Ephemeral fall

October 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

All the colors are turning and I have yet to photograph them! How is this happening? I daresay they are already past their prime, actually, and with the dry-as-a-bone weather we’ve been having the trees are quick to drop their leaves. This is sad. But fall has been blissful. October is starting off almost too hot in the afternoons, though we’re headed toward a cold weekend for the festival. This means there will be a bonfire. And hot cider. Just saying.

Meanwhile, it is time for pumpkin carving, tying corn stalks into shocks, and locating ingredients. My plate is full this week. Photos to come, soon, my friends. At least one fall afternoon must be documented.


September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I went for the most wonderful drive. Morning, and straight east into red-orange hills. Classical music on the radio, golden retriever in the backseat, a jar of steaming coffee in the cup holder. I was going out to Brett Laidlaw’s place, Bide-A-Wee, to borrow a cider press for our upcoming festival. Brett had come to our brick oven workshop in August, and also happens to be the author of Trout Caviar – both a blog and a book about foraging in the north woods. His two griffins came to greet me; Tassie hesitated and even growled a little at these unfamiliar dogs, but eventually she got over herself enough to run around the acreage and explore their space. They followed her with interest and a bit of determination to retain their territorial rights.

The air was September crisp and the hills were so burning with color that you could almost smell smoke. This is the time for woodstoves and campfires. Brett met me with a smile, we caught up on ovens and farms and projects and festivals, and then he showed me the pieces of the press, how to put it all together, how the apples will grind and press into cold, delicious cider. Bright sun, plaid shirts, vests, boots, cast iron, goosebumps. I shivered in the cold but also the very delicious autumn of it all.

Once we had loaded the press into the back of my truck, we talked about France, which always makes me glad, especially to find someone else who loves it the way I do, and not for all the popular things people love it for (ooh la la!) but also for the countryside, the small gîtes and the regional ciders and the roads winding through woods and hills that look so similar to here. Then back in the truck, me and my girl, to make our way home, my mind full of old memories and future plans, and a sense of the season’s reliable goodness.


September 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Jar of honey. Cutting board. Hand-picked (by me!) Haralson apples from Whistling Well Farm. And homemade vanilla from my sister and John. Happy kitchen.

After Apple Picking

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

-Robert Frost, 1914

(I am about to go to an orchard myself. I can hardly wait – but here is the difference between a few hours of leisurely picking and the farmer’s long day of work.)

We slaughtered chickens

September 13, 2012 § 3 Comments

It is not something to get finicky about. We fed and cared for these boys and now it is their time to feed us.

Yes, there’s blood. There’s guts.

But by the time you get them all cleaned up and it’s nearly lunchtime, you’re thinking about chicken soup with rice.

Buckwheat in Bloom

August 31, 2012 § 4 Comments

I am pleased to have you know that I sowed this buckwheat.

Now it is doing its job: keeping the weeds down and providing nectar for the bees. I plan to sow a wildflower/prairie grass mix into this plot in the fall, to germinate the following spring. The buckwheat helps by suppressing the persistent weed species this year, so that the wildflowers will have a better chance when it becomes their turn (learn more about how this works here).

Isn’t that clever? And isn’t it nice that buckwheat, in addition to being useful, is so pretty?

Washington Island

August 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

I don’t remember that I ever felt especially excited about islands. I gave them a fair level of fascination, from books such as Five Have A Mystery to Solve and of course all of the Anne of Green Gables series. But I grew up in spaces where the land stretched wide away from us, and a far horizon of earth greeting sky was the view to admire, as we watched storms and sunsets and the overwhelming blue of summer.

My father would say, and I would agree with him, that living on an island must make a person feel bound, with the land running out so quickly, cut off by water. Islands had an element of fear, in one’s inability to escape the small society they compelled. No, thank you, I thought. I may visit islands, but I wanted to live where I could ride my horse for miles and miles and miles; where I might get up one day and go as far as I please, and see where I end up.

Oh, but then.

Never say never. Life tends to turn one’s decidedness on its head (or, at least, mine does!). On our Door County adventure, we took a day trip to Washington Island, which is just off the tip of the peninsula, and now I am enchanted with islands, and that one especially.

The island is 23.5 square miles, and while tourism is its main industry (having overtaken fishing and agriculture) it still has a calm, even sleepy feel to it. The houses are primarily older and either cabin or farmhouse or gingerbread in style. There are docks and boats, of course; there’s a fantastic fiber shop/school, and a gathering place called Fiddler’s Green where artists and locals get together, especially in winter, to talk and be and do life in a way that recognizes their interdependence.

One of our first delights was a remarkable wooden church, called Stavkirke, which seems like it fell out of a fairytale. Behind it a prayer path meanders through the woods. We would miss church on Sunday so this gave us a moment of grounding in our faith. Reflection. I spoke blessing over family, and gratitude for this place, softly, but nonetheless with reverence. I think J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would approve.

We visited an older couple on their Scandinavian horse farm, featuring Gotlands and Icelandic ponies and a Fjord. The couple was quiet and kind and their horses were spunky and beautiful. They had a big white dog that looked like a Great Pyrenees, but wasn’t, and an affectionate black cat, and splendidly colored roosters and chickens, and chattery, cheerful ducks. I think this couple, and me, we are cut from the same cloth. This was just the start; as the day went on I began to feel as if this island was full of what Anne Shirley would call kindred spirits. It seemed as if I had discovered a mini, U.S. version of Anne’s beloved P.E.I. I skipped alongside my mother and told her so, and she laughed, and nodded.

For lunch we ate at a cafe run by a Methodist minister with six adopted children and a kayak museum in the back, displaying evidence of her days as a fairly renowned expedition kayaker. If one were to live here, I thought, what other sorts of people would one run into? What draws a person to a quiet island, a half-hour’s ferry ride away from shore? But I knew. The franticness of the rest of American society seemed . . . distant. It didn’t belong here, and it felt farther away than a boat trip past Death’s Door, the watery passage where many a boat has succumbed to the intensity of Lake Michigan funneling into the Green Bay. This is a place for refuge-seekers.

Somewhere in the middle of the island we climbed a tower, to get a view of the farmland interspersed between the trees, and the water in the distance. And there is a Farm Museum, with a lovely barn and all sorts of old implements, snowshoes for horses, old churns and tool sharpeners, memories of a life I sometimes wish I might have lived, and sometimes think I might still.

“Just think,” I said to my father, “for Grandpa, this isn’t really history. Not like it is for us; this was normal life, a lot of it.” My grandfather has been gone for twelve years, but I am still fascinated with his life, a boyhood throughout the 1920s and a teenager during the Depression, a young man during World War II who had to stay home and farm his Dakota land. He ran a team of horses but saw the changes through the 40s and 50s, the rise of the tractor and chemicals and farms getting bigger and bigger. If he can see us from heaven, which I kind of suspect he can, I wonder what he thinks now. Of how agriculture is going, and how his stubborn granddaughter believes, in many ways, that going “backward” is going forward.

After a visit to the little Nautical Museum we needed to go back to the ferry, so we might get back to the mainland for ice cream and a swim. I wasn’t quite ready. And to think we almost didn’t go to the island in the first place! I hope it can stay as it is for a good long time. I hope I can go back again soon.

*Thanks to Kim & Elena Romkema again for many of these pictures, as my camera decided to hit the dust! There was so much more I wish I could have captured from this trip . . . guess there will need to be another!

Castles in the air

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

“There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a room that’s full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.”
-Little Cosette, Les Miserables

Do any of you ever imagine yourself in a different space or time, in a castle on a cloud, as the mistreated little Cosette does? Or build “castles in the air,” as Jo March and her sisters do in Little Women? I do – you see them here from time to time, in my perpetual dropping of that handy little word, “someday.”

Someday I will have two dapple gray Percherons with white manes in a red barn with a Christmas wreath on it. Someday I will tie my small sailboat to the end of my sister’s dock, because she will live just down the road on the lake. I will visit her lake house with my kids and she will visit my farmhouse with hers. Someday I will have copper pots hanging from the beams, and a big fireplace, and a claw-foot tub, and a very long table to seat my very best loved ones.

I am curious to know: What do you have in your castle? What are your somedays?

As much as I love to play this game, I think sometimes it makes me forget about the good real earth, the solid ground I’m standing on and how I can build castles right here. Many somedays just require my taking the time to make them come about. So. Dreamers, dream. And then, if you can, draw your castles, and your plans, adjust as you must, and start to build them from wherever you are.


July 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Guess who isn’t at Seed Savers and the Greg Brown concert, after all?

We had to wait for Peach the cow to have her calf. She did have it on time – yesterday morning! She came with the gift of rain. But we (that is, our animal husbandry folks) obviously didn’t want to just jet out of here now that the calf has arrived into the world safely.

She is darling, that little heifer. It is good that we have stayed here to watch her get used to the world. And I am not so sad to be at home. I worked on a bunny hutch. I sowed buckwheat. I got in the river, and ran out and back to the house fast enough to shed the deer flies and mosquitos.

There will be another time to go to Seed Savers, and I will take lots of pictures, and tell you all about it.

Here is some other music for the night, instead.

Even in Iowa

July 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

It isn’t all caught in the maw of industrial agriculture, I’ll have you know.

At least not all folks, not so completely.


Bronson, Iowa, farmer still uses real 'horse' power.

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