August is a time of ripening fruits such as peaches, chokecherries (this month is “Time of Chokecherry” in the local Methow Indigenous culture), aronia berries, Oregon grapes, hawthorns, and even apples (our honeycrisps are just getting delicious here at the end of the month). This month has been wacky to say the least with times of intense heat, even more intense smoke, threat of wildfires, super dry conditions (worry about future wildfires), cold river spots, and finally some delightfully clear air and cooler temperatures. It feels like summer dropped off a cliff into Autumn and yet…..the conditions are still really dry and likely will be for another month or so. “A hot fart could start a fire right now,” so said a neighbor recently.
Morning chores including milking our dairy goat (Cinnamon is her name) and we are getting so much milk that Kristin has begun making chevre, soft goat cheese. It’s amazingly good and she made “garlic and black pepper” and “honey” goat cheese recently. Yum!
We have begun harvesting our animals as well, although we already did a big rabbit harvest earlier in the summer. Another round of rabbits coming up soon. Recently, we slaughtered and butchered all of our meat chickens, which turned out to weigh less than we had hoped. This year we tried locally raised Delaware chickens but will most likely go with Freedom Rangers or something like that in the future, breeds that forage well and grow rapidly. Shockingly we did not find that the Delawares ranged far from their coop which to me is a sign that they were foraging well.
Resist the urge to send me a message telling me that I forgot to put spaces between Life and Death in the title of this post. It’s intentional because life and death go together. We can’t have one without the other, and despite our behavior to the contrary, we do not have a clue which comes first. Both are mysterious, although we walk around pretending we know everything about the one and that the other won’t ever occur (at least not until we are good and old).
My Native American teacher (from the Methow and the Squaxin tribes) says that “life and death walk together” and he usually illustrates this by putting his index and middle fingers together. A Zen teacher (I don’t have a direct quote from my Zen teacher so I won’t pretend to quote him) might say that life and death are “not one, not two.”
One of our Nigerian dwarf does (female) gave birth to three absolutely adorable goat kids. One female and two male. Their colors and patterns were surprising given that the doe is mostly black with just a touch of white on her forehead and the tip of her tail. We have had a lot of cute animals born on this farm and yet….and yet these are the cutest animals yet. Tiny, long legged and quickly bouncing around on ungainly legs. Holding them is like taking a happiness pill (whatever that might be, it doesn’t actually exist so don’t go looking for it), so sweet and lovely.
The weather in the Pacific Northwest, including us on the dry side of the North Cascades, got hot recently. Real hot. So hot that a 100 degree day started to feel reasonable. Wowza! Shade and water are the only things that have kept our animals, including human animals, alive. I was worried about the goats and wanted to make sure they had shade so I dragged a piece of plywood to their shelter and leaned it against it for added shade. This seemed necessary for keeping them alive and yet. And yet….
The world of dew
is the world of dew.
And yet, and yet...
― Issa Kobayashi,
One evening the kids who live on our farm and some visiting kids went over to see the newly born goats and came running back with the terrible news that two had gotten caught beneath the plywood and were dead. My heart immediately sank and it began to ache. It aches still, writing these words or whenever I see the goats.
I wish that they were alive and I want to simply undo what happened, but I can’t and I just need to face up to the fact that things like this will happen. No matter how thoughtful or careful I am, I cannot death. It comes along with life.
And then, just yesterday on the Fourth of July, our other Nigerian Dwarf doe went into labor and gave birth to three more delightful little goat kids. We were around and paying attention so we actually got to watch the entire process. It was amazing. We have videos but I imagine that most of you don’t want to see them so I will just share the cute, fuzzy (post-cleaning) goat pictures.
My Zen teacher did say to me recently, quoting someone else, and that was “Don’t argue with reality.” I am trying that. Not arguing with their death, not arguing with my heartache. Not arguing with the lesson learned, not arguing with the fact that I cannot control everything or anything for that matter. Not arguing with reality, that life and death walk together, in hooves and feet, barefoot and in our very own shoes.
Summer is here and the return of many things that shout, “It’s summer!” We saw temperatures this week nearing 100 degrees, which caused us to spend a lovely afternoon/evening at a nearby lake. When we returned home, we found our first rattlesnake of the year waiting for us approximately 10 feet from the front door. And then the next day a friend called to let me know that there was a column of smoke nearby. The first wildfire of the year (caused by a vehicle parked in dry grass), two-miles northwest of our house, with winds forecast to increase…yes, northwest winds, which would have pushed that fire right to our doorstep. We set up irrigation sprinklers on that side of our property, got some things ready to go and happily watched as the smoke column disappeared thanks to fire fighting efforts. Out before the winds increased. And our new incursion into beekeeping has been interesting and both of our colonies have now swarmed (which you can prevent if you are paying better attention than we are). They landed nearby, awaiting scouts to tell them where to go next, and we were able to easily capture each one into a new box so we now have four colonies where we once had two.
We have new goats, three Nigerian Dwarfs, which we are either inheriting or simply care-taking for some friends who are having trouble keeping goats out of the jaws of a mountain lion. The two females are pregnant and due, next week.
And we’ve added two more adult female rabbits to our breeders, Loup Loup (formerly Lupe) and Cinnamon. Some other friends needed to rehome them so we of course said, yes.
And our latest and (I hope) last additions for the year for the year: two piglets, who will turn into hogs, who will turn into bacon, shoulder roast and me.
First time milking our new dairy goat, Cinnamon, was this morning. Distracted by apples and grains, Cinnamon did great. So too did Kristin and Emily, who milked while I tried to keep Cinnamon from stepping into the milk pail or moving on to something more enticing than being milked. We separated (they were able to lay down next to each other but no nursing) her from Nutmeg, her kid, overnight so that we could milk first thing this morning. Nutmeg and Cinnamon did great but definitely wanted to be reunited. It is so cool for the first time to have our own milk. Raw, fresh, healthy and delicious. A very exciting new part of Rising Moon Farm!
A beautiful way to honor all the mother’s of the world who take such good care of us all. Thank you to all the mamas!
Well, I guess its finally time to admit that we have a farm. There are now over 100 animals and we have a name: Rising Moon Farm. Once there is a name, I guess that makes it “official” even though we are not official or legally a farm yet. The name comes from two sources: the huge full-moon rises that seem to happen right in our living room each month, coming up over Strawberry Mountain and the ridge east of us; and because we feel a shift in consciousness and approach to life that is more feminine and (hopefully) much less patriarchal. Long overdue, long overdue. So the rising moon and the rising feminine, hence “Rising Moon Farm.”
In the last few weeks we have added one new kune kune pig (her name is Kiwi), two bee hives, six sheep and two goats to our farm. The goats, named Cinnamon (the doe) and Nutmeg (a female kid), will be our milking crew, along with our cow if we ever get around to milking her. I knew that goats were supposed to be very personable but I wasn’t prepared for how darn personable they are. We all love them so much already and you can’t help but have your spirits lifted by some time spent with Nutmeg, who just comes up to you and basically crawls into your lap or jumps on your back (that hurts a bit). She is so sweet, rambunctious, lively and lovely. The perfect antidote to a difficult day or the strawberry on top of a great day.
a woman can’t survive
by her own breath
she must know
the voices of mountains
~ excerpt from the poem "Fire" by Joy Harjo
Towards the end of February, a full moon night, the girls and I headed out for our second monthly backpacking trip of the year. This would be Juniper’s first of 2021, her first of her eighth year (she turned 7 years old in early February) and her first time heading out in winter. With snowshoes on, heavy packs on our backs and me dragging a sled of firewood, we headed out. Up the canyon and then up a steep draw that we call “The Draw” (yes, very inventive). Part-way up The Draw I started post-holing in snowshoes and soon found myself pitching forward and falling on my face. With a 60 pound pack holding me down, I found it rather difficult to extract myself from the situation I found myself in. Somehow I got up but still had more of The Draw to climb up. Soon I found myself at a stand still between gravity pulling me back down and my desire to climb. That damn sled with firewood was just too much! Luckily, my 10 year old had already made it to the top, dropped her pack and came to my rescue. Awesome! She helped by pushing the sled from behind as I lumbered, more easily now, to the top of The Draw. Sweating, out of breath and oh so thankful for my daughter!
We camped under a lone pine tree that we call the Sheltering Tree. The ground was bare, even though there was snow all around. Lovely to feel bareground after a snowy winter. The girls played and sledded while I set up camp and cooked dinner. Afterwards, we wandered around in the moonlight and enjoyed the dance and play of moon and cloud. Two coyote yipped and bark-yipped (an alert call) from nearby. We saw their tracks the next morning, approximately 200 feet from camp. Sometime in the night, Canada geese woke me up honking as they flew by. Many others in our valley heard them as well. Must be migrating.
The next morning we awoke to bright, beautiful, warm sunshine on the tent. No fire needed to stay warm. The girls played and sledded more while I cleaned up and broke down camp. A fun and lively time for them, a calm and quiet time for me.
Here is the haiku I wrote on the trip. The feeling of having my daughter come back to help me get up a hill was one of extraordinary love and admiration. This is the first time something like this has happened. I look forward to the increasing ways and times that my daughters help me in this beautiful, weary world!
She drops her pack
helps push me up the hill
reach the top, sweating.
But the trail got rough And it faded away— Out in the open, Everywhere to go.
-Gary Snyder (excerpt from the poem “The Trail is Not a Trail”)
What does one do when the trail gets rough or even when the trail disappears altogether? For many this past year as been rough, very rough and worse. And for those willing to admit it, this past year has shown that life as we have known it is over, the trail that has we’ve tread has faded away. What now, where do we go?
There is everywhere to go, any direction one chooses. In this spirit, there are many “everywheres” that I hope to go this year, that I am choosing to go. The first one, the one I want to share today, is an “everywhere” that my older daughter and I have chosen for 2021. We have set the intention of backpacking each month of the year, from January to December 2021.
So far we have made two trips, both up the canyon directly behind our house. Here I will share some photos and a haiku or two that I wrote on the trip. It occurred at the end of January, during a deeply snowy year here in the North Cascades, yet it rained during our trip. We went in a mile or two, camped along a tiny creek, in a spot that I shoveled out. There was the drip drip drip of rain falling through the trees, aspen and cottonwood, and the hoot hoot hoot of great horned owls, during their mating season.
Dinner = Mac-n-cheese with broccoli and bacon
Dessert = Pumpkin muffin and chocolate bar
Breakfast = Oatmeal and coffee
And here are some haiku I wrote on that trip:
Wet winter woods, wind
their way into my hard mind.
Soft, slushy snow-melt.
Softly falling rain
crackling fire, lightens the mood
of these slushy woods.
A father, daughter
out adventuring tonight
Where else should they be?
Firelight, creek song.
A snowy winter campsite
for a dad and his girl.
My feet are sloshing in my boots
My hands are cut
My brain is a knot
My lips are chapped
I slump into a camp chair
cool evening breeze
a robin song
a river song
What is all the anxiety about?
Why all the worry?
I breathe deep and relax
for the first time all day
in a world just a minute ago
I was lost in.
Sometimes I am so far into a dream that I can’t tell that I am dreaming. Does that ever happen to you? Lately I realized that Kristin and I are deep into a dream, so deep that we have to stop ourselves and force lucid dreaming, otherwise we can’t recognize where we are.
Sometimes I can’t tell where dreams end and where “reality”, whatever that is, begins. Am I dream walking through the waking world or wake-walking through a dream world? And what difference is there really?
And sometimes, most times perhaps, it is impossible to tell where a dream really begins. Now I am talking about our so-called waking dreams, the intentions or foci of our lives, because our life these days is one such dream. We now have chickens, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, pigs, and cows.
What are we doing and where did this come from? When did each of us first want to be a farmer?
I posed this question to Kristin recently and she said that she has wanted to be a farmer or a rancher since she was a child, living at that time in either New Mexico or eastern Montana. Makes sense. For me, I can’t really remember but it probably goes back several generations to when my Great-Grandfather, Benson LaFever, farmed the rocky hillsides of Delaware County, New York. Someone in our family has to farm and carry on, right?
What I do remember is being in graduate school with Kristin (studying Wildlife Science) and a seed being planted by a local organic farmer (Farmer Brad) and his young family that inspired me greatly, as well as Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
We were in graduate school 15 years ago or so and here we are realizing the dream of “The Old Home Place,” which is what we called our farmstead back then. It doesn’t have a new name yet and that one doesn’t seem to fit anymore, but the dream certainly does.
I hope to provide regular updates and more descriptions of what we are doing. For now, I apologize for not getting the word out sooner about our incursion into farming but then again, we may be too busy these days living the dream (too exhausted more like) to spend time on the computer!