sun.
Time to laugh in fear's false face; be a creator!
To receive a handmade gift, post a comment! Join the fun!
The first three will win, and Pay It Forward later!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In Like Flynn!

It's the new year, and we're feeling bullish about the farm. You see, today is the twelfth day of Christmas, and a farmer from Northern Maine delivered a very special present to Iona and Maisie, our two Scottish Highland cows. His name--and I am NOT making this up--is Errol Flynn. This two-year-old blonde beauty has already been a hit with the heifers in his hometown, and we're hoping he'll help our cows produce some fine calves of their own. We intend to keep him around for a couple of years as a herdsire, then sell him on to someone else who needs a fine new bull for their cattlefold.

Welcome home, Errol! We hope you like our farm...and we hope Iona and Maisie like YOU. Here's a little glimpse into their getting-acquainted session, filmed about five minutes after he stepped out of the trailer and was led peaceably down into the pasture wearing a halter. (We're thrilled that he's halter-broke, in addition to his other good qualities. His breeder did some excellent work with him and we can tell he's been handled regularly and well.) She slipped the halter off him once he was inside the pasture gate, then we all stepped back to watch. Want to share in the fun?

Here you go: